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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!)

uc personal statement prompts

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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.

ballerinas-cc0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

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

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

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

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

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

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

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

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

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

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

body_communityservice-1

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

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

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

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

body_community_service-1

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The university wants this information because of the following:

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

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

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

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

Connect Outward

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

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

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

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

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

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

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Show Your Feelings

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

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

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

What's Next?

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

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

Interested in taking the SAT one more time? Check out our highly detailed explainer on studying for the SAT to learn how to prepare best.

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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 Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions (with examples!)

uc personal statement prompts

If you’re applying to a University of California campus, you may already know that you’ll need to respond to four (out of eight) personal insight questions. The UC personal insight questions will require a good amount of time and effort, but fortunately we’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll dissect each prompt and offer some tips on how to respond. And if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, be sure to check out our example essays as well. Let’s get started!

Don’t miss: How to write an essay about yourself

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

You don’t have to be captain of a sports team or president of a school club to be a leader. Titles like those are great (and are definitely worth talking about), but leadership can be demonstrated in more subtle ways as well. Think about the times in which people have looked to you for guidance or support. It could be a group of friends, your coworkers, or even a younger sibling or family member. Whatever the case may be, you should write about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. This essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your ability to make a positive impact outside the classroom. 

Questions to consider: 

  • What does being a leader mean to you?
  • How has your perspective on leadership changed over time?
  • What qualities do you possess that make you a good leader?
“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. (max: 350 words)”

Creativity takes so many different forms. From music to cooking to fashion, there are countless ways to express creativity. Think about the area of your life in which you exhibit original ideas or unique ways of thinking. It may not be obvious for everyone, but chances are you’re creative in ways that you haven’t even realized. Any time you produce a new thought, idea, or concept, you’re being creative. Once you find your creative niche, focus on your motive. Why do you create? Does it bring you joy? Does it connect to your personal or professional ambitions? Ultimately, your goal in this essay should be to articulate the value of your creativity. 

  • How do you define creativity? 
  • How does being creative make you feel?
  • What impact does your creativity have on yourself and others?
“What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (max: 350 words)”

Some people have a talent or skill that is central to their identity. Maybe you’re a gifted athlete or you have a knack for making people laugh. Maybe you’re a skilled communicator. Consider your greatest talents and what they mean to you. Think about how your talent has shaped your own life and how it has influenced others. It is important to remember to avoid coming across as boastful. You may be a talented soccer player, for instance, but don’t use the entire essay to talk about how good you are at playing goalie. Instead, focus on how soccer has had a positive impact on your life. 

  • How has your talent influenced who you are as a person?
  • How did you discover your talent, and how has it grown since then?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your talent?
“Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (max: 350 words)”

This prompt is interesting because it gives students a couple of options. Students can choose to either write about an educational opportunity or an educational barrier. If you decide to write about an opportunity, think about the experiences that have better prepared you for college. Have you taken any advanced classes, enrolled in any academic enrichment programs, or completed any internships? If so, write about what you gained from the experience and what you learned. 

If you choose to write about a barrier, think about the times in which you’ve faced significant obstacles to your education. Obstacles could include a variety of things, such as family issues, switching schools, or lacking the money needed for school supplies. Whatever the case may be, it’s better to emphasize what you did to overcome the problem rather than focusing on the issue itself. This essay is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your resilience to adversity. 

  • In what ways have you gone above and beyond to further your education?
  • Have you faced any disruptions to your education? If so, how did you react?
  • How did your opportunity or barrier influence who you are today? 
“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? (max: 350 words)”

We all face challenges in life, but the key to overcoming any obstacle is the manner in which we react. Think about a setback in your life that could have derailed you, but instead you persevered. Examples include moving to a new school or town, coping with the loss of a loved one, or dealing with financial hardship. Describe the problem, but avoid lingering on the negative side of things. Similar to the fourth prompt, you should focus the majority of your response on what you actually did to overcome the challenge. 

  • Have you ever turned a negative situation into a positive one?
  • How have the challenges in your life made you better-equipped to deal with future setbacks? 
  • Why are obstacles an important part of life? 
“Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (max: 350 words)”

This is your chance to write about your academic passions. Think about your favorite field of study and what excites you about it. Discuss how your interest in the subject has taken shape over time, and what you have done to cultivate that interest. Have you participated in any activities outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, or student clubs — to learn more about your field? If applicable, you can also discuss how your academic interests connect to your future career goals. 

  • What’s a topic or idea that you never get bored of? 
  • What was the moment that sparked your interest in this subject?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your interest?
“What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (max: 350 words)”

Colleges love to see candidates who have the potential to make a positive impact on campus, and this essay is a great chance to demonstrate that potential. When brainstorming ideas, remember that the word “community” can mean a lot of different things. It could refer to a sports team, a school club, a neighborhood, a family, a workplace, or even a group of friends. Think about the people and places that constitute your community, and consider what you have done to make a difference. 

  • How have your actions benefited your community? 
  • How does your community add value to your life? 
  • How would members of your community describe you? 
“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? (max: 350 words)”

This is a great prompt for students who have a story or experience that doesn’t fit the mold of the other prompts. It’s essentially a catch-all prompt that allows you to write about anything you want. That being said, it’s important to find a focus and stick with it. Don’t let your essay become too broad. Instead, try to focus on one or two specific experiences and describe how they make you an excellent candidate for UC.

  • What should UC know about you that they wouldn’t learn from the rest of your application?
  • Do you have any amazing or exceptional stories that don’t fit the mold of the other prompts?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates? 

Don’t miss: Tips for a successful college application

Example essays 

We’ve given you some tips on how to respond to each prompt, but sometimes it’s helpful to see how another person approached the prompt. Below you’ll find example essays for each of the eight UC prompts. Check them out if you’re looking for some inspiration! We’ve also included feedback on each example from our seasoned admissions expert Bill Jack .

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

Thirty-six hours to plan a triathlon with minimal course congestion and road closure time, write a 30-33 page solution to this problem, and address a two-page letter to the “mayor” summarizing our solution. This was our assigned task as part of the 2016 annual High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

This hypothetical triathlon was set to host around 2000 participants, all ranging in skill level. Further, the local roads surrounding the triathlon could only be closed for a maximum of 5.5 hours. Confronting this information, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I sat, perplexed. How could we prevent the less experienced competitors from potentially slowing down their faster counterparts? Allowing the less experienced competitors to start last wouldn’t work, we figured, as this would probably close the roads for too long.

After some thought, I figured that initially separating the participants by lanes and implementing a wave-start system would be the best way to go. If those faster competitors were separated from those slower at first, then they would be able to get ahead before the lanes eventually merged – preventing any participants from potentially hindering others’ progress.

While we celebrated having finally figured out an answer to the question, there was a lot of work to go. To me, it seemed reasonable that everyone do the work best suited to their strengths. My teammates agreed. After some deliberation, it was settled: I would complete the bulk of the writing, Ellen and Megan the math, and Daisy the graph and map-making. A mere 30-ish hours later, we were finished.

After a few read-throughs of the finished products, admiration of each other’s work, and an agreement that all looked good, we sent in the completed project. For our work, we were honored with “Meritorious” in the contest, the third-highest possible honor in the competition. Exchanging texts, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I took pride in such an honor. The project had not only given me practical knowledge on how to organize a triathlon, but also taught me leadership and teamwork skills that I hope to use in my future endeavors – hypothetical or not. (Word count: 349 words)

Expert analysis from an admissions professional:

While the person at UC who reads this might know about this particular mathematical contest, it is definitely wise to assume they know nothing.  It was super helpful that the writer chose to give some background about what exactly they were tasked to do.  Readers will glean many things in an application relative to a student’s leadership skills.  While leadership skills are certainly quite desirable to admission officers, one reason this personal insight response is particularly… well… insightful (!!), is because it speaks to how the person performs as part of a team. – Bill Jack

“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.”

A beautiful road, the darkness of the tall trees contrasting the bright orange, pink, and purples hues up above. These are the types of pictures I love on Instagram: beautiful scenes of nature, typically including trees. I am always delighted to see them on my screen, but rarely, if ever, do I get to see such scenes in real life. 

Such photos inspired me to try painting a similar landscape this past summer to capture the scenes I love so much. I decided to use acrylic paints throughout, from the mesmerizing sky, to the trees themselves. It turned out that this wasn’t the best idea; acrylics dry too quickly to be spread across a large area, which made it incredibly difficult to paint the vast, all-encompassing sky. Before moving on, I considered what to do next: keep trudging on, or start anew? 

Eventually, I added some water to the paint, unknowingly thinking that it would help the paint spread more easily. This did not help, and the painting turned out looking like a number of navy green blobs in front of another, pinker blob, rather than green fir trees in front of a beautiful evening sky. 

Despite this setback, I persevered and tried again. I used watercolors and smaller brushes instead, hoping to make the tree branches more distinct. The sky initially turned out better, with the colors mixing more easily this time. However, I hadn’t waited long enough to paint the trees. The dark green of the leaves had mixed with the hues of the far brighter sky, again making the trees nearly indiscernible.

Problem solving is a key part of doing something new. My lack of experience with painting forced me to put careful thought into what I was going to do next, teaching me that I should put more time into what I do, rather than rushing to finish as soon as possible. I hope that whatever comes next, whether it be painting another landscape or preparing for a marathon, is done with the same care and thought that I put into painting those exquisite fir trees. (Word count: 350 words)

Responses that can paint a picture allow the person reading the application to dive into the world of the student.  In this case, painting a picture is literally what is happening!  Using such good adjectives really does a great job describing why they started with acrylics and why they ended with watercolors.  Although the purpose of this response is to showcase the student’s creativity, it is neat how this response also happens to allow the reader to tap into their own creativity, too, because they are invited to imagine what the finished painting might look like. – Bill Jack

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

Whether a love song by Taylor Swift or a story about George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, I have always enjoyed being completely absorbed in a story. Wanting to recreate this same feeling for others, at nine years old, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods. I only got a few pages through. However, my next protagonist, Phil the pig, would see some longevity. Whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, he was always at the forefront, angry. In my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my high school, I decided to join to see if my interest had survived. Luckily, it did. The club not only reaffirmed my passion for writing, but introduced me to new means of expression as well. From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, putting it all down in a journal.

Around the same time, I developed an interest in classic literature. A project in English class had required us to read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and develop my abilities, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing being part of my future, and hope that Phil will accompany me every step of the way. (Word count: 350 words)

Near the end, we learn that writing is likely to be part of the student’s future.  This is great to learn.  Too often admission officers might not know how a student’s current pursuits relate to their goals.  We learn here about Phil the pig, we learn about their interest in classic literature, and we learn why they joined the writing club.  We are taken on a journey that tells us how writing–and reading–has been part of their life, including how it has evolved and developed over the years. – Bill Jack

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

Nineteen ninety-nine marked the year my mom moved to the U.S. from South Korea. Stepping off the plane, my mom’s English level was impressive for someone who had never stepped foot outside her native country. Her English speaking skills were quite proficient, and she understood the language with ease. However, having aspirations of becoming a teacher in this new country, she knew she had to brush up on her English. Quick.

To accomplish this goal, my parents decided to speak English at home. Days and years of discussing shows, events, and daily tasks in English were a great source of practice. As my brother and I got older and saw improvements in our English, she did too. All was good.

That was until I realized I didn’t really “know” Korean. Besides the familial terms I used for my obba (older brother) and omma (mom) and a number of other food-related and random words, I was largely clueless. So, I decided it would be nice to be able to speak the native language of, not only my mom, but her entire side of the family.

As my high school didn’t offer Korean language classes, I figured that self-studying would be the best course of action. I did some research online and found an elementary-level Korean workbook. After outlining a quick “study plan,” the following summer was filled with hours of working in my Korean workbook. My mom helped, reading over my completed pages, alerting me to any mistakes I made, and setting me on the right path. 

Around the end of the summer, I was able to form simple sentences and even somewhat communicate with my Korean relatives. Self-studying also had its perks: I learned how to manage my time and motivate myself to study, something that might’ve surprised the former procrastinator in me. My mom was pleasantly surprised too, embracing her role as the teacher and I, the student. As I move into this next part of my life, I hope to continue following in her footsteps, using the new skills – Korean and otherwise – I learned that dear summer. (Word count: 350 words)

This response covers so much ground!  We learn about the student’s family background, about the family’s transition to the United States, and the student’s desire to connect deeper with their Korean culture.  We also learn about personal traits such as motivation, perseverance, and determination.  Often in college students will want to explore a subject further than the curriculum allows, and this response speaks loudly about what the student will do when faced with that barrier.  And that we got to learn a couple of Korean words is just a cherry on top! – Bill Jack

“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?”

New city, new school, new home — a lot of new things came into my life during my seventh grade year. It wasn’t easy getting used to so many changes, and the circumstances surrounding those changes were tough to wrap my head around. 

To give you some context, my dad was a carpenter and a year earlier he had fallen off a roof on one of his job sites. He severely injured his back, became unable to work, and our family fell into a tough financial situation as a result. Our house in Asheville met foreclosure and the only option was to move to Winston-Salem. Fortunately, my parents owned a second home there. The situation could have been much worse, looking back on it, but that didn’t change the fact that my life in Asheville had been uprooted.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, all my friends were gone, and I was sitting among complete strangers at the lunch table. I was also navigating some unfamiliar cultural territory, being one of the few white students at a school that was largely black and Latino. I was completely out of my element, but looking back on it, it’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. 

During my first year in Winston-Salem, I was pushed out of my comfort zone in a way that I had never experienced before. To make new friends, I made a conscious effort to be more outgoing. I connected with my classmates, making jokes and striking up conversations. Eventually I formed some strong friendships, several of which I maintain to this day. On top of that, my new friends were a diverse bunch — black, white, Mexican, male, female — and as a result I gained a different cultural perspective that shaped the way I view the world today. 

The whole experience showed me that change brings discomfort, but it can also bring positive growth. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if I had never left Asheville. I probably wouldn’t have been as open-minded, and I definitely wouldn’t have been as good at adjusting to new situations. As I prepare for my first year of college, I look forward to embracing all the changes that will come along with it. (Word count: 380 words)

The last sentence of this response really encapsulates why what we learn is relevant to the college search.  For people who work in education, we know all too well how lunchroom dynamics really do have a large impact on a high school student’s life.  As we learn, the student was uprooted, had to make new friends, and absolutely was not in their comfort zone.  Let’s face it: that’s your first semester of college.  Seeing that the student has had success already transitioning into an unfamiliar environment bodes very well for how their transition to college will be. -Bill Jack

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

I’ve always been fascinated by people. So has my dad. Not in a weird way, but rather in an isn’t-it-interesting-why-people-act-the-way-they-do way. Over the years, this has led to hours of discussing how the environment one grows up in, and a number of other factors, contribute to one’s general disposition. Perhaps expectedly, these talks led me to develop an interest in psychology.

However, they were not my only early exposure to the field. For as long as I can remember, I have tuned in to watch Criminal Minds on CBS at 9 p.m. every Wednesday. Particularly fascinating to me has been how J.J., Morgan, Reid, and the rest of the crew are able to use insights from psychology to create largely accurate assessments about suspects based on evidence alone.

Having gotten a little older, I now realize that this process is called “profiling” and that it shares similarities with abnormal psychology. Wanting to dive deeper and learn more about the subject, I was led to Dr. Roxane Gold’s psychology lab at the University of California, Irvine, the summer after my junior year.

Arriving at the lab, I was assigned to a project wherein participants were exposed to surprising or potentially stressful events through videos or pictures, all while their slight movements were tracked. As a research assistant, I was responsible for the movement data, tracking the peaks which signified surprise on behalf of participants. It was surprising to learn how repeated exposure to shocking or stressful media, even images, could have enduring negative impacts on people.

Such an experience certainly taught me a lot about the realities of conducting psychological research. The results, unlike the discussions with my dad, were not always so lighthearted. However, I hope to eventually use this experience to produce something more positive. If possible, I want to one day apply the knowledge I gained to my own research, to discover methods to help the people suffering from the psychological problems I study. As learning about psychology has brought me much joy, I hope to use it to do the same for others. (Word count: 348 words)

Citing television shows or movies can be risky because the reader might not be familiar.  (Criminal Minds is an awesome show, by the way!)  One reason this response works well is because it is not merely a report about the show.  It is not merely why the student likes watching it.  Instead they explain the show’s influence on their life: they have taken the initiative to be a research assistant already and they want to pursue their own psychology research.  And it is great to learn about their future plans: to bring joy to folks who might be suffering. – Bill Jack

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

Smiling faces, cheerful conversation, upbeat music – this was the scene surrounding me on that early April afternoon at Corpening Plaza in downtown Winston-Salem. I surveyed the bustling plaza, observing the many food truck vendors, musicians, and small business owners who had come together to celebrate Everyone Matters Day. I smiled to myself, knowing that it was the result of months of hard work.

But let’s rewind. Planning for the event was initiated almost five months earlier by the Winston-Salem Youth Advisory Council, a group in which I was involved for most of my high school career. Also known as YAC, the council is a space for high school students to actively engage the community in partnership with the city government. Throughout my three years on the council, I helped organize several community projects. One year we delivered school supplies and clothes to homeless children, and another year we filmed some commercials speaking out against bullying. 

But for several reasons, the downtown festival celebrating Everyone Matters Day is the project that I cherish the most. For one, I felt the project was especially timely. The idea for the festival spawned in late 2015, during a time when racial tensions in the U.S. were soaring. The council and I wanted to do something that would bring the city together and uplift residents in a positive way. We had caught wind of a recently established holiday called Everyone Matters Day — a day in which people around the world acknowledge everyone’s right to be who they are — and decided to host an event in honor of the day. 

The project was also particularly important to me because it was the one in which I was most involved. This was my third year on the council, and by this point I had taken on more of a leadership role. There was a lot of work that went into making the event a success, and I helped take the lead in the planning process. We needed a venue, volunteers, food truck vendors, live music, and the support of small business owners. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off when April 2 finally rolled around, and our vision became a reality. For a couple hours, our festival brought joy and positivity into the lives of others, making those months of planning absolutely worth it. (Word count: 392 words)

Often the reader does not learn in great detail about what the student’s outside-of-school activities actually entail.  After all, the college counselor and the teachers might not mention these activities in their letters of recommendation.  So if given the opportunity to tell the reader about one of these activities, please do.  You almost certainly will end up sharing something that cannot be gleaned from other parts of the application, and as we learn here, the Youth Advisory Council clearly is an important part of the student’s life. – Bill Jack

“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?”

Many families have traditions. These range from those more common, like opening up Christmas presents at a specific time each year, to those more unusual – like choosing to ring in the holidays with the consumption of fruitcake. Probably amongst the nerdiest of such traditions, however, is what my family has done every Monday through Friday for as long as I can remember: tune in to watch Jeopardy.

Like a long-time friend, Jeopardy is something that has been by my side since childhood. Thus, tuning in and seeing Alex Trebek’s familiar face quiz contestants on a variety of random subjects is something that has brought me comfort throughout the years, even if I couldn’t always answer many of the questions. As a child, besides during the annual “Kids Week” tournament for those between the ages of 10 and 12, I was often clueless. The rest of my family would typically perform better, having more years of experience and knowledge under their hypothetical belts.

Being a young child, though, I didn’t take my mistakes or lack of knowledge so trivially. After all, how could a 12-year-old be unfamiliar with Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign song? I wasn’t sure, but I did know that I wanted to prove myself. 

So, from then on, I decided to take the pursuit of knowledge more seriously. Rather than learning just to test, I would try to retain the information I learned, putting it in context and understanding its importance. As the years went on, this strategy proved successful – to an extent. I still never quite excelled at the geography questions, but I was certainly able to answer more across the board. 

Today, while I still might not be able to answer every question about Shakespeare out there, Jeopardy has given me something that will likely outlast my retention of any trivia answer: a thirst for knowledge. As I move into this next chapter of my life, I plan to bring this useful tool with me, helping me better understand and appreciate what’s come before me, and what will come after. 

Thanks, Alex! (Word count: 345 words)

This response may not be a tribute to Alex Trebek in the traditional sense, but it certainly demonstrates the power of the show: developing a thirst for knowledge.  Many college and university mottos include “knowledge,” “learn,” or similar words.  As such, it is probably no surprise that an admission officer might be particularly drawn to a student like this because they seem to like learning for learning’s sake.  Clearly this student will be at college to make the most of what they are taught: not just to memorize facts but also to retain what they learn. -Bill Jack

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal insight) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable. Whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate), make sure to “hook” your reader in. Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Your essays should ultimately reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are. Most of all, though, they should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to answer the UC personal insight questions. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal insight essay is all about effort. So long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Additional resources

If you’re filling out the UC personal insight questions, you are probably in the thick of your college applications. Luckily, we’ve got a host of resources to help you through the process! Check out our guides on writing a 250 word essay and a 500 word essay . We also have a guide to respond to the Common App prompts , as well as a list of California scholarships to pursue.

And even if you are set on a UC school, remember to apply to a wide range of schools. We can help you choose a school and find a financial safety school as well. Finally, to help you fund your education, check out our free scholarship search tool . It will custom-match you to vetted scholarships and automatically update as opportunities close and new ones open. Good luck!

Frequently asked questions about how to answer the UC Personal Insight Questions 

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-24

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024

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

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

Applying to the University of California

uc essay prompts

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

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

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

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

The UC Apply deadline is November 30 .

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

The UCs use a holistic admissions process.

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

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

How many UCs are there?

uc essay prompts

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

UC Acceptance Rates

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

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

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

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

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

Which UCs require essay prompts?

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

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

How many UC Personal Insight Questions are required?

uc essay prompts

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

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

How long are UC Personal Insight Questions?

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

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

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

What are the UC Essay Prompts?

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

Here are the eight UC prompts for the UC PIQs:

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

UC Essay Prompt #1: Leadership

uc essay prompts

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

UC Personal Insight Question #1

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

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

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

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

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #1

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

Sometimes, it can be hard to see our own accomplishments. Consider surveying your friends, family, and mentors, like teachers or coaches, for examples. Ask them how they have seen you positively influence others. From there, note if any examples feel particularly meaningful to you.

2. Be specific.

As with all UC essays, you’ll want to be specific to make a captivating argument. Spend time brainstorming specific details about your experience so that you can write about it in a compelling manner. For example, if you stood up for a friend who was being bullied, consider including details about the incident. How did you feel in the moment? What stands out to you now? 

3. Highlight your impact.

In this UC PIQ, admissions is looking for an example of how you made an impact on others. So, don’t forget to include what the effect of your involvement was. Perhaps in the bullying example, your friend told you they felt supported and safer at school, and the bullying stopped. What you learned from your experiences is as important as what happened to you.

If you choose the leadership prompt as one of your UC PIQ prompts, be sure to use these tips. Thoroughly reflecting on an experience is key to writing successful UC PIQs. Strong UC PIQ examples demonstrate strong critical thinking, another valuable trait to demonstrate in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #1 Reflection Questions

As you review your draft response to the leadership UC PIQ, consider whether your response answers the following questions:

  • Does your response clearly demonstrate a positive impact you had on others?
  • Did you provide details to illustrate your story?
  • Does your essay have an insightful reflection on what you learned about leadership?

Responding effectively to PIQ #1 requires answering yes to all these questions. Now, let’s continue looking at the UC prompts with UC PIQ #2.

UC Essay #2: Creativity 

uc essay prompts

The second of the eight available UC PIQ prompts focuses on creativity. Like the leadership question, you should interpret creativity broadly. Here is the second of the UC prompts:

UC Personal Insight Question #2

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

You might read this question and think: “I’m not creative!” However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose it for one of your UC Personal Insight Questions. As the UC prompts state, every person is creative. We simply express our creativity differently. Creativity can include finding new routes to school in the morning to evade traffic. It might also look like discovering new ingredients and recipes for your school lunches. However you define or express your creativity is valid and could make a great topic for your UC PIQs.

When selecting a topic for your UC essay prompts, think about moments when you were particularly mentally energized. Reflect on what you were doing and how you approached that situation. Then consider whether you can tell an engaging story about that situation that demonstrates your creativity. 

Here are some tips for writing strong responses to UC essay prompts on creativity:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #2

1. think outside the box..

Creativity at its core is about tapping into your individual passions and interests. Allow yourself to think broadly about your own creativity and release any assumptions about what it means to be traditionally creative. Your UC essay prompts are a space for you to be yourself.

2. Pick a passion.

This prompt is designed to let you highlight personal passions. Maybe that passion is drawing or singing, or maybe it is solving math problems. Whatever you choose to describe, make sure it is a topic that matters deeply to you. 

3. Paint a picture.

Even if your chosen topic has nothing to do with art, use details that awaken the reader’s senses. Help us feel the joy behind your creative endeavor by giving us specific sensory details that excite you. Make your UC PIQs enjoyable and exciting to read.

Of all the UC essay prompts, this one is about creativity – so be creative and have fun writing! That will translate into an interesting response. If you’re feeling stuck, it might be helpful to review other UC PIQ examples. That way, you can get a sense of how different students respond to their UC essay prompts.

UC PIQ #2 Reflection Questions

As you finish drafting your UC Personal Insight Questions, use these questions to reflect upon your response:

  • Does your topic reflect a unique way of thinking or creating?
  • Does your response reflect your passion for a creative endeavor?
  • Do you include sensory details that make your creativity come to life?

Whether you are working on a UC Irvine essay or a UC San Diego essay, ask yourself these questions. That way, you can feel confident you’ve done a comprehensive job responding to your UC prompts.

UC Essay Prompt #3: Talent

uc essay prompts

When choosing among the UC essay prompts, you might be drawn to one that allows you to talk about one of your strengths. This is your opportunity to brag about yourself, while also having self-awareness and reflecting upon your skills or talents. The third prompt on our list of the UC prompts is as follows:

UC Personal Insight Question #3

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

The key to answering this question well is to respond to all parts of the question. Start by reflecting on talents and skills that you have. A talent is anything you feel you can naturally do well, while a skill is something you’ve acquired over time. Both require work to hone. Sharing how you put work into your passions is important for any student including this talent prompt in their UC PIQs.

Again, keep an open mind as you reflect. We often associate talents and skills with huge accomplishments, like being a famous singer or an Olympic swimmer. In fact, talents can be seemingly small abilities, like memorizing difficult rap lyrics or putting together a stylish outfit. Skills can include everything from planning fun birthday parties to listening well to others. No talent or skill is too small to mention, so long as you provide engaging descriptions and meaningful reflections. (You might hear that caveat a lot when reviewing the UC prompts.)

Here are some tips for acing the third of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #3

1. brag a little..

As we mentioned, these UC prompts are designed to learn more about you. If you don’t tell UC admissions officers about your accomplishments, they won’t know about them. The strongest UC essay examples share achievements that may not be evident elsewhere on an application.

2. Be honest and vulnerable.

Just because you have a skill doesn’t mean you are perfect. Feel free to share what you find challenging about this activity or how you have sought to improve. Several UC PIQ examples highlight where students have struggled or failed in learning a new skill. Whether writing a UC Davis or UC San Diego essay, this vulnerability will stand out.

3. Focus on growth.

A strong response to UC prompts always includes self-reflection. Find the balance between bragging and highlighting weaknesses by finding the lessons you learned from this experience. Maybe you have always had a knack for predicting the weather, but one day predicted wrong and ended up soaked by a downpour. Perhaps your lesson is to be humble and always find secondary evidence to back up your predictions. 

As with all UC essay prompts, try to pick a topic you enjoy writing about. That genuine interest will come across, whether you’re writing a UCLA essay or UC Berkeley essay.

UC PIQ #3 Reflection Questions

After capturing your talent for one of your four UC PIQs, consider these reflection questions:

  • Did you highlight a talent or skill that is important to you?
  • Did you find a balance between bragging and reflecting upon your growth?
  • Did you describe your talent or skill with descriptions that make it come to life?

Check out other UC essay examples in this guide for ideas of how other students approached their UC prompts. But for now, let’s continue our exploration of the UC prompts.

UC PIQ #4: Educational opportunities and barriers

uc essay prompts

UC Personal Insight Question #4

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

The fourth of the UC essay prompts is a unique question that asks you to share an educational opportunity or barrier. Other UC prompts thus far have asked you to focus on experiences you chose. However, this question opens the door to discuss an experience that happened to you. But remember, your PIQs should always focus on you. Just as you would for other UC essay prompts, you must make a point to highlight your own growth or learnings.

Indeed, the UC school system is very aware of educational inequities across the state and country. This question acknowledges that disparity, providing space for UC admissions officers to consider a student’s educational experience in their evaluation. Students working on their UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay might be worried about their grades not being strong enough. Those students may wish to choose this prompt if their grades or course choices don’t reflect their best abilities. 

On the flip side, applicants can also use this PIQ to share further details about an opportunity they took advantage of. For example, maybe your UCLA application includes your summer research experiences but doesn’t offer space to elaborate on them. In that case, you may want to choose PIQ #4 as one of your four UC essay prompts.

When writing about education barriers or opportunities, you should be cautious about how you explain your experience. Here is some guidance about responding to this question as one of your UC PIQs effectively:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #4

1. choose a barrier or an opportunity that had significant impact on your academic career..

Your UC PIQs must highlight experiences which shaped you profoundly. Some UC PIQ examples highlight how students were accepted into programs that exposed them to a new career path. Other UC essay examples discuss how their school’s lack of classes for students with special needs prevented them from excelling. Use your UC essay prompts to your advantage by being strategic about which experiences to highlight. 

2. Remain an active participant in your story.

The goal of these UC prompts is to learn more about how you approach life. After describing the barrier or opportunity, share how it shaped you. What did you learn from the experience? What did you put into the experience to make sure you could succeed? A UC Davis essay passively complaining about a high school’s lack of advanced courses is unlikely to impress UC Admissions.

3. Focus on your growth and goals.

In many of the UC essay prompts, you have an opportunity to share your intentions for the future. Whether you grew up extremely privileged or lacking resources, UC Admissions wants to understand the quality of your character. Share how you have grown and what you hope to accomplish next.

No matter which UC prompts you select, give your full effort towards making sure they reflect your best qualities. 

UC PIQ #4 Reflection Questions

In contrast to other UC prompts, this response can be answered in two distinct ways. By focusing on an educational barrier or an educational opportunity. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll want to review your response to ensure it answers these reflection questions:

  • Does your response highlight an opportunity or barrier that is academic in nature?
  • Do you demonstrate how you played an active role in overcoming the barrier or making the most of the opportunity you chose?
  • Does your response demonstrate how you grew or learned from your experience?  

As much as your UC essay prompts are about your experiences, they are ultimately about you. Make sure you demonstrate how you became who you are in your responses to the UC essay prompts.

Alright, we’re halfway through reviewing the UC essay prompts! If these first four UC prompts didn’t speak to you, there are four more you can choose from. Keep reading to learn about PIQ #5.

UC Essay Prompt #5: Significant Challenge

uc essay prompts

Next is the significant challenge prompt. Of the UC prompts, this UC PIQ is considered the challenge essay. This is a common topic – you’ve probably encountered similar prompts for supplemental essays on other applications. The prompt for #5 of the UC PIQS is as follows:

UC Personal Insight Question #5

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

Like all the UC essay prompts, this requires some thought before diving in — what do successful UC essays cover here? Firstly, remember all of the UC PIQ prompts are very particular with their wording. Note “overcome” and “affected” in this UC PIQ. These are the “whats” of your essay.

The UC essay prompts ask for essays that reveal more about who you are as a person and a learner. Therefore, if you use this prompt for one of your UC PIQs, your challenge should be linked to your academics. That is to say, while not all successful UC essay examples for this prompt concern academic challenges, many do.

So, what topics are ideal for these UC essay prompts? Although you may have faced many academic challenges, the best UC Personal Insight Questions go above and beyond. Some UC PIQs discuss challenges that have little to do with academics but nevertheless have an effect. When brainstorming here, think about times that you struggled academically, and pinpoint the source. Common challenges are not off-limits, provided you tackle them with specificity and nuance in your UC PIQs.

Your responses to UC essay prompts should give your readers a better sense of who you are. Think of how many UC PIQs the UC Berkeley essay readers or UC Irvine essay review team see every year. The strongest UC PIQs will discuss a challenge and the writer’s reaction in a compelling way. Here are some tips to consider when answering #5 of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #5

1. consider your personal narrative..

Once you’ve decided on your topic, consider the most unique or interesting aspect of your journey with your challenge. Answering UC essay prompts starts with determining how your topic relates to your personal narrative . Let your writing capture something about your personality while highlighting certain aspects of your background.

2. Focus on the journey.

It may be tempting to get caught up in the what and the why of the challenge. While these are important details to include in your essay, be sure to detail what you did to overcome this challenge. Effective responses to UC essay prompts about challenges illustrate the writer’s character through their response to adversity. 

3. Connect back to academics.

Even if your challenge was not directly related to academics, it should connect back to some aspect of your education. Emphasize ways in which you continued to apply yourself academically, despite or in spite of this challenge. Successful UC essay examples demonstrate academic tenacity—not necessarily unbroken success—throughout hardship. 

Remember, this prompt is about overcoming a challenge. Frame the challenge as something you surmounted when drafting your UC PIQs. 

UC PIQ #5 Reflection Questions

Here are some reflection questions to consider if you choose to write about #5 of the UC PIQ prompts:

  • Does your essay clearly define the challenge you overcame?
  • Does your approach to the challenge highlight your unique and compelling traits?
  • Do you describe the effect of the challenge on your academic achievement?

Keep these questions in mind to keep your response focused and continually engaged with the prompt.

UC PIQ #6: Academic Interests

uc essay prompts

Next on our list of UC essay prompts is the academic interests essay. Among the UC prompts, this is one of the most straightforward:

UC Personal Insight Question #6

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

Some of the UC essay prompts give a lot of room for interpretation and exploration. However, academic interest UC PIQs are rather simple. These UC essays should discuss the writer’s academic passion and their track record engaging with it. As with other UC essay prompts, look closely at the wording. Your focus may be “inside and/or outside of the classroom.” Let’s say you’ve researched astronomy on your own but your school doesn’t offer an astronomy class. If it inspires you, that’s still a great topic for this essay prompt!

Your topic can be any academic subject that you’ve pursued in a tangible way. Of course, if you’ve undertaken research or other work in that field, that experience is an excellent start. However, you could also write about personal research projects, or maybe school organizations and events you’ve been a part of. Like the other UC essay prompts, this PIQ asks not just what you like, but how you pursue your interests.

UC prompts invite you to showcase what makes you unique, from your academic passions to your creative drive. Consider these tips when writing your own responses to the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #6

1. ground your essay in an anecdote..

Think about when you first engaged in this topic – what inspired you? How did you get involved? If it is directly aligned with your intended college major, when did you decide you wanted to continue your studies? Or make a career out of it? Grounding your essay in a specific moment can demonstrate your passion while bringing life to the person behind that passion.

2. Showcase your drive.

A strong UC PIQ essay for this prompt will be unambiguous in describing your interest and how you pursue it. But great UC essays will describe these in a way that leaves little doubt about your force of will. Learning, particularly at a college level, does not end in a classroom. A curious and driven student will take any chance to learn. Will a UC San Diego essay reader see you as a passionate, driven, inspired person? Strong responses to the UC prompts should leave the reader with no doubt that you will excel at a UC.

3. Tell a story.

Make sure there is movement in your essay. That means telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end, propelled forward through change and action. Is there a way your UC PIQ can demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for your topic through your actions? The best responses for UC essay prompts exhibit out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to pursue—or make—opportunities.

When writing responses to the UC essay questions, reading UC essay examples may inspire you. If you’re unclear on ideal approaches for UC prompts, UC PIQ examples can steer you in the right direction. Since the UC PIQ prompts often overlap through UC application cycles, you may find guidance in past UC PIQs.

UC PIQ #6 Reflection Questions

Use these reflection questions to keep you on track during the writing process:

  • Do you clearly identify your academic passion and ways you’ve pursued it?
  • Do you highlight positive traits about yourself (persistence, creativity, curiosity, etc.) through your actions?
  • Does your essay portray you as a flexible learner who goes beyond textbooks in pursuit of understanding?

This academic PIQ is one of the best opportunities you have to characterize yourself as a student and a learner.

UC Essay Prompt #7: Community

uc essay prompts

The next of the UC prompts asks a question common to college essays. Other UC essay prompts ask about you—your background and qualities, your leadership potential. In contrast to those UC Personal Insight Questions, this one asks about your contributions to a community. Here is the prompt:

UC Personal Insight Question #7

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

Like with the other UC Personal Insight Questions, the wording here matters. UC PIQ examples for community UC prompts, past and present, discuss a variety of communities, including school. Your community may be a religious or cultural community, or one centered on a particular identity. Your UC Davis essay or UC San Diego essay may even center around a hobby community, like a knitting circle.

In a similar vein, “a better place” is a key point here. Poorly thought-out UC PIQs may simply rehash a scenario where the writer exhibited leadership or initiated something. However, remember that responses to the UC prompts should address the prompt directly. Therefore, effective UC Personal Insight Questions will emphasize the positive impact the writers had on their community. Consider how your leadership or initiative improved the community and the experiences of its members and beyond.

Strong UC PIQ examples build on the personal narrative constructed elsewhere in the UC application. UC Personal Insight Questions should show the writer demonstrating core traits that they want UC admissions to know. Here are some tips to help you be clear about your contribution(s) to the community and your impact:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #7

1. identify your community..

When responding to UC essay prompts about community, the obvious first step is to identify the community and its significance. Touch on how you got involved and what this community means to you.

2. Measure your impact.

Answering these UC essay prompts can feel somewhat similar to completing your Common App extracurriculars section. That is to say, strong UC essays often use concrete figures and details when discussing impact. Would the UC Irvine essay review team have a clear picture of your impact from your essay? Can a UC Berkeley essay reader understand exactly what you’ve accomplished from your UC essays?

3. Be honest and realistic.

Be honest about your efforts and the difference you’ve made, however large or small. The connection between action and effect should be logical. A shared calendar for your gardening club may not save lives, but organizing mutual aid through a community organization might. Don’t oversell the impact your actions have had. Of course, your UC application (and college applications in general) should portray you as an ideal candidate—but not through exaggeration. 

Finally, take pride in your contribution. Certainly, leadership tends to make for strong UC PIQs. However, you can improve your community even without being in an official leadership role. Think deeply about your community participation and how you can best highlight your impact in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #7 Reflection Questions

Use these questions during the editing process to ensure you submit as strong an essay as possible to UC Admissions:

  • Do you clearly identify your community and your contribution—with statistics where applicable?
  • Does your UC PIQ showcase positive personal traits in the way you improved your community?
  • Do you portray yourself as a helpful member of your community?

Next, we’ll review the final UC PIQ prompt.

UC PIQ #8: Beyond Your Application

uc essay prompts

The last of the UC essay prompts gives applicants carte blanche to cover anything not mentioned in other UC PIQs. Let’s look at the final item on the list of UC prompts:

UC Personal Insight Question #8

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the university of california.

This is distinct from other UC essay prompts in that it is very open-ended. While it may seem easy to write this essay, it can be much more challenging than the other UC PIQs. Whatever topic you choose, your essay should ultimately strengthen your case for admission. Particularly if this is a UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay, this UC PIQ should be highly individualized and impressive.

Think carefully about your topic and whether it could be used for other UC essay prompts. A chronic health condition may be better suited for the challenge essay. Efforts in activism might be a better answer to the leadership, creativity, or community UC Personal Insight Questions. Of the UC prompts, this may lend itself best to preparation through reading UC PIQ examples. Successful UC essay examples can help you figure out what kinds of experiences you may have that fit this prompt.

So you’ve chosen your topic and decided it doesn’t fit any other UC essay prompts as well as this one. How can you approach this essay? Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #8

1. focus on character..

Like with other UC prompts, there’s a question that you need to answer: why are you an outstanding candidate? Strong candidates are curious, self-driven students whose values align with those of the institution to which they are applying. Consider the qualities that make you prepared to take on challenging coursework and enrich the campus community. 

2. Fill in the gaps.

Consider how your personality and character show in your other three UC essay prompts answers. Is there another trait that a UC Davis essay reviewer would miss if they read your UC Personal Insight Questions? Maybe you mentioned a non-academic interest that you could expand on to add depth to your UC Irvine or UCLA application. Either way, this UC PIQ should add additional, essential context that wouldn’t suit the other UC prompts.

3. Save it for last.

It may be best to finish the other UC Personal Insight Questions before this one. In doing so, you can review your responses to other UC prompts to see what’s missing from your application. And, you can be sure your response connects back and complements your other essays.

If, while writing, you find that your topic fits the other UC essay prompts better, roll with it! Unlike UC prompts 1 through 7, not everyone will have something to say for this prompt. Since you can choose four of the eight UC Personal Insight Questions, you’ll have ample opportunity to reflect elsewhere.

UC PIQ #8 Reflection Questions

Keep these questions in mind throughout the writing process, from choosing a topic to revising your drafts:

  • Is your essay topic best suited to this topic out of the eight UC essay prompts?
  • Does your essay introduce new information or context that bolsters the strength of your application?
  • Does your essay build on the narrative you’ve built in your other UC Personal Insight Questions?

Now, we’ve covered all eight of the UC essay prompts. Next, let’s discuss how to choose the right UC prompts for you.

Choosing the Right UC PIQs for You

Of the eight UC essay prompts, you can only write four UC essays. So which ones should you pick? The first step to choosing your UC prompts is to read them thoroughly and see which ones stand out. Trust your gut and start brainstorming —you may even end up making ideas for all eight UC essay prompts. There are tons of writing exercises you can use when searching for essay topics, and you may need to try several.

Once you’ve thought of essay topics, figure out which ones are most viable. Which ideas could spark great UC PIQ examples, written with genuine enthusiasm and clarity? If you can’t avoid a somewhat cliche topic, can you write about it in a compelling way? What insights can you find in your experiences that nobody else would—and how do you show them? Choose the UC prompts that excite you and enable you to showcase the traits that make you a strong candidate. 

Every strong UC San Diego essay or UC Davis essay will be personally inspiring and aspirational. It may take a few brainstorming sessions for you to figure out which UC essay prompts inspire your best writing. Be flexible when planning your essays: ideas for one of the UC PIQ prompts may end up fitting other UC prompts. In those cases, be willing to change your chosen UC essay prompts to get the best fit for your ideas.

How to Make Your UC Essays Stand Out

uc essay prompts

Once you’ve chosen your UC essay prompts and drafted your UC essays, there’s still work to be done. Between writing a first draft and submitting an Irvine or UCLA application, you must revise your essays. Above, we gave you reflection questions for each of the UC prompts. Now, here are a few questions you should ask yourself about your responses to UC essay prompts as a whole.

Do your UC PIQs paint a vivid picture of who you are and what you’ll bring to the campus community?

At heart, the UC essay prompts ask you to explain who you are and how you navigate the world. Remember, every aspect of your application is evaluated holistically, whether it’s a UCLA application or a UC Davis application. And, since UC Apply doesn’t use standardized test scores for admission decisions, your essays must help make your case. Your UC Personal Insight Questions should explore key parts of your experience in an interesting, authentic fashion. After reviewing your PIQs, a reader should have no doubt that you’re a great fit for your UCs of choice.

Have you gotten feedback from a trusted peer or mentor about how well your essays describe you?

Getting a fresh pair of eyes on a UC PIQ is an often-underrated style of editing. After you’ve reviewed them on your own, ask someone you trust to review your responses to the UC essay prompts. They may have suggestions on ways to help your voice shine through. Or even notes on if you’ve misrepresented yourself in your writing. Before putting anything in UC Apply, try to have another person read your UC PIQs.

Are there any technical errors in your UC PIQs?

This is pretty obvious, but the last thing you want in your essays is a spelling or grammar mistake. This is another reason a second opinion can be helpful! Ensuring your essays are error-free is an easy way to help polish your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC Application Deadlines

uc essay prompts

After all that effort you’ve put into your UC Personal Insight Questions, don’t let a missed deadline ruin your chances. Since all UC schools from UCLA to UC Davis use the UC Apply portal , they have the same deadline: November 30 . Note that UC Apply does not have early decision or early action application options .

Contrary to the Common Application, which can be submitted as early as September, UC Apply opens its filing period in October. Of course, just because you can’t submit your UC application before October 1 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start early. Your UCSD or UCLA essay writing should start well before the deadline. That way, you can ensure you have time to plan, draft, revise, and make your application stand out . Especially in light of the competitiveness of top schools like Berkeley and UCLA , you don’t want to rush the process.

Another benefit of starting early is that you get plenty of time to research the UC Personal Insight Questions. You’ll have time to read the UC prompts, find UC PIQ examples, and learn what UC admissions officers look for. If you browse UC sites, you may even find additional tips for writing your UC Personal Insight Questions.

More Essay UC Resources from CollegeAdvisor

CollegeAdvisor has a lot of experience helping students through the UC admissions process. To help more students, we’ve put our wisdom into free resources. Our online resources are open to all, providing helpful advice from current and former students, as well as admissions officers.

We have an array of broad-scope “how to get into” guides for the UCs and beyond. Our UCLA guide covers everything from the ideal GPA to UCLA essay strategies. Other UC schools we’ve covered include UC Irvine , UC Berkeley , and UC Santa Barbara . If you’re interested in other UCs, search our website for other schools on your list!

Maybe you’re still focused on the UC essay prompts. In that case, we have other UC essay guides that may be helpful to your writing process. Since the UC prompts haven’t changed significantly in the past few years, a winning UC Irvine essay approach from 2020 still holds up. We have 2021-2022 UC essay examples to inspire you as you write your own. Another excellent resource is our article on common college essay questions , which covers challenge essays and unique essays.

As some of the best schools in California, the UC schools can be challenging to get into without excellent essays. But, with in-depth, free resources from CollegeAdvisor.com, you’ll be better equipped to craft knockout UC PIQs.

UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024 – Final Thoughts

With schools from UC Berkeley to UC Santa Barbara , the UC system serves thousands of students from across the world. Applying to the best UC schools can seem daunting, especially given the eight different UC essay prompts. Even if you have impressive extracurriculars, a high GPA, and California residency, UC essays can tip your admissions odds.

In this article, we took a deep dive into the UC essay prompts, also called the UC Personal Insight Questions. We discussed each of the UC PIQ prompts and what sorts of topics may be best suited for each. Then, we went into more detail about approaching each essay, from exploring ideas to putting them together. Additionally, we provided some advice on reflecting on your experiences and choosing your four UC essay prompts. Finally, we left you with a hearty helping of UC essay examples and guides.

Your UC Essay matter

Whether you’re applying to UC Santa Cruz or ticking off boxes from UCLA to UCSD, you need strong UC essays. We hope this article has given you a steady foundation from which to start your essay writing journey. With the tips and tricks we provided, you’re better prepared to write essays to wow UC Admissions.

Still looking for more support? CollegeAdvisor.com specializes in personalized, one-on-one college advising, even before senior year. If you’re looking for individual guidance for your UC essays, reach out for a consultation with our admissions experts.

uc personal statement prompts

This essay guide was written by Gina Goosby and senior advisor, Courtney Ng . Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-24 – Personal Insight Questions

July 26, 2023

uc personal statement prompts

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

  • Santa Barbara

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

Standardized Testing Changes at the University of California

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

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

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

A Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

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

UC Essay Prompt # 1

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #2

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

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

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

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #5   

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #6

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

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

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

UC Personal Insight Questions Prompt #7

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

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

8) UC Essay Prompt #8

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

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

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

College Transitions’ Final Thoughts

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

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Andrew Belasco

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

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How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

uc personal statement prompts

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 AI 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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University of California 2023-24 Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Regular Decision Deadline: Nov 30

You Have: 

University of California  2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 4 out of 8 essays, 350 words each.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Oddball , Community , Activity

The UC application sounds like a riddle. Every student must write four essays, but choose from eight prompts. The rules may be unfamiliar, but the game is the same: tell admissions something they don’t know – and then do it three more times! The instructions counsel you to “select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances,” and frankly, we couldn’t agree more. A strategic applicant will choose a constellation of prompts that highlight vastly different aspects of their lives and personalities, leaving an admissions officer with a deep and complete picture of who they are. Don’t get hung up on trying to divine the questions admissions wants you to answer. In the end, they just want to get to know the real you, plus the application swears that “there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.” So follow your heart (!) and don’t let the fatigue get to you. Avoid robotically starting every answer by restating the question and be as anecdotal as possible. With each essay, your goal isn’t just to answer the question, but to tell a very short story about yourself!

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

Things to consider: a leadership role can mean more than just a title. it can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. what were your responsibilities, did you lead a team how did your experience change your perspective on leading others did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization and your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. for example, do you help out or take care of your family.

When answering this question, avoid the siren song of your resume. This question isn’t asking you for a list! Remember: it’s your job, as an applicant, to use every essay as an opportunity to reveal something new about yourself. Think of a moment when you were in a position where you worked really hard to help a group of people. Maybe you are always the one helping your younger siblings with their homework, and you struggled to find ways to engage your dyslexic younger brother with math. Maybe, as a camp counselor or church volunteer, you were in charge of choreographing and instructing a number for a group of seven-year-old hip hop dancers to perform. Perhaps, on a Habitat for Humanity school trip, you became the head cook, whipping up everything from pancakes to chicken fajitas while galvanizing a team of sous chefs to pitch in.  

The point is, try to isolate a single leadership moment, and bring it to life with vivid details. Describe where you were, what was happening around you, and what you were feeling. Discuss what challenges you faced, and what you ultimately learned from the experience. Don’t shy away from challenges or even failures, since these are exactly the sorts of character-building experiences that can demonstrate resilience and quick thinking.

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

Things to consider: what does creativity mean to you do you have a creative skill that is important to you what have you been able to do with that skill if you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution what are the steps you took to solve the problem, how does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom does your creativity relate to your major or a future career.

You may think that this question was geared towards the artistically inclined, but take a closer look. The wording offers many potential definitions that veer away from traditional conceptions of creativity (and actually, it asks you for your personal definition!). Creativity lies in your outlook: seeing the opportunity to use one of your skills in a novel situation; looking at a problem from a new angle to find the solution that no one else could see. This question is, in reality, ideal for the more scientifically oriented to create a more well-rounded profile. Creative types, on the other hand, might want to proceed with caution since, really, every question is an opportunity to show off your talents and describe your artistic endeavors.

No matter who you are, though, remember this classic writing advice: show don’t tell. So, you claim that gardening, or Calculus, or painting is how you show your creative side. Okay. So, then immerse the reader in this activity with you . If you enjoy gardening, describe the plants, their qualities, and how you make your horticultural choices; are you drawn to the aesthetics or are you botanically inquisitive? Similarly, if your subject is Calculus, show the reader how you sat in your dad’s office for six hours straight trying to calculate Pi on a three dozen sheets of paper using red crayon.  If you love to paint, show the reader where you paint, what you paint, and why you paint, describing the colors, textures, materials—the essential process behind your art. Write descriptively so that the reader can feel as if he or she were experiencing your creative passion with you.

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

Things to consider: if there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. you don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). why is this talent or skill meaningful to you, does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom if so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule.

If question 3 reminds you of question 2, you’re not alone. Often, when we talk about a talent or skill that we have honed over the course of a lifetime, we’re inclined to describe it as an art — a creative extension of who we are. So if you choose to respond to both of these questions, make sure to highlight distinct skills in each. 

The good news is: finding your subject should be easy! You just need to answer this question: what makes you proud? Think about the stories that your friends and family like to share about you. Think about moments when your hard work paid off. When you can zero in on an experience that makes your heart swell, you’ll be able to pinpoint your essential subject. If the memory of your first swim meet victory still makes you smile, draw us into your rigorous training schedule; describe the aspects of the sport that motivate you to wake up early and push yourself. What were your challenges? What has this experience taught you? This narrative should have a clear timeline that traces your growth from the past to the present and into the future. How do you plan to further develop your talent in college and/or after college? Show not only that you have grown, but that you will continue to grow as you take your first steps into adulthood.

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

Things to consider: an educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. for example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few. , if you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them what personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge how did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today.

This question is tricky because it has two parts. So first break the question down: You can write about either A.) How you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity OR B.) How you have worked to overcome an educational barrier. The “or” is key. You are not being asked to write about both parts of this question. Just write about one.

If you have participated in an afterschool program, internship, honors program, or a special class that was meaningful or inspiring to you, you will want to think about choosing option A.  Maybe it was an afterschool program for young, aspiring lawyers, or an advanced history class that you took at your local community college. This is an opportunity for you to showcase your ambition and highlight the kinds of challenges that engage and excite you. Beyond underscoring an academic interest, reflect on the personal qualities required for you to succeed. And remember to show, not tell! It will save you from accidentally humble-bragging your way through this assignment. 

Now, for option B. If you have worked to overcome a disability, struggled in school because you have a different background than your peers, suffered financial hardship, or something along those lines, you can choose to write about option B. To nail this tricky task, you will need to highlight not only the ways you struggled, but also the qualities that helped you succeed. How would you define yourself? Resilient? Hardworking? Brave? Zero in on a quality that resonates with you, and write targeted descriptions that bring it to life. (No one is going to believe you if you just write, “I am resilient,” and leave it at that.) Lastly, reflect on how this barrier shaped who you are today, and what skills you gained through facing this educational barrier.

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

Things to consider: a challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. why was the challenge significant to you this is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone, if you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life for example, ask yourself, “how has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family”.

If you skipped question 4 or chose to write about option A, this question is a gift: a second chance to showcase your resilience in the face of obstacles. On the other hand, if you chose to write about option B in question 4, this might feel redundant. You are free to write about both, but again, proceed with caution and be sure to select a totally different challenge.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: questions that ask you to describe a struggle or failure are really probing for stories about success. What pro-active steps did you take to address the problem at hand? Even if your solution didn’t work out perfectly, what did you learn? In facing this challenge, did you discover a courageous, creative, or hard-working side of yourself? Did you learn something valuable about yourself or others? Highlight the upside. How did this challenge shape who you are today? And how will the skills that you gained dealing with this challenge will help you in college and beyond?

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

Things to consider: many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. if that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement., has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, ap, ib, college or university work) are you inspired to pursue this subject further at uc, and how might you do that.

If you’ve ever referred to yourself as a “nerd” or “geek”, this question is probably for you. To nail down a topic for this bad boy, you can work in two directions: (1) think about how your favorite academic subject has impacted your extracurricular pursuits, or (2) trace one of your favorite hobbies back to its origins in the classroom. Maybe your love of languages led you to take a job at a coffee shop frequented by multilingual tourists. Or perhaps your now-extensive coin collection was resurrected when you did a research project on ancient Roman currency. Whichever way you go about it, building a bridge between the scholarly and the personal lies at the heart of answering this prompt.

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

Things to consider: think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place —like your high school, hometown or home. you can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community, why were you inspired to act what did you learn from your effort how did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community.

Some backwards advice: When writing about community service, you should always start with yourself. Community service essays are cliché minefields. To avoid drifting into platitudes, you need to ground your writing in the specificity of your life. Don’t start with the action and end with what you learned. Instead, dig into your motivations. If you spent weeks petitioning your school community to raise the hourly wage for custodial staff, what prompted you to act? What assumptions did you have about income inequality and what did you learn about your community in the process? Or, maybe you weren’t too enthused about your community service. Maybe you participated in a soccer-team-mandated day of coaching a pee-wee team. What caused your skepticism? How did you turn the experience around?

Also, don’t just choose a topic that sounds impressive. “This year I acted as the co-chair of the Honors Society, presiding over twenty different cases.” If you didn’t, in fact, really enjoy Honors Society, write about a topic that means something to you instead. Think of a moment where you felt like you made a change in your local community. It can be something small; it does not have to be monumental, but it should mean a great deal to you. Describe the moment, using detail to bring it to life, and then reflect on what that experience taught you, and how you hope to continue these activities in the future.

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

Things to consider: if there’s anything you want us to know about you, but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your change. what have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better, from your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for uc don’t be afraid to brag a little..

This question is really just what it says it is—an open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure question.  Is there something that you really, really want to tell the UC admissions team that you feel makes you a strong and unique candidate that is not showcased in the other three personal insight questions? As with the other questions, whatever topic you choose, please use detail and description to bring this topic to life for the reader, and include thoughtful reflection on why this topic matters to you. Also, be sure to explain why your chosen topic makes you stand out as a strong candidate for the UC schools, since the question specifically asks you to do that!

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uc personal statement prompts

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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uc personal statement prompts

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UC Personal Statement Examples

UC Personal Statements Samples

Use our UC personal statement samples to learn how to write a college essay for these prestigious institutions. The UC application system has eight prompts that they refer to as “personal insight questions.” Not unlike other college essays , the UC prompts cover very common college essay topics familiar to all applicants, including background, family, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, and so on. You can go through UC personal statement samples if you are finding it hard to write supplemental college essays of your own. Practicing the writing of supplemental essays will give you the confidence to easily overcome that obstacle when the time comes to submit your application to the university. Read on to learn how to write the best UC essay for your application.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

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Uc personal statement requirements.

Before we go ahead and have a look at each prompt and the UC personal statement samples, let us go over the UC personal statement requirements.

According to the UC application requirements, prospective candidates must choose to respond to four out of the eight available questions. Each essay has a word limit of 350 words.

UC also offers a piece of advice by suggesting that while the questions you choose are up to you, you should choose the prompts that are “most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.” Keep in mind that the prompts are quite open-ended, so you have a lot of creative freedom when it comes to writing your essays. Try to choose prompts where you can showcase the qualities valued by the UC schools, such as leadership, creativity, diversity, academic prowess, and so on.

Learn how to write your college essays:

Now, let’s review expertly written UC personal statement samples. Below are essays that were written in response to four out of the eight prompts, as is required by UC. The fifth one is a bonus.

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.

In my junior year of high school, I set a goal for myself: I would start a jazz club. Although we had several music clubs, including acapella, classical, and rock – there were none for the music I loved: jazz. To me, jazz is a genre that transcends race and nationalities. It is the music of “understanding.” By my junior year, I’d been playing the saxophone for five years, mostly at home, and wanted to continue to play with others. I also wanted to expose my peers to the music that meant so much to me. 

However, I also understood that jazz is the kind of music that attracted a distinct following. One must be exposed to live jazz before one can appreciate the beauty of this genre. I, therefore, knew I had to start by creating a buzz before considering forming a club, or it would be a club of one. And to create this buzz, I had to expose my schoolmates to live jazz and, therefore, create a jazz band.

I started looking for band members among my classmates. Not only did I ask my school to advertise my search in the school newspaper, but I also put up flyers at the entrance of the school to attract musicians. 

Slowly, over three months, I found four musicians to form our jazz quintet. Once we had set up our rehearsal schedules and practiced a few songs, we were confident enough to perform our first gig at the upcoming “Culture Day” hosted by our school.

After enthusiastic ovations for our last song, we took the opportunity to announce our intention to form a school jazz club and welcome everyone to join us in appreciation of this eclectic genre.

Shortly after our performance, we had our club. Over the last year, the club has grown exponentially. I continued to practice with my band and other club members, and we even began to invite local jazz musicians to play with us. Today, the club is growing strong and I hope will remain a part of the X high school for years to come.  (350 words)

As you can see from the UC personal statement samples and prompts, the UC schools are trying to understand what kinds of experiences you will bring to the college community. Remember, research each UC school to strategically choose experiences and skills to highlight in your essay.

Want to learn more about UC schools?

The UC personal statements are submitted using the UC application system, so you will simply be banned from submitting your work.

Your essays should be stories. Tell the admissions committee who you are and what got you to where you are today.

Don’t forget to spell check and make sure there are no grammatical errors.

UC schools are some of the best universities in the world. This means, the competition for admission each year is cutthroat.

Focus on ways you can increase your chances by creating exceptional personal statements and essays.

You can only join a UC school if you have a minimum 3.0 GPA as a California resident and a 3.4 GPA if you are a non-resident.

Not everyone is good at writing personal statements. But, you can go ahead and work with college essay advisors to get some pointers on how to write a competent personal statement.

It really doesn’t matter if the UC prompts change every year or not. The point is that you learn to write the best essays that you can and succeed in getting admitted to the university – regardless of the prompt.

The first thing you need to remember is that the personal statement is like a story about you. If you look at the prompts for the UC personal statements, you can see that they ask about you and how you affect – or are affected by – your community, your background, your experiences, and so on.

To make your personal statement stand out, you need to tell a compelling story when answering the prompts.

Since you’re talking about your life and experiences, you can go with a semi-casual tone. Avoid vulgar terms, stay away from controversial topics, and never write about current hot topics in politics.

Remember: you want to leave a good impression with the admissions committee – so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by inadvertently offending them.

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uc personal statement prompts

Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions

The 2020 personal insight questions are your opportunity to make a statement

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The 2020 University of California application includes eight personal insight questions , and all applicants must write responses to four of the questions. These mini-essays are limited to 350 words, and they take the place of longer personal statements required on many other applications. Unlike the California State University system , all campuses of the University of California have holistic admissions , and the short personal insight essays can play a meaningful role in the admissions equation.

General Essay Tips

Regardless of which personal insight questions you choose, ensure that your essays:

  • Help admissions officials get to know you: If hundreds of applicants could have written your essay, keep revising.
  • Highlight your writing skills: Ensure that your essays are clear, focused, engaging, and free of stylistic and grammatical errors.
  • Fully express your interests, passions, and personality. The University of California wants to enroll interesting, well-rounded applicants. Use your essays to show off the breadth and depth of who you are. 
  • Present information not covered in the rest of your application: Make sure your essays are expanding your overall application, not creating redundancies.

Option #1: Leadership

Leadership is a broad term that refers much more than being the president of student government or drum major in the marching band. Any time you step up to guide others, you are demonstrating leadership. Most college applicants are leaders, although many don't realize this fact.

Discuss the significance of your leadership experience; don't just describe what happened. Also, be careful with the tone. You can come across as arrogant if your essay delivers the overt message, "Look at what an amazing leader I am." Leadership experiences can happen anywhere: school, church, in the community, or at home. This question can be a good option if you have a leadership role that isn't fully evident in the rest of your application.

Option #2: Your Creative Side

Whether you are an artist or an engineer, creative thinking will be an important component of your college and career success. If you respond to this question, consider that creativity is about much more than the arts. You don't need to be an excellent poet or painter to be creative. Explain how you approach difficult problems in unusual ways or have been successful thinking in ways other than the norm.

As with many of the personal insight questions, do more than "describe." Explain why your creativity is important to you. Be specific. If you can give a concrete example of your creativity, you'll write a much more successful essay than if you simply talk in broad terms and abstractions.

Option #3: Your Greatest Talent

This essay topic gives you the opportunity to talk about what you'll bring to the school other than a strong academic record. Your greatest talent or skill doesn't need to be something that is obvious from the rest of your application. If you're good at math, that will be apparent from your academic record. If you're a star football player, your recruiter is likely to know that. This doesn't mean you need to avoid such topics, but you should feel free to think broadly about this question. Your skill could be your ability to find homes for abandoned animals or to successfully tutor fellow students who are struggling.

Explain how your special talent or skill will enrich the UC campus community. Don't forget to address the second part of the question about how your skill or talent has developed over time. That part of the question makes it clear that the University of California is assessing your work ethic, not just an innate skill you might possess. The best "talent or skill" is one that reveals constant effort and growth on your part.

Option #4: Educational Opportunity or Barriers

Educational opportunities can take many forms, including Advanced Placement offerings and dual-enrollment courses with a local college. Interesting responses might also address less predictable opportunities—a summer research project, use of your education outside of the classroom, and learning experiences that aren't in traditional high school subject areas.

Educational barriers can also take many forms. Consider answering questions including: Do you come from a disadvantaged family? Do you have work or family obligations that take significant time away from schoolwork? Do you come from a weak high school so that you need to search beyond your school to challenge yourself and work up to your potential? Do you have a learning disability that you have had to work hard to overcome?

Option #5: Overcoming a Challenge

This option is remarkably broad, and it can easily overlap with other personal insight options. Make sure you don't write two similar essays. For example, an "educational barrier" from question No. 4 could also be considered a significant challenge.

Keep in mind that the question asks you to discuss your "most significant challenge." Don't focus on something superficial. If your greatest challenge was getting past a good defender in soccer or bringing that B+ up to an A-, this question isn't your best choice.

Option #6: Your Favorite Subject

Your favorite academic subject doesn't need to be your university major. You are not committing yourself to a specific field when you answer this question. That said, you should explain what you plan to do in the subject area in college and your future.

Explain why you love the academic subject. The tips on the UC website focus on things such as the different classes you've taken in the subject, but that information is simply a summary of your high school transcript. If possible, include something outside of the classroom in your response. This shows that your passion for learning isn't confined to school. Do you conduct chemistry experiments in your basement? Do you write poetry in your free time? Have you campaigned for a political candidate? These are the types of issues to cover for this essay option.

Option #7: Making Your School or Community Better

This option is excellent for talking about your participation in student government. Describe a problem that existed at your school, how student government addressed that problem, and how your school is a better place because of you and your team's actions.

"Community" can be defined in broad terms. Did you help build a playground in your neighborhood? Did you help lead a fundraiser for your church? Did you serve on a youth board in your county? Did you participate in an after-school program for kids in your school district?

If you write about making your school better, avoid the "hero" essay . You may have taken your school's soccer team to the state championship—an impressive feat that brings prestige to your school—but does that really improve the educational experience for the majority of your classmates? More likely is that your essay will show you bragging about personal accomplishment, not service to your school.

Option #8: What Sets You Apart?

Saying that you are "hardworking" or a "good student" will not set you apart from others. These are important and admirable traits, but they will be demonstrated by other parts of your application. Such statements do not create the unique portrait that the admissions folks are requesting.

The language in this question—"beyond what has already been shared"—should serve as your guide. Test scores, grades, a good work ethic, and your position in the band or part in the play will be evident from the rest of your application. Look for something that makes you unique. Don't be afraid of being a little quirky. An answer such as "I have the skills to survive the zombie apocalypse" could open the door to a discussion of your time in scouts.

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Personal Insight Questions

As a vital part of your application, the personal insight questions—short-answer questions you will choose from—are reviewed by both the admissions and scholarship offices., at berkeley we use personal insight questions to:.

  • Discover and evaluate distinctions among applicants whose academic records are often very similar
  • Gain insight into your level of academic, personal and extracurricular achievement
  • Provide us with information that may not be evident in other parts of the application

What we look for:

  • Initiative, motivation, leadership, persistence, service to others, special potential and substantial experience with other cultures
  • All achievement in light of the opportunities available to you
  • How you confronted and overcame your challenges, rather than describing a hardship just for the sake of including it in your application
  • What you learned from or achieved in spite of these circumstances

Academic achievement

For first-year applicants:

  • Academic accomplishments, beyond those shown in your transcript

For transfer students:

  • Include interest in your intended major, explain the way in which your academic interests developed, and describe any related work or volunteer experience.
  • Explain your reason for transferring if you are applying from a four-year institution or a community college outside of California. For example, you may substantiate your choice of a particular major or your interest in studying with certain faculty on our campus.

How to answer your personal insight questions

  • Thoughtfully describe not only what you’ve done, but also the choices you have made and what you have gained as a result.
  • Allow sufficient time for preparation, revisions, and careful composition. Your answers are not evaluated on correct grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, but these qualities will enhance overall presentation and readability.

If you are applying…

  • Your intended field of study
  • Your interest in your specific major
  • Any school or work-related experience
  • for a scholarship, we recommend that you elaborate on the academic and extracurricular information in the application that demonstrates your motivation, achievement, leadership, and commitment .
  • Discuss how the program might benefit you
  • Tell us about your determination to succeed even though you may have lacked academic or financial support

Keep in mind

You can use the Additional Comments box to convey any information that will help us understand the context of your achievement; to list any additional honors awards, activities, leadership elements, volunteer activities, etc.; to share information regarding a nontraditional school environment or unusual circumstances that has not been included in any other area of the application. And, finally, after we read your personal insight questions, we will ask the question, “What do we know about this individual?” If we have learned very little about you, your answers were not successful.

  • Personal Insight Questions (University of California)
  • Personal Insight Question Writing Tips
  • Leadership (video)
  • What Leadership Looks Like

uc personal statement prompts

17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

uc personal statement prompts

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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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Answering UC Personal Insight Questions

  • by Alexa Carter
  • May 18, 2021

student studies laptop

For many high school seniors, the college application process can be a scary one. The dreaded writing portion can be especially time-consuming. You have to describe yourself to an application reviewer and hope they get to know you aside from your test scores and course load. Some colleges require long essays; some don’t require them at all. The University of California requires you to respond to four out of eight Personal Insight Questions , and you have a maximum of 350 words for each.

Fear not, though: These are great opportunities to express yourself. The prompts let you describe different aspects of your life instead of feeling confined to writing one impersonal summary. When starting this part of the UC application, I learned a lot along the way.

student studies outside uc davis

Prepare in advance: DO!

A rule so simple that it seems obvious. I was in high school once, too, and as a college student, I hate to break it to you, but procrastination still creeps in. The UC application opens on August 1 every year and closes on November 30. That means you have about four months to work on your application. I’m not saying on Aug. 1 you should sit down and knock it all out. In fact, I started looking at my application at the end of October and submitted it in mid-November.

You’re given a large window of time for a reason. This is your college application we’re talking about, so it’s important to take the time to think and pre-plan what exactly you want to write about.

Choose questions based on what you think the reader will like: DON'T!

I'll admit I’m guilty of this one. When I first looked at the Personal Insight Questions I wrote down the four questions I thought would look really good on my application.

It wasn’t until I actually sat down to draft how I wanted to respond to each question that I noticed two were too similar in content. Later in this blog, you’ll see why it’s important to differentiate what you write about. But for the time being, I’ll simply say I went back to the list and picked a question that was a little out of my comfort zone. The new question I chose actually ended up being my favorite response. I felt better making that switch after learning that all of the personal insight questions are viewed equally. Reviewers are looking for thoughtful answers, not necessarily the right answer.

UC Davis students during the Nepal Seminar Abroad

Relate your past experiences to the person you are today: DO!

There are two things to remember when explaining the growth you've experienced facing your challenges:

  • If the event happened during your childhood it needs to have had a lasting impact on you.
  • If the event happened recently, how have you grown since it happened?

If you're going to talk about a setback you faced — like the time you broke a bone in the second grade — it should describe its lasting impact on you . Either describe its lasting impact or choose another question or instance that aligns better with your current self.

In one of my responses, I wrote about how I fractured my elbow during my junior year and was out for half of the Varsity Tennis season. Through hard work, I was able to place second in the league tournament and made it to CIF with my doubles partner. This was relatively close to when I was applying, and the event had made an impact on my life.

Childhood stories and recent events are great instances where you can show growth. Make sure in either case you make strong connections between the event to how you’ve become the person you are today.

Repeat the same stories: DON'T!

Application reviewers only get 1,400 words to learn about you. This may seem like a lot, but fitting your life into four short responses can be tough. That’s why with so few words, it’s crucial you present diversity in the content. You can do this by picking questions very different from each other or mixing your accomplishments into other prompts. Whatever you choose to do, remember: diversifying is key.

Proofread your work and ask for edits: DO!

When writing my responses I thought they were great, needing not a single revision. I was wrong. When my IB English teacher offered to read my Personal Insight Questions, I thought, “Why not?” I brought her my printed responses and she started marking them up right away. 

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At first, I was surprised. Did I really do that bad? When she read her suggestions to me, I agreed with every. single. One.

It’s easy to associate constructive criticism with a pejorative. Sometimes we forget others' suggestions help open our minds to things we don’t always think of on our own. That’s the great thing about being human. We all have our own perspectives. If we embrace it for what it is, we can make our work that much better.

DON’T spend your entire essay talking about an inspirational person

This one seems easy on the surface, but it's really hard to avoid once you get down to writing.

When any of us talk about the most inspirational person in our lives it's hard not to want to include all the context that makes them so great. Again, you only have 1,400 words to give reviewers a peek at what makes up your life, accomplishments, and background.

If you spend 25 percent of that time talking about someone else, it’s even harder for them to get to know you. Inspirational people are huge influences on who we are and it’s hard not to give them the credit they deserve. If you are going to reference them, do it briefly and pivot to how that person’s influence has made you who you are .

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Yes, the college application process can be scary to start, but it can also be a fun exercise reconnecting with yourself. You get to share your accomplishments and personality through self-reflection. It might seem awkward sharing it all with a stranger, don’t get me wrong. Think of it more like a written highlights reel. If a friend was describing you to a stranger, what parts of your highlight reel would they want to share?

For information about Personal Insight Questions, check out these resources from the University of California’s website ,  this blog from UC Davis Undergraduate Admissions, and this webpage from UC Davis about Personal Insight Questions.

Primary Category

Admissions » Apply » Tips and Resources » Writing Prompts

Application Writing Prompts

For the purpose of your Cincinnati application, writing ability is demonstrated in both The Common Application essay and University of Cincinnati personal statement. It is important to put your best foot forward through these responses in order for the admissions staff to draw a full picture of why you would be a good fit at the University of Cincinnati. Therefore, as you prepare your application, spend time on these components of the application and don't be afraid to have family, teachers, or counselors weigh in and provide feedback.

Students must choose one of the following topics to complete an essay of no more than 650 words:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 

Personal Statement

Students must also submit a personal statement in response to the following prompt in approximately 500 words:

  • Why did you apply to each of the academic programs listed on your application? This personal statement should provide additional information not already referenced in your application.

How to Write a Compelling Personal Statement for University of California--Davis School of Law

Learn how to craft a winning personal statement for University of California--Davis School of Law with our comprehensive guide.

Posted May 12, 2023

uc personal statement prompts

Applying to law school can be an intimidating and competitive process, but your personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and stand out from the crowd. In this article, we will guide you through the process of writing a compelling personal statement for the University of California--Davis School of Law (UC Davis Law) that will impress admissions officers and increase your chances of acceptance.

Why the Personal Statement is Important for Law School Admissions

As the name implies, the personal statement is your chance to share your personal story, experiences, and motivations for pursuing a law degree. Admissions officers use this statement to learn more about you beyond your grades and test scores, and to gauge your fit with their law school. A well-crafted personal statement can make your application stand out and demonstrate your potential as a law student and future lawyer.

Additionally, the personal statement allows you to showcase your writing skills and ability to communicate effectively. As a law student and future lawyer, strong writing skills are essential for success in the field. Admissions officers will be looking for clear and concise writing, as well as your ability to make a persuasive argument. Therefore, it is important to take the time to carefully craft your personal statement and ensure that it reflects your best writing abilities.

Understanding the UC Davis School of Law’s Personal Statement Prompt

The UC Davis Law personal statement prompt asks applicants to "describe the personal qualities, accomplishments, experiences, or goals that you believe will enable you to contribute to the UC Davis School of Law community and to the legal profession." This prompt is intentionally broad to allow applicants to showcase their unique qualities and viewpoint. However, it's important to keep in mind the values and characteristics that are important to the UC Davis Law community, such as diversity, public service, and social justice.

One way to approach this prompt is to reflect on your personal experiences and how they have shaped your perspective on the legal profession. For example, if you have volunteered at a legal aid clinic or worked on a social justice project, you can discuss how these experiences have influenced your goals and aspirations. Additionally, you can highlight any unique skills or qualities that you possess, such as language proficiency or cultural competency, that would enable you to contribute to the diverse and inclusive community at UC Davis Law. Ultimately, the personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your passion for the law and your potential to make a positive impact in the legal profession.

Researching the UC Davis School of Law and its Values before Writing Your Personal Statement

Before you start writing your personal statement, take some time to research the UC Davis Law community and values. Read their website and mission statement to understand their priorities and goals. Look for opportunities to connect your experiences and aspirations with their values. This will not only help you write a targeted and effective personal statement but also demonstrate your sincere interest in their program.

One way to research the UC Davis School of Law is to attend one of their information sessions or open houses. This will give you the opportunity to meet current students, faculty, and staff, and ask questions about the program and its values. You can also learn about the different clinics, programs, and organizations that are available to students, and see how they align with your interests and goals.

Another important aspect to consider when researching the UC Davis School of Law is its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Take a look at their diversity and inclusion initiatives, and see how they are working to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students. Consider how your own experiences and perspectives can contribute to this community, and how you can help promote diversity and equity within the legal profession.

Brainstorming and Outlining Your Personal Statement for UC Davis School of Law

Once you have a better understanding of the prompt and the UC Davis Law community, it's time to brainstorm and outline your personal statement. Start by listing your experiences, accomplishments, and goals that are relevant to the prompt. Think about your challenges, turning points, and unique perspective that can add value to the UC Davis Law community. Then, organize your ideas into an outline that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. Your outline will serve as a roadmap to ensure that your personal statement is coherent, logical, and impactful.

When brainstorming, it's important to not only focus on your achievements, but also on your failures and setbacks. These experiences can often be just as valuable in demonstrating your resilience and determination. Additionally, consider incorporating specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points and make your personal statement more engaging.

Once you have a draft of your personal statement, it's crucial to seek feedback from others. This can include friends, family, or even a professional editor. Getting an outside perspective can help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that your message is clear and effective. Remember, your personal statement is your chance to showcase your unique qualities and convince the admissions committee that you are a strong candidate for UC Davis School of Law.

Tips for Writing an Attention-Grabbing Introduction for Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement

Your introduction sets the tone for your personal statement and should grab the attention of the reader. Consider starting with a strong hook, such as a personal story, quote, or statistic, that highlights your motivation and passion for law. Avoid cliches and generic statements that don't add value to your application. Your introduction should also provide a clear thesis statement that outlines the main points you will cover in your personal statement.

Another important aspect to consider when writing your introduction is to make sure it is concise and to the point. Admissions officers have to read through hundreds of personal statements, so it's important to make sure your introduction is not too long or rambling. Stick to the main points and avoid going off on tangents.

Finally, don't be afraid to be creative and showcase your unique voice and personality in your introduction. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make a memorable impression. Just make sure that your creativity doesn't overshadow the content of your personal statement or come across as unprofessional.

Telling a Compelling Story in Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement

A great personal statement is not a list of your qualifications, but a cohesive and engaging story that showcases your unique qualities and experiences. Use anecdotes, examples, and vivid language to paint a picture of your journey and highlight your strengths. Focus on a few key experiences or themes and explore them in detail. However, be mindful of the word count and avoid including irrelevant or repetitive information.

One effective way to create a compelling personal statement is to start with a strong opening that captures the reader's attention. This could be a personal anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or a bold statement that sets the tone for the rest of your essay. Remember that the admissions committee reads hundreds of personal statements, so you want to make sure yours stands out.

Another important aspect of a successful personal statement is to demonstrate your passion for the law and your commitment to pursuing a legal career. This can be achieved by discussing specific experiences or challenges that have motivated you to pursue a law degree, or by highlighting your involvement in relevant extracurricular activities or volunteer work. By showing your dedication and enthusiasm, you can convince the admissions committee that you are a strong candidate for their program.

Highlighting Your Relevant Experiences and Skills in Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement

Your personal statement should provide evidence of your qualifications and potential as a law student and lawyer. Highlight your relevant experiences, such as internships, work, or volunteering, and the skills and knowledge you gained from them. Demonstrate your ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and collaborate with others. Use concrete examples and avoid unsupported claims.

Demonstrating Your Passion for Law in Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement

Your personal statement should convey your interest and commitment to the field of law. Discuss why you want to study law and how it aligns with your personal and professional goals. Be specific about your area of interest and how that connects with your experiences and aspirations. Avoid generic statements or exaggerations. Admissions officers want to see your genuine passion and curiosity, not just a rehearsed pitch.

Using Specific Examples to Support Your Claims in Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement

One of the most effective ways to make your personal statement stand out is by using specific and detailed examples to illustrate your claims. Avoid making generic and abstract statements, such as "I'm determined" or "I'm a team player," without providing evidence to support them. Use real-life situations and experiences to demonstrate your qualities and skills. This will not only make your application more convincing but also memorable.

Avoiding Common Mistakes in Writing a UC Davis Law Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement can be challenging, especially with the pressure of making it perfect. However, there are some common mistakes that you should avoid to ensure your personal statement stands out for the right reasons. These include writing in a convoluted or archaic language, being too vague or generic, being too negative or cynical, or oversharing personal details. Keep in mind the purpose of the personal statement and the audience you're writing for.

Editing and Proofreading Your UC Davis Law Personal Statement to Perfection

After you've written your personal statement, it's time to edit and proofread it to ensure it meets the highest standards of quality. Give yourself enough time to revise and refine your statement. Read it aloud or ask a friend or mentor to review it for grammar, structure, and clarity. Make sure your ideas are well-organized, your language is clear and concise, and your tone is professional and engaging. Avoid any typos or errors that can detract from your message.

Submitting a Strong and Effective Personal Statement to UC Davis School of Law

Finally, when you're satisfied with your personal statement, it's time to submit it to the University of California--Davis School of Law. Double-check the submission guidelines and deadlines, and make sure you've followed them accurately. Submit your personal statement along with the rest of your application materials and wait for the decision. Remember that your personal statement is only one part of your application, so don't stress too much about it. Be confident and proud of your work, and trust that your hard work and dedication will pay off.

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    How to apply Applying as a freshman Personal insight questions Personal insight questions Imagine UC was a person. If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you? These personal insight questions allow you to tell us. You could write about your creative side. Your thoughts on leadership. A challenge you've faced.

  2. How to Write a Perfect UC Essay for Every Prompt

    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?

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    Prompt 3: Greatest Talent or Skill. UC Example Essay #8: "The Art Girl". Prompt 4: Significant Opportunity or Barrier. UC Example Essay #9. UC Example Essay #10. UC Example Essay #11: "Two Truths, One Lie". UC Example Essay #12: Prompt 5: Overcoming a Challenge. UC Essay Example #13: "Breaking Up With Mom".

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    Prompt #1: Leadership Prompt #2: Creative Prompt #3: Greatest Talent or Skill Prompt #4: Significant Educational Opportunity/Barrier Prompt #5: Significant Challenge Prompt #6: Academic Subject Prompt #7: School/Community Service Prompt #8: What Else?

  6. How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions (with examples!)

    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. (max: 350 words)" You don't have to be captain of a sports team or president of a school club to be a leader.

  7. UC Essay Prompts

    +1 (844) 343-6272 Home » Essay Guides » UC Essay Prompts 2023-24 UC Essay Prompts 2023-24 CollegeAdvisor Admissions Expert UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024 Students applying to UC schools must be prepared to answer the UC prompts as part of the application process.

  8. How to Write the UC Application Essays: Step-by-Step Guide

    You'll choose from eight prompts. Heads up: these prompts are different from the Common App prompts. The personal insight questions should admissions readers a glimpse (actually, four glimpses!) into the skills, qualities, values, interests and life challenges that have made you who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

  9. UC Essay Prompts 2023-24

    format_quote. "Innovative and invaluable…use this book as your college lifeline.". — Lynn O'Shaughnessy. Nationally Recognized College Expert. Buy Now. The UC Personal Insight Questions are a key part of any application in 2023-24. We offer advice for all UC essay prompts.

  10. How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

    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 ...

  11. 2023-24 University of California (UC) Essay Prompt Guide

    Regular Decision: 9m 3w 24d Regular Decision Deadline: Nov 30 You Have: We can help you draft in time for submission! University of California 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations The Requirements: 4 out of 8 essays, 350 words each. Supplemental Essay Type (s): Oddball, Community, Activity The UC application sounds like a riddle.

  12. 12 Great University of California Essay Examples

    Read our guide to the UC personal insight questions for more tips on writing strong essays for each of the prompts. Essay #1: Leadership Prompt: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words)

  13. Tips for Writing the UC Personal Statement Prompt #1

    The pre-2016 UC personal statement prompt #1 stated, "Describe the world you come from - for example, your family, community or school - and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations." It's a question that every freshman applicant to one of the nine undergraduate UC campuses had to answer.

  14. UC Personal Statement Examples

    The UC application system has eight prompts that they refer to as "personal insight questions." Not unlike other college essays, the UC prompts cover very common college essay topics familiar to all applicants, including background, family, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, and so on.

  15. Tips for the 8 UC Personal Insight Questions

    Option #1: Leadership. Leadership is a broad term that refers much more than being the president of student government or drum major in the marching band. Any time you step up to guide others, you are demonstrating leadership. Most college applicants are leaders, although many don't realize this fact.

  16. Personal Insight Questions

    Academic achievement For first-year applicants: Academic accomplishments, beyond those shown in your transcript For transfer students: Include interest in your intended major, explain the way in which your academic interests developed, and describe any related work or volunteer experience.

  17. 17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

    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

  18. Personal insight questions

    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.

  19. Personal Insight Questions

    Freshman Personal Insight Questions. Freshman applicants must respond to four short-answer prompts chosen from eight options. There is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain prompts over others, and each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.

  20. The Do's and Don'ts of Answering UC Personal Insight Questions

    Some colleges require long essays; some don't require them at all. The University of California requires you to respond to four out of eight Personal Insight Questions, and you have a maximum of 350 words for each. Fear not, though: These are great opportunities to express yourself. The prompts let you describe different aspects of your life ...

  21. Application Writing Prompts

    Students must also submit a personal statement in response to the following prompt in approximately 500 words: Why did you apply to each of the academic programs listed on your application? This personal statement should provide additional information not already referenced in your application.

  22. UC Personal Statement Examples?

    4. CollegeVine: CollegeVine often shares some exemplary essays to help students understand what makes them successful. You can find essays and overall guidance on writing a strong UC personal statement. For more information click here: https://blog.collegevine.com/university-of-california-essay-examples

  23. How to Write a Compelling Personal Statement for University of

    The UC Davis Law personal statement prompt asks applicants to "describe the personal qualities, accomplishments, experiences, or goals that you believe will enable you to contribute to the UC Davis School of Law community and to the legal profession."