The Battle Through Application – Tan Kai Chen (UCLA ’20)

Tan Kai Chen (UCLA ’20) reflects on the battle through her application that pushed her to think about the endless opportunities that lie years ahead.


This time last year, I was still a nervous applicant, sitting in front of my laptop as I navigated through different university application websites. The whole process seemed overwhelming at first, but I’ve learnt to take one task at a time along the way.

Here are four tips I wish I had known last year and that would have made my application journey simpler and less stressful.

1. Find a counsellor who will still be easily accessible from December to January (during school holidays!)

I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way. Last December, as submission deadlines were quickly approaching, I realized that my counsellor on CommonApp had not yet submitted her Counsellor’s Recommendation. Besides submitting two Teacher’s Recommendation letters, I didn’t know that a Counsellor’s Recommendation Letter was mandatory as well. As my counsellor was overseas, I panicked and had a hard time reaching her… but luckily it all worked out in the end.

On CommonApp, changing counsellors can be a hassle. The original counsellor will have to submit a request online and it will take a few days to process. Therefore, make sure you find a suitable counsellor from the beginning and stick with them for the rest of the school year.

2. Expect a quick reply from the universities’ admission team.

Do not hesitate to email the admission teams any questions or concerns that you have on mind. Speaking from experience, the inquiries can be general or very specific to your application file.

3. On CommonApp, add all the schools that you are interested in onto your list!

For me, this was the easiest way to find out the requirement of each school’s writing supplements without getting lost in their official websites. The submission deadlines were also stated below the school name, which helped me to stay on track. Applicants can easily remove schools from their list later if they do not wish to apply any more.

However, there are some schools that are not listed on CommonApp, such as the UC schools, University of Texas and other schools that prefer their own application portals.

4. If you are applying to two or more schools within the same school system, you might not need to send your scores to each of them.

Sending standardized testing scores can get very expensive but you can find ways to save on them. For instance, when I was applying to UCLA, I had also decided to submit an application for UC Berkeley. I did not send my SAT and TOEFL scores to UC Berkeley because I soon found out that I only need to send my scores to one of the universities in the UC system. The school will eventually share my results with other schools within the system.

Overall, the most important lesson that I’ve learnt from the whole application process is to be optimistic and confident. There were moments when I started to have doubts but at times like this, I would remind myself why I had chosen to study in the United States. The application process gave me an opportunity to review my past and pushed me to think about the endless opportunities that lie ahead.