The University of California System or UC’s, as they are commonly known, consist of 9 campuses that utilize the same application. They are: UC Berkeley (Cal), UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Merced, UC Santa Barbara, UC Los Angeles (UCLA), UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and UC San Diego. You will use the same responses for all the campuses to which you select to apply. Take a look at what each campus has to offer—academic programs, clubs, activities, location, internships, intramural options, career services, research opportunities, professors and anything else that attracts you to a particular school and consider how you might showcase your fit.
UC Admissions asks you to write several short essays in order to gain insight into who you are on a more person level and how you might contribute to the school to which you are applying. As a freshman applicant, you must respond to 4 of the 8 essay prompts. Each of your 4 responses is limited to 350-words. Read through the prompts and address the 4 that resonate with your life experience. Some of the questions have some overlap in the topics you might discuss so select the options that all you to demonstrate specific attributes. No single question is better to answer than the other; it’s just a matter of which questions are a better match for you. Consider the combination of prompts that will allow you to communicate different aspects of your identity.
The University of California System Personal Insight Questions
UC Personal Insight Question #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.
This can be an intimidating question if you approach it too broadly. Instead, think about a specific example of your leadership in action. Consider instances where you can trace a tangible positive outcome back to a specific conflict resolution/action/decision/negotiation/collaboration. This effort could have been within your family, school, community, job, peer group, religious organization, athletic/academic team, or anything along these lines. What did you learn about leadership from this experience? What did you learn about yourself as a leader? How did this experience change your perspective and the way you interact with others? Make sure you address all parts of these questions and the additional implied question—what kind a leader might you be in the UC community?
UC 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.
This prompt provides an opportunity to express your creative passion and your thought process. Do you have a particularly creative skill? Do you think about issues in inventive ways? Was there an issue or problem you approached in a creative or novel manner? Remember this can be something school related or otherwise. Select a specific example and express your enthusiasm. What was the outcome? How did your creativity, problem solving, innovative thinking, or artistic ability impact others? How does your creativity impact the way you learn, how you interact with others, your lifestyle or your intended area of study and/or career? How does this example reflect something significant about you? And why is that important? How might you embrace your creativity while you are in college?
UC Personal Insight Question #3
What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
This prompt allows you to detail something you have done for an extended time though which you can demonstrate growth and deeper understanding. It can be something that came naturally or something you worked hard to develop over time. Be cautious not to let your response to this prompt overlap with what you discussed for question #2 regarding creativity—you want to tell the Admissions Committee something that represents a different facet of your abilities. This could be anything from playing a particular instrument to playing a specific sport or any other activity that demonstrates development through an extensive process. What sparked your interest? Why is this meaningful to you? How did you explore and develop this talent or skill? Did you have to sacrifice anything to pursue this talent or skill? What were the challenges and rewards? What did you learn about yourself in the process? How might you continue to nurture/utilize this talent or skill in the future, possibly even on campus?
UC 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.
In broad strokes, this is about how you make things happen regardless of the cards you are dealt. It also speaks to your resilience and ability to adapt to different circumstances. Your response to this prompt really gets at the question of how you use what you have to succeed—whether you are fortunate enough to have had many educational opportunities or have had to work to overcome great challenges, what have you achieved and learned about yourself in the process? If you embraced an opportunity to experience something new (culture, activity, volunteer experience, academic enrichment opportunity, etcetera), how did the experience change the way you look at the world? How did it influence how you think about yourself? If you overcame significant challenges (learning disability, difficult family situation/relationship, financial challenges, particular hardship, etcetera), what motivated you to do more? What steps did you take to improve the situation? How did overcoming this barrier make you stronger? How did it change your perspective or attitude? Whether you are addressing an opportunity or barrier, how does what you shared inspire you for the future?
UC 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?
This question is similar to the second part of question #4 about the barriers you faced. This is the place to reveal reasons why your extracurricular involvement, test scores or grades might not be as competitive as other applicants—just make sure it does not come off as making excuses. Your most significant challenge could relate to a personal loss, disability, conflicts within your community or family, or coming to terms with a non-conventional identity. It is also possible that you are still working to overcome this challenge. The important thing is to identify the challenge, discuss what you have done to try to overcome it and then explain its impact on your academic achievement. If you select this prompt, your story is likely to be very personal. You don’t have to shy away from this one, but you will need to give it a great deal of thought so you can convey its significance. It is also important to consider how the lessons you learned through this process prepares you for academic success in college.
UC 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.
This prompt asks you to convey your passion and enthusiasm for a specific academic subject. It not only reveals the topic you find interesting but also how you explore your interests and how you engage with learning on various levels—inside and/or outside of the classroom. Think about what you did to dive deeper in to the subject—volunteer activities, internships, research, clubs, advanced classes, and whatever else you did to further your interests. What makes this subject so exciting for you? How has the knowledge you acquired impacted your perception of the world? What have you learned about yourself in your pursuit of the subject? This is also a great place to discuss your potential major or other areas you are interested in studying in college. If it applies, you can also link this to your future career. As they read your response, the admissions committee will be thinking about how you might explore this and other topics at their school.
UC Personal Insight Question #7
What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
This question is pretty straightforward. It addresses how you, as an individual, make a positive impact on those around you. Identify something you did to help others. Many applicants use a specific volunteer experience as an example. Others discuss a team or group. Identify your role within the school, group, or community. What was the issue/problem/deficiency/need? How did you help address it? Why was this important to you? How do you know you had a positive effect? What was your motivation to help? Did you work with others or alone? What did you learn about yourself in the process? Is this something you might continue while in college?
UC 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?
Yes, this is a wide open question! Before you decide how you want to answer this prompt, make a quick list of the characteristics you feel make you an outstanding fit with the University of California System. Then look over your application and the other questions you already responded to and see if there is anything missing. This is your opportunity to tell the admissions committee anything you feel is significant that you were not able to discuss within the context of the other prompts. Although the advice the University of California Admissions online portal gives for this essay includes that you shouldn’t “be afraid to brag a little,” this prompt is not the only part of the application to highlight your clearest strengths. You could skip this essay and still represent yourself and your talents effectively by choosing four of the other seven prompts. If you didn’t already answer prompt #3 and want to close on a strong note, this essay can be a useful time to highlight something singular about yourself. Admissions Committees tend to read essays in chronological order, so if you do select prompt #8, make sure you end on a strong and interesting note. This is a good opportunity to link what you discuss to the University of California System in some way. Maybe you have already been involved in a pre-college program at a particular UC campus–a creative writing program for high school students, for example–and formed meaningful connections with faculty members in the process. Mentioning details like this can help demonstrate you want to be part of the social fabric of a UC campus and are more likely to attend a UC school if accepted, which can certainly help sway an Admissions Committee.
Final thoughts on applying to the UC System
Competition for admission to the UC System is highly competitive and continues to increase each year. This is especially true if you are an out-of-state candidate. You must work to set yourself apart from other applicants. As you address the essay prompts, keep the 350-word limit for each response in mind and do not overlap information you discussed in other essays. Strive to use each response to tell the admissions committee something that demonstrates a different aspect of who you are. Remember, the admissions officers already have the numbers associated with your application (test scores, GPA, etcetera). Plan out your responses and make sure to allow adequate time to write and revise your essays. The short essays are your opportunity to share more about what makes you unique. Consider your motivation, inspiration, values, learning style, character, personal history, and goals for the future.
If you’re applying to the University of California System, you already know you’re up against tight competition. Don’t be overwhelmed. Get the guidance of an experienced admissions specialist who will help you stand out from the highly competitive applicant pool so you can apply with confidence, and get accepted! Click here to get started!
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***Marie Todd has been involved in college admissions for over twenty years. Marie has both counseled applicants to top colleges and evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology; School of Nursing; and Taubman College of Architecture. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch with Marie Todd.
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Application Essays, a free guide
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• School-Specific Supplemental Application Essay Tips