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How to Write the UC Essays 2023–2024

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The ten University of California (UC) schools are prestigious public universities scattered across the state of California. From the northern UC Davis to the southern UC San Diego, these institutions are dream schools for in-state and out-of-state students. In fact, the top 5 most popular schools to apply to in the US are all UC schools. In the fall of 2022, UCLA received 174, 914 applications . That’s greater than the population of Jackson, Mississippi!

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Nine of these schools (the exception is UC San Francisco) offer undergraduate degrees. These schools share an application portal and don’t use the Common App or the Coalition App. As a result, their essay prompts are unique. At the same time, once you’ve applied to one UC school, it’s simple to apply to the rest. In this blog post, we’ll break down the UC essay prompts so that you have the tools to nail your application.

UC 2023-2024 Prompts

Personal insight questions (250-350 words).

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

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General Tips

There are eight UC essay prompts , known as the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). Although each question requires a response of 250-350 words, you don’t need to answer every question. In fact, you’re required to select four prompts to answer. The UC admissions officers understand that some prompts will resonate with some students more than others, and they consider each prompt equally.

It’s important to note that some of the prompts have overlapping qualities. For instance, you could write about an education barrier you have overcome when answering prompt 4, and that educational barrier might have been the most significant challenge you have faced, making it a great response to prompt 5 as well. Therefore, you may want to come up with a few topics that are important to you before even deciding which prompts you would like to answer. Consider the topics which make you who you are. Your background, interests, struggles, and accomplishments might all be topics on your list, with added specificity to make them your own. 

Then, once you’ve determined what you would like to write about, you can peruse the prompts to see which might best align with your listed topics. Of course, if one of the topics does not align with any of the prompts, you’ll need to take a step back and reassess what the UC admissions officers might be looking for that you weren’t prepared to deliver. Is it vulnerability? Humility? Growth? Confidence? Intellectuality? Ambition? These are all qualities admissions officers might look for in applicants. Consider whether your topics demonstrate these qualities, and if not, how you could incorporate them into your topics and/or responses, however subtly.

UC’s Personal Insight Questions

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (250-350 words).

This essay prompt allows you to show the UC admissions officer your leadership style and conflict response . In addition, you can demonstrate your abilities as a leader beyond including it on an activities list or resume. Many students hold leadership positions in high school which are functionally meaningless, but others achieve important impacts through their positive influence and trailblazing energy. If you are in the latter category of students, this is a great prompt for you to describe your leadership experience.

The prompt specifically asks you to provide an example of your leadership experience. This response should not be a list. It should be ONE anecdote, narrative, concept, accomplishment, or event. If possible, you should show through this singular example how you have grown as a leader or as an individual. Lastly, try to use concrete details to flesh out your example and make it feel real and memorable to the reader, avoiding clichés when possible.

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (250-350 words)

If your creative side is a meaningful aspect of who you are, this is a great prompt for you to choose! Many STEM-oriented students choose this prompt in order to demonstrate that they are well-rounded individuals. If the rest of your application discusses your skills in trigonometry and your summer coding internship, then shedding light on your poetry hobby will help the admissions officers see you as a whole person, full of life and dimension.

That said, creativity comes in many flavors , and this prompt encourages you to think broadly about your creative side. Maybe your creativity comes through in how you approach a chess game or compose a speech for MUN. Maybe your creativity flourishes when you’re under pressure, trying to negotiate the soccer ball away from your opponent. Or maybe you’re most creative when you’re trying to entertain your younger siblings. 

However your creativity manifests, be as authentic in your presentation of it as possible. You don’t need to be a concert pianist to discuss your musical endeavors, and you don’t need to have a portfolio to back up the joy you find in photography. As long as you provide genuine details about your life, your creative side is valid.

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt is especially tricky to tackle. Some students have a prodigal talent in a particular area, whether athletic, academic, interpersonal, or otherwise. Other students, however, excel more broadly and are more well-rounded than pointy. Even if you don’t have a special talent, you might still be able to answer this prompt. You might just answer it more creatively, focusing on “soft skills” like communication, time management, empathy, and so on—or whatever feels authentic to you. However, if it feels like a stretch, perhaps try a different prompt.

Regardless of your talent, you will need to answer this prompt with modesty —and no false modesty, either. Instead of listing your accolades, describe the struggles that have shaped you. Describe your training, your failures, your mentors, and your doubts. Painting a picture of how far you’ve come and how hard you worked will be much more memorable and inspiring than implying you woke up a genius. After all, even if you have a natural aptitude for something, no great skill comes without hard work, and this essay prompt is an opportunity for you to show that work.

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (250-350 words)

This essay prompt seeks to understand how you will function as a student in a UC school. When you’re offered opportunities, how will you take advantage of them? When you face obstacles, how will you surmount them? Of course, you can’t answer these questions just yet, because whatever obstacles you might face and opportunities you might receive in college are probably going to be surprises. Still, through this essay, you can hint at your future responses to opportunities and obstacles by describing your past responses.

Note that the prompt provides two options: you could write about a significant educational opportunity OR an educational barrier. Both topics are focused on your educational history, though. Consider the most formative moments in your personal educational history, and after settling on the most formative one, you’ll want to clearly spin it in your essay as either an opportunity or an obstacle. In both cases, you should express how you grew from the experience. How did you make the most of the opportunity, and how could you have better maximized that opportunity? How did you overcome that obstacle, and what did you gain from the experience? Considering your continued areas for growth will demonstrate your maturity and continued commitment to self-development.

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt asks you to look back over your life experiences to date and consider your resilience within the lens of your academic achievement . If an event in your life impacted your academic achievement, then this prompt is a great opportunity for you to discuss that challenge. After you’ve identified the most significant challenge you have faced, you may want to free-write about all the steps you took to overcome this challenge. These steps could include anything—studying, forgiving, going to therapy, praying, working, asking questions, and so on.

This prompt requests vulnerability, and vulnerability demands details. Don’t be shy to share your missteps, but be purposeful in showing your current stability, strength, and achievements despite or even because of this challenge you have faced. After describing this challenge as specifically and concretely as possible, indicate how you have changed, and be sure to include at least 1-2 sentences regarding the impact (or lack thereof) which this challenge had on your academic achievement (for better or for worse).

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (250-350 words)

Admissions officers often look for curiosity in applicants, and if you are a curious person, then this essay prompt is for you. In this essay, you can demonstrate how your curiosity for an academic subject has driven you to pursue research, projects, or other activities. Be sure to discuss ONE academic interest, even if you relate multiple ways you have deepened your relationship with this interest.

Don’t spread yourself too thin when discussing how you have furthered your interest. Focus on 1-3 ways you have furthered your interest, even if you choose to list a few more ways. For instance, if you’re interested in English literature, maybe you have furthered this interest by reading certain books outside of school, participating in an essay competition, and writing short stories. Perhaps each of these topics could receive one paragraph, with the essay framed by a brief introduction and conclusion. Of course, you can get more creative, but that’s a totally valid way to set up your essay if you’re feeling stuck.

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (250-350 words)

If you’re the kind of student for whom community service is really important, or you’ve had a big impact on your high school, then this is a great prompt for you. Similarly, if you’ve engaged in activism, youth advocacy, or similar endeavors, then you should consider answering this prompt. Clearly explain what “a better place” means to you within your response so that the reader understands your motivations.

Specificity is key here —many students will respond generically to this prompt. Less is more when it comes to discussing your accomplishments: providing deep insight regarding one initiative you pursued on behalf of your community is far better than listing all of your achievements. In your response, focus more on how you made your school or community a better place than the awards or recognition you might have received for doing so. Stay humble!

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? (250-350 words)

This prompt is a great choice for you if there are aspects of your character, history, background, academics, or otherwise which haven’t naturally fit into the rest of your application but which feel crucial to your self-representation to the UC schools. Do not use this essay response as an opportunity to list your activities, list the prizes you’ve won, or discuss your impressive grades or test scores. These factors are all extremely important, but they’ll appear elsewhere in your application, so to discuss them here would be redundant.

Instead, this essay response is a place to tie your unique qualities and/or experiences to the values and expectations of a UC admissions officer. Before answering this question, thoroughly research the admission criteria for the UC schools, and consider touching upon (subtly if possible, and definitely with humility) how you fit these criteria, highlighting aspects of yourself which are not otherwise seen in your application. And most importantly, be yourself! Admissions officers don’t want to accept robots with a 36 on their ACT. Rather, they seek nuanced, intelligent, driven individuals with three-dimensional personalities. So bring your authentic self to the page.

If you need help polishing up your UC essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.

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College Essays

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

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

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

What Are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing the UC Essay Prompts

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

The 8 UC Essay Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Tell the UC Essay Prompts Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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How Is This Guide Organized?

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 1

The prompt and its instructions.

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

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

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

What's the Question Asking?

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

Part 1: Explain the Dilemma

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Describe Your Solution

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

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

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn about You?

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

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

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

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

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

Pick Your Group

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

Raise the Stakes

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

Balance You versus Them

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

Find Your Arc

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 2

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Define Your Creativity

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

Part 2: Connect Your Creative Drive to Your Overall Self

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

Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Specific and Descriptive

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

Give a Sense of History

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

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

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

Show Insight

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

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Dissecting Personal Insight Question 3

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Narrative

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

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

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

Part 2: Insight and Personal Development

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn About You?

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

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

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

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

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

Step #1: Explain Your Field

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

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

Step #2: Zoom in on a Specific Experience

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

Step #3: Find a Conflict or a Transition

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Define the Problem or Opportunity

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

Watch Your Tone

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 5

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Facing a Challenge

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

Part 2: Looking in the Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

Make Sure That You Are the Hero

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

Find the Suspenseful Moment

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

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You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Relevance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

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

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

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

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

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

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

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

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

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The university wants this information because of the following:

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

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

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

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

Connect Outward

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

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

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

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

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

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

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Show Your Feelings

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

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

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

What's Next?

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

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

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

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How to Strategize the UC Essays

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October 28, 2019

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As the November 1st deadline creeps closer and closer, students scramble to gather all of their early admission materials together. But even once you’ve hit send on your early Common App schools, it’s not over if you’re applying to one or more of the Universities of California . The UC school application filing period begins November 1st. To make sure you’ve got everything in place when the portal opens, you need to keep working thoroughly on your application components, especially the UC essays !

UC applications are only open from November 1st through November 30th. In thirty days, you have to pull together the best application imaginable that makes you stand out from your peers. Although the UC application filing period is only open for the month of November, prompts for the UC essays were released on August 1st. Taking advantage of this and preparing ahead of time will help you when completing your UC Essays . All nine UC schools use the same application and essays. These schools are:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

For the UC essays , you must write four answers to the possible eight questions. Each response is limited to 350 words - not quite a full page single spaced! Since the UC essays act both as your personal statement and your supplemental responses, you need to make sure you choose topics which will highlight what makes you a must-have candidate, and elaborate on aspects that don’t come through in the rest of your application.

You might be wondering how to choose the essay prompts that bring out the best in you. Choose the questions that you feel are most relevant to you and your experiences. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The UC schools want to know who you are as a person, what you care about, and how you pursue your interests and goals. To help guide you through the writing process, we’ve outlined the prompts, dos and don’ts for your responses, and tips to make sure that you take full advantage of the essay component. 

Question 1:

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

The UC schools look for aspiring leaders who don’t just express their interests on paper, but have actively taken initiatives in their chosen fields. So, if you haven’t gotten a chance to really describe a project or your leadership of a meaningful group in the rest of your application, this prompt is right for you. When answering this question, keep in mind that a leadership experience can be more than just a position in a club, or on a team. There are often misconceptions that assume leadership just hinges on your title! Reflect instead on how you have changed your community, school, or a student group. It’s your impact that matters most, and that should rightfully stay the main focus of your essay. 

Leadership doesn’t have to occur at center stage. Choose the activity or organization where you believe you’ve had the biggest contribution. You can even think smaller scale with leadership and consider how you’ve influenced your inner circle. Think about your family. Do you have siblings that you look after? Show how you have gained from these experiences, and explain how you can contribute to the UC campuses. Admissions officers want to see aspects of your life that hold meaning to you and convey new, impressive information about you. So what matters is how you frame the leadership role.

If you do have an explicit leadership position, like varsity captain of your athletic team or student body president, think critically about the unique impact. The reality is, there are thousands and thousands of varsity captains and student body presidents. What did you do in your captain role that was different? How did you grow as a person? Try to not just repeat your activities list description – reach a bit deeper so that you can write a compelling response. Admissions officers should understand how you would be valuable to their school, so highlight the mark you’ve left accordingly.

Question 2:

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

The second question makes it clear that being creative doesn’t mean you have to be an artist! Think about what creativity means to you. If you’re a mathematician, you might love the expression of quadratic equations, and get excited to solve problems in a unique way. If you’re interested in theater, creativity could come to you in the form of building sets or playing a role. No matter how you express creativity, the main focus of your essay should remain on how being creative has shaped your thoughts and ideas.

Using anecdotes can effectively help you illustrate your points. Talk about the ways your creative outlet emerged, evolved, and how it might align with your career interest. Instead of saying “I love drawing,” you should frame your sentence in a way that explains to the reader how and why it matters to you. Mention if you’ve started or led clubs involving the activity or found a community through it with like-minded peers.

Finally, because you have the space, you should mention how you hope to continue this activity in college. The UC schools want to admit individuals who are specialized in their interests. Knowing that you would bring a unique perspective to a creative activity can assure them that you’re an impressive candidate.

Question 3:

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

If you are really proud of one of your abilities, now is the time to show it. The UC schools want students who bring a variety of backgrounds and interests, and choosing to write this essay is a good opportunity to show a new side of yourself. Your talent doesn’t have to be an external ability such as playing the piano or writing sonnets. Neither is it required that you have received an award for this talent!

You can write about an internal characteristic such as an easy facility for making friends with new people. Or it can be something quirky like being a phenomenal cartoonist. In fact, it is better if the skill you mention is unique because your UC essays need to establish you as a memorable candidate. For questions like this, you don’t want to answer with a typical talent, or an ambiguous characteristic. We can assure you that many of your peers are going to be talented writers, musicians, and singers. You need to bring your own exceptional spin. As for personal characteristics, asserting that a trait like kindness is your greatest asset is frankly boring and vague. Think about what differentiates you.

The main point of your essay should emphasize why this talent or skill is meaningful to you. Why are you particularly proud of this talent? Make sure you’ve addressed all parts of the prompt. Is it a natural skill, or did it take time to develop? Will you continue to use this talent in your future goals and career? What have you learned about yourself while pursuing this skill? Let the reader understand why this talent matters so much, and exactly why it’s an admirable ability.

Question 4:

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

If you don’t have many academic opportunities on your high school transcript, here is your chance to show how you’ve pushed yourself in light of your limiting curriculum. Maybe you took online classes or did outside research. Anything where you went beyond regular curriculum to find ways to expand your knowledge on a topic of interest counts for this prompt among the UC essays . 

If your school presented you with ample academic opportunities, you can tackle the other half of the question. Show how your intellectual curiosity has driven you to do more than just your assigned schoolwork. Since your academic passion is the topic for question 6, remember that you have another question for intellectual curiosity, so it may be best to use this to talk about educational barriers you’ve faced. Have you taken courses at a community college? Have you taken all the AP/IB/honors classes available at your school? Have you done a summer academic program? The UC schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically and have an innate desire to expand yourself intellectually. 

Your essay shouldn’t just outline what you did. Admissions officers want to know what motivated the initiative, what you learned in the process, and how it might have prepared you for college. 

Question 5:

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

This is an adversity question, so be careful here. Before you choose this topic, it is important to think about how your situation compares to your peers. Although everyone has challenges of their own, writing about not getting an allowance will not be seen as a “real” challenge to an admissions office. Other students in your applicant pool will have experienced homelessness, life threatening illnesses, and abuse. No matter what, watch yourself so that you do not sound privileged. If your adversity isn’t significant, I’d stay away from this question. The UC essays specifically ask for your “most significant challenge” – a temporary soccer injury doesn’t really apply here. Make sure your challenge would objectively be considered significant.

If you do choose this topic, now is the time to show the admissions office how you have persevered. Focus your writing on personal growth and how the experience changed you as a person. The question asks you to address what you’ve done to improve your situation, and also has an academic component. Consider your challenge in the context of your academic experience to fully answer this personal insight question. Was your schoolwork significantly affected due to the circumstance? Did you come back from an academic downfall? Has your situation inspired your choice of major or career goal? Remember that this is for your college application - your essay should focus on you, as opposed to generally narrating a story about the situation itself.

Questions 6:

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

This question is asking you to showcase your intellectual curiosity by elaborating on how you’ve pursued the field that calls out to you the most. Explain why you love this specific field and how it has influenced your worldview. Discuss your choice of major and explain how the UC schools can help you pursue your studies. Through anecdotes, exemplify the ways in which you’ve explored topics within the subject. Have you taken challenging courses in the discipline? Have you participated in relevant extracurriculars? Have you started any initiatives related to the field?

Admissions officers want to know that you’re not just interested in a program on paper. Show them that you have intellectual vitality! Your answer will be even stronger if the academic subject you discuss aligns with the theme of your application. When all of your activities relate to science research, it will confuse an admissions officer if you suddenly mention a burning passion for comparative literature! Make your story strong and clear. Don’t just tell them you enjoy research. Make sure you’ve conveyed your passion by outlining how your knowledge has grown through various courses and activities.

Question 7:

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

When first brainstorming this essay, think about what “community” means to you. Your community doesn’t need to be your neighborhood. It can be your team, your church, a school club, you name it! You can define community in a variety of ways but make it clear how you personally find significance in the word. The UC schools will be looking for students who can make meaningful contributions to their campuses. In your essay, you should showcase that you’re an individual who isn’t afraid to step up, involve others, and work to improve a part of the community you describe.

The key to writing this essay is ensuring that you highlight your impact in your answer. You could talk about your community lacking a proper recycling system and how you committed to installing one. You could also discuss how the members of your community worked together in resolving the issue. Don’t just say “we worked hard” – use strong action words and clear examples to convey exactly how you made changes. Showing the admissions officers where you fit within your community gives them a better idea of who you are and how you’ll add to the UC campuses.

Question 8 :

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

if you have a strong essay that you’ve already written for another school that would be relevant here, you could consider including it here. If you’re at a loss, look around the UC website and see what they value. If their motto or principles resonate with you, then try to explain how and why. They are looking for not only the best applicants, but the candidates that embody what their school is all about.

You can start by asking yourself the following questions to see if this prompt is right for you:

  • Is there a part of you that’s unique that you haven’t been able to talk about in other parts of your application?
  • Have you started any initiatives or clubs that you would like to further highlight?
  • What is your passion?
  • What has been your biggest inspiration?
  • How do you spend your free time?

Choose a topic that can help distinguish you from other applicants and make you a memorable candidate in the schools’ eyes. Once you’ve written your essay, make sure that your response can’t fit any of the previous prompts. Ultimately, what’s important is to highlight a part of you that matters, elaborate on your goals and interests, and convey why you would be a valuable addition to a University of California school.

Additional Tips for Tackling the UC Essays

  • Make the choice that’s right for you – The UC essays have provided options; make sure you choose the four questions that will make you stand out! Focus on showing who you are and what makes you unique. If you don’t have a story that fits a particular prompt, choose a different one. The UC essays need to emphasize why you’re a must-have candidate. Make your selections accordingly.
  • Don’t repeat your activities list – The University of California application system provides 20 slots for you to talk about your extracurricular activities, 20 for volunteering experiences, 20 for employment opportunities, and another 20 for awards and honors. That’s up to 80 different possibilities that you can list. So, it’s all the more important to be sure your UC essays don’t overlap with information that you’ve described in those sections. Admissions officers have very limited time and don’t want to read about the same topic, so make sure you cover new information!

The UC essays hold a lot of importance in conveying what makes you tick while helping admissions officers understand how you will fit into their campuses. While you can’t tailor your essay individually if you apply to multiple UC schools, your essays can still demonstrate why you’re a strong and passionate student, and illustrate the ways you will bring value to the schools that admit you. Good luck!

Tags : college application essay , college essays , college admissions essay , Berkeley , Personal Insight Questions , UC application tips , UC schools

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How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

uc essay support

The UC Personal Insight Questions can be used to apply to all University of California schools. The questions for the 2023-2024 school year remain the same as the previous year.

Although COVID has sharply impacted the collection application rate in the US over the past eighteen months, the  University of California (UC)  schools remain among the best public universities and colleges in the nation. Therefore, competition for acceptance to UC schools is still relatively high.

However, there is one big upside to applying to UC schools. Because only one application must be filled out for the entire UC school system, candidates can put all of their time and energy into polishing one application and writing a UC admission essay that will impress the admissions officers.

How much does the admissions essay account for admission to UC schools?

The “Personal Insight Questions” are the UC admissions committees’ collective response to receiving an increasing number of applications (nearly  200,000 freshman and transfer applications in 2016 ). Due to this extremely high number of applications, there was no way to base admission solely on test scores and GPAs, and therefore these essays questions (more appropriately “essay prompts”) were created to differentiate the high-grade-earners and great test-takers from those students who show remarkable passion and have a compelling story. The Personal Insight Questions are therefore your opportunity to show who you are being your grades and transcript and to tell your personal story.

This “holistic admissions” process means that qualitative aspects of your life and profile are considered. This includes your ability to capitalize on opportunities, the extracurricular activities you have been involved in, and other “meta” elements that not only reflect your potential for achievement in a college and university setting but also give admissions officers a chance to choose the kinds of candidates who reflect the UC schools’ values. So to answer the question “How important are these admissions essays?”—the answer is “very important.” Some sources estimate that these qualitative elements make up as much as 30% of admissions decisions, meaning that it is probably a good idea to put a lot of thought and effort into your UC essay responses.

The 2023-2024 UC Application Essay Questions

The University of California application allows candidates to apply to all UC campuses at once and consists of eight essay prompts—more commonly known as the “ Personal Insight Questions .” Applicants must choose FOUR of these questions to answer and are given a total of 350 words to answer each question. There are no right or wrong questions to choose from, but you should consider a few factors when deciding which questions will suit your situation best.

Before discussing some tips for answering the  University of California admissions essay questions , let’s take a lot at the Personal Insight Questions for the 2023-2024 school year and some tips recommended by the UC on their admissions page.

uc essay prompts, red and white figures

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

Brainstorming: Leadership is not restricted to a position or title but can involve mentoring, tutoring, teaching, or taking the lead in organizing a project or even. Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? What were your responsibilities?

Potential scenarios:  Have you ever resolved a problem or dispute in your school, church, or community? Do you have an important role in caring for your family? Were there any discrete experiences (such as a work or school retreat) in which your leadership abilities were crucial?

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

Brainstorming : What do you think about when you hear the word “creativity”? Do you have any creative skills that are central to your identity or life? How have you used this skill to solve a problem? What was your solution and what steps did you take to solve the problem?

Potential scenarios : Does your creativity impact your decisions inside or outside the classroom? How does your creativity play a role in your intended major or a future career? Perhaps your aspirations for art, music, or writing opened up an opportunity in a school project that led you on your current academic path.

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

Brainstorming : Do you have a talent or skill that you are proud of or that defines you in some way? An athletic ability; a propensity for music; an uncanny skill at math? Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Think about talents that have not been officially recognized or for which you have not received rewards but that are impressive and central to your character and story, nonetheless. Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Potential Scenarios : Have you used your talent to solve a problem or meet a goal at school? Have you ever been recognized by a teacher or peer for your secret talent? Has your talent opened up opportunities for you in the world of school or work? If you have a talent that you have used in or out of school in some way and you would like to discuss the impact it has had on your life and experiences, this is a good question to choose.

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

Brainstorming : An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. If you choose to write about barriers, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you use to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

Potential scenarios : Perhaps you have participated in an honors or academic enrichment program or enrolled in an academy geared toward an occupation or a major. Did you take advanced courses in high school that interested you even though they were not in your main area of study? There are many elements that can serve as “opportunities” and “barriers”—too little time or resources could serve as a barrier; a special teacher, a very memorable course, or just taking the initiative to push your education could all qualify for taking advantages of opportunities.

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

Brainstorming : A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. List all of the challenges and difficulties you have faced in the past few years, both in and out of school. Why was the challenge significant? What did it take to overcome the obstacle(s) and what did you learn from the experience? Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

Potential scenarios : Challenges can include financial hardships, family illnesses or problems, difficulties with classmates or teachers, or other personal difficulties you have faced emotionally, mentally, socially, or in some other capacity that impacted your ability to achieve a goal. 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?”

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

Brainstorming :  Do you have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something for which you seem to have unlimited interest? What have you done to nourish that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom—volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs. What have you have gained from your involvement?

Potential scenarios:  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 have been interested in a subject outside of the regular curriculum, discuss how you have been able to pursue this interest—did you go to the library, watch tutorials, find information elsewhere? How might you apply it during your undergraduate career?

UC Insight Essay Prompt 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Brainstorming : A “community” can encompass a group, team or a place—it could be your high school, hometown or even your home. You can define community in any way you see appropriate, but make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community? If there was a problem or issue in your school, what steps did you take to resolve it? 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?

Potential scenarios : Have you ever volunteered for a social program or an extracurricular focused on making a difference? Perhaps you led a campaign to end bullying or reform a routine activity at your school. You don’t need to be the leader of a movement to be involved. Perhaps you took on more of an individual responsibility to make certain students feel more welcome at your school.

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

Brainstorming:   If there’s anything you the admissions committee to know about you but didn’t find a question or place in the application to write about it this is a good prompt to choose.

Potential scenarios:  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? Is your experience simply so out of the ordinary that you feel it would not properly answer any of these questions? What do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? This is your chance to brag a little.

uc essay prompts checklist

Some Topics Chosen By Other UC Applicants

The US Essay Prompt numbers are listed next to each topic:

  • 1: Family responsibilities that impact one’s life, 2: Band membershipt, 4: Working as a teacher’s aid, 7: Picketing with striking workers at a manufacturing plant
  • 1: Chess Club, 2: Drumline, 4: Developing an app, 8: Working on a robot
  • 2: Drawing or illustrating as a hobby, 4: Important research project, 6: Geology, 7: Filming a dance competition
  • 1: Leadership class, 5: Family challenges related to father’s unemployment, 7: Spreading awareness about disaster preparedness, 8: Experiencing three very different educational systems
  • 1: Dance, 4: Volunteering at a physical therapist’s office, 6: Neuroscience, 7: Teaching kids more about STEM topics
  • 2: Painting class, 3: Taking golf lessons, 4: Taking the SATs as a non-traditional high school student 7: Starting a volunteer program 
  • 2: How I have been changed by music, 5: Challenges of having a sibling with a serious disability, 6: Chemistry, 8: Fashion
  • 1: Econ Club, 2: DJing at local venues, 6: Physics, 7: Leading the science clube

When Answering the UC Essay Questions…

Create a coherent picture of yourself without repeating information.

Unlike the Common App essay, which gives applicants a 650-word personal essay to make a big, cohesive personal statement, the UC application is designed to elicit smaller, shorter statements, encouraging the applicant to give focused answers without repeating the same information. This means that you need to remain consistent and cohesive—keeping in mind the “holistic” nature of these essays—while also making sure that each answer offers new information and insights about you.

Choose questions that “speak to you” and let you illustrate different aspects of your experience and character

Because of these shorter, more focused responses, the UC essay can feel a bit more natural than the Common App or other admissions essays that ask you to squeeze your most significant life experiences into one essay. This format also allows candidates to choose questions that show several distinct angles—character, personality, ability to overcome adversity, personal strengths, and weaknesses, etc. In order to make the most of these distinct questions, it can behoove authors to choose the ones that ask for different kinds of responses.

For instance, it might be best to avoid answering both questions #2 and #3  as they both involve a talent/ability. If you do answer both of these questions, try to approach them from different angles, showing how you used your talent or skill to accomplish an impressive feat or overcome an obstacle. The same goes for questions #4 and #5–if you choose question #4, it could be better to discuss how you used an advantage or opportunity and then discuss a difficulty that you overcame in question #5. Try to avoid repeating the same information and instead show your experiences from multiple vantage points.

Show, don’t tell!

When writing any kind of essay, apply the golden rule of “showing over telling.”  Writers should strive to create a more immediate connection—a more “objective correlation”—between words and the reader’s understanding or feeling. But this rule is much easier to understand than to follow, and a whole lot of beginning writers telling about what one did or how one felt with showing it. It is especially important in the UC admissions essay to show, rather than tell or make a list, as you don’t have a lot of room to “provide evidence” to back up the main theses you are asserting in each mini-essay.

A good way to think about this difference is to think about “summary” (telling) versus “description” (showing). When summarizing, one often gives an overview of the situation, using vague nouns and adjectives to describe events, objects, or feelings. When describing, one uses vivid detail to give the reader or listener a more immediate connection to the circumstances—the details ultimately provide evidence for what the writer or speaker is saying, rather than filling in the gap with vague or cliché language.

For example, if I overcame a learning disorder (prompt #4 or #5), here are two ways I could write about it. Note the difference between these two passages:

TELLING : “I have overcome an educational barrier by getting good grades despite having a learning disorder. Although it hindered my studies, my learning disorder did not stop me from doing very well on assignments and exams. I even joined a variety of clubs, such as debate club, honors society, and the track team…” SHOWING : “My highest hurdle in life has always been my dyslexia. Imagine looking at a page of your favorite book and seeing the words written backward and upside-down. Now imagine this is every book, every page, every word on every exam. This is my experience. But through this land of backward words I have fought with a million tears and thousands of hours, studying at the library after classes, joining the debate team to improve my sight-reading, and eventually joining the school honors society, the biggest achievement of my academic life…”

Outline your answers to all questions before writing them out

Creating a scaffolding for your essay before building always makes the writing process smoother. Draw up a separate mini-outline for each question to determine whether you’re truly writing two different essays about related topics, or repeating yourself without adding new information or angles on the original. Include the most important elements, such as events, people, places, actions taken, and lessons learned. Once you have outlined your answers, compare them to see if there is any overlap between answers, and if there is, decide at this early stage whether you need to cut some details or whether you can blend these details together and expand on them to show the admissions committee the most full picture of yourself possible.

Use Your Common Application Essay to Answer the UC Essay Prompts

Because the Common Application Essay is used for most schools in the United States, if you are writing this admissions essay, you will be writing a personal statement that fulfills many of the requirements needed for the UC admissions essay. Therefore, it may be helpful to compose and prepare your essays in the following manner:

  • Write https://blog.wordvice.com/writing-the-common-app-essay/ your Common App essay
  • Shorten your Common App essay to fit one UC Personal Insight Question, if applicable
  • Write the three additional UC essays and complete the UC Activities section (which is longer than the  Common App Activities section )
  • Reuse your UC Activities list for Common App Activities and your remaining UC essays for  Common App supplemental essays

Frequently Asked Questions about UC Admissions

Q: should i apply to all the uc schools how should i choose if i’m not applying to all of them.

Answer:  The University of California allows you to apply to all of its schools by simply clicking the boxes next to schools’ names. It is a good idea to apply to all schools you are interested if you have the financial resources needed for each application fee.

Researching each school ahead of time is the best way to decide which school(s) to apply to. Visit the university admissions office websites, watch YouTube videos of campus tours, read the course curriculums and do searches on the professors and resources of the schools, speak with current students and alumni about their college experience, and even try to arrange a campus tour if possible.  Conducting research will allow you to distinguish

Q: Is it more difficult for out-of-state students to get accepted to UC schools?

Answer:  Out-of-state students have a slightly more difficult path to entering UC schools. At UC Berkeley, about 60 percent of freshmen in the fall of 2020 were in-state students, whereas, at UC Riverside, 88 percent were in-state students. Out-of-state applicants must have a 3.4 GPA or above, and never earn less than a C grade. Find more information about the differences between applying as an in-state versus out-of-state student at the  UC admissions office website .

Q: Should international students apply to the UC system?

Answer:  The University of California is a renowned school system and internationally, and having some of the biggest and best research institutions in the world, are a popular choice for thousands of international students. Although just over six percent of  students at all UC schools  are international students, it is still worthwhile for international students to apply.

Get Editing for Your College Admissions Essays

Before submitting your important essay draft to any college or university, it is a good idea to receive proofreading services from a professional essay editor . Wordvice professional editing services include admissions editing services and essay editing services to improve the flow and impact of your application essay, regardless of the school or program to which you are applying. In addition, Wordvice also revises letters of recommendation , and provides cv and resume editing , as well as for all personal essays for admission to schools and professional positions.

Before you seek editing services from an expert admissions editor for a final review, use Wordvice AI’s text editor to instantly improve your writing style and remove any errors. The Free AI Proofreader does an excellent job of fixing all objective errors in the text and can even improve vocabulary and phrasing if you select a more comprehensive editing mode. And the AI Paraphraser can help make your tone and phrasing as strong as possible with just the click of a button.

Good luck to all prospective college and university students writing your UC admissions essays this season! Visit the resources below for many more detailed articles and videos on essay writing and essay editing of academic papers.

Wordvice Admissions Resources

20 Tips for Writing a Strong Grad School Statement of Purpose

5 Tips for Writing an Admissions Essay

How to Write the Common App Essay

Writing a Flawless CV for Graduate School

Graduate School Recommendation Letter Examples

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

Student in orange blouse brainstorming to write the UC essays.

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/21/23

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

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

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

UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding UC Essay Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prompt Three

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

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

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

Prompt Four

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

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

Prompt Five

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

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

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

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

Prompt Seven

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

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

Prompt Eight

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

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

Female student typing essay on laptop

UC Essay Prompts With Examples 

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

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

Prompt One Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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

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

Why This Works

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

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

Prompt Two Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three high school students talking together

Here is how can you answer this prompt:

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

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

Prompt Three Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some tips to help you write this essay:

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

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

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

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

Prompt Four Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use these tips to help you write an impactful essay: 

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

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

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

Here’s another example: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prompt Five Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India flag blowing in wind

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

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

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

Prompt Six Examples

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

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

“Logophile. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these tips when answering the above prompt:

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

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

Here’s another example answering this prompt: 

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

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

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

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

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

Why This Worked 

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

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

Prompt Seven Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black cat walking in grassy field

Here are tips to help you write this essay:

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

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

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

Prompt Eight Example

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

Here’s an example to help you brainstorm:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC Essay Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are the UC Schools Looking For In Your Essays? 

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

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

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

Tips For Writing the UC Application Essays

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

Use “I” Statements

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

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

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

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

Get Feedback

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

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

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

Edit, Edit, Edit

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

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

1. How Do You Write a Good UC Essay?

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

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

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

2. Can UC Essays Be Over 350 Words?

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

3. Do UC Essays Have to Be 250 Words?

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

4. How Many UC Essays Are There?

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

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

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

6. What Do UC Admissions Look for in Essays? 

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

Final Thoughts

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

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Essay Hell

10 Quickie Tips to Nail Your UC Essays

by j9robinson | Nov 5, 2017

uc essays

If you are just starting to write your four short UC essays (called Personal Insight Questions ), here are ten simple tips that can help you crank them out.

I’ve written longer posts on how to brainstorm and map out answers for each of these questions for the University of California application, if you have the time and inclination. Find them here .

Too busy to read all those posts? No worries.

Start with these 10 basic tips to make sure your UC essays hit the mark:

  • Content : Use these essays to share more about your talents, accomplishments and experiences, and explain what they meant to you (eg What you learned about yourself). Pick prompts that allow you to feature what you want to add to your overall application; not simply ones that are easiest to answer. Say you worked as an intern in a science lab; this is your chance to explain what you did and learned. Or that you played classical piano since age six; this is where you can go deeper and share how that shaped you somehow beyond your playing ability.
  • Impact : The best trick to making your essay engaging and meaningful is to include some type of related problem. For example, if you are writing about leadership (#1), look for examples from your past where you tackled some type of problem in a leadership role. (Problems=challenges, mistake, obstacle, setback, conflict, phobia, flaw, obsession, change, etc.) This can work for all eight prompts.
  • Substance : Always include specific examples (moments, incidents or experiences from your life) to support your main points in these UC essays. If you don’t have at least one of these real-life details in each essay, it’s almost a done deal that your essay is far too general and will lack meaning. If possible, start your essay with one of these specific examples to grab your reader at the start; then explain their larger meaning and go from there. (Example: If you are talking about leadership, start with a specific “time” you acted as a leader in a group setting. Then explain what qualities you used, your thoughts about what leadership means to you, and why, and what you learned.)
  • Meaning : In the second half of any of these UC essays you can’t go wrong if you shift from explaining your answer, and supporting it with real-life examples, into explaining WHAT YOUR LEARNED about YOURSELF in the process. This is how you can share something you did, and what you love, or how you are, and also expand into WHAT YOUR LEARNED in the process. If you want to shift even deeper, include a sentence or two on WHY IT MATTERS to you and the world that you learned that lesson.

uc essays

  • Hardship : If you have experienced any type of hardship in your life, such as a major financial setback in your family due to job loss, low income, deportation, mental or physical illness, or other reasons, make sure to use at least one of these prompts to share that with the UCs. The best one (in fact, it’s designed for this purpose) is #4, at least the second half asking about an “educational barrier you have faced.” You can also use #5 about a “significant challenge,” just make sure to include second part about how it affected your academics. The UCs want to know if it has been more difficult for you to achieve your success so far, and why. Also, if you will be a first-gen student (first in your family to attend college), tell them! (You can also use the “Additional Comments” section in the Other Academic History section to share personal obstacles to your success.)
  • Majors : If you know what field you want to study or major in at the UCs, it would be a good idea to use one of these prompts to showcase that, and include what inspired you and why you want to pursue it, and how. (Colleges like to see this.) You could use almost any of the eight UC essays to share your intended field of study or major, or even the general field that interests you at this point. Find the prompts that most naturally allows you to work what you want to say into your related topic.
  • Effort : These prompts can feel overwhelming at first. Read through all eight so you get a sense of the different topics and options. If any of them spark an idea of a related experience or point you want to showcase about yourself, consider writing about that one. At the same time, you can make a list of the experiences, accomplishments, talents or whatever you want to share with the UCs, and then find the prompt that makes it the easiest to write about them.
  • Strategy : When you pick your four prompts for your UC essays, make sure the points you make, or the major experiences you share, don’t overlap. Ideally, you want these to highlight a variety of your experiences, accomplishments and talents, but also your defining qualities and values. Look for variety and balance among the four your write about. Make sure your essays are about YOU, and YOUR experiences, and not general discussions about your topic or others.
  • Style : The UCs have made a huge effort to get out the word that these short essays do not need to be literary masterpieces. Of course, try to know the MAIN POINT you want to make in each one so they have a focus, and support that with specific details and real-life examples. Start with something specific, if possible, and then state the more general main point, and finally, share what you learned. Write in a casual, familiar tone; don’t try to impress with fancy descriptive language or big words; get out a rough draft and then go back and trim under 350 words and proof it for errors. Don’t sweat these!
  • Formatting : When you copy and paste your four Personal Insight Question UC essays into the application, it only accepts plain text. That means any formatting you did will be lost. So, for indicating paragraphs, do not indent and instead break them up with a double space. Instead of italics (which won’t show), use quotation marks to indicate things like titles, foreign words, etc. Bolding also doesn’t show; instead use CAPS, but sparingly.

Extra Tip : If you need to explain anything about your academic performance (such as issues related to your grades or performance), don’t necessarily use these UC essays to explain why. Instead, there are two places to share these explanations in the “Additional Comments” section of the UC application: One is under “Other Academic History” and the other with the “Personal Insight Questions.” (Read how UC Berkeley advises applicants to use the Additional Comments section. )

In general, only use these two sections to explain unusual circumstances that you didn’t address in the four Personal Insight Question essays. Examples : changes in your grade patterns; a move in high school that prevented you from taking higher level courses; medical or psychological issues that affected your performance; financial issues (parental job loss; homelessness; low-income); immigration status issues, such as you are first generation (first in your family to attend college: MENTION THIS!) or deportation of family members; unexplained gaps in educational history, such as gap year or other absence. They are not essays so be direct and succinct; bullets points often work well.

If you want more help on specific Personal Insight Questions and UC essa, check out these 21 Tips for UC Personal Insight Questions that I wrote last year when they first came out. All the info and advice is still relevant and helpful.

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College Application Essays and Admissions Consulting

2023 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC Essay Examples

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

20 UC Essay Examples

Additional UC essay resources:

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

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UC Personal Insight #1 Examples

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12 Great University of California Essay Examples

What’s covered, essay #1: leadership, essay #2: creativity, essay #3: creativity, essay #4: creativity, essay #5: talent, essay #6: talent, essay #7: academic interest, essay #8: academic interest, essay #9: community, essay #10: community, essay #11: community, essay #12: community.

The University of California system is comprised of nine undergraduate universities, and is one of the most prestigious public school systems in the country. The UC schools have their own application system, and students must respond to four of eight personal insight questions in 350 words each. Every UC school you apply to receives the same application and essays, so it’s important that your responses accurately represent your personality and writing abilities. 

In this post, we’ll share some UC essay examples and go over what they did well and where they could improve. We will also point you to free resources you can use to improve your college essays. 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our guide to the UC personal insight questions for more tips on writing strong essays for each of the prompts.

Prompt: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words)

1400 lines of code. 6 weeks. 1 Pizza.

I believe pizza makers are the backbone of society. Without pizza, life as we know it would cease to exist. From a toddler’s birthday party to President Obama’s sporadic campaigning cravings, these 8 slices of pure goodness cleverly seep into every one of our lives; yet, we never talk about it. In a very cheesy way, I find representation in a pizza maker. 

The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough. We had textbooks and worksheets, but viewing printed rhythms and attempting to recognize them in real-time is about as straining as watching someone eat pizza crust-first. Furthermore, online simulators were vastly over-engineered, featuring complex interfaces foreign to high-school students.

Eventually, I realized the only way to pull myself out of the sauce was by creating my own tools. This was also the first year I took a programming course, so I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment by extrapolating knowledge from Computer Science and Physiology to code and share my own Electrocardiogram Simulator. To enhance my program, I went beyond the textbook and classroom by learning directly from Java API – the programmer’s Bible.

The algorithms I wrote not only simulated rhythms in real-time but also actively engaged with the user, allowing my classmates and I to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the curriculum. Little did I know that a small project born out of desperation would eventually become a tool adopted by my teacher to serve hundreds of students in the future.

Like pizza, people will reap the benefits of my app over and over again, and hardly anyone will know its maker. Being a leader doesn’t always mean standing at the front of rallies, giving speeches, and leading organizations. Yes, I have done all three, but this app taught me leaders are also found behind-the-scenes, solving problems in unimaginable ways and fulfilling the hidden, yet crucial niches of the world. 

1400 lines of code, and 6 weeks later, it’s time to order a pizza. 

What the Essay Did Well

This is a great essay because it is both engaging and informative. What exactly does it inform us about? The answer: the personality, work ethic, and achievements of this student (exactly what admissions officers want to hear about).

With regards to personality, the pizza through-line—which notably starts the essay, ends the essay, and carries us through the essay—speaks volumes about this student. They are admittedly “cheesy,” but they appear unabashedly themself. They own their goofiness. That being said, the student’s pizza connections are also fitting and smoothly advance their points—watching someone eat pizza crust-first is straining and pizza is an invention that hardly anyone can identify the maker of. 

While we learn about this student’s fun personality in this essay, we also learn about their work ethic. A student who takes the initiative to solve a problem that no one asked them to solve is the kind of student an admissions officer wants to admit. The phrase “I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment” alone tells us that this student is a curious go-getter.

Lastly, this student tells us about their achievements in the last two paragraphs. Not only did they take the initiative to create this program, but it was also successful. On top of that, it’s notable how this student’s accomplishments as a leader defy the traditional expectations people have for leaders. The student’s ability to demonstrate their untraditional leadership path is an achievement in itself that sets the student apart form other applicants.

What Could Be Improved

This is a strong essay as is, but the one way this student could take it above and beyond would be to tell less and show more. To really highlight the student’s writing ability, the essay should  show the reader all the details it’s currently telling us. For example, these sentences primarily tell the reader what happened: “The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough.” 

Rewriting this sentence to show the reader the student’s impetus for creating their app could look like this: “When my teacher flashed the electrocardiogram on the screen, my once attentive physiology class became a sea of blank stares and furrowed brows.” This sentence still conveys the key details—student’s in the physiology class found electrocardiograms to be the hardest unit of the year—but it does so in a far more descriptive way. Implementing this exercise of rewriting sentences to show what happened throughout the piece would elevate the entire essay.

Prompt: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (350 words)

For the past few years, participating in debate has been one of the foremost expressions of my creativity. Nothing is as electrifying as an Asian parliamentary-style debate. Each team is given only thirty minutes to prepare seven-minute speeches to either support or oppose the assigned motion. Given the immense time pressure, this is where my creativity shines most brightly.

To craft the most impactful and convincing argument, I have to consider the context of the motion, different stakeholders, the goals we want to achieve, the mechanisms to reach those goals, and so much more. I have to frame these arguments effectively and paint a compelling and cohesive world to sway my listeners to my side on both an emotional and logical level. For example, In a debate about the implementation of rice importation in the Philippines, I had to frequently switch between the macro perspective by discussing the broad economic implications of the policy and the micro perspective by painting a picture of the struggles that local rice farmers would experience when forcefully thrust into an increasingly competitive global economy. It’s a tough balancing act.

To add to the challenge, there is an opposing team on the other side of the room hell-bent on disproving everything I say. They generate equally plausible sounding arguments, and my mission is to react on the spot to dispel their viewpoints and build up our team’s case.

When two debate teams, both well-prepared and hungry for victory, face off and try to out-think one another, they clash to form a sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments and rebuttals. They fill up a room with unbelievable energy. After several years of debate, I have developed the capacity to still a room of fury and chaos with nothing but my words and wit.

Debate has been instrumental in shaping me into the person I am today. Because of debate, I have become a quicker and stronger thinker. Lightning quick on my feet, I am ready to thoroughly and passionately defend my beliefs at a moment’s notice.

This prompt is about creativity, though its wording emphasizes how students aren’t required to talk about typically-creative subjects. That said, it might take a bit more work and explanation (even creativity, one could say) to position a logical process as creative. This student’s main strength is the way they convince the reader that debate is creative.

First, they identify how “Asian parliamentary-style debate” differs from other forms of debate, emphasizing how time constraints necessitate the use of creativity. Then, they explain how both the argument’s content (the goals and solutions they outline) and the argument’s composition (the way they frame the argument) must be creatively orchestrated to be convincing. 

To drive home the point that debate is a creative process, this student provides an example of how they structured their argument about rice importation in the Philippines. This essay is successful because, after reading it, an admissions officer has no doubt that this student can combine logic and creativity to think intellectually.

One aspect of this essay that could be improved is the language use. Although there are some creative metaphors like the “sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments”, the essay is lacking the extra oomph and wow-factor that carefully chosen diction provides. In the second paragraph, the student repeats the phrase “I have to” three different times when stronger, more active verbs could have been used.

Essays should always reflect the student’s natural voice and shouldn’t sound like every word came straight out of a thesaurus, but that doesn’t mean they can’t incorporate a bit of colorful language. If this student took the time to go through their essay and ask themself if an overused word could be replaced with a more exciting one, it would make the essay much more interesting to read.

As I open the door to the Makerspace, I am greeted by a sea of cubicle-like machines and I watch eagerly, as one of them completes the final layer of my print.

Much like any scientific experiment, my countless failures in the Makerspace – hours spent designing a print, only to have it disintegrate – were my greatest teachers. I learned, the hard way, what types of shapes and patterns a 3D printer would play nice to. Then, drawing inspiration from the engineering method, I developed a system for myself – start with a solid foundation and add complexity with each iteration – a flourish here, a flying buttress there. 

But it wasn’t until the following summer, vacationing on a beach inundated with plastic, that the “aha” moment struck. In an era where capturing people’s attention in a split-second is everything, what better way to draw awareness to the plastic problem than with quirky 3D-printed products? By the time I had returned home, I had a business case on my hands and a desire to make my impact.

Equipped with vital skills from the advanced math-and-science courses I had taken in sophomore year, I began applying these to my growing business. Using my AP Chemistry analytical laboratory skills, I devised a simple water bath experiment to test the biodegradability claims of 3D-printer filaments from different manufacturers, guaranteeing that my products could serve as both a statement and play their part for our planet. The optimization techniques I had learned in AP Calculus were put to good use, as I determined the most space-efficient packaging for my products, reducing my dependence on unsustainable filler material. Even my designs were tweaked and riffed on to reflect my newfound maturity and keen eye for aesthetics.

My business is still going strong today, raising $1000 to date. I attribute this success to a fateful spark of creative inspiration, which has, and will, continue to inspire me to weave together multiple disciplines to address issues as endemic as the plastic problem. 

This essay begins with a simple, yet highly effective hook. It catches readers’ attention by only giving a hint about the essay’s main topic, and being a standalone paragraph makes it all the more intriguing. 

The next paragraph then begins with a seamless transition that ties back to the Makerspace. The essay goes on to show the writer’s creative side and how it has developed over time. Rather than directly stating “I am most creative when I am working on my business,” the writer tells the story of their creativity while working with 3-D printers and vacationing on the beach. 

It is the “aha” moment that perhaps responds to the prompt best. Here we get to see the writer create a new idea on the spot. The next two paragraphs then show the writer executing on their idea in great detail. Small and specific details, such as applying analytical laboratory skills from AP Chemistry, make the writer’s creativity come to life. 

From start to finish, this essay shows that the key to writing a stellar response to this prompt is to fill your writing with details and vivid imagery. 

The second to last paragraph of this essay focuses a bit too much on how the writer built their business. Though many of these details show the writer’s creativity in action, a few of them could be restated to make the connection to creativity clearer. The last sentences could be rewritten like so: 

Working on my business was where my creativity blossomed. In my workshop, optimization techniques that I learned in AP Calculus became something new — the basis for space-efficient packaging for my products that reduced my dependence on unsustainable filler material…

Profusely sweating after trying on what felt like a thousand different outfits, I collapsed on the floor in exasperation. The heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down in disdain; with ten minutes left to spare before the first day of seventh grade, I let go of my screaming thoughts and settled on the very first outfit I tried on: my favorite.

Donning a neon pink dress, that moment marked the first time I chose expression over fear. Being one of the few Asians in my grade, clothing was my source of disguise. I looked to the bold Stacy London of What Not to Wear for daily inspiration, but, in actuality, I dressed to conceal my uniqueness so I wouldn’t be noticed for my race. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I envied the popular girls who hiked their shorts up just a few inches higher than dress code allowed and flaunted Uggs decorated with plastic jewels, a statement that Stacy London would have viewed as heinous and my mother impractical. 

However, entering school that day and the days after, each compliment I received walking down the hallways slowly but surely broke down the armored shield. Morphing into an outlet to amplify my voice and creativity, dressing up soon became what I looked forward to each morning. I was awarded best dressed the year after that during my middle school graduation, a recognition most would scoff at. But, to me, that flimsy paper certificate was a warm embrace telling me that I was valued for my originality and expression. I was valued for my differences. 

Confidence was what I found and is now an essential accessory to every outfit I wear. Taking inspiration from vintage, simplistic silhouettes and Asian styles, I adorn my body’s canvas with a variety of fabrics and vibrant colors, no longer depriving it of the freedom to self expression and cultural exploration. I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California with opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.

Colorful language and emotion are conveyed powerfully in this essay, which is one of its key strengths. We can see this in the first paragraph, where the writer communicates that they were feeling searing judgment by using a metaphor: “the heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down.” The writer weaves other rich phrases into the essay — for example, “my screaming thoughts” — to show readers their emotions. All of these writing choices are much more moving than plainly stating “I was nervous.”

The essay moves on to tell a story that responds to the prompt in a unique way. While typical responses will be about a very direct example of expressing creativity, e.g. oil painting, this essay has a fittingly creative take on the prompt. The story also allows the writer to avoid a common pitfall — talking more about the means of being creative rather than how those means allow you to express yourself. In other words, make sure to avoid talking about the act of oil painting so much that your essay loses focus on what painting means to you.

The last sentence of the essay is one more part to emulate. “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included…” is a well-crafted, flawlessly succinct metaphor that looks to the future while connecting the end of the essay to its beginning. The metaphors are then juxtaposed with a summary of the essay’s main topic: “intertwine creativity with my identity.” 

This essay’s main areas for improvement are grammatical. What Not to Wear should be italicized, “self-expression” should be hyphenated, and the last sentence could use the following tweaks to make it less of a run-on: “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California. There, I will have opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.”

Since identity is the main topic of this essay, it would also be fitting for the writer to go into more depth about it. The immediate takeaways from the essay are that the writer is Asian and interested in fashion — however, more descriptions could be added to these parts. For example, the writer could replace Asian with Laotian-American and change a sentence in the second to last paragraph to “dressing up in everything from bell bottom jeans to oversized flannel shirts soon became what I looked forward to each morning.”

Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words)

Let’s fast-forward time. Strides were made toward racial equality. Healthcare is accessible to all; however, one issue remains. Our aquatic ecosystems are parched with dead coral from ocean acidification. Climate change has prevailed.

Rewind to the present day.

My activism skills are how I express my concerns for the environment. Whether I play on sandy beaches or rest under forest treetops, nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world. When my body is met by trash in the ocean or my nose is met by harmful pollutants, Earth’s pain becomes my own. 

Substituting coffee grinds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale. I often found performative activism to be ineffective when communicating climate concerns. My days of reposting awareness graphics on social media never filled the ambition I had left to put my activism skills to greater use. I decided to share my ecocentric worldview with a coalition of environmentalists and host a climate change rally outside my high school.

Meetings were scheduled where I informed students about the unseen impact they have on the oceans and local habitual communities. My fingers were cramped from all the constant typing and investigating of micro causes of the Pacific Waste Patch, creating reusable flyers, displaying steps people could take from home in reducing their carbon footprint. I aided my fellow environmentalists in translating these flyers into other languages, repeating this process hourly, for five days, up until rally day. 

It was 7:00 AM. The faces of 100 students were shouting, “The climate is changing, why can’t we?” I proudly walked on the dewy grass, grabbing the microphone, repeating those same words. The rally not only taught me efficient methods of communication but it echoed my environmental activism to the masses. The City of Corona would be the first of many cities to see my activism, as more rallies were planned for various parts of SoCal. My once unfulfilled ambition was fueled by my tangible activism, understanding that it takes more than one person to make an environmental impact.

One of the largest strengths of this response is its speed. From the very beginning, we are invited to “fast-forward” and “rewind” with the writer. Then, after we focus ourselves in the present, this writer keeps their quick pace with sentences like “Substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale.” A common essay-writing blunder is using a predictable structure that loses the attention of the reader, but this unique pacing keeps things interesting.

Another positive of this essay is how their passion for environmental activism shines through. The essay begins by describing the student’s connection to nature (“nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world”), moves into discussing the personal actions they have taken (“substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer”), and then explains the rally the student hosted. While the talent the student is writing about is their ability to inspire others to fight against climate change, establishing the personal affinity towards nature and individual steps they took demonstrate the development of their passion. This makes their talent appear much more significant and unique. 

This essay could be improved by being more specific about what this student’s talent is. There is no sentence that directly states what this student considers to be their talent. Although the essay is still successful at displaying the student’s personality, interests, and ambition, by not explicitly mentioning their talent, they leave it up to the reader’s interpretation.

Depending on how quickly they read the essay or how focused they are, there’s a possibility the reader will miss the key talent the student wanted to convey. Making sure to avoid spoon-feeding the answer to their audience, the student should include a short sentence that lays out what they view as their main talent.

At six, Mama reads me a story for the first time. I listen right up until Peter Pan talks about the stars in the night sky. “What’s the point of stars if they can’t be part of something?” Mama looks at me strangely before closing the book. “Sometimes, looking on is more helpful than actively taking part. Besides, stars listen- like you. You’re a good listener, aren’t you?” I nod. At eleven, my sister confides in me for the first time. She’s always been different, in a way even those ‘mind doctors’ could never understand. I don’t understand either, but I do know that I like my sister. She’s mean to me, but not like people are to her. She tells me how she sees the world, and chokes over her words in a struggle to speak. She trusts me, and that makes me happy. So, I listen. I don’t speak; this isn’t a story where I speak. At sixteen, I find myself involved with an organization that provides education to rural children. Dakshata is the first person I’ve tutored in Hindi. She’s also my favorite. So, when she interrupts me mid-lesson one evening, lips trembling and eyes filling with tears, I decide to put my pen down and listen. I don’t speak; I don’t take part in this story. Later, as I hug the girl, I tell her about the stars and how her mother is among their kind- unable to speak yet forever willing to listen. Dakshata now loves the stars as much as I do. At seventeen, I realize that the first thing that comes to my mind when someone asks me about a skill I possess is my ability to listen. Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but it’s important. When you listen, you see, you need not necessarily understand, but you do comprehend. You empathize on a near-cosmic level with the people around you and learn so much more than you ever thought possible. Everything is a part of something- even the stars with their ears.

The essay as a whole is an excellent example of narrative-based writing. The narrative begins with a captivating hook. The first sentence catches the reader by surprise, since it does not directly respond to the prompt by naming the writer’s greatest talent or skill. Instead, it tells a childhood story which does not seem to be related to a skill at first. This creates intrigue, and the second sentence adds to it by introducing a conflict. It causes readers to wonder why Peter Pan’s stargazing would make a six year old stop listening — hooked into the story, they continue reading.

The writer continues to create a moving narrative by using dialogue. Dialogue allows the writer to show rather than tell , which is a highly effective way to make an essay convey emotion and keep readers’ attention. The writer also shows their story by using language such as “mind doctors” instead of “psychologists” — this immerses readers in the author’s perspective as an 11 year old at the time. 

Two motifs, or recurring themes, tie the essay together: listening and looking at the stars. The last paragraph powerfully concludes the essay by explaining these themes and circling back to the introduction.

Crafting transitions is one area where this essay could be improved. The paragraph after “I nod” begins abruptly, and without any sentence to connect the writer’s dialogue at age six with her experiences at age 11. One way to make the transition smoother would be to begin the paragraph after “I nod” with “I try to be a good listener again at eleven, when my sister confides in me for the first time.”

This essay would also be more impactful if the writer explained what they aspire to do with their ability to listen in the future. While it is most important for your essay to explain how your past experiences have made you who you are in the present, looking towards the future allows admissions readers to imagine the impact you might make after graduation. The writer could do this in the last paragraph of their essay by writing the following: “Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but I find it important — especially as an aspiring social worker.”

Prompt: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)

I distinctly remember the smile on Perela’s face when she found out her mother would be nursed back to health. I first met Perela and her mother at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in San Bernardino where I volunteered as a Spanish translator. I was in awe of the deep understanding of biology that the medical team employed to discover solutions. Despite having no medical qualifications of my own, I realized that by exercising my abilities to communicate and empathize, I could serve as a source of comfort and encouragement for Perela and her mother. The opportunity to combine my scientific curiosity and passion for caring for people cultivated my interest in a career as a physician.

To further explore this interest, I attended a summer medical program at Georgetown University. I participated in lectures on circulation through the heart, practiced stitches on a chicken leg, and assisted in giving CPR to a dummy in the patient simulation laboratory. Every fact about the human body I learned brought with it ten new questions for me to research. I consistently stayed after each lecture to gain insight about how cells, tissues, and organs all work together to carry out immensely complicated functions. The next year, in my AP Biology class, I was further amazed with the interconnected biological systems as I learned about the relationships between the human body and ecosystems. I discussed with my teacher how environmental changes will impact human health and how we must broaden our perspectives to use medicine to tackle these issues.

By integrating environmental and medical science, we can develop effective solutions to reduce the adverse effects of environmental degradation that Perela’s mother may have faced unintentionally. I want to go into the medical field so I can employ a long-term approach to combat biology’s hidden anomalies with a holistic viewpoint. I look forward to utilizing my undergraduate classes and extracurriculars to prepare for medical school so I can fight for both health care and environmental protection.

This student primarily answers the prompt in their middle paragraph as they describe their experience at a summer medical program as well as their science coursework in high school. This content shows their academic curiosity and rigor, yet the best part of the essay isn’t the student’s response to the prompt. The best part of this essay is the way the student positions their interest in medicine as authentic and unique.

The student appears authentic when they admit that they haven’t always been interested in medical school. Many applicants have wanted to be doctors their whole life, but this student is different. They were just in a medical office to translate and help, then got hooked on the profession and took that interest to the next level by signing up for a summer program.

Additionally, this student positions themself as unique as they describe the specifics of their interest in medicine, emphasizing their concern with the ways medicine and the environment interact. This is also refreshing!

Of course, you should always answer the prompt, but it’s important to remember that you can make room within most prompts to say what you want and show off unique aspects of yourself—just as this student did.

One thing this student should be careful of is namedropping Georgetown for the sake of it. There is no problem in discussing a summer program they attended that furthered their interest in medicine, but there is a problem when the experience is used to build prestige. Admissions officers already know that this student attended a summer program at Georgetown because it’s on their application. The purpose of the essay is to show  why attending the program was a formative moment in their interest.

The essay gets at the  why a bit when it discusses staying after class to learn more about specific topics, but the student could have gone further in depth. Rather than explaining the things the student did during the program, like stitching chicken legs and practicing CPR, they should have continued the emotional reflection from the first paragraph by describing what they thought and felt when they got hands-on medical experience during the program. 

Save describing prestigious accomplishments for your extracurriculars and resume; your essay is meant to demonstrate what made you you.

I love spreadsheets.

It’s weird, I know. But there’s something endlessly fascinating about taking a bunch of raw numbers, whipping and whacking them into different shapes and forms with formulas and equations to reveal hidden truths about the universe. The way I like to think about it is that the universe has an innate burning desire to tell us its stories. The only issue is its inability to talk with us directly. Most human stories are written in simple words and letters, but the tales of the universe are encrypted in numbers and relationships, which require greater effort to decode to even achieve basic comprehension. After all, it took Newton countless experimentation to discover the love story between mass and gravitation.

In middle school, whenever I opened a spreadsheet, I felt like I was part of this big journey towards understanding the universe. It took me a couple of years, but I eventually found out that my interest had a name: Data Science. With this knowledge, I began to read extensively about the field and took online courses in my spare time. I found out that the spreadsheets I had been using was just the tip of the iceberg. As I gained more experience, I started using more powerful tools like R (a statistical programming language) which allowed me to use sophisticated methods like linear regressions and decision trees. It opened my eyes to new ways to understand reality and changed the way I approached the world.

The thing I love most about data science is its versatility. It doesn’t matter if the data at hand is about the airflow on an owl’s wing or the living conditions of communities most crippled by poverty. I am able to utilize data science to dissect and analyze issues in any field. Each new method of analysis yields different stories, with distinct actors, settings, and plots. I’m an avid reader of the stories of the universe, and one day I will help the world by letting the universe write its own narrative.

This is an essay that draws the reader in. The student’s candid nature and openness truly allows us to understand why they are fascinated with spreadsheets themself, which in turn makes the reader appreciate the meaning of this interest in the student’s life. 

First, the student engages readers with their conversational tone, beginning “I love spreadsheets. It’s weird, I know,” followed shortly after by the phrase “whipping and whacking.” Then, they introduce their idea to us, explaining how the universe is trying to tell us something through numbers and saying that Newton discovered “the love story between mass and gravitation,” and we find ourselves clearly following along. They put us right there with them, on their team, also trying to discover the secrets of the universe. It is this bond between the student and the reader that makes the essay so engaging and worth reading.

Because the essay is focused on the big picture, the reader gets a sense of the wide-eyed wonderment this student experiences when they handle and analyze data. The student takes us on the “big journey towards understanding the universe” through the lens of Data Science. Explaining both the tools the student has used, like R and statistical regression, and the ideas the student has explored, like owl’s wings and poverty, demonstrates how this student fits into the micro and macro levels of Data Science. The reader gets a complete picture of how this student could change the world through this essay—something admissions officers always want to see.

The biggest thing that would improve this essay is an anecdote. As it’s written, the essay looks at Data Science from a more theoretical or aspirational perspective. The student explains all that Data Science can enable, but besides for explaining that they started coding with spreadsheets and R, they provide very little personal experience working with Data Science. This is where an anecdote would elevate the essay.

Adding a story about the first data set they examined or an independent project they undertook as a hobby would have elicited more emotion and allowed for the student to showcase their accomplishments and way of thinking. For example, they could delve into the feeling of enlightenment that came from first discovering a pattern in the universe. Or maybe they could describe how analyzing data was the catalyst that led them to reach out to local businesses to help them improve their revenue. 

If you have an impactful and enduring interest, such as this student does, you will have at least one anecdote you could include in your essay. You’ll find that essays with anecdotes are able to work in more emotional reflection that make the essay more memorable and the student more likable.

Prompt: What have you done to make your community a better place? (350 words)

Blinking sweat from my eyes, I raised my chin up to the pullup bar one last time before dropping down, my muscles trembling. But despite my physical exhaustion at the end of the workout, mentally, I felt reinvigorated and stronger than ever.

Minutes later, I sat at my computer, chatting with my friends about our first week in quarantine. After listening to numerous stories concerning boredom and loneliness, it struck me that I could use my passion for fitness to help my friends—I jumped at the chance to do so. 

After scouring the internet for the most effective exercises and fitness techniques, I began hosting Zoom workouts, leading friends, family, and anyone else who wanted to join in several fun exercises each week. I hoped these meetings would uplift anyone struggling during quarantine, whether from loneliness, uncertainty, or loss of routine. I created weekly workout plans, integrating cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises into each. Using what I learned from skating, I incorporated off-ice training exercises into the plans and added stretching routines to each session. 

Although many members were worried that they wouldn’t be able to complete exercises as well as others and hesitated to turn their cameras on, I encouraged them to show themselves on screen, knowing we’d only support one another. After all, the “face-to-face” interactions we had while exercising were what distinguished our workouts from others online; and I hoped that they would lead us to grow closer as a community. 

As we progressed, I saw a new-found eagerness in members to show themselves on camera, enjoying the support of others. Seeing how far we had all come was immensely inspiring: I watched people who couldn’t make it through one circuit finish a whole workout and ask for more; instead of staying silent during meetings, they continually asked for tips and corrections.

Despite the limitations placed on our interactions by computer screens, we found comfort in our collective efforts, the camaraderie between us growing with every workout. For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.

This essay accomplishes three main goals: it tells a story of how this student took initiative, it explores the student’s values, and it demonstrates their emotional maturity. We really get a sense of how this student improved their community while also gaining a large amount of insight into what type of person this student is.

With regards to initiative, this student writes about a need they saw in their community and the steps they took to satisfy that need. They describe the extensive thought that went into their decisions as they outline the planning of their classes and their unique decision to incorporate skating techniques in at-home workouts.

Additionally, they explore their values, including human connection. The importance of connection to this student is obvious throughout the essay as they write about their desire “to grow closer as a community.” It is particularly apparent with their final summarizing sentence: “For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.”

Lastly, this student positions themself as thoughtful when they recognize the way that embarrassment can get in the way of forming community. They do this through the specific example of feeling embarrassment when turning on one’s camera during a video call—a commonly-felt feeling. This ability to recognize fear of embarrassment as an obstacle to camaraderie shows maturity on the part of this applicant. 

This essay already has really descriptive content, a strong story, and a complete answer to the prompt, however there is room for every essay to improve. In this case, the student could have worked more descriptive word choice and figurative language into their essay to make it more engaging and impressive. You want your college essay to showcase your writing abilities as best as possible, while still sounding like you.

One literary device that would have been useful in this essay is a conceit or an extended metaphor . Essays that utilize conceits tend to begin with a metaphor, allude to the metaphor during the body of the paragraph, and end by circling back to the original metaphor. All together, it makes for a cohesive essay that is easy to follow and gives the reader a satisfying opening and conclusion to the essay.

The idea at the heart of this essay—working out to strengthen a community—would make for a great conceit. By changing the anecdote at the beginning to maybe reflect the lack of strength the student felt when working out alone and sprinkling in words and phrases that allude to strength and exercise during the essay, the last sentence (“For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times”) would feel like a fulfilling end to the conceit rather than just a clever metaphor thrown in. 

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words)

The scent of eucalyptus caressed my nose in a gentle breeze. Spring had arrived. Senior class activities were here. As a sophomore, I noticed a difference between athletic and academic seniors at my high school; one received recognition while the other received silence. I wanted to create an event celebrating students academically-committed to four-years, community colleges, trades schools, and military programs. This event was Academic Signing Day.

The leadership label, “Events Coordinator,” felt heavy on my introverted mind. I usually was setting up for rallies and spirit weeks, being overlooked around the exuberant nature of my peers. 

I knew a change of mind was needed; I designed flyers, painted posters, presented powerpoints, created student-led committees, and practiced countless hours for my introductory speech. Each committee would play a vital role on event day: one dedicated to refreshments, another to technology, and one for decorations. The fourth-month planning was a laborious joy, but I was still fearful of being in the spotlight. Being acknowledged by hundreds of people was new to me. 

The day was here. Parents filled the stands of the multi-purpose room. The atmosphere was tense; I could feel the angst building in my throat, worried about the impression I would leave. Applause followed each of the 400 students as they walked to their college table, indicating my time to speak. 

I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets; instead, smiles lit up the stands, realizing my voice shone through my actions. I was finally coming out of my shell. The floor was met by confetti as I was met by the sincerity of staff, students, and parents, solidifying the event for years to come. 

Academic students were no longer overshadowed. Their accomplishments were equally recognized to their athletic counterparts. The school culture of athletics over academics was no longer imbalanced. Now, everytime I smell eucalyptus, it is a friendly reminder that on Academic Signing Day, not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.

This is a good essay because it describes the contribution the student made to their community and the impact that experience had on shaping their personality. Admissions officers get to see what this student is capable of and how they have grown, which is important to demonstrate in your essays. Throughout the essay there is a nice balance between focusing on planning the event and the emotions it elicited from this student, which is summed up in the last sentence: “not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.”

With prompts like this one (which is essentially a Community Service Essay ) students sometimes take very small contributions to their community and stretch them—oftentimes in a very obvious way. Here, the reader can see the importance of Academic Signing Day to the community and the student, making it feel like a genuine and enjoyable experience for all involved. Including details like the four months of planning the student oversaw, the specific committees they delegated tasks to, and the hundreds of students and parents that attended highlights the skills this student possesses to plan and execute such a large event.

Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student’s emotions are intertwined throughout the essay. We see this student go from being a shy figure in the background to the confident architect of a celebrated community event, all due to their motivation to create Academic Signing Day. The student consistently shows throughout the essay, instead of telling us what happened. One example is when they convey their trepidation to public speaking in this sentence: “I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets.”

Employing detailed descriptions of feelings, emotions, fears, and body language all contribute to an essay that reveals so much in subtle ways. Without having to be explicitly told, the reader learns the student is ambitious, organized, a leader, and someone who deeply values academic recognition when they read this essay.

While this essay has many positives, there are a couple of things the student could work on. The first is to pay more attention to grammar. There was one obvious typo where the student wrote “the fourth-month planning was a laborious joy”, but there were also many sentences that felt clunky and disjointed. Each and every essay you submit should put your best foot forward and impress admissions officers with your writing ability, but typos immediately diminish your credibility as a writer and sincerity as an applicant.

It’s important to read through your essay multiple times and consider your specific word choice—does each word serve a purpose, could a sentence be rewritten to be less wordy, etc? However, it’s also important you have at least one other person edit your essay. Had this student given their essay to a fresh set of eyes they might have caught the typo and other areas in need of improvement.

Additionally, this student began and ended the essay with the smell of eucalyptus. Although this makes for an intriguing hook, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual point of the essay. It’s great to start your essay with an evocative anecdote or figurative language, but it needs to relate to your topic. Rather than wasting words on eucalyptus, a much stronger hook could have been the student nervously walking up to the stage with clammy hands and a lump in their throat. Beginning the essay with a descriptive sentence that puts us directly into the story with the student would draw the reader in and get them excited about the topic at hand.

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or community a better place? (350 words) 

“I wish my parents understood.” Sitting at the lunch table, I listened as my friends aired out every detail of their life that they were too afraid to share with their parents. Sexuality, relationships, dreams; the options were limitless. While I enjoyed playing therapist every 7th period, a nagging sensation that perhaps their parents should understand manifested in me. Yet, my proposal was always met with rolling eyes; “I wish they understood” began every conversation, but nothing was being done beyond wishing on both sides. 

I wanted to help not just my friends but the countless other stories I was told of severed relationships and hidden secrets. Ultimately, my quest for change led me to BFB, a local nonprofit. Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I devised and implemented a plan for opening up the conversation between students and parents with the team I led. We successfully hosted relationship seminars with guest speakers specializing on a range of topics, from inclusive education to parental pressure, and were invited to speak for BFB at various external events with local government by the end of my junior year. Collaborating with mental health organizations and receiving over $1,000 in funding from international companies facilitated our message to spread throughout the community and eventually awarded us with an opportunity to tackle a research project studying mental health among teens during the pandemic with professors from the University at Buffalo and UC Los Angeles. 

While these endeavors collectively facilitated my team to win the competition, the most rewarding part of it all was receiving positive feedback from my community and close friends. “I wish my parents understood” morphed into “I’m glad they tried to understand”. I now lead a separate program under BFB inspired by my previous endeavors, advancing its message even further and leaving a legacy of change and initiative for future high schoolers in the program. As I leave for college, I hope to continue this work at the University of California and foster a diverse community that embraces understanding and growth across cultures and generations.

The essay begins with a strong, human-centered story that paints a picture of what the writer’s community looks like. The first sentence acts as a hook by leaving readers with questions — whose parents are being discussed, and what don’t they understand? With their curiosity now piqued, readers become intrigued enough to move on to the next sentences. The last sentence of the first paragraph and beginning of the second relate to the same topic of stories from friends, making for a highly effective transition.

The writer then does a great job of describing their community impact in specific detail, which is crucial for this prompt. Rather than using vague and overly generalized language, the writer highlights their role in BFB with strong action verbs like “devised” and “implemented.” They also communicate the full scope of their impact with quantifiable metrics like “$1,000 in funding,” all while maintaining a flowing narrative style.

The essay ends by circling back to the reason why the writer got involved in improving their community through BFB, which makes the essay more cohesive and moving. The last sentences connect their current experiences improving community with their future aspirations to do so, both in the wider world and at a UC school. This forward-looking part allows admissions officers to get a sense of what the writer might accomplish as a UC alum/alumna, and is certainly something to emulate.

This essay’s biggest weakness is its organization. Since the second paragraph contains lots of dense information about the writer’s role in BFB, it would benefit from a few sentences that tie it back to the narrative in the first paragraph. For instance, the third sentence of the paragraph could be changed like so: “Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I led my team through devising and implementing a plan to foster student-parent conversations — the ones that my 7th period friends were in need of.”

The last paragraph also has the potential to be reorganized. The sentence with the “I wish my parents understood” quote would be more powerful at the end of the paragraph rather than in the middle. With a short transition added to the beginning, the new conclusion would look like so: “ Through it all, I hope to help ‘I wish my parents understood’ morph into ‘I’m glad they tried to understand’ for my 7th period friends and many more.” 

I drop my toothbrush in the sink as I hear a scream. Rushing outside, I find my mom’s hand painfully wedged in the gap between our outward-opening veranda doors. I quickly open it, freeing her hand as she gasps in relief. 

As she ices her hand, I regard the door like I would a trivia question or math problem – getting to know the facts before I start working on a solution. I find that, surprisingly, there is not a single protrusion to open the door from the outside! 

Perhaps it was the fact that my mom couldn’t drive or that my dad worked long hours, but the crafts store was off-limits; I’ve always ended up having to get resourceful and creative with whatever materials happened to be on hand in order to complete my impromptu STEM projects or garage builds. Used plastic bottles of various shapes and sizes became buildings for a model of a futuristic city. Cylindrical capacitors from an old computer, a few inches in height, became scale-size storage tanks. 

Inspired by these inventive work-arounds and spurred on by my mom’s plight, I procure a Command Strip, a roll of tennis racket grip, and, of course, duct tape. I fashion a rudimentary but effective solution: a pull handle, ensuring she would never find herself stuck again.

A desire to instill others in my community with this same sense of resourcefulness led me to co-found “Repair Workshops” at my school – sessions where we teach students to fix broken objects rather than disposing of them. My hope is that participants will walk away with a renewed sense of purpose to identify problems faced by members of their community (whether that’s their neighbor next door or the planet as a whole) and apply their newfound engineering skills towards solutions.

As I look towards a degree and career in engineering and business, these connections will serve as my grounding point: my reminder that in disciplines growing increasingly quantitative, sometimes the best startup ideas or engineering solutions originate from a desire to to better the lives of people around me.

This essay is a good example of telling a story with an authentic voice. With its down-to-earth tone and short, punchy paragraphs, it stands out as a piece of writing that only the author could have written. That is an effective way for you to write any of your college essays as well.

After readers are hooked by the mention of screaming in the first sentence, the writer immerses the readers in their thinking. This makes the essay flow very naturally — rather than a first paragraph of narrative followed by an unrelated description of STEM projects, the whole essay is a cohesive story that shows how the writer came to improve their community. 

Their take on community also makes the essay stand out. While many responses to this prompt will focus on an amorphous, big-picture concept of community, such as school or humanity, this essay is about a community that the writer has a close connection to — their family. Family is also not the large group of people that most applicants would first attach to the word “community,” but writing about it here is a creative take on the prompt. Though explaining community impact is most important, choosing the most unique community you are a part of is a great way to make your essay stand out.

This essay’s main weakness is that the paragraph about Repair Workshops does not go into enough detail about community impact. The writer should highlight more specific examples of leadership here, since it would allow them to demonstrate how they hope to impact many more communities besides their family. 

After the sentence ending with “fix broken objects rather than disposing of them,” a new part could be added that shows how the writer taught students. For example, the writer could tell the story of how “tin cans became compost bins” as they explained the importance of making the world a better place. 

Then, at the end of the paragraph, the writer could more concretely explain the visions they have to expand the impact of Repair Workshops. A good concluding sentence could start with “I too hope to use engineering skills and resourcefulness to…” Adding this extra context would also make the paragraph transition better to the final paragraph of the essay, which somewhat abruptly begins by mentioning the writer’s previously unmentioned career interests in engineering and business.

Where to Get Feedback on Your UC Essays

Want feedback like this on your University of California essays before you submit? We offer 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. In fact, Alexander Oddo , an essay expert on CollegeVine, provided commentary on several of the essays in this post.

Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Advisors on CollegeVine also offer expert college counseling packages . You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.

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17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

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University of California School System Application Requirements:

Click here for the Freshman Version

Click here for the Transfer Version

Important note: The University of California admissions people would like you to refer to these prompts as “personal insight questions” instead of “essays” or "UC personal statement.” Why? Because sometimes, students link the word “essay” with an academic assignment, which is not precisely what UCs want. 

The University of California school system includes ten universities across the state. The UC system have their unique ways of doing things —they have a separate application and a separate list of essays to write. 

Below there is a compilation of some of the best UC essay examples/UC personal statement examples. 

Check out some of our articles that might help you;

How to Write a Good Personal Statement for College With Examples

Top Personal Statement Example for College

How To Write Effective Common Essay 2021 (With Examples)

The UC Essay Prompts 

Check out 8 UC essay prompts from UC prompts website .

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

Points to remember to draft a winning UC example?

1. Never forget to connect your personal insight questions to 13 points of a comprehensive review.

How do I know you should do this? The UC directors have openly said that the questions correlate directly to the review points. So as you’re trying to decide your four topics, ask yourself: How will this help me on the 13 points of comprehensive review? 

( Important Tip : Your essay question responses could connect to several of the 13 points.)

2. Use several resources the UCs have provided For good contextual advice, click here. For basic writing advice, click here .

3. Know that it’s perfectly fine to answer your personal insight questions in a direct, straightforward way.

How do I know? Because at a conference recently, one of the UC directors said publicly, “It’s perfectly fine to answer the questions in a direct, straightforward way.” And the other UC directors approved. 

Also, one director said it’s fine to just write bullet points in your response. ( A high school counselor raised her hand and asked, “Really? Bullet points? Like, really really?” and the UC Director was like, “Yes.”)  

It’s totally your personal choice to provide bullet points? It may feel a little uncanny. But remember that at least a few of the UC directors have said it’s okay.

4. Write your essay in a way that a UC reader could glide your responses to the personal insight questions and get your main points.

Why? Because the reader will spend around six to eight minutes on your application. Not on each essay, but on your whole application.

I just want to point out that it’s perfectly fine--and smart--to get straight to the point. 

5. If you’re applying to private schools through the Common App, it can be beneficial to write an essay that’s wise, well-crafted, and shows your core values. 

So, why take the time to write a stand-out essay?

There is a chance you might use your UC Personal Insight Question essay for other schools. Because many selective schools require supplemental essays (i.e: essays you write in addition to your main, 650-word Common App personal statement), a good idea is you can write an essay that works for both the UCs and other private schools 

Michigan Supplement: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (250-word limit).

UC Personal Insight Question 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words).

It is one of the great essays and also one of my favorites, an intelligent move. The author answered both prompts at once, you get deeper with the answer for both. It also saves you a lot of time. 

The good news is you can do this for multiple prompts.

For more insights check out how to answer the UC essays in this guide. 

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 1: Leadership Experience 

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

1 UC Example Essay 

“Capitalism causes extinction! nuclear war is imminent!”

Initially, the debate seemed nonsensical: lambasting opponents while arguing improbable scenarios. But over time I’ve learned that it’s more than the competition that drives me to stay up all night looking for evidence: I love learning about the political and ideological underpinnings of our society and the way they shape us.

On an easy debate tournament weekend, I research foreign diplomatic agendas and synthesize the information into coherent debate evidence. When tournaments become more hectic, however, I delve deeper into the works of philosophers and social critics and translate the knowledge into debate argumentation. While researching foreign policy, a critical theory like Heideggerian phenomenology, and constitutional details, I’ve developed an ability to critically analyze argumentation, make sense of the world around me and creatively express myself in an academic setting.

My hard work has paid off. In the past four tournaments, I’ve received a Top 10 speaker award for the varsity division consisting of about 50 debaters. This trend has increased my credibility in my debate league to such a level that my partner and I were invited to participate in a series of public debates at LA City Hall to defend the water policy for the drought. The opportunity allowed me to actually impact the public’s awareness and accept a larger responsibility in the workings of my community.

More importantly, however, the debate has taught me to strategically choose my battles. When I prepare my arguments, I know that I can’t use all of them at the end of a round. I have to focus. I’ve learned to maximize my strengths and not try to conquer everything. Moreover, I’ve learned to be responsible with my choices. A wrong argument can mean losing if we can’t defend ourselves well. Not only do I now know how to zoom in from a bigger picture, but I also know how to pick the right place to zoom in to so I can achieve my goal.

The debate has turned me into a responsible optimizing, scrutinizing, and strategizing orator.

2 UC Example Essay 

I was part of making silent history at our school this past year. As a part of the Community Outreach Committee of Leadership Class, I contacted the local Food Bank and together with the help of the student body, donated over 600 pounds of canned food for Thanksgiving. Noticing a bulk of unused VHS tapes in our school’s basement, I did some research and discovered that discarding these is harmful to the environment. I found an organization that employs people with disabilities to recycle these tapes, and soon our school shipped over 400 VHS tapes to their warehouse in Missouri. We received overwhelming gratification from them as no other school, even in their own community, had done something like that. Watching a small grassroots initiative in our community benefits people I was unlikely to ever meet made me feel connected to the world at large and showed me the power of putting actions to your words.

As a member of Leadership, I have also spent countless hours preparing for and facilitating New Student Orientation, Homecoming, and Grad Night, among many other programs. Seeing a gap in our care of the student body, I also expanded the New Student Launches Program to include not just freshmen, but all new transfers, regardless of grade level.

Leadership is my own personal critic. It forces me to constantly weigh the pros and cons of how I carry myself, how I speak, and how I listen at every single event we put on for the student body. It has taught me to look objectively and weigh the wants and needs of every student. It has shown me the importance of listening, not just hearing.

Leadership is the ability to make each student a part of something so much bigger than themselves. It holds me accountable and keeps me engaged with my fellow humans even when I’m exhausted. It has allowed me to leave a legacy of purpose. Through vulnerability in times of stress and joy in times of celebration, grooming myself into a better leader has also made me a better student, friend, and daughter.

Check out this video to get a more clear idea THE ESSAYS THAT GOT ME INTO ALL OF THE UCs + Tips on how to choose prompts & approach them | 2020

3 UC Example Essay 

I am twenty years old and I already have kids. Well, 30 actually, and they’re all around my age, some even older.

After a brief few months of training, I was posted to Officer Cadet School as an instructor.  It was my job to shape and mold them; I was ready to attempt everything I’d learned about being a leader and serve my new cadets to the best of my abilities.  I trained my cadets by encouraging teamwork and learning, trying to somehow make the harsh military training fun. I became very close to them in the process.

Leadership was enjoyable until I discovered one of my cadets had cheated on a test. In the military, cheating is resolved with an immediate trip to the detention barracks. Considered worse than jail, the record leaves a permanent mark. If I pressed charges, that’s where my cadet would end up.

My heart sank.  He was also my friend.

After much deliberation, I decided there was only one resolution. I could not, with good conscience, let this go.  It would set precedence for the rest of my cadets. It was painful and brought a few tears, but I could not show any wavering or doubt, at least not in front of them. I charged him, and he went to the detention barracks and eventually was discharged.  The acceptance I had felt from my cadets was replaced with fear.

I found leadership is not all about making friends and having others listen to orders. The rest of my platoon learned, and didn’t repeat the mistake.  While I was never again “one of the guys,” I found pride in the growth of my team. A few weeks later I ran into my old cadet. Despite his hardship, he acknowledged his responsibility and the experience had motivated him as he struggled to recreate his life.

4 UC Example Essay

As president of the Robotics Club, I find building robots and creatively solving technical problems to be easy tasks. What’s difficult and brings more meaning to my work is steering the club itself.

After three years of battling the geeky-male stereotype our club was labeled with, I evolved our small club of 5 techies into a thriving interdisciplinary hub of 80 distinct personalities. Because our club lacks a professional instructor, I not only teach members about STEM-related jargon that I learned from hundreds of Google searches but also encourage constructive debates ranging from topics like Proportional-Integral-Derivative Error Correction Algorithm to how someone should fix her mom’s vacuum cleaner. In this way, I provide beginners with an atmosphere that reflects my own mentality: proactive listening without moralization or judgment.

I also like sharing insights outside the club. In my mathematics class, for example, I sometimes incite intense discussions during lectures on abstruse topics like vectors or calculus by offering examples from my experiences in the lab. In this manner, I not only become an integral part of the intellectual vitality of STEM-related classes at school, but also show people with all kinds of interests and backgrounds how to employ technical intuition when solving problems and, in some cases, I even inspire students to join the Robotics Club.

As an introverted leader, I try to listen first and use my soft-spoken attentiveness to invite dialogue that improves team chemistry. With this ability, I have learned to control the momentum of official debates and basketball matches. Thus, whether my team wins or loses, the external pressure of either suffering a setback or enjoying an achievement rarely affects my team's composure, which helps us maintain our consistency and resolve.

As I visualize myself building projects with a group of coders in the future, I believe that my discreteness, experience in robotics, practical tenacity, and absolute love for innovating technology will be vital for all my endeavors.

UC Personal Insight Question, Prompt 2: Creative Side

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

5 UC Example Essay

Some people speak Chinese, others Spanish; I speak HTML. Language is intricately beautiful, with sentences flowing all within grammar constraints creating a masterpiece bound by rules. If poetry in English can be considered art, so too can programming. Just as every sentence in English has a meaning and purpose, every line of code invokes a function.

Instead of communicating with people, coding is essentially having a conversation with computers, directing them onto what is desired. Unlike people, however, computers don’t have imagination, and therefore require users to be precise in every word and sentence they depict. Just as an artist expresses imagination with a pen, a programmer uses a keyboard.

Aside from being just a program, websites bring people closer together. Because Singapore is incredibly small, in order for my school to challenge its athletes, we have to go overseas to play against other schools. Forming a league called IASAS, schools visit each other and compete. The only issue with this is how expensive it is to travel, resulting in the teams flying without family or friends.  Competitors often feel alone and unwelcome in a foreign school.

A website was the perfect solution for this: after much planning and deliberation, I formed a team to make a site where parents and friends could encourage their athletes! We started by brainstorming how to avoid cluttering the website and how best to keep it simple whilst connecting people together. Using flowcharts and diagrams, I used design principles to make it visually pleasing whilst maintaining structure and foundation. Focusing on supporting the athletes, guests were able to leave comments, get live scoring, and videos of the games.

The site allows parents and friends to encourage their students during some of the most significant tournaments of their high school careers. Creativity serves many functions, and mine intends to bring people closer together.

6 UC Example Essay 

Decorum, delegates.

As the preceding caucus wraps up, young delegates dressed in their most chic outfits (hey, it's not called MODEL United Nations for nothing) scurry to get one more signatory to support their resolution.

For my first conference, I signed up to represent Russia in the General Assembly. Being the naive yet ambitious freshman that I was, I thought it a great honor to represent one of the Permanent Five. According to feedback from my chair, I was overly democratic and too accommodating (and with due cause, I sponsored a resolution with Ukraine), to an extent that it hurt my performance.

Three months later, I accepted the Distinguished Delegate Award in ECOSOC for The Bahamas, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). I broke away from the connotation of another tourist destination to voice some of this country's biggest challenges as well as successes, particularly towards climate change.

I had not blatantly followed the 'power delegate', but stood my ground and made a powerful coalition with numerous other SIDS to become a resolution bloc, embodying the primary value my mentor, Senator Steve Glazer, impressed upon us as interns: "Represent the people of your district, not political parties or special interests".

Creativity is finding the peripheral introverted delegates and persuading them to add numbers to your cause. Creativity is navigating around the complexities of a capitalistic society designed to benefit only the top percentile in industrialized countries. Creativity is diplomacy, an art of itself. The ability to build bridges and forge new alliances in the wake of greed and power (believe me, the high school MUN circuit is equally, if not more, cutthroat than the real political arena) is a skill needed for the ever-complicated future.

MUN has taught me the practice of rhetoric and the relevance of ethos, pathos, and logos. I have learned to listen to opposing viewpoints, a rare skill in my primarily liberal high school.

I see MUN as a theatre production, where success is determined by how well you, in essence, become and portray your country to an audience of the world i.e., the United Nations.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 3: Greatest Talent or Skill

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

7 UC Essay Example: “The Art Girl”  

With a blackened Q-tip, I gave him eyelids and pupils and smoothed the rough edges of his face. I used an eraser to shave down the sharpness of his jaw and add highlights to his skin. After scrutinizing the proportions, I smiled at the finished pencil portrait. Kim Jong-dae was now ready to be wrapped as the perfect present for my friend.

Aside from Korean pop singers, I’ve drawn a variety of other characters. From the gritty roughness of Marvel comics to the soft, cuteness of Sanrio animals, I’ve drawn them all as a creative touch to top off birthday presents. It’s simply the way I choose to express myself when words cannot suffice.

But being an artist comes with its own social expectations. At school, it’s made me the “art girl” who is expected to design the banners and posters. At home, it’s prompted long distant relatives -- regardless of how much I actually know them -- to ask me to draw their portraits. In addition, whenever my parents invite coworkers to my house, I’ve had to deal with the embarrassment of showing my whole portfolio to complete strangers.

On the bright side, being an artist has taught me to take risks and experiment with new techniques and media. It’s taught me to draw meaning and intent with minimal words and text. It’s taught me to organize and focus, by simplifying subjects and filtering out the insignificant details.

Most of all, art has made me a more empathetic human. In drawing a person, I live in their shoes for a moment and try to understand them. I take note of the little idiosyncrasies. I let the details--a hijab, a piercing on a nose, a scar on the chin--tell me their personality, their thoughts, their worldview. I recognize the shared features that make us human and appreciate the differences in culture and values that make us unique. And it’s from this that I am able to embrace the diversity and complexity of people beyond a superficial surface and approach the world with an open heart and an open mind. (347)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 4: Significant Opportunity or Barrier

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

UC Essay Example 

Freshman year, I fell in love with the smell of formaldehyde for its promise of an especially exciting day in Biology. Although my school’s STEM education excelled in theory and concepts, career-focused hands-on experience was lacking and I grew nostalgic for dissections. By junior year, I still had almost no idea what I would do in the future. When asked, I’d mumble a response about biochemistry or technology without daring to specify a job.

Then, I discovered MIT’s Women’s Technology Program and its mission to allow high school girls with little experience in engineering and CS to explore the fields. Naturally, I applied in a blink, and somehow even got accepted.

When I started the program, I never expected to become so enamored with computer science. Every day, I took pages of notes during the class lecture, then enthusiastically attacked the homework problems during the evening. In fact, most nights I stayed late in the computer lab trying to finish just one more (optional) challenge problem or add more features to already completed programs. The assignments themselves ranged from simply printing “hello world” to completing a functional version of Tetris. One of my favorite programs was a Hangman game that made sarcastic remarks at invalid inputs.

However, some programs were notoriously difficult, sparking countless frustrated jokes among the candidates: a version of the card game War overly prone to infinite loops, a queue class apparently comprised entirely of index errors. The sign-up list for TA help overflowed with increasing frequency as the curriculum grew more difficult. So, after I finished a program, I often helped my peers with debugging by pointing out syntax errors and logical missteps. In the final week, I was chosen to be a presenter for CS at the Final Dinner, speaking about the subject I loved to program donors and peers alike.

In that amazing month, I discovered a field that blends creativity with logic and a renewed passion for learning and exploration. Now, imagining my no-longer-nebulous future brings excitement.

And somehow, that excitement always smells faintly of formaldehyde.

9 UC Essay Example 

If given an eye test with the standard Snellen Eye chart (y’know, the one with all the letters on it) you will be asked to stand 20 ft away, cover one eye and read off the letters from the chart as they get increasingly smaller. If you can read up to the lines marked “20” at 20 feet away, you have normal 20/20 vision and your eyes can separate contours that are 1.75 mm apart.  Knowing visual acuity is important because it helps diagnose vision problems.

But the challenge? Usually, people have to go into eye doctors and get an eye test to determine their acuity. However, since more than 40% of Americans don't go to an eye doctor on a regular basis and access to eye care is extremely rare and usually unavailable in third world countries, many people who need glasses don't know it and live with blurred vision.

To tackle this problem, I’ve spent the last four months at the Wyss Institute at Yale University working on an individual project supervised by Yale Medical School professor Maureen Shore. I’m coding a program that measures visual acuity and can determine what glasses prescription someone would need. My goal is to configure this into a mobile app so that it's easy for someone to determine if he or she needs glasses. I hope to continue using my programming skills to make the benefits of research more accessible.

If this technology isn't accessible to society, we’re doing a disservice to humanity. The skills, experience, and network I will build at the computer science department will help me devise solutions to problems and bring the benefits of research to the public.

10 UC Essay Example: "Two Truths, One Lie”

On the first day of school, when a teacher plays “Two Truths, One Lie” I always state living on three different continents. Nine times out of ten, this is picked as the lie.

I spent my primary education years in Bangalore, India. The Indian education system emphasizes skills like handwriting and mental math. I learned how to memorize and understand masses of information in one sitting. This method is rote in comparison to critical thinking but has encouraged me to look beyond classroom walls, learning about the rivers of Eastern Europe and the history of mathematics.

During seventh grade, I traded India’s Silicon Valley for the suburban Welwyn Garden City, UK. Aside from using Oxford Dictionary spellings and the metric system, I found little to no similarities between British and Indian curricula. I was exposed to “Religious Studies” for the first time, as well as constructional activities like textiles and baking. I found these elements to be an enhancing supplement to textbooks and notes. Nevertheless, the elementary level of study frustrated me. I was prevented from advancing in areas I showed an aptitude for, leading to a lack of enthusiasm. I was ashamed and tired of being the only one to raise my hand. Suddenly, striving for success had negative connotations.

Three years later, I began high school in Oakland, California. US education seemed to have the perfect balance between creative thinking, core subjects, and achievement. However, it does have its share of fallacies in comparison to my experience in other systems. I find that my classmates rarely learn details about cultures outside of these borders until very late in their careers. The emphasis on multiple-choice testing and the weight of letter grades has deterred curiosity.

In only seventeen years, I have had the opportunity to experience three very different educational systems. Each has shaped me into a global citizen and prepared me for a world whose borders are growing extremely defined. My perspective in living amongst different cultures has provided me with insight on how to understand various opinions and thus form a comprehensive plan to reach a resolution.

11 UC Essay Example 

In 10th and 11th grade, I explored the world of China with my classmates through feasts of mapo tofu, folk games, and calligraphy . As I developed a familial bond with my classmates and teacher, the class became a chance to discover myself. As a result, I was inspired to take AP Chinese.

But there was a problem: my small school didn’t offer AP Chinese.

So I took matters into my own hands. I asked my AP advisor for a list of other advisors at schools near me, but he didn’t have one. I emailed the College Board, who told me they couldn’t help, so I visited the websites of twenty other high schools and used the information available to find an advisor willing to let me test at his or her school. I emailed all the advisors I could find within a fifty-mile radius.

But all I got back were no’s.

I asked myself: Why was I trying so hard to take an AP test?

After some thought, I realized the driving force behind my decision wasn’t academic. I’d traveled to Taiwan in the past, but at times I felt like an outsider because I could not properly communicate with my family. I wanted to be able to hear my grandpa’s stories in his own tongue about escaping from China during the revolution. I wanted to buy vegetables from the lady at the market and not be known as a visitor. I wanted to gossip with my cousins about things that didn’t just occur during my visit. I wanted to connect.

Despite the lack of support I received from both my school and the College Board, I realized that if I truly wanted this, I’d have to depend on myself. So I emailed ten more advisors and, after weeks, I finally received a ‘maybe’ telling me to wait until midnight to register as a late tester. At 12:10 am on April 19, I got my yes.

Language is not just a form of communication for me . Through, Chinese I connect with my heritage, my people, and my country.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 5: Overcoming a Challenge 

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

12 UC Essay Example: “Breaking up with Mom”

When I was fifteen years old I broke up with my mother. We could still be friends, I told her, but I needed my space, and she couldn’t give me that.

She and I both knew that I was the only person that she had in America. Her family was in Russia, she only spoke to her estranged ex-husband in court, her oldest son avoided her at all costs. And yet, at fifteen years old, I wasn’t equipped to effectively calm her down from her nightly anxiety attacks. At forty-three, she wasn’t willing to believe that I did love her, but that I couldn’t be responsible for stabilizing her life.

Moving in with my dad full time felt like I was abandoning her after tying a noose around her neck. But as my Drama teacher (and guardian angel) pointed out, my mother wasn’t going to get better if I kept enabling her, and that I wasn’t going to be able to grow if I was constrained by her dependence on me.

For the first time, I had taken action. I was never again going to passively let life happen to me.

During four long months of separation, I filled the space that my mom previously dominated with learning: everything and anything. I taught myself French through online programs, built websites, and began began editing my drawings on Photoshop to sell them online. When my dad lost his third job in five years, I learned to sew my own clothes and applied my new knowledge to costume design in the Drama Department.

On stage, I learned to empathize. Backstage, I worked with teams of dedicated and mutually supportive students. In our improv group, I gained the confidence to act on my instincts. With the help of my Drama teacher, I learned to humble myself enough to ask for help.

On my sixteenth birthday, I picked up the phone and dialed my mom. I waited through three agonizingly long pauses between rings.

“Hi mom, it’s me.”

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 6: Inspiring Academic Subject

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

13 UC Essay Example 

When I was 10, my dad told me that in and on my body, bacteria outnumbered human cells. For a 10-year-old, this was a horrifying idea. I squeezed my forearms tightly in an attempt to squish the foreigners to death. I showered in way-too-hot-for-ten-year-olds water. I poured lemon juice all over my body.

Today, however, I’m no longer terrified of hosting minuscule pals; instead, I embrace them as a way to be surrounded daily by microbiology. Ever since my sixth-grade teacher showed my class a video on Typhoid Mary and taught us about pathogens, I’ve been fascinated by and with cells. I decided then that I wanted to be a doctor and study microbiology.

Over the summer, I shadowed Dr. Wong Mei Ling, a General Practitioner. I observed case after case of bacterial interactions on the human body: an inflamed crimson esophagus suffering from streptococcus, bulging flesh from a staph infection, food poisoning from e.coli-laden dishes. I was her researcher, looking up new drugs or potential illnesses that cause particular symptoms.

Intrigued by the sensitive balance between the good and bad bacteria on our bodies, I changed my lifestyle after researching more about our biological processes.  I viewed my cheek cells through a microscope in AP Bio, and I realized that each cell needs to be given the right nutrients. Learning about foods enhancing my organ functions and immune system, I now eat yogurt regularly for the daily intake of probiotics to facilitate my digestion.

As a future pediatrician, I hope to teach children how to live symbiotically with bacteria instead of fearing them. I will stress the importance of achieving the right balance of good and bad microbes through healthy habits.

Rather than attempting to extinguish the microbes on me, today I dream of working in an environment loaded with bacteria, whether it’s finding cures for diseases or curing kids of illnesses. As a daily reminder, the minute microbes in and on me serve as a reminder of my passion for the complex but tiny foundation of life. (342 words)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 7: Community Service

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

14 UC Essay Example “House of Pain”

So many of my friends had eating disorders. Scrolling through poems written by students at my school on a poetry publishing site, I was shocked by the number of girls starving or purging in attempts to love themselves. Before finding out about their struggles, I thought I was the only girl hating my reflection. Almost all the girls I knew at SAS were hiding their insecurity behind a facade of “health choices”.

Knowing I wasn’t alone in my fears, I found the courage to take my own first steps. I joined House of Pain (HOP), an exercise club my PE teacher recommended. Although I initially despised working out, I left the gym feeling strong and proud of my body. Over the first weeks, I even developed a finger-shaped bruise on my bicep as I checked it daily. I began to love exercise and wanted to share my hope with my friends.

Since my friends hadn’t directly acknowledged their eating disorders, I had to engage them indirectly. I intentionally talked about the benefits of working out. I regularly invited them to come to the HOP sessions after school. I talked about how fun it was, while at the same time mentioning the healthy body change process. I was only their coach but felt their struggles personally as I watched girls who couldn’t run 10 meters without gasping for air slowly transform. Their language changed from obsessing with size to pride in their strength.  

I was asked to lead classes and scoured the web for effective circuit reps. I researched modifications for injuries and the best warmups and cooldowns for workouts. I continue to lead discussions focusing on finding confidence in our bodies and defining worth through determination and strength rather than our waists.

Although today my weight is almost identical to what it was before HOP, my perspective and, perhaps more importantly, my community is different. There are fewer poems of despair and more about identity. From dreaming of buttoning size zero shorts to pushing ourselves to get “just one more push up”, it is not just our words that have changed.

15 UC Essay Example 

I have lived in the Middle East for the last 11 years of my life. I’ve seen cranes, trucks, cement mixers, bulldozers, and road-rollers build all kinds of architectural monoliths on my way to school. But what really catches my attention are the men who wear blue jumpsuits striped with fluorescent colors, who cover their faces with scarves and sunglasses, and who look so small next to the machines they use and the skyscrapers they build.

These men are the immigrant laborers from South-Asian countries who work for 72 hours a week in the scorching heat of the Middle East and sleep through freezing winter nights without heaters in small unhygienic rooms with 6-12 other men. Sometimes workers are denied their own passports, having become victims of exploitation. International NGOs have recognized this as a violation of basic human rights and classified it as bonded labor.

As fellow immigrants from similar ethnicities, my friends and I decided to help the laborers constructing stadiums for the 2022 FIFA world cup.

Since freedom of speech was limited, we educated ourselves on the legal system of Qatar and carried out our activities within its constraints. After surveying labor camps and collecting testimonials, we spread awareness about the laborer’s plight at our local community gatherings and asked for donations to our cause. With this money, we bought ACs, heaters, and hygienic amenities for the laborers. We then educated laborers about their basic rights. In the process, I became a fluent Nepalese speaker.

As an experienced debater, I gave speeches about the exploitation of laborers at gatherings. Also, I became the percussionist of the small rock band we created to perform songs that might evoke empathy in well-off migrants. As an experienced website developer, I also reached out to other people in the Middle East who were against bonded labor and helped them develop the migrant-rights.org website.

Although we could only help 64 of the millions of laborers in the Middle East, we hope that our efforts to spread awareness will inspire more people to reach out to the laborers who built their homes.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 8: Standing Out 

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

16 UC Essay Example: “Jungle Confidence Course” 

Hunger. Flames licking my face. Thirst. Unknown creatures circling me restlessly. Aching. The darkness threatening to swallow me. Desperation. I asked for this.

Nine long days in the jungle with only a day's worth of rations, the Jungle Confidence Course was designed to test our survival capabilities. To make matters worse, I had to carry a bunch of heavy military equipment that had no use to me for the purpose of the test. Dropped in the middle of Brunei, no matter which way you walked the terrain always went up. So why on earth would anyone volunteer this?

I was hungry. Not in the physical sense, even though I was starving for those nine days, but rather due to an incurable thirst. Every Singaporean male citizen is required to serve two years in service to the country essentially delaying our education and subsequent entrance into the workforce. Most people, including my friends, see this as something terrible and try to avoid it altogether by flying overseas. Others look for the easiest and most cushiony job to serve during the two long years rather than be another military grunt.

As for myself, since I had to do it why not do the best I can and hope to benefit from it? I’ve been hungry, cold, exhausted beyond the point of belief, yet I’m still standing. I sacrificed lots of free time, lost friends, ended up missing lots of key family moments due to training but I don’t regret a thing. Helicopter rides, urban warfare, assaulting beaches, all in a day’s work. Movies became reality accomplishing tasks once impossible.

Aspiration drove me then and still continues to pilot me now. All these experiences and memories create a lasting impact, creating pride and the motivation to continue forward. I could have given up at any point during those long nine days, but with every pang of hunger, I made myself focus on what I wanted.

To be the best version of myself possible, and come out of this challenge stronger than ever before. What’s the point of living life if you have nothing to be proud of?

17 UC Essay Example 

What’s the most logical thing an electrical engineer and his computer science-obsessed son can do in the deserts of Qatar? Gardening.

My dad and I built a garden in our small rocky backyard to remind us of our village in India, 3,419 km away from our compact metropolitan household in Qatar. Growing plants in a desert, especially outdoors without any type of climate control system, can seem to be a daunting task. But by sowing seeds at the beginning of winter, using manure instead of chemical fertilizers, and choosing the breed of plants that can survive the severe cold, we overcame the harsh climate conditions.

Sitting in the garden with my family reminds me of the rain, the green fields, the forests, the rhythmic sound of the train wheels hitting joints between rails (to which I play beats on any rigid surface), and most of all, the spicy food of India. The garden is my tranquil abode of departure from all forms of technology, regrets about the past, and apprehensions about the future. It contrasts my love for innovating technology and thus maintains a balance between my heritage, beliefs, busy lifestyle, and ambitions.

Unfortunately, my family and I enjoy the garden for fewer months each year. The harsh climate is becoming dangerously extreme: summers are increasingly becoming hotter, reaching record-breaking temperatures of about 50॰C, and winters are becoming colder, the rains flooding areas that only anticipate mild drizzles. Climate change has reduced our season for growing plants from six months to four.

But we’ve agreed to keep our agricultural practices organic to improve the longevity of the garden’s annual lifespan. I’ve also strived to extend the privilege of a garden to all families in our Indian community, giving space for those who, like us, long for something green and organic in the artificial concrete jungle where we reside. We share harvests, seeds, and experiences, and innovate organic agricultural methods, in the gardens we’ve all grown.

So, what makes the Computer Science obsessed applicant from India unique? Balance.

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UC Essay Examples – Personal Insight Questions 1-8

December 29, 2023

UC essay samples

When applying to any of the University of California schools , you’ll face a series of supplemental essays in which you are asked to quickly and, with sufficient detail, provide personal insight into who you are as a person. These essays can be confusing to students, who might be used to writing the Common App essay , which asks for a well-written story in 650 words. The UC essays (see UC essay examples below), by contrast, ask you to provide as much concrete detail as possible while showcasing your positive traits. This means your writing will need to be as efficient as possible. To be clear, that means cutting down on flowery descriptions and pulling out the clear details about your achievements while leaving enough space for mature reflection and forward thinking. 

(For help with writing efficiency, check out our tips in our Why This College Essay blog post . For tips on how to get started, check out our Overcoming Challenges Essay blog post .)

In the following examples, we’ll show you some example responses to the first four UC prompts while talking you through what works and what doesn’t. 

UC Essay Prompt #1: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

It was the third night in a row that we couldn’t get it together. My school’s mock trial team was finally going to the state championship after years of working together, but we couldn’t agree on how to build our prosecution. The “case” was that several people had died during a rock concert when the crowd became violent. We needed to decide if we should “sue” the event space or the artist, and the group was split around two natural leaders. 

Mark, our lead attorney for the last two years, wanted to build a logical argument that the event space intentionally oversold the show, creating danger. Emma, our star witness, said that we needed to build the case around sympathy for the families and sue the artist, who had inspired the violence.

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

I had watched Mark and Emma disagree over the last two years. They were two very different people who loved arguing, and the rest of us often had to wait through it. I typically hang back and observe, but we were down to the wire, and I realized someone needed to speak up. I came up with an idea and pulled aside some of my friends to explain my thoughts. They agreed, and encouraged me to step up. 

I surprised myself when, in a moment of silence, I opened my mouth. I calmly explained that we didn’t have to abandon either strategy and that we could, in fact, combine them to greater effect. Because I had taken time to convince the rest of the team before speaking, they rallied around me, and Mark and Emma had no choice but to agree. I realized at that moment that groups need people who are willing to listen, strategize, and then put a plan into motion, and that I have a strength for this style of leadership. Since then, I’ve started speaking up more, specifically in my robotics club, where I recently led us to second place at the 24-Hour Code-athon. I look forward to bringing those skills to my classes and volunteer work at UC. 

The first thing we should note about UC’s essays is that they are asking about important parts of your life, but they want brief responses. Because UC is sorting through so many applications, we want to be sure that you are providing as much concrete detail as possible and showcasing as many positive traits about yourself as possible in these quick responses.

What I’ve written here attempts to combine a single story with positive traits that a more introverted student might possess. So, it’s a story about the development of someone’s leadership style in a single moment in time. But, there’s another way to write this essay. 

Another Option for UC1: 

A more extroverted student who has been prone to leadership activities all throughout their high school experience could write an incredibly successful essay that simply focused, paragraph by paragraph on quick snippets that showcased their leadership throughout time. For example: 

  • Paragraph 1: I learned I was a natural leader the first time I successfully rallied my rhythm gymnastics team after our star tumbler got injured during a competition.
  • Paragraph 2: I then became our team captain, working to institute a new bonding retreat at the start of each year to bring the team together.
  • Paragraph 3: I took that same sense of leadership to my volunteer work at the local food bank, where I have worked with my colleagues to create a conversation hour. Every Wednesday, we invite volunteers and clients to a collective meal where we share stories, tough spots, and triumphs.
  • Paragraph 4: While I won’t be dancing competitively in college, I plan to continue my volunteer work with the Meals on Wheels chapter at UC, bringing food and friendly conversation to people in the community, rooted in my practice and experience with community building and bonding in high school. 

No matter what your experience is, you really want to focus on direct, deliverable moments in time that showcase what you’ve done. If you have a ton of leadership experience, try to showcase as much as you can while meeting the word count. If you have less experience but a really compelling story, focus on quickly laying out the basics of the story and then building power in the essay by reflecting on your leadership style.

In the end, make sure you comment on how you will bring your leadership style to campus, being as specific as possible. 

If I edited the above essay even more, I would further condense the story and elaborate more on how I’ve applied what I’ve learned. I mention the robotics club and winning second place at the 24-Hour Code-athon, but I could have saved some space above and expanded on it to show that I have the capacity to build my skill set over time. I could have also talked about the deliverables from the mock trial experience. Did we win our case? How does the story end? If I gave this essay another pass, I would focus a bit less on the story and balance things out more with what happened as a result of my leadership revelation.  

UC Essay Prompt #2: 

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

When I was just two-years-old, my mom enrolled me in ballet classes—and I hated them. Because I was young and she wanted me to do it, I danced for another nine years, until I finally gave up ballet for the soccer field. What I hadn’t realized was that everything I learned in ballet would quickly translate to make me a star player on the field. I knew how to turn on a dime, I could jump over a slide tackle faster than anyone else, and I never took it that seriously when we lost (the show must go on, after all). This led me to being named captain of my varsity team, where my team has nicknamed me The Swann—a combination of the football player who used ballet to train, Lynn Swann, and the famous ballet, Swan Lake. 

UC Personal Insight Questions Examples (Continued)

I realized quickly that my creativity could have this extracurricular quality no matter where I went. In my high school’s annual Physics-in-the-Raw Competition, I used famous chase scenes from my favorite black and white movies (I’m a big fan of Vertigo and Chinatown ) and pulled all the data I could from the movies themselves to crunch the numbers and show whether or not the actual chase would have played out like that in real life. I even filmed shot-for-shot remakes on my phone using Matchbox cars—in black and white, of course. My AP Physics teacher never stopped laughing, even as they noted that my calculations were correct. I was the first 11th grader to win the competition in the school’s history, and I have my creativity to thank for it. 

I’ve expressed interest in both English and Physics as a double major, but I’m excited to talk to my future advisers about what might be possible for me in Interdisciplinary Studies. When I let myself think creatively, I wonder about the possibility of bringing ballet back into my life—and what it might look like to combine my love of physics with the beauty of dance and literature, all on the UC campus.  

Here’s a cheeky example from a dream student whose only obstacle in life is that they didn’t really like ballet. I wrote this essay as a way to show you how you can quickly combine story with concrete elements. Look at how we jump into the essay. The first sentence I actually typed was “Creativity is one of my favorite things about me,” and then deleted it after I wrote the rest of the paragraph. I realized quickly that it was a placeholder for what I was attempting to show throughout the rest of the essay. If you find yourself writing bland or empty sentences like that in your UC essays, you should delete them, too. 

Then, look at what happens along the way. I try to list vivid-yet-concrete examples of my creativity ( I knew how to turn on a dime, I could jump over a slide tackle faster than anyone else, and I never took it that seriously when we lost ), and then I take what I learned about myself (that I have an “extracurricular sense” of creativity) and show the achievement that best showcases that sensibility on display: I was the first 11th grader to win the school physics competition because I’m so creative. I don’t need to over-explain the connection: it’s there for my readers and they can easily see how the experience in the first paragraph leads to the second experience. 

Finally, I take the chance to project myself onto the UC Campus by talking earnestly about an interest I have in the Interdisciplinary B.A. This moment is effective because I’m not promising anything or using overextended language to build a fake version of myself on campus, but because it makes sense that this type of student would be interested in this type of major. I demonstrate that I’ve done some research and that I’m thinking critically about how I would fit in on campus. 

If I edited this essay into another version, and I had another set of accomplishments to showcase, I would skip talking about the Interdisciplinary major and talk instead about that third accomplishment.  

UC Essay Prompt #3: 

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

I stepped onto the pad and looked over at my coach. She gave me the sign: breathe in, breathe out, pull. One kick to the right to loosen my tight hip, and I lowered my hands to the bar. In the 2022 USA Powerlifting High School Nationals, I set a personal deadlift record of 242.5 pounds, putting me in fifth place. When the rankings shook out, my coach screamed and hugged me: she knew what it had taken me to get here. 

Something about powerlifting always compelled me. I was tiny at the start of my journey in ninth grade, but I decided to just keep with it. My coach laid out a progressive plan for me, and I followed it to a T. I was making steady progress all through fall of sophomore year, and I even won a regional title.  I broke my right leg in a skiing accident that winter and was devastated. But I remembered all the progress I had made and didn’t want to stop. I watched practice with my cast on, doing seated, upper-body lifts when my coach said it was safe. 

In the meantime, I focused on my academics. I turned around my AP Chemistry grade by showing up to afterschool tutoring and finally making flashcards the way my teacher had recommended, dedicating an extra 30 minutes to chem every day.  I realized I could apply my same sense of persistence and tenacity to the classroom, too, and it paid off: I got a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam. 

My coach wasn’t surprised when she saw me back at the barbell a week after my cast was off. Over the next year, I dedicated myself to rebuilding the muscle I had lost by following an increased- calorie diet and working accessory lifts to challenge myself. I realized I could see precisely what my ability to perform sustained, focused effort got me: a comeback fifth place ranking at a national competition in the sport that I love. I can’t wait to apply my focus to my major at UC. 

Many students think about “skill” or “talent” as a discrete thing. For example, this student could have simply written about being really good at powerlifting. However, if we take one step back, we can see that the student’s true talent (and the more interesting thing to say) is that they are really good at persistence, tenacity, and sustained, focused attention on a goal. This is a tremendous thing to talk about when it comes to applying to college, because going to university is a project in your sustained focus over the course of four years. 

That meant that it was important to also bring in an academic component to the essay to showcase how this student was skilled in persistence in another realm. In this context, obviously, the academic realm is incredibly important. Drawing the parallel with the AP Chem course shows the reader that the student also understands how their skillset works in an abstract way. 

I’ll repeat the same editing principle here that I’ve said above: if the student had other stellar examples of exhibiting persistence and focus, I would cut down on the storytelling elements, and I would include those pieces, instead. If you’re working on an essay for which you have a lot of solid examples, you can think of your response to the prompt like a vividly conceptualized list. You can showcase your personality through your language choices, and you can tell the story of your achievements, but again, worry less about setting the scene and more about highlighting your successes. 

UC Essay Prompt #4: 

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

As a gifted student, I was shocked when my favorite teacher asked me if I had ever considered getting examined for ADHD. My grades had been slipping that semester, but it was just because I wasn’t working hard enough to stay organized, right? My teacher indicated that he knew I was working really hard already, and that maybe, I would benefit from a little help. 

When my diagnosis came back as primarily inattentive ADHD, I felt both surprise and grief. My psychologist talked to me about how my hyperfocus had been likely sparked when I was a little kid in elementary school, but that, as time went on, it was easier and easier for me to become bored in school. Even if the classes were more challenging, the repetition of the structure wasn’t. I had enough coping mechanisms to do “well enough,” but if I wasn’t being challenged, my inattention could be taking over and making me lose out on reaching my goals. 

Working closely with my parents, my psychologist, and my teachers, I was able to build a plan for myself to get back on track. I chose for myself that I wanted to start treatment without medication, so I did counseling to put my time in high school in perspective, and I started practicing mindfulness meditation, which has been a revelation. When I focus on the fact that every day is a new opportunity to learn something new, I can really savor those opportunities. The semester that I received my diagnosis, I stabilized my grades and my 4.0 GPA before anything started to slip, thanks to my careful teacher. 

When I come to UC, I know I may be faced with challenges to my inattentive ADHD as time goes on, however, I now know what warning signs and how to rely on my support networks. I look forward to volunteering as a peer mentor to share my tips, tricks, and to help other students identify when they need help, as well. 

Writing about mental health and learning disabilities can be tricky. In every case, you need to be sure that you’re demonstrating a clear arc of overcoming something. There is no shame in actively dealing with a mental health problem or diagnosis, but when it comes to writing your college admissions essays, you want to be sure that you have a demonstrable positive outcome that you can discuss if you choose to go down this path. 

So, I wanted to show an example of someone who had that clarity of overcoming their diagnosis with a demonstrable stabilization of their GPA. Pay attention to the way in which the essay departs from the identification of the problem, the diagnosis, and then focuses mainly on the solutions that the student finds. Leaving the essay in a place of generosity where the student wants to extend what they’ve learned to others around them solidifies their success and showcases that they truly have overcome this educational barrier. 

Of course, there are other significant educational barriers that someone could talk about. They could include structural barriers within a school system or unfortunate events, like surviving a wildfire or a flood, that can demonstrate a student’s perseverance. To write this essay in the opposite direction, about a significant educational opportunity, might entail writing about an invitation to speak at an important event, an opportunity to travel to a foreign country, or the chance to participate in an extracurricular activity that led to a particular success. Were you asked to help start your school’s award-winning field hockey team? That would be an excellent thing to write about. 

To view all of the full list of prompts and other helpful tips, check out our other UC Essay blog post, here . And when you need help crafting and editing your UC essays, reach out to College Transitions for a free consultation and to get started. 

Now let’s dive into the next series of supplemental prompts, UC Personal Insight Questions 5 through 8. 

UC Essay Prompt #5: 

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

When I was five years old, my mother decided to separate from my father because of his addiction. I have learned to understand the details based on what my mother does not say. My mother tried to help him overcome his illness. She had hoped that doctors, rehab, and twelve-step programs would have stopped him from becoming violent. She was wrong. I grew up without him. 

Last year, out of the blue, my father started showing up outside of my high school, telling me he wanted to see my mom again. It became severe enough that the police issued a restraining order. I haven’t seen him since. 

But I suffered. The idea that he could appear outside of my school at any moment made me paranoid. I was scared for my mother, and I wanted to believe that the restraining order would be sufficient, but then I stopped trusting myself. What if something happened and no one believed me? I had never experienced anxiety before, but all of the sudden, I was having tunnel vision and couldn’t be alone. 

My physics teacher, Mr. Bevelacqua, noticed first. He saw that my grade had slid from an A to a C- in five weeks, and he rightly assumed that, if it was happening in his class, it was happening in others. I loved his class and sense of humor, so I felt comfortable enough confiding in my teacher about my fears. He helped me talk with the school psychologist, who suggested a course in mindfulness and a series of conversations with the police. I created healthy boundaries for myself and developed a mindfulness routine with my mother that has benefited both of us.

Now, my grades are back up, and I’m helping Mr. Bevelacqua tutor other students for the AP Physics exam. I’ve even started attending Alateen meetings, where I’ve made close friends who have experienced similar things. Sharing our experiences has almost helped them dissolve. I’ve learned that, even though I’ve thought I should be ashamed of my father, I can talk openly about my experiences—and maybe even help myself and others.  

This essay is a completely fictional one in which I’m imagining a rather difficult experience that triggers a mental health episode in a student. You’ll see that I spend the first three, quick paragraphs detailing the challenge and the final paragraph outlining the steps the student has taken to overcome the problem. The student shows self-awareness by confiding in a favorite teacher about what’s happening, then the student doesn’t hesitate to take the teacher’s advice, then the advice pays off and we see the positive effects of the student’s willingness to address their fears and work with the people they trust around them.  

I want to point out that both sections are fairly concrete. I take some creative liberties in the first paragraph in order to artfully describe a situation of domestic violence, but for the most part, I’m stating directly what happened. This doesn’t mean excluding difficult details, like the anxiety attacks and fear, but it does mean that I’ve avoided overly flowery language. 

Writing about heavy things doesn’t mean that your prose has to be particularly heavy. In fact, writing about particularly difficult things in plain, straightforward ways —without the use of too many colorful adjectives—can help communicate the painfulness even more. You don’t want to smother your reader in emotion; you want to lead them to their own emotional reaction through the things that happened. Restraint in prose can help to achieve this goal. Let the painful things be painful. They will do the work for you. 

That is all to say: when you’re tackling this essay, you don’t want to bleed on the page. Oftentimes, students who have suffered traumatic, difficult things believe that they need to convey the full weight of their distress to admissions officers. To be clear, your trauma and your suffering matters, but admissions officers are reading the full breadth of painful experiences from across the spectrum of human existence. Adversity and suffering visit us all, and the unfortunate pain of these events is highly relative.

Admissions officers are interested in seeing what you do with your pain. You want to focus on the tangible, provable things that you have done to overcome your challenges. Those things could be big or small. It would have been enough for this student, for example, to have simply found a productive mindfulness meditation routine that they practiced with their mother, and then described their newfound perspectives that came from that practice. You don’t have to do twenty things to prove that you’re emotionally mature enough to attend college; but you do want to prove that you’re doing well despite adversity. 

UC Essay Prompt #6: 

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

Standing in front of the seven-foot-tall, room-length canvas for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Then, slowly, I realized what Warhol was doing. Here was Elvis, the iconic American figure of rock ‘n’ roll, stamped out eleven times, his pistol pointed at us, his larger-than-life body repeating like a film strip left on the cutting room floor and then splayed out before us, so that we could see each instance of his fame, however fleeting, now indelible. 

Going to the Andy Warhol Museum in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania opened my eyes to the world of Art History, and as soon as I realized I could study it, I ran full speed ahead. To compete in National History Day, I underwent a six-month research process in the Warhol Museum archives, reading Warhol’s journals, correspondences, and making analytical reviews of drafts of his earlier, un-exhibited works. I made a thirty-minute documentary about Warhol’s work, including interviews I conducted with experts, museum curators, and with the only living family member who knew Warhol when he was still alive. With my documentary, I progressed to the national competition and placed as an honorable mention in the individual documentary category. 

Growing out of that experience, I worked with my AP History teacher to establish a connection with Duquesne University Art History Professor Laney McGunnigan, with whom I completed a semester-long independent study project on the development of pop art in the twentieth century. This fall, I will be assisting Professor McGunnigan in cataloging the body of Diego Rivera’s work held at Fallingwater, in order to assist with a larger place-based analysis on the intersection of diverse artistic movements hidden across the greater Pittsburgh area. 

I am thrilled by the possibility of studying under UCLA Department Chair Saloni Mathur. The Fallingwater project has opened my eyes to the influence of colonialism and post-colonialism in Art History, and I am deeply interested in the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach that involves anthropological practices like those I engaged during my Warhol documentary production process. 

For this essay, you want to choose that interest toward which you’ve put the most effort during your time in high school. It’s kind of like a “Why This College?” essay, but it’s about a subject, instead. In this fictional example essay, I’m drawing on a personal experience with creating a Warhol documentary in high school (true story!) and how an incredibly diligent and well-resourced student might have expanded that experience into further study (that part is fiction). No matter the level of involvement, you want to pull out all of the details about what you’ve done as a high school student as you’ve pursued a particular interest. 

You can see that I’m naming names throughout the essay, and also that I’m talking about how I’ve used my academic network to further my interest. For example, I say that I worked with my AP History teacher to make a valuable connection with a professor—don’t leave those things out. Seemingly small conversations and connections that lead to bigger things are worth including in this essay because they demonstrate your pursuit. Show the reader the steps you took along the way to get to where you are; every step counts—and you can always pare down the word count later.  

The opening lines are deceptively normal. Yes, they paint a quick scene for the reader. However, they’re also showing how I got interested in art history to begin with. The reader can see the first moment of inspiration outside of the classroom, and how I pull that inspiration into my academic life. 

Finally, I closed the essay by doing some quick research into the Art History department at UCLA. I might not know a ton about anthropology as a high school student, but I do know that I did interviews for my documentary. A good essay coach (like someone from College Transitions) could help you make the elegant connection between the work you’ve already done and the academic interests of the faculty in the department where you’d like to study. 

UC Essay Prompt #7: 

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

I can’t begin to tell you how the opioid epidemic has ravaged my community. In the last three years, three graduating seniors and eight recent graduates have died from heroin-related overdoses. The most recent death was my best friend Evan’s older brother; he had been a star soccer player and he went on to study communications at Regional State University. When Evan called to tell me what happened, I did the math silently as I listened to my friend cry: his brother overdosed at the age of 23. 

In the weeks following the funeral, I felt a heaviness I had never felt before. I’m pretty introverted; to say that I’ve never had anyone offer me drugs is an understatement. It’s the same with Evan. Even though his brother had gotten into drugs, we never saw them, which made the whole thing all the more painful, scary, and confusing. We felt hopeless. I watched Evan start to plummet. 

It was then that I heard a news story about a Harm Reduction group out of Chicago. It was the first time I’d ever heard of harm reduction, but Evan and I took the idea and ran. In just four months, we contacted the National Harm Reduction Coalition and set up a voluntary Narcan Network through our school. We built a program where kids and their parents can get trained on how to use free Narcan kits that we receive through donations we organized with NHRC.

We got trained, and we have trained more than two hundred people in our monthly sessions. The community support has been overwhelming. Parents who have had kids die or go to rehab have become integral parts of our project, and we’ve helped them start a monthly support group. If someone takes a kit, they don’t have to report using it to us, but through voluntary reporting, we know that our kits have been used at least twenty times so far. Twenty lives, twenty families, twenty more reasons to keep doing what we do. We like to think that Evan’s brother would be proud. 

In this essay, you can see that I dedicate a fair amount of time to the problem. The first two paragraphs set up what happened to the student and their best friend’s family. If I were editing this essay—and the student had a substantial amount more to say about the Narcan group—I might shorten those two paragraphs and leave space at the end for more reflection and balance, especially if the student had more achievement-oriented information to include. 

Writing about the positive things you brought to the situation is the crucial part here. The admissions officers want to know about the context for the solution, yes, but the more important thing here is your character that has allowed you to improve your community. You need to provide significant, concrete details that demonstrate your contribution to your school or community. In this case, the student is able to provide a time frame, the name of outside organizations with which they organized, the number of people trained, and an approximate number of lives saved . This is a Herculean effort that I invented for the sake of this prompt, however, I’m using it to show you the kinds of information you should provide. 

Maybe you didn’t create a live-saving program at your school, but perhaps you organized a fundraiser that brought in hundreds of dollars for cancer research or even your marching band’s annual competition trip. Tell us that. And tell us how you did it. Maybe you organized the calendars of thirty different students to do tabling during different periods of the school day. Maybe you held a week’s worth of car washes in the parking lot of your local library, and you had to coordinate the efforts between the library staff and fifteen volunteers. Or perhaps you were in charge of keeping the cash box, opening a bank account, and ensuring the safe transfer of funds to the organization.

Those are the kinds of concrete details this essay wants to see. Be sure to gas yourself up and don’t be afraid to sound like you’re “bragging:” UC wants to see your personal achievements.  

Essay Prompt #8: 

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

Well, why don’t you take a crack at it? 

For this essay, I’ll reiterate those best practices for all of your UC Personal Insight Essays . You want to quickly describe, in concrete language, a situation that distinguishes you from others. Then, you want to use numbers, names, responses, and your personal process to show very clearly how you overcame a situation, created something beneficial, committed yourself to a positive outcome, helped your family, helped your friends, helped your community, and on and on. Don’t take this opportunity to flex your creative writing muscles. Do stick to demonstrative outcomes. Don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Again, UC essays are different from the storytelling you’re expected to do in the Common App essay . Do concern yourself with communicating the clear, discrete benefits of your work on a project, course, or group of people. Don’t worry about “bragging.” Your 350 words will go by fast! Gas yourself up while you can. 

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Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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Financial Aid and Scholarships

Important updates.

  • In observance of Presidents' Day, we will be closed on Monday, February 19, 2024 .
  • The 2024-25 FAFSA and CADAA are now open . The priority filing date for both applications has been extended to April 2, 2024 . Visit Apply for Financial Aid for details.
  • The Department of Education has announced they will send information from the 2024-25 FAFSA to schools in mid-March. This will result in a delay in financial aid packaging and offers for the 2024-25 academic year.

Essay Review: Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship

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Event Date Thu, Feb 29, 2024 @ 2:00pm - 5:00pm

Planning to apply to the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship ?  This is an opportunity to get help with your essay.  Drop in anytime between 2pm -5pm to have a campus advisor review you essay. 

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Campus Student Support Resources

Students talking, walking around campus, and working

Below is a list of resources including mental health & wellness, gender equity & sexual violence/harassment, graduate student instructor (GSI) & graduate student mentor (GSM), conflict resolution, academic support & mentoring, legal intellectual property & tax services, basic needs security, graduate student organizations & centers, campus safety, and campus units resources.

Mental Health & Wellness

University health services ( uhs) counseling and psychological services (caps).

Drop-in Counseling • Urgent Concerns • Short-term Counseling • After Hours Assistance (855) 817-5667 • Satellite Offices • Referral Services • Support Groups • Prevention, education, and outreach

CAPS offers short-term counseling for academic, career, and personal issues. There is no charge to get started, and all registered students can access services regardless of their insurance plan.

Community Crises/Suicide Prevention Hotlines

List of local crisis/suicide prevention hotlines

Social Services Counseling

Alcohol and Substance Dependencies • Chronic Medical Condition or New Diagnosis • Eating Disorder and Body Image • Nutrition • Pregnancy Resources and Referrals • Relationship Violence, Stalking, Other Violence • Sexual Health • Sexual Violence • Gender Identity Counseling

The Social Services Counseling Unit provides compassionate, specialty, confidential counseling services. Counseling services are topic specific and aim to help students strengthen coping skills, problem solve, and identify resources. Social Services is open to all registered UC Berkeley students regardless of insurance plan.

University Health Services (UHS) /Tang Center

Medical Assistance • Pharmacy • Counseling and Social Services • Insurance • Health Promotion

UHS, Tang Center provides comprehensive medical, mental health, insurance, and health promotion services to all UC Berkeley students and a variety of health programs for faculty and staff. UHS also provides services to staff at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Campus Visiting Scholars, Postdocs, and spouses/domestic partners of UC Berkeley students may also use UHS on a fee-for-service basis. Services are designed to minimize the impact of illness, emotional distress, and injury on studies and work. Coupled with health promotion and public health programs, UHS reaches all segments of the UC Berkeley campus community.

Gender Equity & Sexual Violence and Harassment

Path to care center.

Confidential Advocates • Resources for victims/survivors of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking or harassment • Emotional Support • Housing • Medical • Safety Planning • Legal

The PATH to Care Center provides affirming, empowering, and confidential support for survivors and those who have experienced gendered violence including sexual harassment, dating and intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sexual exploitation. Confidential advocates bring a non-judgmental, caring approach to exploring all options, rights, and resources.

UC Berkeley Office for the Prevention of Harassment & Discrimination (OPHD or Title IX Office)

UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment • File Report • Title IX Rights

OPHD is responsible for ensuring the university provides an environment for faculty, staff, and students that is free from discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence. OPHD takes reports alleging discrimination and harassment based on categories including race, color, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation/identity, including allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Gender Equity Resource Center (GenEq)

Women's Resources* • LGBTQ+ Resources • Sexual & Dating Violence Resources • Men's Resources

GenEq is a UC Berkeley campus community center committed to fostering an inclusive experience for all. GenEq is the campus location where students, faculty, staff, and alumni connect for resources, services, education and leadership programs related to gender and sexuality.

*GenEq welcomes all who experience life through the lens of woman in body, spirit, and identity - past, present, future, and fluid.

Resources for Supporting Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) and Graduate Student Mentors (GSMs)

Center for support and intervention - students of concern committee (socc) - division of student affairs.

​ SOCC  provides a centralized place for various campus departments to come together and communicate relevant information, coordinate institutional response, and consult about students of concern. Students are referred to Student Affairs Case Management when they are exhibiting behaviors that are of concern in relation to their personal, physical, and emotional well-being; select cases are then brought to SOCC, when appropriate.

GSI Teaching and Resource Center

Workshops • Conferences • Teacher Preparation • Teaching Resource s

The GSI & Resource Center is an academic unit of the Graduate Division that prepares graduate students for teaching undergraduates at UC Berkeley and for the teaching they will do in future academic and non-academic careers.

Other Resources

  • Mental Health Handbook for faculty, staff, and GSIs
  • Gold Folder: Guide to helping a distressed undergraduate student (for faculty, staff, and GSIs)
  • Assisting Distressed Students Guide
  • Depression - Look for the Signs

Conflict Resolution

Ombuds office for students & postdocs.

Advocates • Neutral Party • Confidential • Facilitation • Conflict Resolution with Peers/Faculty • Education

The mission of the Ombuds Office for Students and Postdoctoral Appointees is to provide an informal dispute resolution process in which the Ombudsperson advocates for fairness, justice, respect for differences, and reasonable solutions to students' issues and concerns. The Ombuds Office also serves as an alert mechanism for systemic change on campus. An Ombudsperson or Ombuds, from the term Ombudsman, is a confidential*, impartial, independent, and informal resource within organizations and corporations, designated to assist the community in managing and resolving conflicts and other types of organizational concerns.

*Conversations are confidential unless there appears to be an imminent risk of harm or danger.

Legal, Intellectual Property & Tax Services

Student legal services.

The Attorney for Students advises currently registered UC Berkeley students regarding  their legal questions, rights, and obligations . A student legal consultation might include (but is not limited to) one of the following examples: a landlord-tenant dispute, a citation for a criminal infraction or misdemeanor, filing an action in California Small Claims Court, questions related to credit card debt and/or collection actions, issues arising from a car accident or auto insurance, or questions about family law.

Please note that Student Legal Services provides counsel and guidance only, and does not represent or advocate for individual students regarding their potential legal claims or disputes.

ASUC Renters' Legal Assistance  (RLA)

Rental Agreements • Landlord disputes • Evictions • Subletting • Repairs • Privacy Security

RLA is an undergraduate student organization at UC Berkeley that provides information to the community regarding rental issues. If you have a problem with your landlord, your lease, or anything concerning your rights as a renter, RLA is here to help! Around 20 student interns have been carefully trained in California rent law to help you out.

RLA's area of specialty is the city of Berkeley, but they are also familiar with rent laws of nearby cities (e.g. Oakland, Emeryville, San Francisco) as well as of the state of California as a whole.

ASUC Student Legal Clinic (Tax Advice)

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance • Know Your Rights

Founded in 1983, the ASUC Student Legal Clinic was established to help educate the Berkeley community about available legal options. Today, the clinic continues with this tradition. Clients can drop by their office Monday through Friday to obtain legal assistance from their dedicated interns who provide clientele with fully researched case reports — outlining possible legal options and any other pertinent information. With their new VITA program, clients who need tax assistance can now schedule an appointment online and be aided by their trained staff with how to file tax returns.

Berkeley International Office (BIO) - Tax Reporting Requirements for International Students (Overview & Resources)

Berkeley intellectual property & industry research alliances  (ipira).

Berkeley Startups • FAQs • Assistance with IP Questions

IPIRA was created in 2004 to enhance the research enterprise of the UC Berkeley campus by establishing and maintaining multifaceted relationships between Berkeley researchers and private companies. These relationships include sponsored research collaborations and intellectual property commercialization. IPIRA reports to the Vice Chancellor for Research and consists of two peer divisions: the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), and the Industry Alliances Office (IAO). IPIRA helps researchers seek industry research partnerships, conduct industry-sponsored research, request and transfer materials, apply for SBIR/STTR funds and grants, protect intellectual property rights, commercialize technologies, and start companies. IPIRA serves as a common liaison for companies when interfacing with Berkeley researchers, resources, and technologies. IPIRA supports companies who wish to sponsor research, join industry affiliate programs, enter into a SBIR/STTR agreement, or license technologies from UC Berkeley. IPIRA can also assist companies who desire to support research through gift funding.

Basic Needs Security

Uc berkeley basic needs security.

UCB Food Pantry • Food Assistance Program • CalFresh Clinics • Housing Security • Financial Security • Crisis Resolution • Mental & Emotional Wellness • Safety • Accessibility

Basic Needs Security refers to the food, housing, and wellness security of our community. We understand that basic needs have a direct impact on the mental/emotional/physical health, wellness, academic performance, professional development, and holistic success of our students. The quality of life of our students has a major impact on their sense of belonging, persistence, graduation, and overall experience. Therefore, we refuse to accept hunger, malnourishment, and homelessness as part of our university. UC Berkeley's Basic Needs Security Committee is fully dedicated to leading the transformation of UC Berkeley into an institution of higher education where its students’ basic needs are secure .

Graduate Student Organizations & Centers

Graduate assembly.

Funding for Conference Travel, Student Publications, Student Groups and Events • Social Club • Graduate Minority Student Project • Graduate Student Parent Advocacy • Wellness • Queer and Transgender Advocacy • Housing Guide • Taxes • etc.

The Graduate Assembly is the official representative body of the graduate and professional students at UC Berkeley. The fundamental principles of the Graduate Assembly are the promotion of a vibrant student social life, inclusiveness, activism, community service, educational improvement, and professional development. In service to these principles the Graduate Assembly advocates for students, funds student groups on campus, and directly manages a variety of projects.

Student Parent Center

Resources • Dedicated Space for Parents • Counseling • Degree Completion Program

The Student Parent Center is committed to the holistic support and success of a highly motivated population of undergraduate and graduate students who are engaged scholars, as well as devoted parents at UC Berkeley. The center is a centralized multi-purpose campus resource, where students can seek informed advice, develop leadership skills, engage in informal study groups, nurse babies, change diapers, celebrate achievements, recover from setbacks, and form lasting friendships. At every level of educational achievement, from high school through Ph.D. programs, becoming a parent can pre-empt or preclude educational opportunities. Sustained efforts over the past 25 years have resulted in the development of UC Berkeley’s student parent model.

Graduate Division - Support for Student Parents

The Graduate Division's resource website for student parents. Includes links to student parent policies, information on parent grants, childbirth accommodation and more.

Cal Veterans Service Center

Academic, Financial Aid, Personal Counseling • GI Bill Counseling • Community Room • Peer Advising • Drop-in Counseling

The Cal Veteran Services Center is dedicated to providing programs and services to support the academic and personal success of student veterans. As a supportive and inclusive community, we are committed to increasing student veteran access to and their awareness of campus resources and enrichment opportunities. The center also promotes campus and community engagement and leadership development that help develop students' academic and professional goals.

Undocumented Student Program (USP)

Resource Center • Legal Support • Grants & Funding

UC Berkeley's Undocumented Student Program (USP) delivers individualized service for each student with a  holistic, multicultural, and solution-focused approach. The academic counseling, legal support, financial aid resources, and extensive campus referral network provided by USP helps students develop the unique gifts and talents they each bring to the university, while empowering a sense of belonging. The program’s mission is to support the advancement of undocumented students within higher education and promote pathways for engaged scholarship.

Campus Safety

Uc police department (ucpd).

In an Emergency Call 911 • Non-Emergency Line (510) 642-6760  •  UCPD Emergency from a cell phone or near campus (510) 642-3333 • Blue Light Emergency Phones on Campus • Yellow Emergency Phones near all elevators in Evans Hall

Through collaboration with community partners UCPD strives to provide the highest level of service to all who attend, work and visit the UC Berkeley campuses. UCPD's approach is to involve students, faculty and staff in activities and operations. UCPD can't do this alone, and so ask the community and visitors to help UCPD create a safe and secure environment for everyone to enjoy.

Night Safety Services

Bearwalk (Dusk - 3:00 AM) • Night Safety Shuttle (7:30 PM - 3:00 AM) • Door-to-Door Service (3:00 - 5:30 AM)

UC Berkeley offers comprehensive free night safety services made up of BearWalk escort , night shuttle buses , and a door-to-door service . The time of day determines what services are available.

Campus Units

Berkeley international office (bio).

Supporting Cal's international community!

Graduate Division

Applying to Graduate School Do you want to change the world for the better? With over 100 graduate programs to choose from, Berkeley opens up a world of possibility.

Trump’s ‘Knock on the Door’

The former president and his aides are formulating plans to deport millions of migrants.

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Confrontations over immigration and border security are moving to the center of the struggle between the two parties, both in Washington, D.C., and beyond. And yet the most explosive immigration clash of all may still lie ahead.

In just the past few days, Washington has seen the collapse of a bipartisan Senate deal to toughen border security amid opposition from former President Donald Trump and the House Republican leadership, as well as a failed vote by House Republicans to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for allegedly refusing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. Simultaneously, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, supported by more than a dozen other GOP governors, has renewed his attempts to seize greater control over immigration enforcement from the federal government.

Cumulatively these clashes demonstrate how much the terms of debate over immigration have moved to the right during President Joe Biden’s time in office. But even amid that overall shift, Trump is publicly discussing immigration plans for a second presidential term that could quickly become much more politically divisive than even anything separating the parties now.

Trump has repeatedly promised that, if reelected, he will pursue “the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History,” as he put it last month on social media . Inherently, such an effort would be politically explosive. That’s because any mass-deportation program would naturally focus on the largely minority areas of big Democratic-leaning cities where many undocumented immigrants have settled, such as Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, New York, and Phoenix.

“What this means is that the communities that are heavily Hispanic or Black, those marginalized communities are going to be living in absolute fear of a knock on the door, whether or not they are themselves undocumented,” David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told me. “What he’s describing is a terrifying police state, the pretext of which is immigration.”

How Trump and his advisers intend to staff such a program would make a prospective Trump deportation campaign even more volatile. Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president’s command. Miller says a reelected Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.

Such deployment of red-state forces into blue states, over the objections of their mayors and governors, would likely spark intense public protest and possibly even conflict with law-enforcement agencies under local control. And that conflict itself could become the justification for further insertion of federal forces into blue jurisdictions, notes Joseph Nunn, a counsel in the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

From his very first days as a national candidate in 2015, Trump has intermittently promised to pursue a massive deportation program against undocumented immigrants. As president, Trump moved in unprecedented ways to reduce the number of new arrivals in the country by restricting both legal and illegal immigration. But he never launched the huge “deportation force” or widespread removals that, he frequently promised, would uproot the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States during his time in office. Over Trump’s four years, in fact, his administration deported only about a third as many people from the nation’s interior as Barack Obama’s administration had over the previous four years, according to a study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute .

Read: The GOP’s true priority

Exactly why Trump never launched the comprehensive deportation program he promised is unclear even to some veterans of his administration. The best answer may be a combination of political resistance within Congress and in local governments, logistical difficulties, and internal opposition from the more mainstream conservative appointees who held key positions in his administration, particularly in his first years.

This time, though, Trump has been even more persistent than in the 2016 campaign in promising a sweeping deportation effort. (“Those Biden has let in should not get comfortable because they will be going home,” Trump posted on his Truth Social site last month .) Simultaneously, Miller has outlined much more explicit and detailed plans than Trump ever did in 2016 about how the administration would implement such a deportation program in a second term.

Dismissing these declarations as merely campaign bluster would be a mistake, Miles Taylor, who served as DHS chief of staff under Trump, told me in an interview. “If Stephen Miller says it, if Trump says it, it is very reasonable to assume that’s what they will try to do in a second term,” said Taylor, who later broke with Trump to write a New York Times op-ed and a book that declared him unfit for the job . (Taylor wrote the article and book anonymously, but later acknowledged that he was the author.)

Officials at DHS successfully resisted many of Miller’s most extreme immigration ideas during Trump’s term, Taylor said. But with the experience of Trump’s four years behind them, Taylor told me Trump and Miller would be in a much stronger position in 2025 to drive through militant ideas such as mass deportation and internment camps for undocumented migrants. “Stephen Miller has had the time and the battle scars to inform a very systematic strategy,” Taylor said.

Miller outlined the Trump team’s plans for a mass-deportation effort most extensively in an interview he did this past November on a podcast hosted by the conservative activist Charlie Kirk. In the interview, Miller suggested that another Trump administration would seek to remove as many as 10 million “foreign-national invaders” who he claims have entered the country under Biden.

To round up those migrants, Miller said, the administration would dispatch forces to “go around the country arresting illegal immigrants in large-scale raids.” Then, he said, it would build “large-scale staging grounds near the border, most likely in Texas,” to serve as internment camps for migrants designated for deportation. From these camps, he said, the administration would schedule near-constant flights returning migrants to their home countries. “So you create this efficiency by having these standing facilities where planes are moving off the runway constantly, probably military aircraft, some existing DHS assets,” Miller told Kirk.

In the interview, Miller acknowledged that removing migrants at this scale would be an immense undertaking, comparable in scale and complexity to “building the Panama Canal.” He said the administration would use multiple means to supplement the limited existing immigration-enforcement personnel available to them, primarily at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. One would be to reassign personnel from other federal law-enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the DEA. Another would be to “deputize” local police and sheriffs. And a third would be to requisition National Guard troops to participate in the deportation plans.

Miller offered two scenarios for enlisting National Guard troops in removing migrants. One would be in states where Republican governors want to cooperate. “You go to the red-state governors and you say, ‘Give us your National Guard,’” he said. “We will deputize them as immigration-enforcement officers.”

The second scenario, Miller said, would involve sending National Guard forces from nearby Republican-controlled states into what he called an “unfriendly state” whose governor would not willingly join the deportation program.

Read: The specter of family separation

Even those sweeping plans understate the magnitude of the effort that mass deportations would require, Jason Houser, a former chief of staff at ICE under Biden, told me. Removing 500,000 to 1 million migrants a year could require as many as 100,000–150,000 deputized enforcement officers, Houser believes. Staffing the internment camps and constant flights that Miller is contemplating could require 50,000 more people, Houser said. “If you want to deport a million a year—and I’m a Navy officer—you are talking a mobilization the size of a military deployment,” Houser told me.

Enormous legal resources would be required too. Immigration lawyers point out that even if Trump detained migrants through mass roundups, the administration would still need individual deportation orders from immigration courts for each person it wants to remove from the country. “It’s not as simple as sending Guardsmen in to arrest everyone who is illegal or undocumented,” said Leopold, the immigration lawyer.

All of this exceeds the staffing now available for immigration enforcement; ICE, Houser said, has only about 6,000 enforcement agents. To fill the gap, he said, Trump would need to transfer huge numbers of other federal law-enforcement agents, weakening the ability of agencies including the DEA, the FBI, and the U.S. Marshals Service to fulfill their principal responsibilities. And even then, Trump would still need support from the National Guard to reach the scale he’s discussing.

Even if Trump used National Guard troops in supporting roles, rather than to “break down doors” in pursuit of migrants, they would be thrust into highly contentious situations, Houser said.

“You are talking about taking National Guard members out of their jobs in Texas and moving them into, say, Philadelphia and having them do mass stagings,” Houser said. “Literally as Philadelphians are leaving for work, or their kids are going to school, they are going to see mass-deportation centers with children and mothers who were just in the community working and thriving.” He predicts that Trump would be forced to convert warehouses or abandoned malls into temporary relocation centers for thousands of migrants.

Adam Goodman, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of The Deportation Machine , told me, “There’s no precedent of millions of people being removed in U.S. history in a short period of time.” The example Trump most often cites as a model is “Operation Wetback,” the mass-deportation program—named for a slur against Mexican Americans—launched by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954. That program involved huge sweeps through not only workplaces, but also heavily Mexican American communities in cities such as Los Angeles. Yet even that effort, despite ensnaring an unknown number of legal residents, removed only about 250,000 people, Goodman said. To deport the larger numbers Trump is promising, he would need an operation of much greater scale and expense.

The Republican response to Texas’s standoff with the Biden administration offers Trump reason for optimism that red-state governors would support his ambitious immigration plans. So far, 14 Republican-controlled states have sent National Guard troops or other law-enforcement personnel to bolster Abbott in his ongoing efforts to assert more control over immigration issues . The Supreme Court last month overturned a lower-court decision that blocked federal agents from dismantling the razor-wire barriers Texas has been erecting along the border. But Abbott insists that he’ll build more of the barriers nonetheless. “We are expanding to further areas to make sure we will expand our level of deterrence,” Abbott declared last Sunday at a press conference near the border , where he was joined by 13 other GOP governors. Abbott has said he expects every red state to eventually send forces to back his efforts.

But the National Guard deployments to Texas still differ from the scenario that Miller has sketched. Abbott is welcoming the personnel that other states are sending to Texas. In that sense, this deployment is similar to the process under which George W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden utilized National Guard troops to support federal immigration-enforcement efforts in Texas and, at times, other border states: None of the governors of those states has opposed the use of those troops in their territory for that purpose.

The prospect of Trump dispatching red-state National Guard troops on deportation missions into blue states that oppose them is more akin to his actions during the racial-justice protests following the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020. At that point, Trump deployed National Guardsmen provided by 11 Republican governors to Washington, D.C., to quell the protests.

The governors provided those forces to Trump under what’s known as “hybrid status” for the National Guard (also known as Title 32 status). Under hybrid status, National Guard troops remain under the technical command of their state’s governor, even though they are executing a federal mission. Using troops in hybrid status isn’t particularly unusual; what made that deployment “unprecedented,” in Joseph Nunn’s phrase, is that the troops were deployed over the objection of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The hybrid status that Trump used in D.C. is probably the model the former president and Miller are hoping to use to send red-state National Guard forces into blue states that don’t want them, Nunn told me. But Nunn believes that federal courts would block any such effort. Trump could ignore the objections from the D.C. government because it’s not a state, but Nunn believes that if Trump sought to send troops in hybrid status from, say, Indiana to support deportation raids in Chicago, federal courts would say that violates Illinois’ constitutional rights. “Under the Constitution, the states are sovereign and coequal,” Nunn said. “One state cannot reach into another state and exercise governmental power there without the receiving state’s consent.”

But Trump could overcome that obstacle, Nunn said, through a straightforward, if more politically risky, alternative that he and his aides have already discussed. If Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, which dates back to 1792, he would have almost unlimited authority to use any military asset for his deportation program. Under the Insurrection Act, Trump could dispatch the Indiana National Guard into Illinois, take control of the Illinois National Guard for the job, or directly send in active-duty military forces, Nunn said.

“There are not a lot of meaningful criteria in the Insurrection Act for assessing whether a given situation warrants using it, and there is no mechanism in the law that allows the courts or Congress to check an abuse of the act,” Nunn told me. “There are quite literally no safeguards.”

Read: America’s immigration reckoning has arrived

The Insurrection Act is the legal tool presidents invoked to federalize control over state National Guards when southern governors used the troops to block racial integration. For Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to instead target racial minorities through his deportation program might be even more politically combustible than sending in National Guard troops through hybrid status during the 2020 D.C. protests, Nunn said. But, like many other immigration and security experts I spoke with, Nunn believes those concerns are not likely to dissuade a reelected Trump from using the Insurrection Act if courts block his other options.

In fact, as I’ve written , a mass-deportation program staffed partially with red-state National Guard forces is only one of several ideas that Trump has embraced for introducing federal forces into blue jurisdictions over the objections of their local leaders. He’s also talked about sending federal personnel into blue cities to round up homeless people (and place them in camps as well) or just to fight crime. Invoking the Insurrection Act might be the necessary predicate for those initiatives as well.

These plans could produce scenes in American communities unmatched in our history. Leopold, to take one scenario raised by Miller in his interview, asks what would happen if the Republican governor of Virginia, at Trump’s request, sends National Guard troops into Maryland, but the Democratic governor of that state orders his National Guard to block their entry? Similarly, in a huge deportation sweep through a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles or Chicago, it’s easy to imagine frightened migrant families taking refuge in a church and a Democratic mayor ordering local police to surround the building. Would federal agents and National Guard troops sent by Trump try to push past the local police by force?

For all the tumult that the many disputes over immigration are now generating, these possibilities could prove far more disruptive, incendiary, and even violent.

“What we would expect to see in a second Trump presidency is governance by force,” Deana El-Mallawany, a counsel and the director of impact programs at Protect Democracy, a bipartisan group focused on threats to democracy, told me. “This is his retribution agenda. He is looking at ways to aggrandize and consolidate power within the presidency to do these extreme things, and going after marginalized groups first, like migrants and the homeless, is the way to expand that power, normalize it, and then wield it more broadly against everybody in our democracy.”

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Guest Essay

I’m a Neuroscientist. We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.

President Biden seated in a chair holding a stack of what looks like index cards.

By Charan Ranganath

Dr. Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the forthcoming book “Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters.”

The special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report, in which he declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, also included a much-debated assessment of Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

As an expert on memory, I can assure you that everyone forgets. In fact, most of the details of our lives — the people we meet, the things we do and the places we go — will inevitably be reduced to memories that capture only a small fraction of those experiences.

It is normal to be more forgetful as you get older. Generally, memory functions begin to decline in our 30s and continue to fade into old age. However, age in and of itself doesn’t indicate the presence of memory deficits that would affect an individual’s ability to perform in a demanding leadership role. And an apparent memory lapse may or may not be consequential, depending on the reasons it occurred.

There is forgetting, and there is Forgetting. If you’re over the age of 40, you’ve most likely experienced the frustration of trying to grasp that slippery word on the tip of your tongue. Colloquially, this might be described as forgetting, but most memory scientists would call this retrieval failure, meaning that the memory is there but we just can’t pull it up when we need it. On the other hand, Forgetting (with a capital F) is when a memory is seemingly lost or gone altogether. Inattentively conflating the names of the leaders of two countries would fall in the first category, whereas being unable to remember that you had ever met the president of Egypt would fall into the second.

Over the course of typical aging, we see changes in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that plays a starring role in many of our day-to-day memory successes and failures. These changes mean that as we get older, we tend to be more distractible and often struggle to pull up words or names we’re looking for. Remembering events takes longer, and it requires more effort, and we can’t catch errors as quickly as we used to. This translates to a lot more forgetting and a little more Forgetting.

Many of the special counsel’s observations about Mr. Biden’s memory seem to fall in the category of forgetting, meaning that they are more indicative of a problem with finding the right information from memory than Forgetting. Calling up the date that an event occurred, like the last year of Mr. Biden’s vice presidency or the year of his son’s death, is a complex measure of memory. Remembering that an event took place is different from being able to put a date on when it happened, which is more challenging with increased age. The president very likely has many memories, even though he could not immediately pull up dates in the stressful (and more immediately pressing) context of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Other “memory” issues highlighted in the media are not so much cases of forgetting as they are of difficulties in the articulation of facts and knowledge. For instance, in July 2023, Mr. Biden mistakenly stated in a speech that “we have over 100 people dead,” when he should have said, “over one million.” He has struggled with a stutter since childhood, and research suggests that managing a stutter demands prefrontal resources that would normally enable people to find the right word or at least quickly correct errors after the fact.

Americans are understandably concerned about the advanced age of the two top contenders in the coming presidential election (Mr. Biden is 81, and Donald Trump is 77), although some of these concerns are rooted in cultural stereotypes and fears around aging. The fact is that there is a huge degree of variability in cognitive aging. Age is, on average, associated with decreased memory, but studies that follow up the same person over several years have shown that although some older adults show precipitous declines over time, other super-agers remain as sharp as ever.

Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He’s also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than the Berkshire Hathaway C.E.O., Warren Buffett (93). All these individuals are considered to be at the top of their professions, and yet I would not be surprised if they are more forgetful and absent-minded than when they were younger. In other words, an individual’s age does not say anything definitive about the person’s cognitive status or where it will head in the near future.

I can’t speak to the cognitive status of any of the presidential candidates, but I can say that, rather than focus on candidates’ ages per se, we should consider whether they have the capabilities to do the job. Public perception of a person’s cognitive state is often determined by superficial factors, such as physical presence, confidence and verbal fluency, but these aren’t necessarily relevant to one’s capacity to make consequential decisions about the fate of this country. Memory is surely relevant, but other characteristics, such as knowledge of the relevant facts and emotion regulation — both of which are relatively preserved and might even improve with age — are likely to be of equal or greater importance.

Ultimately, we are due for a national conversation about what we should expect in terms of the cognitive and emotional health of our leaders.

And that should be informed by science, not politics.

Charan Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of “ Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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  • There is one required question you must answer.
  • You must also answer 3 out of 7 additional questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which three questions you choose to answer are 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 questions 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.

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.

Required question

Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university. Things to consider: How did your interest in your major develop? Do you have any experience related to your major outside the classroom;such as volunteer work, internships and employment, or participation in student organizations and activities? If you haven't had experience in the field, consider including experience in the classroom. This may include working with faculty or doing research projects.

If you're applying to multiple campuses with a different major at each campus, think about approaching the topic from a broader perspective, or find a common thread among the majors you've chosen.

Choose to answer any three of the following seven questions:

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 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? 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'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? 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. 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? 7. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? Things to consider: If there's anything you want us to know about you, but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

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

Writing tips

Start early..

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

Write persuasively.

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

Use “I” statements.

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

Proofread and edit.

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

Solicit feedback.

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

Copy and paste.

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

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

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College of Biological Sciences

College of Biological Sciences

Celina juliano named 2023-24 chancellor's fellow.

Celina Juliano holding small plastic container

New Chancellor’s Fellows make an even 200

  • by Cody Kitaura
  • February 13, 2024

Celina Juliano, an associate professor of molecular and cellular biology who studies the regenerative capabilities of Hydra vulgaris, a small, freshwater relative of the jellyfish, has been named a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellow. This year's fellows are experts in everything from linguistics to law, from the economics of climate change to the reliability of software. These nine faculty members — eight associate professors and one professor — are UC Davis’ newest class of Chancellor’s Fellows, a title given to early career academics doing exemplary work.

“These outstanding faculty members are some of our brightest and most promising scholars,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “I know they will continue to impress and shine a light on the groundbreaking work happening here at UC Davis. I expect this recognition and support will help propel them to even greater heights.”

The Chancellor’s Fellows program was created in 2000, and this year’s class brings the total number of recipients to an even 200. Recipients carry the title for five years and are awarded $25,000 in unrestricted philanthropic support for research or other scholarly work.

“We’re all celebrating reaching 200 Chancellor’s Fellows,” said Shaun B. Keister, vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations. “Our dedicated donors have helped launch some of the most impactful research of the past two decades, supporting early-career experts across all disciplines. This is a true testament to how philanthropy is changing the world.”

Celina Juliano and student in lab

Juliano uses the freshwater invertebrate  Hydra  as an animal model to study stem cell biology, aging and regeneration. Her current research investigates the cellular mechanisms of whole-body regeneration with the long-term goal of translating findings from regenerative animals like Hydra to humans.

“Dr. Juliano is a tireless and generous organizer of growing and vibrant  Hydra  research communities, as well as an effective trainer of the next generation of developmental biologists,” wrote Frédéric Chédin, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “She is a fantastic and supportive instructor at undergraduate and graduate levels, and is contributing to the success of diverse cohorts of students and scientists.”

See all of this year's Chancellor's Fellows here . 

Media Resources

  • Cody Kitaura is the editor of Dateline UC Davis and  can be reached by email  or at 530-752-1932.

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    Celina Juliano, an associate professor of molecular and cellular biology who studies the regenerative capabilities of Hydra vulgaris, a small, freshwater relative of the jellyfish, has been named a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellow. This year's fellows are experts in everything from linguistics to law, from the economics of climate change to the reliability of software. These nine faculty members ...

  29. Supreme Court's Options Narrow as Trump Loses Each Appeal

    After the DC Circuit's common-sense ruling, the justices will struggle to accept the former president's immunity defense in the Jan. 6 case. Noah Feldman is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. A ...