Here's the thing. I came in as a transfer student, so I knew exactly what I wanted to major in. Therefore, I can't (unfortunately) comment on the difficulties and challenges of getting into my program.
I can, however, comment on the process of general admission and how my experience with my major has been so far.
Genaral admission: I'm not sure what kind of people read these things, but I'll assume there's a lesser amount of transfer students because that seems to be the general consensus. For those of you who want to go to university for 4 years there are some upsides and downsides. Upside: a) you get to be more involved in your campus. Usually the first year at university is an adjustment period...thus you don't involve yourself to heavily in campus activities because you're just trying to figure out how to survive. So, if you go to university for 4 years instead of 2 you have more opportunity and time to do that. b) You have more time and opportunity to network. CAL is a great place to meet and connect with amazing people. Having 4 years affords you the opportunity to establish strong bonds with good professors (who will hopefully give you shiny letters of recommendations) and to connect with high up people (via jobs or inernships). Downside: a) it costs a hell of a lot more. I went to community college first, and financially I'm glad I did. I barely scraped by in the 2 years I've been at CAL...and it looks like it is only going to get worse. b) Jobs and maturity. I've discovered that employers love transfer students. We are often perceived (and often rightly so) as mature, responsible, and dependable. People see transfer students as people who really want it, as go-getters, and self-reliant individuals. So, if you know that you'll want or need to have a job being a transfer student doesn't hurt. c) Maturity and appreciation. The older I get, the more I appreciate my education. I don't think I would have been able to get as much out of CAL or appreciated it as much if I had gone to university right away. Having to work for it at my community college made coming here so much sweeter and rewarding.
The actual application (aka what you wanted to read about from the beginning): All I can say is essay, essay, essay. I know it sucks to hear for those of you who hate to write, but the essay is extremely important. Of course, I can't say I actually know how they decide on admissions. But I can say that I had an average application (3.7 GPA, 3-4 extra curriculars, etc) and that I was completely surprised when I got in. However, I spent a lot of time on my essay. In my opinion, the essay says so much more about you than the rest of your application. In your essay you can show how you are different from the other applicants - share a personal story, triumph, or hardship. To show passion is to show you're worth having. Also on a more practical note, writing a good essay shows you can think logically, think out of the box, make connections, communicate eloquently, and be precise.
Finally, my major: I'm an English major. I declared as soon as I got in to CAL and have never looked back. The English department here is really good. The professors are brilliant and the topics are interesting. However, there are a few things you have to adjust to in order to really get the most out of your time. First, go, go ,go to office hours. Often, classes are so big that professors have 1-3 GSIs (grad student instructors). While these GSIs are themselves usually pretty brilliant, they are themselves learning to teach so they don't necessarily always know what's going on. Going to office hours will help you understand what's required of you and at the very least show them that you are trying. Second, you won't read everything. English classes here are (with no surprise) extremely reading heavy. When I first got here I was in a panic trying to read every single thing assigned. I finally came to realize that sometimes it just isn't possible. The best thing to do is go to class every day and read as much as you can - don't beat yourself up if you missed a few...you can be sure that you aren't the only one. And third, engage. Most English classes have a disussion section. For me, speaking up about an intellectual topic in front of 20-30 people who are supposedly some of the top brains in the country will make me quake in my boots. The good thing is, most people in the discussion section will feel exactly the same. Discussion is where the real learning takes place - talking with others stokes the intellectual fire. So break the ice and get ready to talk if you want to feel like you're really growing.