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Archive for the ‘U.C. Berkeley Application’ Category

Doubling Up on Essays Part II: The University of California and the University of Oregon Application Essays Compared

In Applying to the University of Oregon, U.C. Berkeley Application, University of California Application for 2016-2017, University of Oregon Application Essay on September 19, 2016 at 11:26 am

 

In keeping with the spirit of making double use of essay prompts, I turn to a university that is an increasingly favorite first-choice, as well as long-time safety valve application for California students: the University of Oregon. In particular when you are creating a safety school application, you want to also be creative about reusing an essay (or two). Compared to U.C. Berkeley, Oregon is indeed a safety school, and it is also a very good, large public university. Read on for some insights on essay reuse, if that works for you.

U Oregon has an open-ended prompt for their main essay which could be paired with a number of prompts—most obviously with the nearly identical UC prompt number 8.   Of course, this also means I am making suggestions for any open-ended, tell-us-something-about-yourself prompt, paired with the University of California. See my last post for more on writing for the University of California and a selection of other schools: The Harvard Supplement and the University of California Personal Insight Questions.

Here is UO’s main prompt: Write an essay of 500 words or less that shares information that we cannot find elsewhere on your application. Any topic you choose is welcome. Some ideas you might consider include your future ambitions and goals, a special talent, extracurricular activity, or unusual interest that sets you apart from your peers, or a significant experience that influenced your life.

Keep in mind that that University of California essay that was so painful to cut down to 350 words can now take back some or more than all of those words you cut.

 

Let’s compare this to the University of California to see if how we might expand a U.C. essay to use for U Oregon.   Here we go, U.C. prompts in black font, commentary and comparison in red font:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  Hey, the right leadership essay could set you apart . . . for Oregon as well as for the U.C. How could you set it up to work for both? Of course, if this is just about how you put up posters for your leadership class at high school, or served as class Treasurer, with nothing distinct or distinguishing about it, fuggedaboutit. They already know about that, from your activities. You’d have to do something really spectacular for an essay on school leadership to stand out, or have taken some kind of legit stand. Just choosing a better venue for Prom? Nah. Move on to something else.    Whatever it is should show what a great/creative/unique person you are. Or maybe try the next prompt.
    2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  And, by golly, your actual creative side instead of your leadership creative side could also set you apart—this might be an even better way to address UO . . . depending, of course. If you are an artist, have at it, but you need more than a list of art activities, briefly described, that are already on your activities . . . perhaps you artistic side has helped you solve problems in engineering . . . No, really, I have seen this: artist realizes she is an engineer after helping create a heat shield for a satellite (Don’t’ we all have a summer internship that offers us the freedom to work on spacecraft?). Not you? Then maybe you just really like art or music and can talk passionately about it—it’s that passion that will make this essay shine.3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  What could set you apart in the UO essay on information they can’t see than a talent you haven’t talked (much) about? Notice that this overlaps with the last essay, if you are a (talented) artist. BTW, in truth, application readers do not really look to see if you “answered” the prompt—unless you wrote something cheesy with an overly obvious “lesson learned,” in which case they may look for evidence that you are forcing all kinds of activities and lessons into your essay in a rote way. Rote=Bad.4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. You would, of course, choose things that won’t really show up in your transcript or your activities directly, though you could drag some classes and whatnot into your essay, and this prompt would definitely fit what UO is looking for.5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? Ditto my last comment.

    6.  Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you. Sure, your academic subjects and grades are in here, but hey—they can’t really see how it influenced you in great detail, so why not?

    7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  
    U Oregon Prompt on equity and conclusion could work here if making your school or community better involved some kind of diversity or inclusivity issue. And then, of course, there is U.C.’s prompt number 8: What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California? And for this one . . . oh, wait. This basically is the UO prompt, except it’s for UC, and UC only allows 350 words. But hey, it’s pretty easy to add words, really. So have at it.

 

 

 

Big Changes for the University of California Application: What, Why and What to Do (Part 1)

In Berkeley Application, Changes in College Admissions, College Application Essay, Personal Insight Questions, U.C. Berkeley Application, U.C.L.A. Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California Admissions Data, University of California Application, University of California Application for 2016-2017 on September 7, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Who should read this post: anybody who is now or will be in the near future applying to any University of California campus; any parent of anybody applying to the U.C. anytime soon; anybody interested in what is going on in higher education.

 Our major topics: The U.C. Application Essays for 2016-2017; Some Current Data on U.C. Applications, From Admit Rates to G.P.A.’s; A Brief History of U.C. Admissions

 Our friends at the University of California have finally made their break from the Common Application.

But wait, you say—they never were in the Common App system. And you’d be right.

But the old, two-essay format for the U.C. pretty much guaranteed that a majority of applicants reused their Common App essay; with one thousand words total, you’d upload your very polished Common App essay, then write (or reuse from somewhere else) a shorter essay of about 350 words, after which you could click on as many U.C. campuses as you liked and call it a day. For the last few years, the U.C. has been like a satellite orbiting the Death Star known as The Common Application.

So much for that.

What exactly they want now is four essays, each of 350 words (maximum) and you are to choose from eight prompts to do so. If you are a junior college/transfer applicant, you are required to write about your major, then to choose three of seven remaining prompts. I link the new U.C. prompts for everybody here.

This is the biggest change in years at the U.C. and the biggest change I have seen yet this year in any of the major applications—so why are they doing this, now? And why should you care? Isn’t it enough that you have to write the bloody things?

Well, yes it is, but knowing why can help you understand what they want. And the why has three reasons.

Reason number one: The U.C. is having trouble figuring out who the best applicants are. More on that below.

Reason number two: The U.C. has too many people applying. To a large extent this is due to the fact that it’s easy to apply to all the U.C.’s once you’ve done the app for one: you write the essays, fill in the rest of the application, and then just start clicking to send it to as many U.C.’s as you want. Sure, you pay for each campus you target, but the fee is relatively small against the upside benefit of a seat at a U.C. campus. But you already knew that.

Reason number three: Essay recycling. Clearly this is tied in to the large number or apps, partly because the U.C. was a default backup to a range of super-selective Common App colleges (the Ivies, etc); most U.C. applicants were (and still are) applying to a selection of Common App schools as well—and being able to reuse the Common App essay made it all the more easy to add a set of U.C.’s to your average HYPSM application.

I know I already mentioned that, but it’s an important point because, well, they don’t want to feel like your fallback date for the big dance if your true love turns you down, and you can see how the new application is a direct response to essay recycling when you look at the length and at the number of essays now required for the U.C.: very few universities have a 350-word limit for their essays, and very few require this many essays written specifically for them. Of course, the number and range of questions also require you to do a lot more writing about yourself, and they hope that this will help them do a better job figuring out who to admit.

Think about it: if you are at a typical suburban high school, you probably need two hands and both feet to count the number of people at your school who have a 3.8 or above GPA and a 2100 SAT (or 32 ACT). But would you want to share a dorm with all of them? Are some of them not indistinguishable from robots?  U.C. truly believes in building a “learning community” and, like all schools, want people who themselves really want to attend, and who have more experiences in their lives than were defined by ten years at Kumon and four years of college counseling.  Therefore, the essays, which make it harder to fake it as you show who you are.  Though not impossible.

The takeaway is that it’s become much more difficult to reuse another essay directly on the U.C. application—or to use their essays directly on somebody else’s. Stanford, for example: they want 250-word supplemental essays, and while some clever editing might allow some crossover, a 350 word essay cut down to 250 words is a whole new essay.

On the other hand, a school like Harvard has some overlap through their “optional” extra essay (which is not really optional for most students) because it is so open-ended. And there is a degree of overlap between select UC prompts and prompts for a number of U.C. analogs as well as for some excellent, lesser-known choices across the country. So I will address the opportunities for multi-use essays directly in my next post.

For now let’s leave the essay prompts behind and turn to the details on how this came to pass, and on some current data for the U.C. admissions (3.91 average GPA at the two most popular U.C. campuses, for example) read on.

How We Got Here (And Where We Are)

To get a broader picture of where we are,  let’s start with a quick look at the ancient past: By the middle of the 20th Century, the U.C.’s stated mission was to provide higher education to all California students who qualified. For some perspective on what that meant, prior to 1960, the top 15% of all California students were admitted to the U.C. system, and until 1964 the system admitted all students who met its requirements.  And this without needing an SAT test.   Then, in 1968, a paradigm shift began as Ronald Reagan, governor of California, defined higher education as a privilege that should be defined by the practical and limited to the “deserving” (have a look here for a quick summary of Ronald Reagan’s role in changing the postwar educational paradigm: The Day the Purpose of College Changed).

Flash forward to the early 1980’s and Berkeley was denying admissions to roughly 50% of applicants; by 1990, that number had grown to around 2/3.

 

Some Current Admissions Data for the University of California

That seemed like tough news in 1990, but it seems fantastic compared to last year’s Berkeley admissions: for the incoming class of 2020: 14.8% of all freshman applicants were admitted to U.C. Berkeley, this coming out of 82,558 freshman applicants. And, oh yes, that average Berkeley SAT of 2093 and ACT of 31 for this year’s incoming freshmen, in addition to that 3.91 average GPA (Which was 3.94 for out-of-state and international students—though there are seats set aside for them which might still result in you getting bumped by an out-of-state student, Oh 3.9 GPA Californian).

Of course, you already knew that U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. were both a bear to get into (No, I could not pass up the chance for a bad pun).

But now, even the so-called second tier campuses appear increasingly difficult for admissions, partly because the ease of spamming applications to all campuses, noted above, but also for the very good reason that the education is superb, and the chances of getting into other big-name university brands is even more brutal—just under 5% last year for Stanford, for example, and 6% admit rate for the tougher Ivies—and, well, Mr. Reagan, who attached the idea that education was special and argued that education should take cuts like everybody else when the budget needed to be balanced, and since the early 1970’s, it’s been about balancing budgets more than addign seats—I add only that this is a short summary but fully factual. You can add whatever politics you like to the facts.

But it could be worse–and there is plenty of room for the top 10% of students in California, at the least, if you are flexible in your U.C. target list. So before you panic, consider a wider field, starting with my favorite dark horse, Santa Cruz, which had an average admit GPA of 3.85 and an overall admit rate of 56.9% last year (with a California admit rate close to 80%). This from a university that the Times International survey has ranked in the top two in the world for research influence over the last couple of years (measured by how often U.C. Santa Cruz researchers were cited by others). Yep, U.C. Santa Cruz, at the top of world rankings for research citations.

As for prestige, in ten years, having a degree from U.C. Merced will be gold to a U.C. Berkeley or U.C.L.A. platinum.

It’s true that the pressure is not going to go away, but the new four-essay admissions strategy is likely to have a dampening effect on the total number of applications, and the additional 5,000 or so California students that the U.C. has agreed to add over the next two years will also have an effect on the chances that a California student will be admitted, as well as on the average GPA and test scores. And let’s look past my Dark Horse to a couple of other options.

In fact, let’s look in the San Jouquin Valley, where Merced’s middle-range GPA’s for students arriving this fall ranged from 3.37 (25th percentile admitted) to 3.88 (75th percentile). Which means that Merced looks like Berkeley did when Reagan was governor, in terms of getting in (Historical fact:  1967 was the first year that the SAT was required for U.C. admissions)—though I hasten to add that Merced will also be a large construction site for the next 4-5 years as they build it out into a truly world-class campus.

If construction dust (and valley fever) sound like bad news, have a look further south at U.C. Riverside, which for students enrolling this fall, had a mid-range GPA of 3.52-4.0, a mid-range ACT composite of 27-29 and a mid-range SAT composite of 1490-1915.

And Finally, Back To Those Pesky Application Essays

 So what should you do as you begin your U.C. application? Let’s start with Reason 1 for the change in the application: at the most selective U.C.’s, they are having a tough time figuring out who is a robot as they sort through reams of applications containing the life accomplishments of kids who have had fully programmed lives, going to Kumon since age four and starting college activities in 8th grade.  So view the essay as a chance to show them why you are unique and would be a real addition to whatever campus(es) you are applying to. But before you do that, compare the U.C. prompts to those used by the other schools you are applying to. Or better yet, wait until next week, when I do some of that for you, as well as analyzing prompts.

See you soon.

 

 

 

 

What’s News for U.C. Berkeley and The University of California System

In Ivy League Admission Statistics, Researching Colleges, Santa Cruz, Stanford Admissions, U.C. Berkeley Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California, University of California Admissions Data, What They Aren't Telling Us on May 4, 2016 at 2:39 pm

What’s in this column:  Some news on this year’s Berkeley admissions results; a short history of U.C. admissions (why is it getting so crazy–the answer is partly here); some information on budgets and politics at the U.C.  If you do not wish to read more than 140 or so characters at a time, scan for bold print and font color changes to see important data and subtopics.

If no news is good news . . . let’s just say there’s news for the U.C. system and in particular for Berkeley.

My goal here is to put this news–some of which you have likely heard, particularly if you live in California–into perspective.  And I’d like to start by making a simple statement:  the University of California was and still is the greatest university system in the world (sorry, University of London and your 18 campuses–more on them in my coming entry on international options).  And I can say that U.C. will (still) be great you are applying next year, though the bathrooms may not be as clean nor the landscaping as tidy as in earlier days, nor the computer lab repaired and updated quite as often, particularly at Berkeley where–here it is, your first data point for the year–500 employees are being laid off right now.

But before we get to budgetary problems and that massive construction project called U.C. Merced, let’s take a quick look at admissions results for the U.C. Berkeley, which sets the bar for the system as a whole.    I add one caveat:  waitlist admits and transfers are still in process, so the averages I give you here are going to move around  a bit.

Here is the scoop on the numbers for U.C. Berkeley for the 2015-2016 admissions period (a.k.a. the Class of 2020. a.k.a. students applying for the fall of 2016):

U.C. Berkeley Class of 2020 admissions

Average GPA:  3.91  (4.41 Weighted)

SAT:  (25th-75th%) 2075-2237–note that this is the SAT II, including language and math

All together Now:  Holy Bleep!  And for U.C. Berkeley:  Welcome to the newest member of the Ivy League.  No, seriously, in terms of admissions data, they have arrived.  Oh sure, Berkeley is not like Yale, Princeton or Stanford (which dropped below a 5% admissions rate this year).  But they are pretty close to Cornell, which has an admissions rate of 13.96% for the class of 2020.  Again, these numbers will move a bit as waitlist admits occur, but not much, and it tells you what you are facing when you apply next year–to Berkeley or Cornell, which had a 1400-range SAT II average last year.  You have my full sympathy.

Seriously, you do.  I grew up in California, my father worked for the Cal State system, and I have been directly involved with higher education in California in one way or another since the 1980’s.  And frankly, I don’t need a bigger college advising business opportunity than I already have, driven by a supply/demand problem that has been developing since about 1980.  The problem you face is part of a bigger problem involving what used to be called the Commons, particularly troubling when higher education is, in my opinion, the leading industry of the United States, not tech or, um, manufacturing.

Seriously. Silicon Valley exists because of the proximity of a half-dozen universities and cheap, clean water  as much as it does to genius entrepreneurs like Msrs. Hewlett and Packard, Grove and Noyce or to Wunderkind like Wozniak and Jobs (Yes, water-check out early chip production and the archaeology of the Valley here:  Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History) .  The immediate cause for everything from HP on is as much in the universities as it is in the up-by-the-bootstraps mythology.  Hewlett and Packard were both Stanford alums and Woz was a Golden Bear, as are many inhabitants of the Silicon flatlands now. Yeh, Jobs was a dropout, from Reed College, but Reed also shaped him before he left. It’s still a great college, if you can handle the tuition.

So to see the applications difficulty reach this level makes me somewhat cray-cray.  Particularly when I work with California-resident students who visit the campus, see the Cal students, take a walk up Strawberry Canyon to look out over Memorial Stadium, with Mount Tamalpais and the Golden Gate in the distance and . . .  then, having fallen in love withe place, confront an admit rate like that of Cornell.

I will be delivering more detailed advice in upcoming columns on how to deal with this as you develop application strategy, which starts with looking at the full suite of U.C. campuses, as well as at U.C. proxies from British Columbia to destinations yet to be disclosed.  For the moment, let’s turn our attention to another “controversy” that probably adds resentment to those of you who are Californians.

Here it is:  the California State Auditor recently released a “highly critical report” on the U.C. and revealed (gasp) that U.C. is admitting more out-of-state studentsHere is the gist:

“Nonresident enrollment in the UC system increased by 82 percent, or 18,000 students, from 2010-11 to 2014-15, while in-state numbers fell by 1 percent, or 2,200 students”

For some historical perspective, the U.C. system originally admitted the top 12.5% of students in California–then they dropped that to top 10%, and now it’s closer to the top 8%, but this is no longer a solid number that is part of the mission statement for serving Cali students. But none of this is really  news.  The numbers have been out there.  The regents at each stage announced the retreat from California admissions and were clear about budgets and their need for increased funding via out-of-state tuition.  This was not proclaimed on billboards or in radio ads, but they did put it out there for anybody who wanted to pay attention.  And the auditor’s report as well as the  outrage  is highly political, an intentional pot-stirring by an assemblyman working on his career, with Governor Brown lurking somewhere in the background. Not to mention those jumping on the bandwagon, like San Ramon assemblywoman Catherine Baker, who wants to cut taxes, not increase U.C. funding and cap out-of-state enrollment . . . . to fix things . . . .which amounts to promising more with less.  Works pretty well in Zen koans, not so well in running an institution of higher education.  For more on that,  I quote and link the Contra Cost Bee:  “Baker’s approach sounds a lot like the words and actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.”

All I can add is this:  if affects your kids–or you–now,  or will affect your kids, you can have an influence.  Read up on my links.  Talk to people about it.  Vote early and vote often.  And then plan around it for admissions.

The enrollment facts are partly due to enrollment policy changes in 1986 and to   a wider effect of disinvestment in public goods (which is a  subject way too large for this column, or any column, for that matter–a book would be needed).  What is annoying to me is the supposed surprise of so many, and the attitude of politicians, who seem to think that funding can freeze and so can tuition.  In particular, I’m looking at  Governor Brown when I say this, and I have voted for Jerry every time he has run for  office.  So message to the Gov:  Sure, for a year or two you can freeze things while you work out your problems, then you have to pay the bills.  And just cutting janitors and tech support is not going to fix the budget for the U.C.

Please note:  I do not think tuition should increase.  But I know more money is needed, and this squeeze will soon begin to affect the U.C. system and Berkeley in particular, in ways students will feel . . . actually it already is happening,  not just in the jobs lost, but also in the support for students that those 500 employees represent.  Need that computer lab to be repaired?  Sorry, maybe next month.  For more, I quote and link this:

“Class sizes are ridiculous and desks are broken,” said Rebecca Ora, a doctoral candidate in film and digital media.

As for the Ivy-League admissions numbers, the enrollment policy change I mention occurred in 1986.  Prior to that year, students could only apply to one U.C. campus; if they were not admitted, they would then be redirected to another campus.  Pretty simple, if limited in terms of choice, and to control the outcome, students chose one campus they preferred and that they felt they had a good chance to be enrolled in. Most were okay if they were shunted from Berkeley to, say, Davis or San Diego.    So keep in mind that some of the crazy numbers for Berkeley–and U.C.L.A.–are driven by the multiple admissions policy as well as by the high, international profile of those campuses.  Pretty much everybody applying to the U.C. system at large applies to Berkeley and Los Angeles, even if they really think Riverside is their real target–Why not, when there is no real downside?

For a quick history of U.C. admission, have a look here:  Frontline on U.C. Admissions

But back to that budget:  here’s the news at U.C. Berkeley–

150 million dollar Budget Deficit

500 Job Cuts

Again, if you do not need to follow the news on state government and education in general, you might find this anywhere from confusing to outrageous–after all, did we not pass proposition 30, thus increasing taxes and so securing funding?  Well, yes we did.  But even then, in 2012, this still left a 1 billion dollar deficit, yep billion with a B, due to funding shortfalls going all the way back to the financial meltdown of 2008-2009 and to not funding obligations back to the turn of the century. Berkeley Chancellor Dirks announced in February of this year that he forecasts a 150 million deficit.

Expect other campuses to have problems as well.  One of the causes is pensions costs, but of course for years the U.C.  stopped contributing to pensions and now the U.C. system as a whole–as part of their budget from the state– must make contributions to catch up.  Lest I sound too much like Catharine Baker, I add that U.C. and therefore the State of California had contracts with pay and benefits that they signed and should stand behind, and that the big decisions were made in the legislature and in the Governor’s office–going back through Schwarzenegger’s time, btw.  In my view, throwing employees overboard after making an agreement in exchange for labor and services is immoral and I know that this would  lead to an exodus of employees that serve students–like that engineering professor who is or will in the near future be teaching your kid–as well as making it harder for U.C. to recruit good profs and support people.

It is true that U.C. has bloat in administration, but technology has led to increasing need for technology administration, as have new requirements for programs and services.  You want somebody to police discrimination or to oversee additional support to ensure graduation rates, you gotta pay for their salaries.

The upside for you, Oh Applicant or Parent of Applicant is that part of the deficit comes from an agreement fought over, excuse me, negotiated between U.C. President Napolitano and Governor Brown, an agreement that freezes tuition while increasing the number of California students by 10,000 over a three-year period.  For the coming application season, this means that an additional 2,500 students from California will be admitted.  So this is good:  the current 13,400 tuition and fees will rise only at about 3% per year and you have a better chance of getting in, Oh California Resident, and a pretty much equal chance to last year, if you are not a state resident.

While the idea that your first-year tuition, if you apply in the fall of 2016 will go up by 3% sounds bad, it’s not, relative to what might have happened.   This 3% per year rise means that in 2020 you will pay about 15,500–but in projections back in 2012-2014, tuition was going to be in the 20,000 dollar range by 2020.  You will save around 12,000 dollars because of this agreement, over four years, if you start school in the fall of 2017.   So more California students will get in, with little impact on out-of-state applicants, and you will pay less than the U.C. planned back on 2014.

My final note is this:  I know that 2,500 admits for California students seems a pittance when there were 206,000 applicants for the U.C. system this year. And it is a paltry number, at 1.2% of that total of over 200,000–but also note that fall 2015 admissions saw 92,324 students admitted out of a total of 158,338 applications.  And it is much better than a decline in California resident enrollment.  So cheer up and apply to Santa Cruz and Riverside and have a good overall list of application targets.  U.C. Merced . .  . better for a transfer after two years in a community college, in my opinion.  More on that in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s New in College Applications in 2015-2016: New Wrinkles for the University of California and How to Get a Letter of Recommendation

In College Demographics, Letters of Recommendation for College, Sexual Identity in College Applications, Stressors as an Application Advantage, U.C. Berkeley Application, University of California Application on July 17, 2015 at 10:22 am

Who should this post–anybody applying to a University of California campus; anybody particularly interested in U.C. Berkeley; anybody who needs to get a letter of recommendation; and anybody interested in enrollment categories for sexual identity–an evolving field, as you will see.

Changes for the University of California, Berkeley application.

New Wrinkle #1:  More Recommendations Allowed–and How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation.

U.C. Berkeley is piloting an admissions policy allowing two letters of recommendation.  If this seems like a small thing, multiply it by 75,000, which is my lowball estimate for the number of applicants to Berkeley this coming year.

This optional letter of recommendation adds to an already very large paper load that will have Berkeley hiring at least 100 outside application readers to support the  staff on campus.   Reinforcing my point that you need to give the application webpage of each university a close read, so far U.C.B. is the only campus in the U.C. system to announce this two-recommendation policy–and this change suggests that they are continuing to tinker with their holistic evaluations and feel the need for more information.

What should you do?  Get the second letter, of course.  But please do not try to send more than two letters. Or candy, or personal notes or any other extras not explicitly identified by the school.

Here is how to go about getting letters of recommendation:  If you haven’t been cultivating your counselor and a few teachers, you had better put some time in your calendar to visit a few teachers and your counselor in the opening weeks of school.  Choose teachers you had a good relationship with in subjects that you like.

Counselors are almost always a must for letters of recommendation, and they are uniquely situated to give a recommendation that is relevant to your specific school and situation, but I advise leaving counselors off the casual visit list for the first week or two  of school–if you need to make a class change or have some other business in the first week or two, then yes, use that appointment to  tell them you will be needing two rec letters and you’d like their help on this. Be warm and polite.   If you are stuck with a bad counselor, however, it’s better to opt for two teacher recs or to choose some other adult with a position that would get some respect (your neighbor Joe may like you, but unless he’s your neighbor Joe, VP for Google or Supreme Court Justice of the State of Wherever You Live, I would stick to school teachers and officials for this.  There are interesting stories of celebrity letters of recommendation that did not work out or that backfired, by the way.)

Do keep  in mind that it is crazy hectic for counselors in weeks one and two as they handle early year change of schedule requests, et al.  Be patiently and politely persistent, as needed.

For your teachers, however,  the first week of school is usually a good time to say hello.  They have a lot to do, but usually do not yet have a large paper load sitting on the desk, so visit two or three favorite teachers from your junior year, then follow up again once or twice before you make the ask for a letter or recommendation.   And make the ask by the end of the first month of school if you have any early apps–I like my clients to allow a two-week window for letters of recommendation.   Never ask for a letter the day before it is due unless you come bearing gifts and genuflecting.  The stronger and more genuine your connection to any person writing a letter of recommendation, the better chance that you will get a good letter.  M.I.T. has emphasized recommendations for years, and what they say about their letters applies to all letters of recommendation:

“. . .letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in our admissions decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can highlight impressive characteristics beyond his/her own self-advocacy. We are looking for people who have and will make an impact – the difference between a letter that supports and a letter that raves about a special student.

Both guidance counselor and teacher evaluations are most helpful when they are specific and storied. They should provide us with the information and impressions we cannot glean from the rest of the application. Try to give a complete sketch of the student and the context of his/her accomplishments. Support your conclusions with facts and anecdotes whenever possible. A story or incident that conveys the character or merit of the individual is more telling than a mere statement like ‘Mary is mature.’ ”

There you have it–try to set up the information you provide to letter-writers for any university so it feeds into the M.I.T. description above.

Finally, you should be shaping the letters by providing information that you think will help you to the people who will write your recommendation.   Writing up an outline, having a focused summary, these are good ideas.  Providing a huge resume, maybe not so much.  Pick the things you need to show from the information below, and write up one page to offer to the people you ask to write you a letter.  For more, look below at what the U.C. asks for:

U.C. Berkeley’s Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation

Guidelines for the letters:  At least one letter must be from an instructor, the second from somebody you select who knows you well (could also be a teacher),   the letters are recommended to be one page long . . . and here is what the letters should address:

• Academic performance and potential (both overall and in the context of the class)
• Love of learning
• Leadership (in school, family, or community)
• Persistence in the face of challenges
• Cross-cultural engagement
• Originality/Creativity
• Demonstrated concern for others

New Wrinkle #2: The University of California system and the Politics of Sex

Or maybe just the demographics of the student body.  That is what the U.C. says in explaining their new option to identify your sexual preference–this is system wide, not just for Berkeley–and is in addition to the existing identity choices you will make.   I think the visibility argument made by those in the LGBT community who argued for outing people in the closet in recent decades has proven to be true, given the rapid change in social attitudes toward gay marriage, et al, as LGBT people have indeed become more visible (sometimes unwillingly).   I think the U.C. is also correct in arguing that the information helps them to allocate resources for health, counseling, and other services.

On the other hand, and maybe I am just showing my age, I am not a big fan of passing over personal information in most circumstances, and the more personal, the more reluctant I am to offer it.  But leaving aside my personal feelings and the fact that a decent number of high school seniors still have a lot of questions about their sexual identity, let’s look at what’s in it for you:

Should You State Your Sexual Preference/Identity?

Whether the U.C. will, going forward, try  to balance enrollment categories like percentage of LGBT students, or cohorts within this category is an interesting question–certainly the U.C. and other holistic schools try to include a representative sample of students in other categories, so why wouldn’t they try to create a “balance” in sexual identities, on campus as well?  Over time of course.  This is their first year with this option, so there will not likely be any formal percentage of balance they look for in their results.

As for a possible edge in applications this year, U.C. readers are instructed to look for “stressors” that may promote a student–like being a low-income student from a rough neighborhood, which can help promote an applicant in the holistic review (click here if you do not know what a holistic evaluation is and entails:  the secret to college admissions.)  So if you are LGBT, I would recommend identifying here this year, particularly if you are going to be bringing this up in an essay and/or it has been a stressor for you.

It is still not easy even in ‘liberal’ environments to be openly LGBT, and any obvious obstacles you have overcome now become an argument that you are a good candidate for admission–a person with good grades and extracurriculars who has had to tough out a bad situation while getting those grades and accomplishments gets an edge over good grades and accomplishments by a student on  Easy Street.

And while you want to be very cautious about pandering to your perception of an average U.C.  app reader’s feelings–which are impossible to know, though likely fairly liberal in sexual politics–and equally cautions about claiming victimhood or otherwise using an obvious emotional appeal, the facts of your life are the facts.  Just choose wisely which ones need sharing in applications.