Successful UC Essay Prompt 3 Example Essay

Successful UC Essay Prompt 3 Example Essay

In this article, we will cover one of our successful UC Essay Prompt 3 examples. We’ll also cover some of the elements that made the essay strong and stand out from the rest. You can incorporate these into your own essay to boost its strength and, ultimately, help you stay competitive in the UC admissions process.

To clarify, this example essay belonged to a previous client of ours who had two weeks’ worth of our writing and editing services.

The UC prompt 3, also known as the talent and skills prompt, is one of the most important questions in the personal insight section. This is because it is the time for you to showcase your strengths in conjunction with other highly competitive applicants.

If your talent or skill does not demonstrate the characteristics and attributes that make you a great candidate, it can be especially harmful to your application. This particular PIQ is a time to show your strengths; so, don’t take the half measure. Go the whole way.

You may also want to consider taking a look at their tips here .

With the help of our expert consultants and editors , we helped our client use their essay to get himself into UC Santa Barbara . His stats were as follows:

Applicant Stats

  • UC GPA: 3.5
  • Awards / Honorable mentions: none
  • Extracurriculars: President of Fashion Club

This may seem like a slim academic profile. Well, it is. Most students with a GPA of 3.5 will find it difficult to get accepted into schools such as UC Santa Barbara. But, essays that can play into the student’s strengths can turn the tides and give them the advantage that they need to enter their reach school.

As with all of our articles covering UC PIQ Example Essays, we first explore the most important sections of the “Things to consider” section that we recommend that you… well, consider. You can check it out in the first section of the table of contents below.

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Table of Contents

  • Understanding the UC Essay Prompt 3 and ‘Things to Consider’ Section.
  • UC Essay Prompt 3 Example Essay.

Transitions

Change over time, humility in the wake of oppression, understanding the uc essay prompt 3 and ‘things to consider’ section ..

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  (350 words or fewer) UC Essay Prompt 3
“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? UC Essay Prompt 3 ‘Things to Consider’

Notice the “why” in “Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?” This is something that some applicants can forget, and this mistake is devastating for those writing the UC essay prompt 3.

Note that you don’t need to write why the talent or skill is meaningful to you in full detail. It doesn’t need to be very long and drawn out. Just remember to answer the question. If you disregard this, it can paint a bad light on your ability to follow instructions and notice details.

In addition, you need only to imply why it is important.

The gravity of the events you write should give it away already. Why is it meaningful? Well, 2-3 paragraphs of deep imagery about your emotional attachment to tennis may explain more than enough! Much like the application essay that we had edited here, it’s filled with imagery. But, we didn’t have full paragraphs dedicated to why it was important to make friends since the language insinuated it.

Let’s take a look at the example essay below.

UC Essay Prompt 3 Example Essay .

uc essay prompt 3 example

“In China, there is no Sun: the heavy, oppressive smog shields me from ever seeing the light. I didn’t live in China anymore, so when I stepped out of the plane to Los Angeles, I was greeted by a warm embrace– warm to the skin, warm to the heart, and just warm enough to be discomforting to the body and remind me that I was no longer in my hometown. American culture, American spirit, all within view. I loved Los Angeles, and I loved not having a looming cloud of smog shrouding me from the sun, but it didn’t feel like home. c Home was in China, a battlefield with a competitive challenge at every corner: students tore each other apart for the highest marks in an attempt to impress their families. I was groomed from a young age to be the quintessential, well-rounded student who never made mistakes and learned a million useless talents for my family to brag about when relatives came over for dinner. The culture was not like this in the states. Soon I was used to sitting by myself in the lunch halls; I didn’t like the loneliness, but I especially didn’t like getting used to it. I envied those who were surrounded by friends. I was frustrated. I was hurt. But I knew better, I swallowed the butterflies in my stomach and digested them. I was still quite socially awkward when I made my first friends, but I owe it to them that I learned that most of my social anxiety is unneeded. I learned that everything will be “like, all chill man”. In Los Angeles, my new home, there is always Sun wherever I go. No longer does the oppressive smog guard me from the light’s rays. It is bright, a little bit uncomfortable at times, and everything that the people of Los Angeles stand for, but learning to bask in its light instead of being shrouded in smog has kept me from hiding behind the clouds. I learned for the first time in my life how to shine.” Example Essay That Worked for UCSD

What Makes This Essay Strong?

Here are a few considerations to take when looking at our UC Essay Prompt 3 example essay. These elements made the essay stronger than most other essays and can be applied to your own.

Remember that you don’t have to have all of these elements in your essay. These are just factors that help our clients write a strong essay that we believe would help your essay stand out as well.

Right after the first paragraph’s deep imagery, our client masterfully transitioned from dynamic descriptions to pragmatic background information.

“In China, there is no Sun: the heavy, oppressive smog shields me from ever seeing the light. I didn’t live in China anymore, so when I stepped out of the plane to Los Angeles, I was greeted by a warm embrace– warm to the skin, warm to the heart, and just warm enough to be discomforting to the body and remind me that I was no longer in my hometown. American culture, American spirit, all within view… …I loved Los Angeles, and I loved not having a looming cloud of smog shrouding me from the sun, but it didn’t feel like home.”

This provides a nice and soft transition from the strong imagery of the first paragraph from before to one more dry. This doesn’t mean non-fancy and dry text is bad in the application essay. It actually gives a good break from too much imagery in the Personal Insight Question essay.

Properly transitioning between ideas in your essay is crucial to providing a streamlined reading experience to your admissions officers. The admissions office will be processing hundreds and even thousands of college application essays. Thus, having a streamlined writing style that transitions between ideas without getting too choppy in paragraphs is vital to an essay that doesn’t lead to more bumps in the road.

Another element that worked very nicely in this essay is demonstrating change over time.

When providing advice and editing for our client, we made it crystal clear that changes over time in the essay would be useful for the UC PIQs. This goes for just about every UC Personal Insight Question, but it’s especially important for the 3rd PIQ.

When colleges ask, “How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time…” the change over time is the crucial part you can’t forget. It shows that not only are you capable and talented; but, you’re also able to develop in the future during your time at the University of California.

We also want to note that transitions shouldn’t be choppy or sudden. Describe in great detail the pain and struggle that went through the self-improvement journey for your skill or talent before bragging about the results. That way, admissions officers will more easily believe your story and give your application the weight that it deserves. Having positive change over time also shows that you are continuing your journey to improvement and have not stagnated.

This is an important one.

Admissions officers in this current year have far too many applications to read. Many of these applications have something along the lines of tragedy and great sorrow. In short, a lot of applications look like this:

“Life was unfair to me, please feel sorry for me and let me into your fine school!”

Of course, this doesn’t look very good at all. We knew our applicant had a hard social life to get through, but we made sure he was humble about it and not trying to sound like he was throwing a pity party. In addition, the demonstration of humility will show that you have the proper character to belong in a learning setting.

Note that you don’t have to have suffered oppression to be humble. If you came from less-than-destitute beginnings, you can still demonstrate your maturity and humility in the essays. In fact, it’s a very strong factor that shows admissions officers that you have the temperament and qualities they need to build a great college campus community.

Looking for more good UC Personal Insight Question 3 examples? Is UC Berkeley your favorite school and you can’t wait to go there to join other academically obsessed kids? Send us a message and talk with one of our expert admissions consultants!

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20 UC Essay Examples AKA Personal Insight Questions 2023

20 UC Essay Examples AKA Personal Insight Questions 2023

Learn how to answer the 2018 UC Personal Insight essay questions! 17 UC Essay Examples included.  How was your college application journey? Let us know over at collegeessayguy.com

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 folks would like me (and you!) to refer to these prompts as “personal insight questions” instead of “essays” or "UC personal statement". Why? Sometimes students associate the word “essay” with an academic assignment and that is not (as you’ll see below) what the UCs are looking for.

That said, I sometimes used the phrase “UC essay” below because people search for “UC essay example” or "UC personal statement" ten times more than “UC personal insight questions examples”, and such a search may very well be what brought you here .

The University of California school system covers 10 universities across the state. The UC system does things its own way—they have a separate application and (you guessed it) a separate list of essays to write. For example, outside of the PIQs, the UC system asks you to write an activities list and provides space for additional information , both of which we can help you with too.

Below is a collection of some of the best UC essay examples/UC personal insight question examples I’ve seen.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Uc example essay #1, uc example essay #2, uc example essay #3, uc example essay #4.

  • Prompt 2: Creative Side

UC Example Essay #5

Uc example essay #6, uc example essay #7.

  • 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”

  • Prompt 6: Inspiring Academic Subject

UC Essay Example #14

Uc essay example #15.

  • Prompt 7: Community Service
  • UC Essay Example #16: "House of Pain"

UC Essay Example #17

  • Prompt 8: Strong Candidate

UC Essay Example #18: “Jungle Confidence Course”

Uc essay example #19, uc essay example #20, the uc essay prompts.

Here are the UC essay prompts 1 through 8 from the 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 artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes a Winning UC piq example?

1. Don’t forget to connect your personal insight questions to one or more of the 13 points of comprehensive review.

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

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

2. Make use of the many resources the UCs have provided For some good contextual advice, click here . For some basic writing advice, click here .

3. Remember that it’s okay to answer your personal insight questions in a direct, straightforward way.

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

In fact, another director said it’s okay 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, “Yup.”) 

Will you personally choose to provide bullet points? That’s up to you. It may feel a little weird. But just know that at least a few of the UC directors have said it’s cool.

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

Why? Because the reader will probably be spending about six to eight minutes on your application. Not on each essay. ON YOUR WHOLE APPLICATION.

I just want to emphasize it’s cool--and smart--to get straight to the point. That being said…

5. If you’re applying to private schools via the Common App, it can be useful to write an essay that’s insightful, well-crafted and reveals your core values. 

Why take the time to write a stand-out essay?

You may be able to use your UC Personal Insight Question essay for other schools. Since many selective schools require supplemental essays (that is: essays you write in addition to your main, 650-word Common App personal statement), it can be useful to write an essay that works for BOTH the UCs AND one or more private schools. 

Quick example:

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).

I call this writing a Super Essay. By answering both prompts at once, you get deeper with the answer for both. Plus it saves you so. Much. Time. 

And guess what: You can do this for multiple prompts (three, four, or seventeen). 

For more on how to write a Super-Essay, click here.  

To learn more about how to answer the UC essays , go to our longer guide.

UC Personal Insight Question Example 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.  

“CAPITALISM CAUSES EXTINCTION! NUCLEAR WAR IS IMMINENT!” Initially, debate seemed nonsensical: lambasting opponents while arguing improbable scenarios. But over time I’ve learned that it’s more than 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, 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, debate has taught me to strategically choose my battles. When I prepare my arguments, I know that I can’t use all of them in 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 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. Debate has turned me into an responsible optimizing, scrutinizing and strategizing orator.
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 are harmful for 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 benefit 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 Lunches Program to include not just freshman, 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.

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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.
As president of the Robotics Club, I find building the robots and creatively solving technical problems to be the 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 labelled 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 jargons 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 judgement. 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 learnt 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.

Watch Me Revise Students’ UC Essays Here

Uc personal insight question example 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 artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

Some people speak Chinese, others Spanish; I speak HTML. Language is intricately beautiful, with sentences flowing all within grammar constraints creating 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 the 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 with 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.
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 learnt 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.
In the sugar bateys of the Dominican Republic, I always had a plan. The only caveat: it was never the same plan. My task, helping to manage optometric screenings, did benefit from preparation, sure. The meticulous sorting and cataloging of our physical glasses database was extremely useful. But the moment our group arrived, my expectations began to unravel. To keep up with the shifting conditions, I had to get creative. My old plan relied on subjective equipment, now demonstrated ineffective by language and technological barriers. New plan: use the objective autorefractor. Can’t, it demands specific light conditions, so… new plan: classic chart screens, phoropter. Timeless, right? Technically functional, too slow. New plan: the old plan, but different! Use the autorefractor and an egregious quantity of wax paper to reduce light, but keep chart-based preliminary screening. Decent enough, for now. Our medical group moved every day, so I had to literally tear down the previous system, and rebuild it differently elsewhere. Without fail, I encountered failure. But every failure and constraint served as a catalyst for innovation. I’d tinker with the screening pipeline constantly, and repeatedly fine tune heuristics to balance time and accuracy. In time, I found the key to improvement wasn’t a decisive plan. Rather, it was experimentation and iteration. I’d make a decision, and then remake it because I wasn’t even close. Problem solving is often assumed to be clean and algorithmic, but my most effective solutions were malleable and messy—not to mention produced in a chain of modifications so convoluted as to elude any sense of monolithic inspiration. And to be fair, I don’t recall experiencing any “magical lightning bolts of creativity” in which the perfect machination was unveiled in its entirety. But that wasn’t necessary. My innovation was incremental, and it was holistic. Behind every idea were its predecessors, and ahead, its execution. To me, that is the heart of creativity. As long as I was willing to be proven wrong, a new idea was within reach. And with it, came endless, autocatalytic possibilities, all competing to push me in a new direction.

UC Personal Insight Question Example 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?

UC Essay Example #8: “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 #9

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.

UC Essay Example #10

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.

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Uc essay example #111: "two truths, one lie".

On the first day of school, when a teacher plays “Two Truths, One Lie” I always state living in 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 learnt 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 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 career. 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 resolution.

UC Essay Example #12

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?

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. “Katyush?” “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.

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 attempts 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 miniscule 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 from illnesses. Like 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)
I am a student, a volleyball player, a daughter, a sister, a friend. But in room 802, I am also a number. Room 802 is home to Dr. Mooney and his humanities students. Since sophomore year, I have been number 10, assigned to me by Dr. Mooney.  As someone who browses the History Channel for fun, I consider myself a huge history nerd. When I chose to take Art History, I thought I had already learned all there was to know about art. However, I received more than I’d bargained for. The first time I stepped into his classroom, I was overwhelmed by life-size posters of paintings hanging off walls and the large Lamassu posed over the doorway. Through performing weekly skits and creating art flashcards, I learned that art is not just something appealing to look at. Without a passport, I explored the worlds of various cultures from the comfort of seat number 10. I painted on cave walls in Lascaux, experienced synesthesia induced by Kandinsky’s Improvisation 28, climbed Borobudur, and observed as Duchamp’s “Fountain” changed the basis of art forever. Most importantly, yet ironically, art history piqued my interest in STEM fields. Previously, I did not see the point in studying and solving an endless array of numbers, only to produce another number. However, I now understand the importance of STEM for advancing future civilizations and preserving ancient ones. I learned to ask questions, such as “Which chemicals in certain mediums allowed some art to be preserved, but others destroyed like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper?” and “Why aren’t more houses ecologically-built like Fallingwater?”  Technology has also woven its way through art. If Frank Gehry can design the Guggenheim Museum with the help of computer software, what else can we design with just a tap of the fingertips? Having taken a Harvard computer course and learned coding through the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, I know the answer: lots.  So yes, I am a number. And yes, I am a history nerd. However, I am also a future scientist in the making.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 7: Community Service

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

UC Essay Example #16: “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 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.

EXPERIENCING COLLEGE ESSAY OVERLOAD? READ ABOUT COMBINING YOUR COLLEGE ESSAY PROMPTS TO SAVE 20+ WRITING HOURS

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 labour. 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 the 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: Strong Candidate

Prompt: 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?

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 creates 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?
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 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 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.
Five years ago I took up a job in construction from a couple of neighbors who needed help doing a demolition job on an old house. I saw this as an opportunity to help pay bills around the house as well as cover my own personal expenses. I did a good enough job that my neighbors told me that, if I wanted, I could continue working with them.  It has been a demanding job and I made numerous mistakes at first, like using the wrong tools for different tasks or the wrong size screw. On occasion, I was scolded for my mistakes and I felt incompetent, as I wasn’t able to complete tasks as fast as my co-workers. There were even days that I considered quitting, but I stuck with it.   Since then, I've built, repaired, and remodeled numerous homes for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. I’ve removed and replaced carpets; broken down walls as well as driveways; installed cabinets, lights, both wood and tile flooring; and painted room after room.  Working in construction has made me feel like a bigger part of society, because I’m shaping the buildings and offices my community uses. Although I don’t make the choices in design, my workmanship is reflected in every job I’ve done. Because of this, my most memorable projects are those that I’ve taken on by myself. It has been a personally fulfilling experience--there’s just something about peeling away the last strip of tape off a new floor that’s indescribable--and getting to see hours of planning, preparation, and work come together is such a rewarding experience. The best part? Knowing that some family will get to enjoy my work. But this is not what I will do the rest of my life.  There are other ways I can help cover my family’s expenses, and getting a degree is the next step. In fact, I have a feeling that would be an even more fulfilling journey.

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How to Write Great UC Essays (Examples of All Personal Insight Questions Included)

A step-by-step guide to conquering all uc personal insight questions, with an example of each.

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(Note: This article can also be found in our free, 110-page comprehensive guide to writing every college essay, How to Get Into America’s Elite Colleges: The Ultimate Guide .

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: the uc personal insight questions, overview: the uc essay prompts, how to choose uc prompts, outlining your uc essays, uc personal insight question 1: leadership, uc personal insight question 2: creativity, uc personal insight question 3: talent, uc personal insight question 4: educational opportunity/barrier, uc personal insight question 5: adversity, uc personal insight question 6: academic passion, uc personal insight question 7: community, uc personal insight question 8: everything else, uc personal insight question 9: transfer, part 3: frequently asked questions.

Whether you’re a California resident or not, you may have considered applying to University of California (UC) schools —and for good reasons. In addition to being the nation’s best public university system overall, the UC system includes several elite schools that may be better options than private schools for competitive applicants due to their prestige, diversity, and value. At the top of this list are UC Berkeley and UCLA, widely considered Public Ivies . Educating nearly quarter of a million undergraduates, UCs are a home for California residents, out-of-state attendees, and international students alike.

Given their attractiveness, admission is competitive, ranging from 8.5 percent for UCLA and 11.4 percent for UC Berkeley to about 21 percent for UC Irvine and 47.1 percent for UC Santa Cruz (all numbers for the 2022 entering class). And every year, it gets tougher to make the cut for some of the most sought-after campuses like UCLA, which sat at 18 percent in 2014–2015 and has been sinking steadily since.

But it’s worth the effort to apply to UC schools. Why? Because filling out one application allows you to apply to every UC school.

You can think of the campuses according to the following tiers, based on their U.S. News & World Report rankings . Eight of the nine undergraduate campuses ( UCSF and UC Hastings offer graduate degrees only) rank in the top 100 schools, with six of nine in the top 50:

Tier 1: UCLA (#20) tied with UC Berkeley (#20) in 2022, UC San Diego (#34, tied with UC Irvine in 2022. In the latest rankings, UC Santa Barbara was ranked higher, but San Diego has historically appeared higher.) Tier 2: UC Santa Barbara (#32), UC Irvine (#34), UC Davis (#38) Tier 3: UC Riverside (#89), UC Merced (#97), UC Santa Cruz (#83)

(Related reading: The Best UC Schools: UC Rankings 2022 )

An overview of applying to UC schools

If you’re already filling out the Common Application, that means you’ll write a personal statement, complete the Activities section, and assemble supplemental essays for several schools. If you’re also applying to the UCs, you might consider ordering your process this way:

Write your Common App personal statement .

Shorten your Common App personal statement for use on one UC essay, if applicable.

Write remaining UC essays and fill out the UC Activities section (which is longer than the Common App Activities section ).

Repurpose your UC Activities list for Common App Activities and your remaining UC essays for Common App supplemental essays .

However it would be a mistake to treat the UC application as another set of supplemental essays, or as small fry after tackling your 650-word personal statement. Here’s how we recommend planning and then executing the essays that comprise your application to the University of California.

Why do UC essays matter? How much do they matter?

Over the past decade, as the University of California received more applications— 206,405 freshman applications for the 2023 entering class —the admissions committees found themselves unable to make difficult calls on students based solely on test scores and GPAs. That’s why, in 2017, the UC system switched to new “personal insight questions.” They are, in other words, an opportunity for you to show who you are beyond your scores; that’s why the committees dreamed these up, and it’s why spending time to craft these essays will go a long way.

These questions are also a chance to show more sides of yourself than students could in previous years when applying to UC schools, when there were fewer questions asking for longer answers.

The UC schools follow holistic admissions, like many private universities, which means their ranking system takes into account a number of qualitative aspects of your life—whether or not you’ve made the most of the opportunities you’ve been given, the level of your extracurricular involvement, and other “big picture” elements. While holistic admissions can be frustrating to those of us on the outside, leaving us to question what exactly gets weighed behind the scenes, there is one certainty: your essays matter—some folks estimate they account for up to 30% of admissions decisions—when a university tells us its process is qualitative and subjective.

Let’s meet our students

As we move through this guide to acing your UC application, we’ll be following a few students who successfully made it to Tier 1 UC campuses. These students are based on several real applicants with whom we have worked over the past nearly 20 years.

Student #1: Arman. Arman, a generalist, has strong grades, earning a 4.0 with high honor roll. He participates in academic team events, and is also physically active, playing intramural basketball and coaching younger children in YMCA after-school activities. He’s not sure what he’d like to major in, but he’s worked at a law office over the summer and is interested in cultural studies and education.

What’s not on his resumé? Arman comes from a mixed ethnic background—he’s Mexican-American and Armenian-American—and both cultures have informed his childhood, sometimes complementing one another, and other times colliding.

Student #2: Maria. Maria is passionate about the environment, having grown up in California during the drought. From her AP Environmental Science class to the various recycling and water-saving initiatives she’s volunteered on in her small Central Valley town in the northern part of the state, she’s learned what she likes and hopes to study. She also plays tennis and has danced since she was small.

What’s not on her resumé? She’s never pursued it in a formal extracurricular fashion, but Maria loves art, and does pottery and ceramic work here and there on weekends.

Student #3: Karan. Karan, an international applicant, is interested in the arts. He likes reading and cinema, and might want to study anything from Art History to English to French film. He moved around a lot so his extracurriculars are inconsistent, but he has made some short films on YouTube and has competed in parliamentary debate.

What’s not on his resumé? Karan’s lived in three countries: India, the U.A.E., and Canada. Due to the constant geographic instability and the need to always chase the next visa, he’s never felt quite at home in any of those environments.

Student #4: Denise. Denise, a transfer applicant, has always been interested in technology. Though her large public high school did not have much in the way of computer science courses, she got herself accepted to STEM summer programs, where her passions were confirmed. She wants to be closer to the tech world, though she isn’t sure what she’d like to study—STEM, business, or some intersection of the two.

What’s not on her resumé? Denise was raised by a single father and her family has not had an easy time financially for many years.

Student #5: Nadia. Nadia is passionate about politics and political advocacy. An enthusiastic competitor on the statewide mock trial and debate circuits, she has taken every class at her large public high school related to government and speech possible. She’s also interested in international relations and law school.

What’s not on her resumé? Nadia struggled with low self-esteem and physical and cyberbullying when she was younger. Her older siblings often had to intervene to keep things from getting out of hand. This is often still on her mind.

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As we’ve said, there is only one application required to be considered by all the UC campuses. There are eight essay prompts (called “personal insight questions”) on the UC application. UC requires students to answer four of the personal insight questions, and there’s no right answer about which ones you choose. Each of the eight UC personal insight questions has a 350 word limit.

This is not quite like your Common App. The Common App gives you the chance to make one single, bold, loud statement—a 650-word personal statement—and to embellish that essay with more information in the Activities section and, in some cases, in supplemental essays. The UC application, by contrast, gives you four chances to make shorter, more focused statements. This means you’ll want to think about coherency and consistency, while also avoiding repetitiveness.

The main difference between the UC personal insight questions and the Common app personal statement essay is that with UC, you may not be able to tell a single story in all its glory, as you can theoretically do in the Common App essay. But the advantage with the UC personal insight essays is that you have multiple chances and multiple angles to express yourself. In many ways, the UC application can feel “truer to life,” since so few of us have a single story or experience that defines us, but are rather comprised of many smaller stories. Thinking about the UC application in those terms can lift some students out of the funk that comes from the sense that you need to express your whole self to an admissions committee in order to get in.

Here are the most recent University of California freshman application personal insight questions :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some students have the impulse to try to parcel out what they feel is their “Single Important Story” across several essays, since they have only 350 words instead of 650. We suggest not thinking of the UC application in these terms. Instead, try to offer four pieces of yourself that, when placed together, add up to make a whole.

So how do you choose which four pieces to use—or, more directly, how do you choose which four questions to answer of the eight offered? It’s not about picking one question to describe the four extracurricular activities you’ve participated in, or one question that explains your major, another that explains your personal life, and two for extracurricular activities. There’s no formula. But here are a few things to take under consideration as you determine which questions make the most sense for you to answer:

1. Recyclability

Can you reuse your personal statement or supplemental essays to answer one of the UC prompts?

Does the phrasing of any of these questions remind you of the prompt you responded to on your Common App personal statement?

For example, when considering questions 4 and 5, “an educational barrier” and “significant challenge”, recall this Common App prompt: “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?”

Does the phrasing of any of these questions remind you of a Common App supplemental essay, or have you written something that answers the question already?

For example, question 2 asks you to describe the way in which you are creative. This might overlap with a response to one of the recent supplemental essay questions from Rice University—“The quality of Rice's academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective do you feel that you will contribute to life at Rice?”—if you wrote about intellectual or academic creativity, as Maria did.

2. Repetitiveness vs. coherency

Perhaps you want the admissions committee to know about your experience navigating a large high school with few academic opportunities. You might see a chance to explain this in either Question #4 (which we’ll call the educational opportunity/barrier question) and Question #5 (which we’ll call the personal adversity question).

There’s no reason you can’t answer both. But you’ll need to be able to articulate a separate goal for each answer. Drawing up a separate mini-outline for each question (which we’ll explain more shortly) will help you determine whether you’re truly writing two different essays about related topics, or repeating yourself without adding new information or angles on the original.

3. Add to your uniqueness

As mentioned above, you’ll likely be competing against over 200,000 applicants for a limited number of UC seats. That means you’ll need to highlight anything that makes you stand out or speaks to your uniqueness.

Choosing questions like number six (Think about an academic subject that inspires you) or number seven (What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?) can give you space to elaborate on unique qualities you have that would benefit UC schools.

Try to think of your responses as painting a full picture of you as a person and imagine how an admissions committee member might imagine you when reading your essays. Choose to answer questions that help you stand out and provide insight into the person you will become given the opportunity to be a UC student.

4. Most importantly: which questions speak to you?

Your heart might not start to thud faster at every single one of these questions. But there’s likely one “buzzword” that popped out to you. Creativity. Leadership. Community. Challenge. Figure out which question contained that lucky buzzword, and work on answering that one first. That will put you in a positive headspace for continuing to the other questions that may not come quite as naturally.

While 350 words isn’t very long—about three paragraphs—it’s still long enough that you may benefit from outlining your essay in advance. The good news is that most 350-word, three-paragraph essays follow a standard structure. Some students treat their UC essays as short-answer questions, which might imply that you don’t need an outline. Try to avoid that by, instead, treating them as highly-condensed essay questions.

We’ll get into some specific examples shortly as we go question-by-question, but for now, keep this basic model of the three-paragraph, tripartite essay in mind:

Paragraph 1: Hook (and thesis statement)

In this paragraph, the writer hooks us, with an image, a brief anecdote, or a snappy sentence or two. But there’s little time to linger.

By the end of the paragraph, the writer clearly articulates their thesis statement, which will guide us through the next two-thirds of the essay.

In an essay this short, the thesis statement does not always come at the end of the first paragraph. Sometimes the first two paragraphs are taken up by captivating narration of an event, and the thesis comes in the conclusion, in the successful thematic and narrative tying-up of the essay. But when outlining and planning your essay, it’s a good idea to be certain about what the thesis is, and to try to begin to convey it—either outright, or hinting at it—by the end of the first paragraph. We’ll see some examples of it appearing in the first, second, and third paragraphs below.

Paragraph 2: Examples, illustrations, and a sense of change/growth overtime

In this paragraph, the writer brings in specific illustrations of the thesis statement, and, crucially, must convey a sense of time, change, and/or growth. Like many college essays, the UC questions ask applicants to reflect on a significant moment in order to demonstrate introspection and analytical insight. Change is often crucial to that. Usually you are not the same on one side of a major life experience as you are on the other.

Paragraph 3: Conclusions, including a sense of how the essay topic will influence the writer now and into the future

As with many good essays, this paragraph should try to lead the reader to a sense of closure, conveying a lesson and a sense of what has been learned and gained from the experience.

Here is the first personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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

Leadership UC essay example

Let’s use Arman’s essay as an example:

I exclaimed, “You’re too lazy for your own good!” In the moment, it seemed like a perfect way to motivate my best friend, Serj. I was trying to get him to the gym. He’d asked me to hold him accountable as his workout partner. But as soon as those words slipped out, I saw in Serj’s posture, wide eyes, and flared nostrils that I had made a huge mistake.

This exchange had been a long time coming. For months I had texted Serj one hour before our scheduled gym sessions. Still, Serj canceled on me frequently. When he did show up, he seemed happy—but that was rare. I’d been lifting weights for three years, and I know how great you can feel because of it. But by yelling at Serj, I was not convincing him of the benefits of being active. I was shaming him. Five gut-wrenching seconds after I delivered my stinging honesty, I apologized. But we hardly spoke for two weeks. Eventually he accepted my apology, even thanking me for pushing him to be active. I knew, though, that I would have to earn his trust again as a workout partner.

That day, I discovered honesty’s best friend: empathy. I thought telling Serj the cold truth about his behavior would finally help him see that he was wrong to blow off the gym. But my honesty was my subjective opinion. When I later talked to Serj, I learned about the fears that had kept him from self-motivation—he had never been athletic, and he found it hard to believe that putting himself through a physical ordeal would be useful. He was already berating himself enough in his head. I didn’t need to do it for him. Since that experience, I have exercised more empathy when asked to lead. When coaching elementary school kids at sports camps, I praise their effort first before delivering criticism. Children are glad to retry any drill—but I know it’s in part because I’ve imagined, first, how scary it is to try something new, and I’ve acknowledged that first.

We can reverse-outline Arman’s essay to see how it’s working:

Paragraph 1:  He has a hook —him yelling at his best friend, and then he provides brief context, just enough to inform us without derailing us.

There’s not much of a big “thesis” statement when you first glance at that paragraph, but when we look closer, we see that there is one sentence that will drive us through the next two paragraphs: “I had made a huge mistake.” That’s enough here.

Paragraph 2: You could say paragraph #2 is all about offering more context for how we reached this emotionally climactic moment that served as the hook.

But it’s also doing the work we mentioned above, of demonstrating change. Note that Arman isn’t showing change or growth overtime by saying “on day one of working out we did this, on day two that…” etc. Instead, he’s demonstrating a sense of change and growth through reflection and retrospection. We can tell that he has grown since the mistake because he acknowledges why it was a mistake (“shaming him”). The paragraph also mentions an apology, which is a sign of change.

Paragraph 3:  Lastly, the essay begins its final paragraph with a very clear lesson that is an elaboration on the thesis in the first paragraph: “I discovered honesty’s best friend: empathy.” Now we can read the previous paragraphs through that lens.

Even better, paragraph three does two more things with its conclusion: First, it resolves the original conflict and we learn what happened with Serj. And second, it actually uses a personal story to discuss extracurricular activities, but without being heavy-handed. It spins out the lesson with Serj to something that is already listed on Arman’s activity list, coaching kids’ sports.

One key takeaway from Arman’s essay is its careful balance of humility and reflection. When students see the word “leader,” they can often begin to brag about themselves and their accomplishments. But your activity list can contain all the big wins and important titles under your belt. The essay is a chance for you to humanize those, and to demonstrate introspection. Arman does that by showing how he made a mistake and corrected for it.

Arman also avoids getting bogged down in abstract concepts, another pitfall of questions that ask about “leadership” and “community.” In fact, Arman doesn’t even use the word “leader” until the final paragraph—that’s a major show of strength. It demonstrates that he understands how he is answering the question—by discussing two intangibles of leadership, honesty and empathy. He earns the right to talk about honesty and empathy because he’s writing only about his own experience for two paragraphs, so by the time he touches on those big, abstract words, he’s already filled them with his own meaning.

Here is the second personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?

Creativity UC essay example

Let’s use Maria’s essay as an example:

For twelve years, I have spent my weekends and summers making ceramics and painting at the community center, and when I need to relieve stress, I often sketch. These might seem like private acts of self-expression. But they have impacted the way I solve problems, particularly in my sustainability work. I’m passionate about the environment, and a few years ago, I realized many of my classmates didn’t understand how to live with the lowest impact on the environment. With the help of a science teacher, I founded the Water Conservation Club and set out to engage my peers. Art proved invaluable in these projects.

The first initiative we tried was a calendar initiative for elementary school students. I visited classrooms, talked about recycling, environmentalism, and clean energy, and then asked first, second, and third-graders to draw pictures of how they could live more sustainably. Their drawings showed them picking up trash, saving water, even going on a hiking trip with their families instead of flying across the country for vacations. With the children’s parents’ okay, we turned their drawings into calendar art, and sold the calendars, raising over $1,000 for TreePeople’s Drought Defense Challenge, which hopes to tackle California’s 6-year drought. I’ve visited those classrooms and found that those students are still engaged. Their parents arranged a carpool, they use leftover water to water the class plants, and recycle paper and plastic.

The second initiative was a children’s book I wrote and illustrated, called It’s Just One Drop. It followed an anthropomorphized water drop walking around town, seeing the different ways people waste water, which affected his reservoir home. The community members eventually realize their wrongdoings and work to conserve water through taking shorter showers, turning the sink water off, and doing full loads of laundry. Although the book hasn’t been published yet, I’ve used it to teach preschoolers the importance of water conservation.

In either case, I could have talked to classrooms using a chalkboard or a PowerPoint. But bringing my proclivity for art into the picture helped me reach young people who might otherwise have glazed over.

How is Maria’s essay working? It’s not quite like Arman’s, or like the standard model we outlined above, but that’s just fine. She reached this structure organically, with her first draft, and it can serve as another model for how to answer these questions.

Paragraph 1: Maria explains that she loves art (which answers “how she expresses her creative side”) and offers a clear thesis statement about how art helps her solve non-artistic problems. The thesis statement is especially strong because she’s not talking about art applying to non-artistic problems in the abstract—she specifically tells us she’s going to discuss her environmentalism work.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: Both of these serve as the body paragraphs that give two different examples of Maria’s artistic inclinations empowering her to do better work on sustainability.

Paragraph 4: Maria doesn’t need much of a conclusion here, because it’s pretty clear how art has helped her deal with non-artistic problems. She also doesn’t need a whole lot of emotional introspection for this essay. All she needs is to remind us that without her art habit, those would have been more boring projects. Maria could also talk about her prospective major or how she wants to leverage art in it, but when she reached this version of the essay, it read as complete and fulfilled in its own right.

A good application would have some answers that read like Arman’s—introspective, personal, emotional—and some like Maria’s—efficient, clear, interested in communicating her skills and activities. But too many like Maria’s will make a student sound cold and calculating, whereas too many like Arman’s might make the admissions committee forget that he is a student who can accomplish tasks and get things done.

Here is the third personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?

Talent UC essay example

Let’s take a look at Denise’s essay on this topic:

The first time I touched a computer, I didn’t know it was a computer. That is to say: I am of the generation that never had to think much about technology, because it’s always been available to us. But one day in middle school I asked my father how it worked. “How what works?” he asked. “The phone,” I said, pointing to his cell phone. And then I realized my question applied to the other devices I’d taken for granted—the computer, streaming videos, apps. That summer, my dad found out about a free program at a local university on Saturdays. It would teach you the basics about computers, including how to code.

Ever since, I have been learning about coding as much as I could. My high school does not have a computer science class, but I petitioned my school to let me enroll in a few classes on technology and society, including intro to computer science, at a community college. I have also used resources like General Assembly to self-teach. I came to love working with computers and coding because each problem I had to solve goes toward building something. The reward doesn’t always come quickly—there are bugs to fix and many ways you can break what you are trying to build. But when it does, it’s visible.

I also studied design and graphics on my own and used the combination of these skills to create websites for friends, family, and local businesses. While it is not a formal extracurricular activity, it is my after-school job.

It would be funny to call coding a “talent.” It has never felt like it came naturally, but through sweat and frustration. Perhaps my talent is my interest in computers, the same thing that caused me to ask “How does it work?” when I was younger is now what causes me to ask “How can I make this work?”

Denise’s essay is built in the following manner, which may now be familiar to you!:

Paragraph 1: A hook, though it’s a mild hook. She begins by telling us a bit about what she got to take for granted as a young person, then points out that she pushed against the grain of truly taking it for granted. It’s an expert humble-brag.

There’s no clear thesis statement in this paragraph in the sense that Denise doesn’t say “My talent is coding.” Rather, there’s an implied thesis emerging at the end of the essay, when she tells us that her “talent” is a combination of determination (“sweat and frustration”) and curiosity (“how can I make this work?”). That’s an awesome way to redefine the prompt on her own terms.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: This section shows the growth and change we look for in the middle of an essay. It’s very concrete, telling us everything Denise did to get herself an education in technology.

Paragraph 4: In the concluding paragraph, Denise makes sure we don’t get lost in the weeds that paragraphs 2–3 brought us into. She’s at risk of allowing us to forget that she’s supposed to be talking about her talent in an introspective way if she doesn’t do this. But in the first sentence of the paragraph (“It would be funny to call coding a ‘talent.’”) she reminds us of the essay’s topic while also subverting it. It’s another great humble brag—in telling us that she doesn’t believe it came innately, she’s humble, but she’s just intelligently chronicled (the brag!) all the ways she worked hard to get to this place. Again, here she could choose to add, “therefore I wish to study computer science in California,” but it’s implied in this strong essay.

Here is the fourth personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?

Educational opportunity/barrier UC essay example

Let’s take see what Karan wrote on this topic:

The summer after ninth grade, I had the chance to attend a pre-college program in North Carolina. It was a special opportunity because I had never before been to the United States, and I knew I wanted to go to college in the U.S. I have grown up around the world, in India, the U.A.E., and Canada. But this program had a few spots for international students, and I was selected to attend. Students took a college-level course for three weeks. I chose to enroll in a class called ‘Philosophy in Literature and Film.’ The focus, for my session, was philosophies of technology and science.

Over those weeks, I read thinkers and writers and watched films and listened to music by artists I had never heard of, from Philip K. Dick to Jean Baudrillard to Kraftwerk. I learned to think about art as what my professor called an “anxious condition”—the way society expresses its concerns, about politics, the future, and, in the case of our class, technology.

As the product of a school system where math and science are prized above the humanities, I had to convince my parents that studying philosophy in books and movies was a good way to spend the summer, and I came back personally certain that it had been. I could now see big themes and meaning in popular culture and in the books I read. And before, I was unsure of how to integrate my interest in things other people thought of as abstract: religion, philosophy, history, books, and film. My summer class showed me that ideas like religion and philosophy can serve as lenses to analyse the past and popular culture, or as the material that we use in writing books or making films.

I would like to continue this journey of interdisciplinary study in college, possibly becoming a professor. The program I attended marked the beginning of my certainty about this path.

Karan’s essay has a few things going for it, namely that it’s written in a readable and informational style both on the structural and the sentence level, which is to his advantage because he’s discussing complex ideas, including critical theory, philosophy, and more. Let’s break it down:

Paragraph 1:  This paragraph is all about the who-what-when-where-why. Karan tells us what the program was, how he came to attend it, when he went, and crucially tells us why it mattered to him (“a special opportunity”). The “thesis” for this essay will come later, and that’s fine, because the opener is very clear.

Paragraph 2: This paragraph demonstrates more specifics about the program. It’s really important that Karan does this, because otherwise the admissions committee might think he doesn’t remember much of what he learned in class. He gives just enough information—three names and one phrase used by the professor—to show that he was mentally present and, more importantly, intellectually moved by the course.

Paragraph 3: Now we get into the meat of why what Karan learned mattered to him—that change and growth. He gives several specific takeaways: he discovered the value of the humanities, and learned about what interdisciplinary study means. Again, his concreteness while discussing abstract topics works to his advantage.

Paragraph 4: Karan concludes efficiently and tells us that the summer has shaped his professional ambitions. That clearly answers the question about how he took advantage of the opportunity.

There are a few other small things Karan did that are worth noticing. He paid attention—consciously or subconsciously—to the language in the question, which differentiated between opportunities and barriers. He chose to write about an opportunity, which implies privilege; his parents may have paid for this program. But because he acknowledges it as a ‘special opportunity’ and says he ‘had the chance’ to go, he doesn’t come across as entitled, but in fact, grateful.

Here is the fifth personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?”

Adversity UC essay example

Here is Maria’s response to this question:

It was October my junior year, when my mom learned she had breast cancer. It was terrifying. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I went to school exhausted, helped with errands, and tried to juggle classes and extracurriculars. My energy began to drop, as did my grades.

Unexpectedly, it was tennis that helped me overcome this academically and personally challenging period. Since I was six, my dream was to win a tennis tournament. But I struggled with the pressure of competition. I foreshadowed my loss prior to a match, allowing nerves take over. My body trembled; it was difficult to breathe. By the end of middle school, my losses outweighed my wins, and I no longer believed in myself.

But shortly after my mother received her news, I began to work with a new coach—Dusan Vemic, Novak Djokovic’s former assistant coach. Novak’s positive mindset had encouraged and inspired me at some of my lowest points, so working with Dusan seemed like fate. I explained my anxieties, hoping he could fix them. He simply said, “Make the most of every moment and focus on yourself. This is how you win.”

The advice was almost annoyingly simple. And yet, his Zen-like philosophy emanated every time he watched from the sidelines. It turned out that he wasn’t trying to get me to win. He was trying to get me to enjoy tennis as I had not been able to for years. I won more, though not a whole tournament.

More importantly, I took the new perspective off the court, to AP English, my toughest class, when my mind would always wander to my mom. It took me tremendous effort to write essays and comprehend the material. I was so scattered that my teacher advised me to drop the class. But Dusan’s meditative philosophy helped. I stayed in the class, focused on each step, gradually improving, ultimately earning a 4 on the AP exam. When school was out, I got my reward: I could come home and sit next to my mom, and just be with her for a while.

Maria successfully handles three challenges in this question by wrapping them into one: her mother’s illness, a difficulty with AP English, and struggles with tennis. Her key idea comes in an unexpected place, right in the middle of the essay. But because she braids the whole piece around Dusan’s philosophy, this essay works. Let’s look closer:

Paragraph 1: She introduces us to the major challenge (the hook), her mother’s diagnosis. But then she quickly and clearly articulates how that manifested to her—low energy, exhaustion.

Paragraph 2: This paragraph has a clear thesis statement—tennis helped her—and then backs into a bit of context about tennis, which is necessary for us to understand the rest of the essay. It also articulates a goal—winning a tournament—which in this case ends up being a red herring. It’s not what the essay is about, but it tells us what Maria thought life might be geared toward at the time.

Paragraphs 3 and 4: In these paragraphs we see growth and change. A change literally occurs in that a new character enters Maria’s life in paragraph 3, her tennis coach; in paragraph 4, he gives her advice which goes on to affect her life.

Paragraph 5: This concluding paragraph very clearly (though not heavy-handedly) ties up all three challenges, telling us how the tennis philosophy served her through her school troubles. Maria might have reached the end of a draft and realized that she didn’t have a great resolution for her mother’s diagnosis. It’s such a big, existentially challenging question to try to tackle in 350 words. That’s why the brevity of her final line works so well: it acknowledges that she can’t fix that, but, using that Zen-like philosophy of her coach, admits that the best she can do at this point in time is to spend time with her sick mother, and that’s pretty good.

One of the toughest things about answering the Challenge Question is the risk of cliché. Often when we are facing major challenges—illness, grief, loss, anxiety, etc—we are dealing with emotions beyond the scope of language. That means that the language we use to talk about it, with other people, with therapists, and in an essay, can sound like platitudes. “Just be in the moment” is, in a vacuum, a pretty cheesy lesson, no matter how much truth is contained in it.

Maria does a good job here of acknowledging that the words her coach gave her were not enough. She characterizes his words (“Zen-like philosophy”) and interprets them for us, telling us they weren’t about getting her to win but about giving her another kind of strength. It doesn’t matter if she’s gotten her coach’s intention right—what matters is that the admissions committee sees how Maria internalized those words, which would be clichéd on their own, and made them into something particular and healing for her circumstance.

Here is the sixth personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?

Academic passion UC essay example

Nadia has a strong response to this question that we will use as an example:

The academic subject from which I draw the most inspiration is US Government and Politics. My interest in understanding the process through which our country’s government affects every individual stems from observing the material I learned in the classroom applied in a real world setting.

My interest in the subject encouraged me to enroll in the Advanced Placement course. One of the topics discussed that spoke to me most is the power of political participation. Inspired by this particular lesson, I practiced my activism by applying for an internship at the office of my district’s congressman, Matt Dababneh. There, I spent four months answering phone calls, filing papers, and reading letters, and learned the importance of community relations, social skills, and organizational skills needed to thrive in politics.

Following the completion of my internship, I continued my community involvement by joining my school’s student council, where I was selected by the administration to become class representative. My duties were similar to that of my internship, where I addressed complaints from students and moderated them directly to the administration. One example was when a group of students approached me regarding the lack of a mock trial class at our school. I gathered signatures, wrote a letter of request, and took the matter to the principal. My community participation led the school to offer a mock trial class to all middle and high school students.

At the University of California, I intend to pursue a major in Political Science to further my understanding of politics and the impact of each individual on policymaking. Furthermore, I am compelled to participate in student government upon my acceptance to UC schools in order to exercise my interests in a much larger and diverse community of students.

Nadia’s essay is short, efficient, and gets to the point—but it gets the job done. A word like “passion” can sometimes cause us to entertain flights of fancy, trying to convey something about the ineffable reasons we find poetry transcendent, or our abstract dreams of becoming a doctor in the wake of a grandparent’s death. Sometimes it is the right choice to use dramatic language to talk about a dramatic issue. But Nadia’s approach matches her personality. She’s a get-things-done kind of person. She developed an interest in politics, and went about chasing that career.

We can look more closely, still:

Paragraph 1: This is an example of an essay that opens with its thesis statement. Nadia doesn’t fuss about with a hook. She could—another student might open with the day they first saw the California state capitol—but her essay is just fine without that, because it’s clear and communicative. She also tells us that her interest stemmed from the intersection of theory and real-life application, which means that we can expect her essay to discuss the real-life application of politics.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: And indeed it does! Off the bat, Nadia tells us about working for Dababneh in paragraph 2, and in the ensuing paragraph, about her student council work. Giving us two different experiences is great because it shows a pattern of interest in the subject. It’s even better that Nadia draws a through-line—she talks about her experience at the Congressman’s office influencing her run for student government. That tells the admissions committee not only that there was change and growth, that key quality the middle of the essay must convey, but also that Nadia is aware of that change and growth and can make narrative sense of it.

Paragraph 4: Nadia concludes with a natural spin-it-forward take. At UC, she plans on continuing with these interests, and she knows exactly how.

As is the case with many of these responses, we wouldn’t want all of Nadia’s essays to read exactly like this. We’d want her to have a little bit more personal introspection in at least one of the others, even if that doesn’t come naturally to her. But this essay is spot-on in answering the question honestly and with good energy.

Here is the seventh personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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?

Community UC essay example

We’re going to turn to Nadia again, here:

For most of my childhood, I was overweight. I was bullied by my classmates, who pushed and shoved me and called me “fatso” and “blimp.” When I was fourteen, I began eating healthier and exercising. It took two years to shed not only the weight but also the pain that had come with being a pariah. I did not want anyone else to suffer from the physical and mental pain that I endured as an overweight child.

In order to spread awareness about childhood obesity, I co-founded the Healthy Kids club, which organizes fundraisers and invites guest speakers to educate students about early-onset heart disease and diabetes, as well as how these diseases follow into adulthood and worsen with age. We worked to get healthier snacks in school, successfully banning certain junk foods like chips and soda, and regularly met with cafeteria staff to ensure health conscientious items remain on the menu.

In my junior year, we registered the organization as a 501c (3) nonprofit. Working with other schools in the Los Angeles area, we initiated a program called “An Apple a Day Fades it Away”, where we visited schools, handed out apples, and presented elementary school students with activity-filled days of education about the critical role healthy eating plays in lifelong health.

My own experience led me to found the group, and continues to inform our presentations. At each session with young people, I tell my own story. The ability to show students pictures of myself from five years ago, not being able to play sports or participate in PE due to asthma, and now the captain of a varsity team, means I can connect with students on a personal level. As I depart for college, I will ensure that the Healthy Kids Foundation remains a presence in my high school hallways, and I hope to create a chapter of it at the University of California, where I can draw on college students to serve as volunteers, spreading the message in even more communities.

Nadia’s doing a lot well here. Notice that in this essay, she did get pretty personal, which makes that hyper-efficient academics question more tenable.

Talking about her own vulnerability also serves another purpose: it gives her humility in a question that might often invite a sense of savior-like arrogance. Most of us, at eighteen, haven’t solved a major problem in the world; we might have put in some respectable work in our communities, though, and this question gives students a chance to articulate that.

Getting this question right requires a sense of scope and scale—students should be able to talk about a major issue they care about, and then explain how they’ve addressed it in their own communities, without pretending that they’ve solved the root cause of that entire issue. In other words, you should try to tap into a global issue and address how you dealt with it locally.

We’ll take a look at the play-by-play to see how Nadia’s achieving this effect:

Paragraph 1: Here, Nadia does have a hook—her own pain, frustration, and change—and by the end of the paragraph, she’s made the personal public, turning her pain into a force for larger good.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: These paragraphs document and detail what Nadia did in the group. Her trademark efficiency is back here. She’s clear about her accomplishments, which is a breath of fresh air for admissions officers, who often see vagueness when young people try to categorize what exactly they do with their extracurriculars.

Paragraph 4: Nadia concludes this by returning to her personal story, which bookends the essay nicely, and then she also does what she did in the academics question, spinning her interest forward.

Here is the eighth and final personal insight essay prompt, with notes from the UC Admissions website about how to think about it:

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.

Everything else UC essay example

For this last essay, let’s return to Arman:

I grew up in an insular ethnocultural community that is very proud of its “pure” heritage. As a biracial Mexican-American and Armenian individual attending an Armenian private school with “full Armenians” my entire life, I have often felt like an outsider. For example, I have heard many Armenians express serious disapproval about Armenians like my mother marrying odars, that is, foreigners. Unfortunately, this way of thinking insults my proud Mexican-American heritage, and leads me to wonder whether I am a disgrace or even a burden to my community. This thought process extends to my relationships with others. I am often wondering if race plays into how people interact with me.

Of course, I’ve experienced many occasions when Armenians wanted to learn about me or become friends initially based on my biracial status. But the bad has sometimes outweighed the good, causing my confidence to plummet.

I hope to develop a more positive self-concept at the University of California through interactions with diverse students and by studying my two heritages in a way I cannot in high school. Through ethnic studies classes—many of which were pioneered at UC schools—and extracurricular groups, I think I can have more conversations about race that have not been possible in my life thus far. By learning from professors and other student leaders, I will be able to facilitate complex, yet necessary conversations about race for others, in turn, so that members of my college community feel integrated and appreciated for their differences.

Arman uses this essay to talk about exactly what isn’t on his resumé. In another one of his essays, the Academic Passion question (Question #6), he did discuss his interest in cultural studies and global identities. But he hasn’t had a chance to discuss this element of his personal life yet, so here it goes. It’s a good way to make use of Question #8.

You might also take advantage of Question #8 to adapt your Common App PS, if you haven’t already been able to shorten and reuse that. This is a chance to communicate what hasn’t already found a home.

For one last time, let’s break down Arman’s essay:

Paragraph 1: Arman is primarily interested in communicating something personal as clearly as possible here, so he doesn’t mess around with a hook, but instead moves quickly to his thesis: “I have often felt like an outsider.” He uses the rest of this question to provide informational context for a reader who doesn’t know what it was like to grow up Armenian-American and Mexican-American.

Paragraph 2: This is a middle paragraph that doesn’t quite show the “change and growth” we’ve been talking about, but it still works. In this case, Arman has set up one concept—his outsider status—in paragraph 1, and he uses paragraph 2 to briefly caveat it, acknowledging what his reader might be thinking. (“Is that really always the case?”) But he quickly moves it back to his territory.

Paragraph 3: Now, Arman spins things forward, and in a very rich manner. He not only says “I want to go to the University of California to pursue xyz,” but demonstrates that he has fully imagined how his life can change intellectually and personally from attending a UC school. He also shows that he knows something about the UC system, referencing its diversity and academic history.

It’s a short essay, well below word count, but it answers the question with intelligence and flourish, so hats off!

Students applying to transfer to the University of California must answer three of seven questions— the question list is the same as the above, minus the “Academic Passion” question. There is, for the fourth response, one required question all transfer applicants must address. Here it is:

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.

Transfer UC essay example

Let’s see how Denise handled this question:

I have spent my first two years at Foothill Community College in Los Altos, California, learning about the technology industry, which is in our backyard. It has been an education both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, I have focused on computer science, while out of the classroom I have completed internships to learn more about Silicon Valley, where I hope to make my career.

My computer science courses have prepared me technically for a career in the industry. From my class in IT systems to my honors distinctions as a Cisco securities technician and as a VMWare certified professional, I have the skills to find work at a technology company (as I did as an intern last summer at a software firm in San Jose). My hope is that by transferring to the University of California, I can add to these competencies a larger sense of the technology world, by learning about advancements across fields from virtual reality to artificial intelligence.

I have also prepared to pursue a second major in business at the University of California. I have taken courses in basic business law, where I learned more about the regulations technology companies are subject to, and in marketing, where I practiced explaining complicated scientific ideas to lay people and learned more about the psychology behind getting users’ attention and keeping it. In addition to my tech internship at the software firm last summer, I have also continued working with that company’s marketing department part-time. I interview companies who use this firm’s software and write up case-studies about their use-cases, which the company then uses to get more clients. All this has trained me to understand the day-to-day workings of businesses. I look forward to learning more about international business trends at the University of California, and to attending public talks led by business leaders around the state.

Denise tackles this question in three neat paragraphs:

Paragraph 1: She ties together her two interests, in computer science and business, and also states that she’s worked on them in and out of the classroom.

Paragraph 2: She devotes this paragraph to talking about technology. Her resumé and GPA are both a little stronger on business matters, but she’s articulated a clear interest in technology, which makes this paragraph ring authentically. It also recalls her other essay about her talent, and keeps a consistent picture.

Paragraph 3: Denise then does the same thing in her business paragraph. In both paragraphs, she makes sure to spin things forward, making it clear that she has goals that will be much more easily achieved if she can attend the University of California.

UC Essays Frequently Asked Questions Shemmassian Academic Consulting.jpg

How should I think about the activities section? Can I copy and paste my Common App activities?

Take a look at our Common App Activities Section guide for general help with tackling extracurriculars. You’ll notice that the UC application lets students go longer, listing up to 30 activities, whereas the Common App won’t let you write down more than 10 activities. The UC application also divides things into categories, including Coursework other than A-G, Educational Prep Programs, Volunteer & Community Service, Work Experience, Awards & Honors, and Extracurricular Activities.

Because the UC application allows for more entries—and a higher character count, 500 as opposed to 150—than the Common App, we suggest writing the UC list first, then figuring out what your top 10 most important or meaningful activities are and cutting those down to size for the Common App.

(Suggested reading: How to Write an Impressive UC Activities List )

Should I apply to all the UCs? How should I choose, if I’m not applying to all of them?

The University of California makes it easy to apply to its campuses; all you have to do is click the boxes next to schools’ names. We advise you to apply to all the schools you’re even remotely interested in if you have the financial resources to pay each application fee ($70 per school).

To choose which schools to apply to, research introductions to the campus provided by the university admissions offices, try to visit, watch YouTube videos of campus tours, and speak with current students and alumni about their college experience. Those will give you a good sense of the qualitative elements that distinguish campuses from one another.

I’m an out-of-state student. Do I stand a chance of getting in?

You do, but it’s harder. Each campus has different demographics . At UC Berkeley, about 85% of freshmen in the fall of 2022 were in-state students, whereas at UC Riverside, 82% were California residents . Out-of-state applicants must have a 3.4 GPA or above, and never earn less than a C grade. You can find more information about the differences between applying as an in-state versus out-of-state student here , from the admissions office.

I’m an international student. Should I apply to the UC system?

The University of California is a popular choice for international students for many reasons. These are big research schools, and some of the best in the world. Though international students make up a small percentage of UC students across all campuses—just over 10%—it’s still worth applying to as many of the campuses as you can.

I attend a competitive high school in California—does this ruin my shot at getting into the highest-ranked UCs (e.g., UC Berkeley and UCLA)?

There are longstanding questions among California residents about how the UCs make their decisions. There have been reports, for instance, about capping out-of-state admits to keep things from being too competitive for in-state students. We’ve also heard that UC schools prefer to admit international students because they pay full tuition. Nevertheless, one thing college counselors seem to agree on: UCs, even the “lower-tiered” ones, make for very competitive safety schools.

In general, college admissions are getting more competitive because more people are applying to college. This is the case for in- and out-of-state applicants. But it seems like the UCs have responded to public criticism a few years ago by holding out-of-state applicants to high standards (requiring a baseline of a 3.4 GPA), and trying to give spots to more Californians.

Overall, though, students who attend better schools with more resources are expected to achieve higher academic and extracurricular accomplishments than their counterparts at schools with fewer AP classes, extracurriculars, etc. Holistic admissions means students are evaluated within their own context, based on whether or not they took full advantage of what was available to them. Many students from competitive public and private high schools across the state get in each year, so it's certainly possible to get into a Tier 1 UC regardless of where you attended high school.

Does my declared major matter for getting into one UC or another?

Admissions committees don’t expect your major to stay stable between what you put on your application and what you end up studying, so in many cases you aren’t applying for admission to a particular department. The exceptions are engineering, which requires a separate application at UC Berkeley (and applying as an undeclared major as an engineer is very competitive); arts and architecture, engineering and applied science, nursing, and theater/film/television at UCLA; and dance, music, engineering and creative studies at UCSB.  

But if you feel strongly about one course of study or another, you might consider making that a topic or a mention in one of your essay responses. The admissions committee is looking for a clear story across your four essays, so if you’re interested in biology and medicine but write two essays about your high school English class, you might also want to balance that with an answer that explains your interest in medicine, or even how your love of reading dovetails with your interest in biology and medicine.

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About the Author

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on college admissions. Over the past 15 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.

Want to learn more about what it takes to get into UC schools?

Click below to review our school-specific guides.

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How to Get Into UC Berkeley: Requirements and Strategies

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How to Get Into UCLA: Requirements and Strategies

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How to Get Into UC Irvine: Requirements and Strategies

College Application Essays and Admissions Consulting

2023 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC Essay Examples

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

20 UC Essay Examples

Additional UC essay resources:

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

Table of Contents

UC Personal Insight #1 Examples

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Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a perfect uc essay for every prompt.

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College Essays

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

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

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

What Are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing the UC Essay Prompts

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

The 8 UC Essay Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Tell the UC Essay Prompts Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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How Is This Guide Organized?

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 1

The prompt and its instructions.

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

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

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

What's the Question Asking?

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

Part 1: Explain the Dilemma

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Describe Your Solution

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

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

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn about You?

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

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

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

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

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

Pick Your Group

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

Raise the Stakes

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

Balance You versus Them

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

Find Your Arc

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 2

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Define Your Creativity

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

Part 2: Connect Your Creative Drive to Your Overall Self

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

Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Specific and Descriptive

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

Give a Sense of History

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

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

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

Show Insight

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

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Dissecting Personal Insight Question 3

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Narrative

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

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

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

Part 2: Insight and Personal Development

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn About You?

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

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

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

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

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

Step #1: Explain Your Field

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

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

Step #2: Zoom in on a Specific Experience

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

Step #3: Find a Conflict or a Transition

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Define the Problem or Opportunity

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

Watch Your Tone

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 5

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Facing a Challenge

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

Part 2: Looking in the Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

Make Sure That You Are the Hero

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

Find the Suspenseful Moment

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

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You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Relevance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

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

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

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

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

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

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

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

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

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The university wants this information because of the following:

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

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

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

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

Connect Outward

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

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

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

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

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

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

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Show Your Feelings

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

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

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

What's Next?

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

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How to Write the “Greatest Talent or Skill” UC Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Avoid re-stating your resume, how to choose your talent or skill, look for unconventional uses of your skill, how to structure this essay, notice overlaps with other essays.

The third University of California personal insight question asks students to respond to the following prompt: 

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

For this question, your response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. In this article, we will discuss how to avoid the most common pitfall, choosing a topic that makes your essay stand out, and structural considerations. 

For more information on University of California’s other supplemental essays and writing dos and don’ts, check out our posts on how to write University of California essays and on great University of California essay examples . 

The most common pitfall for the third University of California (UC) personal insight question (PIQ) is that students just restate their resumes rather than discussing why the activity matters and how it has impacted them. This also commonly happens in PIQ # 1, the “leadership” essay, but PIQ #3 is by far the most notorious for this mistake.

Students will often provide a list of things they did in a particular activity like they would on a resume, but, unfortunately, this can make for an incredibly boring college essay. The good news is that there are several strategies that students can use to write a strong response to this prompt that strengthens their admission prospects.

One way to write a unique and engaging response to this prompt is by choosing to focus on an intangible talent or skill. 

Typically, when people think of talents, they think of things they are good at like math, debate, journalism, writing, or even something sports related like jumping – all of which are tangible hard skills. But intangible soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, can make for strong essays particularly because they are not one of the expected, common responses.

Admissions Officers frequently see essays centered around skills like science, research, or coding. In contrast, essays about intangible skills, like resolving conflict or persevering in the face of challenges, provide students the opportunity to write an unexpected and interesting response, as well as a more deeply personal essay that highlights success strategies that boost a students performance.

Highlight Your “Spike”

This essay is a great chance to highlight your “spike” , or a specific field or domain that you are passionate about and skilled in. Students with spikes are seen as the individuals who will be leaders in their fields, demonstrating and deepening their talents and interest in their spike throughout their academic career. 

When doing this, it’s important to explore why you have built that talent, or that spike, and why you’re passionate about it. What makes this essay strong is not that you have a spike, but instead, why the topic related to your spike is interesting to you and why you enjoy it.

Another potential way to make your essay stand out is by writing about a smaller, unconventional way that you use your skill.  

For example, if research was the talent you chose, you could write about a typical use of that skill, like doing scientific or medical research. Alternatively, you could instead write about an unconventional use of that skill, like leveraging research skills to help a family member navigate the immigration system. 

This can be especially strategic if you already have more conventional examples of that skill on your resume, as this essay can then demonstrate another side of you.

As you structure this essay, it can be helpful to write about one anecdote while weaving in examples of how you built up your talent over time.

Some students choose to write about multiple shorter anecdotes for this PIQ, but this structure often does not work for a 350-word essay. This is because much of the allotted space is used to establish the plot of the multiple anecdotes, leaving not enough room remaining for the most important part: personal reflection.

Using multiple anecdotes can work better for longer essays, like the Common App personal statement which has a word limit of 650 words.

This particular prompt shares similarities with some other college essay prompts, most notably Common App Prompt #1 , “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.”

Depending on the schools you are applying to, you may find that you can successfully overlap parts of a UC PIQ #3 response with an essay for Common App Prompt #1, but keep in mind that you will not be able to write both essays identically due to the differences in the prompts and word limits.

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  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. However, you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

Keep in mind

  • All questions are equal. All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.  
  • Use the additional comments field if there are issues you'd like to address that you didn't have the opportunity to discuss elsewhere on the application. This shouldn't be an essay, but rather a place to note unusual circumstances or anything that might be unclear in other parts of the application. You may use the additional comments field to note extraordinary circumstances related to COVID-19, if necessary. 

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal insight questions are just that—personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC. 

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family? 2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career? 3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Things to consider: If there is a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it.You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule? 4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today? 5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family? 6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. Things to consider:  Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

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

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

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community? 8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? Things to consider:  If there's anything you want us to know about you but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

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

Writing tips

Start early..

Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.

Write persuasively.

Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.

Use “I” statements.

Talk about yourself so that we can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments and potential for success on a UC campus. Use “I” and “my” statements in your responses.

Proofread and edit.

Although you will not be evaluated on grammar, spelling or sentence structure, you should proofread your work and make sure your writing is clear. Grammatical and spelling errors can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.

Solicit feedback.

Your answers should reflect your own ideas and be written by you alone, but others — family, teachers and friends can offer valuable suggestions. Ask advice of whomever you like, but do not plagiarize from sources in print or online and do not use anyone's words, published or unpublished, but your own.

Copy and paste.

Once you are satisfied with your answers, save them in plain text (ASCII) and paste them into the space provided in the application. Proofread once more to make sure no odd characters or line breaks have appeared.

This is one of many pieces of information we consider in reviewing your application. Your responses can only add value to the application. An admission decision will not be based on this section alone.

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Last updated April 17, 2023

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Blog > UC Essays > How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts

How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Taken collectively, the University of California receives more college applications every year than any other set of institutions in the world.

As a proud Californian, I can't help but love the UCs. Where else do you find such a massive, well-funded, geographically dispersed system of top-quality public education?

California rules.

Ok, got that out of my system. Time to talk about how you can actually get into the UCs by mastering those devilish "personal interest questions," better known as the UC essays.

UC admission is an increasingly pitched battle

I know I just went off about how good the UCs are. But the reality is, they aren't what they used to be from at least two perspectives: cost and ease of admission.

Did you know that tuition at UC Berkeley in 1980 was $2,600 per year? Today the cost of attending is $19,000 and more than $50,000 yearly for out-of-state students.

Equally alarming is the shift in admission rates over that time. In 1980 only  9,000 students  applied to Berkeley. In 2021 more than 85,000 applied. Today the admission rate at Berkeley is just over 11%. These same trends have unfolded at the other UC campuses, as well.

So students who want to attend Berkeley, UCLA, or any of the UC schools will need to bring their A-Game.

That means, of course, killing it academically throughout high school. Test scores no longer matter for UC admission, as the UC collectively decided to throw out SAT and ACT scores in the evaluation process.

Indeed, UC admission comes down to a few factors: grades, recommendations, and essays.

I have no control over your grades or your recommendations (although I do talk about recommendations elsewhere). I hope, however, to have a positive influence on your UC essays.

That's what this post is dedicated to, anyway. This is a long post, so let me give you a quick roadmap.

First, we’ll go over the basics: what the UC essays are, what all they require of you, and how they’re evaluated.

Then we’ll move into talking about the three “rules” (read: strategies) that I encourage all students to follow to write the best UC essays possible.

Finally, I’ll go through each UC essay prompt in turn. I’ll break down what every single prompt is asking you to do and give you brainstorming and outlining exercises to get you started. I’ve also included UC essay examples for all eight prompts so you know what you should look for in your own.

Okay, ready? Let's get into it.

What are the UC Essays?

The UC essays are a set of 8 prompts from which applicants must select and answer four. These prompts provide you an opportunity to show UC admissions committees exactly who you are.

The UC website  introduces  these prompts in this slightly bizarre way: "Imagine UC was a person. If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you?"

OK, don't love the idea of imagining a massive institutional system as a singular person, but there it is.

Instead of picturing the UCs as a person, try approaching your UC essays with a few institutional values in mind. Things like intellectual curiosity, community-mindedness, innovation, leadership, and altruism should underlie your essay writing.

Why? Because those are the values central to the University of California system. The University of California’s motto is, “ Let there be light ,” and the Office of the President sums up the University’s mission with these three phrases : We Teach. We do research. We provide public service.

Since you’re applying to join this institution, your essays are the perfect place to demonstrate that you belong there.

Now, back to the essays themselves.

UC Personal Insight Question Word Limit

Each of the four essays you select has a maximum word length of 350 words. That means that you’ll be writing a maximum of 1,400 words for your UC essays.

But don’t worry about perfectly meeting this word limit for every single essay. You should shoot to hit at least 275 words for each essay, though.

If you’re using a word processor, 275 words is just over half a page single-spaced or a full page double-spaced. If you’re on the upper end of the word limit, you should be about 3/4 page single-spaced or almost 1.5 pages double-spaced for every single essay.

As long as you’re within the word count, though, what matters most is the quality of your essays.

How Important are Personal Insight Questions?

As the UC explains, the UC Personal Insight Questions play an important role in UC admissions decisions.

The UC system emphasizes that all the prompts are evaluated equally; that is, no prompt is more or less valuable to answer than any of the others.

With that information in hand, you should feel comfortable choosing the four prompts that best suit your needs. Don’t worry about an admissions officer analyzing why you chose the prompts you chose. Just choose the ones that let you tell your story in the fullest and most strategic way possible.

Also be comforted by the fact that the UCs explicitly state that there isn’t a right or wrong way to answer each prompt. Now, some ways are definitely better than others (and we’ll get to that in a minute). But UC admissions officers won’t go into your essay with an already-established idea of what your essay should be about.

But just because you have some flexibility with the Personal Insight Questions doesn’t mean that you should just write whatever you want. They’re an extremely important part of the selection process, nearly equal to the importance of one's grades and academic performance.

Each individual UC campus gives different weight to the essays in the decision process. You can click through each campus to read more about that on the UC’s website . But no matter which campuses you’re applying to, your admissions officers will base their admission decision, at least in part, on your essays.

Phew! So as with any college essay, the stakes are high.

But what makes UC essays a bit challenging is the fact that they are completely different animals than the Common Application Essay or school-specific supplementals (if you want to read more about either of those, check out our Resource Hub). UC essays require a totally different approach to presenting your narrative.

Before we get into our strategies for approaching your UC essay narrative, it’s important to look more specifically at how the UCs evaluate your essays.

UC Points of Comprehensive Review

One of the reasons college essays are so hard to write is because it’s difficult to know what’s expected of you. You write your essays as well as you can, you submit them when you’re ready, and you hope for the best.

On the other side of the admissions portal is an admissions officer who you’ve likely never met. They don’t know you, so all they have to go on is what you and your recommenders have put on paper.

Similarly, colleges don’t typically put out rubrics or outline exactly what they want to see of you.

Well, most colleges don’t. Thankfully for all of us, the UCs do.

In a list called the “Points of Comprehensive Review,” the UC system describes in detail each part of their application review process. If you are really interested in this stuff, it might benefit you to read through the UC's own information on a page called " How applications are reviewed ."

But I’ll summarize them for you here.

First off, the UCs, like the vast majority of colleges, evaluates your academic performance within the context of your school. For example, if your school doesn’t have any AP or IB classes, your application will be evaluated differently than someone whose school does.

Other points of review are also relatively standard among admissions committees. These include factors like GPA, the number and level of rigorous classes, and class rank.

The UCs also look for students who have demonstrated commitment to and excellence at particular subject areas or special projects. That means things like going to your local college to take a more advanced math class or working with your city to study pollution in your nearby stream—things outside of the classroom that show initiative and impact.

If you’re following along on the UC’s How Applications are Reviewed list, then you’ll see that numbers 10-12 are bulky. They’re also the places where your UC essays can shine the most light and have the biggest impact, so pay close attention.

Number 10 lists off a number of considerations, including things like special talents, achievements, intensive studies or explorations, leadership, community service, and intellectual vitality.

Number 11 references the impact you’ve had on your school community, including special projects related to academics, school events, or programs.

Finally, number 12 states that the UCs also factor in how impressive your accomplishments are relative to your personal and family background.

If it’s your senior year, you can’t do much about where you fall on the first half of this list. Factors like GPA, class rigor, and extracurricular performance are, at this point, somewhat out of your control.

But these soft factors also play an important role in determining whether you’ll be admitted. How you talk about your accomplishments, your role in your community, your leadership skills, and your identity matters.

That’s why your essays matter. And that’s why it’s important to write them strategically.

Scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to jump straight to our prompt-specific guides, but we think it’s helpful to first go over three rules that will keep your UC essay strategy on track.

Writing the UC Essays

The UC essays are entirely different than your Common Application essay or supplemental essays. In particular, the most important thing you need to know about the UC essays is that they require a different tone and structure than the other, more personal essays required by many schools.

But if you do the UC essays right, they can also serve as the groundwork for all your other writing. This is because UC essays are relatively straightforward and to-the-point. You tell a story, highlight what steps you took to make a change, and reflect briefly on what it all means.

Going through this thought process for every UC essay you write can give you great material for your personal statement and supplemental essays. So take the process seriously, not only for your UCs but also for your other applications, too.

Before we go through the prompts, and definitely before you begin writing, we need to go over three strategies that will give your essays the best shot possible.

Here they are—are a few "rules" that will help you tackle the UC essays.

Rule #1: UC Essays Should Cut Straight to the Point

In non-UC personal college essays, it is generally OK to be reflective and abstract. Of course, the best personal essays are defined by their attention to detail. But many personal essays land on ambiguous and uncertain footing. There is often no clear-cut conclusion or lesson, and for those essays, that's OK.

But the UC essays do not follow the same rubric.

You simply cannot write a UC essay in the same way you write a Common App personal statement. This is because the UC essays are evaluated partly on their directness and specificity. They are not exercises in creative writing or in unvarnished reflection.

Each UC essay should tell a straightforward story from your life. They should highlight an experience, what you learned from it, and (sometimes) how the experience will shape your future.

Part of writing direct, to-the-point UC essays is also about effectively reading and understanding each prompt. The prompts often contain multiple parts and can have confusing wording. I’ll walk you through each one, but it’s important that you know the why behind doing prompt analyses.

Consider prompt #5 as an example: "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 not an invitation to tell a long story about the feeling of being privileged and bereft of topics for your college essay.

Instead, it's a time to talk about an acute problem (either persistent or temporary) and the actions you took to overcome it. The prompt also asks: How did it affect your academic achievement?

We can answer this prompt well if we do three things in this specific order:

  • Explain a specific problem. Be a good journalist and expand on who, what, where, when, and why?
  • Talk about the solution. What did you do to deal with your problem?
  • Talk about the effect the problem had on your academics.

I know this might seem self-evident. But countless students have (and will continue to) roast themselves on prompts like this because they neglect to address a third of it. Every single part is important. The order in which you write about each part is important.

In case I haven't been clear: The UC essays require straightforwardness. Answer the prompt. Directly.

Rule #2: Try to Write the UC Essays First

It can be hard to navigate the transition from a reflective personal statement to the UC essays. That's why I usually have my students tackle the UC prompts first.

There are two benefits to this.

First, the UC applications are due earlier (November 30th) than most other schools. At up to 1,400 words collectively, they're a pretty major undertaking. So it's great to get going early, otherwise you’ll be stressed and write worse essays.

Second, I usually find that in the process of writing the UC prompts, my students discover the germs of the stories that they want to write about for their common application or for school-specific supplemental essays.

(Prompts about intellectual vitality, in particular, end up being easy to translate over to supplemental essays, and the prompts that ask about personal background can help you think about the stories that are most important to you.)

The UC essays are an exercise in concision. You will need to pare down your writing so that only the most essential details are present. If you rise to meet the challenge of the UC essays early, the rest of your essays will benefit from a war chest of succinct and powerful turns of phrase, sections of exposition, and whole paragraphs that can be transplanted at will into other essays.

Your UC essays lay out your stories, actions, and lessons. Your personal statement and supplementals can take these stories and run with them.

Rule #3: Select Prompts that Balance Your Narrative

Let's go back to that chunky block quote taken from the UC website for a second.

In your essays, they are looking for...

Special talents, achievements and awards in a particular field, such as visual and performing arts, communication or athletic endeavors; special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages; special interests, such as intensive study and exploration of other cultures; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student’s promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus.

You can't be all of these things. But you can be at least four of them, because that's how many essays you get to write.

Have you ever played a video game where you had to balance your character's attributes? Turn up the speed, adjust down the strength, balance out the agility. It's kinda like that. You have a fixed number of "points" that you get to put into each category.

In this context, those categories might look like: creativity, intellectual vitality, leadership, resilience, compassion, and community engagement, just to name a few. They’re the kinds of values that we talked about way back at the UC motto and mission statement.

My advice: take a hard look at your application, figure out where your greatest strengths are, and lean into that area with two of your essays. Then, with the other two, show your diversity.

In other words, your essay narrative allotment should look like this:

Essay #1: Show a strength

Essay #2: Emphasize that same strength

Essay #3: Add some spice—throw a different topic in there.

Essay #4: Add even more spice—focus on a different fourth topic.

So if you're a really strong student, maybe you'll pick prompts #4 (academic opportunity) and #6 (intellectual passion). Those two should give you enough space to write expansively about your intellectual interests, research experience, and plans for study in college.

Then to show that you aren't just a bookworm, you can pick up prompts #1 (leadership) and #2 (creativity). The first will allow you to show the side of yourself that are externally engaged. The second will give you a chance to show you have multiple intelligences and diverse interests that go beyond a narrow academic scope.

Finding this balance is one of the keys to success in UC admissions.

OK, there are the rules: write in a straightforward style that answers the prompt directly, focus on your UC essays first, and choose four prompts that let you balance your narrative.

How are you doing? Need to take a snack break?

When you’re ready, it’s time to go through all eight of the UC prompts.

Here we go!

UC Essay Prompt #1: Leadership

The first UC essay prompt asks you to reflect on a "leadership experience." Whether or not you’re a team captain or manager at a restaurant, you can still answer this prompt. A leader can be any individual who shows initiative and effort, even if you’re working in isolation to change your community for the better.

Either way, this prompt is about "inter-relations." It’s a tool for getting at the question of how you relate to others. If written well, it can really help to humanize you in the eyes of the committee and show that you don’t just exist in your community—you contribute to it.

Let’s look at the exact wording of the prompt and dive a little deeper into how you can answer it.

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.

So this prompt is asking for two main things from us:

We need to “describe an example of” our “leadership experience.”

But it’s can’t be just any leadership experience. It needs specifically to be an experience where we:

a) “positively influenced others”

b) “helped resolve disputes”

c) or “contributed to group efforts over time”

The example you choose doesn’t have to address all three of these criteria, but it should address at least one.

Also notice that the prompt isn’t asking you to talk about the biggest or most monumental way you’ve led people. It’s simply asking you to describe a time you’ve taken on a leadership role and influenced the people around you.

Your “leadership experience” could look a lot of different ways. Here are just a couple of examples:

  • Taking the lead on a group biology project
  • Resolving a dispute between your friends or siblings
  • Improving the process for packing hygiene kits for the community organization you volunteer with
  • Encouraging your debate teammates to practice more regularly
  • Organizing your choir peers to sing for the local retirement home

Whatever your experiences have been, this prompt asks you to think about the specific instances in your life when you have taken the lead and had a positive influence on the people and communities around you.

What this prompt is good for: The UCs value student initiative and leadership. This prompt can be a great way to show how you aren’t afraid to have an impact.

Prompt #1 Brainstorm Activity

To answer this prompt, begin by brainstorming some areas of your life where you’ve shown leadership. Remember that UC essays should be direct, to-the-point, and focused on the action steps you took. As you’re brainstorming, focus on examples that allow you to demonstrate actions and lessons.

Once you have a sense of your options, remember UC Essay Rule #3: you need to balance your overall application narrative. Narrow down your options by picking an example of your leadership that works in tandem with your other essays to create a holistic picture of who you are. Doing so will help the UC admissions committees learn about the most important parts of you.

Prompt #1 Outline Activity

Once you’ve chosen an experience to write about, it’s time to start planning out your essay. As we explain in our UC essay guide, the most important rule to remember when writing UC essays is that you need to be direct and to-the-point.

Writing a UC essay is completely different than writing your Common App personal statement or your supplemental essays.

Instead of writing creatively to tell a deeply meaningful story, your UC essays need to lay out exactly what the situation was, what you did to impact the situation, and what the overall outcomes were.

In the case of UC Prompt #1, let’s return to the criteria of the prompt:

Describe an example of your leadership experience

Explain how you positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts.

Your essay structure will likely depend on the specific leadership experience you’ve decided to write about.

But a good structure to use might look something like this:

I. Introduction: Introduce your leadership experience by briefly explaining how the experience came about.

II. Middle: Address the specific details that led you to positively influence others, resolve disputes, or contribute to group efforts. Write about these details in a logical (likely chronological) way, and emphasize the action steps you took.

III. Conclusion: Reflect on the implications of your leadership. How did people react to your influence? What lesson did your leadership experience teach you? What was your overall impact?

As you write, keep your sentences clear and straightforward. Make sure the story you tell is clearly-organized and action-oriented.

UC Prompt #1 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #1 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #1 Final Takeaways

You don’t need to have moved mountains to pick this prompt. Even if you were alone in your bedroom mapping out neighborhood routes to canvas for a politician in your community, your initiative and actions have undoubtedly affected the people around you. The UCs want to hear about those leadership experiences, so pick the ones that stands out best to you, and write about it in a way that emphasizes actions and outcomes.

UC Prompt #2: Creativity

This is another prompt that can be approached from both conventional and unconventional angles. The most straightforward way to answer this prompt is by addressing artistic creativity. Are you a sculptor or a musician? Maybe this is where you talk about your creative process or what you feel when you make art.

But your answer can also imagine “creativity” more broadly. One of the best answers I ever saw to this prompt was about soccer. The student linked his analytical creativity (the tactical mind of a soccer captain) to the organic, in-the-moment creativity expressed through play.

Let’s look at the specific wording of the 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.

The central question this prompt asks you is:

  • Describe how you express your creative side.

That means that your essay isn’t just going to be a description of your history playing the cello. Instead, your essay should focus on how it is that you express your creativity.

The prompt also gives us a few hints to get us started. “Creativity,” the prompt explains, can manifest itself in a number of ways: problem-solving, original or innovative thinking, or artistically.

Because the prompt allows you to write about more than traditional artforms or creative practices, you have a little bit of freedom with what you write about.

Here are just a few examples of how people might express their creativity:

  • Playing an instrument
  • Acting in theatre
  • Doing comedy
  • Building model trains
  • Writing and testing code
  • Writing prose or poetry
  • Creating online or digital content
  • Engineering structures or circuits

The list goes on and on. If you can make the case that your activity allows you to express a creative side of you, then you can write about it.

What this prompt is good for: Colleges love creative thinkers. Creativity, innovation, and problem-solving are all characteristics of people who aren’t afraid to make art and make a change in the world. If you want to show admissions officers that you’re one of those people, then this may be a good prompt for you.

Prompt #2 Brainstorming Activity

If you’re already deeply involved in a creative activity like music or theatre, then your topic choice for this question might be obvious.

Or maybe you’ve already quickly decided on a more unconventional creative topic to focus on.

But if you still can’t decide, then try out this brainstorming chart.

Hopefully you’re able to think up a few options. If not, then no worries! Maybe this prompt just isn’t the best one for you. You have seven others to choose from, so you still have lots of other options.

Prompt #2 Outlining Activity

If this prompt is the right choice for you, then you may find it helpful to outline a rough structure before you start writing.

With creativity essays especially, it can be difficult not to get distracted by personal expression and creative writing. But remember that all UC essays, even this creativity one, prioritize directness, so keep your focus on answering the prompt.

Here’s an example structure to get you started:

I. Introduction: Introduce what your creative activity is and what your history with it has looked like. You could also introduce what your “creative side” looks like.

II. Middle: Go in-depth on how, exactly, you express your creative side through this activity. Use specific details and action steps.

III. Conclusion: Briefly conclude by emphasizing what this creative expression has allowed you to do.

UC Prompt #2 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #2 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #2 Final Takeaways

Your creative activity doesn’t have to be a traditional artform. But you do need to make it clear a) what your “creative side” looks like and b) how you express that creative side through this activity.

UC Prompt #3: Exceptional Skill

When we think of skills, we might gravitate toward those singular abilities (juggling, playing an instrument, writing) that we have honed over time. But what you write about doesn’t just have to be something worthy of a talent show.

Here is a list of other, equally valid skills you might have: communication, listening, dream-interpretation, rock-skipping, phone repair, or doing a headstand. These other kinds of talents can be just as interesting and revealing.

Do these seem dumb? I admit: it might make for a bad essay to wax poetic about how you learned to balance on your head. But if talking about balancing on your head allows you to go deep into your quest to learn about physiology and exercise science, then we might be onto something.

What matter less than the specific talent you choose is the way you choose to write about it. If nothing immediately comes to mind for you, then it might be better to choose one of the other seven prompts. But if you do have something you want to write about, then run with it.

Let’s analyze the prompt and go over how you can write an essay that stands out.

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

Of the UC prompts, this one is fairly to-the-point and straightforward. It simply asks you to answer three direct questions:

What is your greatest talent/skill?

How have you developed it over time?

How have you demonstrated it over time?

So the talent or skill you choose probably shouldn’t be something you learned on a whim and have only done once in your life. Maybe you learned that you’re really good at flying a hot air balloon but have only done it one time because you don’t own a hot air balloon. Okay, that might actually make for a good essay. But would it fully answer the prompt? Probably not.

Anyway, the talent or skill you choose should reveal something about yourself—or, more specifically, one of your core strengths—to the admissions committee.

What this prompt is good for: The skill you select can shine light on a deeper character quality or a commitment to learning and improving. From that angle, this prompt can be a good opportunity to showcase perseverance and stick-to-it-ness.

Prompt #3 Brainstorming Activity

Before you work through the following chart, let’s briefly expand on the difference between “develop” and “demonstrate.” I think you could interpret these terms a few ways, but I would say that this is the main difference:

Develop: How did you learn you were capable of this skill? What have you done to improve your abilities? How did you stick with the skill despite any odds?

Demonstrate: How do you show your talent or skill to others? How does it affect the people or world around you?

Prompt #3 Outlining Activity

Thankfully, Prompt #3 also provides a fairly straightforward way for you to organize your essay response. If it makes sense for you, you can outline your essay in exactly the same order the questions are presented in the prompt:

I. Introduction: Introduce your greatest talent or skill. Be detailed about what exactly it is that you can do.

II. Middle:

  • Elaborate on how you developed this skill. Describe specific action steps you took to improve your abilities.
  • Elaborate on how you demonstrate this skill. Describe specific action steps you’ve taken to share your skill with others.
  • Don’t forget the “over time” part of the prompt, either. Your essay should emphasize how these factors have existed throughout time.

III. Conclusion: Conclude by reflecting on what you have gained from developing and demonstrating this skill.

UC Prompt #3 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #3 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #3 Final Takeaways

Prompt #3 isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great way to write about something memorable, highlight a special skill that few people possess, or demonstrate a significant perspective or ability to persevere.

UC Prompt #4: Opportunity / Barrier in Education

Alert: read. the. prompt. This alert is important for all UC essays but especially this one. This prompt is not an invitation to talk about any old opportunity or challenge in your life. It is specifically about how these have touched down on your education .

The UC provides some instructive info about this prompt. They say that "an educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better  prepared you for college ." With this extra guidance, you have some flexibility in your topic choice.

If you enrolled in a foreign school and underwent a year of intensive language immersion, you might choose this prompt. But it doesn't need to be so grand. You could write about an internship you took that helped you clarify your research focus. Or you could go through what it was like to deal with the stigma of having an IEP.

Let’s walk through each part of the prompt, and then we’ll explain how you can best approach it.

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

This prompt can be confusing because it’s a “fork in the road” prompt, which means that it’s asking you to choose one of two different options. And the options it gives you are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Because the prompt puts an “or” in between these two options, we know that you do not have to answer both. You can choose to focus on one or the other.

Option 1: Educational Opportunity

For this option, you’ll need to do two things:

Describe a significant educational opportunity you’ve been presented.

Describe how you took advantage of it.

Option 2: Educational Barrier

For this option, you’ll also need to do two things:

Describe an educational barrier you have faced.

Explain how you worked to overcome it.

Note that the prompt says “ worked to overcome it.” That means that you don’t necessarily have to have solved every single part of the problem you experienced. What the admissions committee really wants to see here is effort. If your educational barrier is that you’ve moved several times throughout high school, then that’s not something you can solve. What you should focus on instead is how you found a way to persist and do your best in spite of the challenges.

What this prompt is good for: The advantage of this prompt depends on which direction you take the fork in the road. If you choose Option 1, then the advantage is that you get to elaborate on a cool opportunity you’ve been presented and show how well you can take advantage of what’s in front of you. If you take Option 2, then you have a legitimate and thoughtful way to explain any educational hardships you’ve experienced, and you can show that you are resilient and capable of improving.

Prompt #4 Brainstorming Activity

If this is the prompt for you, then something will probably immediately come to mind. If not, it’s better not to force a non-opportunity or non-barrier to fit into those boxes.

“Opportunities” might include things like: an internship or research opportunity, a particularly amazing teacher you connected with, a special guest lecturer, an educational trip with school or family, a study abroad trip, an educational extracurricular activity, and more.

“Barriers” might include things like: school or family situations that led to grade blips, parts of your personal health or mental health journey, experiences with learning differences, and more.

If something in this list resonated with you or sparked any ideas, then try moving on to the outlining activity. But if you’re still coming up blank, then you might consider choosing another prompt.

Prompt #4 Outlining Activity

The biggest thing to remember when writing this essay is to focus on actions . This fact is important in all UC essays but especially this one. The prompt very specifically asks you to describe the steps you’ve taken to “take advantage of” or “overcome” the experience you’ve decided to write about.

I. Introduction: Introduce the educational opportunity or educational barrier you want to focus on.

II. Middle: Describe the action steps you took to take advantage of the opportunity or work to overcome the barrier.

III. Conclusion: Reflect on how the opportunity or barrier and your response to it has shaped where you’re at today.

UC Prompt #4 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #4 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #4 Final Takeaways

This prompt isn’t for everyone, so don’t try to force it. But if you’ve experienced an impactful opportunity or want to explain some academic challenges you’ve overcome, then it can be a great way to let the admissions committee know. If you write this essay, just be sure that you’re keeping your focus on academics and emphasizing your actions.

UC Prompt #5: General Challenge

I think this is one of the best prompts to answer among the UC essays. Why? Because everyone faces challenges, even if we don't want to admit it.

From my perspective, this prompt can be worth double points. First, you get the opportunity to write a great essay about engaging with a problem. But second, you get to show off the additional maturity it takes to dig deep and admit to a committee of strangers that your life ain't so perfect.

Just remember, remember, remember: your job is not to elicit pity. It’s to show your maturity and resilience in dealing with adversity.

Let’s break down the prompt and talk about how to write it.

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?

We have another three-parter here. The prompt asks you to do several things:

Describe your most significant challenge

Describe the steps you took to overcome that challenge

Explain how that challenge affected your academic achievement specifically

It's important to keep the wording of the prompt in mind. Notice how the prompt says “the most significant challenge you have faced.” It’s not asking for a day-to-day challenge or, worse, a challenge that’s actually a brag in disguise (”I worked too hard on building my award-winning robot!”).

It’s asking you to be vulnerable in sharing a deeply impactful challenge you’ve faced. And not just any challenge, but one you’ve dealt with enough to try to overcome. This should not be an essay about your ongoing efforts to deal with existential malaise. Your problem should be clearly identifiable, and you should also be able to point out how you have managed it.

Finally, you need to address how the challenge has touched back on your academic performance or experience.

What this prompt is good for: If you've faced any major challenges, this prompt can help share that story with an admissions committee. It’s also a great prompt to answer if you specifically had a big lapse in grades due to something that happened in your life.

Prompt #5 Brainstorming Activity

To make sure you’re hitting all parts of the prompt, consider filling out this chart. If you’ve faced a complex challenge or multiple challenges, you may also find it difficult to distill your experiences into a concrete example. If that’s the case, try being as specific as you can and filling out more than one row on the chart until you find something that you feel most comfortable with.

Prompt #5 Outlining Activity

This essay is one that you may not write in the exact same order as the prompt lists the questions. Since your challenge likely affected your academic achievement before you began taking steps to overcome it, it may make sense to discuss your academic challenges before your action steps.

If that’s the case for you, your outline may look something like this:

I. Introduction: Introduce the challenge and the effect it had on you.

  • Describe how the challenge affected your academic achievement specifically.
  • Describe the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge and improve your situation.

III. Conclusion: Reflect on what you learned from this experience.

UC Prompt #5 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #5 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #5 Final Takeaways

Don’t feel compelled to share anything you’re not ready to share. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: you do not have to write about trauma to get into college. In fact, writing about challenges that you haven’t begun to heal from can result in essays that miss the mark.

But at the same time, you may find that you want to write about a challenge to explain part of your personal background or transcript. If so, this prompt can be a great opportunity to share your story.

UC Prompt #6: Intellectual Vitality

Calling all nerds! I almost always recommend that my students answer this prompt, and I’ll recommend that you should consider it, too.

Why? If you've been reading closely, you may have noticed by now that many of these prompts come back to academic experience. It's no mystery: the UCs care above all about their academic culture.

This is the only prompt from the list that directly asks you about your academic proclivities. Go for it. Even if you aren't someone who strongly identifies as an academic, you should make an effort to talk about what inspires you in and outside the classroom.

Intellectual vitality can draw admissions officers into your interests and show them why you’re such a great fit for the UCs’ vibrant academic cultures. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to show what a curious student you are.

Here we go—I’ll break down the prompt and give you a few ways to choose the right subject.

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

After the fairly complicated wording of prompts #4 and #5, this fairly straightforward prompt is a breath of fresh air.

In terms of answering the prompt, you have to do a few simple things:

Think about an academic subject. That means it can’t be just any topic—it needs to be academic and relate to a subject taught in college.

The subject should be one that clearly inspires you.

Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

So your essay should describe an academic interest that inspires you, and you should explain how you have taken your interest and run with it either inside or outside of school.

Part #3 leaves you with a lot of flexibility with the definition of “furthered.” You may interpret “furthered” to mean simply that you learned more about the subject, or it could mean that you took your knowledge and applied it to the real world. You may have advanced your knowledge by taking more classes related to the subject, or you may have taken the initiative to learn things outside of school.

With the prompt broken down, the real challenge comes in picking the right topic and writing about it in an interesting way.

What this prompt is good for: I recommend that everyone writes this essay because it’s a great way to show admissions officers that you are ready to tackle the intellectual challenges of college. The UCs are internationally recognized for their academic rigor, so showing that your intellectual vitality can match that of the schools is important. Additionally, it’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate fit for a particular major or general area of study you are interested in.

Prompt #6 Brainstorming Activity

Everyone learns. One of my students answered this prompt by talking about how his economics class helped him get into equities trading. As he learned more about regional markets as part of his trading strategy, he found that he became more engaged in the classroom too.

As long as you can relate your interest to an academic discipline, your options are really limitless.

If you’re applying with a specific major in mind, your academic interest can relate to that subject or not.

The key to choosing a topic, however, is that you have to be able to show concrete steps you took to “further this interest.”

Here’s a chart to help you brainstorm.

Prompt #6 Outlining Activity

I. Introduction: Introduce your academic subject. (Make sure it’s academic .)

II. Middle: Elaborate on how you furthered this interest. Explain whether it was inside or outside (or both) the classroom. Focus on specific details and action steps.

III. Conclusion: Conclude by focusing on how your intellectual vitality has benefited from this journey. You may also look forward to how you want to continue this academic or educational journey in the future.

UC Prompt #6 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #6 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #6 Final Takeaways

You should probably write this essay. It’s one of the best options you can choose because you can’t go wrong in demonstrating academic interest and fit. Just be sure that you focus on an academic topic and write about the concrete steps you took to “further” or advance your understanding of the topic.

UC Prompt #7: Community Betterment

Just as you have flexibility in defining “leadership” in prompt #1, the key to this prompt is to define the concept of "community." Community could refer to any scale of human organization. Your family. Your group of friends. Your graduating year. Your high school. Your town. Your state. The country.

It doesn't matter what level of organization you focus on. What does matter is that you have a compelling action to talk about. How did you improve your community? The change could be a cultural or material one. It could affect a small number of people or an entire city or state.

Before you begin writing, it will be helpful to analyze this deceptively simple prompt.

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

This simple question, only fourteen words, is actually asking you to do quite a bit of work. Let’s break it down.

First, you have to choose a community to focus on.

Next, you have to describe what actions you have taken

And finally, your actions have to be ones that have specifically made your chosen community a better place.

There are millions of ways you could approach this question. But what determines how you approach it is the community you choose.

If you’ve done something world-changing, then this is the place to write about it. But if you haven’t, don’t worry. Even small, local impacts within your family, friend group, or school community can have a deep impact on admissions officers.

What’s important to show is your care for and willingness to engage in your community.

What this prompt is good for: I find this one a bit boring to write, but it’s usually worthwhile. It shows off a great characteristic: altruism. The UC system is looking for students who are outwardly engaged in the problems of today. This prompt can provide an opportunity to align yourself with that value.

Prompt #7 Brainstorming Activity

Since you have lots of options because you’re undoubtedly part of lots of different communities, you may find it helpful to brainstorm what different community options might look like.

Start by writing down all the communities you can think of. Remember that “communities” can be more apparent (home, work, church, athletic, music, city communities) or they can be less apparent (friend groups, a specific classroom, an online community, a community of people with similar interests).

For each community you come up with, brainstorm the impact you’ve had. And if you don’t think you’ve had an impact—think again! Even actions as small as encouraging a member of your Spanish small group to speak aloud can have a huge impact.

Once you’ve determined your impact, think about what actions you took to get there. Be specific and detailed.

Finally, reflect on any relevant lessons you’ve learned.

When your brainstorm is complete, try picking out the community in which you’ve a) had the biggest impact and b) taken the clearest action steps.

Prompt #7 Outlining Activity

Based on what the prompt is asking you to do, a good essay structure may look something like this:

I. Introduction: Introduce the school or other community you’ve chosen to focus on. Describe your specific role in that community.

II. Middle: Explain a) what you understood the problem(s) to be, b) what specific actions you took to address those problems, and c) the ways in which your actions made the community better off.

III. Conclusion: You can reflect more on how or why you made your community better, what it’s like to be in a better community, or what lessons you learned as part of the process.

As always with UC essays, don’t forget to focus on the specifics.

UC Prompt #7 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #7 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #7 Final Takeaways

If you’re having trouble deciding between the prompts, this one is another good bet. It’s likely that you’re part of more communities than you realize. As you write, just be sure that you define the specific community you’re writing about and describe your action steps in detail.

UC Prompt #8: Open Prompt

I don't want to offer a ton of commentary here. I believe that most possible essay topics are covered by the first 7 prompts, and I usually try to steer my students toward those. But on a case-by-case basis, I think prompt #8 can be the right call.

That may be the case especially if you feel like a part of yourself hasn’t been fully represented in the other prompts. Or if you’ve written another essay or supplemental essay that you feel is necessary to understanding your story, then you may also consider this option.

But if not, don’t worry about not answering this prompt. The UC admissions committees explicitly state that all prompts are weighted equally, so you won’t be penalized if you do or don’t choose prompt #8.

If you do feel like it is the right choice for you, then let’s take a look at what it’s asking of you.

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?

This prompt lists a few requirements:

“Beyond what has already been shared in your application” implies that whatever you share in this essay should not appear anywhere else in your application.

You also need to choose something that “you believe makes you stand out”

But it can’t just be anything that makes you stand out. You should stand out specifically as “a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California.”

Like other open-ended prompts, you’ll have to make your case for why the essay topic you choose is important. Don’t just plop any ole essay in here and hope that it works. You’ll need to meet each of these expectations to write a good and effective essay answer.

Take another look at the Points of Comprehensive Review if necessary.

What this prompt is good for: If you feel like anything in your application is left unsaid, then this is your chance to say it.

Prompt #8 Brainstorming Activity

Since this prompt is so open-ended, a brainstorming activity probably wouldn’t be very helpful to you. It’s one of those “iykyk” prompts—if you know that you have something else to write about, then you already know that this is the prompt for you.

But as you’re reflecting on your topic choices, remember UC Essay Rule #3: Select Prompts that Balance your Narrative. Whatever you include here should be a piece of information that is essential to balancing out your application narrative.

Prompt #8 Outlining Activity

You have a similar kind of flexibility with how you structure your essay, as long as you’re adhering to each of the three parts of the prompt.

With those components in mind, your essay may look something like this:

Introduction: Introduce your topic in a way that makes the topic clear.

Middle: Describe any action steps you took in a way that makes it clear a) why this topic makes you stand out and b) why this topic makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the UCs.

Conclusion: Conclude by driving home why this topic is important to your story.

UC Prompt #8 Example Essay

You can find an example essay for UC Prompt #8 on our UC Example Essays post.

UC Prompt #8 Final Takeaways

If four of the other seven prompts work well with your story, then you might just want to skip past this one. But if you feel like there’s really something else you need to say, then just make sure you’re meeting all the requirements of this open-ended prompt.

Final Thoughts

The UC essays are exercises in precision, strategy, and honesty.

You need to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as an applicant, then carefully pick the prompts that support those. Then, you need to write clearly and directly, telling four stories that help the committee get to know you.

It's really hard. But doable, I promise. Hopefully this guide has been helpful! If so, check out our other college essay guides and the Essay Academy course for guidance on your other college essays. Until then. 👋

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uc essay prompt 3 example

17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

uc essay prompt 3 example

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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How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

uc essay prompt 3 example

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

[This article is part of a new series where we will be dissecting each of the UC essay prompts in depth, providing examples and tips on how you can make your application stand out.]

Click here to read yesterday’s post about UC Prompt #2.

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

Struggling with writing your college application essay?

Read our Ultimate Guide to Stand Out College Essays to learn the tips and techniques on writing a winning essay and maximize your college admission chances!  

This is one of the more straightforward prompts that can seem easy to answer if you have a tangible talent that you want schools to know about. Maybe you’re a music prodigy or you can bake the most amazing cakes or you’ve been an undefeated Debate champion. In that case, you’re in luck! This prompt is as close to a no-brainer as you’ll get.

But what if you don’t feel like you have any talents? I mean seriously, there’s no shame in feeling like you’re not particularly good at anything remarkable, because trust me, you’re not alone. But there is a way to write this essay even if you don’t have any tangible talents that you could theoretically perform at a talent show. In fact, less defined talents could make for more unique essays that stand out from the thousands of people who will write about their piano.

In fact, a better way to think about this prompt is, “What’s something you’re passionate about and how have you realized and developed that passion?”

I would also like to emphasize that the talent itself is not as important as the journey you took to develop that talent . Maybe your talent is as ridiculous and quirky as being really good at whistling. Clearly, that’s not something that is going to make much of a contribution to the world, but admissions officers can see a lot about your character if you tell this story correctly. Perhaps you started out unable to make a single note, but through years of practice, you managed to figure out an entire Mariah Carey song from start to finish beautifully. Sure, this might be a slightly sillier example, but the point is that the latter half of this prompt is more important than the former.

Now if you do have a significant talent that you must write about, this prompt can be an easy trap for you to fall into. For example, if you’re a really talented pianist, it can be easy to simply describe each of your concerts and awards to answer this question. Boring! Instead, ask yourself what specific moments led to your love of the instrument or maybe how your talents have grown with your own personal growth.

With this essay, it’s extremely crucial to exercise an appropriate amount of humility . The entire college application process rests on your ability to subtly brag about yourself without crossing the line into arrogance. Watch your tone in this prompt in particular. Stay humble by admitting your early failures and emphasizing the obstacles you had to face.

How you might structure this essay:

What were the beginnings of this talent?

What were some setbacks and obstacles you faced while developing this talent?

How did you overcome those challenges?

Are there any shining moments of success with this talent? (Ex. concerts, awards, etc.)

What did you learn from this journey and how will you apply it to other challenges?

The bottom line is, focus on your journey of developing this talent rather than the talent itself.

If you found this article helpful, check out the rest of our series below:

UC Essay Prompts Explained Writing UC Prompt 1 Tips: Leadership Experience Writing UC Prompt 2 Tips: Your Creative Side Writing UC Prompt 3 Tips:  Greatest Talent Writing UC Prompt 4 Tips:  Educational Experiences Writing UC Prompt 5 Tips:  Significant Challenge Writing UC Prompt 6 Tips:  Favorite Subject Writing UC Prompt 7 Tips:  Improving your Community Writing UC Prompt 8 Tips:  How do you Stand Out?

uc essay prompt 3 example

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

uc essay prompt 3 example

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 – Personal Insight Questions

July 26, 2023

uc essay prompt 3 example

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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Essay Hell

UC Essay Prompt 3: Talents and Skills

by j9robinson | Apr 19, 2016

hair-dryer

What Are You Good At?

(yes, uc essay prompt 3 can be about almost anything).

I believe all students who need to answer four of the new University of California “ Personal Insight Questions ” should seriously consider the third one, otherwise known as UC Essay Prompt 3.

If you’re a student who has focused on one special talent or skill in your life, and are recognized in that field as “among the best,” this is your chance to share that in detail.

However, you don’t need to be a star at your talent or skill to write an effective essay about it.

And your talent or skill doesn’t even need to be impressive.

Here is UC Essay Prompt 3 in full (the following three paragraphs):

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?

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UC essay prompt 3 mainly needs to feature something that you are passionate about.

As long as you can show why you love it and how hard you have worked at it, almost any activity could be a great topic.

If you are a star at ice-skating or drama or coding, again, this is your big chance to share your story about this passion.

Even if you have included this talent or skill heavily in your application (listing accolades and awards), you can still write about it for UC essay prompt 3.

This is your chance to go beyond your impressive status with this talent or skill and share how you got into it, what inspired you, how hard you worked and what obstacles you overcame to excel.

The most important part of this essay would be to explain why your impressive status matters—to you, to others and to the world.

Has it changed you? Does it define you? What does it mean to you?

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How to Toot Your Own Horn in UC Essay Prompt 3

The biggest pitfall with writing about how great you are at something is that you can come across as bragging or full of yourself.

Even though the UC admissions page literally asks you to brag a little, it’s wise to watch your tone in UC Essay Prompt 3.

The best trick to walking that tone tightrope of talking about a talent or skill and remaining humble is to think of some type of problem you encountered as you developed it over the years.

This “problem” can be an obstacle, challenge, mistake, set-back; there are many types of problems.

If can be something that happened to you, or something within you, such as a fear, phobia, obsession, etc.

The idea is that you start UC essay prompt 3 by sharing a moment or incident that illustrates that problem, or one “time” that involved that problem, and go from there.

By starting at a low point in your journey developing your talent or skill, you can then go into how you handled the problem and explain what you learned and why that mattered.

uc essay prompt 3

This approach to writing about yourself helps keep your essay first-person “voice” humble and likable.

Of course you include how far you came with your talent or skill, and include details to show how good you are now, but you focus on how and what you learned along the way.

Even if you have a talent or skill that you are still working on, consider writing about it for UC Essay Prompt 3 —especially if it’s something unusual or unexpected.

If you excel at something that many students also could be good at, spend more time trying to come up with something unique or unexpected about your talent or skill to help you stand out.

Based on what I’ve seen my former students write about over the past eight years, I would say these activities would include these popular high school activities: playing band instruments, sports, acting, computer coding, etc.

It really all comes down to what you have to say about your talent or skill, more than how great you are at it.

If you have an unusual talent or skill, I would highly encourage you to write about for UC Essay Prompt 3.

Are you the one of the best skimboarders in the world? Write about it!

However,iIf you mainly love skimboarding as a favorite hobby, then you need to make sure you have something valuable and unique to say about why that talent matters to you and the world.

RED FLAG (especially in California) : Possible overdone topics: Skateboarding. Skiing. Surfing. Just saying.

Are you an excellent glassblower?

Or do you help with making floats for the Rose Bowl Parade?

Have you raised a family of ostriches?

Are you known for making an unforgettable grilled cheese sandwich?

Can you blow tiny bubbles through your nose?

(Okay, you get the point.)

These types of quirky talents and skills could make terrific topics for UC essay prompt 3.

Again, it’s all what you have to say about that talent—why it matters to you and the world.

Trust me, hundreds of students will be writing about their piano playing or singing or dancing or photography. And this is fine.

If you want to stand out with your essay, and write about one of these popular talents and skills, look for something unexpected, unusual or highly personal to say about it.

If you write about an offbeat talent or skill for UC essay prompt 3—skipping stones, hacking computers, lucid dreaming, knitting dog sweaters, etc.—make sure to include what you have learned from this ability and why it matters.

uc essay prompt 3

Like almost all personal essays, mundane (everyday/ordinary) topics often make better topics than so-called impressive ones.

I repeat—it’s all what you have to say about it.

More Brainstorming Ideas for UC Essay Prompt 3

The UC provided these extra tips in its Personal Insight Questions worksheet to help you brainstorm UC essay prompt 3:

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? List three of your talents or skills:

Were these talents or skills the same a few years ago? What changed? What improved? Which one of the three talents or skills you listed is the most meaningful or important to you and why? Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent?

Learn all about The New UC Essay Prompts and also 21 Tips to Help Answer the New UC Essay Prompts .

If you need more help with these, I offer tutoring and editing services. Learn more on my SERVICES page.

Check Out These Related Posts!

UC Shares Videos on Personal Insight Questions

96 Comments

Manar

Hi, I have a question what could be regarded a skill or talent. Would learning a language be considered a skill if it’s the language you speak at home? I’ve tried to improve my vocabulary independently but I wouldn’t say it’s required much effort since it was my first language. I was planning on showcasing how I’ve used it to translate.

j9robinson

I’m not sure I completely understand your question. You speak a language at home, but since you keep trying to build your vocabulary you want to know if you can write about that as a skill for this essay? I think you could, and you are on the right track by finding something specific to say about it, such as how you use it to translate. I’m not sure what you mean by translate, but those are the details that could make this mini-essay interesting and meaningful. You want to show how you learned the skill, and then explain why that matters to you and in the world. Good luck! JR

John Doe

Transfer student here.

The skills and talents that are mentioned here are more concrete. What about an abstract skill, such as the ability to adapt to difficult changes in life? Brief summary – difficult childhood developed this skill; became very useful as I graduated HS early and attended CC at a young age. Also contributed to my success in courses I have/am taking at a university.

Is this too broad of a topic?

Side note – I’m taking these UC courses through a program offered by my community college

Hi John, This is a great question. What you are describing sounds more like a personal quality. I would look for ways to showcase that quality through the other prompts, such as No. 8 asking about what “sets you apart” from other students (which is a wide open prompt). You could use a talent or skill that is more figurative, such as “my ability to debate” or “my talent guessing what others are thinking.” But if the examples offered by the UC are all on the concrete side, I would take their cue and give them what they are asking for. Hope that helps. JR

Ash Mitchell

Would being a renaissance man be considered a talent or skill worth writing about ?

Hi Ash, I actually really like that idea. I think you will need to make the case as to why it’s a talent or skill. Just support your opinion and general points with specific details. Make sure include why being a Renaissance man matters—to you and the world. Best, JR

Ella Mareau

Would being a good listener count as a skill? Otherwise I would put baking cinnamon rolls…

They are both skills. I like the idea of baking cinnamon rolls, mainly because it seems like it would be more interesting to read about. But it all depends on what you have to say about that skill, and why it matters. Try writing out the one you like the best and see how it goes. At least you have a back-up idea. Good luck! Janine Robinson

sam

Thanks for posting this. I have some questions about in terms of what you said that “why it matters to you and the world”. Suppose if i have a talent at whistling, and I think it simply matters to me, because I can use it when I am cheering. Or suppose I am good at cleaning bathroom or my room and I enjoyed to do those things, and this matters to me because it made me feel happy and proud myself when my family compliment me for what I did. What college wants me to write about the reason why the talent matters? I am kind of lost.

Great question. They want to know why that talent matters beyond just your ability to do it. What did you learn about yourself in the process of learning that talent? How can that talent affect or help you and/or others? If you are good at cleaning the bathroom, why does that talent matter? The talent is not just cleaning the bathroom, but the larger skill of being clean and orderly. So ask yourself: How does being able to be clean and orderly serve you in other ways (besides cleaning the bathroom?) in your life and with others? Look for the quality behind the talent to expand upon why “it matters” in the larger sense.

Hope that helps! JR

Great question. When I suggest that you explain “why something matters to you and world,” I’m trying to help you share why you think something (a skill, talent, etc.) has value to you–beyond the obvious. Hope that helps. JR

T

Would being good at a specific video game count as one? Say 0.171% of the top, out of nearly 2 million.

Christine

Hello! Would possessing both technical and artistic skills count as a talent?

Hi Christine,

The prompt asks you to write about a skill OR talent. So why not write about one of those as a skill? I would pick one of your technical or artistic skills to showcase, but it’s up to you. (It does ask you to feature “your greatest”) Best, JR

Jehan

Well, is Singing” a talent? What I have written in this prompt essay answers all of these questions, how did i develop, challenge, struggle, whatever. I don’t know my consulter said this goes under the creativity? what do you think? Although I want to mention my struggle towards how have developed it. Because singing didn’t come naturally. I had to work it through the years to make it what it is today.

Hi Jehan, Singing is a talent. You could feature it in this prompt or in others (creativity; challenge, leadership; standing out, etc…), depending on what you want to say about it. It’s all about what you have to say about it: what first inspired you, what you learned from developing it, what it taught you (beyond singing), how you use it, why it matters to you, on and on. Good luck! Janine

Kurtis

How about personal skills, such as patience, gained when going through a long distance relationship? Would this topic work for this prompt?

Hi Kurtis, I think patience could be a skill (an ability/expertise), especially if it’s something you have developed. In general, I try to steer students away from writing about romantic relationships in essays. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t write something meaningful about your skill. I would focus on what you learned about this skill, and how you developed, and why it has value to you (beyond the relationship). Good luck! JR

Cam Suzuki

My son wants to write about video games. how he find a way to improve and be better. Also, thru it, he makes new friends. Would this work for this promt? Thank you so much.

Sorry to day these seem written about quite a bit. I would avoid as topic unless your son can think of something unique to say about them and what he has learned from playing them. It’s possible, but needs to go the extra mile. Might want to brainstorm other topics. JR

Playing video games is a skill. What your son needs to so is to explain why this skill has value. And if it has helped him make friends, that could work. Good luck, Janine

Alexis Bracken

Hi j9robinson, a transfer student here; I’m just wondering if it is possible at all to ask you to review my essays just briefly and comment if I’m on the right track or not. Could that be possible for you to do at all for a prospective UCLA transfer student?

Hi Alexis, I review and edit essays, including the UC Personal Insight Questions. But I charge for my services. Find details on the Services tab at the top of my web site. Then email me any further questions. Good luck! Janine

Abhiram

Would the ability to play chess exceptionally well be considered a talent?

Kathy

Would helping other people be consider a skill?

That’s a tough question. I would say it is a skill, but very general. To write about your ability to help others as a skill, try to focus in on a skill you have that’s more specific, which you use to help other people. Think about what skills you use when you help people. A skill is an ability, an expertise or something you do well. If you can frame what you do in that light, you could write about it for this prompt. If you write about how you are really good at something abstract, such as “helping people,” you need to make sure to describe what exactly you do, how and why you are good at it, and why your skill matters. Hope that helps! Best, Janine

Sneha

I’m writing about playing the piano, and since piano is popular, I have to set my essay apart. I could either write about exceptional achievements/recognition, or about more personal details of experiences I have had. Which do you think would have a greater impact?

Hi Sneha, You are right: When you feature a talent that is written about a lot (like piano, soccer, singing, etc.), try to find something unique or unexpected to say about why you do it, or what you get out of it, or what it has taught you. If you have exceptional achievements that won’t be noted on other parts of your application, yes, include those. But I would start with and emphasize the more personal experiences and lessons. Best of luck. And great question! Janine

Aurum

Is being multilingual a skill? Or like, being bilingual and currently self-learning another language.

Yes, it’s an awesome skill! Just make sure to explain why it has value to you, others and the world in your essay. JR

Scratch that, is self-learning a new language a skill? It’s too long and I felt that I should focus on the new language since it’s the most recent and the one I worked hardest at

Jay

Would it be too repetitive to write about how I developed a great passion and skill for a sport (Prompt #3) and then write another essay about my experience as team captain in that sport and the positive influence I had on others (Prompt #1)?

Angel

Hello, i was wondering if as a talent i should write about baking ever since i was young and how that has allowed me to create gifts for others and why i love it so much. Or should i write about a skill of communication and how building that kill has affected my life and how it will better my future? Thank you!

MF

I was planning on writing about how I enjoy analyzing dreams and how the psyche/subconscious works. Would that be considered a skill? I was debating on either writing about that or writing about how I enjoy helping others, etc.

Celine

Hello. Does learning a new language count as a skill?

However, I do not quite understand the question, Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom?

Sru_b

I’ve been doing nail art for a long time and I’ve made designs and stickers to help my friends so biting their nails.. So I don’t really know if I should consider this a talent?

Awesome topic! Go for it! JR

Jo

Would playing the chinese yoyo be counted as a skill/talent? It involves a bit of risk-taking but I’m not sure if that’s a good enough quality of myself that I can write about. It also represents my culture in a way since I’m Chinese.

Love Chinese yoyo as a skill/talent! Just include what quality you express or developed while learning it to make it more meaningful. Best of luck! JR

Marcus

I noticed you said that we must write about why our talent or skill is significant to the world and others. I throw shot put and discus and I’m a captain for my school’s team. How would I go about explaining its significance? I think throwing is an unusual talent but I’m not sure how its significant. :/

Awesome question. Here’s one way to explain how your talent or skill has value beyond just your ability to do it: Think of a quality you use while doing it, or a quality you developed or tested while learning/practising that skill or talent. Examples for shot put: focus, grace, strength (mental), determination, precision…. To make it even more personal, think about what quality you bring to shot put that is unique to you; what is your “style” with the shot put. Once you find a quality or value you use with your talent or ability, you can then explain why that has meaning to you, and to others and the world. Why does that quality or value matter…in other parts of your life…in your future? Hope that helps. ha

Jasmine

Would having good handwriting be considered a skill..?

Anshul Sanamvenkata

Would being good at building robots be a good topic?

Sophia

Im having trouble expanding my ideas on writing about photography. I have completed multiple friends senior pictures along with anniversaries, and hold the position of AVID historian. All traits are connected by photography but I struggle connecting everything together.

Ahana Pocha

Hi, what if I want to pursue a carrier in film making and I’m applying to the film school, can i use photography/filmmaking/storytelling as a talent or are those too overdone? or do you recommend I do it on my sense of humour instead?

I would definitely write about your photography/filmmaking/storytelling as your talent over a sense of humor, especially if these are topics you will or might pursue in college. JR

yasmeen

Hi! Would you consider the ability to converse with anyone a skill ? I feel like it is more of a personal quality; however, with today’s society it is very rare to find teenager’s who love to speak with other people, speak in front of crowds, ect. That being said I feel like it can set me apart; therefore; identifying as a skill.

Elizabeth

Is coffee brewing a skill? I was tired of buying an expensive cup of coffee that didn’t even taste good so I decided to make my own. Now I can make a delicious cup of coffee without even trying. I get really happy when my friends and family enjoy the coffee I make.

Elizabeth, I love your idea, just make sure you explain why this skill has value beyond jist making good coffee. One way to do that would be to share what personal quality you developed in honing your skill (precision, creativity, integrity, etc). Good luck! Janine

A_Ch

Hi. Can my talent be my innate desire for a challenge? How my curiosity has driven me to undertake challenging activities, and how these activities have gradually made me work well under pressure. I want to reflect how this skill of mine will help me deal with the challenging and rewarding curriculum that the UC’s offer. Alternatively, could I write about how I have always liked building things myself as opposed to buying something ready-made? I would prefer the 1st topic.

So Min

Hi, Is playing card games a skill? I’m really good at it and never lose. Or maybe baking cakes?

Hannah

Write a three paragraph essay about one of your talents or strengths.and I am so confused!!!

Mythili

Hello there,

I am thinking about writing about my talent for snapping. I can snap my fingers really fast and I could say that I am proud of it, and it is a unique topic. Would that make an interesting topic? If you think it would, I have another question: I want to make this essay about snapping but also something beyond that, whether it be something about my character or something else…any ideas for how I could intertwine that? So for instance, if I want to say I am persistent and hardworking and intertwine those qualities in this essay, do you have any ideas on how I could do that? Hopefully that makes sense.

Your question is awesome! When you write about any of your talents or skills, it’s critical to include WHY THEY MATTER (have value) to you and the world. You can talk about your talent, and how you developed it, and how good you are at it. But then you must go into why that talent has meaning to you, and explain why and how. With snapping, I would try to find example of when you have used it. Has it helped your in certain situations in any way? Do you keep rhythm with it? I agree it’s a unique topic, however, if your snapping serves no purpose then it will not make sense to feature it here. If you believe your snapping reflect a quality that you have, then you could make the case for the value of that quality to show why your talent has value. Just don’t push it too far if it doesn’t make sense. Good luck!

Mike T.

I think I can write about either of two topics. One is that I know how to fix the bike when it breaks down. the other is that I love (and also good at) teaching or telling other people about the subjects I know. Like tutoring my cousins or friends who need help. Would those two topics work for this prompt? Also which would be better in terms of uniqueness.

I like your idea about fixing bikes. It seems more immediate and interesting than the tutoring (many students write about this as a topic, even though it’s obviously a wonderful experience.) You might find that you can work in the tutoring even if you start with the bikes—as long as it also illustrates something about the main point you want to make about yourself in your essay. Good luck! Janine

Lee

Is running considered a skill/talent?

Ko

Can I write about running as a skill/talent?

Yes, running can be both a skill and/or a talent. If you write about for this prompt, however, make sure to explain why it has value to you beyond simply running well. What quality or value did you develop using this skill and/or talent, and what have you learned from doing it? Good luck! Janine

Joyce

Hi! Can I use I’m instead of I am in UC personal insight questions?

Prasanth

Can i write creativity and innovation as part of this

L

Hello, Would it be good to write about giving advice as a skill?

Nitya

Hey! I started a business in an entirely new market in India (Korean products and korean music merchandise). I was thinking about writing about the difficulties I’m facing while doing this. Oh and I’m doing this entire thing all alone. And I did a business of $1500 in the first month alone (its a lot if you count it in Indian rupee). Thanks!

Daniel

Thank you so much for posting this, I really appreciate it! I have been practicing Lucid Dreaming for over a year now, but that did not come to mind as a “talent,” when reading prompt 3. I saw it on this website as something that would be good to write about, and now that I think about, there is so much this ‘skill’ has helped me in.

Desiree

Hello. What do you think of being observant as a skill? I find observing to be a way to know a little bit about someone or to notice the beauty around. I am more aware and that is how I learn. I was going to talk about I used to be self-critical about myself before and was focused too much on myself/thoughts then later grown from that (with detail).

Cynthia

Hey! I wanted to say that your tips were super helpful to me and I appreciate it 🙂 I also wanted to ask about my topic. I’m having a hard time deciding and I have only come up with running and window shopping. I think window shopping is super unique and running is more on the safe side. What do you think?

Window shopping, 100% yes! Way more unique than running. Love it! Janine

Danny

Thank you for the tips, Would playing the guitar and drawing be considered a talent/skill? And if they do, which would you consider writing about?

Anna Zheng

Thank you for your great suggestions! I’m planning on writing about my talent of recognizing various common plants and my knowledge of the history of plants,but I’m not sure how to build an essay on this. Should I include some interesting incidents I had with plants, like a conversation with my friend about a tree?

Hi Anna, I love your topic idea. And yes, you need to find some real-life moment, experiences, incidents that relate to this interest that you can share in your essay to make it come alive for the reader. (Yes, the “time” you talked to a tree could be an interesting anecdote!) I would recommend you read more posts on my blog to learn how to do this.

Try this post to get you started: http://www.essayhell.com/2016/02/write-college-application-essay-3-easy-steps/

Good luck! Janine

Ariana Cruz

Hi how are you, I am struggling to think of something for this one but immediately I thought of how I am really good at working with kids and it definitely shaped my goals and the career I want to pursue. Would you say working with children can be considered a skill?

Alyssa V.

Hi thank you so much for your helpful suggestions. Immediately after reading this prompt I thought of how I am really good at working with kids and it’s definitely shaped my interest and the career I want to pursue. Would you say working with kids can be considered a good skill?

Jenny

Do you think optimistic as a talent or skill?

Rachel G

Hello there! I came across this article for the UC Essay Prompts and wanted to ask a quick question: would knowing how to sew, being bilingual, and knowing a lot of U.S. History be considered skills? And if so, which should I write about? I’ve done a few sewing projects, have helped translate for my parents while searching for apartments, and gotten a high score on the APUSH exam. I just feel very stuck.

Thanks a ton, Rachel.

Yem

I am writing about Music and writing music and things I read. One of my greatest skills is incorporating music and writing into other aspects of my life. I have loved music and writing since a very young age. I have learned to play multiple instruments. One of the instruments is the piano. I learned to play the piano when I was five years old and have developed playing piano ever since. Another instrument that I know how to play is the kebero, which is a traditional African drum used in religious and traditional music.

Sara

Hi, I am usually the one my friends go to when they require help for their problems. Would being an adviser for my friends be considered as a skill?

Sure! I love that idea. Try to give your essay a focus by choosing one core quality or characteristic that you developed or used by taking on this adviser role with your friends. Read my other posts for more info on exactly how to write your essay! Good luck! Janine

Erq

Hello, I was looking to write about my skill/talent when it comes to fashion-sense. I actually created a clothing brand which has gotten positive feedback throughout my school and several sales. Is this a stretch?

Eddie

Hi, I am thinking of writing about being charismatic but as an introvert. Would that be considered a trait/skill?

Kiara

Hello. I need help. I can’t seem to decide if being focused and persistent are a talent

Nan

Can leadership be called a skill?

Jack

Hi, Would running be counted as a skill, adding up to overall development and achievements ?!

A.I

Hi, would speaking Russian and acting as a translator for my overly critical Russian grandmother, whenever she comes to the United States, count as a talent? Although, it was my first language I ended up losing the tongue as I assimilated too much into American culture, so to speak. Also, the “skill” is meaningful to me in that it has allowed me to connect with my Russian heritage and family. I was considering whether I should add how I sometimes change the meaning of her overly critical, oftentimes rude words, into something sweeter, implying a double meaning in that I am not only a translator in terms of language, but also a translator in terms of changing the “bad” into “good.” Not sure if this essay is better to write for PIQ#3 or PIQ#8 or for none at all. Thanks!!:)

A.K.I

What do you think about writing about backpacking as a skill?

I think so.

Sansita

Hi would shopping or cooking be considered a talent?

Definitely!

Risa

Would making people laugh be a skill?

I think so! Lol.

Ben

Would being inquisitive or focused a good skill to put down?

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  • Feb 16, 2022

Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #3: Greatest Talent

uc essay prompt 3 example

Welcome to Thinque Prep's series on the UC Personal Insight Question responses. You can access other posts in the series at the following links...

10 Top Tips for Your Best UC Personal Insight Question Responses

Guide to UC PIQ #1: Leadership Experience

Guide to UC PIQ #2: Creativity

Guide to UC PIQ #4: Greatest Educational Opportunity/Barrier

Guide to UC PIQ #5: Greatest Challenge

Guide to UC PIQ #6: Favorite Academic Subject

Guide to UC PIQ #7: Community Service

Guide to UC PIQ #8: Free Response

This post will focus on the third Personal Insight Question option, which is concerned with your greatest talent.

Question Breakdown

Here's the text of PIQ #3, straight from UC's website :

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

Many students read this prompt and start stressing about having to choose their strongest talent. After all, it's almost impossible to objectively decide what you're "best" at when you're choosing out of a pool of both highly specific skills, like baking, coding, or translating, and more general ones like problem-solving, practicing empathy, or thinking outside the box.

The good news is that you don't really have to identify your "greatest" skill for this essay. You don't even have to write about something you're great at! Your topic just has to be something you've put consistent effort into (rather than something you picked up last week), because the reader will want to see how you've worked to improve that skill over time. With that being said, I do have a few suggestions regarding what not to choose to write about, keeping in mind the context of this essay alongside your other application materials.

First, I encourage you to remember that the PIQ responses represent an opportunity to show other sides of you that admissions officers might not encounter elsewhere in your application. If you choose to write about how you’re “hardworking” or “a great student” for PIQ #3, those qualities are probably going to be things application readers can already ascertain from other areas of your application, like your transcript. Don't become obsessed with making sure PIQ responses mention things totally different than what’s communicated by your transcript or activity list, but just keep the possibility of redundancy in mind when choosing topics.

Speaking of redundancy, if you choose to answer PIQ #2 (about expressing your creative side) and this one, make sure your responses are about different topics. For example, don’t write about you express your creative side through painting for PIQ #2 then go on to say your greatest talent is painting for PIQ #3. Again, take advantage of the opportunity to show variety.

One more thing regarding topic choice: I don’t recommend picking a sport for this prompt. The point is not to convince the reader you're great at a sport; it's to show them that you're a well-rounded, self-aware person who's taken time to cultivate positive qualities. If you're still stuck on writing about a sport, try this inversion: instead of saying your greatest talent is basketball and mentioning your commitment to developing team morale as just one element of that, instead claim that your greatest skill is your ability to encourage others, then give examples of ways you’ve done this on and off the court. It’s more interesting, more specific, and more focused on your personality rather than your athletic ability.

Question To Consider

No matter what talent you choose, your response should answer these essential questions:

What's the talent or skill?

What was your skill level at first?

What's your skill level now?

What specific things have you done to cultivate this skill?

How do you demonstrate it today?

What has your journey of improvement taught you?

What's important about this PIQ is that your response to it should show a clear narrative of growth . Beginning by sketching out some rough answers to the questions above is a great place to start. Then you can improve over the course of every draft, coming back to your writing, adding more detail, cutting material that might have gone a little off-topic, organizing your writing into paragraphs, and polishing your spelling and grammar.

My other suggestion? Ask someone to read your writing. Give them the 6 questions above and ask how well they think you answered them. Friends and family can be excellent readers. You should also consider having a professional writing coach check out your work. Thinque Prep's college counseling and essay help services can help you out at any step in the essay-writing process, from brainstorming to your final draft.

Example PIQ #3 Response

Finally, let's check out a real example response to PIQ #3.

From my experience in Model United Nations, I have seen that words possess the power to sway the masses and evoke change. Through MUN, I developed my greatest skill: public speaking. However, my initial struggles with stage fright made the program difficult. Yet when I witnessed my peers improve their abilities, I was inspired to continue. After each speech, each comment, each conference, I improved. My knees no longer shook, the tremble in my voice faded, and my tone grew confident.

MUN offered an exciting way to measure progress. I was granted awards for demonstrating skills such as research, problem solving, and leadership. This kept me motivated as I participated in numerous conferences, discussing a wide range of world crises. The peak of which was when I attended a national conference hosted at the University of Chicago and debated the prospects of nuclear energy in a global context.

Representing Botswana, I had to ensure that the concerns of countries with developing economies were heard by the committee. Working in such a fashion lent me a shift in my perspective that was sorely needed. As Americans, we feel it is our privilege to exist in all spheres of global influence. Yet what about the voices of those less fortunate? If we hope to avoid a crisis as threatening as climate change, then we must not only hear the voices of developing countries, but include them in our solutions for a better future.

Not only do words hold the power to influence the populace, but they possess the ability to impact the world. My newfound superpower has helped me serve as an effective Tennis Captain and as Vice President of the Culinary and Nutrition Club. I have become more social and have built genuine relationships with others. As I transition into college, I look forward to applying this skill to more vital concerns. While working as a scientist, I am excited to use my passion for public speaking as a means of educating the public and leading the next generation of minds through the many global crises we have encountered.

Ready to get more in-depth with the next question? Check out Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #4: Greatest Educational Opportunity/Barrier for more insight on how to make your UC application essays shine.

Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.

With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!

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    University of California: Prompt #3 - Original Draft with Comments Prompt: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Conventional examples of a talent or skill would be being able to play an instrument, draw, or speak publicly.

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    The third University of California personal insight question asks students to respond to the following prompt: "What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words)" For this question, your response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.

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    For example, say you won the California Science Fair, or you've published a paper in a scholarly journal, or you've got a patent pending. Then you might see this prompt and think, Yes! This is where I will shine! In that case, Awesome! Cruise on forward with this, making sure to respond to as much of the prompt as makes sense.

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