Are you applying to any University of California (UC) campus as an incoming freshman? If the answer is yes, then you probably know that you will need to include answers to four UC essay prompt in your college application. You will need to choose these four UC essay prompts from a set of eight prompts. These eight prompts are specific to the UC system; they are different from the Common Application prompts. What you choose to write your UC essays about is incredibly important. By the end of this guide, you will have a clear understanding on how to approach your UC essays.

Also Read: The Ultimate College Application Checklist

To help you choose and write the perfect responses for your UC application, we’ll first discuss the purpose of the UC essays. Then, we’ll examine what each personal insight question is asking and how to choose what to write. Finally, we’ll walk you through what exactly the UC admissions officer is hoping to learn from your essay.

Now that you have an idea of the outline of this guide, let us begin your UC essay journey!

What is the Purpose of the UC Personal Insight Questions?

Write Your UC Essays

If you are applying as a STEM major or as a Visual/Performance Arts major, why should the UC essays matter? While the quality of your writing definitely places you in a better light, the admissions officer really only cares about the voice that shines through your UC essays. Your UC application will have your grades, your test scores, and your academic achievements. However, the numbers do not give the UC admissions officer a good understanding of you as a person.

The UC system, like many universities across the country, practices holistic review. In other words, they review your application using 14 factors to spend time evaluating your achievements with respect to the opportunities available to you. The personal insight questions and your UC essay responses are an opportunity for you to share your experiences, perspectives, and motivations. Essentially, the perfect UC essays relay everything about you that numbers do not—what makes you, you.

That being said, remember that these essays are not like the analytical essays you write for your English class. Write your UC essays in the form of personal narratives. You cannot be afraid to be introspective and thoughtful. Your final result, if it is an effective one, will be extremely personal.

What are the UC Essay Prompts?

According to the UC Admissions website, each question is considered equally. No particular question has a higher weightage or some advantage or disadvantage over another question. Ultimately, the four questions you chose need to be a good medium for you to relay important information about your personality, your background, your perspectives and your achievements.

However, there must be some kind of differences and similarities between each question. There are eight personal insight questions to choose from so surely, they will each try to solicit information about a specific aspect of you. Let’s go through the prompts and compare their purposes.

The 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?

The Question Categories:

Before you decide on which of these questions to respond to, consider the three broad categories that classify the prompts.

Action and Reaction

Firstly, the “Action and Reaction” category asks for experiences about your interactions with your surrounding environment. The UC admissions officer wants to know how the world’s impact on you has influenced you to make an impact on the world. Prompts 1 and 7 fall under this category. If you have an experience that involves your interaction with people or places, we suggest molding it for this category.

Personal Puzzle Pieces

Secondly, we have the “Personal Puzzle Pieces” category. A simple college application will not give the UC admission officer an accurate idea of your hobbies and personal interests. Use this category to showcase talents, hobbies, or particular interests. Give the admissions officer a piece of your inner self. What defines you? What makes you the person you are? These are the questions to answer within prompts 2 and 6.

Achievements 

Finally, prompts 3, 4, 5 and 8 fall under the “Achievements” category. This is a great place to expand upon the accomplishments you have mentioned in your application that may deserve more explanation. Talk about the personal achievements you are proud of. Do not be afraid to let that pride shine through your essay.

Use these three broad categories to brainstorm the possible experiences you would like share in your UC essays. While it is helpful to think of experiences that will mold to the questions you choose, remember the purpose of these questions. The UC admissions officer wants to know about who you are beyond the numbers. Thus, choose experiences that reveal the most about you!

How Should You Write Each UC Essay?

Get ready for a deep dive discussion of each personal insight question. We’ll go over what the question is asking and what the UC admissions officer wants to learn from your response.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #1

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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 Answers the Prompt?

The prompt is asking you to relay an example where you took initiative to solve an issue with respect to a particular relationship you have with your environment. You will need to answer this prompt in two parts⁠—the Predicament and the Process.

Predicament:

Give the reader the context of the issue. Frame your story of leading, problem-solving, or transforming by describing the people you were influencing. Some questions to consider:

  • Who are they to you?
  • What was their significance to you in that immediate moment?
  • What is their significance to you now?

Set up the narrative by first speaking about the group you are interacting with and then, explaining the issue itself. Some questions to consider:

  • What happened to show you this was a problem to be solved?
  • What were the effects of the consequences of the problem?
Process:

What was your game plan? Did you checkmate the problem?

Explicitly explain your actions. This is the focus of the essay. You need to be introspective and explore your thought process for each of your actions. Clearly establish what was at stake. Describe the obstacles standing in your way. More importantly, show how you overcame those obstacles for this greater good. Take the reader along with you on this personal journey. Some questions to consider:

  • Did you feel a personal responsibility toward solving this issue?
  • Was there someone else who would have been a more obvious leader in this situation?
  • How did you come into this leadership role? Did you come into it willingly?
  • How well did your solution work? Were there some kinks you needed to work out in your initial solution?
  • How has this experience shaped you? Was it a positive experience? Do you now feel more confident in leadership roles?

Finally, conclude your essay with an introspection. While the prompt asks about how you impacted your surroundings, this essay is about you. It really wants to know how this experience impacted you.

What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

The UC campuses consist of diverse populations in an environment where you are primarily on your own. In the four years you may spend there as a college student, it is likely that situations like the one you described will arise. The admissions officer wants to ensure that you:

  • Have the capability to handle groups of people effectively
  • Can rely on yourself when it comes to solving problems
  • Stay levelheaded in the face of a problem

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #2

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?
What Answers the Prompt?

Your creativity expresses your interior makeup!

As we examined earlier, this prompt falls under “Personal Puzzle Pieces”. The prompt wants to know how you express yourself. It specifically wants to see how your creativity ties in to your sense of who you are. To do this, you will need to split your essay into three parts—Definition, Connotation, and Expectation.

Definition:

In the first portion of your essay, you will need to define your creativity. Although a visual and/or performance art is the most obvious example to define, remember that creativity is everywhere. Anything where you innovate or ideate and result in some sort of creation is an example of your creativity. Hence, you will need to define the creativity in your action.

Connotation:

Doubly important, connect your creativity to yourself. Some questions to consider:

  • What is your motivations behind your creativity? Do you like performing and exhibiting your creativity or is it a means for you to relax after a long day?
  • Does your creativity help you get better at a particular skill? Are you satisfied with level at which you create? Do you struggle with this skill?
  • Have you had any impediment that blocked your creative flow? How did you overcome it?
Expectation:

Finally, elaborate on your expectations of the future with respect to your creativity. Your creative pursuits do not need to become professional pursuits to be an effective answer to this question. Your learning process as you grow with your creativity or the manner you plan on translating your creativity in other aspects of your life can also be worthwhile links to expand upon. Some questions to consider:

  • Do you learn something new each time you create?
  • Does it affect the way you view yourself or others?
  • Do you apply this creativity in other aspects of your life?
  • Has it changed the way you interact with the works of others?
  • Does it motivate you do better and improve in different aspects of your life?
What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

College is a time for innovation and ideation. UC wants students who can think outside-of-the-box so they want to see how connected you are with your creativity. The admissions officer wants to know that you:

  • Have already exhibited creativity is some way or form
  • Know the value of your own creativity and intend to grow with it
  • Recognize the lasting impact your creativity has made on yourself and the world around you

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #3

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?
What Answers the Prompt?

This is the time to brag about yourself. The experience you talk about in your essay should make your chest expand with pride and happiness. Your answer to this prompt should boil down to two parts—the Star Situation and the Present Reflection.

Star Situation:

Give them a story that shows what makes you a star. Choose something that is important to you. You may have an outstanding accomplishment you would like to talk about but if a particular skill means more to you, focus on that. Your voice needs to shine through and it will only shine bright when you are talking about something meaningful to you. Remember that the question is fairly open-ended. You can classify the skill, contribution, or experience as almost anything—from the way you persevered through a hard situation to the furniture you built over the summer.

Present Reflection:
UC Prompt 3

Look in the mirror. What do you see?

The second part of the question is really asking why this particular accomplishment, experience, contribution or skill is meaningful to you. You need to be introspective and personal. Specifically focus on what makes you proud about the moment you are talking about. Some questions to consider:

  • How does this situation fit in to the larger picture of who you are?
  • Why are you proud of this accomplishment?
  • How does this make you stand out?
What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

Most of the time, your proudest achievements do not have a proper place on your resume at the end of your high school career. UC obviously cares about your accomplishments because they recruit students who have the capacity to do great things. Furthermore, UC also examines your personal ideals and value system through this prompt. What you are proud of will tell them a lot about how mature you are and what sort of honor system you live by.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #4

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?
What Answers the Prompt?
UC Essays Prompt 4

In other words, what’s your education journey?

There are two ways you can respond to this prompt but they both focus on one major idea: your education journey. You can either talk about your trials and tributes as you overcame certain circumstances or when you grabbed an educational opportunity by its horns and rode it to new horizons.

Trials and Tributes:

There are two main aspects you will need to discuss if you are talking about an adversity you faced. First, you will need to explain the adversity itself. Remember that this should be an adversity that significantly impacted your academic life. It is specifically a “barrier” to your success. The barrier can range from anything whether it is a systemic issue in your educational environment or personal setback due to family or home life.

Once you have set up your setback, you will need to dedicate the second portion of your essay to your success. This portion will also need to be reflective. You can discuss the influence of this adversity on your personal beliefs or your attitude toward your education. You probably learned something substantial through this experience; explain how that now affects your decision-making or reaction to similar or other difficult challenges.

Educational Opportunity:

Begin this response with a concise, clear description of the opportunity itself. Explain what is you got to do and why it is significant to you. You must also describe how you came across this opportunity and how you got the chance to grasp it.

The main aspect of your essay is how you optimized this opportunity to achieve the best experience for you. It’s time to be reflective again! Discuss the importance of this opportunity with respect to its effect on you. Some questions to consider:

  • How did you grow with this opportunity?
  • How has this opportunity affected your goals and academic interests?
  • Did you learn anything new about yourself through this opportunity?
What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

To be frank, the admissions officer wants to see how seriously you take your academic career. Your success in college is truly in your hands. It helps your likelihood of acceptance if you convince UC that you are capable of dealing with setbacks as well as discovering the root causes behind your setbacks. Moreover, you will need to display that you take initiative when it comes to your academic career.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #5

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?”
UC Prompt 5

Show your resilience by talking about some of the hardships you went through, however difficult it is to mention.

What Answers the Prompt?

To answer this prompt, you need to be ready to get up close and personal about the most significant obstacle you have faced. While each essay requires reflection, this one must be rooted in your insights about your progress of working through your challenge or the effects of overcoming the challenge. The response should essentially have two parts—Confrontation and Reflection.

Confrontation:

Obviously, you will need to describe the challenge itself. However, you should focus on your problem-solving abilities. Find a point in time where you almost broke from the burden if not for your resilience or perseverance in solving the problem. Emphasize what you did to face the challenge.

Reflection:

Now, you will need to face the facts. Such a significant challenge cannot be without its after-effects. Be honest and insightful. Some questions to consider:

  • How has this challenge affected your education?
  • How has it changed your personal beliefs or convictions?
  • Are you proud of the way you handled the challenge?
What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

Maturity is incredibly important to UC—something you have probably figured out yourself by now! Like some of the earlier prompts, the admissions officer wants to know whether you have the capabilities to face the challenges of college life effectively. Another aspect they are searching for is your creativity and problem-solving skills. Having strong capabilities is all three areas is the marking of a successful student.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #6

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?
What Answers the Prompt?

If you write your UC essay answering this prompt, you will need to pick a clear favorite field of study and then explain its significance to you.

Choosing the Subject:

If you have a subject in mind, this particular UC essay will not be difficult to write. However, if you are someone who enjoys many subjects across a variety of disciplines, it can be difficult to pick a favorite. Our advice? Don’t view subject as a restrictive category of traditional classes you take at school. Choose an overarching field of study. For example, if you are a STEM major who also loves literature and story-telling, you can perhaps talk about your love of language, whether it is a programming language or a natural one.

UC Prompt 6

If you love coding and psychology, maybe your field of choice is humanoid artificial intelligence!

Significance:

Again, if you choose a discipline that is directly related to your major, you will definitely have a fairly uncomplicated time writing this essay. That being said, the relevance of your chosen subject need not be related to your major. It can easily be related to your sense of self. A specific subject could have developed your resilience or your passions. It could also have taught you important life lessons that you now live by. There is plenty of wiggle room in this essay to shape its meanings and requirements to your story. If you choose something important to you, it will definitely shine through.

What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

Depending upon how you write your UC essay for this prompt, the admissions officer is either looking for passionate, focused and goal-oriented students or students who find value and significance in everything they do and learn and sometimes, both. You need to show your admissions officer that you draw worthwhile conclusions from the things you learn. This will display your tenacity and ability to do well regardless of what you choose to study.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #7

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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?
What Answers the Prompt?

Prompt 7 falls under the category of “Action and Reaction”. When you write your UC essay answering this prompt, you will need show three different thoughts—Community, Worldview, and Contribution.

UC Essay Prompt 7

Who and what you define as community is entirely up to you!

Community:

Define your community. Who or what are they? Establish your community as something that you have a deep connection to, whether it be a group of people, a particular place, or an organization. Consider why you feel connected with your community. Is it your ethnicity or cultural background? Do you hold similar religious beliefs? Do you share a specific quality or perspective?

Worldview:

To make your community a better place, you must first be able to identify its faults. Then, regardless of the impact of your contribution, you must be able to optimize your capabilities to best contribute the solution to the problem. Describe how you came across the issue and how you distinguished the factors responsible for the problem. Show how you could see the significance in the problem in the bigger picture.

Contribution:

Now, you must display your problem-solving skills. Explain your contribution to solving the problem. Did it take a lot of deliberation or did you instinctively know what to do? Was there a lasting impact on your community? If you completely solved the problem, how did you come up with the solution? If it was less direct of a solution, how did you know when and where to apply your efforts?

What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

College campuses can be classified as large communities. However, it is better to classify college as a conglomeration of multiple communities that are interlinked with each other. You will definitely be part of multiple communities on campus. UC wants to know whether you can engage with your community thoughtfully and effectively.

Deep-Dive into Personal Insight Question #8

Prompt and Its “Things to Consider”:
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.
What Answers the Prompt?

In our opinion, you should only answer this prompt when you write your UC essay on an exceptional experience that cannot be properly relayed through one of the other prompts. This means you need to evaluate the experience heavily against the other prompts. If your experience is about particular challenge that you prevailed, you can mold it to answer prompt 5. Your circumstances surrounding this experience cannot fit under any of the rubrics of the other prompts. That is the only reason to choose this particular prompt.

Write Your UC Essay 8

Are you a superhero? Have you been fighting crime since you were this little? This is the prompt for you.

What Does the Admissions Officer Want to Learn?

Clearly, the admissions officer is searching for students with phenomenal stories to tell about who they are and what they did. If you are one of those students, the admissions officer hopes to learn about:

  • Your background
  • What happened to you
  • When and where it happened to you
  • Its effects on your home life and school life
  • Its effects on your sense of self
  • What sort of perspective you will be bringing to the campus environment

What now?

Now that you have a clear understanding on how to write your UC essays, you can proceed to the actual writing. Remember to be clear and precise. You only have 350 words for each essay so you must outline your essays to ensure that you focus on your introspection. Again, you cannot be afraid to reveal your true feelings on a subject. The admissions officer wants to be up-close and personal with what makes you who you are. Hopefully, this gives you a strong beginning to your college application journey. Good luck writing and remember it will all be worth it in the spring!

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Posted by Irfhana Zakir Hussain

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