How to Take On the University of California Essays

The University of California (and all of its campuses) does not accept the Common App. Instead, the UC schools provide an application of their own which requires students to write 4 short essays (350 words each) selected from 8 prompts, known as “Personal Insight Questions.”

This year’s 8 Personal Insight Questions are listed below:

University of California prompts 2017-2018:

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?

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The task of writing 4 short essays compared to 1 long essay can be a daunting task for some students. Others find themselves struggling to condense eloquent responses into the limited space of 350 words. UC essays may take a lot of of editing, but never fear! Following these tips can help you to craft an excellence response.

1. Tell a Story

Each of the 8 personal insight questions offers an opportunity to reflect on a period of personal growth and revelation. Sometimes the best way to convey what you learned from an event is to tell the story of how it came to pass. Try to express what you gained in a creative way that reveals your unique point of view.

2. Answer the Question

While telling your unique story, don’t forget to answer the question! Many students (indeed, many writers) have always been taught that being straightforward is a form of bad writing and that it is better to give the reader room for interpretation. The truth is, with essays so short, it is better to be as direct as possible and communicate your strengths expressly and without confusion.

3. Don’t Try to Cover Too Much Ground

Another great reason to be straightforward: 350 words will not allow much room for deviation. Less is truly more in these UC essays –– choose one central point that will carry the bulk of your essay, and really explore. Often, when students try to infuse their essays with a variety of revelations, each subsequent insight becomes jumbled and the point of the story lost. Choose your strongest theme and express it well.

4. 350 Words Means 350 Words!

While falling slightly short of this count is acceptable, going over is not. Unlike the word count for the Common App, there is no range, only a strict limit. Take care to edit sharply! Eliminate repetitive phrases and clean up filler words. I’ve seen 700+ word behemoths make the journey down to clean, tight 350 word statements with a little love and care. If simple word cutting doesn’t help you to reach your limit, then see point #3 above, and consider whether or not you’re attempting to include too much information.

That’s it! These quick steps will go a long way toward helping to you craft compelling University of California essays. Still have questions? Get in touch!

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