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How to Write the Perfect UC Essay


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The University of California application requires that applicants write and submit four essays with their application. The UC offers eight different options (from which students pick four), and they are to be no more than 350 words each. Students should think not only about each essay question but also about their “portfolio” of topics overall; for example, students should never write all four (or even two-three) essay questions about the same topic. Students are multidimensional and take the opportunity to show that in these essays!

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.  

When students hear the term “leadership”, many automatically assume they need to talk about an internship position or an extracurricular activity in which they took on an official leadership role. While those will surely work, this is also a chance for students to think outside the box. Inspiring others has no limitations, and students shouldn’t be afraid to talk about their failures as well. As long as they present the challenge they faced with vivid detail, they can ensure their success on this 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.

“I’m not creative, though!” If I hear that one more time….

At first glance, it would be easy to assume that this prompt is reserved for the artistically-gifted students of the world. However--and fortunately--while this prompt allows students to highlight traditional examples of creativity, it also allows students to use their own personal definition of creativity. With that being said, regardless of what they decide to write, make sure they show off their talents. Also, remember to SDT (“Show, Don’t Tell!”).

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

Much like prompt #2, many students immediately think they have to come up with a unique “artistic” talent to share. However, these can be personal characteristics as well! Therefore, the key is for students to find what they’re most proud of and (humbly) brag about it. They should be sure to include the juicy details on how they developed that skill or talent as well as any challenges they faced before or while discovering it.

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

This is a two-part prompt, which means that students can answer it in multiple ways. The first part is a great opportunity for students to talk about an after-school program or internship that has inspired them. If they choose to go with the second half of the prompt, they need to talk about a challenge they’ve had to overcome. A story here would play great with the audience, as long as the students not only highlight their struggles but also include how they’ve overcome it or are working towards doing so. 

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

This prompt is similar to the second half of prompt #4, although this question also gives students the freedom to talk about what they want to (as opposed to specifically an educational barrier). Students should showcase their resilience here, the proactive steps they have taken--and potentially continue to take--to address their challenge, and ultimately, what they learned.

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

If students have always had a favorite subject in school, this is the time for them to talk about it! Especially if it has impacted their hobbies and/or extracurricular activities inside or outside of the classroom.

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

This is a popular prompt, but it is also one in which many students fall into the trap of cliches. It’s hard not to think of community service here. Nonetheless, students should pick a topic that they’re actually passionate about, not just one that they think will sound impressive. Students often tackle this prompt like a resume, but helping your local or school community can be something small as well. Have students describe the moment and showcase how they hope to continue making an impact down the road.

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?

The wild card UC essay prompt! Similar to its predecessor in the form of the Personal Statement, write whatever you’d like! This is as open-ended as it gets. Have fun with it.