UCLA recently notified applicants of their admission status: admit, wait-list or reject. For a school that consistently receives more applications than any other in the country (this year, they were said to receive between 72,000-74,000), it’s anyone’s guess who the ideal UCLA candidate is. The UC system at large requires all candidates to have a minimum 3.0 GPA to be considered and a UCLA admissions officer once told me the vast majority of viable UCLA candidates had close to a 4.0 or higher GPA. Thus, when you eliminate those candidates whose grades and test scores are too low for UCLA consideration, what you’re left with are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of applicants who, in theory, are all worthy of admission.
So, what’s an admissions team to do? Contrary to some rumors, real people do read applications, even at large schools like UCLA, which underlines the value of the college essay (personal statement). Paired with a healthy variety and depth of extra curricular accomplishments, one student can easily stand out from the next. Then add “fit”, in other words is a student an intellectual, academic and social match for the college and it’s personality, and you have one more potential way to stand out. Finally, since a real person is interpreting an application, the final ingredient is completely subjective and simple, does the reader like your application and essay? Can she connect with it? Does she get a good sense of who you are? Did you have typos?
Within the group of students we worked with this year we saw a variety of outcomes for UCLA and at face value, it’s difficult to say why some were admitted and others not. All sported strong grades, curriculum and test scores, as well as impressive extra curricular accomplishments, and their essays were well-written. But, when we take a closer look, what’s consistent between those who were admitted are two things: 1) Their essays were authentically them and readers could probably “hear” the students literally telling their stories as they read. Their writing was dynamic and the reflection was honest, the students expressed vulnerability followed by uncovering of layers leading to a greater awareness. Their stories were neither sob stories nor stories of tragedy, but rather stories of identity development, but from different angles. 2) They had at least one extra curricular interest UCLA can nurture because of the strength of programs with components specific to UCLA.