University of California 2023-24 Essay Prompt Guide
University of California 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations
The Requirements: 4 out of 8 essays, 350 words each.
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball , Community , Activity
The UC application sounds like a riddle. Every student must write four essays, but choose from eight prompts. The rules may be unfamiliar, but the game is the same: tell admissions something they don’t know – and then do it three more times! The instructions counsel you to “select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances,” and frankly, we couldn’t agree more. A strategic applicant will choose a constellation of prompts that highlight vastly different aspects of their lives and personalities, leaving an admissions officer with a deep and complete picture of who they are. Don’t get hung up on trying to divine the questions admissions wants you to answer. In the end, they just want to get to know the real you, plus the application swears that “there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.” So follow your heart (!) and don’t let the fatigue get to you. Avoid robotically starting every answer by restating the question and be as anecdotal as possible. With each essay, your goal isn’t just to answer the question, but to tell a very short story about yourself!
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.
When answering this question, avoid the siren song of your resume. This question isn’t asking you for a list! Remember: it’s your job, as an applicant, to use every essay as an opportunity to reveal something new about yourself. Think of a moment when you were in a position where you worked really hard to help a group of people. Maybe you are always the one helping your younger siblings with their homework, and you struggled to find ways to engage your dyslexic younger brother with math. Maybe, as a camp counselor or church volunteer, you were in charge of choreographing and instructing a number for a group of seven-year-old hip hop dancers to perform. Perhaps, on a Habitat for Humanity school trip, you became the head cook, whipping up everything from pancakes to chicken fajitas while galvanizing a team of sous chefs to pitch in.
The point is, try to isolate a single leadership moment, and bring it to life with vivid details. Describe where you were, what was happening around you, and what you were feeling. Discuss what challenges you faced, and what you ultimately learned from the experience. Don’t shy away from challenges or even failures, since these are exactly the sorts of character-building experiences that can demonstrate resilience and quick thinking.
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.
You may think that this question was geared towards the artistically inclined, but take a closer look. The wording offers many potential definitions that veer away from traditional conceptions of creativity (and actually, it asks you for your personal definition!). Creativity lies in your outlook: seeing the opportunity to use one of your skills in a novel situation; looking at a problem from a new angle to find the solution that no one else could see. This question is, in reality, ideal for the more scientifically oriented to create a more well-rounded profile. Creative types, on the other hand, might want to proceed with caution since, really, every question is an opportunity to show off your talents and describe your artistic endeavors.
No matter who you are, though, remember this classic writing advice: show don’t tell. So, you claim that gardening, or Calculus, or painting is how you show your creative side. Okay. So, then immerse the reader in this activity with you . If you enjoy gardening, describe the plants, their qualities, and how you make your horticultural choices; are you drawn to the aesthetics or are you botanically inquisitive? Similarly, if your subject is Calculus, show the reader how you sat in your dad’s office for six hours straight trying to calculate Pi on a three dozen sheets of paper using red crayon. If you love to paint, show the reader where you paint, what you paint, and why you paint, describing the colors, textures, materials—the essential process behind your art. Write descriptively so that the reader can feel as if he or she were experiencing your creative passion with you.
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 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.
If question 3 reminds you of question 2, you’re not alone. Often, when we talk about a talent or skill that we have honed over the course of a lifetime, we’re inclined to describe it as an art — a creative extension of who we are. So if you choose to respond to both of these questions, make sure to highlight distinct skills in each.
The good news is: finding your subject should be easy! You just need to answer this question: what makes you proud? Think about the stories that your friends and family like to share about you. Think about moments when your hard work paid off. When you can zero in on an experience that makes your heart swell, you’ll be able to pinpoint your essential subject. If the memory of your first swim meet victory still makes you smile, draw us into your rigorous training schedule; describe the aspects of the sport that motivate you to wake up early and push yourself. What were your challenges? What has this experience taught you? This narrative should have a clear timeline that traces your growth from the past to the present and into the future. How do you plan to further develop your talent in college and/or after college? Show not only that you have grown, but that you will continue to grow as you take your first steps into adulthood.
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.
This question is tricky because it has two parts. So first break the question down: You can write about either A.) How you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity OR B.) How you have worked to overcome an educational barrier. The “or” is key. You are not being asked to write about both parts of this question. Just write about one.
If you have participated in an afterschool program, internship, honors program, or a special class that was meaningful or inspiring to you, you will want to think about choosing option A. Maybe it was an afterschool program for young, aspiring lawyers, or an advanced history class that you took at your local community college. This is an opportunity for you to showcase your ambition and highlight the kinds of challenges that engage and excite you. Beyond underscoring an academic interest, reflect on the personal qualities required for you to succeed. And remember to show, not tell! It will save you from accidentally humble-bragging your way through this assignment.
Now, for option B. If you have worked to overcome a disability, struggled in school because you have a different background than your peers, suffered financial hardship, or something along those lines, you can choose to write about option B. To nail this tricky task, you will need to highlight not only the ways you struggled, but also the qualities that helped you succeed. How would you define yourself? Resilient? Hardworking? Brave? Zero in on a quality that resonates with you, and write targeted descriptions that bring it to life. (No one is going to believe you if you just write, “I am resilient,” and leave it at that.) Lastly, reflect on how this barrier shaped who you are today, and what skills you gained through facing this educational barrier.
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”.
If you skipped question 4 or chose to write about option A, this question is a gift: a second chance to showcase your resilience in the face of obstacles. On the other hand, if you chose to write about option B in question 4, this might feel redundant. You are free to write about both, but again, proceed with caution and be sure to select a totally different challenge.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: questions that ask you to describe a struggle or failure are really probing for stories about success. What pro-active steps did you take to address the problem at hand? Even if your solution didn’t work out perfectly, what did you learn? In facing this challenge, did you discover a courageous, creative, or hard-working side of yourself? Did you learn something valuable about yourself or others? Highlight the upside. How did this challenge shape who you are today? And how will the skills that you gained dealing with this challenge will help you in college and beyond?
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.
If you’ve ever referred to yourself as a “nerd” or “geek”, this question is probably for you. To nail down a topic for this bad boy, you can work in two directions: (1) think about how your favorite academic subject has impacted your extracurricular pursuits, or (2) trace one of your favorite hobbies back to its origins in the classroom. Maybe your love of languages led you to take a job at a coffee shop frequented by multilingual tourists. Or perhaps your now-extensive coin collection was resurrected when you did a research project on ancient Roman currency. Whichever way you go about it, building a bridge between the scholarly and the personal lies at the heart of answering this prompt.
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.
Some backwards advice: When writing about community service, you should always start with yourself. Community service essays are cliché minefields. To avoid drifting into platitudes, you need to ground your writing in the specificity of your life. Don’t start with the action and end with what you learned. Instead, dig into your motivations. If you spent weeks petitioning your school community to raise the hourly wage for custodial staff, what prompted you to act? What assumptions did you have about income inequality and what did you learn about your community in the process? Or, maybe you weren’t too enthused about your community service. Maybe you participated in a soccer-team-mandated day of coaching a pee-wee team. What caused your skepticism? How did you turn the experience around?
Also, don’t just choose a topic that sounds impressive. “This year I acted as the co-chair of the Honors Society, presiding over twenty different cases.” If you didn’t, in fact, really enjoy Honors Society, write about a topic that means something to you instead. Think of a moment where you felt like you made a change in your local community. It can be something small; it does not have to be monumental, but it should mean a great deal to you. Describe the moment, using detail to bring it to life, and then reflect on what that experience taught you, and how you hope to continue these activities in the future.
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 change. 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..
This question is really just what it says it is—an open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure question. Is there something that you really, really want to tell the UC admissions team that you feel makes you a strong and unique candidate that is not showcased in the other three personal insight questions? As with the other questions, whatever topic you choose, please use detail and description to bring this topic to life for the reader, and include thoughtful reflection on why this topic matters to you. Also, be sure to explain why your chosen topic makes you stand out as a strong candidate for the UC schools, since the question specifically asks you to do that!
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Choose Your Test
Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a perfect uc essay for every prompt.
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.
feature image credit: Boston Public Library /Flickr
University of California Changes Due to COVID-19
As a result of the coronavirus, the University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously to stop requiring the ACT and SAT as part of admissions applications. This was done in part due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the changes will remain permanent, even after the pandemic is over. This decision has been in the works for years, and it's being done to make the admissions process fairer to all students.
You can learn more about the University of California testing changes here .
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. These numbers only reveal 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 colleges 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—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.
Once upon a time, there was a mouse who really, really wanted to get into your college.
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 Actual 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 .
"And that's the last time I went to a psychic."
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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?
"We couldn't decide between butter and cream cheese frosting in the final round of the baking competition!"
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
- That you can solve problems with your own ingenuity and resourcefulness
- That you don't lose your head and panic at problems
"And that's how I saved Christmas with a single crushed can!"
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 makes the hero look awesome for the inevitable job well done. Similarly, in your essay the reader 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 vs. 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, since 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, while 225-250 words to your leadership and solution.
Find Your Arc
Not only do you need to show how your leadership met 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.
Make your arc as lovely and compelling as a rainbow.
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 a visual art, a 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 thing or do you struggle with it? If you struggle with it, why is it important to you to keep doing it?
Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future
The most basic way to do this is if you envision yourself actually doing your creative pursuit 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?
"As the sole living practitioner of the ancient art of rock bodybuilding..."
Nothing characterizes higher education like the need for creative thinking, unorthodox ideas to old topics, and the ability to synthesize something new. That is what you are going to college to learn how to do better. This 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
- That you consider this an important quality within yourself, and that you have cultivated your skills
- That you can see and have considered the impact of what you've done on yourself or on the world around you
Think outside the box—unless there are donuts in the box.
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 and 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. 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?
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!)
"And that's when I knew I was destined to become a master confectioner!"
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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 mindblowing 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 then, 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, unless you can spin that experience into a story about how you've been on the straight and narrow path ever since.
Even if your vandalism was really, really, cool, don't write about it.
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 resume.
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 get the qualities and experiences that make you into a responsible and grown-up person, someone who will thrive in the independence of college life. In other words, while you might really be proud that you managed to tag 50 highway overpasses with graffiti, that's probably not the achievement to brag about here.
Unless you were hired to paint the overpasses. Then 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/accomplishment in terms of experiences that showcase it. Conversely, think about your experiences in terms of the talent/quality/accomplishment they demonstrate. Since 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 specific piece of awesomeness into this essay. This means that you'll need to figure out how your ability can best be shown through one event when 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 do your special talent, or how you accomplished the thing you were so great at. The main thing about stories is that they have to have:
- 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/be one thing and now you are different/better.
- A resolution: When your full power/self-knowledge/ability/future goal is revealed.
"And that's how I negotiated peace with the aliens of Tarkon V."
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? [sic]
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:
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:
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?
"When I had a chance to go to Wizarding School..."
Of course, whatever you write about in this essay is probably already reflected on your resume 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 how thoughtfully you've approached either its ups or its downs.
In college, there will be many amazing opportunities, but they aren't necessarily 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/Opportunity
Not every challenge is automatically obvious. Sure, everyone can understand the drawbacks of having to miss a significant amount of school due to 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.
"But learning to be a wizard wasn't easy..."
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 point at something that could have derailed you, if not for your strength and skill. Not only will you describe the challenge itself, but you'll talk about what you did when faced with it.
Part 2: Looking in the Mirror
The second part of Topic B asks you to consider how this challenge has echoed through your life—and more specifically, how your education has been affected by what happened to you.
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 people want you to demonstrate these qualities.
"I realized that if I wanted to become the Junior Champion Snake Shifter, I would have to do something drastic."
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, we 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. The last thing you want is for you to not actually be the person responsible for overcoming the obstacle. Make sure that your story is clear 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 affect a good fix 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 doings.
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 guy is going to do it, 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.
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. You can just 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 only discovered your academic passion 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 where you have gotten the best grades, or the class 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 where 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 where 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 the way 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.
On the other hand, you could focus on the more abstract, values-driven goals we just talked about. Then, the way you explain 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 created a desire to be an actor, but working on plays with your peers may have shown you how highly you value collaboration. And 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.
My favorite subject is underwater basketweaving.
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, and maybe even include any related clubs, activities, and hobbies that you've done during high school.
But of course, more traditionally, 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 4 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.
Don't underreach. At the same time, 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.
"This is how I realized my passion for horticulture."
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?
"And that's how I saved the children of MiceTown."
Community is a very important thing to colleges. You'll be involved with and encounter lots of different communities in college, from the broader student body, to your extracurriculars and classes, to the community outside the University around you. UC wants to make sure that you can engage with the communities around you in a positive and 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 necessarily only do that by focusing on what it means to you. Don't speak in generalities, but 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 twelve 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, when you realized that your actions have 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?
"After brokering peace between the two rival cat clans of my neighborhood, I feel like I can do anything!"
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 only choose this topic if you have an exceptional experience to share, and that any everyday 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:
- What happened to you
- When and where it happened
- How you participated or were involved in the situation
- How it affected you as a person
- How it affected your schoolwork
- How the experience will be reflected in the point of view you bring to campus
The reasons that the university wants this information are:
- It gives context to applications that otherwise might seem mediocre or even subpar
- It can help explain times 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 exceptionalism.
Double-Check Your Uniqueness
There are many experiences in all of our lives that make us feel elated, accomplished, and extremely competent, that are also near-universal. This essay isn't trying to take the validity of your strong feelings away from you, but I think 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?
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 acclaimed albums, then maybe you will perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique—if you are disabled, 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 where what you're telling is just as—if not more—important than how you're telling it. 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/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 making your writing down to earth.
"Is it accurate to say that I saved the entire world?" "No."
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 focusing 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 rundown. 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 rundown 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 fact that the house was dilapidated and that 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," "broken window"), and through comparisons ("shutters like a jack-o-lantern," "spider web window crack")
Showing emotions by describing facial expressions ("my dad grinned," "my shocked face," "I smiled")
Using specific and descriptive action verbs ("grinned," "shocked," "staring," "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 like), using active verbs, and illustrating feelings with spoken speech 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.
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 then 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.")
There's "it was exciting." And then there's "I felt at once exhilarated and terrified, as if I had just jumped out of an airplane for the first time."
This should give you a great starting point to attack 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.
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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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- 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.
Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
- 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.