Writing Essays for the University of California

The UC application is around the corner, and we are prepping for the 30th November deadline just as most of you are. If you are applying to one or more of these amazing universities, then these tips may be just the thing you need right now.

Let’s get the basics right –

  • The University of California has its separate portal and does not use the Common Application/Coalition Application.

  • You need to answer any four out of eight personal insight questions which means that ensure you’re highlighting four distinct aspects of your personality.

  • You get 350 words maximum for each question which is neither too short nor too long. Therefore, do explore but be concise.

  • There is no right or wrong answer, but the key thing is to be as reflective as possible.

  • These essays are common to all the UCs (What a relief, right?)

General tips to answering the UC 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.

    • Your answer could address either one or all of the three points as the question gives you this choice. This opens up a range of anecdotes to pick from

    • ‘Leadership’ could mean mentoring someone/a group of individuals, stepping up for a sibling, starting a club in school, leading community initiatives – the key thing is to understand that leadership comes in different forms and to acknowledge how you have played the role of a leader in your own and others’ lives.

    • Demonstrate your own growth through this experience. No leadership experience is devoid of challenges; feel free to mention those.

  2. 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.

    • Creativity comes in many forms – how does it come to you?

    • Common examples of creative skills are playing an instrument or artwork, but it could also be Instagram culture blogging that attracts a million followers!

    • The way to decode this prompt is to understand how you demonstrate creativity and what impact has it had on you and those around you

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

  • Bringing humor to a conversation could be your talent, or perhaps being the most proactive and dependable person in the room always.

  • I like that this essay allows you to sway in either way, that is, you could talk about your academic strengths (such as undertaking independent research) or personal ones (such as taking care of your sibling/grandparent)

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

  • You could answer either the first or second part of the question.

  • For the first part, we have had students talk about their summer programs or research internships or anything that can be considered to be ‘academic.’

  • If you’re opting for the second part, it could be about how you moved from a D grade to an A* in a subject in a certain year.

  • Remember to expand on how these experience/s shaped you into 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?

  • This challenge is mostly a personal one. In the past, we have had students talk about their physical or emotional challenges and how that impacted their grades

  • The key thing is to talk about how you bounced back from this challenge.

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

  • Simply put, this is the ‘why this major’ essay.

  • You can talk about your research work, summer programs, savoring books, etc – the list is endless.

  • Feel free to use some of the relevant content from other why major essays.

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

  • It is first important to narrow down your choice of ‘community’ – this could be your gated community or the local weaver community for whom you set up an online marketing platform.

  • demonstrate your leadership and community-building skills

  • Address what you value as being part of your community.

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

  • This is an open-ended question which gives you the chance to talk about something that doesn’t fit into the rest of the prompts

  • some students use their main common application essay here

We wish you luck with your upcoming UC applications!

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