Applying to Undergraduate College Programs

11/15/23 | 7 MIN READ

What is an Undergraduate Program?

An undergraduate college program is a 4-year university where one pursues a credential beyond high school.

This time of your life is a very special experience where you will work toward a bachelor's degree and learn more about yourself. An undergraduate degree is an opportunity to advance academically but also develop personally and professionally. The undergraduate program is, therefore, structured to gain each of these unique experiences. Academically the undergraduate program helps train and build knowledge, to prepare individuals for their future careers and full-time employment. Professionally, the undergraduate program teaches the individual soft skills and technical skills that help individuals pursue each goal and learn how to make informative decisions. Personally, individuals enrolled in undergraduate programs learn more about who they are as an individual, especially since it is the first time living away from home for many. Enrolling and completing your undergraduate program is just the first step in being competitive for countless opportunities. 

Why should I Choose College?

That being said, there are multiple pathways that someone can take after high school. Examples of paths you might pursue include 2-year community colleges where you can prepare to make yourself ready for a 4-year university or training school. To know if college is the path for you begins with a check-in with yourself. You should start by asking yourself how a college degree will be beneficial for what you want to do long term. Needless to say, most future careers require a college degree, hence attending a university is valuable. Having a bachelor's degree shows future employers that you can complete long-term commitments and that if they hire you, you have the necessary skills to be successful. In college, you will pick up skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and the capacity to pick up new methods and learn new things in your field. All of these skills are part of your undergraduate training and when they are applied in your future career these skills make you marketable, competitive, and needed. 

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Types of Universities

Before beginning the application process ask yourself where you want to pursue your bachelor’s degree. Every school will have different application requirements, standards, and open-ended response questions. Since explaining every school’s application process will take too long, we will boil down the application process into the main campuses you can attend and what application process they use. First, there is the University of California (UC) system which uses the UC Portal. The California State University (CSU) system uses the Cal State Apply portal. Most private education institutions, like the Ivy League institutions, use something known as the Common App. There are also public universities in every state and some use the Common App, but you should check with the individual campuses before applying.  

The UC’s

The University of California (UC) Regent’s is a well-established university system. The UC system includes nine campuses: UC Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), UC San Diego (UCSD), UC Irvine (UCI), UC Davis (UCD), UC Santa Barbra (UCSB), UC Riverside (UCR), UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), and UC Merced (UCM). The UC system must be applied to through the UC portal, but once you fill out the application, you can choose to apply with any of the UCs you wish. When applying to the UC system, one item to remember is that every UC looks to see if you have fulfilled their core curriculum, A-G requirements. The application will ask for your completed coursework with grades, and in-progress course work, to determine if you have met all of the requirements. Additionally, you will report your extra-curricular activities, jobs, and volunteer/community service, along with the weekly hours you spent with each activity.  The application will also ask for academic achievements, awards, and honors. Most important than all of these portions are your insight statements. The UC system offers 8 different prompts, and the applicant will reply to 4 of the 8 prompts in 350 words or less. These statements are an opportunity for the university to get to know you and where you will stand out. 


The CSU system comprises 23 campuses spread throughout California. Like the UC application portal, the CSU application has its own portal. The CSU portal is extremely similar because the state of California requires all students attending 4-year universities to fulfill the core curriculum, A-G requirements. This application will also ask for your completed coursework with grades, and in-progress coursework. You will have the opportunity to report extra-curricular activities, jobs, volunteer/community service, academic achievements, awards, and honors. The major difference, however, is that the CSU application does not ask you to describe your activities, but simply report them. Moreover, the application process does not include personal statements.

The Private Schools

Every private institution is different from one another, but most if not all private institutions use the common app or coalition application portal for the students interested in their university. Individual universities might require you to apply through one over the other, but the school will make it clear as to which you should use. The main difference between a university using one over the other is that the coalition app is meant to target and help students from underrepresented groups. The coalition app, therefore, has a particular purpose, but it is safe to say that both portals streamline the undergraduate college application process.

Other Public State Universities 

Last, but not least public state universities can be found in any location across the United States. This blog specifically covered the California public universities because their application portals have global interest. If you are looking at other state institutions, especially two or more public universities in a specific state, then you should consider checking if the state has an application portal. For instance, one student shared “I was interested in both the University of Texas, Austin, and the Texas Agriculture and Mechanical University (Texas A&M), so I used Apply Texas.” It is good to consider each campus carefully so you know how to submit your application.

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Please note that this blog is generalizing the application portals and there are specific ways to apply for some schools. No matter where you want to apply, some universities require that you apply directly through their school portal. If a school asks you to apply through their portal, read and follow their directions regarding the application materials, submission process, and associated fees.

In the time that you are considering the various institutions to apply, acknowledge that the application process will be very difficult. Many thoughts will run through your mind such as, “What are they looking for,” “How do I stand out,” and “Will I get into my first choice school?” Just as much as you have these questions, the Universities evaluating you also use a holistic examination approach. That means that admissions officers are asking themselves “How will this student fit into our campus community,” because they know that a student's environment is conducive to their success. Part of that environment includes the applicant's major, so you want to consider how you choose your major and why. Admission officers are interested in learning why you are pursuing their school, and why you decided upon the major choice with the campus. Keep this information in mind during the process.

Choosing a Major 

Beyond choosing where to apply, choosing your major will make all the difference in your college experience because it should be based on the career or graduate program you want to pursue. The major you choose will dictate the courses you take and can even direct your future career path. When choosing a major bear in mind that not every school will have the exact major you are interested in pursuing. While some colleges will offer similar majors, the majors can change in curriculum, and how they prepare you, or they may not have the major that interests you. Before applying to the university, start by researching the respective majors that you are interested in and where they are offered at each school. Once you identify what colleges offer the programs you are interested in, consider looking at the course schedule of the classes being offered for that major. Compare how your course requirements for that degree will differ from one another at each school. Particularly, consider how these majors might be the same, and ask yourself how these differences will make your training at that school different. 

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To research the difference in these degrees consider the type of bachelor’s degree you can earn, which will vary depending on your major. There are three major types of bachelor's degrees. There is a Bachelor of Science (BS), a Bachelor of Art (BA), or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BF.A). BS degrees are geared towards STEM and usually lead to positions as doctors, engineers, mathematicians, etc. In comparison BA or BFA. degrees are typically geared more towards humanities and the liberal arts. Those who pursue this degree usually land careers in social justice work, writing, film production, marketing, etc. Ask yourself where your interests lie and what sounds more interesting to you. Remember that often the more interested you are in the subject, the easier it will be for you to enjoy your major. Once you know whether you want to work in the STEM field or liberal arts it makes it easier to compare your major and the programs where you can pursue the major at.

2022-04-23 Introduction to Biotechnology Research-11

One of the prime examples that many have shared is the path to nursing because it can be different for everyone. One nurse might have gone to a 4-year university and then entered a nursing program. Another could have attended a 4-year university where the 4-year degree serves as the nursing program. Regardless of the route you take, those in nursing need to attend a state-approved nursing program to be eligible to take the NCLEX, which is the nursing exam, and pass the exam to become a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).  Nurses particularly express the hurdles they need to surpass because of the multiple education pathways. It was shared that UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC San Diego are the only UCs that offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The issue is what if someone does not want to go to a University in Southern California, or what if they practically do not get in, which is a real situation that comes up for many. It is good to understand the options of how you can still become a nurse, even if plan A for becoming a nurse does not work out.

Getting Involved

So you might be wondering how can you prepare for these education pathways besides choosing your university and your major. Of course, there is more to the college application process than simply applying. As mentioned before, applications will ask you to report your extracurriculars, jobs, volunteer/community service, and any awards and honors. The reason these items are asked for is that a college applicant should be well-rounded.

It is a great idea to spend your high school career enjoying high school. Grades are important, SAT scores and standardized tests are slowly being removed from the application process, and what a college admissions officer wants to know is what you did beyond the classroom. Colleges want to see if you did the most with the opportunities you were given. Almost anyone can focus on their courses and do extremely well, but what makes you unique and sets you apart from the rest of the applicants? 

What you will learn is that every person has a unique portion to share. It may not always seem like it at the time, but there is a classic phrase, “For a time such as this.” What that means is that you will find that you are where you are supposed to be exactly when you are supposed to be. Everyone’s journey will look different and the important part is that you embrace where you are and admire where you want to be because if you want it bad enough, you will eventually get there. 

We wish you the best in applying to your undergraduate programs!


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