TEACH.org Logo
Student writing in notebook.

Applications in California

1.5 hours
1.5 hours

Applications in California

This guide describes the best practices for university and program applications: transcripts, personal essays, references and more.

Jump to:

If you have any questions about your university and/or program application(s), visit the Support page or reach out to your admissions.


To apply to your teacher preparation program (TPP), you will need to submit one or more application(s). (Surprised? No, we didn’t think so.) Your application is a one-stop-shop for admissions officers to review your fit for their program.

Common sections include personal information, academic history, a personal statement and references (letters of recommendation).

California State University (CSU) programs use Cal State Apply for all or part of their application process. This applies to you if your checklist is for Cal State East Bay, San Francisco State University or San Jose State University. Most programs require similar documents. (Your application checklist will help you keep these requirements straight!)

Cal State Apply vs. Program Application

Some California State University TPPs manage all application materials through Cal State Apply. Others manage some materials through Cal State Apply and additional materials through their departmental application processes.

You may have to complete two applications—for the university and for your specific program—or just one. Make sure to follow the application process and deadlines outlined for your TPP.

To get started, head over to the Cal State Apply website, select the term you will begin your program, click Apply and then Create an Account.

Configure Your Application

Cal State Apply is divided into four sections:

  • Personal Information
  • Academic History
  • Supporting Information
  • Program Materials

Your TPP will provide guidance on how you should fill out each section. You might upload documents in the application portal, email them or mail hard copies.

We know you’re diligent, responsible and capable. ? But rockstar qualities aside, double-check which documents your program requires you to upload through this portal and which documents go directly to the department. Make sure that you are not missing any information. Failing to fill out certain fields could jeopardize the timing or your acceptance to the program.

Personal Information

Whether you’re using Cal State Apply or another application system, most California TPPs require similar materials. For instance, all TPPs and universities will ask you to enter your background information. This section commonly includes fields for your name, address, email, phone number, social security number and more.

Cal State Apply also asks about financial information in this section. This means you will need your tax documents handy. If someone can claim you as a dependent, then you’ll use their documents instead.

Academic History & Transcripts

For most TPP applications, your transcripts will provide proof of your academic history. When requested, include your transcript as part of your TPP application.

You may be able to upload unofficial transcripts for the initial application, but you will need to formally request your official transcripts before (or shortly after) you are admitted. Contact the Transcript Office (or equivalent) of the school(s) you attended, and follow their procedures to request your transcripts. Budget at least three to five days for processing. Some schools will send transcripts via mail; others may have electronic copies.

In your request, be sure to specify:

  • Your name and/or student ID number.
  • How many copies of your transcript you need.
  • Your signature.

Keep in mind that TPPs may have different instructions for submitting transcripts.

Test Results & Field Experience

If you explored the Eligibility Guide, you’ll know that California TPPs look for several pieces of evidence that show a candidate’s ability to succeed in their program. With this in mind, you will need to gather your documents that show:

  • Mastery of Basic Skills (e.g., CBEST).
  • Subject Matter Competence (e.g., CSET or waiver program).
  • Early Field Experience.
  • Requirements specific to your TPP or subject matter, such as a second language course or writing test.

For test scores, be prepared to submit official copies of your score reports. For other requirements, your TPP may have their own forms. This is where an application checklist can help keep you on track. 

Keep copies of all of your application materials and have extra score reports on hand, if possible. Now is a great time to flex your organizational muscles. You know you’ll need them as a teacher!

Supplemental Materials

Depending on your TPP and the subject or grade level of the credential, you may have to submit a few additional materials. Timing and submission processes vary, but common supplemental materials for California TPPs include:

  • Departmental paper application.
  • Application checklist.
  • Resume or CV.
  • Negative tuberculosis test.
  • Background check/fingerprinting.

Essay Responses

Your essay response—aka personal essay, statement of purpose, statement of intent, or some combination thereof—is your unique opportunity to tell admissions staff exactly why you are the perfect fit for their teacher preparation program.

Before writing your essay, make sure you’re clear on why you want to be a professional educator. Get up, grab your phone, and call a friend or family member. Explain to them why you’re applying to a teacher preparation program, and get their feedback on your explanation.

Better at brainstorming alone? Make a bulleted list of all the reasons you want to be a professional educator. More of an artist? Draw your feelings about the subject. No joke.

The goal here is to hone your thoughts and feelings around teaching. Once you’re clear on “why,” writing an essay becomes a straightforward task that you can spend time perfecting (rather than stressing over).

  1. 1


    In your essay, you want to:

    • Address specific requirements for your program. Some programs give specific writing prompts for the essay response. If this is the case, make sure you cover everything in the prompt. Beware the fantastic essay that doesn’t answer the question!
    • Consider your audience. Write for your readers. Admissions staff members are unique for each program. Ask yourself: What does this teacher preparation program pride itself on? This is your chance to directly connect with their mission statement and prove you know your stuff.
    • Mention relevant background. Describe why you want to be a teacher, tying in your academic record.
    • Include personal experience. Select one or two examples from your life that underscore how your background and personal experience make you a good fit for this teacher preparation program.

    Some applications break essay responses into individual parts or questions. When this is the case, remember to choose rationale and specific examples that directly relate to the topic at hand.

    Visit your teacher preparation program’s website and social media profiles. You can get a good sense for what the program values (and what you might speak to in your essay) by doing a little recon.

  2. 2


    Your personal essay is an opportunity to be creative—to a point. It’s vital to make an impression by demonstrating your relevant skills, experience and vision.

    Pay close attention to the word count or page limit for your personal response. (It’s never been a better time to make friends with an editor.)

    Suggested Outline

    Here’s our recommended outline for your personal essay. Just remember: You’re the expert on you! Take what works; revise what doesn’t.

    • Introduce yourself. (1 paragraph)
      • Hook. Grab the admissions officer’s attention with a strong statement that speaks to your interest in this teacher preparation program specifically.
      • Connect. In one or two sentences, give an overview of what your essay response seeks to achieve as a whole. In other words, write a thesis that connects the next two sections up front.
    • Get personal. (2-3 paragraphs)
      • Background. Briefly summarize the parts of your educational background that relate directly to your ambitions for becoming a professional educator. What made you want to teach the grade level(s) and subject area(s) you’ve chosen? (Hint: If there’s anything on your resume or transcript you’re not proud of, consider addressing it here to use it to your advantage.)
      • Anecdote. Tell your story. What made you want to become a teacher? What inspires you about the profession? How have events in your past—including pre-teaching experience—inspired you to pursue this career?
    • Seal the deal. (1-2 paragraphs)
      • Validate. We could easily call this step “Connect again.” Revisit your thesis and make sure you’ve proved what you set out to. In other words: What about your background and personal anecdote(s) make you a good fit for this particular teacher preparation program?
      • Conclude. Reaffirm your passion for teaching the grade level(s) and subject area(s) you’ve chosen.
  3. 3

    Phrases to Avoid

    When writing your essay, stay away from these sayings and clichés:

    • "I want to make a difference.”
      • Doesn’t everyone want to make a difference? Get more nitty-gritty than this catch-phrase. Consider how teachers uniquely provide a vital social service, and what about the profession resonates with your own mission.
    • “While this isn’t my first choice program…”
      • While honesty is usually the best policy, you don’t need to reveal to admissions staff that their program might not be your #1 choice. Instead, focus on the parts of the teacher preparation program that are most compelling to you.
    • “I’ve always wanted to work in education.”
      • Prove it! Use your personal anecdote to show that you’re the right person to lead a classroom.
    • “I love working with children.”
      • While we’re sure that’s true, focus instead on the specific rewards (and challenges) of working with students of a certain age.


When it’s time to submit references, aka letters of recommendation, choose your recommenders wisely. Your references have the power to give your application a major boost. (You know how the best compliment is the one you overhear? This is like that, but staged, eloquent, and directly tied to your academic and professional ambitions.)

You will typically need two to three references from people can who can attest to your skill sets, strengths and fit for a career in education. Common types of recommenders include employers, supervisors, teachers and professors.

Some TPPs have specific guidance about who you should choose to provide a reference. You may need recommenders from your field experience supervisor(s). 

  1. 1


    Give your recommenders plenty of time to reflect on your accomplishments and to write their letters. Some programs recommend asking at least 30 days in advance.

    Don’t assume that someone will have the time or be willing to recommend you for a teacher preparation program. Make your request far enough in advance to allow for any necessary course-corrections.

  2. 2


    To make it easy on your recommender, provide them with as much of the following as you can:

    • An explanation of what you’re applying for and why you’d like them to recommend you. Consider including your personal essay(s), if you’ve completed that task.
    • The deadline for their letter. (Bake in one week’s wiggle room.)
    • A copy of your official or unofficial transcript.
    • Your resume/CV.

    Instructions about how to submit your letters of recommendation. Some programs require recommenders to use a web submission form or program-specific email address, others want letters the old-school way — in the mail.

    If your recommender is a past instructor, include the grade(s) you received in their course(s) and a couple of  samples of work you completed for them. This will remind them of your performance and fit.

  3. 3


    Make sure to get confirmation from your recommender once your letter is submitted.

    Once you’ve received confirmation of submission, give your recommender a big thank you in the form of an email, phone call or card. Just like you, recommenders have day jobs, and providing a reference is a favor they are doing for you (that’s how great you must be!). Not only is this polite, but it will encourage your recommender to support you in the future.

    If you are accepted to your teacher preparation program, let your recommender know! It takes a village.