Freshman requirements

  • Subject requirement (A-G)
  • GPA requirement
  • Admission by exception
  • English language proficiency
  • UC graduation requirements

Additional information for

  • California residents
  • Out-of-state students
  • Home-schooled students

Transfer requirements

  • Understanding UC transfer
  • Preparing to transfer
  • UC transfer programs
  • Transfer planning tools

International applicants

  • Applying for admission
  • English language proficiency (TOEFL/IELTS)
  • Passports & visas
  • Living accommodations
  • Health care & insurance

AP & Exam credits

Applying as a freshman

  • Filling out the application
  • Dates & deadlines

Personal insight questions

  • How applications are reviewed
  • After you apply

Applying as a transfer

Types of aid

  • Grants & scholarships
  • Jobs & work-study
  • California DREAM Loan Program
  • Middle Class Scholarship Program
  • Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan
  • Native American Opportunity Plan  
  • Who can get financial aid
  • How aid works
  • Estimate your aid

Apply for financial aid

  • Cal Dream Act application tips
  • Tuition & cost of attendance
  • Glossary & resources
  • Santa Barbara
  • Campus program & support services
  • Check majors
  • Freshman admit data
  • Transfer admit data
  • Native American Opportunity Plan
  • 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.

Need more help?

Download our worksheets:

  • English [PDF]
  • Spanish [PDF]

PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

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

author image

College Essays

feature_uclapostcard

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.

body_onceuptonatime

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 .

body-working-studying-thinking-student-cc0

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

uc essay word count

Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.

Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now :

Craft Your Perfect College Essay

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?

body_leader-1

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.

body_problem_solution_blackboard

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.

rainbow-436171_640.jpg

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?

body_artclass

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.

doughnuts-1209614_640.jpg

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

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

Be Specific and Descriptive

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

Give a Sense of History

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

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

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

Show Insight

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

uc essay word count

Want to build the best possible college application?

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 helped thousands of students get into their top-choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League.

We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools .

Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.

Get Into Your Top Choice School

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.

body_dancer

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.

graffiti-wall-1209761_640.jpg

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.

feature-software-engineer-code-coding-developer

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?

body_obstaclecourse

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.

body_student_chemistry_major_microscope

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.

body_challengeyourself

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.

kapow-1601675_640.png

You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Relevance

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

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

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

ballerinas-cc0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

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

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

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

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

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

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

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

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

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

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

body_communityservice-1

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

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

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

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

body_community_service-1

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The university wants this information because of the following:

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

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

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

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

Connect Outward

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

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

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

body_typing

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.

house-691379_640.jpg

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

#2: Show Your Feelings

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

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

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

What's Next?

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

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

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

Worried about how to pay for college after you get in? Read our description of how much college really costs , our comparison of subsidized and unsubsidized loans , and our lists of the top scholarships for high school seniors and juniors .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

uc essay word count

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

Facebook

University of California 2023-24 Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Regular Decision Deadline: Nov 30

You Have: 

University of California  2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Kat Stubing

View all posts by Kat Stubing »

Ivy Divider

We're here to help.

Contact us for information on rates and more!

  • I am a * Student Parent Potential Partner School Counselor Private College Counselor
  • Name * First Last
  • Phone Type Mobile Landline
  • Street Address
  • Address City State / Province / Region Afghanistan Albania Algeria American Samoa Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cabo Verde Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czechia Côte d'Ivoire Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Eswatini Ethiopia Falkland Islands Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guam Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See Honduras Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People's Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Marshall Islands Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Micronesia Moldova Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island North Macedonia Northern Mariana Islands Norway Oman Pakistan Palau Palestine, State of Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Puerto Rico Qatar Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Réunion Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Sweden Switzerland Syria Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, the United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Türkiye US Minor Outlying Islands Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela Viet Nam Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Åland Islands Country
  • Which best describes you (or your child)? High school senior High school junior College student College grad Other
  • How did you find CEA? Internet Search New York Times Guidance counselor/school Social Media YouTube Friend Special Event Delehey College Consulting Other
  • Common App and Coalition Essays
  • Supplemental Essays
  • University of California Essays
  • University of Texas Essays
  • Resume Review
  • Post-Grad Essays
  • Specialized Services
  • Waitlist Letters
  • School list with priorities noted:
  • Anything else we should know?
  • Comments This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • Agnes Scott College
  • Alvernia University
  • American University
  • Amherst College
  • Babson College
  • Bard College
  • Barnard College
  • Baylor University
  • Bennington College
  • Bentley University
  • Berry College
  • Bethany College
  • Bishop’s University
  • Boston College
  • Boston University (BU)
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Bucknell University
  • Butler University
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • California Lutheran University
  • Capitol Technology University
  • Carleton College
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Catawba College
  • Centre College
  • Chapman University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Clark University
  • College of Mount Saint Vincent
  • College of William and Mary
  • College of Wooster
  • Colorado College
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Culver-Stockton College
  • D'Youville University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • Drexel University
  • Duke University
  • Earlham College
  • Elon University
  • Emerson College
  • Emory University
  • Flagler College
  • Fordham University
  • George Mason University
  • Georgetown University
  • Georgia State University
  • Georgia Tech
  • Gonzaga University
  • Harvard University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Haverford College
  • Hillsdale College
  • Hofstra University
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Illinois Wesleyan University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Ithaca College
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Kalamazoo College
  • Lafayette College
  • Lehigh University
  • Lewis and Clark College
  • Linfield University
  • Loyola Marymount University (LMU)
  • Lynn University
  • Macalester College
  • Malone University
  • Manchester University
  • Marist College
  • Mary Baldwin University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Meredith College
  • Monmouth College
  • Moravian University
  • Morehouse College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • New York University (NYU)
  • North Park University
  • Northwestern University
  • Occidental College
  • Oklahoma City University
  • Olin College of Engineering
  • Pepperdine University
  • Pitzer College
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • Providence College
  • Purdue University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rice University
  • Saint Elizabeth University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Scripps College
  • Seattle Pacific University
  • Smith College
  • Soka University of America
  • Southern Methodist University
  • St. John’s College
  • Stanford University
  • Stonehill College
  • Swarthmore College
  • Syracuse University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Christian University
  • The College of Idaho
  • The George Washington University
  • The New School
  • Trinity College
  • Tufts University
  • Tulane University
  • University of California
  • University of Central Florida (UCF)
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Miami
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC)
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Richmond
  • University of San Diego
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of Southern California (USC)
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Tulsa
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia (UVA)
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Vassar College
  • Villanova University
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Wellesley College
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)
  • Yale University

Email

Want free stuff?

We thought so. Sign up for free instructional videos, guides, worksheets and more!

uc essay word count

One-On-One Advising

Common App Essay Guide

Common App Essay Prompt Guide

Common App Essay Guide

Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

YouTube Tutorials

  • YouTube Tutorials
  • Our Approach & Team
  • Undergraduate Testimonials
  • Postgraduate Testimonials
  • Where Our Students Get In
  • CEA Gives Back
  • Undergraduate Admissions
  • Graduate Admissions
  • Private School Admissions
  • International Student Admissions
  • Common App Essay Guide
  • Supplemental Essay Guides
  • Coalition App Guide
  • The CEA Podcast
  • Admissions Stats
  • Notification Trackers
  • Deadline Databases
  • College Essay Examples
  • Academy and Worksheets
  • Get Started

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

  • by Alexa Carter
  • May 18, 2021

student studies laptop

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

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

student studies outside uc davis

Prepare in advance: DO!

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

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

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

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

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

UC Davis students during the Nepal Seminar Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat the same stories: DON'T!

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

Proofread your work and ask for edits: DO!

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

alexa carter teacher editor mentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

students study at uc davis coho

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

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

Primary Category

Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥

Last updated April 17, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

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. 👋

Liked that? Try this next.

"the only actually useful chance calculator i’ve seen—plus a crash course on the application review process.".

Irena Smith, Former Stanford Admissions Officer

We built the best admissions chancer in the world . How is it the best? It draws from our experience in top-10 admissions offices to show you how selective admissions actually works.

Add Project Key Words

uc essay word count

Dos and Don'ts of UC Essays: Tips to Help You Succeed

Padya Paramita

November 3, 2021

uc essay word count

Dos and Don't of UC Essays: Tips to Help You Succeed

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

DO Choose Essays That Can Help Showcase Your Best Side 

Number one on things to make sure of when it comes to the dos and don’ts of UC essays is to choose the four questions that will make you stand out! Focus on showing who you are and what makes you unique. If you don’t have a story that fits a particular prompt, choose a different one. The UC essays need to emphasize why you’re a must-have candidate. Make your selections accordingly. If you’re someone creative who takes a lot of pride in their writing or art skills, answering the creativity question makes a lot of sense.

DO Consider Your Common App Personal Statement

Chances are, other schools on your list use the Common Application so you’ve already written a 650-word personal statement, especially if you’ve applied somewhere early decision or early action. The Common App essay is a great way to let admissions officers know your story—and chances are, your UC application could also benefit from such an essay. Although the word limit for the UC essays is much shorter, you’ll already have a template for one of the essay topics from your Common App personal statement. So, as you consider the dos and don’ts of the UC essays , don’t forget to look into your own work to find inspiration when it comes to essay topics. 

DO Use Strong Examples

The University of California essays are all about gauging your intellectual pursuits, community involvement, and engagements outside the classroom. Since the word limits for the prompts aren’t generous, each of your essays should focus on being as specific as possible in depicting your personality and interests. Adding specific examples lets admissions officers understand your perspective better and envision the areas of campus where you’d contribute and how you’d fit in with the communities of their respective UC schools.

DO Use the Word Limit Wisely

Speaking of word limits, while 200-250 isn’t the most restrictive range in the world, it’s not extremely generous either. When writing your UC essays, think about which information your application would be incomplete without conveying. Then, prioritize the content necessary to get your narrative across, and cut any unnecessary statements. Each sentence should provide new information that makes you memorable in the reader’s mind. If you go over the limit—or start repeating your activities or other information you’ve already provided—it’s time to make cuts and keep what’s new and relevant.

DON’T Repeat the Activities List

The University of California application provides a very generous amount of space when it comes to adding information about your activities, jobs, community service involvements, and awards. As a result, a lot of the information about your extracurriculars has already entered the application. When you think about what not to do when considering the dos and don’ts of your UC essays , do not repeat activity descriptions. Admissions officers have very limited time and don’t want to read about the same topic, so make sure you cover new information!

DON’T Mention Any Specific UC School

The University of California system allows you to apply to multiple UC schools through the same portal. As a result, all of the UC schools that you apply to will see the same set of essays. This bit in the dos and don’ts of UC essays especially applies if you’re applying to multiple UC colleges. Do not mention how excited you are about the extracurricular offerings at Berkeley when your essays will also go to UCLA and UC Santa Barbara! Admissions officers do not want to see you demonstrate greater interest in a different school. Revise your answers thoroughly to make sure you’ve avoided this error.

DON’T Answer the Challenges Question if It Doesn’t Apply to You

Prompt 5 in the UC essays says: “Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?” This is an adversity question, so be careful here. Before you choose this topic, it is important to think about how your situation compares to your peers. Although everyone has challenges of their own, writing about not getting an allowance will not be seen as a “real” challenge to an admissions office. Other students in your applicant pool will have experienced homelessness, life-threatening illnesses, and abuse. No matter what, watch yourself so that you do not sound privileged. If your adversity isn’t significant, I’d stay away from this question.

DON’T Save the UC Essays for the Last Minute

The months of October, November, and December are stressful for any high schooler applying to college. A lot of deadlines and assignments and essays are piling up and as a result, it can be easy to forget about the UC essays, which, alongside the application, are due on the last day of November. As soon as you submit your early application, you must start working on the UC essays. Since one month isn’t a lot of time, you might have to dedicate extra time to make sure you have outlined, drafted, and polished them. The editing process is important too, so don’t leave it for the last minute! 

The UC essays help the University of California admissions officers understand what makes you tick and how you can uniquely contribute to their campus. Making sure you follow the dos and don’ts of the UC essays can help make a big difference in ensuring you put your best foot forward. Good luck!

Tags : UC personal insight questions , university of california essays , dos and don'ts of uc essays , university of california personal insight questions , uc essays

Schedule a free consultation

to find out how we can help you get accepted.

College Application Essays and Admissions Consulting

UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples

by Winning Ivy Prep Team | Feb 23, 2023 | UC Personal Insight Essay Guide

UC Personal Insight Essay Tips

Wondering how to successfully write UC essays? You’re in luck! In this blog post, we’ll go over UC Personal Insight Question s tips and examples that’ll take your essays to the next level. 

And what does it look like when you effectively follow these UC essay tips? Behold: our 20 UC Personal Insight Questions examples .

Table of Contents

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #1:  Make one anecdote the star of your UC essay

These UC essays are especially tricky because of the word limit: you only have 350 words to convey your message per essay. That means this: Don’t do too much in one short essay. In other words, don’t try to write about 3 different topics in one essay so that you can “fit” all you want to say. It’s always better to go for DEPTH per essay rather than BREADTH. 

Let me repeat that again: Depth > Breadth. 

Breadth is something you can easily tackle in your overall application because you literally have 4 UC essays to showcase breadth of experience. Depth is the piece that everyone’s answers to the UC Personal Insight Questions lack — so if your UC essays have depth, you’ll no doubt stand out from the crowd.

So how exactly do you add depth, you may ask?

In order to delve deeply into a subject, you only have space for one anecdote — one experience — as the main star of your UC Personal Insight essay. Here are basic steps:

  • Showcase your anecdote by first setting up the scene of the story. 
  • Showcase the conflict or obstacle that you encountered.
  • Showcase your role in solving the conflict.
  • Analyze how you grew and what you learned from this experience. 

So what does a UC essay with great depth actually look like? Checkout these UC Personal Insight Questions examples: 

  • UC Personal Insight Example: prompt 7
  • UC Personal Insight Example: prompt 2

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #2:  Showcase growth throughout your essay

Writing about growth is honestly perhaps one of the more important UC Personal Insight tips I have for you. 

Why? Well, the answer is twofold. 

Firstly, admissions officers *love* to read about how you’ve grown from an event. An applicant’s ability to recognize learnings from an event and grow intellectually and personally is extremely important to colleges. Thus, admissions officers are on the lookout (especially via the UC personal insight essays) to pinpoint applicants that can bring this growth mindset to the UCs.

Secondly, writing about growth from an event is usually very difficult. So, not many students actually do this. Most UC essays I read fall short in this analysis department, so if you can go the extra mile and knock this out of the ballpark, you’re golden!

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #3:  Showcase intellectual curiosity

uc essay word count

Your chancing factors

Extracurriculars.

uc essay word count

Frequently Asked Questions About the UC Essays

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:

The brainstorming process, choosing essay topics, writing your response.

How do you recall experiences that are substantive enough to write about? 

The process of recalling experiences is different for each person, and you have to find the method that works best for you. Some people may find it helpful to do free-writing, brainstorming, and outlining exercises. Others may have discussions with a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor to reflect on and pressure test possible responses to the different essay questions. 

Where is the line between being a good, unique response and being completely off topic from the original question? 

The line changes depending on the prompt you are responding to. The best thing you can do in cases where you are unsure of whether you have crossed the line is to gut-check your idea with a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor. Ultimately, it is up to you to figure out where the line is and to push the boundary just a bit so that your unique personality and profile come to the fore. 

Is writing about my culture a compelling topic, or is it overused? 

Unless you come from a culture that is rare among applicants to the University of California (UC), then chances are high that many other applicants have already written the same or similar essays as you would. This does not mean that it is impossible to write a great essay about a frequently used topic. It just means that the barrier to entry is higher and you may find it more difficult to write an original essay about your culture. 

Is talking about mental health struggles in application essays considered a red flag to admissions officers?

If you write about a mental health challenge, then you need to do so in the context of how you have adapted to, managed, or even overcome such a challenge. By focusing on your perseverance or triumph against mental health challenges, you are shifting the narrative away from something that would raise a red flag and towards the profile of a resilient applicant. 

How do you deliver a clear and compelling message in 350 words?  

You should start by responding to the prompt as you naturally would without paying attention to the word count. Once you have responded to the question in its entirety and written between 400 and 600 words, then you can step away and take a break. When you return to what you have written, you can whittle away at redundant or superfluous words and phrases until you reach a tight 350-word essay. After you have gone through this process on your own, it can be helpful to show your essay to someone whose opinion you trust, like a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor.

How might you incorporate elements of humor into your essays? 

Proceed carefully. In the case of humor, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a slightly different definition of humor and sometimes the written page does not lend itself to joke-telling because the reader cannot hear the author’s tone of voice. For instance, sarcasm can sometimes be misconstrued or perceived as overly self-deprecating, which may not be the appropriate tone for an essay. If you are committed to being humorous, “dad joke” type humor will be the least offensive. You can take chances with other types of humor, but doing so can be risky.

For more information on writing the application essays for admission to the University of California, review the article on How to Write the University of California Essays .

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

uc essay word count

  • Affiliate Program

Wordvice

  • UNITED STATES
  • 台灣 (TAIWAN)
  • TÜRKIYE (TURKEY)
  • Academic Editing Services
  • - Research Paper
  • - Journal Manuscript
  • - Dissertation
  • - College & University Assignments
  • Admissions Editing Services
  • - Application Essay
  • - Personal Statement
  • - Recommendation Letter
  • - Cover Letter
  • - CV/Resume
  • Business Editing Services
  • - Business Documents
  • - Report & Brochure
  • - Website & Blog
  • Writer Editing Services
  • - Script & Screenplay
  • Our Editors
  • Client Reviews
  • Editing & Proofreading Prices
  • Wordvice Points
  • Partner Discount
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • APA Citation Generator
  • MLA Citation Generator
  • Chicago Citation Generator
  • Vancouver Citation Generator
  • - APA Style
  • - MLA Style
  • - Chicago Style
  • - Vancouver Style
  • Writing & Editing Guide
  • Academic Resources
  • Admissions Resources

How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

uc essay word count

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

The Ivy Coach Daily

  • College Admissions
  • College Essays
  • Early Decision / Early Action
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Standardized Testing
  • The Rankings

September 12, 2023

2023-2024 University of California Essay Prompts: Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD

A tower is featured, standing above a red-roofed building at the University of California, Berkeley.

The University of California schools have released their 2023-2024 essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2024. Unlike most highly selective universities, the UC schools are not members of The Common Application — the school has its own application .

Just like in previous years, applicants to the University of California, Berkeley , the University of California, Los Angeles , the University of California, San Diego , and the seven other UC institutions must answer four essay prompts out of a batch of eight options. So, what are this year’s essay prompts? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 UC Essay Topics and Questions: Personal Insights

Below are the UC essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2028, along with the guidance issued by the UC admissions committee. These essays apply to all UC schools — including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Santa Barbara , the University of California, Davis , the University of California, Santa Cruz , the University of California, Irvine , the University of California, Merced , and the the University of California, Riverside .

Applicants have up to 350 words to respond to  four  of the  eight  prompts. And, yes, applicants should go to the maximum word count to make their case!

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?

Applicants should share one small story here to demonstrate their leadership. Rather than tell the UC admissions committee about what great leaders they are, they can show it through one specific example. And it doesn’t even need to be a successful example of leadership. Instead, students can highlight what they learned from the scenario to be even better leaders.

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?

Even in an essay that could lend itself to silliness, applicants must showcase intellectual curiosity. So, suppose a student expresses their creative side by tie-dying t-shirts and their singular hook in their activities section that they’ll be contributing to schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD is math. In that case, they can write about the mathematics behind the patterns they love to create on clothing.

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?

Too many students choose to write about awards and honors they’ve received in this prompt. Some sneak it into the essay, thinking it’s a subtle way of reinforcing their success. What a mistake! Doing so will only render them unlikable, which should be the precise opposite of their objective.

Ideally, an applicant will share a skill related to their singular hook. If their hook is poetry, let’s hear all about how they became passionate about performing spoken word at open mic nights at a local establishment.

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?

If students have yet to face a genuine academic barrier, such as the ones many students in low-income communities face, it would behoove them to focus on the significant educational  opportunity  they’ve encountered. Was it the chance to perform research on Russian literature with a local professor? Was it a chance to do an archaeological dig in a student’s hometown? The opportunity will ideally fit with the student’s singular hook.

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?

Unless a student comes from an underprivileged background, we at Ivy Coach would encourage them to avoid choosing this essay prompt since there  are  going to be students who have faced significant obstacles and writing about how a school ran out of math courses while another student writes about the evictions their family has endured isn’t going to sit well with UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC admissions officers.

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?

Ideally, a student will choose an academic subject that aligns perfectly with their hook. If their activities reflect a passion for physics, they should share the origin story of their interest in the discipline — as a high schooler rather than a child. What made them fall in love with matter and energy? What made them want to better understand our universe?

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?

An applicant’s answer should align with their hook as articulated in their activities section. Suppose a student’s hook is political science. In that case, they should write an essay that shares one small story about how their political activism created the change they wished to see — or failed to create the change they hoped to see, only further motivating them to agitate for further change.

Maybe they wanted to stop developers from razing affordable housing communities. Perhaps they tried to fix un-level sidewalks. Whatever it is, applicants should share an anecdote here about their activism — whether successful or not.

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.

Since the University of California has a unique application and is not a member of The Common Application, this essay prompt presents a perfect opportunity for applicants to include an abbreviated version of their 650-word Personal Statements from their Common Applications.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with the University of California Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your chances of admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC institutions by submitting the most compelling essays possible, fill out Ivy Coach ‘s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to delineate our college counseling services for applicants to the Class of 2028.

You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.

Related Articles

uc essay word count

Using A.I. to Write College Admission Essays

October 13, 2023

uc essay word count

Word and Character Limits in College Essays

September 27, 2023

uc essay word count

What English Teachers Get Wrong About Writing College Essays

uc essay word count

Bragging in College Essays: Is It Ever Okay?

September 26, 2023

uc essay word count

What Not to Write: 3 College Essay Topics to Avoid

September 24, 2023

uc essay word count

2023-2024 Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts

September 14, 2023

TOWARD THE CONQUEST OF ADMISSION

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling,
fill out our free consultation form and we’ll be in touch.

Fill out our short form for a 20-minute consultation to learn about Ivy Coach’s services.

UC Essay Examples – Personal Insight Questions 1-8

December 29, 2023

UC essay samples

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #1: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

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

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

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

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

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

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

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

Another Option for UC1: 

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

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

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #2: 

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

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

UC Personal Insight Questions Examples (Continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #3: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #4: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC Essay Prompt #5: 

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

When I was five years old, my mother decided to separate from my father because of his addiction. I have learned to understand the details based on what my mother does not say. My mother tried to help him overcome his illness. She had hoped that doctors, rehab, and twelve-step programs would have stopped him from becoming violent. She was wrong. I grew up without him. 

Last year, out of the blue, my father started showing up outside of my high school, telling me he wanted to see my mom again. It became severe enough that the police issued a restraining order. I haven’t seen him since. 

But I suffered. The idea that he could appear outside of my school at any moment made me paranoid. I was scared for my mother, and I wanted to believe that the restraining order would be sufficient, but then I stopped trusting myself. What if something happened and no one believed me? I had never experienced anxiety before, but all of the sudden, I was having tunnel vision and couldn’t be alone. 

My physics teacher, Mr. Bevelacqua, noticed first. He saw that my grade had slid from an A to a C- in five weeks, and he rightly assumed that, if it was happening in his class, it was happening in others. I loved his class and sense of humor, so I felt comfortable enough confiding in my teacher about my fears. He helped me talk with the school psychologist, who suggested a course in mindfulness and a series of conversations with the police. I created healthy boundaries for myself and developed a mindfulness routine with my mother that has benefited both of us.

Now, my grades are back up, and I’m helping Mr. Bevelacqua tutor other students for the AP Physics exam. I’ve even started attending Alateen meetings, where I’ve made close friends who have experienced similar things. Sharing our experiences has almost helped them dissolve. I’ve learned that, even though I’ve thought I should be ashamed of my father, I can talk openly about my experiences—and maybe even help myself and others.  

This essay is a completely fictional one in which I’m imagining a rather difficult experience that triggers a mental health episode in a student. You’ll see that I spend the first three, quick paragraphs detailing the challenge and the final paragraph outlining the steps the student has taken to overcome the problem. The student shows self-awareness by confiding in a favorite teacher about what’s happening, then the student doesn’t hesitate to take the teacher’s advice, then the advice pays off and we see the positive effects of the student’s willingness to address their fears and work with the people they trust around them.  

I want to point out that both sections are fairly concrete. I take some creative liberties in the first paragraph in order to artfully describe a situation of domestic violence, but for the most part, I’m stating directly what happened. This doesn’t mean excluding difficult details, like the anxiety attacks and fear, but it does mean that I’ve avoided overly flowery language. 

Writing about heavy things doesn’t mean that your prose has to be particularly heavy. In fact, writing about particularly difficult things in plain, straightforward ways —without the use of too many colorful adjectives—can help communicate the painfulness even more. You don’t want to smother your reader in emotion; you want to lead them to their own emotional reaction through the things that happened. Restraint in prose can help to achieve this goal. Let the painful things be painful. They will do the work for you. 

That is all to say: when you’re tackling this essay, you don’t want to bleed on the page. Oftentimes, students who have suffered traumatic, difficult things believe that they need to convey the full weight of their distress to admissions officers. To be clear, your trauma and your suffering matters, but admissions officers are reading the full breadth of painful experiences from across the spectrum of human existence. Adversity and suffering visit us all, and the unfortunate pain of these events is highly relative.

Admissions officers are interested in seeing what you do with your pain. You want to focus on the tangible, provable things that you have done to overcome your challenges. Those things could be big or small. It would have been enough for this student, for example, to have simply found a productive mindfulness meditation routine that they practiced with their mother, and then described their newfound perspectives that came from that practice. You don’t have to do twenty things to prove that you’re emotionally mature enough to attend college; but you do want to prove that you’re doing well despite adversity. 

UC Essay Prompt #6: 

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

Standing in front of the seven-foot-tall, room-length canvas for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Then, slowly, I realized what Warhol was doing. Here was Elvis, the iconic American figure of rock ‘n’ roll, stamped out eleven times, his pistol pointed at us, his larger-than-life body repeating like a film strip left on the cutting room floor and then splayed out before us, so that we could see each instance of his fame, however fleeting, now indelible. 

Going to the Andy Warhol Museum in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania opened my eyes to the world of Art History, and as soon as I realized I could study it, I ran full speed ahead. To compete in National History Day, I underwent a six-month research process in the Warhol Museum archives, reading Warhol’s journals, correspondences, and making analytical reviews of drafts of his earlier, un-exhibited works. I made a thirty-minute documentary about Warhol’s work, including interviews I conducted with experts, museum curators, and with the only living family member who knew Warhol when he was still alive. With my documentary, I progressed to the national competition and placed as an honorable mention in the individual documentary category. 

Growing out of that experience, I worked with my AP History teacher to establish a connection with Duquesne University Art History Professor Laney McGunnigan, with whom I completed a semester-long independent study project on the development of pop art in the twentieth century. This fall, I will be assisting Professor McGunnigan in cataloging the body of Diego Rivera’s work held at Fallingwater, in order to assist with a larger place-based analysis on the intersection of diverse artistic movements hidden across the greater Pittsburgh area. 

I am thrilled by the possibility of studying under UCLA Department Chair Saloni Mathur. The Fallingwater project has opened my eyes to the influence of colonialism and post-colonialism in Art History, and I am deeply interested in the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach that involves anthropological practices like those I engaged during my Warhol documentary production process. 

For this essay, you want to choose that interest toward which you’ve put the most effort during your time in high school. It’s kind of like a “Why This College?” essay, but it’s about a subject, instead. In this fictional example essay, I’m drawing on a personal experience with creating a Warhol documentary in high school (true story!) and how an incredibly diligent and well-resourced student might have expanded that experience into further study (that part is fiction). No matter the level of involvement, you want to pull out all of the details about what you’ve done as a high school student as you’ve pursued a particular interest. 

You can see that I’m naming names throughout the essay, and also that I’m talking about how I’ve used my academic network to further my interest. For example, I say that I worked with my AP History teacher to make a valuable connection with a professor—don’t leave those things out. Seemingly small conversations and connections that lead to bigger things are worth including in this essay because they demonstrate your pursuit. Show the reader the steps you took along the way to get to where you are; every step counts—and you can always pare down the word count later.  

The opening lines are deceptively normal. Yes, they paint a quick scene for the reader. However, they’re also showing how I got interested in art history to begin with. The reader can see the first moment of inspiration outside of the classroom, and how I pull that inspiration into my academic life. 

Finally, I closed the essay by doing some quick research into the Art History department at UCLA. I might not know a ton about anthropology as a high school student, but I do know that I did interviews for my documentary. A good essay coach (like someone from College Transitions) could help you make the elegant connection between the work you’ve already done and the academic interests of the faculty in the department where you’d like to study. 

UC Essay Prompt #7: 

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

I can’t begin to tell you how the opioid epidemic has ravaged my community. In the last three years, three graduating seniors and eight recent graduates have died from heroin-related overdoses. The most recent death was my best friend Evan’s older brother; he had been a star soccer player and he went on to study communications at Regional State University. When Evan called to tell me what happened, I did the math silently as I listened to my friend cry: his brother overdosed at the age of 23. 

In the weeks following the funeral, I felt a heaviness I had never felt before. I’m pretty introverted; to say that I’ve never had anyone offer me drugs is an understatement. It’s the same with Evan. Even though his brother had gotten into drugs, we never saw them, which made the whole thing all the more painful, scary, and confusing. We felt hopeless. I watched Evan start to plummet. 

It was then that I heard a news story about a Harm Reduction group out of Chicago. It was the first time I’d ever heard of harm reduction, but Evan and I took the idea and ran. In just four months, we contacted the National Harm Reduction Coalition and set up a voluntary Narcan Network through our school. We built a program where kids and their parents can get trained on how to use free Narcan kits that we receive through donations we organized with NHRC.

We got trained, and we have trained more than two hundred people in our monthly sessions. The community support has been overwhelming. Parents who have had kids die or go to rehab have become integral parts of our project, and we’ve helped them start a monthly support group. If someone takes a kit, they don’t have to report using it to us, but through voluntary reporting, we know that our kits have been used at least twenty times so far. Twenty lives, twenty families, twenty more reasons to keep doing what we do. We like to think that Evan’s brother would be proud. 

In this essay, you can see that I dedicate a fair amount of time to the problem. The first two paragraphs set up what happened to the student and their best friend’s family. If I were editing this essay—and the student had a substantial amount more to say about the Narcan group—I might shorten those two paragraphs and leave space at the end for more reflection and balance, especially if the student had more achievement-oriented information to include. 

Writing about the positive things you brought to the situation is the crucial part here. The admissions officers want to know about the context for the solution, yes, but the more important thing here is your character that has allowed you to improve your community. You need to provide significant, concrete details that demonstrate your contribution to your school or community. In this case, the student is able to provide a time frame, the name of outside organizations with which they organized, the number of people trained, and an approximate number of lives saved . This is a Herculean effort that I invented for the sake of this prompt, however, I’m using it to show you the kinds of information you should provide. 

Maybe you didn’t create a live-saving program at your school, but perhaps you organized a fundraiser that brought in hundreds of dollars for cancer research or even your marching band’s annual competition trip. Tell us that. And tell us how you did it. Maybe you organized the calendars of thirty different students to do tabling during different periods of the school day. Maybe you held a week’s worth of car washes in the parking lot of your local library, and you had to coordinate the efforts between the library staff and fifteen volunteers. Or perhaps you were in charge of keeping the cash box, opening a bank account, and ensuring the safe transfer of funds to the organization.

Those are the kinds of concrete details this essay wants to see. Be sure to gas yourself up and don’t be afraid to sound like you’re “bragging:” UC wants to see your personal achievements.  

Essay Prompt #8: 

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

Well, why don’t you take a crack at it? 

For this essay, I’ll reiterate those best practices for all of your UC Personal Insight Essays . You want to quickly describe, in concrete language, a situation that distinguishes you from others. Then, you want to use numbers, names, responses, and your personal process to show very clearly how you overcame a situation, created something beneficial, committed yourself to a positive outcome, helped your family, helped your friends, helped your community, and on and on. Don’t take this opportunity to flex your creative writing muscles. Do stick to demonstrative outcomes. Don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Again, UC essays are different from the storytelling you’re expected to do in the Common App essay . Do concern yourself with communicating the clear, discrete benefits of your work on a project, course, or group of people. Don’t worry about “bragging.” Your 350 words will go by fast! Gas yourself up while you can. 

  • College Essay

' src=

Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

  • 2-Year Colleges
  • Application Strategies
  • Big Picture
  • Career & Personality Assessment
  • College Search/Knowledge
  • College Success
  • Costs & Financial Aid
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Graduate School Admissions
  • High School Success
  • High Schools
  • Law School Admissions
  • Medical School Admissions
  • Navigating the Admissions Process
  • Online Learning
  • Private High School Spotlight
  • Summer Program Spotlight
  • Summer Programs
  • Test Prep Provider Spotlight

College Transitions Sidebar Block Image

“Innovative and invaluable…use this book as your college lifeline.”

— Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Nationally Recognized College Expert

College Planning in Your Inbox

Join our information-packed monthly newsletter.

Sign Up Now

Have a language expert improve your writing

Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • College essay

How Long Should a College Essay Be? | Word Count Tips

Published on September 29, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on June 1, 2023.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, if you write too little, it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Table of contents

Word count guidelines for different application types, how to shorten your essay, how to expand your essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

Each university has a different suggested or required word count depending on which application portal it uses.

Some application portals will allow you to exceed the word count limit, but admissions officers have limited time and energy to read longer essays. Other application portals have a strict limit and will not allow you to exceed it.

For example, in the Common App , the portal will not allow you to submit more than 650 words. Some colleges using the Common App will allow you to submit less than 250 words, but this is too short for a well-developed essay.

For scholarship essays , diversity essays , and “Why this college?” essays , word count limits vary. Make sure to verify and respect each prompt’s limit.

Don’t worry too much about word count until the revision stage ; focusing on word count while writing may hinder your creativity. Once you have finished a draft, you can start shortening or expanding your essay if necessary.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

On some application portals, you can exceed the word limit, but there are good reasons to stay within it:

  • To maintain the admissions officer’s attention
  • To show you can follow directions
  • To demonstrate you can write concisely

Here are some strategies for shortening your essay.

Stay on the main point

It’s good to use vivid imagery, but only include relevant details. Cut any sentences with tangents or unnecessary information.

My father taught me how to strategically hold the marshmallow pierced by a twig at a safe distance from the flames to make sure it didn’t get burned, ensuring a golden brown exterior.

Typically, my father is glued to his computer since he’s a software engineer at Microsoft. But that night, he was the marshmallow master. We waited together as the pillowy sugary goodness caramelized into gooey delight. Good example: Sticks to the point On our camping trip to Yosemite, my family spent time together, away from technology and routine responsibility.

My favorite part was roasting s’mores around the campfire. My father taught me how to hold the marshmallow at a safe distance from the flames, ensuring a golden brown exterior.

These college essay examples also demonstrate how you can cut your essay down to size.

Eliminate wordiness

Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay. If a word doesn’t add value, cut it.

Here are some common examples of wordiness and how to fix them.

Use a paraphrasing tool

If you want to save time, you can make use of a paraphrasing tool . Within the tool you can select the “short” mode to rewrite your essay in less words. Just copy your text in the tool and within 1 click you’ll have shortened your essay.

If you’re significantly under the word count, you’re wasting the opportunity to show depth and authenticity in your essay. Admissions officers may see your short essay as a sign that you’re unable to write a detailed, insightful narrative about yourself.

Here are some strategies for expanding your essay.

Show detailed examples, and don’t tell generic stories

You should include detailed examples that can’t be replicated by another student. Use vivid imagery, the five senses, and specific objects to transport the reader into your story.

Reveal your feelings and insight

If your essay lacks vulnerability or self-reflection, share your feelings and the lessons you’ve learned.

Be creative with how you express your feelings; rather than simply writing “I’m happy,” use memorable images to help the reader clearly visualize your happiness. Similarly, for insight, include the follow-up actions from your lessons learned; instead of claiming “I became a hard worker,” explain what difficult tasks you accomplished as a result of what you learned.

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Courault, K. (2023, June 01). How Long Should a College Essay Be? | Word Count Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/college-essay-length/

Is this article helpful?

Kirsten Courault

Kirsten Courault

Other students also liked, college essay format & structure | example outlines, how to revise your college admissions essay | examples, how to apply for college | timeline, templates & checklist.

How Our Essay Service Works

Niamh Chamberlain

Check your email inbox for instructions from us on how to reset your password.

Earl M. Kinkade

Essay Help Services – Sharing Educational Integrity

Hire an expert from our writing services to learn from and ace your next task. We are your one-stop-shop for academic success.

Calculate the price

Minimum Price

  • Exploratory
  • On-schedule delivery
  • Compliance with the provided brief
  • Chat with your helper
  • Ongoing 24/7 support
  • Real-time alerts
  • Free revisions
  • Free quality check
  • Free title page
  • Free bibliography
  • Any citation style

uc essay word count

Our Team of Essay Writers.

Some students worry about whether an appropriate author will provide essay writing services to them. With our company, you do not have to worry about this. All of our authors are professionals. You will receive a no less-than-great paper by turning to us. Our writers and editors must go through a sophisticated hiring process to become a part of our team. All the candidates pass the following stages of the hiring process before they become our team members:

  • Diploma verification. Each essay writer must show his/her Bachelor's, Master's, or Ph.D. diploma.
  • Grammar test. Then all candidates complete an advanced grammar test to prove their language proficiency.
  • Writing task. Finally, we ask them to write a small essay on a required topic. They only have 30 minutes to complete the task, and the topic is not revealed in advance.
  • Interview. The final stage is a face-to-face interview, where our managers test writers' soft skills and find out more about their personalities.

So we hire skilled writers and native English speakers to be sure that your project's content and language will be perfect. Also, our experts know the requirements of various academic styles, so they will format your paper appropriately.

Finished Papers

Reset password

Email not found, transparency through our essay writing service.

Transparency is unique to our company and for my writing essay services. You will get to know everything about 'my order' that you have placed. If you want to check the continuity of the order and how the overall essay is being made, you can simply ask for 'my draft' done so far through your 'my account' section. To make changes in your work, you can simply pass on your revision to the writers via the online customer support chat. After getting ‘my’ initial draft in hand, you can go for unlimited revisions for free, in case you are not satisfied with any content of the draft. We will be constantly there by your side and will provide you with every kind of assistance with our best essay writing service.

How does this work

Finished Papers

We hire a huge amount of professional essay writers to make sure that our essay service can deal with any subject, regardless of complexity. Place your order by filling in the form on our site, or contact our customer support agent requesting someone write my essay, and you'll get a quote.

uc essay word count

Professional essay writing services

UC essay word count advice?

Hey guys, I just started working on my UC essays and was wondering if anyone could clarify the word count limit? Is it strictly 350 words per essay or can I go a bit over? Thanks in advance!

Hello! The word count limit for each of the UC essays is indeed 350 words. It's important to adhere to this limit, as the application system may cut off your essay if it exceeds the maximum word count. Staying within the word limit demonstrates the ability to convey your thoughts concisely and effectively. To make sure you're within the limit, be sure to proofread and refine your essays for clarity and conciseness, which will also help to improve the overall quality of your writing. Good luck with your UC essays!

Calculate for all schools

Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars.

How much does an essay cost?

Starting your search for an agency, you need to carefully study the services of each option. There are a lot of specialists in this area, so prices vary in a wide range. But you need to remember that the quality of work directly depends on the cost. Decide immediately what is more important to you - financial savings or the result.

Companies always indicate how much 1000 characters of text costs, so that the client understands what price to expect and whether it is worth continuing to cooperate.

At Essayswriting, it all depends on the timeline you put in it. Professional authors can write an essay in 3 hours, if there is a certain volume, but it must be borne in mind that with such a service the price will be the highest. The cheapest estimate is the work that needs to be done in 14 days. Then 275 words will cost you $ 10, while 3 hours will cost you $ 50. Please, take into consideration that VAT tax is totally included in the mentioned prices. The tax will be charged only from EU customers.

When choosing an agency, try to pay more attention to the level of professionalism, and then evaluate the high cost of work.

uc essay word count

Some FAQs related to our essay writer service

We are inclined to write as per the instructions given to you along with our understanding and background research related to the given topic. The topic is well-researched first and then the draft is being written.

IMAGES

  1. How to do a word count of the body of your essay

    uc essay word count

  2. Essay Tips: Word Count Advice

    uc essay word count

  3. 006 Essay Word Count Sample1 ~ Thatsnotus

    uc essay word count

  4. Dissertation Word Count Breakdown

    uc essay word count

  5. Word count for college essay in 2021

    uc essay word count

  6. How to Write the UC Essay Prompts

    uc essay word count

VIDEO

  1. Formatting Your MLA Essay (Word)

  2. EPA Word Count Guide

COMMENTS

  1. Personal insight questions

    Directions. 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.

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

    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.

  3. 2023-24 University of California (UC) Essay Prompt Guide

    The Requirements: 4 out of 8 essays, 350 words each. Supplemental Essay Type (s): Oddball, Community, Activity. The UC application sounds like a riddle. Every student must write four essays, but choose from eight prompts. The rules may be unfamiliar, but the game is the same: tell admissions something they don't know - and then do it three ...

  4. 8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

    Word Count: 348. UC Essay Checklist. Does the writer convey a strength? Yes. The student is very intellectually curious about child development—a perfect strength for this prompt. Is every part of the prompt answered? Yes. The writer talks about an academic subject, child development, and describes how they advanced that interest through a ...

  5. How to Write Great UC Essays (Examples of All Personal Insight

    Outlining your UC essays. 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. ... Because the UC application allows for more entries—and a higher character count ...

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

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

  7. How to Answer the UC Essay Prompts

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

  8. How to Write the UC Essay Prompts 2023/2024 (+ Examples)

    Quick tips for each of the UC PIQ prompts. 6 tips for assessing if these are the "right" topics for you. A mini-step-by-step guide to writing each response. How to write each PIQ (with examples) Prompt #1: Leadership. Prompt #2: Creative. Prompt #3: Greatest Talent or Skill. Prompt #4: Significant Educational Opportunity/Barrier.

  9. Dos and Don'ts of UC Essays: Tips to Help You Succeed

    Although the word limit for the UC essays is much shorter, you'll already have a template for one of the essay topics from your Common App personal statement. So, as you consider the dos and don'ts of the UC essays, don't forget to look into your own work to find inspiration when it comes to essay topics. DO Use Strong Examples

  10. UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples

    This is a huuuuuuge UC essay tip. 100% of my students have had issues with sentence and word redundancies at some point, so I'm willing to bet you'll encounter this as well. Keep in mind: you're limited on a 350 word count. Each sentence and word must add value to your story…if it doesn't add anything, then get rid of it!

  11. UC application essay word count

    Good luck with your application! a month ago. Hey! Yes, the word count limit for the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) is the same for all UC campuses. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. There are four required PIQs, so you'll be writing 1,400 words in total. Keep in mind, it's essential to stay within this word limit to ensure ...

  12. Frequently Asked Questions About the UC Essays

    You should start by responding to the prompt as you naturally would without paying attention to the word count. Once you have responded to the question in its entirety and written between 400 and 600 words, then you can step away and take a break. When you return to what you have written, you can whittle away at redundant or superfluous words ...

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

    The 2023-2024 UC Application Essay Questions. The University of California application allows candidates to apply to all UC campuses at once and consists of eight essay prompts—more commonly known as the " Personal Insight Questions .". Applicants must choose FOUR of these questions to answer and are given a total of 350 words to answer ...

  14. UC Essay Prompts: Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD

    Below are the UC essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2028, along with the guidance issued by the UC admissions committee. ... And, yes, applicants should go to the maximum word count to make their case! 1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or ...

  15. UC Essay Examples

    Brittany's work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee. UC Essay Examples - We offer example UC essays for each of the 8 Personal Insight Questions. Plus analysis of each essay.

  16. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Revised on June 1, 2023. Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words. You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  17. Do I have to make my UC personal insights essays at least 200 words

    The maximum for the UC personal Insight essays is 350 words, and 3 of my essays are above 200 words, but one is around 150. I am editing the shortest and trying to add more details. Will I get rejected if my essays are less than 250 words? P.s. I feel like I am going to incredible writers block with my UC essays, I made my common app essay more ...

  18. Is it acceptable to surpass the 350 word limit on the UC ...

    r/ApplyingToCollege is the premier forum for college admissions questions, advice, and discussions, from college essays and scholarships to SAT/ACT test prep, career guidance, and more. Members Online

  19. Uc Essays Word Count

    Uc Essays Word Count - Hire a Writer. ID 12417. Gombos Zoran #21 in Global Rating SERVICES. harriz 481 Level: College, University, Master's, High School, PHD, Undergraduate. Allene W. Leflore #1 in Global Rating User ID: 407841 ...

  20. Uc Essay Word Count

    Uc Essay Word Count - REVIEWS HIRE. Order Number 123456. ID 12011. Gombos Zoran #21 in Global Rating Uc Essay Word Count: Level: College, University, High School, Master's, Undergraduate, PHD. ID 10820. Live Chat. 385 . Customer Reviews ...

  21. Uc Essay Word Count

    Jason. 100% Success rate. 296. Customer Reviews. Hand-selected US and UK writers. Uc Essay Word Count, Professional Dissertation Chapter Proofreading Site Ca, Sarcastic Writing Style, How To Write A Great Conflict, Essay On Earth Day Celebration In My School, Top Problem Solving Editing Site, How To Write Dissertation Ppt.

  22. UC essay word count advice?

    expand_more. Explore schools Rankings Best colleges for Pre-med Admissions calculator. Guidance

  23. Uc Essay Word Count

    Uc Essay Word Count | Top Writers. I agree to receive discount codes and exclusive offers to my phone. offers three types of essay writers: the best available writer aka. standard, a top-level writer, and a premium essay expert. Every class, or type, of an essay writer has its own pros and cons. Depending on the difficulty of your assignment ...