Tips on Starting the College Application Process

Savannah Pluma, a biological sciences major participates in a class discussion about women's human rights.   Joanna Regulska, Vice Provost & Associate Chancellor for Global Affairs leads a seminar class on the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the new Global Living Learning Community in Regan Hall on February 10, 2020.
Karin Higgins/UC Davis

Quick Summary

  • Survive the college application process by showcasing your extracurricular activities, expressing your passions in the college essay and practicing self care.

Applying for college is stressful. There are so many applications, essays, deadlines, scholarships, webinars, and college tours. It can be hard to keep everything straight! As an undergraduate admissions advisor, here are five things I encourage students to keep in mind to maintain a level head and keep a clear perspective.

Do Your Research

Take the time to research college campuses to make sure they have the major you are interested in, a location that suits you, and a campus community that matches your needs. Maybe a school has a great campus culture, but they don’t have any majors you are interested in. Don’t apply to a school if you can’t see yourself being truly happy there. We recommend looking into UC Davis, but there are plenty of other options if UCD isn’t the right fit. You may find new and unique opportunities that are perfect for you, and you can give yourself a diverse array of schools to potentially choose from once admissions roll out. 

Don’t Get Carried Away

While research is a good idea to make informed decisions about your college application process, don’t go overboard. There is no need to do a deep dive into every school with your potential major interest, or every college in your state. If you are having trouble narrowing down the list of schools you are interested in, talk to your counselor to see if they can help. Challenging yourself is important, but keep it manageable. 

Do Keep a List, or Maybe a Few

It is good to keep a running list of all activities, big and small, that you have done or are involved in. This will make it easier for you to fill in your college applications. The Activities and Awards section in the UC application allows for up to 20 entries, lots of room for you to showcase all of your extracurriculars. It is also a good idea to keep a list (or a spreadsheet if you are anything like me) to manage the many colleges you are considering. You can include pros and cons, websites, events, admission counselor contacts and application deadlines for each school. In addition to keeping things on track, this is good practice to stay organized during college. 

Don’t Look for Application Fillers, Include Your Passions

More isn’t always better. If you have lots of passions and are able to pursue all of them intentionally, that is great. But getting involved in sports/activities/community service just for the sake of adding it to your application is not advisable. In addition to being boring for you, the advisors reviewing applications can usually tell if your heart isn’t in it. Trying new things is a good idea and participating in things that matter to you is even better. For the UC application, those are the things you should write about in your PIQ responses, to help us understand those passions. Whether you love fashion history, entomology or robotics, you can and should showcase how you have pursued those topics and why they are important to you.

Do Practice Self-care

If you only remember one thing from this, I hope it is this: studying for your classes, taking on leadership roles, fulfilling responsibilities at your job or at home and managing all of these college applications takes a lot of time, energy and focus. Make sure to take breaks, rest, stay hydrated and eat well. Find moments to slow down. There are a million articles out there on how to do that, so I will spare you the laundry list of ways to practice self-care. 

Whatever works for you, just remember to do it. And if you don’t have a go-to self-care practice, start trying things. Do that five-minute meditation that you’ve been saying you’d do. Take a walk around the block with your family or a pet. Do some yoga with a friend and laugh together when you both fall! 

At the end of the day, and by the end of this application cycle, it won’t matter if you didn’t pass that one quiz, had to quit a club, or had 100 instead of 200 service hours. The most important thing is to be yourself and take it one step at a time. Ask for help, take advantage of resources in front of you (hello, application workshops!) and take your time on those college apps, to ensure that you put your best self out there for these colleges to get to know you. Take a deep breath and just keep on plugging along, because before you know it, senior year will be over, admission decisions will be out and you will realize that everything turned out just fine.

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