Steps for getting ready to apply to colleges

Hi CC Community:

My S21 is starting the college application process. So far, his list includes the UCs (UCD, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB), CalPoly SLO, University of Washington, University of Utah, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado State, and maybe University of Oregon and Oregon State. From what I can tell, he will have to apply to these schools through three different application platforms–UC application, Coalition App, and Common App. Because we are hoping for merit money, I would like to have his applications finished well before Nov. 1, and maybe before school starts in the fall.

I am a bit fuzzy on what the application process should look like. From what I can tell, he needs to:

  1. Set up a specific email to use only for college applications and for the application portals;
  2. Set up accounts with each application platform;
  3. Start inputting background information into each platform;

And here is where I start to question what to do.

When are letters of recommendation uploaded to the platforms? How are they submitted with his application?
When should we request official transcripts from the school? How are the transcripts uploaded to the application platform?
When should we request his ACT scores? Do we self report or are the scores sent directly to the schools from the ACT company?
When can he input his essays? Are the essays typed into the application platform, or do you attach a pdf or Word document?

Also, regarding essays, what is the different between the Common or Coalition App essay and a “personal statement”? What is a “supplemental essay”?

Also, I’ve seen reference to “GC” recommendations. Is this his high school counselor? When do the high school counselors submit recommendations, how do they submit them, and do all the schools require them?

Finally, he is interested in physics, probably applied physics. I have read that in general, first-year applications should apply to their major, even if the major is impacted because he might have trouble getting classes for his major if he does not. Would you all agree with this?

It is confusing because I’ve seen some colleges say that they admit to the major, but that the students will need to apply after their first year to actually get in to the major. What does that mean?

Thank you all–I’ve really appreciated all the information I’ve picked up on CC!

I can only address the UC’s and Cal states.

UCB is the only UC currently that accepts LOR’s and they have been by invitation only after the UC application is submitted.

UC’s and Cal states do not require transcripts to be sent with the application but you need an unofficial transcript to ensure all courses/grades are inputted correctly into the UC application.

No GC recommendations needed for the UC’s or Cal states.

Cal Poly SLO admits by major so if he is interested in Physics, then that is the major he should select on the application. Alternate majors are rarely considered.

Physics at the UC’s is usually found in the College of Letters and Sciences which does not admit by major. Some UC’s also consider alternate majors so he can select 2 areas of interest on the application.

Below is how the UC’s admit in general:

UC admission by major:
Division (L&S, CNR, CoC, CED, CoE) matters for admission selectivity.
Within CoE (but not the other divisions), major matters for admission selectivity. Changing majors within the CoE after enrolling is not guaranteed, unless one is CoE undeclared.

    Note that L&S admits students as undeclared; admission to capped            majors (e.g. CS, economics, psychology, ORMS, statistics, art practice,         and a few others) is by college GPA in prerequisite courses (and                portfolio for art practice) after attending for a few semesters.

    The business major is in a separate division and admits students in a       competitive holistic process. Frosh intending business majors begin in      another division (usually L&S), take the business major prerequisites,      and apply (usually in their second years). They also need to take               prerequisites for a backup major in case they are not admitted to the       business major.

All students who apply to UC Berkeley and select a major within the College of Natural Resources are evaluated based on their application, not on the particular major they select.

Alternate majors not considered.

Admission decisions are made based upon the qualifications of the applicant pool and the number of available spaces within each academic area:
• College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences admits by college
• College of Biological Sciences admits by college
• College of Letters and Science admits by division within the college
• (Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies; Mathematics and Physical Sciences; Social Sciences)
• College of Engineering admits by academic department
Students applying as “undeclared” or “undeclared/exploratory” are considered within the college/division to which they applied.

Applicants are encouraged to list an alternate major, but not in the
same area as the primary major (e.g., Computer Science Engineering with alternate Computer Science in the College of L&S). Occasionally, we admit to the alternate major.


  • Freshman Selection:
    UCI admits into the University first and then into the major. In the case that UCI is unable to accommodate all qualified applicants in their first-choice major, those students who indicate a valid alternate major may be offered admission in that major or Undeclared.

For the College of Letters and Science, the applicant’s major is not considered during the review process.
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science admits students by declared major, with more emphasis on science and math programs.
The School of Nursing also places more emphasis on science and math programs and requires the submission of an additional supplemental application.
The School of the Arts and Architecture; Herb Alpert School of Music; and the School of Theater, Film and Television admit students by declared major (within the school), and put more emphasis on special talents through a review of portfolios and/or auditions, which are the most significant admission factors for these schools.

UCLA only guarantees review of an applicant’s first-choice major.
We typically do not admit to the alternate major

The campus does not admit students on the basis of academic major or choice of UC San Diego undergraduate college. Alternate majors are considered and capped majors are highly competitive. Also note: Capped majors require additional pre-req courses and specific GPA to be able to qualify if changing majors. Also if applying to a capped major, select an non-capped major as an alternate.

College of Letters and Sciences: Choice of major is not considered in selection to the College of Letters and Science. The exceptions to this rule are dance and music performance majors. Both majors require applicants to complete an audition in late January or early February.

College of Engineering: Students are selected by major for all engineering and computer science majors. Only applicants with a solid background in advanced high school mathematics will be considered for admission to engineering. This includes high grades in all math courses through grade 11 and enrollment in pre-calculus or higher in grade 12. A student not selected for their first choice major will be reviewed for admission to an alternate major outside of the College of Engineering if one was selected.

College of Creative Studies:
Applicants to the College of Creative Studies submit a supplementary application in addition to the general UC Application, which is reviewed by Creative Studies faculty. Students are selected within Creative Studies majors only. Applicants not selected for Creative Studies will automatically be considered for admission to the College of Letters and Science.

Important Note for Prospective Engineering Students: Choice of major does not influence the selection of first-year students, except for those applicants interested in a major offered by the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE). Freshmen who are interested in a BSOE program should be sure to indicate a BSOE proposed major. Students who do not indicate a BSOE program or who apply as undeclared might not be able to pursue a BSOE program.

Admission by major but alternate/2nd choice major will be considered if applicant does not need their first choice admission standards.

Thank you very much! When you say that a school “admits by division,” does this mean that an applicant would be competing against other applicants to that division? So for UCD, if my son applied as a physics major, he would be competing with others in the Physical Sciences division of the College of Letters and Science?

For UCD, yes he would be competing with other applicants in the Physical Sciences Division of the College of L&S. The majors within this Division are listed on this link:

Lots of questions! Don’t worry, many of the things you ask will become clear in due course. Much will be explained when you son starts filling out his apps. One thing he can do is being the apps in September so that he isn’t rushing. He can create an account on the COmmon App, for instance, put in colleges of interest, and start looking at what the colleges ask for as the student completes the app. He can also find lots of timelines online.

The personal statement is the same as the main essay for the Common App and the Coalition App. But you need to check what each college asks for, or what each app asks for regarding recommendations for length. The common app essay is a max of 650, the Coalition app recommends up to 550. That’s substantial.

I tell students that they can adapt or revise essays to fit the word counts. Sometimes this works fine, other times, students might want to write a separate essay. The main point of the personal statement is to give insight to the student’s personality.

Supplemental essays tend to be along the lines of “why this college?” These essays can show that a student understands what the college is looking for and can demonstrate how the student will fit in on campus. These essays can be really short, so every word counts.

He can begin essays in August or earlier.

Teachers upload recs probably in the fall. If the teacher is popular, I recommend your son asks the teacher no later than the end of January.

Your son’s GC will be meeting with him to ensure he’s doing what he needs to do. Colleges will also state what they require and when. You can look at their website which will have a lot of info.

A GC rec isn’t usually as important as a teacher rec, unless the GC knows the kid well. They serve the purpose of giving context to the school. As in, the college will be able to see that the student is in the 50th percentile at his school and belongs to three after school clubs out of the 25 on offering hasn’t had disciplinary issues. Generally speaking of course.

Thank you so much. This is very helpful. There just seems like applying to school is more involved than when I applied way back when…or maybe it just seems that way because I’m way more involved than my parents were.