Being in California, the UC schools loom large for a lot of my students. Many of their parents have attended UC schools, and the system’s stellar reputation combined with its low sticker price make these schools top choices for many of my students and their families. Admissions decisions for the UC schools are being released throughout the month of March, bringing good news – and some disappointment – to high school students around the world. But for some students, the decision exists somewhere between a yes and a no, in the form of the wait list.
One of the challenging things about the UC application is that there’s one form that covers all the schools. So whether you’re applying to one school or multiples, you only get to submit one application, one set of essays, and one list of your activities and achievements. When all the schools see the same materials, there’s not an opportunity to discuss specifically what you love about any particular school. Unless you get invited to join the wait list.
Many colleges will accept and even encourage waitlisted students to submit new information. It might be your most recent quarter grades to show colleges that your upward trend is continuing. Or it might be an award or honor you’ve received in the last few months. But the UCs are unique in that they have a required essay for students who wish to be put on the wait list. UC Davis’s prompt reads, “Please briefly tell us why you feel UC Davis is the right place for you to continue your education.” Students might bemoan the fact that they have to write yet another essay for their college applications, but I see this as a wonderful opportunity to tell a college why you’re interested in going there, and why you’re still excited about it months after you first submitted your application.
The key to this kind of essay is getting personal. I always encourage my students to think about how other students might answer this prompt. They will likely talk about how strong the [insert your major] program is. They might say something about how nice the campus is. They might talk about how much they like the town of Davis, or the facilities, or the sports teams. But these responses are missing a crucial element: why is that important to you? And moreover, why is that unique to UC Davis? Maybe you like the campus because you grew up in a city, and you love the idea of looking out your dorm room window and seeing open fields for miles. Maybe you like the town of Davis because when you visited, you found this quirky coffee shop where a bunch of students were studying together, and you could immediately picture yourself there, having intellectual debates over cold brew coffee. Whatever your reason, you have to make it specific to the school and specific to yourself. So if you have the chance to write one of these essays, seize it, and give the most compelling reasons for why you’re a great fit.