Update (7/13/2019): Merced is taking freshman applications for Spring 2020, so counselors and anxious parents/students can sign up for one and get a sneak peek. I just signed in today and discovered the description box for Activities & Awards entries has a 500-character limit?!! When I attended the transfer workshop back in May, the admission officers swore up and down the presentation that the limit will remain at 160 characters, so I don’t know if this 500-character limit is an error or pilot test. Students who are working on sections of the UC Application early should take note of the possibility that the character limit for the Activities & Awards descriptions in the Fall 2020 UC Application may be different from previous application cycles.
Original post (6/24/2019):
You may have heard that the UCs redesigned the UC Application. Don’t get too excited or too worried; it’s just a facelift. Based on what I heard, the user feedback (mostly students) for the redesign was gathered several years ago (UC time passes at a different rate than real time) and the slightly-updated (I wouldn’t even call it new) application is not even going to be fully mobile-friendly (but it’ll be a bit better than before). At this point, I think you can tell I’m not a fan of this supposed update; I’m going to pause my rants for a moment and give you some information and resources here, then keep going.
The redesigned application will debut with the Winter/Spring 2020 application cycle, which will open July 1, 2019 (you can sign up for the application if you really want to look at it; unsubmitted application will not affect your future applications in any way). There is a 42-page Freshman Counselor and Adviser User Guide and a 40-page Transfer Counselor and Adviser User Guide. The only thing I would point out that you should note is a change to the Activities & Awards section (there is no longer imposed restriction of entries by category; students simply choose to enter whatever 20 activities/awards they want and just assign the appropriate category for each activity/award). The Personal Insight Questions will stay the same.
Ok, now back to the ranting. Aside from the slightly better looking interface and tiny bit better navigation (based on how much praise was given to the new navigation tool, it was clear to me that most admission officers didn’t know there was a navigation tool in the old UC Application; the UCs really ought to run some internal training so their own people know how to use the application), the only improvement that would matter to applicants is that the application instructions were modified (supposedly to be clearer, but I don’t think the UCs accomplished that; just as an example, the UCs have said that context and selectivity matter for Awards and Honors, but that information is not included in the new instructions written for that category).
In some ways, I think the UCs made the application even less user-friendly, particularly for students of lower socioeconomic status, since there are more graphics and pictures on almost every screen now. This potentially creates problems for students who have metered internet (those who can only access the internet using limited data plans, this is in addition to the application not being fully mobile-friendly) or those with no access to high-speed internet (such as students in rural areas or students who only have internet access through libraries or schools, which may have older equipment).
I think the UCs need to reevaluate the UC Application with more emphasis on counselor and parent feedback (counselors have to deal with idiosyncrasies of the UC Application year after year; parents from various socioeconomic backgrounds encounter different issues in different sections of the application; personally, I have put together couple guides and a whole list of clarifications that I reference when walking students through completing/submitting the UC Application). But, at the end of the day, the UCs don’t have any incentives to make the application better; it’s not like they actually want more applicants (who can fill out the application better), they already have more applicants than they can handle!
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