August 10, 2014

Starting early is the key to preparing for college

UC Merced’s admissions director offers advice about how to prepare for college

Encarnacion Ruiz has spent 25 years doing student outreach, recruitment and admissions for the University of California.

“My professional goal is to create greater access to higher education, especially for the students in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ruiz, who grew up in Tulare County in a family with 11 children.

Ruiz, who earned his degree in social welfare, has been UC Merced’s admissions and outreach director since 2004.

He offers this advice for teens and their families about the college admissions process and how they can prepare for it:

Why should young people consider attending college? What’s the big deal?

College prepares you for whatever you’re interested in studying. In today’s changing environment, college is more important than ever. Data show that individuals with a college education have more job opportunities and make more money.

Also, college is about discovery. It allows you to explore subjects in greater depth than in high school and explore different subjects that you’re interested in, and introduces you to a variety of cultures and ways of thinking.

What are the most common mistakes teens make in getting themselves ready for the college admission process?

Waiting until the last minute to get started with the application.

Different college applications can require essays, like the UC personal statement, letter of recommendation or portfolio of a student’s work. Start early on your applications, so you can have enough time to provide a complete, accurate and compelling application.

Another mistake is not even trying to apply. Whether it’s about affordability or thinking you’re not a competitive applicant – you’ll never know if you don’t try.

What are common mistakes parents make in helping their children prepare?

A common mistake parents make is not making sure students are involved in taking responsibility in researching the campuses and majors they think are best for them.

Another one is not getting information about a college directly from the source. Navigating college admissions requirements and the application process can be difficult. Each university can have its own requirements and application. Call us; we’re here to help.

What are some of the first steps parents and students should take to get ready?

Preparation for college begins in junior high.

Students should look into academic programs in junior high that allow them to progress directly into a college preparation program in high school. Students should focus their time on improving their math and writing skills.

Take the opportunity to visit a local university campus and familiarize yourself with the college environment.

Explore college websites like College Board’s Big Futures https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org or www.CaliforniaColleges.edu.

What are a few of the most important things to consider when choosing a college?

Consider going to a college that will support you and allow you to take advantage of all the opportunities available. Brands and location may catch your attention, but it’s about what you do in college that’s much more important.

Also, make sure the schools you are applying to have the academic majors or programs you’re interested in or even slightly interested in. Keep in mind that many students change their majors over the course of their college education.

Is the admission process just about grades, or are there nonacademic things that can help get students into the colleges they want?

There’s no denying that academics play a huge role in the admissions process, but there are other factors, as well.

In the University of California system, we consider different factors when reviewing your application. These include special talents, achievements and awards, and community service.

It’s not just about the number of activities students participate in; we also evaluate the amount of time a student dedicates to an activity, leadership roles or outstanding achievements.

Are there tricks to getting accepted? What are they?

There are tips, but not tricks for applying with the best application possible. Our best advice is to utilize the many resources made available to students.

Resources can be found at http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/index.html.

Take time to prepare before you begin the application, then take your time while completing the UC application. Make sure you provide the university with as much information as possible.

What can families do in advance to minimize the financial costs of a college education?

Start earlier and do your research. Find out what’s available. There are a number of programs out there, including the UC Blue and Gold program and Middle Class Scholarship, which can help you with the cost of college.

Here’s a great site for learning more about what’s available and tools to help you estimate the amounts and types of aid you might receive: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/paying-for-uc/index.html.

What help does UC Merced offer to teens interested in attending that university?

Our campus offers a number of outreach programs through our Center for Educational Partnerships.

These include academic advising, workshops for students and families on the college application and financial aid processes, and summer programs to help expose students to university life.

Students and families are always welcome to visit our campus and meet with an admissions adviser to discuss preparation for college.

What other advice do you have for those considering college?

Find out what types of learning opportunities are available for undergraduates, including being involved in research.

Take notice of the student-to-professor ratio and class sizes. Take time to research the quality of the faculty, and look at what kind of technology the school offers.

Take a look at student life, including academic clubs and Greek life.

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