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College Essays

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If you're applying to any University of California (UC) campus as an incoming first-year student , then you have a special challenge ahead of you. Applicants need to answer four UC personal insight questions, chosen from a pool of eight unique prompts different from those on the Common App. But not to worry! This article is here to help.

In this article, I'll dissect the eight UC essay prompts in detail. What are they asking you for? What do they want to know about you? What do UC admissions officers really care about? How do you avoid boring or repulsing them with your essay?

I'll break down all of these important questions for each prompt and discuss how to pick the four prompts that are perfect for you. I'll also give you examples of how to make sure your essay fully answers the question. Finally, I'll offer step-by-step instructions on how to come up with the best ideas for your UC personal statements.

What Are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

If you think about it, your college application is mostly made up of numbers: your GPA, your SAT scores, the number of AP classes you took, how many years you spent playing volleyball. But these numbers reveal only so much. The job of admissions officers is to put together a class of interesting, compelling individuals—but a cut-and-dried achievement list makes it very hard to assess whether someone is interesting or compelling. This is where the personal insight questions come in.

The UC application essays are your way to give admissions staff a sense of your personality, your perspective on the world, and some of the experiences that have made you into who you are. The idea is to share the kinds of things that don't end up on your transcript. It's helpful to remember that you are not writing this for you. You're writing for an audience of people who do not know you but are interested to learn about you. The essay is meant to be a revealing look inside your thoughts and feelings.

These short essays—each with a 350-word limit—are different from the essays you write in school, which tend to focus on analyzing someone else's work. Really, the application essays are much closer to a short story. They rely heavily on narratives of events from your life and on your descriptions of people, places, and feelings.

If you'd like more background on college essays, check out our explainer for a very detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application .

Now, let's dive into the eight University of California essay questions. First, I'll compare and contrast these prompts. Then I'll dig deep into each UC personal statement question individually, exploring what it's really trying to find out and how you can give the admissions officers what they're looking for.

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Think of each personal insight essay as a brief story that reveals something about your personal values, interests, motivations, and goals.

Comparing the UC Essay Prompts

Before we can pull these prompts apart, let's first compare and contrast them with each other . Clearly, UC wants you to write four different essays, and they're asking you eight different questions. But what are the differences? And are there any similarities?

The 8 UC Essay Prompts

#1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

#2: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

#3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

#4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

#5: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

#6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

#7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

#8: Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

How to Tell the UC Essay Prompts Apart

  • Topics 1 and 7 are about your engagement with the people, things, and ideas around you. Consider the impact of the outside world on you and how you handled that impact.
  • Topics 2 and 6 are about your inner self, what defines you, and what makes you the person that you are. Consider your interior makeup—the characteristics of the inner you.
  • Topics 3, 4, 5, and 8 are about your achievements. Consider what you've accomplished in life and what you are proud of doing.

These very broad categories will help when you're brainstorming ideas and life experiences to write about for your essay. Of course, it's true that many of the stories you think of can be shaped to fit each of these prompts. Still, think about what the experience most reveals about you .

If it's an experience that shows how you have handled the people and places around you, it'll work better for questions in the first group. If it's a description of how you express yourself, it's a good match for questions in group two. If it's an experience that tells how you acted or what you did, it's probably a better fit for questions in group three.

For more help, check out our article on coming up with great ideas for your essay topic .

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Reflect carefully on the eight UC prompts to decide which four questions you'll respond to.

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How Is This Guide Organized?

We analyze all eight UC prompts in this guide, and for each one, we give the following information:

  • The prompt itself and any accompanying instructions
  • What each part of the prompt is asking for
  • Why UC is using this prompt and what they hope to learn from you
  • All the key points you should cover in your response so you answer the complete prompt and give UC insight into who you are

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 1

The prompt and its instructions.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking a lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

What's the Question Asking?

The prompt wants you to describe how you handled a specific kind of relationship with a group of people—a time when you took the reigns and the initiative. Your answer to this prompt will consist of two parts.

Part 1: Explain the Dilemma

Before you can tell your story of leading, brokering peace, or having a lasting impact on other people, you have to give your reader a frame of reference and a context for your actions .

First, describe the group of people you interacted with. Who were and what was their relationship to you? How long were you in each others' lives?

Second, explain the issue you eventually solved. What was going on before you stepped in? What was the immediate problem? Were there potential long-term repercussions?

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Leadership isn't limited to officer roles in student organizations. Think about experiences in which you've taken charge, resolved conflicts, or taken care of loved ones.

Part 2: Describe Your Solution

This is where your essay will have to explicitly talk about your own actions .

Discuss what thought process led you to your course of action. Was it a last-ditch effort or a long-planned strategy? Did you think about what might happen if you didn't step in? Did you have to choose between several courses of action?

Explain how you took the bull by the horns. Did you step into the lead role willingly, or were you pushed despite some doubts? Did you replace or supersede a more obvious leader?

Describe your solution to the problem or your contribution to resolving the ongoing issue. What did you do? How did you do it? Did your plan succeed immediately or did it take some time?

Consider how this experience has shaped the person you have now become. Do you think back on this time fondly as being the origin of some personal quality or skill? Did it make you more likely to lead in other situations?

What's UC Hoping to Learn about You?

College will be an environment unlike any of the ones you've found yourself in up to now. Sure, you will have a framework for your curriculum, and you will have advisers available to help. But for the most part, you will be on your own to deal with the situations that will inevitably arise when you mix with your diverse peers . UC wants to make sure that

  • you have the maturity to deal with groups of people,
  • you can solve problems with your own ingenuity and resourcefulness, and
  • you don't lose your head and panic at problems.

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Demonstrating your problem-solving abilities in your UC college essay will make you a stronger candidate for admission.

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

So how can you make sure those qualities come through in your essay?

Pick Your Group

The prompt very specifically wants you to talk about an interaction with a group of people. Let's say a group has to be at least three people.

Raise the Stakes

Think of the way movies ratchet up the tension of the impending catastrophe before the hero swoops in and saves the day. Keeping an audience on tenterhooks is important—and distinguishes the hero for the job well done. Similarly, when reading your essay, the admissions staff has to fundamentally understand exactly what you and the group you ended up leading were facing. Why was this an important problem to solve?

Balance You versus Them

Personal statements need to showcase you above all things . Because this essay will necessarily have to spend some time on other people, you need to find a good proportion of them-time and me-time. In general, the first (setup) section of the essay should be shorter because it will not be focused on what you were doing. The second section should take the rest of the space. So, in a 350-word essay, maybe 100–125 words go to setup whereas 225–250 words should be devoted to your leadership and solution.

Find Your Arc

Not only do you need to show how your leadership helped you meet the challenge you faced, but you also have to show how the experience changed you . In other words, the outcome was double-sided: you affected the world, and the world affected you right back.

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Give your response to question 1 a compelling arc that demonstrates your personal growth.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

This question is trying to probe the way you express yourself. Its broad description of "creativity" gives you the opportunity to make almost anything you create that didn't exist before fit the topic. What this essay question is really asking you to do is to examine the role your brand of creativity plays in your sense of yourself . The essay will have three parts.

Part 1: Define Your Creativity

What exactly do you produce, make, craft, create, or generate? Of course, the most obvious answer would be visual art, performance art, or music. But in reality, there is creativity in all fields. Any time you come up with an idea, thought, concept, or theory that didn't exist before, you are being creative. So your job is to explain what you spend time creating.

Part 2: Connect Your Creative Drive to Your Overall Self

Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it for external reasons—to perform for others, to demonstrate your skill, to fulfill some need in the world? Or is your creativity private and for your own use—to unwind, to distract yourself from other parts of your life, to have personal satisfaction in learning a skill? Are you good at your creative endeavor, or do you struggle with it? If you struggle, why is it important to you to keep pursuing it?

Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future

The most basic way to do this is by envisioning yourself actually pursuing your creative endeavor professionally. But this doesn't have to be the only way you draw this link. What have you learned from what you've made? How has it changed how you interact with other objects or with people? Does it change your appreciation for the work of others or motivate you to improve upon it?

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Connecting your current creative pursuits with your chosen major or career will help UC admissions staff understand your motivations and intentions.

Nothing characterizes higher education like the need for creative thinking, unorthodox ideas in response to old topics, and the ability to synthesize something new . That is what you are going to college to learn how to do better. UC's second personal insight essay wants to know whether this mindset of out-of-the-box-ness is something you are already comfortable with. They want to see that

  • you have actually created something in your life or academic career,
  • you consider this an important quality within yourself,
  • you have cultivated your skills, and
  • you can see and have considered the impact of your creativity on yourself or on the world around you.

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College admissions counselors, professors, and employers all value the skill of thinking outside the box, so being able to demonstrate that skill is crucial.

How can you really show that you are committed to being a creative person?

Be Specific and Descriptive

It's not enough to vaguely gesture at your creative field. Instead, give a detailed and lively description of a specific thing or idea that you have created . For example, I could describe a Turner painting as "a seascape," or I could call it "an attempt to capture the breathtaking power and violence of an ocean storm as it overwhelms a ship." Which painting would you rather look at?

Give a Sense of History

The question wants a little narrative of your relationship to your creative outlet . How long have you been doing it? Did someone teach you or mentor you? Have you taught it to others? Where and when do you create?

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

Anything worth doing is worth doing despite setbacks, this question argues—and it wants you to narrate one such setback. So first, figure out something that interfered with your creative expression .  Was it a lack of skill, time, or resources? Too much or not enough ambition in a project? Then, make sure this story has a happy ending that shows you off as the solver of your own problems: What did you do to fix the situation? How did you do it?

Show Insight

Your essay should include some thoughtful consideration of how this creative pursuit has shaped you , your thoughts, your opinions, your relationships with others, your understanding of creativity in general, or your dreams about your future. (Notice I said "or," not "and"—350 words is not enough to cover all of those things!)

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Dissecting Personal Insight Question 3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Things to consider: If there's a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it. You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

Basically, what's being asked for here is a beaming rave. Whatever you write about, picture yourself talking about it with a glowing smile on your face.

Part 1: Narrative

The first part of the question really comes down to this: Tell us a story about what's amazing about you. Have you done an outstanding thing? Do you have a mind-blowing ability? Describe a place, a time, or a situation in which you were a star.

A close reading of this first case of the prompt reveals that you don't need to stress if you don't have an obvious answer. Sure, if you're playing first chair violin in the symphony orchestra, that qualifies as both a "talent" and an "accomplishment." But the word "quality" really gives you the option of writing about any one of your most meaningful traits. And the words "contribution" and "experience" open up the range of possibilities that you could write about even further. A contribution could be anything from physically helping put something together to providing moral or emotional support at a critical moment.

But the key to the first part is the phrase "important to you." Once again, what you write about is not as important as how you write about it. Being able to demonstrate the importance of the event that you're describing reveals much more about you than the specific talent or characteristic ever could.

Part 2: Insight and Personal Development

The second part of the last essay asked you to look to the future. The second part of this essay wants you to look at the present instead. The general task is similar, however. Once again, you're being asked to make connections:  How do you fit this quality you have or this achievement you accomplished into the story of who you are?

A close reading of the second part of this prompt lands on the word "proud." This is a big clue that the revelation this essay is looking for should be a very positive one. In other words, this is probably not the time to write about getting arrested for vandalism. Instead, focus on a skill that you've carefully honed, and clarify how that practice and any achievements connected with your talent have earned you concrete opportunities or, more abstractly, personal growth.

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Remember to connect the talent or skill you choose to write about with your sense of personal identity and development.

What's UC Hoping to Learn About You?

Admissions officers have a very straightforward interest in learning about your accomplishments. By the end of high school, many of the experiences that you are most proud of don't tend to be the kind of things that end up on your résumé .

They want to know what makes you proud of yourself. Is it something that relates to performance, to overcoming a difficult obstacle, to keeping a cool head in a crisis, to your ability to help others in need?

At the same time, they are looking for a sense of maturity. In order to be proud of an accomplishment, it's important to be able to understand your own values and ideals. This is your chance to show that you truly understand the qualities and experiences that make you a responsible and grown-up person, someone who will thrive in the independence of college life. In other words, although you might really be proud that you managed to tag 10 highway overpasses with graffiti, that's probably not the achievement to brag about here.

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Unless you were hired by the city to paint the overpasses, in which case definitely brag about it.

The trick with this prompt is how to show a lot about yourself without listing accomplishments or devolving into cliche platitudes. Let's take it step by step.

Step #1: Explain Your Field

Make sure that somewhere in your narrative (preferably closer to the beginning), you let the reader know what makes your achievement an achievement . Not all interests are mainstream, so it helps your reader to understand what you're facing if you give a quick sketch of, for example, why it's challenging to build a battle bot that can defeat another fighting robot or how the difficulties of extemporaneous debate compare with debating about a prepared topic.

Keep in mind that for some things, the explanation might be obvious. For example, do you really need to explain why finishing a marathon is a hard task?

Step #2: Zoom in on a Specific Experience

Think about your talent, quality, or accomplishment in terms of experiences that showcase it. Conversely, think about your experiences in terms of the talent, quality, or accomplishment they demonstrate. Because you're once again going to be limited to 350 words, you won't be able to fit all the ways in which you exhibit your exemplary skill into this essay. This means that you'll need to figure out how to best demonstrate your ability through one event in which you displayed it . Or if you're writing about an experience you had or a contribution you made, you'll need to also point out what personality trait or characteristic it reveals.

Step #3: Find a Conflict or a Transition

The first question asked for a description, but this one wants a story—a narrative of how you pursue your special talent or how you accomplished the skill you were so great at. The main thing about stories is that they have to have the following:

  • A beginning: This is the setup, when you weren't yet the star you are now.
  • An obstacle or a transition: Sometimes, a story has a conflict that needs to be resolved: something that stood in your way, a challenge that you had to figure out a way around, a block that you powered through. Other times, a story is about a change or a transformation: you used to believe, think, or be one thing, and now you are different or better.
  • A resolution: When your full power, self-knowledge, ability, or future goal is revealed.

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If, for example, you taught yourself to become a gifted coder, how did you first learn this skill? What challenges did you overcome in your learning? What does this ability say about your character, motivations, or goals?

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 4

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you—just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

Cue the swelling music because this essay is going to be all about your inspirational journey. You will either tell your story of overcoming adversity against all (or some) odds or of pursuing the chance of a lifetime.

If you write about triumphing over adversity, your essay will include the following:

A description of the setback that befell you: The prompt wants to know what you consider a challenge in your school life. And definitely note that this challenge should have in some significant way impacted your academics rather than your life overall.

The challenge can be a wide-reaching problem in your educational environment or something that happened specifically to you. The word "barrier" also shows that the challenge should be something that stood in your way: If only that thing weren't there, then you'd be sure to succeed.

An explanation of your success: Here, you'll talk about what you did when faced with this challenge. Notice that the prompt asks you to describe the "work" you put in to overcome the problem. So this piece of the essay should focus on your actions, thoughts, ideas, and strategies.

Although the essay doesn't specify it, this section should also at some point turn reflexive. How are you defined by this thing that happened? You could discuss the emotional fallout of having dramatically succeeded or how your maturity level, concrete skills, or understanding of the situation has increased now that you have dealt with it personally. Or you could talk about any beliefs or personal philosophy that you have had to reevaluate as a result of either the challenge itself or of the way that you had to go about solving it.

If you write about an educational opportunity, your essay will include the following:

A short, clear description of exactly what you got the chance to do: In your own words, explain what the opportunity was and why it's special.

Also, explain why you specifically got the chance to do it. Was it the culmination of years of study? An academic contest prize? An unexpected encounter that led to you seizing an unlooked-for opportunity?

How you made the best of it: It's one thing to get the opportunity to do something amazing, but it's another to really maximize what you get out of this chance for greatness. This is where you show just how much you understand the value of what you did and how you've changed and grown as a result of it.

Were you very challenged by this opportunity? Did your skills develop? Did you unearth talents you didn't know you had?

How does this impact your future academic ambitions or interests? Will you study this area further? Does this help you find your academic focus?

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If writing about an educational obstacle you overcame, make sure to describe not just the challenge itself but also how you overcame it and how breaking down that barrier changed you for the better.

Of course, whatever you write about in this essay is probably already reflected on your résumé or in your transcript in some small way. But UC wants to go deeper, to find out how seriously you take your academic career, and to assess  how thoughtfully you've approached either its ups or its downs.

In college, there will be many amazing opportunities, but they aren't simply there for the taking. Instead, you will be responsible for seizing whatever chances will further your studies, interests, or skills.

Conversely, college will necessarily be more challenging, harder, and potentially much more full of academic obstacles than your academic experiences so far. UC wants to see that you are up to handling whatever setbacks may come your way with aplomb rather than panic.

Define the Problem or Opportunity

Not every challenge is automatically obvious. Sure, everyone can understand the drawbacks of having to miss a significant amount of school because of illness, but what if the obstacle you tackled is something a little more obscure? Likewise, winning the chance to travel to Italy to paint landscapes with a master is clearly rare and amazing, but some opportunities are more specialized and less obviously impressive. Make sure your essay explains everything the reader will need to know to understand what you were facing.

Watch Your Tone

An essay describing problems can easily slip into finger-pointing and self-pity. Make sure to avoid this by speaking positively or at least neutrally about what was wrong and what you faced . This goes double if you decide to explain who or what was at fault for creating this problem.

Likewise, an essay describing amazing opportunities can quickly become an exercise in unpleasant bragging and self-centeredness. Make sure you stay grounded: Rather than dwelling at length on your accomplishments, describe the specifics of what you learned and how.

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Elaborating on how you conducted microbiology research during the summer before your senior year would make an appropriate topic for question 4.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 5

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, "How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends, or with my family?"

It's time to draw back the curtains and expand our field of vision because this is going to be a two-part story of overcoming adversity against all (or some) odds.

Part 1: Facing a Challenge

The first part of this essay is about problem-solving. The prompt asks you to relate something that could have derailed you if not for your strength and skill. Not only will you describe the challenge itself, but you'll also talk about what you did when faced with it.

Part 2: Looking in the Mirror

The second part of question 5 asks you to consider how this challenge has echoed through your life—and, more specifically, how what happened to you affected your education.

In life, dealing with setbacks, defeats, barriers, and conflicts is not a bug—it's a feature. And colleges want to make sure that you can handle these upsetting events without losing your overall sense of self, without being totally demoralized, and without getting completely overwhelmed. In other words, they are looking for someone who is mature enough to do well on a college campus, where disappointing results and hard challenges will be par for the course.

They are also looking for your creativity and problem-solving skills. Are you good at tackling something that needs to be fixed? Can you keep a cool head in a crisis? Do you look for solutions outside the box? These are all markers of a successful student, so it's not surprising that admissions staff want you to demonstrate these qualities.

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The challenge you write about for question 5 need not be an educational barrier, which is better suited for question 4. Think broadly about the obstacles you've overcome and how they've shaped your perspective and self-confidence.

Let's explore the best ways to show off your problem-solving side.

Show Your Work

It's one thing to be able to say what's wrong, but it's another thing entirely to demonstrate how you figured out how to fix it. Even more than knowing that you were able to fix the problem, colleges want to see how you approached the situation . This is why your essay needs to explain your problem-solving methodology. Basically, they need to see you in action. What did you think would work? What did you think would not work? Did you compare this to other problems you have faced and pass? Did you do research? Describe your process.

Make Sure That You Are the Hero

This essay is supposed to demonstrate your resourcefulness and creativity . And make sure that you had to be the person responsible for overcoming the obstacle, not someone else. Your story must clarify that without you and your special brand of XYZ , people would still be lamenting the issue today. Don't worry if the resource you used to bring about a solution was the knowledge and know-how that somebody else brought to the table. Just focus on explaining what made you think of this person as the one to go to, how you convinced them to participate, and how you explained to them how they would be helpful. This will shift the attention of the story back to you and your efforts.

Find the Suspenseful Moment

The most exciting part of this essay should be watching you struggle to find a solution just in the nick of time. Think every movie cliché ever about someone defusing a bomb: Even if you know 100% that the hero is going to save the day, the movie still ratchets up the tension to make it seem like, Well, maybe... You want to do the same thing here. Bring excitement and a feeling of uncertainty to your description of your process to really pull the reader in and make them root for you to succeed.

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You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

This question is really asking for a glimpse of your imagined possibilities .

For some students, this will be an extremely straightforward question. For example, say you've always loved science to the point that you've spent every summer taking biology and chemistry classes. Pick a few of the most gripping moments from these experiences and discuss the overall trajectory of your interests, and your essay will be a winner.

But what if you have many academic interests? Or what if you discovered your academic passion only at the very end of high school? Let's break down what the question is really asking into two parts.

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

At first glance, it sounds as if what you should write about is the class in which you have gotten the best grades or the subject that easily fits into what you see as your future college major or maybe even your eventual career goal. There is nothing wrong with this kind of pick—especially if you really are someone who tends to excel in those classes that are right up your interest alley.

But if we look closer, we see that there is nothing in the prompt that specifically demands that you write either about a particular class or an area of study in which you perform well.

Instead, you could take the phrase "academic subject" to mean a wide field of study and explore your fascination with the different types of learning to be found there. For example, if your chosen topic is the field of literature, you could discuss your experiences with different genres or with foreign writers.

You could also write about a course or area of study that has significantly challenged you and in which you have not been as stellar a student as you want. This could be a way to focus on your personal growth as a result of struggling through a difficult class or to represent how you've learned to handle or overcome your limitations.

Part 2: Relevance

The second part of this prompt , like the first, can also be taken in a literal and direct way . There is absolutely nothing wrong with explaining that because you love engineering and want to be an engineer, you have pursued all your school's STEM courses, are also involved in a robotics club, and have taught yourself to code in order to develop apps.

However, you could focus on the more abstract, values-driven goals we just talked about instead. Then, your explanation of how your academics will help you can be rooted not in the content of what you studied but in the life lessons you drew from it.

In other words, for example, your theater class may not have stimulated your ambition to be an actor, but working on plays with your peers may have shown you how highly you value collaboration, or perhaps the experience of designing sets was an exercise in problem-solving and ingenuity. These lessons would be useful in any field you pursue and could easily be said to help you achieve your lifetime goals.

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If you are on a direct path to a specific field of study or career pursuit, admissions officers definitely want to know that. Having driven, goal-oriented, and passionate students is a huge plus for a university. So if this is you, be sure that your essay conveys not just your interest but also your deep and abiding love of the subject. Maybe even include any related clubs, activities, and hobbies that you've done during high school.

Of course, college is the place to find yourself and the things that you become passionate about. So if you're not already committed to a specific course of study, don't worry. Instead, you have to realize that in this essay, like in all the other essays, the how matters much more than the what. No matter where your eventual academic, career, or other pursuits may lie, every class that you have taken up to now has taught you something. You learned about things like work ethic, mastering a skill, practice, learning from a teacher, interacting with peers, dealing with setbacks, understanding your own learning style, and perseverance.

In other words, the admissions office wants to make sure that no matter what you study, you will draw meaningful conclusions from your experiences, whether those conclusions are about the content of what you learn or about a deeper understanding of yourself and others. They want to see that you're not simply floating through life on the surface  but that you are absorbing the qualities, skills, and know-how you will need to succeed in the world—no matter what that success looks like.

Focus on a telling detail. Because personal statements are short, you simply won't have time to explain everything you have loved about a particular subject in enough detail to make it count. Instead, pick one event that crystallized your passion for a subject   or one telling moment that revealed what your working style will be , and go deep into a discussion of what it meant to you in the past and how it will affect your future.

Don't overreach. It's fine to say that you have loved your German classes so much that you have begun exploring both modern and classic German-language writers, for example, but it's a little too self-aggrandizing to claim that your four years of German have made you basically bilingual and ready to teach the language to others. Make sure that whatever class achievements you describe don't come off as unnecessary bragging rather than simple pride .

Similarly, don't underreach. Make sure that you have actual accomplishments to describe in whatever subject you pick to write about. If your favorite class turned out to be the one you mostly skipped to hang out in the gym instead, this may not be the place to share that lifetime goal. After all, you always have to remember your audience. In this case, it's college admissions officers who want to find students who are eager to learn and be exposed to new thoughts and ideas.

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place— like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

This topic is trying to get at how you engage with your environment. It's looking for several things:

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

Because the term "community" is so broad and ambiguous, this is a good essay for explaining where you feel a sense of belonging and rootedness. What or who constitutes your community? Is your connection to a place, to a group of people, or to an organization? What makes you identify as part of this community—cultural background, a sense of shared purpose, or some other quality?

#2: Your Empathy and Ability to Look at the Big Picture

Before you can solve a problem, you have to realize that the problem exists. Before you can make your community a better place, you have to find the things that can be ameliorated. No matter what your contribution ended up being, you first have to show how you saw where your skills, talent, intelligence, or hard work could do the most good. Did you put yourself in the shoes of the other people in your community? Understand some fundamental inner working of a system you could fix? Knowingly put yourself in the right place at the right time?

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

How did you make the difference in your community? If you resolved a tangible issue, how did you come up with your solution? Did you examine several options or act from the gut? If you made your community better in a less direct way, how did you know where to apply yourself and how to have the most impact possible?

body_communityservice-1

Clarify not just what the problem and solution was but also your process of getting involved and contributing specific skills, ideas, or efforts that made a positive difference.

Community is a very important thing to colleges. You'll be involved with and encounter lots of different communities in college, including the broader student body, your extracurriculars, your classes, and the community outside the university. UC wants to make sure that you can engage with the communities around you in a positive, meaningful way .

Make it personal. Before you can explain what you did in your community, you have to define and describe this community itself—and you can only do that by focusing on what it means to you. Don't speak in generalities; instead, show the bonds between you and the group you are a part of through colorful, idiosyncratic language. Sure, they might be "my water polo team," but maybe they are more specifically "the 12 people who have seen me at my most exhausted and my most exhilarated."

Feel all the feelings. This is a chance to move your readers. As you delve deep into what makes your community one of your emotional centers, and then as you describe how you were able to improve it in a meaningful and lasting way, you should keep the roller coaster of feelings front and center. Own how you felt at each step of the process: when you found your community, when you saw that you could make a difference, and when you realized that your actions resulted in a change for the better. Did you feel unprepared for the task you undertook? Nervous to potentially let down those around you? Thrilled to get a chance to display a hidden or underused talent?

body_community_service-1

To flesh out your essay, depict the emotions you felt while making your community contribution, from frustration or disappointment to joy and fulfillment. 

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Things to consider: If there's anything you want us to know about you, but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.

If your particular experience doesn't quite fit under the rubrics of the other essay topics , or if there is something the admissions officers need to understand about your background in order to consider your application in the right context, then this is the essay for you.

Now, I'm going to say something a little counterintuitive here. The prompt for this essay clarifies that even if you don't have a "unique" story to tell, you should still feel free to pick this topic. But, honestly, I think you should  choose this topic only if you have an exceptional experience to share . Remember that E veryday challenges or successes of regular life could easily fit one of the other insight questions instead.

What this means is that evaluating whether your experiences qualify for this essay is a matter of degrees. For example, did you manage to thrive academically despite being raised by a hard-working single parent? That's a hardship that could easily be written about for Questions 1 or 5, depending on how you choose to frame what happened. Did you manage to earn a 3.7 GPA despite living in a succession of foster families only to age out of the system in the middle of your senior year of high school? That's a narrative of overcoming hardship that easily belongs to Question 8.

On the flip side, did you win a state-wide robotics competition? Well done, and feel free to tell your story under Question 4. Were you the youngest person to single-handedly win a season of BattleBots? Then feel free to write about it for Question 8.

This is pretty straightforward. They are trying to identify students that have unique and amazing stories to tell about who they are and where they come from. If you're a student like this, then the admissions people want to know the following:

  • What happened to you?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • How did you participate, or how were you involved in the situation?
  • How did it affect you as a person?
  • How did it affect your schoolwork?
  • How will the experience be reflected in the point of view you bring to campus?

The university wants this information because of the following:

  • It gives context to applications that otherwise might seem mediocre or even subpar.
  • It can help explain places in a transcript where grades significantly drop.
  • It gives them the opportunity to build a lot of diversity into the incoming class.
  • It's a way of finding unique talents and abilities that otherwise wouldn't show up on other application materials.

Let's run through a few tricks for making sure your essay makes the most of your particular distinctiveness.

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

Many experiences in our lives that make us feel elated, accomplished, and extremely competent are also near universal. This essay isn't trying to take the validity of your strong feelings away from you, but it would be best served by stories that are on a different scale . Wondering whether what you went through counts? This might be a good time to run your idea by a parent, school counselor, or trusted teacher. Do they think your experience is widespread? Or do they agree that you truly lived a life less ordinary?

Connect Outward

The vast majority of your answer to the prompt should be telling your story and its impact on you and your life. But the essay should also point toward how your particular experiences set you apart from your peers. One of the reasons that the admissions office wants to find out which of the applicants has been through something unlike most other people is that they are hoping to increase the number of points of view in the student body. Think about—and include in your essay—how you will impact campus life. This can be very literal: If you are a jazz singer who has released several songs on social media, then maybe you will perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique: If you have a disability, then you will be able to offer a perspective that differs from the able-bodied majority.

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

Nothing will make your voice sound more appealing than writing without embellishment or verbal flourishes. This is the one case in which  how you're telling the story is just as—if not more—important than what you're telling . So the best strategy is to be as straightforward in your writing as possible. This means using description to situate your reader in a place, time, or experience that they would never get to see firsthand. You can do this by picking a specific moment during your accomplishment to narrate as a small short story and not shying away from explaining your emotions throughout the experience. Your goal is to make the extraordinary into something at least somewhat relatable, and the way you do that is by bringing your writing down to earth.

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Your essays should feature relatable thoughts and emotions as well as insights into how you will contribute to the campus community.

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

No matter what personal insight questions you end up choosing to write about, here are two tips for making your writing sparkle:

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

Have you ever heard the expression "show; don't tell"? It's usually given as creative writing advice, and it will be your best friend when you're writing college essays. It means that any time you want to describe a person or thing as having a particular quality, it's better to illustrate with an example than to just use vague adjectives . If you stick to giving examples that paint a picture, your focus will also become narrower and more specific. You'll end up concentrating on details and concrete events rather than not-particularly-telling generalizations.

Let's say, for instance, Adnan is writing about the house that he's been helping his dad fix up. Which of these do you think gives the reader a better sense of place?

My family bought an old house that was kind of run-down. My dad likes fixing it up on the weekends, and I like helping him. Now the house is much nicer than when we bought it, and I can see all our hard work when I look at it.

My dad grinned when he saw my shocked face. Our "new" house looked like a completely run-down shed: peeling paint, rust-covered railings, shutters that looked like the crooked teeth of a jack-o-lantern. I was still staring at the spider-web crack in one broken window when my dad handed me a pair of brand-new work gloves and a paint scraper. "Today, let's just do what we can with the front wall," he said. And then I smiled too, knowing that many of my weekends would be spent here with him, working side by side.

Both versions of this story focus on the house being dilapidated and how Adnan enjoyed helping his dad do repairs. But the second does this by:

painting a picture of what the house actually looked like by adding visual details ("peeling paint," "rust-covered railings," and "broken window") and through comparisons ("shutters like a jack-o-lantern" and "spider-web crack");

showing emotions by describing facial expressions ("my dad grinned," "my shocked face," and "I smiled"); and

using specific and descriptive action verbs ("grinned," "shocked," "staring," and "handed").

The essay would probably go on to describe one day of working with his dad or a time when a repair went horribly awry. Adnan would make sure to keep adding sensory details (what things looked, sounded, smelled, tasted, and felt like), using active verbs, and illustrating feelings with dialogue and facial expressions.

If you're having trouble checking whether your description is detailed enough, read your work to someone else . Then, ask that person to describe the scene back to you. Are they able to conjure up a picture from your words? If not, you need to beef up your details.

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It's a bit of a fixer-upper, but it'll make a great college essay!

#2: Show Your Feelings

All good personal essays deal with emotions. And what marks great personal essays is the author's willingness to really dig into negative feelings as well as positive ones . As you write your UC application essays, keep asking yourself questions and probing your memory. How did you feel before it happened? How did you expect to feel after, and how did you actually feel after? How did the world that you are describing feel about what happened? How do you know how your world felt?

Then write about your feelings using mostly emotion words ("I was thrilled/disappointed/proud/scared"), some comparisons ("I felt like I'd never run again/like I'd just bitten into a sour apple/like the world's greatest explorer"), and a few bits of direct speech ("'How are we going to get away with this?' my brother asked").

We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies . We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League.

What's Next?

This should give you a great starting point to address the UC essay prompts and consider how you'll write your own effective UC personal statements. The hard part starts here: work hard, brainstorm broadly, and use all my suggestions above to craft a great UC application essay.

Making your way through college applications? We have advice on how to find the right college for you , how to write about your extracurricular activities , and how to ask teachers for recommendations .

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Blog > Essay Examples , UC Essays > 8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

We talk a lot about essays in the college application process. And for good reason. Essays are one of the most critical parts of your application, and the University of California Personal Insight Questions are no different. Even though they’re quite different from personal statements or supplemental essays, UC essays serve a similar purpose: to help admissions officers get to know you and envision you on their campus.

But the tricky thing about UC essays is that they have a very particular style and form. If you don’t write your UC essays in the right way, you risk tanking your application.

Writing them the right way, however, can land you in the admit pile.

So how do you write your own outstanding UC essays? We recommend you start by reading outstanding examples.

As writing coaches, we know that the best way to become a better writer is to read. More specifically, if there’s a type of writing you want to improve on, then you should read more in that genre.

For you, that means reading UC essays to help prepare you to write your own.

And in this post, you won’t just be reading example UC essays. You’ll also see commentary from former admissions officers that will help guide you through why each essay works.

Let’s get started.

The UC Personal Insight Question Prompts

The University of California system, which consists of nine campuses across the state, requires students to apply directly via their institutional application portal. That means that you won’t be submitting your Common Application to them or writing school-specific supplemental essays. Instead, you’ll choose four of the following eight prompts to respond to.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Once you have your prompts chosen, the essays themselves should be no greater than 350 words. Together, your essays should be different but cohesive enough to tell a fairly complete story of who you are.

Before we get to the examples, we have a few tips to keep you on track.

How to Write the UC Personal Insight Questions

Okay, so we actually have a whole other comprehensive guide to the UC essays that breaks down the process in extreme detail.

So for now, we’ll just go over the essentials.

What’s helpful about the UC PIQs is that we don’t have to guess what admissions officers are looking for—the UCs tell us directly in the Points of Comprehensive Review . Read through all thirteen points, but pay special attention to #10. That’s where your essays will be doing the heaviest lifting.

With that in mind, there are four rules for writing UC essays that you should stick to like glue:

Answer the prompt.

We’ll say it again for the people in the back. Answer the prompt. The UC essay prompts ask very specific questions and contain multiple parts. If you misinterpret the prompt, you may end up writing the completely wrong essay.

You might find that diagramming or annotating the prompts helps you pull out the important pieces. Break down what each of your chosen prompts asks you to do, and list out all the questions in order. That way, you’ll make sure you’re not missing anything.

Skip the fluff.

Your personal statement likely has some creative descriptions or metaphors. You may have even incorporated figurative or poetic language into your supplementals. And that’s great. In fact, that’s encouraged (within reason, of course).

But UC essays are different. They’re all business.

Whereas your personal statement might open with an attention-catching hook that describes a scene in vivid detail, your UC essays should jump straight in. In general, your essay should be organized in a clear way that tells a straightforward story.

Focus on action steps.

As we saw in the Points of Comprehensive Review, admissions officers want to learn about how your concrete experiences have shaped you. That means that your essays should revolve around action steps rather than, say, 350 words of intense personal reflection. What those action steps should look like will depend on the prompts you’ve chosen, but by the end of your essay, your admissions officers should know what you’ve done and why.

Show a strength.

In the UC essays, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the prompt and style of the essay. But don’t lose sight of the purpose of any college essay in the process: to showcase a strength to your admissions officers.

Every UC essay you write should correspond with a specific strength. That might be wisdom, artistry, good judgement, entrepreneurship, leadership—you get the idea.

Let’s say you want one of your essays to demonstrate leadership. The idea isn’t that you come out and say, “This shows that I am a leader.” Instead, by the end of the essay, after reading about everything you’ve done and reflected on, your admissions officers should sit back in their chair and say, “Wow, that student is a leader.” You’ll see what we mean in the examples.

Because of all these golden rules, your UC essays will look quite different than your Common Application essay or supplementals. They’ll probably look quite different from any essay you’ve written.

That’s where examples come in handy. Ready to dive in?

UC Prompt 1: Leadership

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Prompt 1 Example Essay

When we moved to a new neighborhood, my dad always complained about the house next to us. Full of weeds and random objects, it had clearly been neglected(( Notice how, at least compared with common application personal essays, the tone of this essay is much more staid?)) .

I didn’t pay much attention to his complaints until one day when I saw that our neighbor was an elderly man. He was struggling to bring his trash to the bins outside. Suddenly, it all clicked. If taking out the garbage was a challenge, then surely he wasn’t able to do yard work. That’s why it looked neglected.

My dad always taught me that leadership isn’t about giving orders. It’s about doing what needs to be done(( A direct, succinct definition of leadership.)) . With this advice in mind, I decided that I would help our neighbor.

After my realization, I went and knocked on our neighbor’s door. I introduced myself and learned that his name was Hank. When the time was right, I informed him that I’d be cutting our grass the following weekend and would love to cut his as well. Hank initially refused.

Speaking with Hank, I learned that leadership is also about listening to people’s needs(( Showing a lesson from the experience.)) . In that moment, Hank needed to be reassured that I wanted to help. I told him it would be easy for me to cross over to his yard while I had the equipment out. He finally agreed.

The next Saturday, I got to work. The job would be bigger than I expected. All the objects needed to be picked up before I could mow. I decided to enlist the help of my two younger siblings. At first, they said no. But a good leader knows how to inspire, so I told them about Hank and explained why it was important to help. Together, we cleaned up the yard. Now, each time I mow our lawn, I mow Hank’s afterward.

Through this experience, I learned that leadership is about seeing problems and finding solutions. Most importantly, it’s about attitude and kindness(( The author of this essay does a good job staying focused on a clear definition.)) . The neighborhood is grateful that the eyesore is gone, Hank is grateful for the help, and I am grateful for my new friend.

Word Count: 343

UC Essay Checklist

Does the writer convey a strength?

Yes. The writer shows initiative in seeking out the neighbor and willingness to help in all the hard work they did.

Is every part of the prompt answered?

Yes. Since this prompt has an “or,” we know that the writer doesn’t have to meet every single criterion listed. They respond to the “positively influenced others” part of the prompt, which we can see through their interactions with their neighbor.

Does the writer adhere to UC conventions?

Yes. The essay is straightforward and clearly organized. The writer lists action steps in chronological order.

UC Prompt 2: Creativity

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Prompt 2 Example Essay

As a cellist, I express my creativity through music(( Directly answering the prompt up front. )) . Whether I’m playing in a symphony, chamber orchestra, quartet, or solo performance, I bring my art to the world with my instrument. My creativity has transformed me from a small child playing out of tune to a solo artist featured in my state’s youth symphony.

I’ve loved music from a young age, and I began playing the cello when I was six years old. What began as a hobby to keep an energetic child engaged has become my life’s purpose.

At first, I only played along with my private lesson teacher, Ms. Smith. I loved dancing my fingers across the fingerboard, plucking the strings, and making screeching noises with my bow. Ms. Smith told my parents that I had promise but needed to develop discipline. Despite my young age, I listened. By the time I reached middle school, I had made principal cellist in my school’s orchestra. Leading a section of fellow cellists brought my creativity to a whole new level. Not only was I expressing myself through my own music, but I also expressed myself through my leadership. With a subtle nod or an expressive sway, I learned to shape the music those behind me played. I felt most comfortable and free when I was playing my cello.

That feeling only grew as I moved into high school. In ninth grade, I landed my first solo. With it came a new creative sensation: stage fright(( This part of the essay distracts a bit from the main theme.)) . Until then, I’d only experienced positive emotions while playing. I needed to make solo performance more positive. With endless practice and exercises like playing for the public on the sidewalk, I learned that solo performance is simply a way to share my love of music with those around me.

Now, as principal cellist of my state’s youth orchestra, I jump at the chance to perform any solo I can get. Getting to this point has taken me countless late nights practicing in my bedroom and weekends spent in rehearsals. But without my cello to express my creative side, I wouldn’t be me.

Word Count: 347

Yes. The writer is an artist—a musician specifically. Their creativity shines through.

Yes. This prompt is pretty straightforward: “Describe how you express your creative side,” which the writer does by describing their love of the cello. Notice how the writer doesn’t just say they’re creative because they play the cello. They describe that creativity in detail.

Mostly. The short paragraph about stage fright takes us on a slight detour from the prompt. To make this essay even better, the writer could have eliminated that anecdote or reframed it to be more about creative expression.

UC Prompt 3: Talent or Skill

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Prompt 3 Example Essay

How many toes does an armadillo have? What were the main causes of the Crimean War? Who discovered atoms? When my friends or family have questions, they come to me for answers. I am an expert researcher. Although my passion for research began as a fun hobby, it has evolved into one of my greatest skills(( The writer opens with an interesting but not too out-there hook and then gets straight to answering the prompt.)) .

My first real mystery came when I was in ninth grade. My mom wanted to track down an old friend from high school but hadn’t had any luck searching on her own. Having grown up with the internet, I was my mom’s best chance. Not sure where to begin, I took to YouTube tutorials. Using the few family details my mom remembered, I tracked down the friend’s brother then found the friend’s married name(( Here’s a great example of what the skill looks like.)) . Alas–we found her on social media. I felt triumphant as I saw the happiness wash over my mom’s face.

Since then, my skill has grown exponentially(( And here the writer gets at the “developed and demonstrated the talent over time” part of the prompt.)) . Combining my natural curiosity with my love of history, I’ve advanced my research skills by volunteering with my local library for the past two years. I have learned about how keywords and search engines work, practiced cataloging and archiving, and waded my way through the intricacies of the library’s database technology. Suddenly, researching wasn’t just about finding people’s Facebook profiles. It was about having any information I wanted to find at my fingertips.

Access to information is more important now than ever. That’s why I decided to put my research knowledge to work. Part of being a good researcher is teaching others how to access information too, so I founded the SOHS Research Club. We begin each meeting by raising the hardest question we can think of, and I use the projector in the library to walk club members through my research process. Members have all gone on to share their knowledge with their friends and family. The SOHS Research Club has spread information literacy to my whole community(( Gesturing to the greater significance of the skill)) .

Looking ahead to all the ways my research skills will improve in college, I know that I’ll be ready to find an answer for anything.

Word Count: 350

Yes. We see that they’re not only skilled at research but also that they want to support their community.

Yes—but. The prompt asks about your greatest talent or skill. It also asks how you have developed and demonstrated that talent over time. The writer does answer these questions, but I’d like to see more about when the SOHS Research Club took place as part of this development.

Yes. The essay is clear, organized, and to-the-point.

UC Prompt 4: Educational Opportunity or Barrier

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Prompt 4 Example Essay

I jump at any chance to get my hands dirty. I am an aspiring ecologist. I’m lucky enough to live in a college town, so I was elated last semester when a postdoctoral fellow invited me to join her research team(( Okay, looks like this writer is addressing the “how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity” part of the prompt.)) .

Although at first(( Good signposting and transitions. UC essays should be clear and straightforward. This writer easily walks us through the step-by-step of what happened.)) I was intimidated by the prospect of working alongside college students and faculty, I decided to embrace the opportunity to learn what being an ecologist is really like.

The project involved studying Asclepias syriaca populations in my local park. More commonly known as Milkweed, this flower species has a long and important history in North America, particularly for Indigenous people. After learning about its history as a food source, medicine, and critical part of ecological function, I couldn’t wait to be part of the research.

As a research assistant, I helped with data collection. We began by using twine to section off population groups in the park. Then, every week I returned to the populations to collect information about population growth. I counted the number of flowers in the population, and, with a clear ruler, I measured and recorded the height of every individual flower.

The work was tedious. On my hands and knees, I squinted at the millimeter markings, trying to obtain the most accurate measurements possible. Each week, I’d return home with muddy jeans and a smile on my face.

Participating in this research project taught me that being an ecologist is about much more than looking at plants(( Going beyond the research to reflect on lessons learned—nice!)) . It’s also about learning from mentors and engaging with and having respect for the historical context of the plants we study. Being a scientist is also not as glamorous as movies like Jurassic Park lead on. Instead, science requires careful planning, patience, and hard work.

But what I learned the most from this educational opportunity is that science doesn’t exist in some nebulous place. It exists right here in front of me. I look forward to continuing to use science to serve my community.

Word count: 328

Yes. We see their intellectual curiosity and willingness to learn through their research journey.

Yes. We have another “or” prompt! This time they’ve chosen to focus on an “educational opportunity,” which is the research project. They certainly explain how they “took advantage” of it.

Yes. There’s no fluff, just a coherent narrative focused on actions the writer took.

UC Prompt 5: Challenge

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Prompt 5 Example Essay

While most kids fear monsters, my greatest fear has always been tests. Since elementary school, I’ve dealt with incapacitating test anxiety. I’d sit down for a spelling test and faint from anxiety(( Straight into answering the prompt)) . Math tests in middle school would make me run to the bathroom ill. By the time I reached high school, where the testing stakes became even higher, my test anxiety increased exponentially.

More than normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, it is a diagnosis I wrestle with daily. Test anxiety caused me to miss a number of tests that I had no option to re-take. It’s caused me to receive abysmal scores on standardized and state tests, which has had repercussions in the classes I’m allowed to take(( Strategically, this was a good prompt for this student to answer because it gives them a way to contextualize any poor grades they earned early in high school. It also gets at the “academic achievement” part of the prompt.)) . My test anxiety has been the greatest challenge of my life. In a school system so reliant on testing, it has completely affected my ability to achieve academically.

By the time I took the PSATs, I couldn’t even move my hand to write my name. I knew something had to change. I reached out for help. My mom knew I had been struggling but didn’t understand the extent of my illness. Together, we contacted my school counselor, who told us how to find a therapist.

With my doctors, I worked to mitigate the effects of my test anxiety on a medical and psychological level(( Action steps! This prompt requires you to talk about the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge. The writer does exactly that in this paragraph.)) . I began taking beta-blockers that helped slow my heart rate, thus tricking my body into being less anxious. Alongside that, I spent months working through the reasons my brain interpreted testing as such a threat. I learned to appreciate my intrinsic value instead of relying on external factors like test scores. And rather than viewing tests as chances to fail, I began to understand them as opportunities to showcase my growth.

Now, after two long years of effort, I can take any test with ease. Since learning how to manage my disorder, I’ve successfully taken my driver’s test, SATs and ACTs, and all seven of my AP exams. I’m looking forward to all the tests I’ll take in college(( And we end on a very positive note that shows lots of growth)) .

Yes—which is difficult with this prompt. The writer doesn’t get bogged down in the challenge of having test anxiety. Instead, they use this prompt as an opportunity to show a strength: resilience to overcome such a difficult problem.

Yes. And this prompt has multiple parts, too. It wants you to describe 1) a challenge, 2) the steps you’ve taken to overcome the challenge, and 3) how the challenge affected your academic achievement. This writer does all three.

Yes. The writer doesn’t provide any poetic descriptions or metaphors. They say what they mean.

UC Prompt 6: Academic Interest

6.  Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt 6 Example Essay

Sitting in front of my baby cousin, I held my hands in front of my face. I quickly snapped them down and exclaimed, “Peek-a-boo!” Delighted, he erupted into laughter. From the perspective of my more developed brain, this game is quite boring. It’s overly repetitive, and the outcome—my face reveal—is basic and consistent. But to a brain that hasn’t yet gone through the sensorimotor phase of development, the game is a downright hoot. What I perceive as boring is actually magic to a baby’s mind. Without the concept of object permanence, my cousin thinks that I disappear completely behind my hands. When my face returns, he marvels as I inexplicably materialize in front of him. It’s no wonder he can play peek-a-boo for hours.

Since I took IB Psychology my sophomore year, I have been fascinated with child psychology(( It takes a paragraph before we get to the prompt (a bit too long), but I like the nerdiness the writer shows in the intro)) . No matter when or where we are born, we all undergo similar stages of development that help us understand the world around us. Imagine Albert Einstein chewing on a rock or Genghis Khan taking his first steps. Researching child development unlocks something universal and equalizing about the human experience.

Because of my interest in child psychology, I decided to get more involved with my community. I began by volunteering in a psychology lab at my local university. While there, I get our child participants settled before sessions. Occasionally I get to help with data collection. I also landed a job as a teacher’s aide at a nearby Head Start, where I feed lunches, play, and read. In both of these activities, I’ve learned so much about how to interact with toddlers, to think like they think, and to help them grow into kind and happy children(( This paragraph shows exactly how they’ve furthered their interest.)) .

My school doesn’t offer any additional psychology courses, so I took a community college class this summer. I’m looking forward to taking more advanced psychology classes as a psychology major, and I’m eager to bring the research skills I’ve been developing to one of the UC’s many child development labs. One day, I hope to use all these skills as a child therapist.

Word Count: 348

Yes. The student is very intellectually curious about child development—a perfect strength for this prompt.

Yes. The writer talks about an academic subject, child development, and describes how they advanced that interest through a research lab, classes, and a job at Head Start.

Yes—but. Overall, the essay does a great job adhering to UC essay conventions. But the first paragraph almost doesn’t. As it is, the writer stays focused on telling the story. However, it takes up quite a bit of space in the essay without really conveying much about the writer’s journey. If there were a metaphor or any poetic language in there, it would have been too far. Same goes for the snippet about Einstein and Genghis Khan—it adds personality but is close to overdoing it.

UC Prompt 7: School or Community

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Prompt 7 Example Essay

Nourishing loved ones by cooking for them is one of my biggest passions. But my hobby has become more difficult since moving to a food desert. Food deserts are areas without easy access to grocery stores or healthy foods. These disparities are clear in the school cafeteria, with the majority of students eating processed school lunches or packaged foods brought from home. I decided to do something about it.

The idea came to me one day as I made my way from AP Biology to my cooking elective. We needed a school community garden(( The writer sets up the stakes in the introduction so we truly understand the situation here)) . If we couldn’t access fresh foods in our neighborhood, then we would grow our own. We just needed a space to grow them and money to buy supplies.

I began by finding a spot to plant our garden. My friends and I walked around the entire school and decided that the courtyard would be the perfect place. After explaining my idea to the Assistant Principal, I got permission to proceed.

Next(( This paragraph is full of good action steps)) I raised money for the supplies. With $20 in seed money from my parents, which I promptly paid back, I drew and printed stickers to sell at lunch. The stickers were anthropomorphized vegetables. They cost $0.10 per sticker to make, and I sold them for $1.00 each. Soon enough, I had not only raised enough money to set up the garden, but I had rallied the whole school around my cause. Thirty of my classmates showed up, vegetable stickers on their water bottles, to help me plant the garden.

For the last year, we’ve maintained a spread of seasonal vegetables in the garden. We bring a basket to the cooking elective teacher each week so students can practice cooking with fresh vegetables, and we hold a daily farm stand at lunch(( And we see that they are legitimately improving their community)) . At the stand, students can grab whatever fresh produce they want to add to their lunch.

My school’s garden nourishes my community, and I am nourished every day by the fact that my efforts have made a true difference to those around me.

Word Count: 341

Yes. The writer shows really great initiative and community understanding in their willingness to start a community garden from scratch.

Yes. With only one question, this prompt is pretty straightforward. And the writer’s answer is simple: to make their school community a better place, they made a community garden.

Yes. The writer goes into detail about every step they took to make the community garden come to life. I especially like how the writer goes beyond these details to emphasize how much the community garden impacted the school community.

UC Prompt 8: Additional Information

Prompt 8 example essay.

When I posted a TikTok video of myself studying, I didn’t expect anyone but my friends to see it. But within hours, my video had gone viral— tens of thousands of people(( That’s a lot of people. This shows the magnitude and impact of the video.)) saw the carefully-crafted shots I’d taken of my desk setup and homework timelapse. The comment section flooded. People appreciated the work I’d put into curating the perfect desk. They thanked me for inspiring them to get started on their own homework. I was overwhelmed by the response.

At first I felt really shy. What if people from school saw it and made fun of me? I kept questioning myself so much that I completely froze. Finally, one comment caught my attention. It read, “I’ve been having a hard semester and can barely get myself out of bed, let alone to do my homework. But this is so calming! Maybe I’ll try.” That comment made me realize that it didn’t matter what people at my school thought. What mattered was that I loved making that video and it had made an actual difference in the lives of the people who saw it.

And that’s when I decided to make my mark on #StudyTok(( This is a pretty unique topic that wouldn’t have necessarily fit into the other prompt categories, which makes it a good candidate for prompt #8.)) . Since that first video, I’ve posted 318 others and accumulated over 35,000 followers(( More numbers to show impact)) . I’ve had more videos go viral and reach hundreds of thousands of people looking for work inspiration. Even the videos that some would see as “fails” still reach a couple hundred people. That may not be a big deal in the Internet world, but those same people would fill up my high school’s auditorium. My goal for every video is to make my viewers feel relaxed and able to take on whatever work they have to do. It helps me and my viewers complete our work.

These videos have made me more confident and organized, and I can’t wait to continue them in college. When I get an extra assignment or have to stay up late to finish a paper, I become excited instead of frustrated because I know that the little StudyTok community I’ve created will be there right alongside me.(( This conclusion drives home the what “makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the UC” part of the prompt.))

Yes. They show creativity through their video production and leadership through their huge community impact.

Mostly. This prompt is a tricky one to answer because its components aren’t as straightforward as the others. Through such a huge impact, the writer makes it implicitly clear why this story demonstrates that they are a good candidate for admissions to the UC, but the message could be more explicit.

Yes. The writer conveys the sequence of events in a clear and organized way, and they use good metrics to show the impact of their videos.

Key Takeaways

Did you catch our golden rules throughout? Yep. That’s what makes these essays stand out, and that’s what’ll make your essays stand out, too.

And even though these essays come from different students, hopefully you also got a sense of how an admissions officer reads a portfolio of essays for a single student.

Remember: just like your other applications, your overall goal for your UC application is to create a cohesive application narrative that shows your core strengths.

Having read all these essays, you’re now well on your way to writing your own. Try jumping into the Essay Academy or our UC essay writing guide  for help getting started.

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20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

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How A Selective Admissions Office Reads 50k Applications In A Season

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How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers

"the only actually useful chance calculator i’ve seen—plus a crash course on the application review process.".

Irena Smith, Former Stanford Admissions Officer

We built the best admissions chancer in the world . How is it the best? It draws from our experience in top-10 admissions offices to show you how selective admissions actually works.

Freshman requirements

  • Subject requirement (A-G)
  • GPA requirement
  • Admission by exception
  • English language proficiency
  • UC graduation requirements

Additional information for

  • California residents
  • Out-of-state students
  • Home-schooled students

Transfer requirements

  • Understanding UC transfer
  • Preparing to transfer
  • UC transfer programs
  • Transfer planning tools

International applicants

  • Applying for admission
  • English language proficiency (TOEFL/IELTS)
  • Passports & visas
  • Living accommodations
  • Health care & insurance

AP & Exam credits

Applying as a freshman

  • Filling out the application
  • Dates & deadlines

Personal insight questions

  • How applications are reviewed
  • After you apply

Applying as a transfer

Types of aid

  • Grants & scholarships
  • Jobs & work-study
  • California DREAM Loan Program
  • Middle Class Scholarship Program
  • Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan
  • Native American Opportunity Plan  
  • Who can get financial aid
  • How aid works
  • Estimate your aid

Apply for financial aid

  • Cal Dream Act application tips
  • Tuition & cost of attendance
  • Glossary & resources
  • Santa Barbara
  • Campus program & support services
  • Check majors
  • Freshman admit data
  • Transfer admit data
  • Native American Opportunity Plan
  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. However, you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

Keep in mind

  • All questions are equal. All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.  
  • Use the additional comments field if there are issues you'd like to address that you didn't have the opportunity to discuss elsewhere on the application. This shouldn't be an essay, but rather a place to note unusual circumstances or anything that might be unclear in other parts of the application. You may use the additional comments field to note extraordinary circumstances related to COVID-19, if necessary. 

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal insight questions are just that—personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC. 

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family? 2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career? 3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Things to consider: If there is a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it.You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule? 4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today? 5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family? 6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. Things to consider:  Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community? 8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? Things to consider:  If there's anything you want us to know about you but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.

Writing tips

Start early..

Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.

Write persuasively.

Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.

Use “I” statements.

Talk about yourself so that we can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments and potential for success on a UC campus. Use “I” and “my” statements in your responses.

Proofread and edit.

Although you will not be evaluated on grammar, spelling or sentence structure, you should proofread your work and make sure your writing is clear. Grammatical and spelling errors can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.

Solicit feedback.

Your answers should reflect your own ideas and be written by you alone, but others — family, teachers and friends can offer valuable suggestions. Ask advice of whomever you like, but do not plagiarize from sources in print or online and do not use anyone's words, published or unpublished, but your own.

Copy and paste.

Once you are satisfied with your answers, save them in plain text (ASCII) and paste them into the space provided in the application. Proofread once more to make sure no odd characters or line breaks have appeared.

This is one of many pieces of information we consider in reviewing your application. Your responses can only add value to the application. An admission decision will not be based on this section alone.

Need more help?

Download our worksheets:

  • English [PDF]
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College Application Essays and Admissions Consulting

2023 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC Essay Examples

by Winning Ivy Prep Team | Mar 8, 2023 | UC Admissions , UC Personal Insight Essay Examples

20 UC Essay Examples

Additional UC essay resources:

  • Official UC Personal Insight Question prompts are here.
  • Read our UC Essay / UC Personal Insight Essay Tips

Table of Contents

UC Personal Insight #1 Examples

top uc essays

Your chancing factors

Extracurriculars.

top uc essays

How to Write the University of California Essays 2023-2024

The University of California (UC) school system is the most prestigious state university system in the United States and includes nine undergraduate universities: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Irvine.

The University of California system has its own application portal, as well as its own deadline of November 30th—a full month before the Common Application is due. All nine universities use one application, so it is easy to apply to multiple UCs at the same time. 

The application requires you to answer four of eight personal insight questions, with a 350-word limit on each prompt. This may seem daunting at first, but we provide this guide to make the prompts more approachable and to help you effectively tackle them! 

top uc essays

University of California Application Essay Prompts

Note: There is only one application for all the UC schools, so your responses will be sent to every University of California school that you apply to. You should avoid making essays school-specific (unless you are applying to only one school).

You might want to start by deciding which four of the eight prompts you plan on answering. The eight prompts are:

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

2. every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. describe how you express your creative side., 3. what would you say is your greatest talent or skill how have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time, 4. describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced., 5. describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. how has this challenge affected your academic achievement, 6. think about an academic subject that inspires you. describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom., 7. what have you done to make your school or your community a better place, 8. beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the university of california.

As you begin selecting prompts, keep the purpose of college essays at the forefront of your mind. College essays are the place to humanize yourself and transform your test scores, GPA, and extracurriculars into a living, breathing human with values, ambitions, and a backstory. If a specific prompt will allow you to show a part of who you are that is not showcased in the rest of your application, start there. 

If nothing immediately jumps out at you, try dividing the prompts into three categories: “definites,” “possibilities,” and “avoids at all costs.” “Definites” will be prompts that quickly spark up a specific idea in you. “Possibilities” might elicit a few loose concepts, anecdotes, or structures. And “avoids” are prompts where you honestly cannot see yourself writing a convincing essay. Next, take your “definites” and “possibilities” and jot down your initial thoughts about them. Finally, look at all of your ideas together and decide which combination would produce the most well-rounded essay profile that shows who you are as an individual.

Of course, this is just one way to approach choosing prompts if you are stuck. Some students might prefer writing out a list of their values, identifying the most important ones in their life, then figuring out how to showcase those through the prompts. Other students select prompts based on what they are excited by or through freewriting on every prompt first. Do not feel constrained by any one method. Just remember:

  • Do not rush into prompts at first glance (though trial writing can be very valuable!).
  • Make sure that you consider potential ideas for many prompts before making final decisions, and ultimately write about the one with the most substance.
  • The prompts you select should allow you to highlight what is most important to you.

Check out our video to learn more about how to write the UC essays!

The 8 UC Personal Insight Questions

“Leadership Experience” is often a subheading on student resumes, but that is not what admissions officers are asking about here. They are asking for you to tell them a specific story of a time when your leadership truly mattered. This could include discussing the policies you enacted as president of a school club or the social ties you helped establish as captain of a sports team, but this prompt also gives you the freedom to go past that.

Leaders are individuals with strong values, who mentor, inspire, correct, and assist those around them. If you don’t feel like you’ve ever been a leader, consider the following questions:

  • Have you ever mentored anyone? Is there anyone younger than you who would not be the person they are today without you?
  • Have you ever taken the initiative? When and why did it matter?
  • Have you ever been fundamental to positive change in the world—whether it be on the small scale of positively impacting a family member’s life or on the large scale of trying to change the status of specific communities/identities in this world?
  • Have you ever stood up for what’s right or what you believe in?

Leadership is a concept that can be stretched, bent, and played with, but at the end of the day, the central theme of your essay must be leadership. Keeping this in mind, after your first draft, it can be helpful to identify the definition of leadership that you are working with, to keep your essay cohesive. This definition doesn’t need to appear within the essay (though, if you take on a more reflective structure, it might). Some examples of this include “being a positive role model as leadership,” “encouraging others to take risks as leadership,” and “embracing my identities as leadership.”

Here are some examples of how a leadership essay might look:

  • You’ve always loved learning and challenging yourself, but when you got to high school it was clear that only a certain type of student was recommended to take AP classes and you didn’t fit into that type. You presented a strong case to the school counselors that you were just as prepared for AP classes as anyone else, enrolled in your desired classes, and excelled. Since then, AP classes have become more diversified at your school and there has even been a new inclusion training introduced for your district’s school counselors. 
  • When you were working as a camp counselor, the art teacher brought you two of your campers who were refusing to get along. To mediate the conflict, you spent long hours before bed talking to them individually, learning about their personal lives and family situation. By understanding where each camper came from, you were better equipped to help them reach a compromise and became a role model for both campers.
  • As a member of your school’s Chinese organization, you were driven by your ethnic heritage to devote your lunch breaks to ensuring the smooth presentation of the Chinese culture show. You coordinated the performers, prepared refreshments, and collected tickets. You got through a great performance, even though a performer didn’t show and some of the food was delivered late. You weren’t on the leadership board or anything, but exhibited serious leadership, as both nights of the culture show sold out and hundreds of both Chinese and non-Chinese people were able to come together and celebrate your culture.

Like the last prompt, this prompt asks about a specific topic—creativity—but gives you wiggle room to expand your definition of that topic. By defining creativity as problem-solving, novel thinking, and artistic expression, this prompt basically says “get creative in how you define creativity!” 

Additionally, this broad conception of creativity lets you choose if you want to write about your personal life or your academic life. A robotics student could write about their love of baking on the weekends or their quick thinking during a technical interview. A dance student could write about their love of adapting choreography from famous ballets or their innovative solution to their dance team’s lack of funds for their showcase. You have space to do what you want!

That said, because this prompt is so open, it is important to establish a focus early on. Try thinking about what is missing from your application. If you are worried that your application makes you seem hyper-academic, use this prompt to show how you have fun. If you are worried that you might be appearing like one of those students who just gets good grades because they have a good memory, use this prompt to show off your problem-solving skills.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to describe any skill in creative pursuits as you answer this prompt. The prompt asks you how you express your “creative side,” alluding to creative instinct, not creative talent. You could write about how you use painting to let out your emotions—but your paintings aren’t very good. You could write about dancing in the shower to get excited for your day—but one time you slipped and fell and hurt your elbow. Experiences like these could make for a great reflective essay, where you explore the human drive towards creative expression and your acceptance that you personally don’t have to be creatively inclined to let out creative energy.

Some examples:

  • A math student writing about a time they devised a non-textbook method to proving theorems 
  • A creative writer describing how they close-read the ups-and-downs of classical music as an attempt to combat writers’ block and think of emotional trajectories for new stories
  • An engineering student writing about cooking as a creative release where numbers don’t matter and intuition supersedes reason
  • A psychology student writing about the limitations of quantitative data and describing a future approach to psychology that merges humanism and empiricism.

This is the kind of prompt where an answer either pops into your head or it doesn’t. The good news is that you can write a convincing essay either way. We all have great talents and skills—you just might have to dig a bit to identify the name of the talent/skill and figure out how to best describe it.

Some students have more obvious talents and skills than others. For example, if you are intending to be a college athlete, it makes sense to see your skill at your sport as your greatest talent or skill. Similarly, if you are being accepted into a highly-selective fine arts program, painting might feel like your greatest talent. These are completely reasonable to write about because, while obvious, they are also authentic! 

The key to writing a convincing essay about an obvious skill is to use that skill to explore your personality, values, motivations, and ambitions. Start by considering what first drew you to your specialization. Was there a specific person? Something your life was missing that painting, hockey, or film satisfied? Were you brought up playing your sport or doing your craft because your parents wanted you to and you had to learn to love it? Or choose to love it? What was that process like? What do these experiences say about you? Next, consider how your relationship with your talent has evolved. Have you doubted your devotion at times? Have you wondered if you are good enough? Why do you keep going? On the other hand, is your talent your solace? The stable element in your life? Why do you need that?

The key is to elucidate why this activity is worth putting all your time into, and how your personality strengths are exhibited through your relationship to the activity. 

Do not be put off by this prompt if you have not won any big awards or shown immense talent in something specific. All the prompt asks for is what you think is your greatest talent or skill. Some avenues of consideration for other students include:

  • Think about aspects of your personality that might be considered a talent or skill. This might include being a peacemaker, being able to make people laugh during hard times, or having organization skills.
  • Think about unique skills that you have developed through unique situations. These would be things like being really good at reading out loud because you spend summers with your grandfather who can no longer read, knowing traffic patterns because you volunteer as a crossing guard at the elementary school across the street that starts 45 minutes before the high school, or making really good pierogi because your babysitter as a child was Polish.
  • Think about lessons you have learned through life experiences. A military baby might have a great skill for making new friends at new schools, a child of divorce might reflect on their ability to establish boundaries in what they are willing to communicate about with different people, and a student who has had to have multiple jobs in high school might be talented at multitasking and scheduling. 

Make sure to also address how you have developed and demonstrated your selected talent. Do you put in small amounts of practice every day, or strenuous hours for a couple of short periods each year? Did a specific period of your life lead to the development of your talent or are you still developing it daily? 

The purpose of college essays is to show your values and personality to admissions officers, which often includes exploring your past and how it informs your present and future. With a bit of creativity in how you define a “talent or skill,” this prompt can provide a great avenue for that exploration. 

This prompt offers you two potential paths—discussing an educational opportunity or barrier. It is important that you limit yourself to one of these paths of exploration to keep your essay focused and cohesive. 

Starting with the first option, you should think of an educational opportunity as anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for life and your career. Some examples could include:

  • participation in an honors program
  • enrollment in an academy geared toward your future profession
  • a particularly enlightening conversation with a professional or teacher
  • joining a cultural- or interest-based student coalition
  • plenty of other opportunities

The phrasing “taken advantage of” implies the admissions committee’s desire for students who take the initiative. Admissions officers are more interested in students who sought out opportunities and who fought to engage with opportunities than students who were handed things. For example, a student who joined a career-advancement afterschool program in middle school could write about why they were initially interested in the program—perhaps they were struggling in a specific subject and didn’t want to fall behind because they had their sights set on getting into National Junior Honor Society, or their friend mentioned that the program facilitated internship opportunities and they thought they wanted to explore therapy as a potential career path.

On the other hand, if an opportunity was handed to you through family connections or a fortuitous introduction, explore what you did with that opportunity. For example, if a family member introduced you to an important producer because they knew you were interested in film, you could write about the notes you took during that meeting and how you have revisited the producer’s advice and used it since the meeting to find cheap equipment rentals and practice your craft.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you have faced, consider the personal characteristics and skills you called upon to overcome the challenge. How did the process of overcoming your educational barrier shape you as a person? What did you learn about yourself or the world? An added plus would be talking about passing it forward and helping those in your purview obtain the knowledge you did from your experiences.

Some examples of educational barriers could include:

  • limited access to resources, materials, technology, or classes
  • lacking educational role models
  • struggles with deciding on a passion or career path
  • financial struggles

One example of an interesting essay about educational barriers:

As a student at a school that did not offer any honors classes, you enrolled in online lectures to learn the subject you were passionate about — Human Geography. Afterward, you spoke to your school administrators about high-achieving students needing higher-level courses, and they agreed to talk to the local community college to start a pipeline for students like you.

Either way that you take this prompt, it can be used to position yourself as motivated and driven—exactly the type of student admissions officers are looking for!

This prompt is three-pronged. You must 1) identify a challenge 2) describe the steps you have taken to overcome the challenge and 3) connect the challenge to your academic achievement.

When approaching this prompt, it is best to consider these first and third aspects together so that you identify a challenge that connects to your academic life. If you simply pick any challenge you have experienced, when you get to the third part of the prompt, you may have to stretch your essay in ways that are unconvincing or feel inauthentic.

That said, remember that “academic achievement” reaches far beyond grades and exams. It can include things like:

  • Deciding your career goals
  • Balancing homework, jobs, and social/familial relationships
  • Having enough time to devote to self-care
  • Figuring out how you study/learn best
  • Feeling comfortable asking for help when you need it

You should begin brainstorming challenges and hardships that you have experienced and overcome. These could include financial hardships, familial circumstances, personal illness, or learning disabilities. Challenges could also be less structural—things like feeling like you are living in a sibling’s shadow, struggles with body image, or insecurity. While it is important that your challenge was significant, it matters much more that you discuss your challenge with thoughtful reflection and maturity.

Some ways to take this prompt include:

  • Writing about how overcoming a challenge taught you a skill that led to academic success — for example, a high-achieving student who struggles with anxiety was forced to take time off from school after an anxiety attack and learned the importance of giving oneself a break
  • Writing about a challenge that temporarily hindered your academic success and reflecting on it — for example, a student who experienced a death in the family could have had a semester where they almost failed English because reading led to negative thought spirals instead of plot retention
  • Writing about how a challenge humbled you and gave you a new perspective on your academics — for example, a student with a part-time job who helps support her family missed a shift because she was studying for a test and realized that she needed to ask her teachers for help and explain her home situation

As you describe the steps you have taken to overcome your selected challenge, you will want to include both tangible and intangible steps. This means that you will need to discuss your emotions, growth, and development, as well as what you learned through overcoming the challenge. Was your challenge easy to overcome or did it take a few tries? Do you feel you have fully overcome your challenge or is it a work in progress? If you have fully overcome the challenge, what do you do differently now? Or do you just see things differently now? If you were to experience the same challenge again, what would you have learned from before?

Here are some detailed examples:

  • Your parents underwent a bitter, drawn-out divorce that deeply scarred you and your siblings, especially your little brother who was attending elementary school at the time. He was constantly distraught and melancholy and seemed to be falling further and further behind in his schoolwork. You took care of him, but at the cost of your grades plummeting. However, through this trial, you committed yourself to protecting your family at all costs. You focused on computer science in high school, hoping to major in it and save up enough money for his college tuition by the time he applies. Through this mission, your resolve strengthened and reflected in your more efficient and excellent performance in class later on.
  • Your race was the most significant challenge you faced growing up. In school, teachers did not value your opinion nor did they believe in you, as evidenced by their preferential treatment of students of other races. To fight back against this discrimination, you talked to other students of the same race and established an association, pooling together resources and providing a supportive network of people to others in need of counseling regarding this issue.

The first step for approaching this prompt is fun and easy—think about an academic subject that inspires you. This part of the essay is about emotional resonance, so go with your gut and don’t overthink it. What is your favorite subject? What subject do you engage with in the media in your free time? What subject seeps into your conversations with friends and family on the weekends?

Keep in mind that high school subjects are often rather limited. The span of “academic subjects” at the university level is much less limited. Some examples of academic subjects include eighteenth-century literature, political diplomacy, astronomy, Italian film and television, botany, Jewish culture and history, mobile robotics, musical theater, race and class in urban environments, gender and sexuality, and much more.

Once you’ve decided what subject you are most interested in and inspired by, think about a tangible example of how you have furthered your interest in the subject. Some common ways students further their interests include:

  • Reading about your interest
  • Engaging with media (television, film, social media) about your interest
  • Volunteering with organizations related to your interest
  • Founding organizations related to your interest
  • Reaching out to professionals with your academic interest
  • Using your interest in interdisciplinary ways
  • Research in your field of interest
  • Internships in your field of interest

While you should include these kinds of tangible examples, do not forget to explain how your love for the subject drives the work you do, because, with an essay like this, the why can easily get lost in describing the what . Admissions officers need both.

A few examples:

  • You found your US government class fascinatingly complex, so you decided to campaign for a Congressional candidate who was challenging the incumbent in your district. You canvassed in your local community, worked at the campaign headquarters, and gathered voter data whilst performing various administrative duties. Though the work was difficult, you enjoyed a sense of fulfillment that came from being part of history.
  • Last year you fell in love with the play Suddenly Last Summer and decided to see what career paths were available for dramatic writing. You reached out to the contact on your local theater’s website, were invited to start attending their guest lecturer series, and introduced yourself to a lecturer one week who ended up helping you score a spot in a Young Dramatic Writers group downtown.
  • The regenerative power of cells amazed you, so you decided to take AP Biology to learn more. Eventually, you mustered up the courage to email a cohort of biology professors at your local university. One professor responded, and agreed to let you assist his research for the next few months on the microorganism C. Elegans.
  • You continued to develop apps and games even after AP Computer Science concluded for the year. Eventually, you became good enough to land an internship at a local startup due to your self-taught knowledge of various programming languages.

With regards to structure, you might try thinking about this essay in a past/present/future manner where you consider your past engagement with your interest and how it will affect your future at a UC school or as an adult in society. This essay could also become an anecdotal/narrative essay that centers around the story of you discovering your academic interest, or a reflective essay that dives deep into the details of why you are drawn to your particular academic subject.

Whatever way you take it, try to make your essay unique—either through your subject matter, your structure, or your writing style!

College essay prompts often engage with the word “community.” As an essay writer, it is important to recognize that your community can be as large, small, formal, or informal as you want it to be. Your school is obviously a community you belong to, but your local grocery store, the nearby pet adoption center you volunteer at, your apartment building, or an internet group can also be communities. Even larger social groups that you are a part of, like your country or your ethnicity, can be a community. 

The important part of your response here is not the community you identify with but rather the way you describe your role in that community. What do you bring to your community that is special? What would be missing without you?

Some responses could include describing how you serve as a role model in your community, how you advocate for change in your community, how you are a support system for other community members, or how you correct the community when it is veering away from its values and principles.

Here are some fleshed-out examples of how this essay could take shape, using the earlier referenced communities:

  • A student writes about the local grocery store in his neighborhood. Each Sunday, he picks up his family’s groceries and then goes to the pharmacy in the back to get his grandmother’s medication. The pharmacist was a close friend of his grandmother’s when she was young, so the student routinely gives the pharmacist a detailed update about his grandmother’s life. The student recognizes the value in his serving as a link to connect these two individuals who, due to aging, cannot be together physically.
  • An animal-loving student volunteers one Saturday each month at the pet adoption center in their city’s downtown district. They have always been an extremely compassionate person and view the young kittens as a community that deserves to be cared for. This caring instinct also contributes to their interactions with their peers and their desire to make large-scale positive social change in the world.

Your response to this prompt will be convincing if you discuss your underlying motives for the service you have done, and in turn, demonstrate the positive influence you have made. That said, do not be afraid to talk about your actions even if they did not produce a sweeping change; as long as the effort was genuine, change is change, no matter the scale. This essay is more about values and reflection than it is about the effects of your efforts.

Lastly, if you are discussing a specific service you did for your community, you might want to touch on what you learned through your service action or initiative, and how you will continue to learn in the future. Here are a few examples:

  • Passionate about classical music, you created a club that taught classical and instrumental music at local elementary schools. You knew that the kids did not have access to such resources, so you wanted to broaden their exposure as a high school senior had done for you when you were in middle school. You encouraged these elementary schoolers to fiddle with the instruments and lobbied for a music program to be implemented at the school. Whether the proposal gets approved or not, the kids have now known something they might never have known otherwise.
  • Working at your local library was mundane at times, but in the long run, you realized that you were facilitating the exchange of knowledge and protecting the intellectual property of eminent scholars. Over time, you found ways to liven up the spirit of the library by leading arts and crafts time and booking puppet shows for little kids whose parents were still at work. The deep relationships you forged with the kids eventually blossomed into a bond of mentorship and mutual respect.

Be authentic and humble in your response to this essay! Make sure it feels like you made your community a better place because community is a value of yours, not just so that you could write about it in a college essay.

This is the most open-ended any question can get. You have the freedom to write about anything you want! That said, make sure that, no matter what you do with this prompt, your focus can be summarized into two sentences that describe the uniqueness of your candidacy.

The process we recommend for responding to open-ended prompts with clarity involves the following steps:

1. On a blank piece of paper, jot down any and every idea — feelings, phrases, and keywords — that pop into your head after reading this prompt. Why are you unique?

2. Narrow your ideas down to one topic. The two examples we will use are a student writing about how her habit of pausing at least five seconds before she responds to someone else’s opinion is emblematic of her thoughtfulness and a student whose interest in researching the history of colonialism in the Caribbean is emblematic of their commitment to justice.

3. Outline the structure of your essay, and plan out content for an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

4. Before you start writing your essay, write one or two sentences that summarize how you would like the admissions officers to perceive you based on this essay. These sentences will not be in your final product, but will help you to maintain a focus. For our examples, this would be something like “Natalie’s habit of gathering her thoughts before responding to other people’s opinions allows her to avoid undesired complications and miscommunications in her social interactions. This has not only helped her maintain strong relationships with all the staff members of the clubs she leads, but will also help her navigate the social environments that she will face in the professional world.” A summary for the student writing about their interest in the history of colonialism could be “Jonathan has always been highly compassionate and sympathetic by nature. When they found out about the historical injustices of colonialism in the Caribbean through the book The Black Jacobins , they realized that compassion is what is missing from politics. Now, they are inspired to pursue a political science degree to ultimately have a political career guided by compassion.”

5. Finally, write an essay dedicated to constructing the image you devised in step 4. This can be achieved through a number of different structures! For example, Natalie could use an anecdote of a time when she spoke too soon and caused someone else pain, then could reflect on how she learned the lesson to take at least five seconds before responding and how that decision has affected her life. Jonathan could create an image of the future where they are enacting local policies based on compassion. It is important to keep in mind that you do not want to be repetitive, but you must stay on topic so that admissions officers do not get distracted and forget the image that you are attempting to convey.

As exemplified by the examples we provided, a good way to approach this prompt is to think of a quality, value, or personality trait of yours that is fundamental to who you are and appealing to admissions officers, then connect it to a specific activity, habit, pet peeve, anecdote, or another tangible example that you can use to ground your essay in reality. Use the tangible to describe the abstract, and convince admissions officers that you would be a valuable asset to their UC school!

Where to Get Your UC Essays Edited

With hundreds of thousands of applicants each year, many receiving top scores and grades, getting into top UC schools is no small feat. This is why excelling in the personal-insight questions is key to presenting yourself as a worthwhile candidate. Answering these prompts can be difficult, but ultimately very rewarding, and CollegeVine is committed to helping you along that journey. Check out these UC essay examples for more writing inspiration.

If you want to get your essays edited, we also have free peer essay review , where you can get feedback from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by editing other students’ essays.

You can also receive expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with an expert to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers. Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Advisors on CollegeVine also offer  expert college counseling packages . You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-24 – Personal Insight Questions

July 26, 2023

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The 2022-23 admissions cycle saw the nine undergraduate University of California campuses collectively attract an all-time record of 245,000+ applications; this represented a double-digit increase from three years prior. Logic would suggest that institutions receiving as many as 174,000 applications (UCLA) would not employ a particularly holistic admissions process. Certainly, not one that would give any weight to a supplemental essay, much less to four essays. In general, large institutions do indeed rarely devote much time to carefully considering application essays. Yet, true to brand, the UC schools defy convention. And thanks to some recent global changes enacted across the whole UC system, the UC essay prompts (UC Personal Insight Questions) have become an even more essential application component to anyone who hopes to study at any of the following UC campuses:

  • Santa Barbara

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into the University of California campus of your dreams? Visit our blogs entitled: How to Get Into UC Berkeley: Admissions Data and Strategies and How to Get Into UCLA for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Standardized Testing Changes at the University of California

In May 2020, as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. educational system (not to mention the rest of the country/world), the UC Board of Regents voted to make all of their universities test-optional for students applying to enroll in fall 2021 and fall 2022. By itself, such an announcement was hardly notable. After all, hundreds of other high-profile colleges made similar temporary policy changes due to the impact of COVID-19. It was the changes for fall 2022 applicants (and beyond) that shocked the higher education universe…

To everyone’s astonishment, this gargantuan system that garners over a quarter of a million applicants per year decided to go “test-blind,” moving forward. This means that, for in-state applicants, none of the nine schools listed above will even look at an applicant’s SAT or ACT score anymore. So, what’s the takeaway here for you, a future UC applicant? Simple: the essays matter more than ever before. Your writing will be your main opportunity to differentiate yourself from swarms of other well-qualified applicants.

Given this new reality, let’s turn our attention to the focal point of the article—the UC essays themselves. For each, we will offer thoughts/tips to guide you with prompt selection and execution of a stellar composition.

A Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

*Note: Your response to each prompt is limited to 350 words.

UC Essay Prompt # 1

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Leadership is an admirable quality, but it can manifest in many different forms. This essay is not only for those who captained a varsity team to a state title or founded a charitable organization or served as student body president. Teamwork and collaboration are also valued leadership skills both in academia and in the workplace, and students with strong interpersonal skills and a high EQ can be an asset to any university. Think beyond the title that you may have held and more about the action(s) of which you are most proud. Note that the university invites you to share a story that involves your family. In other words, it doesn’t just have to be school or extracurriculars.

To sum up, this essay is about leadership, broadly defined. You can chronicle anything from mentoring others on your debate team to a simple instance of conflict resolution within your peer group. This is often a prompt that appeals more to extroverts, but that does not preclude a story of quiet leadership from being a winning choice here.

UC Essay Prompt #2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Whether you are a prospective studio art, mechanical engineering, mathematics, or psychology major, creativity and the art of problem-solving will likely be at the heart of what you do. Even if few would refer to you as a “creative type,” this prompt can still serve as a nice platform from which to reveal more about what makes you tick and the unique ways in which your synapses fire.

There are two ways to go with this prompt. First, you could: Tie your creativity directly to your future major and/or career. Secondly, you could: paint a picture of your personal brand of creativity that reveals who you are as an individual. Either way, this prompt can inspire some highly-impactful, needle-moving responses from applicants.

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

If you are a world-class athlete, you are likely already in the recruitment process. If you placed high in AIME or won a National Merit Scholarship, that is already stated in the awards section. Therefore, using the prized 350 words of real estate to merely rehash the fact that you won an award would not be an inspiring move.

If you read the question closely, UC wants to know how you got good at whatever it is that you excel at doing. A few years back, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that becoming a master or expert at anything takes 10,000 hours of practice. Consider talking about the grind and sacrifice it took you to become great at a given skill and how you see that skill becoming even more finely tuned/developed over time. If this skill fits into your future academic/career plans, all the better—share that too!

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

This is a prompt that acknowledges the fact that some students are born with more advantages than others. Some teens attend schools with very limited advanced course offerings; others attend high schools with 25+ AP courses. Whether you come from a privileged or an economically-disadvantaged home, this prompt can be a solid choice for you.

First off, it’s important to acknowledge that an “educational opportunity” doesn’t have to be your regular high school curriculum; it can be a summer program, debate club, shadowing opportunity with a physician, or a language immersion program in Peru.

On the overcoming an educational barrier front, this could be an issue of resources/economics or the barrier could be in the form of a learning disability, mental or physical health challenge, or just merely stretching yourself to take an AP Physics course when that area was not your strong suit.

Colleges like students who demonstrate grit, perseverance, and resilience as these qualities typically lead to success in a postsecondary environment. No matter what type of example you offer, demonstrating these admirable traits can do wonders for your admissions prospects.

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #5   

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

This is a more generalized version of PI Question #4. Challenges can be anything mentioned in the previous section (disabilities, depression, etc.). They could also be events like: you moved in the middle of junior year or the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with your activities. Or perhaps your parents got divorced, a grandparent passed away, or any number of other personal/family traumas one can name. If a challenge you faced and overcame is a core part of your personal story, then this is a great choice. Just be sure to include the positive steps you have taken in response to the challenge!

UC Essay Prompt #6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Students who are “Undecided” may shy away from this prompt. Contrarily, those who are laser-focused on a given academic area often find this to be an ideal selection. Whether it’s a general love for math/science or literature or a specific interest in aerospace engineering or 19th-century Russian novels, use this opportunity to share what makes you tick, the ideas that keep you up at night, and what subject inspires you to dream big.

Explain how your love of this subject may tie into your area of study or even a future career path. Feel free to include details about how the UC schools of your dreams can help you further this interest. You can name specific courses, professors, internship/research opportunities, clubs, or other campus resources that you have researched.

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #7

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

How you interact with your present surroundings is the strongest indicator of what kind of future community member you’ll be. This PI prompt asks you to define your role within a community—your high school, your neighborhood, your family, or even a club or sports team. Some words of warning with this one: don’t get too grandiose in explaining the positive change that you brought about. Of course, if you truly brought peace to a war-torn nation or influenced global climate change policy, share away; but, nothing this high-profile is expected. This is more a question about how to relate to others, your value system, your charitable/giving nature, and how you interact with the world around you. If you have a sincere and heartfelt story in this vein to share, then #7 is an excellent selection.

8) UC Essay Prompt #8

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Is there anything you have yet to share that is absolutely elemental to who you are as a person? Without the benefit of an in-person interview, it may feel like you never fully had a chance to connect intimately with a UC admissions officer. You have a burning sense that you have not communicated your true essence, your je ne sais quoi, your…you get the idea. If something important hasn’t been communicated elsewhere in the application, then PI #8 is about to become your best friend.

Consider that the admissions reader is already somewhat familiar with your academic history, activities, and awards. What don’t they know, or, what could they understand on a deeper level? This could be a particular skill or talent, or something about your character or personality. This one is intentionally open-ended, so use this space to share your most cherished accomplishments or most winning attributes. The university itself is inviting you to “brag” here. Therefore, we recommend obliging, by presenting the equivalent to a “closing argument” at the end of this admissions trial.

College Transitions’ Final Thoughts

  • With the introduction of a test-blind policy , the UC Essay Prompts have never been of greater importance.
  • Pick the four prompts from which you can generate the most compelling and revealing essays. No prompts are inherently favored or preferred by the admissions committee.
  • If you are able to organically and convincingly tie in your academic and career interests and/or how a prospective UC institution can help you achieve your goals, take the opportunity to do just that (in any prompt).
  • Strongly consider PI #8. It is the most open-ended option and allows you to highlight anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere in the application.
  • Application Strategies
  • College Essay

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Andrew Belasco

A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew's experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans two decades. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.

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How to write the uc essays: analysis, examples, and tips.

Student in orange blouse brainstorming to write the UC essays.

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/21/23

Stuck on your UC personal insight questions? Read on to learn how to write the UC essays!

Whether you’re an amazing essayist or dread writing them, it’s essential you put careful thought into your UC personal insight questions. After all, these essays are your opportunity to express yourself, share your most meaningful experiences and abilities, and impress the admissions committee!

Considering how important this application requirement is, you may be wondering how to write the UC supplemental essays in a compelling and memorable way. Look no further; this guide has you covered! We’ll review how to write the UC application essays , how to pick the right prompts, and provide you with sample answers to inspire you!

UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQ)

Before getting into the specifics of how to answer the UC personal insight questions (PIQ), let’s review the eight prompts you’ll choose from:

“1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. 

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. 

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? 

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? 

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”

Students are required to answer four UC personal insight questions. The UC system has no preference over the prompts students choose. Be sure that your essays stay under the University of California PIQ word count of 350 words. 

Students hoping to transfer to a UC school will also have to answer some of the prompts. Here is a guide to help applicants complete their UC transfer personal statements. 

Many of these prompts are similar to the UC Common App questions, so you can even use your answers to the UC prompts to inspire your Common App essays or vice versa! 

Understanding UC Essay Prompts

The first step to writing the UC school essays is picking four prompts to respond to. These eight prompts for UC schools may seem intimidating at first glance, but your careful thought can help you choose those that will elevate your application. Selecting prompts at random isn’t the best strategy here.

If you find you’re struggling to come up with at least a 300-word response to any prompt, it could be a sign to choose another. If you choose the right UC college essay prompts, it should be hard for you to stop writing!

To aid you in the process, we’ll discuss each of the UC essay prompts in detail, providing you with tips on how to answer them.

Students often misunderstand this prompt because they believe leadership is a particular role or position, such as an executive member of a club, job supervisor, or head of a volunteer organization. 

Unless you genuinely fit in one of these categories, you should consider other ways you’ve shown leadership. Define the word in your own terms! If you led people in any way, you could write about the experience and what you accomplished. As you brainstorm ideas, ensure you write about the following:

  • The skills you developed and used as a leader
  • Why you assumed the role 
  • The actions you took as a leader
  • The impact you had through your actions

Ensure you only choose one event to describe. Don’t list all your leadership experiences, as this goes against the premise of this prompt. Part of the difficulty is choosing just one experience to share. However, the committee does this to learn what is most meaningful to you and to see if you can follow guidelines!

For this prompt, students shouldn’t limit themselves by viewing creativity as an artistic skill. You don’t necessarily have to be artistically inclined to be creative; all you have to do is demonstrate your ability to think outside the box or use your skills in an original way. 

Think about your passions, what you do in your free time, and how your creativity has influenced you.

Prompt Three

Students tend to struggle with prompt three. When learning how to write UC essays, some students struggle to choose the perfect experience. For this prompt, students can typically list several talents or skills but struggle to pinpoint just one to expand upon. They wonder which talent is best or most impressive. 

Begin by listing your top talents and skills. Choose talents you have put effort and time into developing. If you’re a natural singer and have done little to develop your falsetto except sing in the shower, choose another skill that required more intense practice to perfect.

Be honest, and don’t be afraid to brag a little! If you’re having trouble choosing a talent, ask your friends and family for assistance. 

Prompt Four

Prompt four may not apply to you, making choosing which questions to respond to easier! This prompt may be worth answering if you participated in a program, course, club, or workshop that helped you prepare for college and supplement your learning. 

Regarding educational barriers, reflect on academic roadblocks. Was there anything that made it difficult for you to attend school, do well in a course, or study effectively? For instance, not liking the teachers that taught the AP classes at your school doesn’t count as an educational barrier, but financial struggles could. 

Prompt Five

Prompt five is somewhat similar to four. This challenge can doesn’t have to be related to your education. But you should still share how it affected your academics and any barriers it created in your education. Don’t repeat the same challenge you described in prompt four.

Your response should give the admissions committee more insight into your background, experiences, life circumstances, and personality. The most important trait to demonstrate with your response is resilience. The committee wants to know you can overcome the challenges life throws at you. 

Everyone has a favorite subject, which is what prompt six focuses on. This response is popular among students because they often know exactly which subject to discuss! There’s usually an academic subject that students excel in and just can’t seem to get enough of, whether it’s science, music, or something else.

You likely have a topic in mind as you read this! Use that topic and demonstrate how you’ve developed your interest through additional courses, programs, extracurriculars, internships, or jobs. Talk about what you learned from participating in these activities and how this subject has influenced your college path.

Prompt Seven

Prompt seven is fairly straightforward, but you do have some leeway. There are several communities you’re a part of, so don’t feel obligated to focus only on your school or local community. Choose one that you’ve made the largest impact on; perhaps it’s a school club, your work community, or your family. 

Define community as you see fit and explain your role in it. Focus on one or two major ways you’ve contributed to this community and its impact. 

Prompt Eight

The final UC personal insight question gives you a chance to share anything about yourself that’s missing from your application or didn’t fit into the other essay prompts.

If, after reading through all the prompts, none of them allow you to share more about a trait, experience, or talent you feel makes you a strong UC candidate, use this response to share it. Don’t be afraid to brag a little here! You have free reign to discuss whatever you want to share with the admissions committee. 

Female student typing essay on laptop

UC Essay Prompts With Examples 

It’s often helpful to look at examples of personal statements to get your ideas flowing. Below are sample UC supplemental essays for each prompt to help inspire your writing. These essays can also be used as examples of UC transfer student essays, as they respond to the same prompts. 

Please note that these essays have been anonymized to protect the privacy of the authors.

Prompt One Example

Here’s one example showcasing a student’s experiences with responsibilities as they answer, “Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.” 

“While I’ve participated in several clubs where I have been given leadership titles, the one I am most proud of, and has allowed me to accomplish the most, is the role I play within my family.

From an early age, it was clear I would have to take on more responsibilities than was expected of me. After my father passed away when I was twelve years old, relatives constantly reminded me I was now the head of the house and responsible for my family. 

While I do not think they expected me to take their words to heart completely, I did. I became a leader within my own family and was more than just a big brother to my younger sibling. I knew that my sibling would look up to me for guidance and that I had to be the best role model for him. 

I took the initiative to work part-time at an Arby’s nearby to help my mother with bills, and took on various other roles to ensure my sibling grew up with the same guidance and support I did. 

I was a caretaker, a teacher, a protector, a counselor, and sometimes even a chauffeur. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen so I could take Johnathan to all of his soccer games and play recitals.

I cannot say it was easy; sometimes, it felt impossible to take on so many roles, but I persevered. I remained dedicated to my family, perfected my time management, learned how to multitask, and remained driven because I knew my hard work would result in great rewards - the success of my family. 

Jonathan is now on track to finish at the top of his freshman year. He graduated the eighth grade as valedictorian and hopes to become a pediatric nurse in the future. 

While I cannot say I am grateful for the circumstances that led me to this role, I can say I am proud of the impact I have had on my family because of it.” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

Here are some effective tips to help you answer this prompt:

  • Choose a relevant example : Choose a leadership experience that is both relevant to the prompt and significant in demonstrating your abilities. 
  • Provide context : Begin by setting the stage. Offer a brief but clear introduction to the situation, including the context, the group involved, and the challenges or goals that the team faced. Help the reader understand the importance of the leadership experience.
  • Highlight positive outcomes : Emphasize the positive outcomes or changes achieved through your leadership. This could include improved team dynamics, successful resolution of disputes, or the accomplishment of group goals. 

Why This Works

This essay works because it’s unique and highly personal. It explains the role this student plays within a community that has the most meaning to them. It offers valuable insight into how this role helped them grow and develop important, transferable traits such as perseverance, selflessness, dedication, time management, and multitasking.

Understanding what UC schools are looking for can also help you craft masterful essays. Learn more about what the UC system seeks in applicants here! 

Prompt Two Example

Prompt two is, “Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.” Use this example for the second UC prompt to guide you:

“My friends have always responded to my love for debate with confused looks and eye rolls. In their minds, debate involves pressure, critical thinking, and conversation about uninteresting topics. But, for me, debate club has always been my greatest talent and favorite way to express my creativity.

I consider it to be a craft to take a seemingly dry topic, such as tariff imposition in developing nations, and become enthusiastic about it. During debate, we are only given half an hour to come up with our primary argument. Within this half hour, I must convince others of my opinion and examine the topic from every angle.

Once both sides have presented, it is my responsibility to then think of compelling counter-arguments on the spot. Debate is where I shine. I recognize that humans only use 10% of their brains, but it truly feels like I use 11% during these debates.

I have to carefully choose the language I use to sway the judges, disprove equally crafted opposing views, and out-think my intelligent and driven peers. Contrary to my friends’ beliefs, there is truly never a dull moment in debate—there is simply no time for one. 

It is a battle of wits in which both teams can only use their words as their weapons. If I do not think my arguments through, it can be like bringing a sword to a gunfight. 

I have participated in debate competitions throughout high school and have even helped my school’s team advance to the top rounds at national debate competitions. Through this experience, I have not only developed excellent critical thinking skills but have become a more confident and articulate speaker.

My love for debate has also influenced me to pursue a career in criminal law, where my creativity and skill can be used to uphold justice and ensure the safety of society—which even my most skeptic friends won’t call boring!” 

Three high school students talking together

Here is how can you answer this prompt:

  • Narrate a story : Frame your response as a narrative to make it engaging and memorable. Take the reader through a journey that illustrates how your creative side has manifested in different situations. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of your creative expression.
  • Reflect on the impact : Discuss the impact of your creative expression. This could involve positive outcomes, solutions to challenges, or the reception of your artistic work. Reflecting on the consequences of your creativity adds substance to your response.
  • Be concise : Given the word limit, be concise and focused in your response. Avoid unnecessary details and stay on topic. Make every sentence count to effectively communicate the essence of your creative side.

This is a great example of the UC creativity prompt because this student explains their creativity in a way that doesn’t relate to artistic talent. They appropriately describe how they use their creativity to excel in their passion and use examples to make their story more genuine. They also share the success they’ve had because of their creativity, which further proves their skill and ability.

Prompt Three Example

The next prompt is, “What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?” Consider this example for inspiration:

“She lacked luster. She was plain-looking, with dull hair and unsymmetrical features. Her right eye seemed to droop lower than her left, giving her the appearance of a slight lazy eye. There was no sparkle in her eye, no life in her gaze. She barely seemed alive. 

She almost looked like a Tim Burton character gone wrong, although even that description was too considerate and failed to capture her true mediocrity. 

That’s how I would describe the first-ever portrait I made in middle school. While I always enjoyed sketching, it did not come naturally to me. That was until I enrolled in a summer art program offered by the City Art Lab.

During this program, I learned how to modify the pressure on my pencil to produce different textures. I learned how to add highlights and create shadows to give my sketches depth. But most importantly, I learned the importance of practice. 

I practiced my art skills that entire summer, and the transformation was unbelievable. I went from creating wonky, left-behind Tim Burton characters to realistic, detailed portraits that began to resemble black-and-white photos. 

I have taken visual arts classes throughout high school and even won an art competition held among all sophomore students. Through all of my practice, I have learned to take risks, trust my abilities, and be open to new techniques to improve my work. 

I have begun using different mediums, such as charcoal, oil, and even acrylic. While I haven’t perfected my skills in these mediums, I am confident I will be able to with enough practice and commitment. 

Having the right mentors is important too, which is why I plan on continuing to develop my art skills at UC Irvine through their robust visual arts program taught by talented and accomplished faculty.” 

Here are some tips to help you write this essay:

  • Self-reflection : Begin by reflecting on your strengths and skills. Identify the talent you believe is your greatest and think about how you’ve developed and demonstrated that talent over time.
  • Choose a specific talent : Select a talent or skill that is not only significant but also relevant to the program you’re applying to. Whether it's a technical skill, leadership ability, communication proficiency, or something else, be specific in your choice.
  • Share examples : Illustrate your talent with concrete examples from your experiences. Discuss situations where you have demonstrated this skill, showcasing its impact and relevance. 

This response opens with a hook that catches the reader’s attention, influencing them to keep reading. Readers will likely be surprised to learn this student is just describing a sketch and not a real person.

They share their complete experience with art, show vulnerability by stating they struggled with their sketches, and ultimately show their dedication by explaining how they improved. They also end their essay well by explaining how they plan on continuing to develop their skills at UC Irvine. 

Learn more about writing college essays from a Brown graduate here! 

Prompt Four Examples

Prompt four asks you to “Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.” We’ll include two UC essay examples to help guide your writing: 

“It is the perfect course for any students that hope to become doctors—is what my junior year AP Biology teacher Mr. Wilson told me about an eight-week introductory biology course that was being offered to high school students at our local community college.

Mr. Wilson always told us about the best opportunities to pursue if we wanted to join the medical field. It was a dream of his as well, but he always said “life got in the way” and he never took it as seriously as he should have. He warned me not to make the same mistake. If I was serious about becoming a physician, I had to prove it.

So, I enrolled in the course and was ready for a summer full of 8 am laboratories, 20-page readings, and late-night study sessions instead of sleeping in, reading mystery novels on the beach, and staying up late with my friends playing video games. But, I was willing to make that sacrifice to better prepare myself for college.

It was clear from my first class that I was in over my head. I struggled to retain the readings and had a hard time keeping up during lectures. I felt ashamed and downright defeated. I questioned if I deserved to even be a physician and wondered why it seemed to come so easily to my peers. 

But, wondering and wallowing would do me no good. So, I picked myself up and strategized. I spoke to my professor to ask for some tips. He assured me most students struggle to adjust in the beginning, but his biggest tip was to review the readings the night before our lectures, make notes during, and review those notes again after class. 

While his suggestions were time-consuming, they helped me increase my grades and I actually began to enjoy the course! I graduated with an A and learned more than just cell biology and evolutionary ecology. I learned how to manage my time better, stay organized, persevere through challenges, and to ask for help when needed!” 

Use these tips to help you write an impactful essay: 

  • Choose a relevant experience : Select a specific educational opportunity or barrier that is not only significant but also relevant to your personal and academic journey. This could include a challenging course, a unique learning experience, or overcoming obstacles to pursue education.
  • Provide context : Begin by providing context for the educational opportunity or barrier. Explain the circumstances that made it significant or challenging, including any personal or external factors that influenced your experience.
  • Highlight the significance : Clearly explain why the educational opportunity or barrier is significant in your academic journey. Discuss the impact it had on your learning, personal growth, or overall development.

This response works because it demonstrates how the student took advantage of an educational opportunity and their real experience. They show their drive, determination, and perseverance through their story of overcoming difficulties during the program. 

They also mentioned their reason for taking this course was to better prepare themself for college, which also allowed them to develop study habits to aid them. Both these points can convince the UC admissions committee of this student’s academic potential. 

Here’s another example: 

“After the first few tests in my geometry course my freshman year, my teacher, [NAME #1], noticed my passion for and proficiency with math. At the same time, my physics teacher, [NAME #2], noticed how I enjoyed challenging extra credit problems. I would visit him during the advisory period to review the problems so I could understand the concepts. Both of these teachers recognized my curiosity and desire to challenge myself beyond existing coursework. By the end of the first quarter, I had decided I wanted to take calculus as a sophomore, but I needed to complete Algebra 2 and precalculus first.

One day, I noticed [NAME #2] AP Calculus book on his desk and asked him if I could borrow it, even though the topic was well beyond what I had been studying. I worked with [NAME #1] and asked how I could accelerate my math courses so I could take calculus the following year. The largest obstacle standing in my way was time. I still needed to take a year’s worth of Algebra 2 and a year’s worth of precalculus before I could enroll in AP Calculus AB. 

Despite this barrier, I was determined to progress. I would ask [NAME #1] to give me practice material from Algebra 2, which I would study in addition to my freshman workload. [NAME #1] agreed that if I passed both Algebra 2 semester finals, she would give me credit for the class. My studying paid off. I passed and was able to take an accelerated precalculus course over the summer before my sophomore year. 

My initiative and my teachers’ recognition of my skills and abilities allowed me to advance in mathematics faster than what the school would normally allow. As a result, I am now taking Advanced Topics in Calculus as a senior, and I will be able to jumpstart my lower-division coursework as an Applied Mathematics major. I learned that good teachers nurture potential and that if I take initiative, I can accomplish anything. I have confidence that I can handle a heavy workload and look forward to new challenges.” 

This essay demonstrates the student’s ability to take the initiative and take charge of their education despite originally not being on track to take their desired courses. The author’s essay shares their passion for math, their ability to solve problems, and how they worked around an educational barrier to advance their learning. 

Ready to elevate your UC essays? Check out our video on writing perfect college essays here! 

Prompt Five Example

Prompt five asks you to “Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?”

Gain a better understanding of how to write the UC essays from this sample response: 

“I grew up in Mumbai, where the air was always warm and welcoming and carried the scent of flowers and cardamom. Everywhere I went, I heard my beautiful language being spoken by people in my village that knew my name and always greeted me with smiles as warm as the sun that was constantly out. 

Then, I moved to America. My father received a job opportunity that would provide us with more economic stability and a chance for a better life for me and my soon-to-be younger brother who was due to be born in a few months. America was not like Mumbai. 

We traded our small, tight-knit village for the bustling, large city Denver where no one knew my name, and I rarely heard my beautiful language. Instead, I heard a foreign language that always seemed too quick to catch. I struggled to string along even the most simple sentences. I missed the warmth of the sun and the smell of the air. 

When I started school in the sixth grade, I was an easy target for bullies. I had a thick accent and mismatched clothes. I was still learning how Westerners dressed, and I stuck out like a sore thumb—an expression that always confused me as a child.

But, I took ESL classes throughout middle school. I read in my free time and joined ESL summer programs every year. Soon, I was able to string along sentences with ease and Denver started to feel more like home. I started hearing a different beautiful language that I understood more and more every day. 

By high school, English became my favorite subject. I understood even the most complex Shakespeare plays and wrote compelling essays on them. My accent still lingers on certain words, but it only reminds me of the idyllic place that I come from. 

I am no longer ashamed of my roots, in fact, I smile when I hear the remnants of my accent. I also smile when I learn new English words, and am happy to say I am now the master of two beautiful languages.” 

India flag blowing in wind

Here are some helpful tips on how to write this essay:

  • Choose a genuine challenge : Pick a challenge that is genuinely significant in your life and has had a tangible impact on your academic journey. This could be a personal, academic, or professional challenge that has shaped your experiences and perspectives.
  • Detail the steps taken : Outline the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge. Discuss any strategies, actions, or decisions you made to address the obstacles. Highlight your problem-solving skills, resilience, and determination.
  • Reflect on the experience : Reflect on what you learned from overcoming the challenge. Discuss how the experience has shaped your character, influenced your approach to challenges, and contributed to your personal and academic growth.

This response shares a story that is clearly meaningful to the student. It revolves around their upbringing, a major event in their life, and the challenges they faced because of this change. They show persistence and resilience and provide concrete examples of how they overcame the odds and perfected their English.

Prompt Six Examples

Prompt six asks you to “Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.” 

The best way to grasp how to write the UC essays is to learn by example! Here are two UC essay examples to help you get inspired: 

“Logophile. 

It doesn’t sound like a pleasant word. In fact, most people ask me to repeat myself when I describe myself as one. But, it is the only word that captures how important writing and reading is to me. Every definition of the word states logophiles are lovers of words, which is exactly what I am, no more and no less. 

English was always my favorite subject. My mother constantly reminds me of how I would pretend to write even when I couldn’t. It was only ever just scribbles, but she was convinced those scribbles held meaning to me. 

I would scribble on lined paper for hours until I began learning the alphabet and how to make those scribbles mean something to someone other than myself.

Throughout middle school, I spent all of my free time reading. You would never see me without a book, and I would read an average of three novels each week. 

I loved how words came together to create wonderful stories that I could immerse myself into. I marveled at the amazing gift authors had to be able to give life to words that had such little meaning on their own. I knew, someday, I would also be able to create worlds out of words. 

I took all of the English courses offered at my school and supplemented these classes with writing camps and workshops led by real authors during my summers. By my sophomore year, it was a notebook that I always carried around with me. I found inspiration in everything. 

I looked at the tan line where my biology teacher’s wedding ring must have been and wrote a story about their doomed love. I submitted it for a nation-wide junior writing competition and won second place.” 

This summer, I will be participating in a writing internship offered by a local news station. While I will mainly be writing investigative work, I hope to expand my writing skills and learn new techniques through it.

I plan on developing my skills even further at UC Merced through their Karen Merritt Writing Program.” 

Consider these tips when answering the above prompt:

  • Choose a genuine academic interest : Select an academic subject that genuinely inspires and excites you. Your enthusiasm for the subject should be apparent in your writing, and the chosen topic should align with your academic interests.
  • Connect to future goals : Tie your passion for the academic subject to your future academic and professional goals. Explain how this interest aligns with your aspirations and how it will contribute to your success in the program and beyond.
  • Be concise : While expressing enthusiasm, ensure that your essay remains focused and concise. Avoid unnecessary details and tangents, and prioritize conveying a clear and impactful story about your passion for the academic subject.

This student not only describes why they love English and writing but also provides background information to demonstrate how long they’ve been honing their writing and reading skills. They explain how they’ve already developed their skills and how they plan on further enhancing them at UC Merced. 

Here’s another example answering this prompt: 

“Throughout literature, I see time. Thousands of works hundreds of years old have been lost, and yet some manage to survive longer than the authors who brought them to life. I read a Greek piece of writing and see in the sentiments expressed in the text that besides some trivial differences attributable to history, we’re still essentially the same. We’re all human, navigating the world and finding comfort in words.

Words have given humans the ability to communicate at extraordinary levels, which has only exponentiated in the digital age of technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). In an increasingly impersonal digital world, language makes experiences tangible - real - and enables us to break barriers of individuality and possibly even loneliness. Literature provides a sense of unity and perpetuity, allowing me to understand our history more personally when I read timeless works written by another author’s hand.

It wasn’t until reading and comparing multitudinous genres (ranging from fiction and [LANGUAGE] to Shakespearean sonnets) in sophomore English that I realized, although we come from different times, we still laugh at the same jokes, suffer similar tragedies, and have a collective sense of duty to maintain what was - and still is - deemed beautiful.

Thus, from sophomore year onward, I started pleasure reading, a hobby I’d long neglected. The first year, I managed to read 6 books, all simple digestible fiction works. The year after: 30 books, with a medley of genres from fantasy and classics to non-fiction. The next year: 50 books, with so many genres and topics that I began listening to debates and commentaries about books I’d finished, reading essays written on them and writing my own, and watching my favorite videos of Brandon Sanderson on writing.

Of all my hobbies, I must say reading affords me the most invaluable understanding of literature. Vicariously experiencing other authors’ thoughts and beliefs, I’m immersed in their minds, and whenever I finish their book, I’m back on my own timeline in history, unable to contain the inspiration that often strikes to use my words and languages to weave works of literature.” 

Why This Worked 

This student’s love of literature fuelled their narrative while demonstrating how they pursued their passions outside the classroom. 

The tangible numbers they provide on how many books they’ve read and their descriptions of how they’d engaged with the content shows their commitment to learning and exploring history and writing – their conclusion about unity and perpetuity is especially compelling. 

Prompt Seven Example

Prompt seven asks, “What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?” Here’s a sample answer: 

“We have a fourteen-day adoption policy. Animals that are not adopted within two weeks of entering the shelter are likely to be euthanized. We simply do not have the room or resources to keep them longer. Considering she’s a black cat, it’s highly likely she will not be adopted. 

That’s what I was told when I surrendered an injured black cat to my local animal shelter. I found Midnight cowering under my car during a hail storm. It was clear she once belonged to someone, she had a tattered collar, but she must have been abandoned recently. 

Her nails were beginning to grow out, and her fur was matted and unbrushed. After hearing about her chances of adoption, I researched the phenomena of black pet deaths.

Out of all of the other pets, black dogs and cats were not only the least likely to be adopted but were euthanized at the highest rates. By day thirteen, no one had adopted Midnight, so I did. 

But I knew just saving one cat wasn’t enough. So, I brought up the issue to the other members of our Animal Activist club at school. I was an executive member of the club, and my peers agreed we had to do more for the black pets in our community. So, we set up two bake sales and three fundraisers throughout my junior year of high school.

We raised over $20,000 that we donated to our local animal shelter for what has coined the “Black Pet Initiative”. With this money, all of the black pets at the shelter were groomed, professionally photographed, and given the best chances of being adopted. 

Any leftover funds were used to provide the shelter with more resources to keep their animals for longer before they were euthanized. 

Our initiative has had great success so far. Mandy, the adoption coordinator, told us there was a 50% increase in black pet adoptions so far and that she only expects it to grow as they receive more donations through the social media presence we created for them on TikTok and Instagram.”

Black cat walking in grassy field

Here are tips to help you write this essay:

  • Choose specific examples : Pick specific examples of initiatives or projects that you have been involved in to improve your school or community. Choose instances that showcase your leadership, commitment, and impact.
  • Provide context : Begin by providing context for the school or community environment. Briefly describe the challenges or opportunities that motivated your involvement. Clearly explain why you felt compelled to contribute.
  • Reflect on challenges : If you faced challenges during your efforts, discuss how you overcame them. Reflect on what you learned from the experience and how it contributed to your personal and leadership development.

Above all else, there’s clear passion in this answer. Readers can feel how important the issue is to this student, and the personal anecdote of Midnight adds to this. The student also explains the role they played in their community, how they contributed to it, and the extent of their contributions!

These essay prompts present a fantastic opportunity to strategically position yourself as the ultimate UC applicant. 

Prompt Eight Example

The final UC prompt is, “Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?” 

Here’s an example to help you brainstorm:

“A year ago, I decided to work at my neighbor’s new restaurant that they were struggling to keep afloat. I saw it as an opportunity to help my parents pay bills and save up for a car, which I felt I desperately needed at the time. 

I only planned to work there during the summer, but my neighbors said I was an asset to their team and could continue working reduced hours during the school year if I wanted. The money was good, and I knew I would be helping out neighbors I’ve known my whole life.

So, I continued working throughout my junior year, and still work there now in my senior year. It has been a demanding job, especially as business picked up last year. I made numerous mistakes in the beginning, like punching in take-out orders as dine-in orders, dropping plates, and overbooking our waitlist.

There were days I considered quitting, but I pushed through. Over time, I learned the ins and outs of the diner. I’ve become one of the restaurant's star waitresses and have even won employee of the month five months in a row. 

Working in this industry has made me feel like a bigger part of society. I have the ability to make a person’s day better and always offer kind conversation to people who often need it most. It has made me a better listener, communicator, and harder worker.

It has been a personally fulfilling experience--there’s just something about being part of people’s celebrations and sharing moments with strangers that’s indescribable. These special moments are what inspired me to continue working in this industry, but not as a waitress. 

I hope to become a co-manager at my neighbor’s restaurant to have an even bigger impact on my community. I know getting a degree is the next step in this aspiration.” 

  • Identify unique strengths : Identify unique strengths or qualities about yourself that have not been extensively covered in your application. Consider personal characteristics, experiences, or skills that set you apart and contribute to your candidacy.
  • Focus on diversity : Emphasize aspects of your background, experiences, or perspectives that contribute to the diversity and richness of the university community. Showcase how your unique qualities will enhance the overall student body.
  • Connect to university values : Connect your strengths with the values and mission of the University of California. Demonstrate how your goals and values align with the university's commitment to academic excellence, diversity, and community engagement.

This student shares more about their work experience and what led them to pursue a degree at a UC school. It offers more insight into the type of person they are, what they value, and how important community is to them. 

We hope these UC personal insight questions examples help you understand what UC schools look for. 

UC Essay Examples

Here are some UC essay examples to give you a better idea of what a successful essay looks like.

“Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.”

My grandfather delights in scenic diversions while traveling, and I am his willing companion on road trips. Our journeys have taken us to trails and prime fishing spots as memorable as our final destination. Information processing in my brain resembles these scenic journeys. I have dyslexia, and one of the greatest challenges I have overcome has been to find the beauty and advantage in the way my neural pathways function–never a direct route and usually a lengthy journey. 
Learning to read was an arduous undertaking for me. While my siblings learned to read with ease, I toiled along and avoided tasks that involved reading. After I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I drudged through hours of remediation and studied twice as hard as my neurotypical peers. I had difficulty attributing my success to natural ability because I worked so hard to attain it. It wasn’t until my freshman year that my mindset shifted. A guest speaker visited my school to talk about the gifts of neurodiversity. As I listened, I began to think about my own neural pathways as roadways for information. I realized that my destination is the same as someone with an ordinary brain, but information in my brain takes the scenic route. I then started uncovering the benefits of neurodiversity. Dyslexia has helped me excel in forming creative solutions to problems, and as my classes become more advanced, the processing differences become less apparent. What’s more, I’ve spent my life working hard to spot and rectify errors, reading and re-reading passages, and intensely persevering to meet my own high expectations. This has culminated in a work ethic for which I will always have muscle memory. Above all, I now confidently own my success.
As I reflect on expeditions with my grandfather, it is clear my experience on the road could never be the same as my siblings, who rode with my parents in the “fast car”. I would never trade the memories made for the time spent. As for my neural pathways, I am content knowing that my brain will always take me where the fish are biting.

“What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?”

The test covered L’Hopital’s Rule and Related Rates–a topic I felt I had mastered but would need extra time to complete. But there I was. Waiting patiently with everyone else for [NAME] to hand out the test. As a student with a learning difference, I had a written contract for accommodations: extended time in a distraction free setting, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t the first time this happened, and I knew how this story would unfold. He placed the test on my desk. I frantically solved as many problems as I could. I flew through the first half of the test, but just as I began solving related rates, I heard a disappointing “5 Minutes Left”. I frantically jotted down anything that came to mind on the remaining portion of the test, but it didn’t matter. Time was up.
I sat quietly in class the next day, enraged. Every question I completed was correct, but it didn’t make up for the unattempted problems. “79%” engraved in dark red ink. What’s worse, he wrote, “Why didn’t you try these problems?” across the page of unanswered questions. Nearly every problem I attempted on any quiz or test in his class was mathematically correct, but I ran out of time on almost every assessment. It didn’t matter how good I truly was at Precalculus.
Until then, I had a hard time advocating for myself. That day something ignited in me and I knew I carried the responsibility to advocate for not only myself but for other students with learning differences. I wrote a letter to the school which reviewed the rights of students with learning differences set forth by the ADA. The following semester, my teacher was obligated to allow accommodations in his class, and as a result, those of use with differences were allowed “equal playing time.” The grade I received that semester did not reflect my mastery of Honors Precalculus, but it was a very impactful experience. I now understand the mental burden true discrimination can have on a person, and I carry the motivation to fight it.

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.”

It was her fourth honor council. I sat on the committee for her third that granted her one last chance. It was mid-April–just weeks before graduation, and she would walk across the stage with her diploma. The third honor council debated for hours about the best course of action. No student had ever been given 4 chances without separation from the school. One attendee argued for her future in retaining her college admission, while another suggested her negative impacts on the school community. After hours of debate, the honor council was split. It was left up to just a few of her peers to decide her fate. We reviewed her previous violation, and then it appeared: “Any future violations of school rules WILL result in separation from the school”. I believe strongly in seeking first to understand a person’s circumstances before drawing judgment, and I think there is great value in the second chance. Unfortunately, this student was unable to take responsibility after failing on multiple counts, and we eventually decided it would be best for the community if she separated from the school. She was given the opportunity to receive her diploma with successful completion of online classes.
Hard decisions like these have been a driving factor in shaping my character and values caring for the greater good of the community. I faced discrimination as a person with learning differences, which prompted me to solve issues of inequity through leadership positions. I give back to the community by leading school discussions about acts of hate and aggression that happen on and off campus, and I strive to create diversity and inclusion by attracting new people to [CITY]. I attempt to create a well-rounded incoming class of freshmen that will better the FVS community and help to solve issues of discrimination and a lack of diversity on campus. Together, my roles have heavily aligned with my values of creating diversity and solving a wide range of issues on campus.

What Are the UC Schools Looking For In Your Essays? 

When it comes to the essay, UC schools look for specific aspects, these include:

  • Personality : The essay is a great way for UC admission to get to know their applicants. They look for an applicant's voice and want to get to know more about them. 
  • Diversity of experiences :  UC schools value diversity, not only in terms of ethnicity and background but also in experiences, perspectives, and talents. They are interested in students who can bring unique viewpoints and contribute to a diverse and vibrant campus community.
  • Impact and initiative : The essays should highlight instances where you took initiative or made a positive impact in your community, school, or personal life. Admissions officers are interested in applicants who demonstrate leadership, problem-solving skills, and a commitment to making a difference.
  • Interest in the schools : Demonstrate a genuine interest in the UC schools you are applying to. Mention specific programs, faculty, or opportunities that attract you to each campus, showing that you've done your research.

Make sure you keep the above in mind when writing your essays. You never know, it might help you get accepted! 

Tips For Writing the UC Application Essays

Reviewing sample answers and getting inspired by them is an excellent first step when learning how to write the UC personal insight questions. Once you’ve made it past the brainstorming phase, consider these tips for your UC supplemental essays:

Use “I” Statements

Throughout your personal insight questions, you should use “I” statements. Make yourself the protagonist of all your stories, and don’t use third-person narration. This can make your answers confusing, less personal, and academic-sounding. 

Your personal insight questions give the admissions committee a glimpse into who you are outside the classroom. While your stats give them a sense of your academic potential, your essays provide a sense of who you are and what you can contribute to the school community.

Be sincere in your answers. Show your enthusiasm about the topics you’re writing about, and be honest. You don’t need to have jaw-dropping, tragic, or life-changing stories to write compelling UC essays. 

Your feelings towards these experiences, what you learned from them, and the impact they had on others make your responses unique and interesting!

Get Feedback

Your friends, family, and other members of your community who know you best can offer feedback on your essays. If they feel you’re selling yourself short or your answers don’t reflect your personal story, you can revise them to be more accurate.

At the same time, however, you do not want to lose your unique voice by accepting all of the suggestions of your peers and family members. You are still the best narrator of your own story, and it may have been a long while since they applied to college.

If you’re unsure how to write the UC supplemental essays or want expert guidance and feedback, consider scheduling a consultation with an admissions counselor to ensure your narratives stand out! 

Edit, Edit, Edit

Grammar and spelling errors can distract your readers and reduce the efficacy of your words. Ensure you proofread your work several times before you submit it so your answers are clear and powerful!

For any remaining questions about the UC application insight questions, read on!

1. How Do You Write a Good UC Essay?

Writing a good University of California insight questions involves several steps:

  • Choose prompts that truly resonate with you
  • Brainstorm ideas before you write your answers
  • Limit your options to the experiences you feel most connected to so you can portray your best traits
  • Be sincere and honest 
  • Use real-life anecdotes to propel your story
  • Proofread your work several times
  • Ask for input from people close to you, but ensure your voice still shines through

A good UC essay is crafted with care and effort! Ensure you start early, and don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts until you’re happy with your answers.

2. Can UC Essays Be Over 350 Words?

No, your UC essays should be 350 words or fewer.

3. Do UC Essays Have to Be 250 Words?

There’s no minimum word count for the UC essays. However, you should aim for your answers to be at least 250 words so you can adequately answer the prompt. 

4. How Many UC Essays Are There?

You’ll be given the choice between eight essay prompts, of which you must answer four. 

5. What Should I Not Do When Writing UC Essays? 

When writing UC essays, you shouldn’t mention the school’s name if you’re applying to more than one in the system. Additionally, you don’t want to fudge any details, randomly select essays to write, repeat anything from your personal statement, or exceed the word limit. 

6. What Do UC Admissions Look for in Essays? 

UC schools are looking for applicants who demonstrate their personality and strong character through anecdotes and experiences. Ensure your responses show your passions, interests, values, and what makes you unique. 

Final Thoughts

After reviewing how to write the UC essays in depth, you should be able to craft compelling responses. Ensure you choose the right prompts, pick experiences that portray your most favorable traits, and prove you’ll make an excellent addition to the UC community!

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Step-by-Step Process To Write UC Essays Prompts With Examples For The Year 2021/2022

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The University of California (UC) school system is the most prestigious state university system in the United States. It comprises nine undergraduate universities: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Irvine.

You’ve come to the right place if you apply to the University of California schools and write the UC Personal Insight Questions.

In this post, we’ll talk about 

  • UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) prompts

What exactly are the UCs looking for in a candidate?

  • Best PIQ prompts you must choose?
  • From where can you find ideas to pick your UC PIQ topics?
  • A list of past topics other students have selected
  • Common topics + a few topics to probably avoid (because they’re so common) 
  • Tips for all the UC PIQ prompts
  • A step-by-step guide to each UC Essay Prompt (+ Examples) 
  • Examples essays for each Personal Insight Question

Let’s get started with the ultimate guide on the UC application. 

What is UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) prompts?

UC calls these “ Personal Insight Questions ” instead of “essays .” So these must be treated differently from your personal statement/college essay. 

Remember, these are not essays you write for a class—they’re somewhat different. You’ll know that in a minute. 

But to make it easy for readers, I’ll alter between “Personal Insight Questions” and “essays” because people search for both.

The UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) Prompts 

  • Describe an example of a leadership experience in which you’ve positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  • Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistic, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  • What would you say is your most outstanding talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  • Describe how you’ve taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you’ve faced.
  • Describe the most significant challenge you’ve faced and the steps you’ve taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  • Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you’ve furthered this interest inside and/or outside the classroom.
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  • Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admission to the University of California?

You’ll pick four prompts, and your answers can be up to 350 words each.

You can check UC’s website to find out what they’re looking for in the 13 points of a comprehensive review . When they evaluate your application, they look for these elements. I’ll still mention all the points below. 

The UC Points of Comprehensive Review 

  • Grade-point average 
  • Performance in and number of courses beyond minimum A-G requirements 
  • UC-approved honors courses and advanced courses 
  • Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) (CA residents only) 
  • Quality of senior-year program of study 
  • Academic opportunities in California high schools 
  • Outstanding performance in one or more academic subject areas 
  • Achievements in special projects 
  • Improvement in academic performance 
  • Unique talents, achievements, and awards 
  • Participation in educational preparation programs 
  • Academic accomplishment in light of life experiences 
  • Geographic location

For more details, click here .

What’s Your Objective on Your UC Application? 

Your objective is to do three things: 

  • You have to be better than other students applying from your school.
  • You’ve to show how you’ve won the most of the opportunities you’ve received and,
  • The most important is to connect back to the points of comprehensive review .

From where you can find ideas to pick your UC PIQ topics

You can start from your UC activities list. If you haven’t developed your list yet, do it immediately. 

Your UC Activities List is the best place to find ideas for your topics. 

You can do that by clicking here. 

After creating your UC activities list, you have to choose 4 or 5 prompts that can help you explore your different personalities and dimensions. 

For example …

List of Past Topics Other Students Have Selected  

I’ve also mentioned the prompt numbers (UC1, 2, etc.):

  • 1: Significant family responsibilities, 2: Acapella singing, 4: Working as a teacher’s assistant, 7: Advocating for worker’s rights
  • 1: Robotics Club, 2: Drumming, 4: Developing an app, 8: Gardening
  • 2: Drawing, 4: Research project, 6: Physics, 7: Filming school sports events
  • 1: Leadership class, 5: Family challenges related to father’s unemployment, 7: Spreading awareness about disaster preparedness, 8: Experiencing three very different educational systems
  • 1: Dance, 4: Volunteering at a physical therapist’s office, 6: Neuroscience, 7: Teaching kids more about STEM topics
  • 2: Sculpting, 3: Cooking, 4: Inability to take AP courses and self-studying instead, 7: Starting a recycling program 
  • 2: How art has shaped me, 5: Challenges related to taking care of brother, 6: Biology, 8: Fashion
  • 1: Econ Club, 2: Emceeing, 6: Physics, 7: Creating an app

Examples of Common UC PIQ Topics In No Particular Order

  • Anime/Manga Club
  • Cross Country
  • Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA)
  • Girl Scouts
  • Hospital Volunteering
  • Marching Band
  • Mission Trip
  • Junior Statesmen of America
  • Martial Arts
  • Mock Trial Club
  • Model United Nations
  • Music (piano, violin, flute)
  • Photography
  • Religious Groups
  • Science Olympiad
  • Student Government
  • Track & Field
  • Video Games

So, the question is should you avoid these topics? The answer is you don’t need to if you have spent a lot of time writing about them. 

Having said that, here is a

List of Few Topics to Probably Avoid (The reason is they’re very common) 

A very common one is The Big Performance PIQ , here the author is actually able to remember all the lines/give a motivating speech, etc. 

The Big Game PIQ , here author either wins or loses and learns an important life lesson. A common script of all movies. 

The Mission Trip PIQ , here author visits a foreign/third world country and eventually learns one how grateful and happy they’re in very little or while they initially went there expecting to teach, what instead happened was just the opposite/something interesting 

If you’re still not sure which topics to choose? Let’s check out some

Important Tips For Each of The UC PIQ Prompts 

Uc 1: leadership.

Prompt: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Important Tip: A powerful way to start your application. Write about how you’ve shown leadership in high school. Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the owner or president of some organization. There are several ways to show leadership like taking huge responsibilities in your family at the time of financial crisis. If you feel people consider you any type of leader, consider writing for this prompt.

UC 2: Creative Side

Prompt: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Important Tip : You can talk about how you’re creative like how you paint or you play multiple instruments. Here you have a good opportunity to bring variety to your application because the UCs are interested in more than just your academics. 

UC 3: Greatest Talent or Skill

Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  

Important Tip: Remember to connect your quality (it could be anything) to particular things you’ve done. Otherwise, your PIQ may sound very mainstream. How will you know if you’re being specific enough? Read your PIQ and ask, “Can I visualize this as I read it?” If not, brainstorm more specific examples of how this quality manifests itself in your life.

Another Important Tip: Let’s say soccer is your greatest talent and you can write about how soccer has taught you things like “discipline, hard work, and determination.” Instead, I recommend that you describe a talent or skill you’ve learned through soccer—looking out for others’ needs, for example, or looking at life in a more profound way. Show how volleyball has taught you that. Then, if you do end up mentioning how volleyball has helped you learn this, you can maybe even segue into how you’ve been able to use this skill elsewhere in your life (at home, for example, or in class).  

UC 4: Significant Educational Opportunity Or Educational Barrier

Prompt: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced?

Important Tip : If you’re thinking to write about an “educational barrier,” ask yourself this question: Is this something I could shortly explain in my Additional Comments section? If you can explain it shortly there, don’t waste one of your PIQs on this prompt.

UC 5: Most Significant Challenge You’ve Faced 

Prompt: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? 

Important Tip : Keep in mind some topics are more powerful than others when it comes to this prompt.

In the past, I’ve observed students write successfully about challenges such as: 

  • Crime, racism, sexism, unemployment, violence, physical disability  
  • How a challenging family situation influenced you to take on more responsibilities

I’ve found that these tend to be less successful topics: 

  • Heavy breakup in a relationship
  • Not making a team which you wanted to  
  • Taking a challenging class
  • Shy at first but then finding your voice (this is very common topic)
  • Getting a bad grade

Another important tip: Remember to address how the hurdle impacted your academics since the prompt asks about this. If you faced big challenges but were still able to keep good grades, you can say simply, “Despite these difficulties, I was able to maintain my grades” or something alike.

UC 6: Academic Subject 

Prompt: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Important Tip: This is an excellent prompt to reflect on. Why? Because it’s a solid way to show your intellectual side, and also you can pack in a lot of information. 

Another important tip: If you’re preparing to major in engineering, IT, or computer science, then you should definitely consider it because lots of students choose these majors and you can really show the UCs that you’re capable.

If you’re applying as a transfer student, you must write it as one of your four choices.

UC 7: School or Community Service 

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Important Tip : One more great prompt you can consider. Why? Because UCs love to hear how and what kind of impact you have made on your community. Can you think of any/several ways you have made an impact?

Another important tip: If you don’t choose this prompt, it’s a good idea to demonstrate the impact on your school or community in two of the other prompts.

UC 8: What else makes you stand out? 

Prompt: Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Important Tip: This is the kind of prompt if you have something you want to include but you are not sure which other prompt it works for.

A step-by-step guide to each UC Essay Prompt (+ Examples)

Uc essay prompt 1: the “leadership” ship essay .

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

How to compose an essay for UC Prompt 1:

1. Generate content for your essay by filling out the Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (aka BEABIES), below.

The BEABIES Exercise

top uc essays

2.  Select a structure

Does your BEABIES content focus on a particular challenge you faced, what you did about it, and what you learned?

Use Narrative Structure.

Does your content focus on a few different experiences and problems that taught you different values and insights about leadership?

Try Montage Structure.

3. Build an outline

To outline a narrative, organize your BEABIES content into three sections: 

  • Challenge (the Problem You Solved column)
  • What I Did About It (What I Did and Impact I Had columns)
  • What I Learned (Lessons Learned/Skills I Gained, and How I Applied What I Learned columns)

To outline a montage, you can take a couple of approaches:

  • Think about (and write down) how different actions connect to and taught you about different values and insights regarding leadership. These can become your body paragraphs.

For example:

  • Evolving robotics club and encouraging debate → pushed back against stereotypes learned to listen without moralizing or judgment
  • Learning to listen first → invite dialogue; better at controlling momentum with debate team or basketball, help team maintain composure and resolve
  • Another option is to just flip the BEABIES Exercise vertically, and that’s basically your outline (check out the essay below that essentially did just that).

4. Compose a draft!

If you’re writing a narrative (i.e., challenges-based) story, try devoting about ⅓ of your PIQ to each of the following: 

UC Prompt 1 example essay: Ming Ji Restaurant

Since 5th grade, I have been my parents’ right hand at Ming Ji Restaurant in our hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico. Sometimes, they needed me to be the cashier, other times, a dishwasher or chef’s assistant in the kitchen, and eventually I was expected to interact with customers as the youngest waiter on staff.

As I developed more in this role, I became a keystone piece for the waiters. I taught them how to properly attend groups of unsatisfied customers and the fundamentals of customer service. Consequently, I acquired organizational habits and dialogued more fluently to resolve problems. I developed better strategies to speed up home-delivery and in restaurant service. Through this, I achieved not only a better rapport with my colleagues but also a more honest and enjoyable relation with my dad’s employees. It implanted a strong work ethic in me that reminds me of the hardworking farmers of my past generations.

I believe that to achieve efficiency and productivity in the working environment between employees and the manager, it requires not only the firmness and attention of a boss, but also the empathy and vision of a leader. These were the very qualities I developed as my dad’s assistant.

Working through the many facets of a small business has taught me the key role of small groups in a system, and I applied this beyond the walls of the restaurant. In school, you will see me managing and organizing one-on-one mediations with peer counselors, and at the same time, earning myself a leading position in my school’s British English Olympics team. 

As a result of my years laboring for my family restaurant, you might think that I would like to become an entrepreneur. But in actuality, I picture myself as an engineer, as I believe both require adaptability, perseverance, dedication, and strategy to succeed in this field.

UC Essay Prompt 2: The “Creative Side” Essay 

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 2: 

For Prompt #2 I recommend the Uncommon Connections Exercise:

  • Choose a topic.
  • Imagine what someone else writing an essay on this same topic might write about—in particular, what values might that person emphasize? (Example: For violin, someone else might emphasize “discipline, hard work, and perseverance.” But that’s what a lot of others would focus on.) 
  • Once you’ve brainstormed some usual (read: common or obvious) values, vow to NOT discuss only these values in your essay. Why? You’re more likely to blend in.

Dare to stand out! How? Like this:

  • Choose several uncommon values. (Example: For violin, you might select “privacy,” “practicality,” or even “healthy boundaries” in one of the blanks and then discuss how violin has helped you develop all three of these instead.)

Here’s an essay that demonstrates lots of variety:

UC Prompt 2 example essay: Drumming

Sometime during middle school, I began my journey to establish a rock band, become its drummer, and, most importantly, grow magnificent long hair. I enrolled at a local music institute for drum classes twice a week. I didn’t have a drum kit at home, so I’d eagerly wait for those two one-hour sessions of smashing cymbals and double-kicking bases every week. I was having a great time, but some part of me always felt that I was not exploring my musical creativity as much as I could. 

Over the next few months, as I continued to develop my mastery of the drum kit, percussion became a part of my everyday life and soon I could sense rhythmic patterns in ordinary sounds. When no drums were available, I’d start finger-tapping in synchronous rhythms on any rigid surface and, before long, finger-tapping became an integral part of my rhythmic intelligence.

Unlike drumming, finger-tapping allowed me to incorporate melody into standard grooves by tapping on surfaces that had varying degrees of hollowness. Since it was a percussion style that I instinctively developed by myself, finger-tapping gave me the artistic freedom to create something new.

But I didn’t want to shape my spontaneous finger-tapping artistry to master another percussion instrument like the Tabla or Maschine.

Therefore, I decided to invent my own instrument. Equipped with my expertise in robotics and coding, I used electronic items like piezoelectric sensors, pcbs, and transistors to build an instrument that reflected my own finger-tapping habits and patterns. It had ten small pads for my fingers and two large pads for my palms. I chose a raspberry-pi as its CPU and programmed it to play all kinds of melodies and beats. In this way, I learned how to coordinate my different talents and skills to amplify my total creative output.

My friends and family suggested that I name and advertise my invention and maybe sell it to a company. But if I did that, I would lose the essence of why I built it. I built it not to master its musical capacity but to develop my own musical creativity. 

UC Essay Prompt 3: The “Greatest talent or skill” Essay 

Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 3:

As with Prompt 2, I recommend completing the Uncommon Connections Exercise. How? Like this:

  • Choose a topic. 
  • Imagine what someone else writing an essay on the same topic might write about using the Values Exercise—in other words, brainstorm the cliché version. 
  • Once you’ve done this, vow to NOT discuss only these values in your essay. Why? You’re more likely to blend in. Stand out by instead electing to:
  • Choose several uncommon values. 

Then, before you start writing:

  • Create a simple outline by picking a theme for each paragraph. Here were the themes for this author’s paragraphs

UC Prompt 3 example essay: Finding connections among the dissimilar

I’ve always strived to find connections among the dissimilar. 

It started when I was a kid and my dad taught me Sudoku. As he explained the rules, those mysterious scaffoldings of numbers I often saw on his computer screen transformed into complex structures of logic built by strategy. Gradually, puzzles became a constant in my life. In elementary school, I began searching for patterns in the world around me: thin, dark clouds signaled rain, the moon changed shape every week, and the best snacks were the first to go. I wanted to know what unseen rules affected these things and how they worked. My parents, both pipeline engineers, encouraged this inquisitiveness and tried explaining how they solved puzzles in their own work. Their analytical mindsets helped me muddle through homework and optimize matches in Candy Crush.

In high school, I threw myself into all my classes and studied by linking concepts across subjects. Mathematical syntax transitioned easily to English grammar, and the catalysts for revolutions resembled isomers of the same element, nominally different with the same properties. 

As I grew older, my interests expanded to include the delicate systems of biology, the complexity of animation, and the nuances of language. Despite these subjects’ apparent dissimilarity, each provides fascinating perspectives on the world with approaches like color theory and evolution. Unsurprisingly, my career aspirations changed every week: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand up comedian. But when I discovered computer science, something seemed to settle; I had finally found a field where I could be creative, explore a different type of language, and, yes, solve puzzles.

Best of all, I believe my superpower has helped me knit together my identity. Although my relatives’ rapid Mandarin escapes me, in them I recognize the same work ethic that fueled me through marching band practices and late nights. My multicultural friend group is linked by our diverse passions: k-pop, hockey, Hamilton. While to others my life may seem like a jumble of incompatible fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to become something more. (350 words)

UC Essay Prompt 4: The “Educational Opportunity or Barrier” Essay 

Prompt: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 4:

There are a couple of possibilities for this essay, and note that you don’t have to write about both a significant educational opportunity and an educational barrier—just write about one. For the “significant educational opportunity,” you could write about anything from an internship experience, a challenge you faced that taught you something or something else entirely. 

If you’re writing about a significant educational opportunity,” you might choose to use the Montage Structure and use the BEABIES Exercise to brainstorm your content (scroll up to find that).

If you’re writing about an educational barrier, the Narrative (challenges essay) Structure works well for this. Try devoting about ⅓ of your PIQ to each of the following: 

Let’s look at an example that uses the Montage Structure to discuss a significant educational opportunity. But notice that the student interpreted the prompt in an unusual way.

UC Prompt 4 example essay: Construction

Five years ago I took up a job in construction from a couple of neighbors who needed help doing a demolition job on an old house. I saw this as an opportunity to help pay bills around the house as well as cover my own personal expenses. I did a good enough job that my neighbors told me that, if I wanted, I could continue working with them. 

It has been a demanding job and I made numerous mistakes at first, like using the wrong tools for different tasks or the wrong size screw. On occasion, I was scolded for my mistakes and I felt incompetent, as I wasn’t able to complete tasks as fast as my co-workers. There were even days that I considered quitting, but I stuck with it. 

Since then, I've built, repaired, and remodeled numerous homes for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. I’ve removed and replaced carpets; broken down walls as well as driveways; installed cabinets, lights, both wood and tile flooring; and painted room after room. 

Working in construction has made me feel like a bigger part of society, because I’m shaping the buildings and offices my community uses. Although I don’t make the choices in design, my workmanship is reflected in every job I’ve done. Because of this, my most memorable projects are those that I’ve taken on by myself.

It has been a personally fulfilling experience—there’s just something about peeling away the last strip of tape off a new floor that’s indescribable—and getting to see hours of planning, preparation, and work come together is such a rewarding experience. The best part? Knowing that some family will get to enjoy my work.

But this is not what I will do the rest of my life. 

There are other ways I can help cover my family’s expenses, and getting a degree is the next step. In fact, I have a feeling that would be an even more fulfilling journey.

UC Essay Prompt 5: The “Significant Challenges” Essay 

Prompt: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 5:

  • Finish the Feelings and Needs Exercise .
  • Determine what the 3-6 “parts” of your essay are. One easy way to do this is to use the Challenges/What I Did/What I Learned structure. Use the questions in the outline above to expand from the 3“chunks” (i.e., paragraphs or “scenes” in your story) to 5 or 6. Note that you might also choose to take your Feelings and Needs Exercise and simply write a paragraph on each column. (Cool, huh?) 
  • Write a draft!

Have a look at a shortened version of an essay that was composed as part of a four-day workshop. The student wrote this after finishing the Feelings and Needs Exercise, and then shortened it from 650 words (for the Common App) to 350 words (so that I could share it with you here):

UC Prompt 5 example essay: Example 1: What had to be done (Narrative Approach, based on a challenge)

At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. My dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.

For a few years the quality of our lives started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me, but our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.

I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.    

Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix bikes, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.

I worked hard to earn straight A’s, I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and I learned to play the oboe. I tutored kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices, and I became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam.

I’ve done tons, and I'm proud of it.

But I’m excited to say there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see how Fernando will grow.  

I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to.

Because I choose to. 

UC Essay Prompt 6: The “Favorite Subject” Essay 

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 6:

Head to BEABIES. To learn more about how to fill out the BEABIES Exercise, head here. 

No need to go crazy with this chart to write a strong essay. After you’ve filled the chart:

  • You now have to decide on the 3-6 “chunks” (read: paragraphs) of your essay based on the content you’ve created and decide what the main point of each paragraph will be.

UC Prompt 6 example essay: History

Through books like Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl about his incarceration at Auschwitz and documentaries like Enemies of the People about the Khmer Rouge, history has taught me that human empathy knows no borders. 

My favorite “history nerd” moments occur when I can explain a modern socio-political phenomenon by drawing connections to a historical event, like tying the gender pay gap to the Neolithic Revolution and linking recent voting patterns to centuries of de jure/de facto racism. For my IB Extended Essay, I am writing about the Second Amendment, and I hope to elucidate the current gun control debate with research surrounding the legacy of the Glorious Revolution. 

My passion for history led me to an internship at the Sejong Institute, a think-tank specializing in Korean diplomacy. While I translated Korean research publications on topics like denuclearizing North Korea and resolving the South China Sea disputes, I drew heavily from what I learned of the region’s past, coming to understand that international conflicts cannot be resolved in the absence of historical insight. 

This notion also applies to my participation in Model UN. Exploring the ramifications of historical events has helped me create more comprehensive solutions; learning about the often-controversial past actions of nations has prompted me to raise ethical questions. For instance, I was appalled to learn that the Kurdish crisis, Syrian Civil War, and ISIL could be traced to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which carved up the region into ‘spheres of influence’ in 1916. In resolving these conflicts, how do we balance national sovereignty with the responsibility of former colonial powers to stabilize the region?

This summer, I enrolled in “Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology” at UC Irvine. From tracing the African exodus of Homo erectus two million years ago to examining La Bestia (Mexican freight trains used by US-bound migrants), I now understand that migration is as old as history itself. 

In college, I hope to continue drawing connections between history and contemporary geopolitics as a Political Science major. Eventually, I hope to become a civil rights attorney, and the first Asian woman on the Supreme Court. 

UC Essay Prompt 7: The “Community Service” Essay

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 7:

There’s an exercise our team has developed based on an article, it is about a pitch that Elon Musk made for the Tesla Powerwall. You can check out this article here after reading this article you’ll end up writing a “community service” essay.

The Elon Musk Exercise

1. Buy a blank sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and start making these columns:

  • In Column 1: Identify the problem . Describe the challenge you were facing. The problem could be something global, like an environmental issue, or something more local, like a lack of creative opportunities in your high school.
  • In Column 2: Raise the stakes . Help us understand: Why was (or is) overcoming this challenge important? What might happen if this problem went (or goes) unchecked? 
  • In Column 3: Articulate the vision. What might the world look like if this problem were solved? As Raskin says in his article, “Show the promised land before explaining how you’ll get there.” Inspire us to dream with you.
  • In Column 4: Describe what you did . Tell us the specific things you (or you and your team) did to solve the problem.
  • In Column 5: Clarify your role .  Describe your particular involvement. Why were (or are) you crucial to the project’s or club’s success?
  • In Column 6: Share the impact you had, lessons you learned, or values you gained . Provide specific evidence that gives us a sense that your work mattered. 

2. Then fill in the chart with all of these details.

3. Turn the paper vertical and notice (voila!) those six columns = your essay.

4. Write a draft using one column per paragraph (or so).

Once you’ve completed your draft, read the first sentence of each paragraph out loud to see whether they flow together. If not, rewrite them so that they sound better. After that rewrite the paragraphs so they connect to those first sentences. 

If they do flow together, then your work is done.

If you don’t think it’s possible to fit all that content into just 350 words? Check out this essay. 

UC Prompt 7 example essay: Earthquakes

Last year, nearly 600 earthquakes hit my hometown of Reno in a ‘swarm’. Although the magnitudes of these quakes ranged from 2.5 to 3.7, the constant fear and anxiety of impending doom rose in the community. A disaster is unprecedented and unpredictable and, in our community, we always acknowledged their occurrence elsewhere but never fully admitted that a large-scale catastrophe may happen at our doorsteps.

Recognizing this unspoken apathy, I decided to take a step beyond my school club and get involved in the community chapter of the Reno Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services team. As I was learning the basics of preparedness i.e., general earthquake and fire safety drills, I realized that if disaster were to strike, the majority of people in my community could not confidently say that they are prepared. As part of the DCS committee, it is my goal to increase the confidence of as many youth and families as possible.

During my training, I accompanied volunteers during the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, where we installed and updated smoke alarms and detectors in over thirty low income households in the Reno area, free of charge. I began teaching the “Pillowcase Project” in local elementary schools, leading workshops in and instilling the importance of disaster preparedness for the youngest of children.

Representing DCS on the Youth Executive Board for our local chapter, I also led a Youth in Disaster Services Seminar, where we trained young adults in CPR Certification as well as basic Shelter Fundamentals.

Through my work with the Red Cross, and in my interactions with survivors and rescuers who assisted during Hurricane Katrina, I’ve come to discover how teaching even just small preparedness procedures to individuals can help save entire communities.

The impact of disaster services reverberates throughout our communities, both at home and internationally. It is a selfless, necessary job in which youth, as the future generation of an ever-changing disaster prone world, must take urgent action.

UC Essay Prompt 8: The “The One Thing That Sets You Apart”

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 8:

To me, this is a kind of catch-all, or “topic of your choice” prompt that essentially asks, “What else you got?” Several of the samples above, you’ll notice, work for this prompt too.

So far, we’ve discussed three ways/exercises to use when brainstorming and writing your essay. 

Good news: Any of these could work for Prompt 8. 

How? Once you’ve decided on a topic (ideally, something that shares a part of you that isn’t demonstrated elsewhere in your other three essays), read over these methods again:

The Uncommon Connection (UC) Game

Find several uncommon qualities or values that connect to your topic, and focus on one quality/value per paragraph. Example: The santur has helped me connect with my culture and Persian heritage (one paragraph), serves as a tool for social change (another paragraph), and connects me to my father and grandfather (another paragraph).

Or if you’re writing about an extracurricular activity, you might consider using …

The Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (BEABIES)

Choose your topic. Then, create a chart with four columns labeled:

  • Problems I solved
  • Lessons learned/values gained 
  • Impact I had

Choose the two most impressive, and emphasize those in your essay.

Or, if you’re writing about a service project, you might opt for …

Create a chart with six columns labeled:

  • The problem/challenge
  • Raise the stakes/why now?
  • Promised land/vision
  • What I/we did
  • My specific role
  • Impact/lessons/values

UC Prompt 8 example essay: Three IDs (Narrative Approach, based on a challenge)

Ten minutes had passed and I was stuck on the same question. Which of the three bubbles am I supposed to fill? It was one of the most complicated questions I faced in my life: the question of race. “Which choice best describes you?“

Chinese? True, I have the physical traits of my parents who are both Chinese. 

However, I was born in Washington. So technically I should fill in Chinese-American. It was there when my feelings arose. “Felipe, there is barely anything you know about your legal hometown, Taxco. You have never been back there after your birth,” I told myself. I reassessed my choice.

I began recalling the community where I grew up, Zacatecas. Most of my friends speak Spanish; I eat enchiladas and I listen to banda; the fiery lyrics of the Mexican Anthem echoes my pride. It turns out that my heart does indeed belong to Mexico. However, when I would first encounter other Mexican-Americans, they would jolt in curiosity or gaze with suspicion. 

It was impossible to extinguish the burning enigma that is my identity.

Fortunately, everything became clearer in high school when I moved to the US. I was classified as the “Asian Felipe” amongst my peers; I still embraced and honored my Mexican culture, since my mind works in Spanish. At home, I attempt to recount my day to my grandparents in Taishan, my family’s native language, and I practice Buddhism while living in my birthland, America. 

Sometimes, I do not resonate with any of these worlds. Differentiated by my physical appearance in Mexico, and ostracized by my lack of fluency in Chinese here, I define myself as a Third Culture Kid, yet here I stand converging across the various cultures that makes me more than a “math genius” or a “lazy machista”.

 While I could blend three entities of mine and become part of the melting pot, I instead choose to keep each unique trait of my multiethnicity to become a salad bowl, with all of its ingredients mixed together, yet separated enough to taste the individual flavor of each one.

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-24

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024

Students applying to UC schools must be prepared to answer the UC prompts as part of the application process. Each year, the University of California receives over 200,000 undergraduate freshmen applications. An important part of these applications are the UC Personal Insight Questions, also known as UC PIQs. In this article, we’ll break down the UC essay prompts to help you ace your UC application.

In addition to reviewing each of the UC essay prompts, we will discuss unique aspects of the UC application. We will also share tips to help you choose the UC prompts that are best suited to you. Finally, we’ll share additional resources that can aid you in writing your UC PIQs, including UC essay examples.

Applying to the University of California

uc essay prompts

Many of the University of California’s campuses are ranked among the best colleges in the nation. Not only that, the UCs are also some of the most affordable schools, especially for California residents. So, it’s no surprise the number of students that end up applying to UC schools. With so many qualified applicants, it’s important to start early and put dedicated time and effort into your UC PIQs.

Ready to learn more about UC Personal Insight Questions? Before we dive into the UC PIQs, we’d like to share a bit about the UC application process . The UC admissions process differs in several ways from many other U.S. schools. Here are a few key facts to keep in mind before you start responding to the UC essay prompts:

You must apply through the UC system’s application, known as UC Apply .

The UC schools do not accept the Common Application or the Coalition Application. As such, they will not see the personal statement that many schools require you to submit via these applications. Ensure anything you want to share comes across in your responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions.

The UC Apply deadline is November 30 .

The UC schools do not have special deadlines like early action or early decision. However, their general application deadline is earlier than it is at most other schools. The UC application is available to fill out from October 1 to November 30 each year. As a result, we recommend choosing your UC essay prompts as soon as they become available. That way, you can write several drafts of your UC essays and polish them in advance of the November deadline.

The UCs use a holistic admissions process.

After reading your UC Personal Insight Questions, each UC school will consider your application as a whole. That means your grades, courses, special research projects, talents, and high school rank, among many other factors, are all important. As such, put effort into every part of your application. Notably, the UC schools are test blind , meaning they do not review test scores. Hence, do not lose sight of the importance of answering your UC prompts fully. Each of the UC Personal Insight Questions is a chance to prove yourself as a candidate for admission. 

We hope this provides more context as to how the UC Personal Insight Questions fit into the broader application process. Next, we’ll explore the UC schools more in-depth.

How many UCs are there?

uc essay prompts

There are ten University of California schools in total. However, only nine have undergraduate programs. These nine schools are the following, in order of most selective to least selective:

UC Acceptance Rates

  • UCLA – 9% acceptance rate
  • UC Berkeley – 11% acceptance rate
  • UC Irvine – 21% acceptance rate
  • UC San Diego – 24% acceptance rate
  • UC Santa Barbara – 26% acceptance rate
  • UC Davis – 37% acceptance rate
  • UC Santa Cruz – 47% acceptance rate
  • UC Riverside – 69% acceptance rate
  • UC Merced – 89% acceptance rate

Several of these schools rank among the best colleges in California . Keep in mind that you can apply to all nine with the same application using UC Apply. While this makes applying convenient, it also means that all the UCs you apply to will receive the same UC essays. As a result, your UC Berkeley essays will be identical to your UC Davis essays and UC Irvine essays.

With this in mind, you might be wondering how to make your application stand out to a specific UC. First, start by reviewing the admissions processes for each of the UC schools you wish to attend. Then, identify key characteristics those UC schools are looking for in their applicants.

For example, consider UCLA. A successful UCLA application will demonstrate a student’s academic and personal achievements, despite any challenges they may have faced. Touching on these themes in your UCLA essay can help you build a strong UCLA application.

Make sure that your UC essays reflect your best characteristics in some form. Since the UC schools are part of the same system, they share many of the same values. Common characteristics they are looking for include creativity, problem-solving, persistence, leadership, and diversity. Use your responses to UC essay prompts to highlight how you demonstrate these qualities.

Which UCs require essay prompts?

All of the UCs require students to respond to UC Personal Insight Questions as part of their UC application. When you submit your responses to the UC PIQs on UC Apply, you’ll select which UCs to send them to. Unlike the school-specific nature of some supplemental essays, your UC essays should not mention a specific school. They are, instead, solely focused on your personal experiences.  

Furthermore, each of the UCs you apply to will review your application independently. Schools are not aware of which other UCs you applied to. Nor are they able to tell whether you were admitted to another UC. In short, although the UC essay prompts are the same at every school, they are evaluated separately by each school.

How many UC Personal Insight Questions are required?

uc essay prompts

Freshmen are required to submit responses to four of the eight available UC Personal Insight Questions. Meanwhile, transfer students must only respond to three. However, in addition to these UC essay prompts, transfer students must also submit a response to one additional required question.

Later, we’ll explore each of the eight UC PIQ prompts in depth. We’ll also share tips for selecting the right UC PIQs for you. Before we get to the prompts, let’s look at how long your responses to the UC essay prompts should be.

How long are UC Personal Insight Questions?

Each of your four responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions can be up to 350 words long. With limited space, you should focus on sharing only the most important reflections and details to strengthen your story. Once you’ve written drafts, ask a friend or mentor to help edit your responses to the UC essay prompts. A second set of eyes can help you remove unnecessary words or phrases, finding space for more critical ideas. 

While 350 words for one essay is not a lot of space, remember you are writing four essays in total. As such, you have 1400 words in total to express who you are in your UC PIQs. 

Next, we’ll share the UC essay prompts that you can respond to for your PIQs. 

What are the UC Essay Prompts?

As we mentioned above, there are eight UC essay prompts. Remember, all eight UC essay prompts are the same no matter which school you are applying to. So, you can use the same prompt for your UC Irvine essay, UC San Diego essay, or UC Davis essay. 

Here are the eight UC prompts for the UC PIQs:

Below, we’ll explore each UC essay prompt in greater detail. And, we’ll provide tips and reflection questions to ensure your responses answer the prompt effectively .

UC Essay Prompt #1: Leadership

uc essay prompts

The first of the eight UC essay prompts is about leadership. The question is as follows:

UC Personal Insight Question #1

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time..

The word leadership often calls to mind a formal title, such as president of a club or head of student council. However, that is not how these UC prompts define leadership. In fact, the UC essay prompts allude to the fact that leadership occurs in many different scenarios. Colleges also value informal forms of leadership, such as the examples listed in the prompt.

Importantly, the UC essay prompts ask for an example of your leadership. Be sure to provide a specific example in your essay, rather than simply stating that you are a leader. For instance, maybe you stood up for a friend who was being bullied. Or maybe you created a study group to help your classmates do well on a difficult test. These are instances of informal leadership that would be excellent ideas for UC PIQ prompts.

Writing UC Personal Insight Questions about leadership can be intimidating if you feel like you haven’t had much formal leadership experience. However, almost everyone has had some experience where they’ve positively influenced others. Use these tips to discover and capture your leadership experience when answering your UC PIQ prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #1

1. ask friends, family, and mentors for examples..

Sometimes, it can be hard to see our own accomplishments. Consider surveying your friends, family, and mentors, like teachers or coaches, for examples. Ask them how they have seen you positively influence others. From there, note if any examples feel particularly meaningful to you.

2. Be specific.

As with all UC essays, you’ll want to be specific to make a captivating argument. Spend time brainstorming specific details about your experience so that you can write about it in a compelling manner. For example, if you stood up for a friend who was being bullied, consider including details about the incident. How did you feel in the moment? What stands out to you now? 

3. Highlight your impact.

In this UC PIQ, admissions is looking for an example of how you made an impact on others. So, don’t forget to include what the effect of your involvement was. Perhaps in the bullying example, your friend told you they felt supported and safer at school, and the bullying stopped. What you learned from your experiences is as important as what happened to you.

If you choose the leadership prompt as one of your UC PIQ prompts, be sure to use these tips. Thoroughly reflecting on an experience is key to writing successful UC PIQs. Strong UC PIQ examples demonstrate strong critical thinking, another valuable trait to demonstrate in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #1 Reflection Questions

As you review your draft response to the leadership UC PIQ, consider whether your response answers the following questions:

  • Does your response clearly demonstrate a positive impact you had on others?
  • Did you provide details to illustrate your story?
  • Does your essay have an insightful reflection on what you learned about leadership?

Responding effectively to PIQ #1 requires answering yes to all these questions. Now, let’s continue looking at the UC prompts with UC PIQ #2.

UC Essay #2: Creativity 

uc essay prompts

The second of the eight available UC PIQ prompts focuses on creativity. Like the leadership question, you should interpret creativity broadly. Here is the second of the UC prompts:

UC Personal Insight Question #2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. describe how you express your creative side..

You might read this question and think: “I’m not creative!” However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose it for one of your UC Personal Insight Questions. As the UC prompts state, every person is creative. We simply express our creativity differently. Creativity can include finding new routes to school in the morning to evade traffic. It might also look like discovering new ingredients and recipes for your school lunches. However you define or express your creativity is valid and could make a great topic for your UC PIQs.

When selecting a topic for your UC essay prompts, think about moments when you were particularly mentally energized. Reflect on what you were doing and how you approached that situation. Then consider whether you can tell an engaging story about that situation that demonstrates your creativity. 

Here are some tips for writing strong responses to UC essay prompts on creativity:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #2

1. think outside the box..

Creativity at its core is about tapping into your individual passions and interests. Allow yourself to think broadly about your own creativity and release any assumptions about what it means to be traditionally creative. Your UC essay prompts are a space for you to be yourself.

2. Pick a passion.

This prompt is designed to let you highlight personal passions. Maybe that passion is drawing or singing, or maybe it is solving math problems. Whatever you choose to describe, make sure it is a topic that matters deeply to you. 

3. Paint a picture.

Even if your chosen topic has nothing to do with art, use details that awaken the reader’s senses. Help us feel the joy behind your creative endeavor by giving us specific sensory details that excite you. Make your UC PIQs enjoyable and exciting to read.

Of all the UC essay prompts, this one is about creativity – so be creative and have fun writing! That will translate into an interesting response. If you’re feeling stuck, it might be helpful to review other UC PIQ examples. That way, you can get a sense of how different students respond to their UC essay prompts.

UC PIQ #2 Reflection Questions

As you finish drafting your UC Personal Insight Questions, use these questions to reflect upon your response:

  • Does your topic reflect a unique way of thinking or creating?
  • Does your response reflect your passion for a creative endeavor?
  • Do you include sensory details that make your creativity come to life?

Whether you are working on a UC Irvine essay or a UC San Diego essay, ask yourself these questions. That way, you can feel confident you’ve done a comprehensive job responding to your UC prompts.

UC Essay Prompt #3: Talent

uc essay prompts

When choosing among the UC essay prompts, you might be drawn to one that allows you to talk about one of your strengths. This is your opportunity to brag about yourself, while also having self-awareness and reflecting upon your skills or talents. The third prompt on our list of the UC prompts is as follows:

UC Personal Insight Question #3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill how have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time.

The key to answering this question well is to respond to all parts of the question. Start by reflecting on talents and skills that you have. A talent is anything you feel you can naturally do well, while a skill is something you’ve acquired over time. Both require work to hone. Sharing how you put work into your passions is important for any student including this talent prompt in their UC PIQs.

Again, keep an open mind as you reflect. We often associate talents and skills with huge accomplishments, like being a famous singer or an Olympic swimmer. In fact, talents can be seemingly small abilities, like memorizing difficult rap lyrics or putting together a stylish outfit. Skills can include everything from planning fun birthday parties to listening well to others. No talent or skill is too small to mention, so long as you provide engaging descriptions and meaningful reflections. (You might hear that caveat a lot when reviewing the UC prompts.)

Here are some tips for acing the third of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #3

1. brag a little..

As we mentioned, these UC prompts are designed to learn more about you. If you don’t tell UC admissions officers about your accomplishments, they won’t know about them. The strongest UC essay examples share achievements that may not be evident elsewhere on an application.

2. Be honest and vulnerable.

Just because you have a skill doesn’t mean you are perfect. Feel free to share what you find challenging about this activity or how you have sought to improve. Several UC PIQ examples highlight where students have struggled or failed in learning a new skill. Whether writing a UC Davis or UC San Diego essay, this vulnerability will stand out.

3. Focus on growth.

A strong response to UC prompts always includes self-reflection. Find the balance between bragging and highlighting weaknesses by finding the lessons you learned from this experience. Maybe you have always had a knack for predicting the weather, but one day predicted wrong and ended up soaked by a downpour. Perhaps your lesson is to be humble and always find secondary evidence to back up your predictions. 

As with all UC essay prompts, try to pick a topic you enjoy writing about. That genuine interest will come across, whether you’re writing a UCLA essay or UC Berkeley essay.

UC PIQ #3 Reflection Questions

After capturing your talent for one of your four UC PIQs, consider these reflection questions:

  • Did you highlight a talent or skill that is important to you?
  • Did you find a balance between bragging and reflecting upon your growth?
  • Did you describe your talent or skill with descriptions that make it come to life?

Check out other UC essay examples in this guide for ideas of how other students approached their UC prompts. But for now, let’s continue our exploration of the UC prompts.

UC PIQ #4: Educational opportunities and barriers

uc essay prompts

UC Personal Insight Question #4

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced..

The fourth of the UC essay prompts is a unique question that asks you to share an educational opportunity or barrier. Other UC prompts thus far have asked you to focus on experiences you chose. However, this question opens the door to discuss an experience that happened to you. But remember, your PIQs should always focus on you. Just as you would for other UC essay prompts, you must make a point to highlight your own growth or learnings.

Indeed, the UC school system is very aware of educational inequities across the state and country. This question acknowledges that disparity, providing space for UC admissions officers to consider a student’s educational experience in their evaluation. Students working on their UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay might be worried about their grades not being strong enough. Those students may wish to choose this prompt if their grades or course choices don’t reflect their best abilities. 

On the flip side, applicants can also use this PIQ to share further details about an opportunity they took advantage of. For example, maybe your UCLA application includes your summer research experiences but doesn’t offer space to elaborate on them. In that case, you may want to choose PIQ #4 as one of your four UC essay prompts.

When writing about education barriers or opportunities, you should be cautious about how you explain your experience. Here is some guidance about responding to this question as one of your UC PIQs effectively:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #4

1. choose a barrier or an opportunity that had significant impact on your academic career..

Your UC PIQs must highlight experiences which shaped you profoundly. Some UC PIQ examples highlight how students were accepted into programs that exposed them to a new career path. Other UC essay examples discuss how their school’s lack of classes for students with special needs prevented them from excelling. Use your UC essay prompts to your advantage by being strategic about which experiences to highlight. 

2. Remain an active participant in your story.

The goal of these UC prompts is to learn more about how you approach life. After describing the barrier or opportunity, share how it shaped you. What did you learn from the experience? What did you put into the experience to make sure you could succeed? A UC Davis essay passively complaining about a high school’s lack of advanced courses is unlikely to impress UC Admissions.

3. Focus on your growth and goals.

In many of the UC essay prompts, you have an opportunity to share your intentions for the future. Whether you grew up extremely privileged or lacking resources, UC Admissions wants to understand the quality of your character. Share how you have grown and what you hope to accomplish next.

No matter which UC prompts you select, give your full effort towards making sure they reflect your best qualities. 

UC PIQ #4 Reflection Questions

In contrast to other UC prompts, this response can be answered in two distinct ways. By focusing on an educational barrier or an educational opportunity. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll want to review your response to ensure it answers these reflection questions:

  • Does your response highlight an opportunity or barrier that is academic in nature?
  • Do you demonstrate how you played an active role in overcoming the barrier or making the most of the opportunity you chose?
  • Does your response demonstrate how you grew or learned from your experience?  

As much as your UC essay prompts are about your experiences, they are ultimately about you. Make sure you demonstrate how you became who you are in your responses to the UC essay prompts.

Alright, we’re halfway through reviewing the UC essay prompts! If these first four UC prompts didn’t speak to you, there are four more you can choose from. Keep reading to learn about PIQ #5.

UC Essay Prompt #5: Significant Challenge

uc essay prompts

Next is the significant challenge prompt. Of the UC prompts, this UC PIQ is considered the challenge essay. This is a common topic – you’ve probably encountered similar prompts for supplemental essays on other applications. The prompt for #5 of the UC PIQS is as follows:

UC Personal Insight Question #5

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. how has this challenge affected your academic achievement.

Like all the UC essay prompts, this requires some thought before diving in — what do successful UC essays cover here? Firstly, remember all of the UC PIQ prompts are very particular with their wording. Note “overcome” and “affected” in this UC PIQ. These are the “whats” of your essay.

The UC essay prompts ask for essays that reveal more about who you are as a person and a learner. Therefore, if you use this prompt for one of your UC PIQs, your challenge should be linked to your academics. That is to say, while not all successful UC essay examples for this prompt concern academic challenges, many do.

So, what topics are ideal for these UC essay prompts? Although you may have faced many academic challenges, the best UC Personal Insight Questions go above and beyond. Some UC PIQs discuss challenges that have little to do with academics but nevertheless have an effect. When brainstorming here, think about times that you struggled academically, and pinpoint the source. Common challenges are not off-limits, provided you tackle them with specificity and nuance in your UC PIQs.

Your responses to UC essay prompts should give your readers a better sense of who you are. Think of how many UC PIQs the UC Berkeley essay readers or UC Irvine essay review team see every year. The strongest UC PIQs will discuss a challenge and the writer’s reaction in a compelling way. Here are some tips to consider when answering #5 of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #5

1. consider your personal narrative..

Once you’ve decided on your topic, consider the most unique or interesting aspect of your journey with your challenge. Answering UC essay prompts starts with determining how your topic relates to your personal narrative . Let your writing capture something about your personality while highlighting certain aspects of your background.

2. Focus on the journey.

It may be tempting to get caught up in the what and the why of the challenge. While these are important details to include in your essay, be sure to detail what you did to overcome this challenge. Effective responses to UC essay prompts about challenges illustrate the writer’s character through their response to adversity. 

3. Connect back to academics.

Even if your challenge was not directly related to academics, it should connect back to some aspect of your education. Emphasize ways in which you continued to apply yourself academically, despite or in spite of this challenge. Successful UC essay examples demonstrate academic tenacity—not necessarily unbroken success—throughout hardship. 

Remember, this prompt is about overcoming a challenge. Frame the challenge as something you surmounted when drafting your UC PIQs. 

UC PIQ #5 Reflection Questions

Here are some reflection questions to consider if you choose to write about #5 of the UC PIQ prompts:

  • Does your essay clearly define the challenge you overcame?
  • Does your approach to the challenge highlight your unique and compelling traits?
  • Do you describe the effect of the challenge on your academic achievement?

Keep these questions in mind to keep your response focused and continually engaged with the prompt.

UC PIQ #6: Academic Interests

uc essay prompts

Next on our list of UC essay prompts is the academic interests essay. Among the UC prompts, this is one of the most straightforward:

UC Personal Insight Question #6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom..

Some of the UC essay prompts give a lot of room for interpretation and exploration. However, academic interest UC PIQs are rather simple. These UC essays should discuss the writer’s academic passion and their track record engaging with it. As with other UC essay prompts, look closely at the wording. Your focus may be “inside and/or outside of the classroom.” Let’s say you’ve researched astronomy on your own but your school doesn’t offer an astronomy class. If it inspires you, that’s still a great topic for this essay prompt!

Your topic can be any academic subject that you’ve pursued in a tangible way. Of course, if you’ve undertaken research or other work in that field, that experience is an excellent start. However, you could also write about personal research projects, or maybe school organizations and events you’ve been a part of. Like the other UC essay prompts, this PIQ asks not just what you like, but how you pursue your interests.

UC prompts invite you to showcase what makes you unique, from your academic passions to your creative drive. Consider these tips when writing your own responses to the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #6

1. ground your essay in an anecdote..

Think about when you first engaged in this topic – what inspired you? How did you get involved? If it is directly aligned with your intended college major, when did you decide you wanted to continue your studies? Or make a career out of it? Grounding your essay in a specific moment can demonstrate your passion while bringing life to the person behind that passion.

2. Showcase your drive.

A strong UC PIQ essay for this prompt will be unambiguous in describing your interest and how you pursue it. But great UC essays will describe these in a way that leaves little doubt about your force of will. Learning, particularly at a college level, does not end in a classroom. A curious and driven student will take any chance to learn. Will a UC San Diego essay reader see you as a passionate, driven, inspired person? Strong responses to the UC prompts should leave the reader with no doubt that you will excel at a UC.

3. Tell a story.

Make sure there is movement in your essay. That means telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end, propelled forward through change and action. Is there a way your UC PIQ can demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for your topic through your actions? The best responses for UC essay prompts exhibit out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to pursue—or make—opportunities.

When writing responses to the UC essay questions, reading UC essay examples may inspire you. If you’re unclear on ideal approaches for UC prompts, UC PIQ examples can steer you in the right direction. Since the UC PIQ prompts often overlap through UC application cycles, you may find guidance in past UC PIQs.

UC PIQ #6 Reflection Questions

Use these reflection questions to keep you on track during the writing process:

  • Do you clearly identify your academic passion and ways you’ve pursued it?
  • Do you highlight positive traits about yourself (persistence, creativity, curiosity, etc.) through your actions?
  • Does your essay portray you as a flexible learner who goes beyond textbooks in pursuit of understanding?

This academic PIQ is one of the best opportunities you have to characterize yourself as a student and a learner.

UC Essay Prompt #7: Community

uc essay prompts

The next of the UC prompts asks a question common to college essays. Other UC essay prompts ask about you—your background and qualities, your leadership potential. In contrast to those UC Personal Insight Questions, this one asks about your contributions to a community. Here is the prompt:

UC Personal Insight Question #7

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place.

Like with the other UC Personal Insight Questions, the wording here matters. UC PIQ examples for community UC prompts, past and present, discuss a variety of communities, including school. Your community may be a religious or cultural community, or one centered on a particular identity. Your UC Davis essay or UC San Diego essay may even center around a hobby community, like a knitting circle.

In a similar vein, “a better place” is a key point here. Poorly thought-out UC PIQs may simply rehash a scenario where the writer exhibited leadership or initiated something. However, remember that responses to the UC prompts should address the prompt directly. Therefore, effective UC Personal Insight Questions will emphasize the positive impact the writers had on their community. Consider how your leadership or initiative improved the community and the experiences of its members and beyond.

Strong UC PIQ examples build on the personal narrative constructed elsewhere in the UC application. UC Personal Insight Questions should show the writer demonstrating core traits that they want UC admissions to know. Here are some tips to help you be clear about your contribution(s) to the community and your impact:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #7

1. identify your community..

When responding to UC essay prompts about community, the obvious first step is to identify the community and its significance. Touch on how you got involved and what this community means to you.

2. Measure your impact.

Answering these UC essay prompts can feel somewhat similar to completing your Common App extracurriculars section. That is to say, strong UC essays often use concrete figures and details when discussing impact. Would the UC Irvine essay review team have a clear picture of your impact from your essay? Can a UC Berkeley essay reader understand exactly what you’ve accomplished from your UC essays?

3. Be honest and realistic.

Be honest about your efforts and the difference you’ve made, however large or small. The connection between action and effect should be logical. A shared calendar for your gardening club may not save lives, but organizing mutual aid through a community organization might. Don’t oversell the impact your actions have had. Of course, your UC application (and college applications in general) should portray you as an ideal candidate—but not through exaggeration. 

Finally, take pride in your contribution. Certainly, leadership tends to make for strong UC PIQs. However, you can improve your community even without being in an official leadership role. Think deeply about your community participation and how you can best highlight your impact in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #7 Reflection Questions

Use these questions during the editing process to ensure you submit as strong an essay as possible to UC Admissions:

  • Do you clearly identify your community and your contribution—with statistics where applicable?
  • Does your UC PIQ showcase positive personal traits in the way you improved your community?
  • Do you portray yourself as a helpful member of your community?

Next, we’ll review the final UC PIQ prompt.

UC PIQ #8: Beyond Your Application

uc essay prompts

The last of the UC essay prompts gives applicants carte blanche to cover anything not mentioned in other UC PIQs. Let’s look at the final item on the list of UC prompts:

UC Personal Insight Question #8

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the university of california.

This is distinct from other UC essay prompts in that it is very open-ended. While it may seem easy to write this essay, it can be much more challenging than the other UC PIQs. Whatever topic you choose, your essay should ultimately strengthen your case for admission. Particularly if this is a UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay, this UC PIQ should be highly individualized and impressive.

Think carefully about your topic and whether it could be used for other UC essay prompts. A chronic health condition may be better suited for the challenge essay. Efforts in activism might be a better answer to the leadership, creativity, or community UC Personal Insight Questions. Of the UC prompts, this may lend itself best to preparation through reading UC PIQ examples. Successful UC essay examples can help you figure out what kinds of experiences you may have that fit this prompt.

So you’ve chosen your topic and decided it doesn’t fit any other UC essay prompts as well as this one. How can you approach this essay? Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #8

1. focus on character..

Like with other UC prompts, there’s a question that you need to answer: why are you an outstanding candidate? Strong candidates are curious, self-driven students whose values align with those of the institution to which they are applying. Consider the qualities that make you prepared to take on challenging coursework and enrich the campus community. 

2. Fill in the gaps.

Consider how your personality and character show in your other three UC essay prompts answers. Is there another trait that a UC Davis essay reviewer would miss if they read your UC Personal Insight Questions? Maybe you mentioned a non-academic interest that you could expand on to add depth to your UC Irvine or UCLA application. Either way, this UC PIQ should add additional, essential context that wouldn’t suit the other UC prompts.

3. Save it for last.

It may be best to finish the other UC Personal Insight Questions before this one. In doing so, you can review your responses to other UC prompts to see what’s missing from your application. And, you can be sure your response connects back and complements your other essays.

If, while writing, you find that your topic fits the other UC essay prompts better, roll with it! Unlike UC prompts 1 through 7, not everyone will have something to say for this prompt. Since you can choose four of the eight UC Personal Insight Questions, you’ll have ample opportunity to reflect elsewhere.

UC PIQ #8 Reflection Questions

Keep these questions in mind throughout the writing process, from choosing a topic to revising your drafts:

  • Is your essay topic best suited to this topic out of the eight UC essay prompts?
  • Does your essay introduce new information or context that bolsters the strength of your application?
  • Does your essay build on the narrative you’ve built in your other UC Personal Insight Questions?

Now, we’ve covered all eight of the UC essay prompts. Next, let’s discuss how to choose the right UC prompts for you.

Choosing the Right UC PIQs for You

Of the eight UC essay prompts, you can only write four UC essays. So which ones should you pick? The first step to choosing your UC prompts is to read them thoroughly and see which ones stand out. Trust your gut and start brainstorming —you may even end up making ideas for all eight UC essay prompts. There are tons of writing exercises you can use when searching for essay topics, and you may need to try several.

Once you’ve thought of essay topics, figure out which ones are most viable. Which ideas could spark great UC PIQ examples, written with genuine enthusiasm and clarity? If you can’t avoid a somewhat cliche topic, can you write about it in a compelling way? What insights can you find in your experiences that nobody else would—and how do you show them? Choose the UC prompts that excite you and enable you to showcase the traits that make you a strong candidate. 

Every strong UC San Diego essay or UC Davis essay will be personally inspiring and aspirational. It may take a few brainstorming sessions for you to figure out which UC essay prompts inspire your best writing. Be flexible when planning your essays: ideas for one of the UC PIQ prompts may end up fitting other UC prompts. In those cases, be willing to change your chosen UC essay prompts to get the best fit for your ideas.

How to Make Your UC Essays Stand Out

uc essay prompts

Once you’ve chosen your UC essay prompts and drafted your UC essays, there’s still work to be done. Between writing a first draft and submitting an Irvine or UCLA application, you must revise your essays. Above, we gave you reflection questions for each of the UC prompts. Now, here are a few questions you should ask yourself about your responses to UC essay prompts as a whole.

Do your UC PIQs paint a vivid picture of who you are and what you’ll bring to the campus community?

At heart, the UC essay prompts ask you to explain who you are and how you navigate the world. Remember, every aspect of your application is evaluated holistically, whether it’s a UCLA application or a UC Davis application. And, since UC Apply doesn’t use standardized test scores for admission decisions, your essays must help make your case. Your UC Personal Insight Questions should explore key parts of your experience in an interesting, authentic fashion. After reviewing your PIQs, a reader should have no doubt that you’re a great fit for your UCs of choice.

Have you gotten feedback from a trusted peer or mentor about how well your essays describe you?

Getting a fresh pair of eyes on a UC PIQ is an often-underrated style of editing. After you’ve reviewed them on your own, ask someone you trust to review your responses to the UC essay prompts. They may have suggestions on ways to help your voice shine through. Or even notes on if you’ve misrepresented yourself in your writing. Before putting anything in UC Apply, try to have another person read your UC PIQs.

Are there any technical errors in your UC PIQs?

This is pretty obvious, but the last thing you want in your essays is a spelling or grammar mistake. This is another reason a second opinion can be helpful! Ensuring your essays are error-free is an easy way to help polish your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC Application Deadlines

uc essay prompts

After all that effort you’ve put into your UC Personal Insight Questions, don’t let a missed deadline ruin your chances. Since all UC schools from UCLA to UC Davis use the UC Apply portal , they have the same deadline: November 30 . Note that UC Apply does not have early decision or early action application options .

Contrary to the Common Application, which can be submitted as early as September, UC Apply opens its filing period in October. Of course, just because you can’t submit your UC application before October 1 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start early. Your UCSD or UCLA essay writing should start well before the deadline. That way, you can ensure you have time to plan, draft, revise, and make your application stand out . Especially in light of the competitiveness of top schools like Berkeley and UCLA , you don’t want to rush the process.

Another benefit of starting early is that you get plenty of time to research the UC Personal Insight Questions. You’ll have time to read the UC prompts, find UC PIQ examples, and learn what UC admissions officers look for. If you browse UC sites, you may even find additional tips for writing your UC Personal Insight Questions.

More Essay UC Resources from CollegeAdvisor

CollegeAdvisor has a lot of experience helping students through the UC admissions process. To help more students, we’ve put our wisdom into free resources. Our online resources are open to all, providing helpful advice from current and former students, as well as admissions officers.

We have an array of broad-scope “how to get into” guides for the UCs and beyond. Our UCLA guide covers everything from the ideal GPA to UCLA essay strategies. Other UC schools we’ve covered include UC Irvine , UC Berkeley , and UC Santa Barbara . If you’re interested in other UCs, search our website for other schools on your list!

Maybe you’re still focused on the UC essay prompts. In that case, we have other UC essay guides that may be helpful to your writing process. Since the UC prompts haven’t changed significantly in the past few years, a winning UC Irvine essay approach from 2020 still holds up. We have 2021-2022 UC essay examples to inspire you as you write your own. Another excellent resource is our article on common college essay questions , which covers challenge essays and unique essays.

As some of the best schools in California, the UC schools can be challenging to get into without excellent essays. But, with in-depth, free resources from CollegeAdvisor.com, you’ll be better equipped to craft knockout UC PIQs.

UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024 – Final Thoughts

With schools from UC Berkeley to UC Santa Barbara , the UC system serves thousands of students from across the world. Applying to the best UC schools can seem daunting, especially given the eight different UC essay prompts. Even if you have impressive extracurriculars, a high GPA, and California residency, UC essays can tip your admissions odds.

In this article, we took a deep dive into the UC essay prompts, also called the UC Personal Insight Questions. We discussed each of the UC PIQ prompts and what sorts of topics may be best suited for each. Then, we went into more detail about approaching each essay, from exploring ideas to putting them together. Additionally, we provided some advice on reflecting on your experiences and choosing your four UC essay prompts. Finally, we left you with a hearty helping of UC essay examples and guides.

Your UC Essay matter

Whether you’re applying to UC Santa Cruz or ticking off boxes from UCLA to UCSD, you need strong UC essays. We hope this article has given you a steady foundation from which to start your essay writing journey. With the tips and tricks we provided, you’re better prepared to write essays to wow UC Admissions.

Still looking for more support? CollegeAdvisor.com specializes in personalized, one-on-one college advising, even before senior year. If you’re looking for individual guidance for your UC essays, reach out for a consultation with our admissions experts.

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This essay guide was written by Gina Goosby and senior advisor, Courtney Ng . Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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September 12, 2023

2023-2024 University of California Essay Prompts: Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD

A tower is featured, standing above a red-roofed building at the University of California, Berkeley.

The University of California schools have released their 2023-2024 essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2024. Unlike most highly selective universities, the UC schools are not members of The Common Application — the school has its own application .

Just like in previous years, applicants to the University of California, Berkeley , the University of California, Los Angeles , the University of California, San Diego , and the seven other UC institutions must answer four essay prompts out of a batch of eight options. So, what are this year’s essay prompts? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 UC Essay Topics and Questions: Personal Insights

Below are the UC essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2028, along with the guidance issued by the UC admissions committee. These essays apply to all UC schools — including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Santa Barbara , the University of California, Davis , the University of California, Santa Cruz , the University of California, Irvine , the University of California, Merced , and the the University of California, Riverside .

Applicants have up to 350 words to respond to  four  of the  eight  prompts. And, yes, applicants should go to the maximum word count to make their case!

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Things to consider:  A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

Applicants should share one small story here to demonstrate their leadership. Rather than tell the UC admissions committee about what great leaders they are, they can show it through one specific example. And it doesn’t even need to be a successful example of leadership. Instead, students can highlight what they learned from the scenario to be even better leaders.

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Things to consider:  What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

Even in an essay that could lend itself to silliness, applicants must showcase intellectual curiosity. So, suppose a student expresses their creative side by tie-dying t-shirts and their singular hook in their activities section that they’ll be contributing to schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD is math. In that case, they can write about the mathematics behind the patterns they love to create on clothing.

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Things to consider:  If there is a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

Too many students choose to write about awards and honors they’ve received in this prompt. Some sneak it into the essay, thinking it’s a subtle way of reinforcing their success. What a mistake! Doing so will only render them unlikable, which should be the precise opposite of their objective.

Ideally, an applicant will share a skill related to their singular hook. If their hook is poetry, let’s hear all about how they became passionate about performing spoken word at open mic nights at a local establishment.

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider:  An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today?

If students have yet to face a genuine academic barrier, such as the ones many students in low-income communities face, it would behoove them to focus on the significant educational  opportunity  they’ve encountered. Was it the chance to perform research on Russian literature with a local professor? Was it a chance to do an archaeological dig in a student’s hometown? The opportunity will ideally fit with the student’s singular hook.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Things to consider:  A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?

Unless a student comes from an underprivileged background, we at Ivy Coach would encourage them to avoid choosing this essay prompt since there  are  going to be students who have faced significant obstacles and writing about how a school ran out of math courses while another student writes about the evictions their family has endured isn’t going to sit well with UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC admissions officers.

6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Things to consider:  Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

Ideally, a student will choose an academic subject that aligns perfectly with their hook. If their activities reflect a passion for physics, they should share the origin story of their interest in the discipline — as a high schooler rather than a child. What made them fall in love with matter and energy? What made them want to better understand our universe?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Things to consider:  Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

An applicant’s answer should align with their hook as articulated in their activities section. Suppose a student’s hook is political science. In that case, they should write an essay that shares one small story about how their political activism created the change they wished to see — or failed to create the change they hoped to see, only further motivating them to agitate for further change.

Maybe they wanted to stop developers from razing affordable housing communities. Perhaps they tried to fix un-level sidewalks. Whatever it is, applicants should share an anecdote here about their activism — whether successful or not.

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Things to consider:  If there’s anything you want us to know about you but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.

Since the University of California has a unique application and is not a member of The Common Application, this essay prompt presents a perfect opportunity for applicants to include an abbreviated version of their 650-word Personal Statements from their Common Applications.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with the University of California Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your chances of admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC institutions by submitting the most compelling essays possible, fill out Ivy Coach ‘s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to delineate our college counseling services for applicants to the Class of 2028.

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The Ultimate Guide to UC Essays

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Learn how to write stand-out UC Essays in this interactive stream with CollegeVine co-founder Vinay Bhaskara!

Vinay will go over The University of California prompts and share advice on how to approach and tackle them with ease.

This session will be followed by a Q&A, so drop your questions in the chat and don't miss this opportunity to hear directly from Vinay!

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18 UC Berkeley Essay Examples that Worked (2023)

UC Berkeley Essay Examples

If you want to get into the University of California, Berkeley in 2022, you need to write strong Personal Insight Question essays.

In this article I've gathered 18 of the best University of California essays that worked in recent years for you to learn from and get inspired.

What is UC Berkeley's Acceptance Rate?

UC Berkeley is one of the top public universities and therefore highly competitive to get admitted into.

This past year 112,854 students applied to Berkeley and only 16,412 got accepted. Which gives UC Berkeley an overall admit rate of 14.5%.

And as of 2022, the University of California no longer uses your SAT and ACT when deciding which students to admit.

UC Berkeley Acceptance Scattergram

This means that your Personal Insight Questions are even more important to stand out in the admissions process. That is, your essays are more heavily weighed.

If you're trying to get accepted to UC Berkeley, here are 18 of the best examples of Personal Insight Questions that got into Berkeley.

What are the UC Personal Insight Question Prompts for 2022-23?

The Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) are a set of eight questions asked by the UC application, of which students must answer four of those questions in 350 words or less.

Here are the Personal Insight Question prompts for this year:

  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  • Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  • What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  • Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  • Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  • Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

18 UC Berkeley Personal Insight Question Examples

Here are the 18 best Berkeley essays that worked for each Personal Insight Question prompt #1-8.

If you're also applying to UCLA, check out more unique UCLA essays from admitted students.

UC Berkeley Example Essay #1

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UC PIQ #1: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words max)

From an early age I became a translator for my mother anytime we went out in public. This experience forced me to have conversations with adults from a young age. It made me become a great communicator, while helping my parents overcome their language barrier.

Being a communicator has allowed me to lead. When I joined my school’s National Honor Society I was given the opportunity to lead. Applying the skills I used from being my mother’s translator I was able to do what no one else could, make the calls and start the club’s most successful event to date an annual Food Drive at a local Albertson’s, which collects over one ton of food every November. Also developing events like an egg hunt at the local elementary school, a goods drive for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and stabilizing a volunteer partnership with a local park. I have been able to grow as a leader, who actively communicates and brings parties together, planning events and having them run smoothly with minor issues. For instance, last year there was an issue with the homeless shelter not picking up the food for the food drive. In a spur of the moment solution I managed for club member’s parents to collectively deliver the food. My ability to communicate benefited me allowing me to find a solution to an unanticipated problem.

Throughout the four years I have been in journalism I have led; mentoring younger writers and improving the way the paper operates. Staying after hours, skyping with writers about their articles all helped establish my role as a leader, who is always supporting his team. I have done this while writing over 100 articles, editing tons of pages, and managing deadlines. I learned that while being a leader requires effort, it is the passion like I have for journalism that motivates me to lead in my community.

Being a leader so far in my life has taught me that I need to communicate, be passionate, and pass on my knowledge helping cultivate future leaders, who can expand and supersede my work.

UC PIQ #2: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (350 words max)

Video games have cultivated my creative thought process. When I was a toddler I invented a game I would play with my brothers. It was nothing along the lines of Hide-and-Seek or Tag, but rather, it was meant to mimic a role-playing video game. It was called "Guy" and came with its own story, leveling system, and narrative story. While seemingly impossible to translate the mechanics of a video game into real life, the "Guy" trilogy provided hundreds of hours of fun to pass hot summer days and escape the harsh reality of our parents arguing and eventual divorce.

This thought process translated into my educational career. have always thought of a tough class or test as a video game. This mostly due to my excessive amounts of video games I played as a child through middle school (especially 7th grade). Each year comes bigger and "stronger" challenges, bigger and stronger bosses to defeat. My senior year will have me face the most powerful boss yet; full AP course load on top of heavy club involvement and community college classes.

Many thought of this "secret boss" as an impossible challenge; something that could never be beaten. No one from my school has ever attempted to take on such a challenge, let alone defeat it. That is probably what excites me about it. In a game, messing around with lower level enemies is fun for a while, but gets boring when it is too easy. The thought of a challenge so great and difficult makes the victory even more rewarding. Stormy skies, heavy rain, and epic boss battle music; I'll take that over a peaceful village any day. In the future, I seek to use this thinking to drive research. I think of abstract physics concepts like secret door and levels that need to be proven true or just a myth in the game. One day, I can make my own discovery of a secret "cheat code' that can help everyone who plays a little game called life.

UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)

I’ve always hated the feeling of clammy hands, the needless overflow of adrenaline rushing through my veins, and the piercing eyes that can see through my façade—the eyes that judge me. I felt like this debilitating anxiety that I suffered through was something I could not avoid when doing the thing I was most afraid of—public speaking. I still felt every sweat droplet run down my skin before each speech, and this anguish never completely dissipated. Fortunately, I learned to moderate my fear in high school when I decided to join the speech and debate program. My anxiety has slowly faded in intensity as I’ve gained certitude and poise with every tournament, and every chance I’m given to speak on behalf of others; this talent has allowed me to be a voice for the voiceless.

Out of all the national tournaments that I’ve competed in, the MLK invitational holds a distinct place in my heart. It was my first invitational tournament in which I competed exclusively in Lincoln Douglas debate. I only had two weeks to prepare myself since it was finals week, while my competitors had upwards of two months to prepare. I was fortunate to break into the final round, as my years of experience helped me to articulate and explain my few arguments more effectively, while also refuting my opponent’s.

I realized that the extent of one’s knowledge is useless if it cannot be made known in a way that is clear to others. I learned that preparation is necessary, but one can be so focused on what they are going to say that they don’t hear the arguments presented. I kept an open and ready mind for various claims and strategies which left me free to adapt to the opponent’s argumentative style each round. This ability to think on my feet has served me well in countless debates, speeches, and presentations. I continuously use these skills to become a better and more active listener in my daily interactions as well.

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My greatest skill is my ability to remember things really well, whether they be minute details or important information that should not be forgotten. Over time, I’ve had a knack for remembering details most people would not even bother to remember, such as old test scores, atomic masses, and other details involving numbers. My friends have always marveled at my ability to remember all these numbers. When I was in chemistry class, we used the periodic table so much that I soon began to remember the atomic mass of the more common elements, and even the molecular mass of common compounds like glucose or water. One of my best friends, who is undoubtedly the smartest person in our class, even finds it crazy that I can remember all these numbers and always tells me that my memory of numbers is amazing. I also used my memory to learn and remember how to solve the Rubik's cube, which amazes my friends, as they find it to be complex with many different, possible combinations.

This skill that I have developed, however, isn’t completely under my control, as sometimes I just remember random and irrelevant facts without really trying to do so. I recall one weekend when my eight-year-old cousin was attempting to memorize the digits of pi: I remembered them along with him, learning up to forty digits in just one day. The skill is seemingly natural and not something I have worked hard to develop, as I may be able to use my memory to my advantage, or it can be a disadvantage. It helps when I have multiple tests in one day, or a test with many questions where I have to remember a lot of information, such as finals. Sometimes, however, it is a disadvantage when I remember information during a test that is not relevant to the topic, such as random dates, names, or song lyrics, to name a few. This skill is very important to nonetheless, as it has assisted me all throughout my life in many tests and challenges involving memory.

UC PIQ #4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (350 words max)

At 10:30 pm on a hot, summer, Wednesday night, you would expect my friends and me to be having the time of our lives and going out on crazy high school adventures— but instead, we were actually stuck in a chemistry laboratory trying to map out the Lewis structure of sulfuric acid.

Over the summer of my sophomore year, my friends and I enrolled into ‘Introduction to Chemistry’, an evening course at our local community college. As a six-week summer course, I spent two hours in lecture, two hours in the laboratory, and another two hours studying on my own for four days a week for six weeks. It was evident that I struggled with adjusting to the pace of college when I received 19% on a quiz. I felt left behind, exhausted, and overall pathetic. No matter how many hours I spent studying, I couldn’t keep up. But instead of giving up, I picked up certain strategies like reading the material the night before, rewriting my notes, and joining a study group; eventually working my way up to a B.

At the end of that summer, I learned so much more than just chemistry. On top of having the raw experience of what college is like, my chemistry experience taught me that it is okay to fail. I discovered that failure is an essential part of learning. Coming to this realization inspired me to take more college courses and rigorous courses in high school. I transformed into a hungry learner, eager to fail, learn, and improve. By seizing the opportunity to take this course, I pushed myself beyond my limits. This experience and realization changed how I wanted to pursue the rest of high school, college, and life in general.

I walked into my first day of the chemistry class expecting to walk out with an A; but thankfully, I didn’t. Instead, I walked out of that class with a taste of the college experience and a principle that I now live by-- that it is okay to fail, as long as you get back up.

The relationship I cultivated with my school's college center, by simply being inquisitive, has been most significant. Over my years in high school the college center became my 2nd home, where I learned about extra opportunities and triumphed with help from counselors.

For instance, with help from my school’s college center I applied and was accepted as an LAUSD Superintendent Summer Scholar this past summer. The program selected 15 juniors out of over 450 applicants to work in one of 15 departments, and I was chosen to work for the communications department, which received over 70 applications – making me 1 of 70. Interning for LAUSD at their 29 floor high rise was very eye-opening and exposed me to working in communications alongside seasoned professionals. The opportunity gave me the chance to meet the Superintendent and school board members, who are politically in charge of my education. As part of the communications department I learned how the district operates a network of over 1,300 schools and saw how the 2nd largest school district shares info with stakeholders through universal press releases, phone calls, and the district homepage.

I wrote several articles for the district publication and worked with public information officers who taught me the principles of professionalism and how to communicate to over 1 million people. Recently, I was called from the district to become a part of their Media Advisory Council working alongside district heads, representing the students of LAUSD.

Working for LAUSD furthered my passion to pursue careers in both communication and education. I have always had a desire to be a journalist and the internship assured me of that. I want to write stories bringing student issues from areas like mine to light. Being exposed to the movers and shakers that control education in Los Angeles has heavily motivated me to become an educator and at some point become a school board member influencing the education students like me receive.

Support from the college center has spawned opportunities like a life-changing internship and set me on course for a future full of opportunity.

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”, I proudly exclaimed, finishing up a speech during my first Individual Event competition for Speech and Debate, also known as Forensics Workshop. Public speaking was always one of my shortcomings. During countless in-class presentations, I suffered from stage-fright and anxiety, and my voice always turned nervous and silent. I saw Speech and Debate as a solution to this barrier that hindered my ability to teach and learn. With excessive practice, I passed the tryout and found myself in the zero-period class. All of my teammates, however, joined because they loved chattering and arguing. I had the opposite reason: I despised public speaking.

I was definitely one of the least competitive members of the team, probably because I didn’t take the tournaments very seriously and mainly worried about being a better speaker for the future. Throughout the daily class, I engaged in impromptu competitions, speech interpretations, spontaneous arguments, etc... Throughout my two years on the team, my communication, reciting, writing, and arguing skills overall improved through participation in events such as Impromptu, Original Oratory, Oratorical Interpretation, Lincoln Douglas Debate, and Congress. I even achieved a Certificate of Excellence in my first competition for Oratorical Interpretation -- where we had to recite a historical or current speech -- for Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death.”

I decided to quit Speech and Debate because I felt as if it has completed its purpose. After this educational experience, my communications skilled soared, so I could perform better in school, especially on essays and presentations. Leaving this activity after two years gave me more time to focus on other activities, and apply communications skills to them. In fact, I even did better in interviews (which is how I got into the Torrance Youth Development Program) and even obtained leadership positions in clubs such as Math Club and Science Olympiad Through my two years in Speech and Debate, I believe I became a much better thinker, speaker, and leader. Taking advantage of this opportunity boosted my self-esteem and overall made high school a better experience.

UC PIQ #5: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (350 words max)

Although many would say that hardships are the greatest hindrance on a person, my hardships are my greatest assets. The hardships I have overcome are what push and drive me forward. If I had not gone through the failures of my 7th grade year I may have been satisfied as a B or C student. It is easy for us to use our hardships as excuses for not doing work, however, this is a mistake that many people make.

Through my struggles and failure, I have realized an important truth: I am not special. The world will continue to go on and expect me to contribute no matter what I have gone through. Everyone endures some type of obstacle in their life; what makes people different is how they handle them. Some sit around and cry "boo-hoo" waiting for people to feel sorry for them. Others actually take action to improve their situation.

Through hard work, I have been able to outperform my peers, yet I know there is still room for improvement. The thought of actual geniuses in top universities excited me; I long to learn from them and eventually surpass them, or perhaps enter a never ending race for knowledge with them. I used to live an hour away from school. I would have to wake up and be dropped off at a donut shop at 4 in the morning and then walk to school at 6:30 am. After school, I would have to walk to the public library and stay for as long as it was open then wait outside and get picked up around 9:30 pm. I am reluctant to retell this story; not because I am ashamed, but because it is not important. It doesn't matter what hardships I have endured, they do not determine who I am. What matters is what I have done.

At the start of high school, I saw nothing but success. From grades to extracurricular activities, everything seemed to be going smoothly. However, as my sophomore year progressed, this wave of success was soon swamped by a wave of disillusionment. I struggled to perform in Calculus and as a Vice-President, but instead of looking for a solution, I looked for excuses. Ultimately, when I was forced to face my two F’s and my lost elections, the world came crashing down. The vision I had meticulously planned out for the future seemed to shatter before my eyes. My self-confidence plummeted to an all-time low. I thought my life was over.

However, my response to this failure was what would ultimately determine the direction my life would take. In the end, I made the right choice: instead of continuing to blind myself with a false narrative that cast all the blame off my own shoulders, I admitted to my own shortcomings and used this experience as a lesson to grow from.

In doing so, I learned to focus on the aspects of my life that I was truly passionate about instead of spreading myself too thin. I learned to face challenges head-on instead cowering at the first sign of difficulty, even if it meant asking others for help. I learned to accept and utilize my own differences to create my own unique leadership style. Most importantly, rather than letting this mistake define me, I ignited a sense of determination that would guide me back on the right path no matter how many obstacles I encounter.

Looking back, this tragic mistake was a double-edged sword. While it definitely leaves a stain on my record, it is also likely that I wouldn’t have been able to find the same success a year later without the lessons I gained from this experience. At the end of the day, while I still grimace every time I contemplate my sophomore year, I understand now that this mistake is what has allowed me to develop into the person I am today.

Throughout my childhood, I grew up in a nine-person household where the channels of our TV never left the Filipino drama station and the air always smelled of Filipino food. But the moment I left home, I would go to a typical suburban elementary school as an average American kid at the playground. I grew up in a unique position which I both love and hate: being a second-generation Filipino American.

I love being a second-generation immigrant. I have the best of both worlds. But I also hate it. It chains me to this ongoing struggle of living under the high expectations of immigrant parents. How could I hate the part of me that I loved the most?

Growing up, I lived under the constant academic stress that my parents placed on me. Their expectations were through the roof, demanding that I only bring home A’s on my report card. My entire academic career was based on my parent’s expectations. Their eyes beat down on every test score I received. I loved them so much, but I could only handle so much. The stress ate me alive, but I silently continued to work hard.

Living under this stress is the biggest ongoing challenge of my life thus far. Until last year, I never understood why my parents expected so much from me. Finally being old enough to understand my parent’s point of view, I realize that they set these high expectations in the hopes that one day, all of the pain and struggles it took to get to America will pay off. Since then, I’ve overcome the high expectations of my parents by converting their pressure into a fireball of ambition and motivation, deeply ingrained in my mentality.

This intense desire to succeed in America as a second-generation immigrant is something that has and always will fuel my academic drive. As the first person in my family to go to college in America, I’ve made it my life aspiration to succeed in academics in the honor of my family-- a decision made by me.

UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)

Understanding the past helps us make better choices in today’s society. History provides us with the views of people and politics, the ethnic origin of people, and much more. At the base of all history, there is an intensive culmination of research which hopes to address or bring light to a story.

My passion for history began while digging deep into own family’s story, researching the history of Latin America, and the origins of the city I was raised in.

For example, when I first saw my favorite show Avatar The Last Airbender, I spent hours researching the mythology of the show which in the process made me learn about the philosophy of China: daoism, Confucius, and the mandate of heaven. Anything can be put within a historical framework to understand the context; every decision, tv show, and law has a history and that is exactly what I love. History forces us to take into account the voices of the past before we can attempt to plan for the future.

History has helped me become a more effective writer for the school paper. It has made me think like a attorney, revisiting old cases, and writing up a winning argument in a mock trial. Thinking like a historian has helped me make sense of the current political climate and motivated me to help start Students For Liberty, at my school’s campus where political ideologies are shared respectfully.

Learning, about history drives my inquisitive nature — I demonstrated this desire by volunteering at a local museum to learn more about the origins of my community in Carson. Ultimately, learning about the Dominguez family who established the Harbor Area of LA.

In terms of academics and performance, I have passed both of my history AP exams in World and U.S. history — being the 2nd person in my school’s history to do so. Studying history in highschool has nurtured my love for social science, which I hope to continue in college and throughout my life.

Ever since I was little, I have possessed a unique fascination for nature and the way it interacts with itself. As I sat in the prickly seats of old tour buses and the bilingual tour guide has silenced himself for the dozens of passengers that have closed their curtains and fallen into deep slumber, I would keep my eyes glued to the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of wild animals and admiring the beautiful scenery that mother nature had pieced together. At Outdoor Science Camp, while most of my friends were fixated on socializing and games, I was obsessed with finding every organism in the book. Nothing else caught my attention quite like ecology.

As high school dragged on and the relentless responsibilities, assignments, and tests washed away the thrill of learning, ecology was one interest that withstood the turmoil. At the end of a draining day, I would always enjoy relaxing to articles detailing newly discovered species or relationships between species.

This past summer, I was able to further this interest when a unique opportunity to volunteer abroad caught my eye. Flying over to the beautiful tropical shorelines of the Dominican Republic, I was able to dive into the frontlines of the battle against climate change, dwindling populations, and habitat destruction brought about by mankind, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

While everyone was obviously ecstatic about snorkeling in the crystal blue waters, only I was able to retain that same excitement about trekking through knee thick mud and mosquito infested forests to replant mangrove trees. While tracking animal populations, my heart leaped at the sight of every new species that swam right in front of my eyes. Even when it came to the dirty work of building structures to rebuild coral and picking up trash along the beach, I always found myself leading the pack, eager to start and do the most.

From this experience, I realized that pursuing the field of ecology was what I could picture myself doing far into the future, and this was how I was going to impact the world.

UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)

Originally I saw volunteer work as a nuisance. I felt that it was an unnecessary "requirement" for college. I felt that someone decided to do volunteer work while in high school and now it has become the norm and is essentially required for college. Once I began to get involved, however, I found a true appreciation for the work I was doing.

I loved helping people and, as always, wanted to challenge myself. I worked at the Bellflower Volunteer center and tutored kids every day available, as well as helping out with large special events put on by the city. I then joined Key Club and made it my mission to attend every single event no matter what; even going to the lengths to walk for 4 hours starting at 5 in the morning (it was still dark outside) for a 2-hour beach clean up. I then became Service Event Coordinator and also made it my mission to have an event every week, while attending all of them, while still working at the Volunteer Center. I also started a tutoring program in math at my school as I really enjoy helping my peers academically.

It always warmed my heart to see fellow ninjas( our division mascot) at events I had planned, friends and neighbors at Bellflower events, and CSF members at tutoring.I am always willing to help people with anything. If someone needs my help I will stop whatever I am doing to help in any way that I can. Lending a helping hand is an important part of our society; however, a helping hand cannot do anything if the other hand does not reach for it as well. We need to be able to help ourselves first before others can help us. I tried to create a community where I could help people, but also people could help themselves so that there is no reason for anyone to not be able to achieve their goals and aspirations.

Throughout my childhood, the phrases “get good grades” and “make money” constantly harassed my every waking moment. Life seemed pointless, a never-ending cycle of trying to make more money to create artificial happiness. However, through partaking in my middle school’s ASB, I discovered my love for helping others, and I realized that I wanted to make my life about changing the world and leaving behind a better future for the generations to come.

In an attempt to live up to this philosophy, I have performed hundreds of hours of community service. From volunteering at a senior home to distributing food to the homeless, there is no doubt that I have made a substantial impact on those around me.

Despite all this, my most significant contributions are the ones that take place every day and are often undocumented. Picking up trash, staying long after my job is complete to help other groups, or even saying, “Thank you. Have a nice day,” to anyone who has provided a service for me are just a few examples. While they seem insignificant, these small actions add up.

However, above all, my biggest contribution is building meaningful connections with the people around me and making sure they realize how special and important they are to me and everyone else. In nurturing those who are less experienced, assisting those who are struggling with their emotions or their studies, and inspiring those who have untapped potential, I am not merely applying a band-aid on a wound, but elevating a whole community around me to tackle and prevent ailments the next decades will bring.

Years from now, I will likely have forgotten about my modest academic achievements. However, the memories of seeing someone I had mentored blossom into a strong leader and the smiles and laughter of someone I’ve helped battle through depression will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Serving food at school carnivals, embellishing the local marsh, tutoring students after school, and discharging patients at my local hospital were some of the ways I actively supported my city. However, a distinct way of being engaged in my community involved being selected for the Youth Development Program last summer. This organization works with the Torrance Refinery and selects thirty out of hundreds of applicants. The first week of this program involved activities that trained students for college and eventually their careers by making them adept in communication, leadership, and teamwork skills. For the next four weeks, students were assigned a specific job around the City of Torrance and Torrance Unified School District (TUSD).

I was placed in the TUSD Information Technology Department, along with six other students, and we essentially helped deal with technology-based issues around the district. Even though my professional desire incorporates biology and chemistry, I had a compelling interest and math and technology. I gave back to my community by utilizing the technological skills I gained at work. My colleagues and I traveled daily to several schools around the district and assisted in technological advancements: testing network ports and preparing schools for newer phones, imaging and updating new laptops and desktops, and arranging and setting up new computer labs and Chrome book carts.

Today, many people globally use technological and visual aids to assist their education. My summer job also allowed me to make a difference in the education of others. With the faster internet, newer telephones and computers, teachers could instruct more efficiently and students can be educated more effectively, thus improving their academic performance in the future. This program helped me a lot by boosting my teamwork and leadership skills, which will be extremely valuable as I will be pursuing many president/vice-president positions in my senior year. However, this program has allowed me to make a stronger impact on other people rather than myself; I feel delighted that my work in summer will be beneficial to twenty-thousand students across Torrance.

UC PIQ #8: Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? (350 words max)

In 2011, I started at a newly built school spanning sixth to twelfth grade. The school’s inception was not the greatest with gang culture and issues plaguing the school and nearby community. From this moment I knew wanted to make a change, improving the school and local community.

For example, two years ago a bicyclist was crushed by a container truck across the street from my school, several peers of mine and I advocated for a bike lane to get installed on the street to protect cyclists from the busy traffic. I worked day and night for three weeks using my connection with the city’s public works director to meet with city officials and make a change. I looked for solutions and ways to improve my community and lead the charge to better our street. When we met with city officials they agreed and ultimately approved our bike lane proposal. This civic action started with a group of three concerned high school students, in which I helped facilitate the conversations resulting into a bike lane project, that will be built the summer of 2018 after I graduate high school. Ultimately helping solve an issue in my community.

Using my influence as part of the Associated Student Body I advocated for a new medical academy on my school’s campus to address the growing interest in medicine and health careers of many students at my school. While I am not personally interested in a health related field, I recognized that many students at my school did and teachers agreed. I came in as an intermediary, who because of my position in ASB was also a member of my School’s Shared Leadership Council (SLC), through these means I motivated other ASB officers to support the academy’s inception and after a grueling amount of meetings in which we went through logistics the academy was approved for the benefit of students.

I am a student who will attend a UC pursuing my passions in journalism, education, and history; while being an involved student making the campus a better place than when I first arrived.

Rather than relying on pure intellect, I choose to excel through continual self-improvement, my ability to overpower obstacles, and an unrelenting force of determination. There are thousands of students smarter than me, students with better test scores, students with more volunteer hours, and quite possibly, a more socially acceptable sense of humor. I can assert, however, that my determination and ambition is hard to match.

I am willing to look in the face of the impossible without fear; in fact, the only emotion flowing through my body would be excitement. There are thousands of intelligent students, however many are unable or are unwilling to utilize their full potential. Although not a genius, I have shown my ability to improve drastically in capability over time.

At some point in my middle school career I was not technically supposed to still be enrolled because my grades were too low; now I'm on track to be valedictorian of my class. I am willing to do whatever it takes to meet my goal; if there were a service event across the country I would be willing to walk the entire way; if I could take a million AP's I would. I understand that it is a big jump to go from Bellflower High School to a UC in terms of academic difficulty; however, that is part of the excitement. I am not afraid of failure, it does nothing but make me stronger. Am I capable of making a jump of such a magnitude? It is not my judgment to make; I am only here to try.

The spin-the-wheel slows down and eventually stops at ‘try again next time’. That is, until I secretly push it one slot over to ‘princess tiara’. As the child hurries away to the next carnival game with the tiara in her hair, her mom turns back at me with a warm smile and mouths the words “thank you”. Seeing genuine happiness in the people of my community while volunteering at events such as my school carnival always remind me why I love my community so much.

I hold a lot of pride in how I’ve become a prominent figure in my community. From volunteering at festivals for my local elementary school to becoming employed by the City of American Canyon Parks and Recreation Department, I relish being in the hub of the community. I love our annual Fourth of July parades and Easter egg hunts, where I am stopped every 15 minutes to catch up with the crazy kids I worked with at summer camp or even just with the staff I’ve met from school. Growing up and connecting with such a diverse community is and will always be a large part of who I am. From kindergarten up until my senior year of high school, both my small community and I as an individual have grown immensely. By volunteering at local events, connecting with the people of my community, and finally getting employed by my city, I know that I have contributed to the successful growth of my community.

Although I really love my community here in the small town of American Canyon, I cannot help but think of the other great communities that I can potentially be a part of as well. I believe that by going to the University of California, I will be able to thrive in the liveliness of the communities that the campuses are well-known for. A major contribution I believe that I can bring to the University of California is integrating, being involved in, and building the school’s community so that both I and the school can grow together for each other.

What can you learn from these UC Berkeley essays?

If you want to get into UC Berkeley in 2022, you need to write great essays that help make you stand out. From these 18 Berkeley essays that worked, here are some takeaways:

  • Use specific examples of places and events (name them) ( #8 , #17 )
  • Tell a story ( #6 , #18 , #7 )
  • Demonstrate your background, identity, or culture ( #3 , #15 , #4 )

If you enjoyed these UC Berkeley essays, you'll also like reading our top UCLA essays that worked. They answer the same PIQ prompts, but quite differently.

Applying to other public universities? Check out these awesome University of Michigan essays.

Let me know, which UC Berkeley essay was your favorite and why?

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People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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How to Write the UC Essays 2023–2024

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The ten University of California (UC) schools are prestigious public universities scattered across the state of California. From the northern UC Davis to the southern UC San Diego, these institutions are dream schools for in-state and out-of-state students. In fact, the top 5 most popular schools to apply to in the US are all UC schools. In the fall of 2022, UCLA received 174, 914 applications . That’s greater than the population of Jackson, Mississippi!

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Nine of these schools (the exception is UC San Francisco) offer undergraduate degrees. These schools share an application portal and don’t use the Common App or the Coalition App. As a result, their essay prompts are unique. At the same time, once you’ve applied to one UC school, it’s simple to apply to the rest. In this blog post, we’ll break down the UC essay prompts so that you have the tools to nail your application.

UC 2023-2024 Prompts

Personal insight questions (250-350 words).

  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
  • Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  • What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  • Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  • Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  • Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

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There are eight UC essay prompts , known as the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). Although each question requires a response of 250-350 words, you don’t need to answer every question. In fact, you’re required to select four prompts to answer. The UC admissions officers understand that some prompts will resonate with some students more than others, and they consider each prompt equally.

It’s important to note that some of the prompts have overlapping qualities. For instance, you could write about an education barrier you have overcome when answering prompt 4, and that educational barrier might have been the most significant challenge you have faced, making it a great response to prompt 5 as well. Therefore, you may want to come up with a few topics that are important to you before even deciding which prompts you would like to answer. Consider the topics which make you who you are. Your background, interests, struggles, and accomplishments might all be topics on your list, with added specificity to make them your own. 

Then, once you’ve determined what you would like to write about, you can peruse the prompts to see which might best align with your listed topics. Of course, if one of the topics does not align with any of the prompts, you’ll need to take a step back and reassess what the UC admissions officers might be looking for that you weren’t prepared to deliver. Is it vulnerability? Humility? Growth? Confidence? Intellectuality? Ambition? These are all qualities admissions officers might look for in applicants. Consider whether your topics demonstrate these qualities, and if not, how you could incorporate them into your topics and/or responses, however subtly.

UC’s Personal Insight Questions

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (250-350 words).

This essay prompt allows you to show the UC admissions officer your leadership style and conflict response . In addition, you can demonstrate your abilities as a leader beyond including it on an activities list or resume. Many students hold leadership positions in high school which are functionally meaningless, but others achieve important impacts through their positive influence and trailblazing energy. If you are in the latter category of students, this is a great prompt for you to describe your leadership experience.

The prompt specifically asks you to provide an example of your leadership experience. This response should not be a list. It should be ONE anecdote, narrative, concept, accomplishment, or event. If possible, you should show through this singular example how you have grown as a leader or as an individual. Lastly, try to use concrete details to flesh out your example and make it feel real and memorable to the reader, avoiding clichés when possible.

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (250-350 words)

If your creative side is a meaningful aspect of who you are, this is a great prompt for you to choose! Many STEM-oriented students choose this prompt in order to demonstrate that they are well-rounded individuals. If the rest of your application discusses your skills in trigonometry and your summer coding internship, then shedding light on your poetry hobby will help the admissions officers see you as a whole person, full of life and dimension.

That said, creativity comes in many flavors , and this prompt encourages you to think broadly about your creative side. Maybe your creativity comes through in how you approach a chess game or compose a speech for MUN. Maybe your creativity flourishes when you’re under pressure, trying to negotiate the soccer ball away from your opponent. Or maybe you’re most creative when you’re trying to entertain your younger siblings. 

However your creativity manifests, be as authentic in your presentation of it as possible. You don’t need to be a concert pianist to discuss your musical endeavors, and you don’t need to have a portfolio to back up the joy you find in photography. As long as you provide genuine details about your life, your creative side is valid.

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt is especially tricky to tackle. Some students have a prodigal talent in a particular area, whether athletic, academic, interpersonal, or otherwise. Other students, however, excel more broadly and are more well-rounded than pointy. Even if you don’t have a special talent, you might still be able to answer this prompt. You might just answer it more creatively, focusing on “soft skills” like communication, time management, empathy, and so on—or whatever feels authentic to you. However, if it feels like a stretch, perhaps try a different prompt.

Regardless of your talent, you will need to answer this prompt with modesty —and no false modesty, either. Instead of listing your accolades, describe the struggles that have shaped you. Describe your training, your failures, your mentors, and your doubts. Painting a picture of how far you’ve come and how hard you worked will be much more memorable and inspiring than implying you woke up a genius. After all, even if you have a natural aptitude for something, no great skill comes without hard work, and this essay prompt is an opportunity for you to show that work.

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (250-350 words)

This essay prompt seeks to understand how you will function as a student in a UC school. When you’re offered opportunities, how will you take advantage of them? When you face obstacles, how will you surmount them? Of course, you can’t answer these questions just yet, because whatever obstacles you might face and opportunities you might receive in college are probably going to be surprises. Still, through this essay, you can hint at your future responses to opportunities and obstacles by describing your past responses.

Note that the prompt provides two options: you could write about a significant educational opportunity OR an educational barrier. Both topics are focused on your educational history, though. Consider the most formative moments in your personal educational history, and after settling on the most formative one, you’ll want to clearly spin it in your essay as either an opportunity or an obstacle. In both cases, you should express how you grew from the experience. How did you make the most of the opportunity, and how could you have better maximized that opportunity? How did you overcome that obstacle, and what did you gain from the experience? Considering your continued areas for growth will demonstrate your maturity and continued commitment to self-development.

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt asks you to look back over your life experiences to date and consider your resilience within the lens of your academic achievement . If an event in your life impacted your academic achievement, then this prompt is a great opportunity for you to discuss that challenge. After you’ve identified the most significant challenge you have faced, you may want to free-write about all the steps you took to overcome this challenge. These steps could include anything—studying, forgiving, going to therapy, praying, working, asking questions, and so on.

This prompt requests vulnerability, and vulnerability demands details. Don’t be shy to share your missteps, but be purposeful in showing your current stability, strength, and achievements despite or even because of this challenge you have faced. After describing this challenge as specifically and concretely as possible, indicate how you have changed, and be sure to include at least 1-2 sentences regarding the impact (or lack thereof) which this challenge had on your academic achievement (for better or for worse).

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (250-350 words)

Admissions officers often look for curiosity in applicants, and if you are a curious person, then this essay prompt is for you. In this essay, you can demonstrate how your curiosity for an academic subject has driven you to pursue research, projects, or other activities. Be sure to discuss ONE academic interest, even if you relate multiple ways you have deepened your relationship with this interest.

Don’t spread yourself too thin when discussing how you have furthered your interest. Focus on 1-3 ways you have furthered your interest, even if you choose to list a few more ways. For instance, if you’re interested in English literature, maybe you have furthered this interest by reading certain books outside of school, participating in an essay competition, and writing short stories. Perhaps each of these topics could receive one paragraph, with the essay framed by a brief introduction and conclusion. Of course, you can get more creative, but that’s a totally valid way to set up your essay if you’re feeling stuck.

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (250-350 words)

If you’re the kind of student for whom community service is really important, or you’ve had a big impact on your high school, then this is a great prompt for you. Similarly, if you’ve engaged in activism, youth advocacy, or similar endeavors, then you should consider answering this prompt. Clearly explain what “a better place” means to you within your response so that the reader understands your motivations.

Specificity is key here —many students will respond generically to this prompt. Less is more when it comes to discussing your accomplishments: providing deep insight regarding one initiative you pursued on behalf of your community is far better than listing all of your achievements. In your response, focus more on how you made your school or community a better place than the awards or recognition you might have received for doing so. Stay humble!

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? (250-350 words)

This prompt is a great choice for you if there are aspects of your character, history, background, academics, or otherwise which haven’t naturally fit into the rest of your application but which feel crucial to your self-representation to the UC schools. Do not use this essay response as an opportunity to list your activities, list the prizes you’ve won, or discuss your impressive grades or test scores. These factors are all extremely important, but they’ll appear elsewhere in your application, so to discuss them here would be redundant.

Instead, this essay response is a place to tie your unique qualities and/or experiences to the values and expectations of a UC admissions officer. Before answering this question, thoroughly research the admission criteria for the UC schools, and consider touching upon (subtly if possible, and definitely with humility) how you fit these criteria, highlighting aspects of yourself which are not otherwise seen in your application. And most importantly, be yourself! Admissions officers don’t want to accept robots with a 36 on their ACT. Rather, they seek nuanced, intelligent, driven individuals with three-dimensional personalities. So bring your authentic self to the page.

If you need help polishing up your UC essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.

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How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

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Successful UC Berkeley Essays

Uc berkeley essays →, uc berkeley mentors →.

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How to Strategize the UC Essays

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October 28, 2019

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As the November 1st deadline creeps closer and closer, students scramble to gather all of their early admission materials together. But even once you’ve hit send on your early Common App schools, it’s not over if you’re applying to one or more of the Universities of California . The UC school application filing period begins November 1st. To make sure you’ve got everything in place when the portal opens, you need to keep working thoroughly on your application components, especially the UC essays !

UC applications are only open from November 1st through November 30th. In thirty days, you have to pull together the best application imaginable that makes you stand out from your peers. Although the UC application filing period is only open for the month of November, prompts for the UC essays were released on August 1st. Taking advantage of this and preparing ahead of time will help you when completing your UC Essays . All nine UC schools use the same application and essays. These schools are:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

For the UC essays , you must write four answers to the possible eight questions. Each response is limited to 350 words - not quite a full page single spaced! Since the UC essays act both as your personal statement and your supplemental responses, you need to make sure you choose topics which will highlight what makes you a must-have candidate, and elaborate on aspects that don’t come through in the rest of your application.

You might be wondering how to choose the essay prompts that bring out the best in you. Choose the questions that you feel are most relevant to you and your experiences. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The UC schools want to know who you are as a person, what you care about, and how you pursue your interests and goals. To help guide you through the writing process, we’ve outlined the prompts, dos and don’ts for your responses, and tips to make sure that you take full advantage of the essay component. 

Question 1:

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

The UC schools look for aspiring leaders who don’t just express their interests on paper, but have actively taken initiatives in their chosen fields. So, if you haven’t gotten a chance to really describe a project or your leadership of a meaningful group in the rest of your application, this prompt is right for you. When answering this question, keep in mind that a leadership experience can be more than just a position in a club, or on a team. There are often misconceptions that assume leadership just hinges on your title! Reflect instead on how you have changed your community, school, or a student group. It’s your impact that matters most, and that should rightfully stay the main focus of your essay. 

Leadership doesn’t have to occur at center stage. Choose the activity or organization where you believe you’ve had the biggest contribution. You can even think smaller scale with leadership and consider how you’ve influenced your inner circle. Think about your family. Do you have siblings that you look after? Show how you have gained from these experiences, and explain how you can contribute to the UC campuses. Admissions officers want to see aspects of your life that hold meaning to you and convey new, impressive information about you. So what matters is how you frame the leadership role.

If you do have an explicit leadership position, like varsity captain of your athletic team or student body president, think critically about the unique impact. The reality is, there are thousands and thousands of varsity captains and student body presidents. What did you do in your captain role that was different? How did you grow as a person? Try to not just repeat your activities list description – reach a bit deeper so that you can write a compelling response. Admissions officers should understand how you would be valuable to their school, so highlight the mark you’ve left accordingly.

Question 2:

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

The second question makes it clear that being creative doesn’t mean you have to be an artist! Think about what creativity means to you. If you’re a mathematician, you might love the expression of quadratic equations, and get excited to solve problems in a unique way. If you’re interested in theater, creativity could come to you in the form of building sets or playing a role. No matter how you express creativity, the main focus of your essay should remain on how being creative has shaped your thoughts and ideas.

Using anecdotes can effectively help you illustrate your points. Talk about the ways your creative outlet emerged, evolved, and how it might align with your career interest. Instead of saying “I love drawing,” you should frame your sentence in a way that explains to the reader how and why it matters to you. Mention if you’ve started or led clubs involving the activity or found a community through it with like-minded peers.

Finally, because you have the space, you should mention how you hope to continue this activity in college. The UC schools want to admit individuals who are specialized in their interests. Knowing that you would bring a unique perspective to a creative activity can assure them that you’re an impressive candidate.

Question 3:

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

If you are really proud of one of your abilities, now is the time to show it. The UC schools want students who bring a variety of backgrounds and interests, and choosing to write this essay is a good opportunity to show a new side of yourself. Your talent doesn’t have to be an external ability such as playing the piano or writing sonnets. Neither is it required that you have received an award for this talent!

You can write about an internal characteristic such as an easy facility for making friends with new people. Or it can be something quirky like being a phenomenal cartoonist. In fact, it is better if the skill you mention is unique because your UC essays need to establish you as a memorable candidate. For questions like this, you don’t want to answer with a typical talent, or an ambiguous characteristic. We can assure you that many of your peers are going to be talented writers, musicians, and singers. You need to bring your own exceptional spin. As for personal characteristics, asserting that a trait like kindness is your greatest asset is frankly boring and vague. Think about what differentiates you.

The main point of your essay should emphasize why this talent or skill is meaningful to you. Why are you particularly proud of this talent? Make sure you’ve addressed all parts of the prompt. Is it a natural skill, or did it take time to develop? Will you continue to use this talent in your future goals and career? What have you learned about yourself while pursuing this skill? Let the reader understand why this talent matters so much, and exactly why it’s an admirable ability.

Question 4:

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

If you don’t have many academic opportunities on your high school transcript, here is your chance to show how you’ve pushed yourself in light of your limiting curriculum. Maybe you took online classes or did outside research. Anything where you went beyond regular curriculum to find ways to expand your knowledge on a topic of interest counts for this prompt among the UC essays . 

If your school presented you with ample academic opportunities, you can tackle the other half of the question. Show how your intellectual curiosity has driven you to do more than just your assigned schoolwork. Since your academic passion is the topic for question 6, remember that you have another question for intellectual curiosity, so it may be best to use this to talk about educational barriers you’ve faced. Have you taken courses at a community college? Have you taken all the AP/IB/honors classes available at your school? Have you done a summer academic program? The UC schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically and have an innate desire to expand yourself intellectually. 

Your essay shouldn’t just outline what you did. Admissions officers want to know what motivated the initiative, what you learned in the process, and how it might have prepared you for college. 

Question 5:

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

This is an adversity question, so be careful here. Before you choose this topic, it is important to think about how your situation compares to your peers. Although everyone has challenges of their own, writing about not getting an allowance will not be seen as a “real” challenge to an admissions office. Other students in your applicant pool will have experienced homelessness, life threatening illnesses, and abuse. No matter what, watch yourself so that you do not sound privileged. If your adversity isn’t significant, I’d stay away from this question. The UC essays specifically ask for your “most significant challenge” – a temporary soccer injury doesn’t really apply here. Make sure your challenge would objectively be considered significant.

If you do choose this topic, now is the time to show the admissions office how you have persevered. Focus your writing on personal growth and how the experience changed you as a person. The question asks you to address what you’ve done to improve your situation, and also has an academic component. Consider your challenge in the context of your academic experience to fully answer this personal insight question. Was your schoolwork significantly affected due to the circumstance? Did you come back from an academic downfall? Has your situation inspired your choice of major or career goal? Remember that this is for your college application - your essay should focus on you, as opposed to generally narrating a story about the situation itself.

Questions 6:

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

This question is asking you to showcase your intellectual curiosity by elaborating on how you’ve pursued the field that calls out to you the most. Explain why you love this specific field and how it has influenced your worldview. Discuss your choice of major and explain how the UC schools can help you pursue your studies. Through anecdotes, exemplify the ways in which you’ve explored topics within the subject. Have you taken challenging courses in the discipline? Have you participated in relevant extracurriculars? Have you started any initiatives related to the field?

Admissions officers want to know that you’re not just interested in a program on paper. Show them that you have intellectual vitality! Your answer will be even stronger if the academic subject you discuss aligns with the theme of your application. When all of your activities relate to science research, it will confuse an admissions officer if you suddenly mention a burning passion for comparative literature! Make your story strong and clear. Don’t just tell them you enjoy research. Make sure you’ve conveyed your passion by outlining how your knowledge has grown through various courses and activities.

Question 7:

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

When first brainstorming this essay, think about what “community” means to you. Your community doesn’t need to be your neighborhood. It can be your team, your church, a school club, you name it! You can define community in a variety of ways but make it clear how you personally find significance in the word. The UC schools will be looking for students who can make meaningful contributions to their campuses. In your essay, you should showcase that you’re an individual who isn’t afraid to step up, involve others, and work to improve a part of the community you describe.

The key to writing this essay is ensuring that you highlight your impact in your answer. You could talk about your community lacking a proper recycling system and how you committed to installing one. You could also discuss how the members of your community worked together in resolving the issue. Don’t just say “we worked hard” – use strong action words and clear examples to convey exactly how you made changes. Showing the admissions officers where you fit within your community gives them a better idea of who you are and how you’ll add to the UC campuses.

Question 8 :

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

if you have a strong essay that you’ve already written for another school that would be relevant here, you could consider including it here. If you’re at a loss, look around the UC website and see what they value. If their motto or principles resonate with you, then try to explain how and why. They are looking for not only the best applicants, but the candidates that embody what their school is all about.

You can start by asking yourself the following questions to see if this prompt is right for you:

  • Is there a part of you that’s unique that you haven’t been able to talk about in other parts of your application?
  • Have you started any initiatives or clubs that you would like to further highlight?
  • What is your passion?
  • What has been your biggest inspiration?
  • How do you spend your free time?

Choose a topic that can help distinguish you from other applicants and make you a memorable candidate in the schools’ eyes. Once you’ve written your essay, make sure that your response can’t fit any of the previous prompts. Ultimately, what’s important is to highlight a part of you that matters, elaborate on your goals and interests, and convey why you would be a valuable addition to a University of California school.

Additional Tips for Tackling the UC Essays

  • Make the choice that’s right for you – The UC essays have provided options; make sure you choose the four questions that will make you stand out! Focus on showing who you are and what makes you unique. If you don’t have a story that fits a particular prompt, choose a different one. The UC essays need to emphasize why you’re a must-have candidate. Make your selections accordingly.
  • Don’t repeat your activities list – The University of California application system provides 20 slots for you to talk about your extracurricular activities, 20 for volunteering experiences, 20 for employment opportunities, and another 20 for awards and honors. That’s up to 80 different possibilities that you can list. So, it’s all the more important to be sure your UC essays don’t overlap with information that you’ve described in those sections. Admissions officers have very limited time and don’t want to read about the same topic, so make sure you cover new information!

The UC essays hold a lot of importance in conveying what makes you tick while helping admissions officers understand how you will fit into their campuses. While you can’t tailor your essay individually if you apply to multiple UC schools, your essays can still demonstrate why you’re a strong and passionate student, and illustrate the ways you will bring value to the schools that admit you. Good luck!

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I’m a Neuroscientist. We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.

President Biden seated in a chair holding a stack of what looks like index cards.

By Charan Ranganath

Dr. Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the forthcoming book “Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters.”

The special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report, in which he declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, also included a much-debated assessment of Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

As an expert on memory, I can assure you that everyone forgets. In fact, most of the details of our lives — the people we meet, the things we do and the places we go — will inevitably be reduced to memories that capture only a small fraction of those experiences.

It is normal to be more forgetful as you get older. Generally, memory functions begin to decline in our 30s and continue to fade into old age. However, age in and of itself doesn’t indicate the presence of memory deficits that would affect an individual’s ability to perform in a demanding leadership role. And an apparent memory lapse may or may not be consequential, depending on the reasons it occurred.

There is forgetting, and there is Forgetting. If you’re over the age of 40, you’ve most likely experienced the frustration of trying to grasp that slippery word on the tip of your tongue. Colloquially, this might be described as forgetting, but most memory scientists would call this retrieval failure, meaning that the memory is there but we just can’t pull it up when we need it. On the other hand, Forgetting (with a capital F) is when a memory is seemingly lost or gone altogether. Inattentively conflating the names of the leaders of two countries would fall in the first category, whereas being unable to remember that you had ever met the president of Egypt would fall into the second.

Over the course of typical aging, we see changes in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that plays a starring role in many of our day-to-day memory successes and failures. These changes mean that as we get older, we tend to be more distractible and often struggle to pull up words or names we’re looking for. Remembering events takes longer, and it requires more effort, and we can’t catch errors as quickly as we used to. This translates to a lot more forgetting and a little more Forgetting.

Many of the special counsel’s observations about Mr. Biden’s memory seem to fall in the category of forgetting, meaning that they are more indicative of a problem with finding the right information from memory than Forgetting. Calling up the date that an event occurred, like the last year of Mr. Biden’s vice presidency or the year of his son’s death, is a complex measure of memory. Remembering that an event took place is different from being able to put a date on when it happened, which is more challenging with increased age. The president very likely has many memories, even though he could not immediately pull up dates in the stressful (and more immediately pressing) context of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Other “memory” issues highlighted in the media are not so much cases of forgetting as they are of difficulties in the articulation of facts and knowledge. For instance, in July 2023, Mr. Biden mistakenly stated in a speech that “we have over 100 people dead,” when he should have said, “over one million.” He has struggled with a stutter since childhood, and research suggests that managing a stutter demands prefrontal resources that would normally enable people to find the right word or at least quickly correct errors after the fact.

Americans are understandably concerned about the advanced age of the two top contenders in the coming presidential election (Mr. Biden is 81, and Donald Trump is 77), although some of these concerns are rooted in cultural stereotypes and fears around aging. The fact is that there is a huge degree of variability in cognitive aging. Age is, on average, associated with decreased memory, but studies that follow up the same person over several years have shown that although some older adults show precipitous declines over time, other super-agers remain as sharp as ever.

Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He’s also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than the Berkshire Hathaway C.E.O., Warren Buffett (93). All these individuals are considered to be at the top of their professions, and yet I would not be surprised if they are more forgetful and absent-minded than when they were younger. In other words, an individual’s age does not say anything definitive about the person’s cognitive status or where it will head in the near future.

I can’t speak to the cognitive status of any of the presidential candidates, but I can say that, rather than focus on candidates’ ages per se, we should consider whether they have the capabilities to do the job. Public perception of a person’s cognitive state is often determined by superficial factors, such as physical presence, confidence and verbal fluency, but these aren’t necessarily relevant to one’s capacity to make consequential decisions about the fate of this country. Memory is surely relevant, but other characteristics, such as knowledge of the relevant facts and emotion regulation — both of which are relatively preserved and might even improve with age — are likely to be of equal or greater importance.

Ultimately, we are due for a national conversation about what we should expect in terms of the cognitive and emotional health of our leaders.

And that should be informed by science, not politics.

Charan Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of “ Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Trump’s ‘Knock on the Door’

The former president and his aides are formulating plans to deport millions of migrants.

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Confrontations over immigration and border security are moving to the center of the struggle between the two parties, both in Washington, D.C., and beyond. And yet the most explosive immigration clash of all may still lie ahead.

In just the past few days, Washington has seen the collapse of a bipartisan Senate deal to toughen border security amid opposition from former President Donald Trump and the House Republican leadership, as well as a failed vote by House Republicans to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for allegedly refusing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. Simultaneously, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, supported by more than a dozen other GOP governors, has renewed his attempts to seize greater control over immigration enforcement from the federal government.

Cumulatively these clashes demonstrate how much the terms of debate over immigration have moved to the right during President Joe Biden’s time in office. But even amid that overall shift, Trump is publicly discussing immigration plans for a second presidential term that could quickly become much more politically divisive than even anything separating the parties now.

Trump has repeatedly promised that, if reelected, he will pursue “the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History,” as he put it last month on social media . Inherently, such an effort would be politically explosive. That’s because any mass-deportation program would naturally focus on the largely minority areas of big Democratic-leaning cities where many undocumented immigrants have settled, such as Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, New York, and Phoenix.

“What this means is that the communities that are heavily Hispanic or Black, those marginalized communities are going to be living in absolute fear of a knock on the door, whether or not they are themselves undocumented,” David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told me. “What he’s describing is a terrifying police state, the pretext of which is immigration.”

How Trump and his advisers intend to staff such a program would make a prospective Trump deportation campaign even more volatile. Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president’s command. Miller says a reelected Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.

Such deployment of red-state forces into blue states, over the objections of their mayors and governors, would likely spark intense public protest and possibly even conflict with law-enforcement agencies under local control. And that conflict itself could become the justification for further insertion of federal forces into blue jurisdictions, notes Joseph Nunn, a counsel in the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

From his very first days as a national candidate in 2015, Trump has intermittently promised to pursue a massive deportation program against undocumented immigrants. As president, Trump moved in unprecedented ways to reduce the number of new arrivals in the country by restricting both legal and illegal immigration. But he never launched the huge “deportation force” or widespread removals that, he frequently promised, would uproot the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States during his time in office. Over Trump’s four years, in fact, his administration deported only about a third as many people from the nation’s interior as Barack Obama’s administration had over the previous four years, according to a study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute .

Read: The GOP’s true priority

Exactly why Trump never launched the comprehensive deportation program he promised is unclear even to some veterans of his administration. The best answer may be a combination of political resistance within Congress and in local governments, logistical difficulties, and internal opposition from the more mainstream conservative appointees who held key positions in his administration, particularly in his first years.

This time, though, Trump has been even more persistent than in the 2016 campaign in promising a sweeping deportation effort. (“Those Biden has let in should not get comfortable because they will be going home,” Trump posted on his Truth Social site last month .) Simultaneously, Miller has outlined much more explicit and detailed plans than Trump ever did in 2016 about how the administration would implement such a deportation program in a second term.

Dismissing these declarations as merely campaign bluster would be a mistake, Miles Taylor, who served as DHS chief of staff under Trump, told me in an interview. “If Stephen Miller says it, if Trump says it, it is very reasonable to assume that’s what they will try to do in a second term,” said Taylor, who later broke with Trump to write a New York Times op-ed and a book that declared him unfit for the job . (Taylor wrote the article and book anonymously, but later acknowledged that he was the author.)

Officials at DHS successfully resisted many of Miller’s most extreme immigration ideas during Trump’s term, Taylor said. But with the experience of Trump’s four years behind them, Taylor told me Trump and Miller would be in a much stronger position in 2025 to drive through militant ideas such as mass deportation and internment camps for undocumented migrants. “Stephen Miller has had the time and the battle scars to inform a very systematic strategy,” Taylor said.

Miller outlined the Trump team’s plans for a mass-deportation effort most extensively in an interview he did this past November on a podcast hosted by the conservative activist Charlie Kirk. In the interview, Miller suggested that another Trump administration would seek to remove as many as 10 million “foreign-national invaders” who he claims have entered the country under Biden.

To round up those migrants, Miller said, the administration would dispatch forces to “go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids.” Then, he said, it would build “large-scale staging grounds near the border, most likely in Texas,” to serve as internment camps for migrants designated for deportation. From these camps, he said, the administration would schedule near-constant flights returning migrants to their home countries. “So you create this efficiency by having these standing facilities where planes are moving off the runway constantly, probably military aircraft, some existing DHS assets,” Miller told Kirk.

In the interview, Miller acknowledged that removing migrants at this scale would be an immense undertaking, comparable in scale and complexity to “building the Panama Canal.” He said the administration would use multiple means to supplement the limited existing immigration-enforcement personnel available to them, primarily at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. One would be to reassign personnel from other federal law-enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the DEA. Another would be to “deputize” local police and sheriffs. And a third would be to requisition National Guard troops to participate in the deportation plans.

Miller offered two scenarios for enlisting National Guard troops in removing migrants. One would be in states where Republican governors want to cooperate. “You go to the red-state governors and you say, ‘Give us your National Guard,’” he said. “We will deputize them as immigration-enforcement officers.”

The second scenario, Miller said, would involve sending National Guard forces from nearby Republican-controlled states into what he called an “unfriendly state” whose governor would not willingly join the deportation program.

Read: The specter of family separation

Even those sweeping plans understate the magnitude of the effort that mass deportations would require, Jason Houser, a former chief of staff at ICE under Biden, told me. Removing 500,000 to 1 million migrants a year could require as many as 100,000–150,000 deputized enforcement officers, Houser believes. Staffing the internment camps and constant flights that Miller is contemplating could require 50,000 more people, Houser said. “If you want to deport a million a year—and I’m a Navy officer—you are talking a mobilization the size of a military deployment,” Houser told me.

Enormous legal resources would be required too. Immigration lawyers point out that even if Trump detained migrants through mass roundups, the administration would still need individual deportation orders from immigration courts for each person it wants to remove from the country. “It’s not as simple as sending Guardsmen in to arrest everyone who is illegal or undocumented,” said Leopold, the immigration lawyer.

All of this exceeds the staffing now available for immigration enforcement; ICE, Houser said, has only about 6,000 enforcement agents. To fill the gap, he said, Trump would need to transfer huge numbers of other federal law-enforcement agents, weakening the ability of agencies including the DEA, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshals Service to fulfill their principal responsibilities. And even then, Trump would still need support from the National Guard to reach the scale he’s discussing.

Even if Trump used National Guard troops in supporting roles, rather than to “break down doors” in pursuit of migrants, they would be thrust into highly contentious situations, Houser said.

“You are talking about taking National Guard members out of their jobs in Texas and moving them into, say, Philadelphia and having them do mass stagings,” Houser said. “Literally as Philadelphians are leaving for work, or their kids are going to school, they are going to see mass-deportation centers with children and mothers who were just in the community working and thriving.” He predicts that Trump would be forced to convert warehouses or abandoned malls into temporary relocation centers for thousands of migrants.

Adam Goodman, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of The Deportation Machine , told me, “There’s no precedent of millions of people being removed in U.S. history in a short period of time.” The example Trump most often cites as a model is “Operation Wetback,” the mass-deportation program—named for a slur against Mexican Americans—launched by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954. That program involved huge sweeps through not only workplaces, but also heavily Mexican American communities in cities such as Los Angeles. Yet even that effort, despite ensnaring an unknown number of legal residents, removed only about 250,000 people, Goodman said. To deport the larger numbers Trump is promising, he would need an operation of much greater scale and expense.

The Republican response to Texas’s standoff with the Biden administration offers Trump reason for optimism that red-state governors would support his ambitious immigration plans. So far, 14 Republican-controlled states have sent National Guard troops or other law-enforcement personnel to bolster Abbott in his ongoing efforts to assert more control over immigration issues . The Supreme Court last month overturned a lower-court decision that blocked federal agents from dismantling the razor-wire barriers Texas has been erecting along the border. But Abbott insists that he’ll build more of the barriers nonetheless. “We are expanding to further areas to make sure we will expand our level of deterrence,” Abbott declared last Sunday at a press conference near the border , where he was joined by 13 other GOP governors. Abbott has said he expects every red state to eventually send forces to back his efforts.

But the National Guard deployments to Texas still differ from the scenario that Miller has sketched. Abbott is welcoming the personnel that other states are sending to Texas. In that sense, this deployment is similar to the process under which George W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden utilized National Guard troops to support federal immigration-enforcement efforts in Texas and, at times, other border states: None of the governors of those states has opposed the use of those troops in their territory for that purpose.

The prospect of Trump dispatching red-state National Guard troops on deportation missions into blue states that oppose them is more akin to his actions during the racial-justice protests following the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020. At that point, Trump deployed National Guardsmen provided by 11 Republican governors to Washington, D.C., to quell the protests.

The governors provided those forces to Trump under what’s known as “hybrid status” for the National Guard (also known as Title 32 status). Under hybrid status, National Guard troops remain under the technical command of their state’s governor, even though they are executing a federal mission. Using troops in hybrid status isn’t particularly unusual; what made that deployment “unprecedented,” in Joseph Nunn’s phrase, is that the troops were deployed over the objection of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The hybrid status that Trump used in D.C. is probably the model the former president and Miller are hoping to use to send red-state National Guard forces into blue states that don’t want them, Nunn told me. But Nunn believes that federal courts would block any such effort. Trump could ignore the objections from the D.C. government because it’s not a state, but Nunn believes that if Trump sought to send troops in hybrid status from, say, Indiana to support deportation raids in Chicago, federal courts would say that violates Illinois’ constitutional rights. “Under the Constitution, the states are sovereign and coequal,” Nunn said. “One state cannot reach into another state and exercise governmental power there without the receiving state’s consent.”

But Trump could overcome that obstacle, Nunn said, through a straightforward, if more politically risky, alternative that he and his aides have already discussed. If Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, which dates back to 1792, he would have almost unlimited authority to use any military asset for his deportation program. Under the Insurrection Act, Trump could dispatch the Indiana National Guard into Illinois, take control of the Illinois National Guard for the job, or directly send in active-duty military forces, Nunn said.

“There are not a lot of meaningful criteria in the Insurrection Act for assessing whether a given situation warrants using it, and there is no mechanism in the law that allows the courts or Congress to check an abuse of the act,” Nunn told me. “There are quite literally no safeguards.”

Read: America’s immigration reckoning has arrived

The Insurrection Act is the legal tool presidents invoked to federalize control over state National Guards when southern governors used the troops to block racial integration. For Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to instead target racial minorities through his deportation program might be even more politically combustible than sending in National Guard troops through hybrid status during the 2020 D.C. protests, Nunn said. But, like many other immigration and security experts I spoke with, Nunn believes those concerns are not likely to dissuade a reelected Trump from using the Insurrection Act if courts block his other options.

In fact, as I’ve written , a mass-deportation program staffed partially with red-state National Guard forces is only one of several ideas that Trump has embraced for introducing federal forces into blue jurisdictions over the objections of their local leaders. He’s also talked about sending federal personnel into blue cities to round up homeless people (and place them in camps as well) or just to fight crime. Invoking the Insurrection Act might be the necessary predicate for those initiatives as well.

These plans could produce scenes in American communities unmatched in our history. Leopold, to take one scenario raised by Miller in his interview, asks what would happen if the Republican governor of Virginia, at Trump’s request, sends National Guard troops into Maryland, but the Democratic governor of that state orders his National Guard to block their entry? Similarly, in a huge deportation sweep through a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s easy to imagine frightened migrant families taking refuge in a church and a Democratic mayor ordering local police to surround the building. Would federal agents and National Guard troops sent by Trump try to push past the local police by force?

For all the tumult that the many disputes over immigration are now generating, these possibilities could prove far more disruptive, incendiary, and even violent.

“What we would expect to see in a second Trump presidency is governance by force,” Deana El-Mallawany, a counsel and the director of impact programs at Protect Democracy, a bipartisan group focused on threats to democracy, told me. “This is his retribution agenda. He is looking at ways to aggrandize and consolidate power within the presidency to do these extreme things, and going after marginalized groups first, like migrants and the homeless, is the way to expand that power, normalize it, and then wield it more broadly against everybody in our democracy.”

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  22. Dos and Don'ts on How to Strategize the UC Essays

    All nine UC schools use the same application and essays. These schools are: UC Berkeley; UC Davis; UC Los Angeles; UC Irvine; UC Merced; UC Riverside; UC San Diego; UC Santa Barbara; UC Santa Cruz; For the UC essays, you must write four answers to the possible eight questions. Each response is limited to 350 words - not quite a full page single ...

  23. How to Write the UC Essays

    Applying to college and need help writing your UC essays, aka the UC Personal Insight Questions? This video by a former UC admissions reader will help you re...

  24. Opinion

    Guest Essay. I'm a Neuroscientist. ... concerned about the advanced age of the two top contenders in the coming presidential election (Mr. Biden is 81, and Donald Trump is 77), although some of ...

  25. Trump's Immigration Plan Is Even More Aggressive Now

    Stephen Miller, Trump's top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president's command.

  26. Takeaways from Fani Willis' stunning testimony in Georgia

    The Georgia election subversion case against Donald Trump and 14 of his allies took a stunning turn Thursday when two top prosecutors testified under oath about their romantic relationship at a ...

  27. Saints Reportedly Targeting West Coast For New Training Camp Home

    Irvine, California has emerged as the top destination for Saints training camp in 2024. ... The site, according to Duncan, is going to be at the University of California-Irvine, where the Rams ...

  28. UCSF Tops Prestigious Fulbright List Again as Students Build

    UCSF has been honored as a "Top Producing Institution for Fulbright U.S. Students" by the U.S. State Department for the 2023-2024 academic year.. The designation — one of several times UCSF has made the prestigious list — was announced on Tuesday by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and recognized in a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to UCSF Chancellor ...

  29. Why Beyoncé's foray into country makes total sense

    In true showstopping fashion, Beyoncé announced the release of new music last weekend at the Super Bowl, and proceeded to drop two buzzy country songs that hint at the vibe of her next album. The ...