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Common Application (900+ colleges)

The Common App is for 900+ California private, out-of-state public, and out-of-state private 4-year colleges; the Common App is not used for the UC's, CSU/Cal States, or community colleges.  

Common Application essay/personal statement questions (easy to copy and paste from here directly into a GoogleDoc!): 

- choose 1 of the 7, and write up to 650 words; in your draft, aim for 500, not 700, 800, or 1000!)

1) Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it.  If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2) The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced challenge, setback, or failure.  How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3) Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted your thinking?  What was the outcome?

4) Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

5) Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself and others.

6) Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you?  What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7) Share an essay on any topic of your choice.  It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

University of California (9 campuses)
UC system map

UC/University of California PIQ/Personal Insight Questions (easy to copy and paste from here directly into a GoogleDoc!): 

- choose 4 of the 8, and write up to 350 words for each; in your draft, aim for 300, not 400, 500, or 650!

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.

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.

3) What would you say is your greatest talent or skill?  How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

4) Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

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?

6) Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 

7) What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

8) Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

* note from UC's, January 2021:
"all personal insight questions are reviewed by an anti-plagiarism software program.  If contacted by UC for verification, applicants will have the opportunity to demonstrate that their PIQ responses are their own work.  Applicants who are unable to provide evidence that it is their own work or who do not respond in the designated timeframe will have their UC applications withdrawn."

Costs and financial aidAccording to the February 14 UC Counselor Bulletin:
"More than half of UC undergraduates pay no tuition and 70 percent receive grants and scholarships.

UC's Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan fully covers systemwide tuition and fees for California residents whose total family income is less than $80,000 a year. The Middle Class Scholarship Program will cover up to 40 percent of systemwide tuition and fees for California residents whose total family income is less than $217,000 per year. The maximum scholarship amount will vary depending on family income, assets and other financial aid awards.

Each campus provides net price calculators to help students and families estimate the amounts and types of financial aid they might receive. While the values produced in these calculators are not the actual amount students may receive, they are helpful.

For information, tips, resources and helpful links on cost of attendance, applying for financial aid, how aid works and more, please spend some time exploring the UC Tuition and Financial Aid website."

CSU/California State University (23 campuses)

CSU system map
Some campus websites: San José State, SF State, East Bay, Sonoma State, Sacramento State, Chico State, Humboldt State, Cal Maritime, Monterey Bay, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo

CSU/California State University application ($70 application fee per campus, but fee waivers are available!)

San Jose State virtual tours

Virtual tours of all CSU campuses

CSU Admissions Requirements (a minimum GPA of 2.5 is generally required in your Saratoga HS A-G courses from junior and sophomore years, though in some circumstances, some CSU's will admit students with a 2.0-2.49, with factors including: your coursework beyond the minimum A-G; extracurriculars and leadership; low-income; and first-generation-to-college)

The CSU application is available October 1, and may be submitted November 1 - November 30, with some possible later exceptions for a few campuses (but do not count on this!)

Impacted majors are majors that might have limited numbers of spaces available at each CSU campus

CSU tuition = approximately $5,742/year, or $22,968 for 4 years.  Plus (as of April 2021): 

  • 59 percent of all undergraduates have the full cost of tuition covered by grants, scholarships or waivers
  • 54 percent of CSU baccalaureate recipients graduated with zero education loan debt
  • of the 46 percent who graduated with debt, the average loan debt of $18,173 is well below the national average of $28,950

EOP/Educational Opportunity Program

(providing admissions, financial, and academic support for historically underserved students!

EOP questions (up to 2,500 characters each, about 425 words): 

1. Briefly describe your family's economic background.  Include information about your financial challenges.

2. Why would you like to attend college?  Discuss your career and personal goals.  Are there any particular circumstances, school experiences, or persons that influenced your preparation or motivation to attend college (e.g., cultural/financial background, family, teachers, schools you attended)?  Please explain.

3. Briefly discuss your academic background.  Did you utilize any additional support at your high school, such as tutoring?  Do your grades in high school and/or college reflect your academic ability or potential?

4. List any volunteer, extracurricular activities, or work experience in which you are or have been involved in the past two years.

5. Is there any additional information you would like EOP to consider in determining your admission to the program?

California Community Colleges
(114 campuses)

California community college application 

California community college tuition: approximately $1,380 per year ($46/unit for 15 units per semester, full-time)

TAG/Transfer Admission Guarantee:  if you attend a community college first, and satisfy the recommended UC admissions requirements for certain coursework and GPA's, you are guaranteed admission to either UC Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz!  

* West Valley College (Saratoga, CA) * De Anza (Cupertino, CA) * Foothill (Los Altos Hills, CA)
* Mission College (Santa Clara, CA) * San José City College

Oregon's community colleges (there are 17)

Washington's community colleges (there are 34)

Nevada's community colleges = Truckee Meadows, Western Nevada, Southern Nevada, Great Basin

Arizona's community colleges (there are 10 districts, each with multiple campuses)

Aspen Institute College Excellence Program: the nation's top community colleges (in California, it has included Chaffey College, Pasadena City College, and Santa Barbara City College)