uc essay question examples

17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

uc essay question examples

University of California School System Application Requirements:

Click here for the Freshman Version

Click here for the Transfer Version

Important note: The University of California admissions people would like you to refer to these prompts as “personal insight questions” instead of “essays” or "UC personal statement.” Why? Because sometimes, students link the word “essay” with an academic assignment, which is not precisely what UCs want. 

The University of California school system includes ten universities across the state. The UC system have their unique ways of doing things —they have a separate application and a separate list of essays to write. 

Below there is a compilation of some of the best UC essay examples/UC personal statement examples. 

Check out some of our articles that might help you;

How to Write a Good Personal Statement for College With Examples

Top Personal Statement Example for College

How To Write Effective Common Essay 2021 (With Examples)

The UC Essay Prompts 

Check out 8 UC essay prompts from UC prompts website .

  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  
  • Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistic, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  
  • What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  • Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  • Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and outside of the classroom. 
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  
  • Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Points to remember to draft a winning UC example?

1. Never forget to connect your personal insight questions to 13 points of a comprehensive review.

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

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

2. Use several resources the UCs have provided For good contextual advice, click here. For basic writing advice, click here .

3. Know that it’s perfectly fine to answer your personal insight questions in a direct, straightforward way.

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

Also, one director said it’s fine to just write bullet points in your response. ( A high school counselor raised her hand and asked, “Really? Bullet points? Like, really really?” and the UC Director was like, “Yes.”)  

It’s totally your personal choice to provide bullet points? It may feel a little uncanny. But remember that at least a few of the UC directors have said it’s okay.

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

Why? Because the reader will spend around six to eight minutes on your application. Not on each essay, but on your whole application.

I just want to point out that it’s perfectly fine--and smart--to get straight to the point. 

5. If you’re applying to private schools through the Common App, it can be beneficial to write an essay that’s wise, well-crafted, and shows your core values. 

So, why take the time to write a stand-out essay?

There is a chance you might use your UC Personal Insight Question essay for other schools. Because many selective schools require supplemental essays (i.e: essays you write in addition to your main, 650-word Common App personal statement), a good idea is you can write an essay that works for both the UCs and other private schools 

Michigan Supplement: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (250-word limit).

UC Personal Insight Question 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words).

It is one of the great essays and also one of my favorites, an intelligent move. The author answered both prompts at once, you get deeper with the answer for both. It also saves you a lot of time. 

The good news is you can do this for multiple prompts.

For more insights check out how to answer the UC essays in this guide. 

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 1: Leadership Experience 

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

1 UC Example Essay 

“Capitalism causes extinction! nuclear war is imminent!”

Initially, the debate seemed nonsensical: lambasting opponents while arguing improbable scenarios. But over time I’ve learned that it’s more than the competition that drives me to stay up all night looking for evidence: I love learning about the political and ideological underpinnings of our society and the way they shape us.

On an easy debate tournament weekend, I research foreign diplomatic agendas and synthesize the information into coherent debate evidence. When tournaments become more hectic, however, I delve deeper into the works of philosophers and social critics and translate the knowledge into debate argumentation. While researching foreign policy, a critical theory like Heideggerian phenomenology, and constitutional details, I’ve developed an ability to critically analyze argumentation, make sense of the world around me and creatively express myself in an academic setting.

My hard work has paid off. In the past four tournaments, I’ve received a Top 10 speaker award for the varsity division consisting of about 50 debaters. This trend has increased my credibility in my debate league to such a level that my partner and I were invited to participate in a series of public debates at LA City Hall to defend the water policy for the drought. The opportunity allowed me to actually impact the public’s awareness and accept a larger responsibility in the workings of my community.

More importantly, however, the debate has taught me to strategically choose my battles. When I prepare my arguments, I know that I can’t use all of them at the end of a round. I have to focus. I’ve learned to maximize my strengths and not try to conquer everything. Moreover, I’ve learned to be responsible with my choices. A wrong argument can mean losing if we can’t defend ourselves well. Not only do I now know how to zoom in from a bigger picture, but I also know how to pick the right place to zoom in to so I can achieve my goal.

The debate has turned me into a responsible optimizing, scrutinizing, and strategizing orator.

2 UC Example Essay 

I was part of making silent history at our school this past year. As a part of the Community Outreach Committee of Leadership Class, I contacted the local Food Bank and together with the help of the student body, donated over 600 pounds of canned food for Thanksgiving. Noticing a bulk of unused VHS tapes in our school’s basement, I did some research and discovered that discarding these is harmful to the environment. I found an organization that employs people with disabilities to recycle these tapes, and soon our school shipped over 400 VHS tapes to their warehouse in Missouri. We received overwhelming gratification from them as no other school, even in their own community, had done something like that. Watching a small grassroots initiative in our community benefits people I was unlikely to ever meet made me feel connected to the world at large and showed me the power of putting actions to your words.

As a member of Leadership, I have also spent countless hours preparing for and facilitating New Student Orientation, Homecoming, and Grad Night, among many other programs. Seeing a gap in our care of the student body, I also expanded the New Student Launches Program to include not just freshmen, but all new transfers, regardless of grade level.

Leadership is my own personal critic. It forces me to constantly weigh the pros and cons of how I carry myself, how I speak, and how I listen at every single event we put on for the student body. It has taught me to look objectively and weigh the wants and needs of every student. It has shown me the importance of listening, not just hearing.

Leadership is the ability to make each student a part of something so much bigger than themselves. It holds me accountable and keeps me engaged with my fellow humans even when I’m exhausted. It has allowed me to leave a legacy of purpose. Through vulnerability in times of stress and joy in times of celebration, grooming myself into a better leader has also made me a better student, friend, and daughter.

Check out this video to get a more clear idea THE ESSAYS THAT GOT ME INTO ALL OF THE UCs + Tips on how to choose prompts & approach them | 2020

3 UC Example Essay 

I am twenty years old and I already have kids. Well, 30 actually, and they’re all around my age, some even older.

After a brief few months of training, I was posted to Officer Cadet School as an instructor.  It was my job to shape and mold them; I was ready to attempt everything I’d learned about being a leader and serve my new cadets to the best of my abilities.  I trained my cadets by encouraging teamwork and learning, trying to somehow make the harsh military training fun. I became very close to them in the process.

Leadership was enjoyable until I discovered one of my cadets had cheated on a test. In the military, cheating is resolved with an immediate trip to the detention barracks. Considered worse than jail, the record leaves a permanent mark. If I pressed charges, that’s where my cadet would end up.

My heart sank.  He was also my friend.

After much deliberation, I decided there was only one resolution. I could not, with good conscience, let this go.  It would set precedence for the rest of my cadets. It was painful and brought a few tears, but I could not show any wavering or doubt, at least not in front of them. I charged him, and he went to the detention barracks and eventually was discharged.  The acceptance I had felt from my cadets was replaced with fear.

I found leadership is not all about making friends and having others listen to orders. The rest of my platoon learned, and didn’t repeat the mistake.  While I was never again “one of the guys,” I found pride in the growth of my team. A few weeks later I ran into my old cadet. Despite his hardship, he acknowledged his responsibility and the experience had motivated him as he struggled to recreate his life.

4 UC Example Essay

As president of the Robotics Club, I find building robots and creatively solving technical problems to be easy tasks. What’s difficult and brings more meaning to my work is steering the club itself.

After three years of battling the geeky-male stereotype our club was labeled with, I evolved our small club of 5 techies into a thriving interdisciplinary hub of 80 distinct personalities. Because our club lacks a professional instructor, I not only teach members about STEM-related jargon that I learned from hundreds of Google searches but also encourage constructive debates ranging from topics like Proportional-Integral-Derivative Error Correction Algorithm to how someone should fix her mom’s vacuum cleaner. In this way, I provide beginners with an atmosphere that reflects my own mentality: proactive listening without moralization or judgment.

I also like sharing insights outside the club. In my mathematics class, for example, I sometimes incite intense discussions during lectures on abstruse topics like vectors or calculus by offering examples from my experiences in the lab. In this manner, I not only become an integral part of the intellectual vitality of STEM-related classes at school, but also show people with all kinds of interests and backgrounds how to employ technical intuition when solving problems and, in some cases, I even inspire students to join the Robotics Club.

As an introverted leader, I try to listen first and use my soft-spoken attentiveness to invite dialogue that improves team chemistry. With this ability, I have learned to control the momentum of official debates and basketball matches. Thus, whether my team wins or loses, the external pressure of either suffering a setback or enjoying an achievement rarely affects my team's composure, which helps us maintain our consistency and resolve.

As I visualize myself building projects with a group of coders in the future, I believe that my discreteness, experience in robotics, practical tenacity, and absolute love for innovating technology will be vital for all my endeavors.

UC Personal Insight Question, Prompt 2: Creative Side

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

5 UC Example Essay

Some people speak Chinese, others Spanish; I speak HTML. Language is intricately beautiful, with sentences flowing all within grammar constraints creating a masterpiece bound by rules. If poetry in English can be considered art, so too can programming. Just as every sentence in English has a meaning and purpose, every line of code invokes a function.

Instead of communicating with people, coding is essentially having a conversation with computers, directing them onto what is desired. Unlike people, however, computers don’t have imagination, and therefore require users to be precise in every word and sentence they depict. Just as an artist expresses imagination with a pen, a programmer uses a keyboard.

Aside from being just a program, websites bring people closer together. Because Singapore is incredibly small, in order for my school to challenge its athletes, we have to go overseas to play against other schools. Forming a league called IASAS, schools visit each other and compete. The only issue with this is how expensive it is to travel, resulting in the teams flying without family or friends.  Competitors often feel alone and unwelcome in a foreign school.

A website was the perfect solution for this: after much planning and deliberation, I formed a team to make a site where parents and friends could encourage their athletes! We started by brainstorming how to avoid cluttering the website and how best to keep it simple whilst connecting people together. Using flowcharts and diagrams, I used design principles to make it visually pleasing whilst maintaining structure and foundation. Focusing on supporting the athletes, guests were able to leave comments, get live scoring, and videos of the games.

The site allows parents and friends to encourage their students during some of the most significant tournaments of their high school careers. Creativity serves many functions, and mine intends to bring people closer together.

6 UC Example Essay 

Decorum, delegates.

As the preceding caucus wraps up, young delegates dressed in their most chic outfits (hey, it's not called MODEL United Nations for nothing) scurry to get one more signatory to support their resolution.

For my first conference, I signed up to represent Russia in the General Assembly. Being the naive yet ambitious freshman that I was, I thought it a great honor to represent one of the Permanent Five. According to feedback from my chair, I was overly democratic and too accommodating (and with due cause, I sponsored a resolution with Ukraine), to an extent that it hurt my performance.

Three months later, I accepted the Distinguished Delegate Award in ECOSOC for The Bahamas, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). I broke away from the connotation of another tourist destination to voice some of this country's biggest challenges as well as successes, particularly towards climate change.

I had not blatantly followed the 'power delegate', but stood my ground and made a powerful coalition with numerous other SIDS to become a resolution bloc, embodying the primary value my mentor, Senator Steve Glazer, impressed upon us as interns: "Represent the people of your district, not political parties or special interests".

Creativity is finding the peripheral introverted delegates and persuading them to add numbers to your cause. Creativity is navigating around the complexities of a capitalistic society designed to benefit only the top percentile in industrialized countries. Creativity is diplomacy, an art of itself. The ability to build bridges and forge new alliances in the wake of greed and power (believe me, the high school MUN circuit is equally, if not more, cutthroat than the real political arena) is a skill needed for the ever-complicated future.

MUN has taught me the practice of rhetoric and the relevance of ethos, pathos, and logos. I have learned to listen to opposing viewpoints, a rare skill in my primarily liberal high school.

I see MUN as a theatre production, where success is determined by how well you, in essence, become and portray your country to an audience of the world i.e., the United Nations.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 3: Greatest Talent or Skill

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

7 UC Essay Example: “The Art Girl”  

With a blackened Q-tip, I gave him eyelids and pupils and smoothed the rough edges of his face. I used an eraser to shave down the sharpness of his jaw and add highlights to his skin. After scrutinizing the proportions, I smiled at the finished pencil portrait. Kim Jong-dae was now ready to be wrapped as the perfect present for my friend.

Aside from Korean pop singers, I’ve drawn a variety of other characters. From the gritty roughness of Marvel comics to the soft, cuteness of Sanrio animals, I’ve drawn them all as a creative touch to top off birthday presents. It’s simply the way I choose to express myself when words cannot suffice.

But being an artist comes with its own social expectations. At school, it’s made me the “art girl” who is expected to design the banners and posters. At home, it’s prompted long distant relatives -- regardless of how much I actually know them -- to ask me to draw their portraits. In addition, whenever my parents invite coworkers to my house, I’ve had to deal with the embarrassment of showing my whole portfolio to complete strangers.

On the bright side, being an artist has taught me to take risks and experiment with new techniques and media. It’s taught me to draw meaning and intent with minimal words and text. It’s taught me to organize and focus, by simplifying subjects and filtering out the insignificant details.

Most of all, art has made me a more empathetic human. In drawing a person, I live in their shoes for a moment and try to understand them. I take note of the little idiosyncrasies. I let the details--a hijab, a piercing on a nose, a scar on the chin--tell me their personality, their thoughts, their worldview. I recognize the shared features that make us human and appreciate the differences in culture and values that make us unique. And it’s from this that I am able to embrace the diversity and complexity of people beyond a superficial surface and approach the world with an open heart and an open mind. (347)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 4: Significant Opportunity or Barrier

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

UC Essay Example 

Freshman year, I fell in love with the smell of formaldehyde for its promise of an especially exciting day in Biology. Although my school’s STEM education excelled in theory and concepts, career-focused hands-on experience was lacking and I grew nostalgic for dissections. By junior year, I still had almost no idea what I would do in the future. When asked, I’d mumble a response about biochemistry or technology without daring to specify a job.

Then, I discovered MIT’s Women’s Technology Program and its mission to allow high school girls with little experience in engineering and CS to explore the fields. Naturally, I applied in a blink, and somehow even got accepted.

When I started the program, I never expected to become so enamored with computer science. Every day, I took pages of notes during the class lecture, then enthusiastically attacked the homework problems during the evening. In fact, most nights I stayed late in the computer lab trying to finish just one more (optional) challenge problem or add more features to already completed programs. The assignments themselves ranged from simply printing “hello world” to completing a functional version of Tetris. One of my favorite programs was a Hangman game that made sarcastic remarks at invalid inputs.

However, some programs were notoriously difficult, sparking countless frustrated jokes among the candidates: a version of the card game War overly prone to infinite loops, a queue class apparently comprised entirely of index errors. The sign-up list for TA help overflowed with increasing frequency as the curriculum grew more difficult. So, after I finished a program, I often helped my peers with debugging by pointing out syntax errors and logical missteps. In the final week, I was chosen to be a presenter for CS at the Final Dinner, speaking about the subject I loved to program donors and peers alike.

In that amazing month, I discovered a field that blends creativity with logic and a renewed passion for learning and exploration. Now, imagining my no-longer-nebulous future brings excitement.

And somehow, that excitement always smells faintly of formaldehyde.

9 UC Essay Example 

If given an eye test with the standard Snellen Eye chart (y’know, the one with all the letters on it) you will be asked to stand 20 ft away, cover one eye and read off the letters from the chart as they get increasingly smaller. If you can read up to the lines marked “20” at 20 feet away, you have normal 20/20 vision and your eyes can separate contours that are 1.75 mm apart.  Knowing visual acuity is important because it helps diagnose vision problems.

But the challenge? Usually, people have to go into eye doctors and get an eye test to determine their acuity. However, since more than 40% of Americans don't go to an eye doctor on a regular basis and access to eye care is extremely rare and usually unavailable in third world countries, many people who need glasses don't know it and live with blurred vision.

To tackle this problem, I’ve spent the last four months at the Wyss Institute at Yale University working on an individual project supervised by Yale Medical School professor Maureen Shore. I’m coding a program that measures visual acuity and can determine what glasses prescription someone would need. My goal is to configure this into a mobile app so that it's easy for someone to determine if he or she needs glasses. I hope to continue using my programming skills to make the benefits of research more accessible.

If this technology isn't accessible to society, we’re doing a disservice to humanity. The skills, experience, and network I will build at the computer science department will help me devise solutions to problems and bring the benefits of research to the public.

10 UC Essay Example: "Two Truths, One Lie”

On the first day of school, when a teacher plays “Two Truths, One Lie” I always state living on three different continents. Nine times out of ten, this is picked as the lie.

I spent my primary education years in Bangalore, India. The Indian education system emphasizes skills like handwriting and mental math. I learned how to memorize and understand masses of information in one sitting. This method is rote in comparison to critical thinking but has encouraged me to look beyond classroom walls, learning about the rivers of Eastern Europe and the history of mathematics.

During seventh grade, I traded India’s Silicon Valley for the suburban Welwyn Garden City, UK. Aside from using Oxford Dictionary spellings and the metric system, I found little to no similarities between British and Indian curricula. I was exposed to “Religious Studies” for the first time, as well as constructional activities like textiles and baking. I found these elements to be an enhancing supplement to textbooks and notes. Nevertheless, the elementary level of study frustrated me. I was prevented from advancing in areas I showed an aptitude for, leading to a lack of enthusiasm. I was ashamed and tired of being the only one to raise my hand. Suddenly, striving for success had negative connotations.

Three years later, I began high school in Oakland, California. US education seemed to have the perfect balance between creative thinking, core subjects, and achievement. However, it does have its share of fallacies in comparison to my experience in other systems. I find that my classmates rarely learn details about cultures outside of these borders until very late in their careers. The emphasis on multiple-choice testing and the weight of letter grades has deterred curiosity.

In only seventeen years, I have had the opportunity to experience three very different educational systems. Each has shaped me into a global citizen and prepared me for a world whose borders are growing extremely defined. My perspective in living amongst different cultures has provided me with insight on how to understand various opinions and thus form a comprehensive plan to reach a resolution.

11 UC Essay Example 

In 10th and 11th grade, I explored the world of China with my classmates through feasts of mapo tofu, folk games, and calligraphy . As I developed a familial bond with my classmates and teacher, the class became a chance to discover myself. As a result, I was inspired to take AP Chinese.

But there was a problem: my small school didn’t offer AP Chinese.

So I took matters into my own hands. I asked my AP advisor for a list of other advisors at schools near me, but he didn’t have one. I emailed the College Board, who told me they couldn’t help, so I visited the websites of twenty other high schools and used the information available to find an advisor willing to let me test at his or her school. I emailed all the advisors I could find within a fifty-mile radius.

But all I got back were no’s.

I asked myself: Why was I trying so hard to take an AP test?

After some thought, I realized the driving force behind my decision wasn’t academic. I’d traveled to Taiwan in the past, but at times I felt like an outsider because I could not properly communicate with my family. I wanted to be able to hear my grandpa’s stories in his own tongue about escaping from China during the revolution. I wanted to buy vegetables from the lady at the market and not be known as a visitor. I wanted to gossip with my cousins about things that didn’t just occur during my visit. I wanted to connect.

Despite the lack of support I received from both my school and the College Board, I realized that if I truly wanted this, I’d have to depend on myself. So I emailed ten more advisors and, after weeks, I finally received a ‘maybe’ telling me to wait until midnight to register as a late tester. At 12:10 am on April 19, I got my yes.

Language is not just a form of communication for me . Through, Chinese I connect with my heritage, my people, and my country.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 5: Overcoming a Challenge 

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

12 UC Essay Example: “Breaking up with Mom”

When I was fifteen years old I broke up with my mother. We could still be friends, I told her, but I needed my space, and she couldn’t give me that.

She and I both knew that I was the only person that she had in America. Her family was in Russia, she only spoke to her estranged ex-husband in court, her oldest son avoided her at all costs. And yet, at fifteen years old, I wasn’t equipped to effectively calm her down from her nightly anxiety attacks. At forty-three, she wasn’t willing to believe that I did love her, but that I couldn’t be responsible for stabilizing her life.

Moving in with my dad full time felt like I was abandoning her after tying a noose around her neck. But as my Drama teacher (and guardian angel) pointed out, my mother wasn’t going to get better if I kept enabling her, and that I wasn’t going to be able to grow if I was constrained by her dependence on me.

For the first time, I had taken action. I was never again going to passively let life happen to me.

During four long months of separation, I filled the space that my mom previously dominated with learning: everything and anything. I taught myself French through online programs, built websites, and began began editing my drawings on Photoshop to sell them online. When my dad lost his third job in five years, I learned to sew my own clothes and applied my new knowledge to costume design in the Drama Department.

On stage, I learned to empathize. Backstage, I worked with teams of dedicated and mutually supportive students. In our improv group, I gained the confidence to act on my instincts. With the help of my Drama teacher, I learned to humble myself enough to ask for help.

On my sixteenth birthday, I picked up the phone and dialed my mom. I waited through three agonizingly long pauses between rings.

“Hi mom, it’s me.”

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 6: Inspiring Academic Subject

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

13 UC Essay Example 

When I was 10, my dad told me that in and on my body, bacteria outnumbered human cells. For a 10-year-old, this was a horrifying idea. I squeezed my forearms tightly in an attempt to squish the foreigners to death. I showered in way-too-hot-for-ten-year-olds water. I poured lemon juice all over my body.

Today, however, I’m no longer terrified of hosting minuscule pals; instead, I embrace them as a way to be surrounded daily by microbiology. Ever since my sixth-grade teacher showed my class a video on Typhoid Mary and taught us about pathogens, I’ve been fascinated by and with cells. I decided then that I wanted to be a doctor and study microbiology.

Over the summer, I shadowed Dr. Wong Mei Ling, a General Practitioner. I observed case after case of bacterial interactions on the human body: an inflamed crimson esophagus suffering from streptococcus, bulging flesh from a staph infection, food poisoning from e.coli-laden dishes. I was her researcher, looking up new drugs or potential illnesses that cause particular symptoms.

Intrigued by the sensitive balance between the good and bad bacteria on our bodies, I changed my lifestyle after researching more about our biological processes.  I viewed my cheek cells through a microscope in AP Bio, and I realized that each cell needs to be given the right nutrients. Learning about foods enhancing my organ functions and immune system, I now eat yogurt regularly for the daily intake of probiotics to facilitate my digestion.

As a future pediatrician, I hope to teach children how to live symbiotically with bacteria instead of fearing them. I will stress the importance of achieving the right balance of good and bad microbes through healthy habits.

Rather than attempting to extinguish the microbes on me, today I dream of working in an environment loaded with bacteria, whether it’s finding cures for diseases or curing kids of illnesses. As a daily reminder, the minute microbes in and on me serve as a reminder of my passion for the complex but tiny foundation of life. (342 words)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 7: Community Service

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

14 UC Essay Example “House of Pain”

So many of my friends had eating disorders. Scrolling through poems written by students at my school on a poetry publishing site, I was shocked by the number of girls starving or purging in attempts to love themselves. Before finding out about their struggles, I thought I was the only girl hating my reflection. Almost all the girls I knew at SAS were hiding their insecurity behind a facade of “health choices”.

Knowing I wasn’t alone in my fears, I found the courage to take my own first steps. I joined House of Pain (HOP), an exercise club my PE teacher recommended. Although I initially despised working out, I left the gym feeling strong and proud of my body. Over the first weeks, I even developed a finger-shaped bruise on my bicep as I checked it daily. I began to love exercise and wanted to share my hope with my friends.

Since my friends hadn’t directly acknowledged their eating disorders, I had to engage them indirectly. I intentionally talked about the benefits of working out. I regularly invited them to come to the HOP sessions after school. I talked about how fun it was, while at the same time mentioning the healthy body change process. I was only their coach but felt their struggles personally as I watched girls who couldn’t run 10 meters without gasping for air slowly transform. Their language changed from obsessing with size to pride in their strength.  

I was asked to lead classes and scoured the web for effective circuit reps. I researched modifications for injuries and the best warmups and cooldowns for workouts. I continue to lead discussions focusing on finding confidence in our bodies and defining worth through determination and strength rather than our waists.

Although today my weight is almost identical to what it was before HOP, my perspective and, perhaps more importantly, my community is different. There are fewer poems of despair and more about identity. From dreaming of buttoning size zero shorts to pushing ourselves to get “just one more push up”, it is not just our words that have changed.

15 UC Essay Example 

I have lived in the Middle East for the last 11 years of my life. I’ve seen cranes, trucks, cement mixers, bulldozers, and road-rollers build all kinds of architectural monoliths on my way to school. But what really catches my attention are the men who wear blue jumpsuits striped with fluorescent colors, who cover their faces with scarves and sunglasses, and who look so small next to the machines they use and the skyscrapers they build.

These men are the immigrant laborers from South-Asian countries who work for 72 hours a week in the scorching heat of the Middle East and sleep through freezing winter nights without heaters in small unhygienic rooms with 6-12 other men. Sometimes workers are denied their own passports, having become victims of exploitation. International NGOs have recognized this as a violation of basic human rights and classified it as bonded labor.

As fellow immigrants from similar ethnicities, my friends and I decided to help the laborers constructing stadiums for the 2022 FIFA world cup.

Since freedom of speech was limited, we educated ourselves on the legal system of Qatar and carried out our activities within its constraints. After surveying labor camps and collecting testimonials, we spread awareness about the laborer’s plight at our local community gatherings and asked for donations to our cause. With this money, we bought ACs, heaters, and hygienic amenities for the laborers. We then educated laborers about their basic rights. In the process, I became a fluent Nepalese speaker.

As an experienced debater, I gave speeches about the exploitation of laborers at gatherings. Also, I became the percussionist of the small rock band we created to perform songs that might evoke empathy in well-off migrants. As an experienced website developer, I also reached out to other people in the Middle East who were against bonded labor and helped them develop the migrant-rights.org website.

Although we could only help 64 of the millions of laborers in the Middle East, we hope that our efforts to spread awareness will inspire more people to reach out to the laborers who built their homes.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 8: Standing Out 

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

16 UC Essay Example: “Jungle Confidence Course” 

Hunger. Flames licking my face. Thirst. Unknown creatures circling me restlessly. Aching. The darkness threatening to swallow me. Desperation. I asked for this.

Nine long days in the jungle with only a day's worth of rations, the Jungle Confidence Course was designed to test our survival capabilities. To make matters worse, I had to carry a bunch of heavy military equipment that had no use to me for the purpose of the test. Dropped in the middle of Brunei, no matter which way you walked the terrain always went up. So why on earth would anyone volunteer this?

I was hungry. Not in the physical sense, even though I was starving for those nine days, but rather due to an incurable thirst. Every Singaporean male citizen is required to serve two years in service to the country essentially delaying our education and subsequent entrance into the workforce. Most people, including my friends, see this as something terrible and try to avoid it altogether by flying overseas. Others look for the easiest and most cushiony job to serve during the two long years rather than be another military grunt.

As for myself, since I had to do it why not do the best I can and hope to benefit from it? I’ve been hungry, cold, exhausted beyond the point of belief, yet I’m still standing. I sacrificed lots of free time, lost friends, ended up missing lots of key family moments due to training but I don’t regret a thing. Helicopter rides, urban warfare, assaulting beaches, all in a day’s work. Movies became reality accomplishing tasks once impossible.

Aspiration drove me then and still continues to pilot me now. All these experiences and memories create a lasting impact, creating pride and the motivation to continue forward. I could have given up at any point during those long nine days, but with every pang of hunger, I made myself focus on what I wanted.

To be the best version of myself possible, and come out of this challenge stronger than ever before. What’s the point of living life if you have nothing to be proud of?

17 UC Essay Example 

What’s the most logical thing an electrical engineer and his computer science-obsessed son can do in the deserts of Qatar? Gardening.

My dad and I built a garden in our small rocky backyard to remind us of our village in India, 3,419 km away from our compact metropolitan household in Qatar. Growing plants in a desert, especially outdoors without any type of climate control system, can seem to be a daunting task. But by sowing seeds at the beginning of winter, using manure instead of chemical fertilizers, and choosing the breed of plants that can survive the severe cold, we overcame the harsh climate conditions.

Sitting in the garden with my family reminds me of the rain, the green fields, the forests, the rhythmic sound of the train wheels hitting joints between rails (to which I play beats on any rigid surface), and most of all, the spicy food of India. The garden is my tranquil abode of departure from all forms of technology, regrets about the past, and apprehensions about the future. It contrasts my love for innovating technology and thus maintains a balance between my heritage, beliefs, busy lifestyle, and ambitions.

Unfortunately, my family and I enjoy the garden for fewer months each year. The harsh climate is becoming dangerously extreme: summers are increasingly becoming hotter, reaching record-breaking temperatures of about 50॰C, and winters are becoming colder, the rains flooding areas that only anticipate mild drizzles. Climate change has reduced our season for growing plants from six months to four.

But we’ve agreed to keep our agricultural practices organic to improve the longevity of the garden’s annual lifespan. I’ve also strived to extend the privilege of a garden to all families in our Indian community, giving space for those who, like us, long for something green and organic in the artificial concrete jungle where we reside. We share harvests, seeds, and experiences, and innovate organic agricultural methods, in the gardens we’ve all grown.

So, what makes the Computer Science obsessed applicant from India unique? Balance.

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Blog > Essay Examples , UC Essays > 8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

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

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

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

We talk a lot about essays in the college application process. And for good reason. Essays are one of the most critical parts of your application, and the University of California Personal Insight Questions are no different. Even though they’re quite different from personal statements or supplemental essays, UC essays serve a similar purpose: to help admissions officers get to know you and envision you on their campus.

But the tricky thing about UC essays is that they have a very particular style and form. If you don’t write your UC essays in the right way, you risk tanking your application.

Writing them the right way, however, can land you in the admit pile.

So how do you write your own outstanding UC essays? We recommend you start by reading outstanding examples.

As writing coaches, we know that the best way to become a better writer is to read. More specifically, if there’s a type of writing you want to improve on, then you should read more in that genre.

For you, that means reading UC essays to help prepare you to write your own.

And in this post, you won’t just be reading example UC essays. You’ll also see commentary from former admissions officers that will help guide you through why each essay works.

Let’s get started.

The UC Personal Insight Question Prompts

The University of California system, which consists of nine campuses across the state, requires students to apply directly via their institutional application portal. That means that you won’t be submitting your Common Application to them or writing school-specific supplemental essays. Instead, you’ll choose four of the following eight prompts to respond to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Once you have your prompts chosen, the essays themselves should be no greater than 350 words. Together, your essays should be different but cohesive enough to tell a fairly complete story of who you are.

Before we get to the examples, we have a few tips to keep you on track.

How to Write the UC Personal Insight Questions

Okay, so we actually have a whole other comprehensive guide to the UC essays that breaks down the process in extreme detail.

So for now, we’ll just go over the essentials.

What’s helpful about the UC PIQs is that we don’t have to guess what admissions officers are looking for—the UCs tell us directly in the Points of Comprehensive Review . Read through all thirteen points, but pay special attention to #10. That’s where your essays will be doing the heaviest lifting.

With that in mind, there are four rules for writing UC essays that you should stick to like glue:

Answer the prompt.

We’ll say it again for the people in the back. Answer the prompt. The UC essay prompts ask very specific questions and contain multiple parts. If you misinterpret the prompt, you may end up writing the completely wrong essay.

You might find that diagramming or annotating the prompts helps you pull out the important pieces. Break down what each of your chosen prompts asks you to do, and list out all the questions in order. That way, you’ll make sure you’re not missing anything.

Skip the fluff.

Your personal statement likely has some creative descriptions or metaphors. You may have even incorporated figurative or poetic language into your supplementals. And that’s great. In fact, that’s encouraged (within reason, of course).

But UC essays are different. They’re all business.

Whereas your personal statement might open with an attention-catching hook that describes a scene in vivid detail, your UC essays should jump straight in. In general, your essay should be organized in a clear way that tells a straightforward story.

Focus on action steps.

As we saw in the Points of Comprehensive Review, admissions officers want to learn about how your concrete experiences have shaped you. That means that your essays should revolve around action steps rather than, say, 350 words of intense personal reflection. What those action steps should look like will depend on the prompts you’ve chosen, but by the end of your essay, your admissions officers should know what you’ve done and why.

Show a strength.

In the UC essays, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the prompt and style of the essay. But don’t lose sight of the purpose of any college essay in the process: to showcase a strength to your admissions officers.

Every UC essay you write should correspond with a specific strength. That might be wisdom, artistry, good judgement, entrepreneurship, leadership—you get the idea.

Let’s say you want one of your essays to demonstrate leadership. The idea isn’t that you come out and say, “This shows that I am a leader.” Instead, by the end of the essay, after reading about everything you’ve done and reflected on, your admissions officers should sit back in their chair and say, “Wow, that student is a leader.” You’ll see what we mean in the examples.

Because of all these golden rules, your UC essays will look quite different than your Common Application essay or supplementals. They’ll probably look quite different from any essay you’ve written.

That’s where examples come in handy. Ready to dive in?

UC Prompt 1: Leadership

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.

Prompt 1 Example Essay

When we moved to a new neighborhood, my dad always complained about the house next to us. Full of weeds and random objects, it had clearly been neglected(( Notice how, at least compared with common application personal essays, the tone of this essay is much more staid?)) .

I didn’t pay much attention to his complaints until one day when I saw that our neighbor was an elderly man. He was struggling to bring his trash to the bins outside. Suddenly, it all clicked. If taking out the garbage was a challenge, then surely he wasn’t able to do yard work. That’s why it looked neglected.

My dad always taught me that leadership isn’t about giving orders. It’s about doing what needs to be done(( A direct, succinct definition of leadership.)) . With this advice in mind, I decided that I would help our neighbor.

After my realization, I went and knocked on our neighbor’s door. I introduced myself and learned that his name was Hank. When the time was right, I informed him that I’d be cutting our grass the following weekend and would love to cut his as well. Hank initially refused.

Speaking with Hank, I learned that leadership is also about listening to people’s needs(( Showing a lesson from the experience.)) . In that moment, Hank needed to be reassured that I wanted to help. I told him it would be easy for me to cross over to his yard while I had the equipment out. He finally agreed.

The next Saturday, I got to work. The job would be bigger than I expected. All the objects needed to be picked up before I could mow. I decided to enlist the help of my two younger siblings. At first, they said no. But a good leader knows how to inspire, so I told them about Hank and explained why it was important to help. Together, we cleaned up the yard. Now, each time I mow our lawn, I mow Hank’s afterward.

Through this experience, I learned that leadership is about seeing problems and finding solutions. Most importantly, it’s about attitude and kindness(( The author of this essay does a good job staying focused on a clear definition.)) . The neighborhood is grateful that the eyesore is gone, Hank is grateful for the help, and I am grateful for my new friend.

Word Count: 343

UC Essay Checklist

Does the writer convey a strength?

Yes. The writer shows initiative in seeking out the neighbor and willingness to help in all the hard work they did.

Is every part of the prompt answered?

Yes. Since this prompt has an “or,” we know that the writer doesn’t have to meet every single criterion listed. They respond to the “positively influenced others” part of the prompt, which we can see through their interactions with their neighbor.

Does the writer adhere to UC conventions?

Yes. The essay is straightforward and clearly organized. The writer lists action steps in chronological order.

UC Prompt 2: Creativity

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.

Prompt 2 Example Essay

As a cellist, I express my creativity through music(( Directly answering the prompt up front. )) . Whether I’m playing in a symphony, chamber orchestra, quartet, or solo performance, I bring my art to the world with my instrument. My creativity has transformed me from a small child playing out of tune to a solo artist featured in my state’s youth symphony.

I’ve loved music from a young age, and I began playing the cello when I was six years old. What began as a hobby to keep an energetic child engaged has become my life’s purpose.

At first, I only played along with my private lesson teacher, Ms. Smith. I loved dancing my fingers across the fingerboard, plucking the strings, and making screeching noises with my bow. Ms. Smith told my parents that I had promise but needed to develop discipline. Despite my young age, I listened. By the time I reached middle school, I had made principal cellist in my school’s orchestra. Leading a section of fellow cellists brought my creativity to a whole new level. Not only was I expressing myself through my own music, but I also expressed myself through my leadership. With a subtle nod or an expressive sway, I learned to shape the music those behind me played. I felt most comfortable and free when I was playing my cello.

That feeling only grew as I moved into high school. In ninth grade, I landed my first solo. With it came a new creative sensation: stage fright(( This part of the essay distracts a bit from the main theme.)) . Until then, I’d only experienced positive emotions while playing. I needed to make solo performance more positive. With endless practice and exercises like playing for the public on the sidewalk, I learned that solo performance is simply a way to share my love of music with those around me.

Now, as principal cellist of my state’s youth orchestra, I jump at the chance to perform any solo I can get. Getting to this point has taken me countless late nights practicing in my bedroom and weekends spent in rehearsals. But without my cello to express my creative side, I wouldn’t be me.

Word Count: 347

Yes. The writer is an artist—a musician specifically. Their creativity shines through.

Yes. This prompt is pretty straightforward: “Describe how you express your creative side,” which the writer does by describing their love of the cello. Notice how the writer doesn’t just say they’re creative because they play the cello. They describe that creativity in detail.

Mostly. The short paragraph about stage fright takes us on a slight detour from the prompt. To make this essay even better, the writer could have eliminated that anecdote or reframed it to be more about creative expression.

UC Prompt 3: Talent or Skill

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

Prompt 3 Example Essay

How many toes does an armadillo have? What were the main causes of the Crimean War? Who discovered atoms? When my friends or family have questions, they come to me for answers. I am an expert researcher. Although my passion for research began as a fun hobby, it has evolved into one of my greatest skills(( The writer opens with an interesting but not too out-there hook and then gets straight to answering the prompt.)) .

My first real mystery came when I was in ninth grade. My mom wanted to track down an old friend from high school but hadn’t had any luck searching on her own. Having grown up with the internet, I was my mom’s best chance. Not sure where to begin, I took to YouTube tutorials. Using the few family details my mom remembered, I tracked down the friend’s brother then found the friend’s married name(( Here’s a great example of what the skill looks like.)) . Alas–we found her on social media. I felt triumphant as I saw the happiness wash over my mom’s face.

Since then, my skill has grown exponentially(( And here the writer gets at the “developed and demonstrated the talent over time” part of the prompt.)) . Combining my natural curiosity with my love of history, I’ve advanced my research skills by volunteering with my local library for the past two years. I have learned about how keywords and search engines work, practiced cataloging and archiving, and waded my way through the intricacies of the library’s database technology. Suddenly, researching wasn’t just about finding people’s Facebook profiles. It was about having any information I wanted to find at my fingertips.

Access to information is more important now than ever. That’s why I decided to put my research knowledge to work. Part of being a good researcher is teaching others how to access information too, so I founded the SOHS Research Club. We begin each meeting by raising the hardest question we can think of, and I use the projector in the library to walk club members through my research process. Members have all gone on to share their knowledge with their friends and family. The SOHS Research Club has spread information literacy to my whole community(( Gesturing to the greater significance of the skill)) .

Looking ahead to all the ways my research skills will improve in college, I know that I’ll be ready to find an answer for anything.

Word Count: 350

Yes. We see that they’re not only skilled at research but also that they want to support their community.

Yes—but. The prompt asks about your greatest talent or skill. It also asks how you have developed and demonstrated that talent over time. The writer does answer these questions, but I’d like to see more about when the SOHS Research Club took place as part of this development.

Yes. The essay is clear, organized, and to-the-point.

UC Prompt 4: Educational Opportunity or Barrier

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

Prompt 4 Example Essay

I jump at any chance to get my hands dirty. I am an aspiring ecologist. I’m lucky enough to live in a college town, so I was elated last semester when a postdoctoral fellow invited me to join her research team(( Okay, looks like this writer is addressing the “how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity” part of the prompt.)) .

Although at first(( Good signposting and transitions. UC essays should be clear and straightforward. This writer easily walks us through the step-by-step of what happened.)) I was intimidated by the prospect of working alongside college students and faculty, I decided to embrace the opportunity to learn what being an ecologist is really like.

The project involved studying Asclepias syriaca populations in my local park. More commonly known as Milkweed, this flower species has a long and important history in North America, particularly for Indigenous people. After learning about its history as a food source, medicine, and critical part of ecological function, I couldn’t wait to be part of the research.

As a research assistant, I helped with data collection. We began by using twine to section off population groups in the park. Then, every week I returned to the populations to collect information about population growth. I counted the number of flowers in the population, and, with a clear ruler, I measured and recorded the height of every individual flower.

The work was tedious. On my hands and knees, I squinted at the millimeter markings, trying to obtain the most accurate measurements possible. Each week, I’d return home with muddy jeans and a smile on my face.

Participating in this research project taught me that being an ecologist is about much more than looking at plants(( Going beyond the research to reflect on lessons learned—nice!)) . It’s also about learning from mentors and engaging with and having respect for the historical context of the plants we study. Being a scientist is also not as glamorous as movies like Jurassic Park lead on. Instead, science requires careful planning, patience, and hard work.

But what I learned the most from this educational opportunity is that science doesn’t exist in some nebulous place. It exists right here in front of me. I look forward to continuing to use science to serve my community.

Word count: 328

Yes. We see their intellectual curiosity and willingness to learn through their research journey.

Yes. We have another “or” prompt! This time they’ve chosen to focus on an “educational opportunity,” which is the research project. They certainly explain how they “took advantage” of it.

Yes. There’s no fluff, just a coherent narrative focused on actions the writer took.

UC Prompt 5: Challenge

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?

Prompt 5 Example Essay

While most kids fear monsters, my greatest fear has always been tests. Since elementary school, I’ve dealt with incapacitating test anxiety. I’d sit down for a spelling test and faint from anxiety(( Straight into answering the prompt)) . Math tests in middle school would make me run to the bathroom ill. By the time I reached high school, where the testing stakes became even higher, my test anxiety increased exponentially.

More than normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, it is a diagnosis I wrestle with daily. Test anxiety caused me to miss a number of tests that I had no option to re-take. It’s caused me to receive abysmal scores on standardized and state tests, which has had repercussions in the classes I’m allowed to take(( Strategically, this was a good prompt for this student to answer because it gives them a way to contextualize any poor grades they earned early in high school. It also gets at the “academic achievement” part of the prompt.)) . My test anxiety has been the greatest challenge of my life. In a school system so reliant on testing, it has completely affected my ability to achieve academically.

By the time I took the PSATs, I couldn’t even move my hand to write my name. I knew something had to change. I reached out for help. My mom knew I had been struggling but didn’t understand the extent of my illness. Together, we contacted my school counselor, who told us how to find a therapist.

With my doctors, I worked to mitigate the effects of my test anxiety on a medical and psychological level(( Action steps! This prompt requires you to talk about the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge. The writer does exactly that in this paragraph.)) . I began taking beta-blockers that helped slow my heart rate, thus tricking my body into being less anxious. Alongside that, I spent months working through the reasons my brain interpreted testing as such a threat. I learned to appreciate my intrinsic value instead of relying on external factors like test scores. And rather than viewing tests as chances to fail, I began to understand them as opportunities to showcase my growth.

Now, after two long years of effort, I can take any test with ease. Since learning how to manage my disorder, I’ve successfully taken my driver’s test, SATs and ACTs, and all seven of my AP exams. I’m looking forward to all the tests I’ll take in college(( And we end on a very positive note that shows lots of growth)) .

Yes—which is difficult with this prompt. The writer doesn’t get bogged down in the challenge of having test anxiety. Instead, they use this prompt as an opportunity to show a strength: resilience to overcome such a difficult problem.

Yes. And this prompt has multiple parts, too. It wants you to describe 1) a challenge, 2) the steps you’ve taken to overcome the challenge, and 3) how the challenge affected your academic achievement. This writer does all three.

Yes. The writer doesn’t provide any poetic descriptions or metaphors. They say what they mean.

UC Prompt 6: Academic Interest

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

Prompt 6 Example Essay

Sitting in front of my baby cousin, I held my hands in front of my face. I quickly snapped them down and exclaimed, “Peek-a-boo!” Delighted, he erupted into laughter. From the perspective of my more developed brain, this game is quite boring. It’s overly repetitive, and the outcome—my face reveal—is basic and consistent. But to a brain that hasn’t yet gone through the sensorimotor phase of development, the game is a downright hoot. What I perceive as boring is actually magic to a baby’s mind. Without the concept of object permanence, my cousin thinks that I disappear completely behind my hands. When my face returns, he marvels as I inexplicably materialize in front of him. It’s no wonder he can play peek-a-boo for hours.

Since I took IB Psychology my sophomore year, I have been fascinated with child psychology(( It takes a paragraph before we get to the prompt (a bit too long), but I like the nerdiness the writer shows in the intro)) . No matter when or where we are born, we all undergo similar stages of development that help us understand the world around us. Imagine Albert Einstein chewing on a rock or Genghis Khan taking his first steps. Researching child development unlocks something universal and equalizing about the human experience.

Because of my interest in child psychology, I decided to get more involved with my community. I began by volunteering in a psychology lab at my local university. While there, I get our child participants settled before sessions. Occasionally I get to help with data collection. I also landed a job as a teacher’s aide at a nearby Head Start, where I feed lunches, play, and read. In both of these activities, I’ve learned so much about how to interact with toddlers, to think like they think, and to help them grow into kind and happy children(( This paragraph shows exactly how they’ve furthered their interest.)) .

My school doesn’t offer any additional psychology courses, so I took a community college class this summer. I’m looking forward to taking more advanced psychology classes as a psychology major, and I’m eager to bring the research skills I’ve been developing to one of the UC’s many child development labs. One day, I hope to use all these skills as a child therapist.

Word Count: 348

Yes. The student is very intellectually curious about child development—a perfect strength for this prompt.

Yes. The writer talks about an academic subject, child development, and describes how they advanced that interest through a research lab, classes, and a job at Head Start.

Yes—but. Overall, the essay does a great job adhering to UC essay conventions. But the first paragraph almost doesn’t. As it is, the writer stays focused on telling the story. However, it takes up quite a bit of space in the essay without really conveying much about the writer’s journey. If there were a metaphor or any poetic language in there, it would have been too far. Same goes for the snippet about Einstein and Genghis Khan—it adds personality but is close to overdoing it.

UC Prompt 7: School or Community

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

Prompt 7 Example Essay

Nourishing loved ones by cooking for them is one of my biggest passions. But my hobby has become more difficult since moving to a food desert. Food deserts are areas without easy access to grocery stores or healthy foods. These disparities are clear in the school cafeteria, with the majority of students eating processed school lunches or packaged foods brought from home. I decided to do something about it.

The idea came to me one day as I made my way from AP Biology to my cooking elective. We needed a school community garden(( The writer sets up the stakes in the introduction so we truly understand the situation here)) . If we couldn’t access fresh foods in our neighborhood, then we would grow our own. We just needed a space to grow them and money to buy supplies.

I began by finding a spot to plant our garden. My friends and I walked around the entire school and decided that the courtyard would be the perfect place. After explaining my idea to the Assistant Principal, I got permission to proceed.

Next(( This paragraph is full of good action steps)) I raised money for the supplies. With $20 in seed money from my parents, which I promptly paid back, I drew and printed stickers to sell at lunch. The stickers were anthropomorphized vegetables. They cost $0.10 per sticker to make, and I sold them for $1.00 each. Soon enough, I had not only raised enough money to set up the garden, but I had rallied the whole school around my cause. Thirty of my classmates showed up, vegetable stickers on their water bottles, to help me plant the garden.

For the last year, we’ve maintained a spread of seasonal vegetables in the garden. We bring a basket to the cooking elective teacher each week so students can practice cooking with fresh vegetables, and we hold a daily farm stand at lunch(( And we see that they are legitimately improving their community)) . At the stand, students can grab whatever fresh produce they want to add to their lunch.

My school’s garden nourishes my community, and I am nourished every day by the fact that my efforts have made a true difference to those around me.

Word Count: 341

Yes. The writer shows really great initiative and community understanding in their willingness to start a community garden from scratch.

Yes. With only one question, this prompt is pretty straightforward. And the writer’s answer is simple: to make their school community a better place, they made a community garden.

Yes. The writer goes into detail about every step they took to make the community garden come to life. I especially like how the writer goes beyond these details to emphasize how much the community garden impacted the school community.

UC Prompt 8: Additional Information

Prompt 8 example essay.

When I posted a TikTok video of myself studying, I didn’t expect anyone but my friends to see it. But within hours, my video had gone viral— tens of thousands of people(( That’s a lot of people. This shows the magnitude and impact of the video.)) saw the carefully-crafted shots I’d taken of my desk setup and homework timelapse. The comment section flooded. People appreciated the work I’d put into curating the perfect desk. They thanked me for inspiring them to get started on their own homework. I was overwhelmed by the response.

At first I felt really shy. What if people from school saw it and made fun of me? I kept questioning myself so much that I completely froze. Finally, one comment caught my attention. It read, “I’ve been having a hard semester and can barely get myself out of bed, let alone to do my homework. But this is so calming! Maybe I’ll try.” That comment made me realize that it didn’t matter what people at my school thought. What mattered was that I loved making that video and it had made an actual difference in the lives of the people who saw it.

And that’s when I decided to make my mark on #StudyTok(( This is a pretty unique topic that wouldn’t have necessarily fit into the other prompt categories, which makes it a good candidate for prompt #8.)) . Since that first video, I’ve posted 318 others and accumulated over 35,000 followers(( More numbers to show impact)) . I’ve had more videos go viral and reach hundreds of thousands of people looking for work inspiration. Even the videos that some would see as “fails” still reach a couple hundred people. That may not be a big deal in the Internet world, but those same people would fill up my high school’s auditorium. My goal for every video is to make my viewers feel relaxed and able to take on whatever work they have to do. It helps me and my viewers complete our work.

These videos have made me more confident and organized, and I can’t wait to continue them in college. When I get an extra assignment or have to stay up late to finish a paper, I become excited instead of frustrated because I know that the little StudyTok community I’ve created will be there right alongside me.(( This conclusion drives home the what “makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the UC” part of the prompt.))

Yes. They show creativity through their video production and leadership through their huge community impact.

Mostly. This prompt is a tricky one to answer because its components aren’t as straightforward as the others. Through such a huge impact, the writer makes it implicitly clear why this story demonstrates that they are a good candidate for admissions to the UC, but the message could be more explicit.

Yes. The writer conveys the sequence of events in a clear and organized way, and they use good metrics to show the impact of their videos.

Key Takeaways

Did you catch our golden rules throughout? Yep. That’s what makes these essays stand out, and that’s what’ll make your essays stand out, too.

And even though these essays come from different students, hopefully you also got a sense of how an admissions officer reads a portfolio of essays for a single student.

Remember: just like your other applications, your overall goal for your UC application is to create a cohesive application narrative that shows your core strengths.

Having read all these essays, you’re now well on your way to writing your own. Try jumping into the Essay Academy or our UC essay writing guide  for help getting started.

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College Essays

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

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

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

What Are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparing the UC Essay Prompts

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

The 8 UC Essay Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Tell the UC Essay Prompts Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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How Is This Guide Organized?

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 1

The prompt and its instructions.

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

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

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

What's the Question Asking?

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

Part 1: Explain the Dilemma

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Describe Your Solution

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

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

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn about You?

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

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

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

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

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

Pick Your Group

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

Raise the Stakes

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

Balance You versus Them

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

Find Your Arc

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 2

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Define Your Creativity

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

Part 2: Connect Your Creative Drive to Your Overall Self

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

Part 3: Connect Your Creative Drive With Your Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Specific and Descriptive

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

Give a Sense of History

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

Hit a Snag; Find the Success

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

Show Insight

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

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Dissecting Personal Insight Question 3

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Narrative

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

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

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

Part 2: Insight and Personal Development

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

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

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

What's UC Hoping to Learn About You?

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

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

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

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

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

Step #1: Explain Your Field

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

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

Step #2: Zoom in on a Specific Experience

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

Step #3: Find a Conflict or a Transition

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Define the Problem or Opportunity

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

Watch Your Tone

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 5

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Facing a Challenge

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

Part 2: Looking in the Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

Make Sure That You Are the Hero

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

Find the Suspenseful Moment

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

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You're the superhero!

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Picking a Favorite

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Relevance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 7

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

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

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

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

#1: Your Sense of Place and Connection

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

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

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

#3: Your Problem-Solving Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissecting Personal Insight Question 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The university wants this information because of the following:

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

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

Double-Check Your Uniqueness

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

Connect Outward

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

Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

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

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

Writing Advice for Making Your UC Personal Statements Shine

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

#1: Be Detailed and Descriptive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Show Your Feelings

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

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

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

What's Next?

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

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 .

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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.

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12 Great University of California Essay Examples

What’s covered, essay #1: leadership, essay #2: creativity, essay #3: creativity, essay #4: creativity, essay #5: talent, essay #6: talent, essay #7: academic interest, essay #8: academic interest, essay #9: community, essay #10: community, essay #11: community, essay #12: community.

The University of California system is comprised of nine undergraduate universities, and is one of the most prestigious public school systems in the country. The UC schools have their own application system, and students must respond to four of eight personal insight questions in 350 words each. Every UC school you apply to receives the same application and essays, so it’s important that your responses accurately represent your personality and writing abilities. 

In this post, we’ll share some UC essay examples and go over what they did well and where they could improve. We will also point you to free resources you can use to improve your college essays. 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our guide to the UC personal insight questions for more tips on writing strong essays for each of the prompts.

Prompt: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words)

1400 lines of code. 6 weeks. 1 Pizza.

I believe pizza makers are the backbone of society. Without pizza, life as we know it would cease to exist. From a toddler’s birthday party to President Obama’s sporadic campaigning cravings, these 8 slices of pure goodness cleverly seep into every one of our lives; yet, we never talk about it. In a very cheesy way, I find representation in a pizza maker. 

The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough. We had textbooks and worksheets, but viewing printed rhythms and attempting to recognize them in real-time is about as straining as watching someone eat pizza crust-first. Furthermore, online simulators were vastly over-engineered, featuring complex interfaces foreign to high-school students.

Eventually, I realized the only way to pull myself out of the sauce was by creating my own tools. This was also the first year I took a programming course, so I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment by extrapolating knowledge from Computer Science and Physiology to code and share my own Electrocardiogram Simulator. To enhance my program, I went beyond the textbook and classroom by learning directly from Java API – the programmer’s Bible.

The algorithms I wrote not only simulated rhythms in real-time but also actively engaged with the user, allowing my classmates and I to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the curriculum. Little did I know that a small project born out of desperation would eventually become a tool adopted by my teacher to serve hundreds of students in the future.

Like pizza, people will reap the benefits of my app over and over again, and hardly anyone will know its maker. Being a leader doesn’t always mean standing at the front of rallies, giving speeches, and leading organizations. Yes, I have done all three, but this app taught me leaders are also found behind-the-scenes, solving problems in unimaginable ways and fulfilling the hidden, yet crucial niches of the world. 

1400 lines of code, and 6 weeks later, it’s time to order a pizza. 

What the Essay Did Well

This is a great essay because it is both engaging and informative. What exactly does it inform us about? The answer: the personality, work ethic, and achievements of this student (exactly what admissions officers want to hear about).

With regards to personality, the pizza through-line—which notably starts the essay, ends the essay, and carries us through the essay—speaks volumes about this student. They are admittedly “cheesy,” but they appear unabashedly themself. They own their goofiness. That being said, the student’s pizza connections are also fitting and smoothly advance their points—watching someone eat pizza crust-first is straining and pizza is an invention that hardly anyone can identify the maker of. 

While we learn about this student’s fun personality in this essay, we also learn about their work ethic. A student who takes the initiative to solve a problem that no one asked them to solve is the kind of student an admissions officer wants to admit. The phrase “I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment” alone tells us that this student is a curious go-getter.

Lastly, this student tells us about their achievements in the last two paragraphs. Not only did they take the initiative to create this program, but it was also successful. On top of that, it’s notable how this student’s accomplishments as a leader defy the traditional expectations people have for leaders. The student’s ability to demonstrate their untraditional leadership path is an achievement in itself that sets the student apart form other applicants.

What Could Be Improved

This is a strong essay as is, but the one way this student could take it above and beyond would be to tell less and show more. To really highlight the student’s writing ability, the essay should  show the reader all the details it’s currently telling us. For example, these sentences primarily tell the reader what happened: “The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough.” 

Rewriting this sentence to show the reader the student’s impetus for creating their app could look like this: “When my teacher flashed the electrocardiogram on the screen, my once attentive physiology class became a sea of blank stares and furrowed brows.” This sentence still conveys the key details—student’s in the physiology class found electrocardiograms to be the hardest unit of the year—but it does so in a far more descriptive way. Implementing this exercise of rewriting sentences to show what happened throughout the piece would elevate the entire essay.

Prompt: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (350 words)

For the past few years, participating in debate has been one of the foremost expressions of my creativity. Nothing is as electrifying as an Asian parliamentary-style debate. Each team is given only thirty minutes to prepare seven-minute speeches to either support or oppose the assigned motion. Given the immense time pressure, this is where my creativity shines most brightly.

To craft the most impactful and convincing argument, I have to consider the context of the motion, different stakeholders, the goals we want to achieve, the mechanisms to reach those goals, and so much more. I have to frame these arguments effectively and paint a compelling and cohesive world to sway my listeners to my side on both an emotional and logical level. For example, In a debate about the implementation of rice importation in the Philippines, I had to frequently switch between the macro perspective by discussing the broad economic implications of the policy and the micro perspective by painting a picture of the struggles that local rice farmers would experience when forcefully thrust into an increasingly competitive global economy. It’s a tough balancing act.

To add to the challenge, there is an opposing team on the other side of the room hell-bent on disproving everything I say. They generate equally plausible sounding arguments, and my mission is to react on the spot to dispel their viewpoints and build up our team’s case.

When two debate teams, both well-prepared and hungry for victory, face off and try to out-think one another, they clash to form a sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments and rebuttals. They fill up a room with unbelievable energy. After several years of debate, I have developed the capacity to still a room of fury and chaos with nothing but my words and wit.

Debate has been instrumental in shaping me into the person I am today. Because of debate, I have become a quicker and stronger thinker. Lightning quick on my feet, I am ready to thoroughly and passionately defend my beliefs at a moment’s notice.

This prompt is about creativity, though its wording emphasizes how students aren’t required to talk about typically-creative subjects. That said, it might take a bit more work and explanation (even creativity, one could say) to position a logical process as creative. This student’s main strength is the way they convince the reader that debate is creative.

First, they identify how “Asian parliamentary-style debate” differs from other forms of debate, emphasizing how time constraints necessitate the use of creativity. Then, they explain how both the argument’s content (the goals and solutions they outline) and the argument’s composition (the way they frame the argument) must be creatively orchestrated to be convincing. 

To drive home the point that debate is a creative process, this student provides an example of how they structured their argument about rice importation in the Philippines. This essay is successful because, after reading it, an admissions officer has no doubt that this student can combine logic and creativity to think intellectually.

One aspect of this essay that could be improved is the language use. Although there are some creative metaphors like the “sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments”, the essay is lacking the extra oomph and wow-factor that carefully chosen diction provides. In the second paragraph, the student repeats the phrase “I have to” three different times when stronger, more active verbs could have been used.

Essays should always reflect the student’s natural voice and shouldn’t sound like every word came straight out of a thesaurus, but that doesn’t mean they can’t incorporate a bit of colorful language. If this student took the time to go through their essay and ask themself if an overused word could be replaced with a more exciting one, it would make the essay much more interesting to read.

As I open the door to the Makerspace, I am greeted by a sea of cubicle-like machines and I watch eagerly, as one of them completes the final layer of my print.

Much like any scientific experiment, my countless failures in the Makerspace – hours spent designing a print, only to have it disintegrate – were my greatest teachers. I learned, the hard way, what types of shapes and patterns a 3D printer would play nice to. Then, drawing inspiration from the engineering method, I developed a system for myself – start with a solid foundation and add complexity with each iteration – a flourish here, a flying buttress there. 

But it wasn’t until the following summer, vacationing on a beach inundated with plastic, that the “aha” moment struck. In an era where capturing people’s attention in a split-second is everything, what better way to draw awareness to the plastic problem than with quirky 3D-printed products? By the time I had returned home, I had a business case on my hands and a desire to make my impact.

Equipped with vital skills from the advanced math-and-science courses I had taken in sophomore year, I began applying these to my growing business. Using my AP Chemistry analytical laboratory skills, I devised a simple water bath experiment to test the biodegradability claims of 3D-printer filaments from different manufacturers, guaranteeing that my products could serve as both a statement and play their part for our planet. The optimization techniques I had learned in AP Calculus were put to good use, as I determined the most space-efficient packaging for my products, reducing my dependence on unsustainable filler material. Even my designs were tweaked and riffed on to reflect my newfound maturity and keen eye for aesthetics.

My business is still going strong today, raising $1000 to date. I attribute this success to a fateful spark of creative inspiration, which has, and will, continue to inspire me to weave together multiple disciplines to address issues as endemic as the plastic problem. 

This essay begins with a simple, yet highly effective hook. It catches readers’ attention by only giving a hint about the essay’s main topic, and being a standalone paragraph makes it all the more intriguing. 

The next paragraph then begins with a seamless transition that ties back to the Makerspace. The essay goes on to show the writer’s creative side and how it has developed over time. Rather than directly stating “I am most creative when I am working on my business,” the writer tells the story of their creativity while working with 3-D printers and vacationing on the beach. 

It is the “aha” moment that perhaps responds to the prompt best. Here we get to see the writer create a new idea on the spot. The next two paragraphs then show the writer executing on their idea in great detail. Small and specific details, such as applying analytical laboratory skills from AP Chemistry, make the writer’s creativity come to life. 

From start to finish, this essay shows that the key to writing a stellar response to this prompt is to fill your writing with details and vivid imagery. 

The second to last paragraph of this essay focuses a bit too much on how the writer built their business. Though many of these details show the writer’s creativity in action, a few of them could be restated to make the connection to creativity clearer. The last sentences could be rewritten like so: 

Working on my business was where my creativity blossomed. In my workshop, optimization techniques that I learned in AP Calculus became something new — the basis for space-efficient packaging for my products that reduced my dependence on unsustainable filler material…

Profusely sweating after trying on what felt like a thousand different outfits, I collapsed on the floor in exasperation. The heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down in disdain; with ten minutes left to spare before the first day of seventh grade, I let go of my screaming thoughts and settled on the very first outfit I tried on: my favorite.

Donning a neon pink dress, that moment marked the first time I chose expression over fear. Being one of the few Asians in my grade, clothing was my source of disguise. I looked to the bold Stacy London of What Not to Wear for daily inspiration, but, in actuality, I dressed to conceal my uniqueness so I wouldn’t be noticed for my race. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I envied the popular girls who hiked their shorts up just a few inches higher than dress code allowed and flaunted Uggs decorated with plastic jewels, a statement that Stacy London would have viewed as heinous and my mother impractical. 

However, entering school that day and the days after, each compliment I received walking down the hallways slowly but surely broke down the armored shield. Morphing into an outlet to amplify my voice and creativity, dressing up soon became what I looked forward to each morning. I was awarded best dressed the year after that during my middle school graduation, a recognition most would scoff at. But, to me, that flimsy paper certificate was a warm embrace telling me that I was valued for my originality and expression. I was valued for my differences. 

Confidence was what I found and is now an essential accessory to every outfit I wear. Taking inspiration from vintage, simplistic silhouettes and Asian styles, I adorn my body’s canvas with a variety of fabrics and vibrant colors, no longer depriving it of the freedom to self expression and cultural exploration. I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California with opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.

Colorful language and emotion are conveyed powerfully in this essay, which is one of its key strengths. We can see this in the first paragraph, where the writer communicates that they were feeling searing judgment by using a metaphor: “the heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down.” The writer weaves other rich phrases into the essay — for example, “my screaming thoughts” — to show readers their emotions. All of these writing choices are much more moving than plainly stating “I was nervous.”

The essay moves on to tell a story that responds to the prompt in a unique way. While typical responses will be about a very direct example of expressing creativity, e.g. oil painting, this essay has a fittingly creative take on the prompt. The story also allows the writer to avoid a common pitfall — talking more about the means of being creative rather than how those means allow you to express yourself. In other words, make sure to avoid talking about the act of oil painting so much that your essay loses focus on what painting means to you.

The last sentence of the essay is one more part to emulate. “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included…” is a well-crafted, flawlessly succinct metaphor that looks to the future while connecting the end of the essay to its beginning. The metaphors are then juxtaposed with a summary of the essay’s main topic: “intertwine creativity with my identity.” 

This essay’s main areas for improvement are grammatical. What Not to Wear should be italicized, “self-expression” should be hyphenated, and the last sentence could use the following tweaks to make it less of a run-on: “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California. There, I will have opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.”

Since identity is the main topic of this essay, it would also be fitting for the writer to go into more depth about it. The immediate takeaways from the essay are that the writer is Asian and interested in fashion — however, more descriptions could be added to these parts. For example, the writer could replace Asian with Laotian-American and change a sentence in the second to last paragraph to “dressing up in everything from bell bottom jeans to oversized flannel shirts soon became what I looked forward to each morning.”

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

Let’s fast-forward time. Strides were made toward racial equality. Healthcare is accessible to all; however, one issue remains. Our aquatic ecosystems are parched with dead coral from ocean acidification. Climate change has prevailed.

Rewind to the present day.

My activism skills are how I express my concerns for the environment. Whether I play on sandy beaches or rest under forest treetops, nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world. When my body is met by trash in the ocean or my nose is met by harmful pollutants, Earth’s pain becomes my own. 

Substituting coffee grinds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale. I often found performative activism to be ineffective when communicating climate concerns. My days of reposting awareness graphics on social media never filled the ambition I had left to put my activism skills to greater use. I decided to share my ecocentric worldview with a coalition of environmentalists and host a climate change rally outside my high school.

Meetings were scheduled where I informed students about the unseen impact they have on the oceans and local habitual communities. My fingers were cramped from all the constant typing and investigating of micro causes of the Pacific Waste Patch, creating reusable flyers, displaying steps people could take from home in reducing their carbon footprint. I aided my fellow environmentalists in translating these flyers into other languages, repeating this process hourly, for five days, up until rally day. 

It was 7:00 AM. The faces of 100 students were shouting, “The climate is changing, why can’t we?” I proudly walked on the dewy grass, grabbing the microphone, repeating those same words. The rally not only taught me efficient methods of communication but it echoed my environmental activism to the masses. The City of Corona would be the first of many cities to see my activism, as more rallies were planned for various parts of SoCal. My once unfulfilled ambition was fueled by my tangible activism, understanding that it takes more than one person to make an environmental impact.

One of the largest strengths of this response is its speed. From the very beginning, we are invited to “fast-forward” and “rewind” with the writer. Then, after we focus ourselves in the present, this writer keeps their quick pace with sentences like “Substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale.” A common essay-writing blunder is using a predictable structure that loses the attention of the reader, but this unique pacing keeps things interesting.

Another positive of this essay is how their passion for environmental activism shines through. The essay begins by describing the student’s connection to nature (“nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world”), moves into discussing the personal actions they have taken (“substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer”), and then explains the rally the student hosted. While the talent the student is writing about is their ability to inspire others to fight against climate change, establishing the personal affinity towards nature and individual steps they took demonstrate the development of their passion. This makes their talent appear much more significant and unique. 

This essay could be improved by being more specific about what this student’s talent is. There is no sentence that directly states what this student considers to be their talent. Although the essay is still successful at displaying the student’s personality, interests, and ambition, by not explicitly mentioning their talent, they leave it up to the reader’s interpretation.

Depending on how quickly they read the essay or how focused they are, there’s a possibility the reader will miss the key talent the student wanted to convey. Making sure to avoid spoon-feeding the answer to their audience, the student should include a short sentence that lays out what they view as their main talent.

At six, Mama reads me a story for the first time. I listen right up until Peter Pan talks about the stars in the night sky. “What’s the point of stars if they can’t be part of something?” Mama looks at me strangely before closing the book. “Sometimes, looking on is more helpful than actively taking part. Besides, stars listen- like you. You’re a good listener, aren’t you?” I nod. At eleven, my sister confides in me for the first time. She’s always been different, in a way even those ‘mind doctors’ could never understand. I don’t understand either, but I do know that I like my sister. She’s mean to me, but not like people are to her. She tells me how she sees the world, and chokes over her words in a struggle to speak. She trusts me, and that makes me happy. So, I listen. I don’t speak; this isn’t a story where I speak. At sixteen, I find myself involved with an organization that provides education to rural children. Dakshata is the first person I’ve tutored in Hindi. She’s also my favorite. So, when she interrupts me mid-lesson one evening, lips trembling and eyes filling with tears, I decide to put my pen down and listen. I don’t speak; I don’t take part in this story. Later, as I hug the girl, I tell her about the stars and how her mother is among their kind- unable to speak yet forever willing to listen. Dakshata now loves the stars as much as I do. At seventeen, I realize that the first thing that comes to my mind when someone asks me about a skill I possess is my ability to listen. Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but it’s important. When you listen, you see, you need not necessarily understand, but you do comprehend. You empathize on a near-cosmic level with the people around you and learn so much more than you ever thought possible. Everything is a part of something- even the stars with their ears.

The essay as a whole is an excellent example of narrative-based writing. The narrative begins with a captivating hook. The first sentence catches the reader by surprise, since it does not directly respond to the prompt by naming the writer’s greatest talent or skill. Instead, it tells a childhood story which does not seem to be related to a skill at first. This creates intrigue, and the second sentence adds to it by introducing a conflict. It causes readers to wonder why Peter Pan’s stargazing would make a six year old stop listening — hooked into the story, they continue reading.

The writer continues to create a moving narrative by using dialogue. Dialogue allows the writer to show rather than tell , which is a highly effective way to make an essay convey emotion and keep readers’ attention. The writer also shows their story by using language such as “mind doctors” instead of “psychologists” — this immerses readers in the author’s perspective as an 11 year old at the time. 

Two motifs, or recurring themes, tie the essay together: listening and looking at the stars. The last paragraph powerfully concludes the essay by explaining these themes and circling back to the introduction.

Crafting transitions is one area where this essay could be improved. The paragraph after “I nod” begins abruptly, and without any sentence to connect the writer’s dialogue at age six with her experiences at age 11. One way to make the transition smoother would be to begin the paragraph after “I nod” with “I try to be a good listener again at eleven, when my sister confides in me for the first time.”

This essay would also be more impactful if the writer explained what they aspire to do with their ability to listen in the future. While it is most important for your essay to explain how your past experiences have made you who you are in the present, looking towards the future allows admissions readers to imagine the impact you might make after graduation. The writer could do this in the last paragraph of their essay by writing the following: “Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but I find it important — especially as an aspiring social worker.”

Prompt: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)

I distinctly remember the smile on Perela’s face when she found out her mother would be nursed back to health. I first met Perela and her mother at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in San Bernardino where I volunteered as a Spanish translator. I was in awe of the deep understanding of biology that the medical team employed to discover solutions. Despite having no medical qualifications of my own, I realized that by exercising my abilities to communicate and empathize, I could serve as a source of comfort and encouragement for Perela and her mother. The opportunity to combine my scientific curiosity and passion for caring for people cultivated my interest in a career as a physician.

To further explore this interest, I attended a summer medical program at Georgetown University. I participated in lectures on circulation through the heart, practiced stitches on a chicken leg, and assisted in giving CPR to a dummy in the patient simulation laboratory. Every fact about the human body I learned brought with it ten new questions for me to research. I consistently stayed after each lecture to gain insight about how cells, tissues, and organs all work together to carry out immensely complicated functions. The next year, in my AP Biology class, I was further amazed with the interconnected biological systems as I learned about the relationships between the human body and ecosystems. I discussed with my teacher how environmental changes will impact human health and how we must broaden our perspectives to use medicine to tackle these issues.

By integrating environmental and medical science, we can develop effective solutions to reduce the adverse effects of environmental degradation that Perela’s mother may have faced unintentionally. I want to go into the medical field so I can employ a long-term approach to combat biology’s hidden anomalies with a holistic viewpoint. I look forward to utilizing my undergraduate classes and extracurriculars to prepare for medical school so I can fight for both health care and environmental protection.

This student primarily answers the prompt in their middle paragraph as they describe their experience at a summer medical program as well as their science coursework in high school. This content shows their academic curiosity and rigor, yet the best part of the essay isn’t the student’s response to the prompt. The best part of this essay is the way the student positions their interest in medicine as authentic and unique.

The student appears authentic when they admit that they haven’t always been interested in medical school. Many applicants have wanted to be doctors their whole life, but this student is different. They were just in a medical office to translate and help, then got hooked on the profession and took that interest to the next level by signing up for a summer program.

Additionally, this student positions themself as unique as they describe the specifics of their interest in medicine, emphasizing their concern with the ways medicine and the environment interact. This is also refreshing!

Of course, you should always answer the prompt, but it’s important to remember that you can make room within most prompts to say what you want and show off unique aspects of yourself—just as this student did.

One thing this student should be careful of is namedropping Georgetown for the sake of it. There is no problem in discussing a summer program they attended that furthered their interest in medicine, but there is a problem when the experience is used to build prestige. Admissions officers already know that this student attended a summer program at Georgetown because it’s on their application. The purpose of the essay is to show  why attending the program was a formative moment in their interest.

The essay gets at the  why a bit when it discusses staying after class to learn more about specific topics, but the student could have gone further in depth. Rather than explaining the things the student did during the program, like stitching chicken legs and practicing CPR, they should have continued the emotional reflection from the first paragraph by describing what they thought and felt when they got hands-on medical experience during the program. 

Save describing prestigious accomplishments for your extracurriculars and resume; your essay is meant to demonstrate what made you you.

I love spreadsheets.

It’s weird, I know. But there’s something endlessly fascinating about taking a bunch of raw numbers, whipping and whacking them into different shapes and forms with formulas and equations to reveal hidden truths about the universe. The way I like to think about it is that the universe has an innate burning desire to tell us its stories. The only issue is its inability to talk with us directly. Most human stories are written in simple words and letters, but the tales of the universe are encrypted in numbers and relationships, which require greater effort to decode to even achieve basic comprehension. After all, it took Newton countless experimentation to discover the love story between mass and gravitation.

In middle school, whenever I opened a spreadsheet, I felt like I was part of this big journey towards understanding the universe. It took me a couple of years, but I eventually found out that my interest had a name: Data Science. With this knowledge, I began to read extensively about the field and took online courses in my spare time. I found out that the spreadsheets I had been using was just the tip of the iceberg. As I gained more experience, I started using more powerful tools like R (a statistical programming language) which allowed me to use sophisticated methods like linear regressions and decision trees. It opened my eyes to new ways to understand reality and changed the way I approached the world.

The thing I love most about data science is its versatility. It doesn’t matter if the data at hand is about the airflow on an owl’s wing or the living conditions of communities most crippled by poverty. I am able to utilize data science to dissect and analyze issues in any field. Each new method of analysis yields different stories, with distinct actors, settings, and plots. I’m an avid reader of the stories of the universe, and one day I will help the world by letting the universe write its own narrative.

This is an essay that draws the reader in. The student’s candid nature and openness truly allows us to understand why they are fascinated with spreadsheets themself, which in turn makes the reader appreciate the meaning of this interest in the student’s life. 

First, the student engages readers with their conversational tone, beginning “I love spreadsheets. It’s weird, I know,” followed shortly after by the phrase “whipping and whacking.” Then, they introduce their idea to us, explaining how the universe is trying to tell us something through numbers and saying that Newton discovered “the love story between mass and gravitation,” and we find ourselves clearly following along. They put us right there with them, on their team, also trying to discover the secrets of the universe. It is this bond between the student and the reader that makes the essay so engaging and worth reading.

Because the essay is focused on the big picture, the reader gets a sense of the wide-eyed wonderment this student experiences when they handle and analyze data. The student takes us on the “big journey towards understanding the universe” through the lens of Data Science. Explaining both the tools the student has used, like R and statistical regression, and the ideas the student has explored, like owl’s wings and poverty, demonstrates how this student fits into the micro and macro levels of Data Science. The reader gets a complete picture of how this student could change the world through this essay—something admissions officers always want to see.

The biggest thing that would improve this essay is an anecdote. As it’s written, the essay looks at Data Science from a more theoretical or aspirational perspective. The student explains all that Data Science can enable, but besides for explaining that they started coding with spreadsheets and R, they provide very little personal experience working with Data Science. This is where an anecdote would elevate the essay.

Adding a story about the first data set they examined or an independent project they undertook as a hobby would have elicited more emotion and allowed for the student to showcase their accomplishments and way of thinking. For example, they could delve into the feeling of enlightenment that came from first discovering a pattern in the universe. Or maybe they could describe how analyzing data was the catalyst that led them to reach out to local businesses to help them improve their revenue. 

If you have an impactful and enduring interest, such as this student does, you will have at least one anecdote you could include in your essay. You’ll find that essays with anecdotes are able to work in more emotional reflection that make the essay more memorable and the student more likable.

Prompt: What have you done to make your community a better place? (350 words)

Blinking sweat from my eyes, I raised my chin up to the pullup bar one last time before dropping down, my muscles trembling. But despite my physical exhaustion at the end of the workout, mentally, I felt reinvigorated and stronger than ever.

Minutes later, I sat at my computer, chatting with my friends about our first week in quarantine. After listening to numerous stories concerning boredom and loneliness, it struck me that I could use my passion for fitness to help my friends—I jumped at the chance to do so. 

After scouring the internet for the most effective exercises and fitness techniques, I began hosting Zoom workouts, leading friends, family, and anyone else who wanted to join in several fun exercises each week. I hoped these meetings would uplift anyone struggling during quarantine, whether from loneliness, uncertainty, or loss of routine. I created weekly workout plans, integrating cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises into each. Using what I learned from skating, I incorporated off-ice training exercises into the plans and added stretching routines to each session. 

Although many members were worried that they wouldn’t be able to complete exercises as well as others and hesitated to turn their cameras on, I encouraged them to show themselves on screen, knowing we’d only support one another. After all, the “face-to-face” interactions we had while exercising were what distinguished our workouts from others online; and I hoped that they would lead us to grow closer as a community. 

As we progressed, I saw a new-found eagerness in members to show themselves on camera, enjoying the support of others. Seeing how far we had all come was immensely inspiring: I watched people who couldn’t make it through one circuit finish a whole workout and ask for more; instead of staying silent during meetings, they continually asked for tips and corrections.

Despite the limitations placed on our interactions by computer screens, we found comfort in our collective efforts, the camaraderie between us growing with every workout. For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.

This essay accomplishes three main goals: it tells a story of how this student took initiative, it explores the student’s values, and it demonstrates their emotional maturity. We really get a sense of how this student improved their community while also gaining a large amount of insight into what type of person this student is.

With regards to initiative, this student writes about a need they saw in their community and the steps they took to satisfy that need. They describe the extensive thought that went into their decisions as they outline the planning of their classes and their unique decision to incorporate skating techniques in at-home workouts.

Additionally, they explore their values, including human connection. The importance of connection to this student is obvious throughout the essay as they write about their desire “to grow closer as a community.” It is particularly apparent with their final summarizing sentence: “For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.”

Lastly, this student positions themself as thoughtful when they recognize the way that embarrassment can get in the way of forming community. They do this through the specific example of feeling embarrassment when turning on one’s camera during a video call—a commonly-felt feeling. This ability to recognize fear of embarrassment as an obstacle to camaraderie shows maturity on the part of this applicant. 

This essay already has really descriptive content, a strong story, and a complete answer to the prompt, however there is room for every essay to improve. In this case, the student could have worked more descriptive word choice and figurative language into their essay to make it more engaging and impressive. You want your college essay to showcase your writing abilities as best as possible, while still sounding like you.

One literary device that would have been useful in this essay is a conceit or an extended metaphor . Essays that utilize conceits tend to begin with a metaphor, allude to the metaphor during the body of the paragraph, and end by circling back to the original metaphor. All together, it makes for a cohesive essay that is easy to follow and gives the reader a satisfying opening and conclusion to the essay.

The idea at the heart of this essay—working out to strengthen a community—would make for a great conceit. By changing the anecdote at the beginning to maybe reflect the lack of strength the student felt when working out alone and sprinkling in words and phrases that allude to strength and exercise during the essay, the last sentence (“For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times”) would feel like a fulfilling end to the conceit rather than just a clever metaphor thrown in. 

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words)

The scent of eucalyptus caressed my nose in a gentle breeze. Spring had arrived. Senior class activities were here. As a sophomore, I noticed a difference between athletic and academic seniors at my high school; one received recognition while the other received silence. I wanted to create an event celebrating students academically-committed to four-years, community colleges, trades schools, and military programs. This event was Academic Signing Day.

The leadership label, “Events Coordinator,” felt heavy on my introverted mind. I usually was setting up for rallies and spirit weeks, being overlooked around the exuberant nature of my peers. 

I knew a change of mind was needed; I designed flyers, painted posters, presented powerpoints, created student-led committees, and practiced countless hours for my introductory speech. Each committee would play a vital role on event day: one dedicated to refreshments, another to technology, and one for decorations. The fourth-month planning was a laborious joy, but I was still fearful of being in the spotlight. Being acknowledged by hundreds of people was new to me. 

The day was here. Parents filled the stands of the multi-purpose room. The atmosphere was tense; I could feel the angst building in my throat, worried about the impression I would leave. Applause followed each of the 400 students as they walked to their college table, indicating my time to speak. 

I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets; instead, smiles lit up the stands, realizing my voice shone through my actions. I was finally coming out of my shell. The floor was met by confetti as I was met by the sincerity of staff, students, and parents, solidifying the event for years to come. 

Academic students were no longer overshadowed. Their accomplishments were equally recognized to their athletic counterparts. The school culture of athletics over academics was no longer imbalanced. Now, everytime I smell eucalyptus, it is a friendly reminder that on Academic Signing Day, not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.

This is a good essay because it describes the contribution the student made to their community and the impact that experience had on shaping their personality. Admissions officers get to see what this student is capable of and how they have grown, which is important to demonstrate in your essays. Throughout the essay there is a nice balance between focusing on planning the event and the emotions it elicited from this student, which is summed up in the last sentence: “not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.”

With prompts like this one (which is essentially a Community Service Essay ) students sometimes take very small contributions to their community and stretch them—oftentimes in a very obvious way. Here, the reader can see the importance of Academic Signing Day to the community and the student, making it feel like a genuine and enjoyable experience for all involved. Including details like the four months of planning the student oversaw, the specific committees they delegated tasks to, and the hundreds of students and parents that attended highlights the skills this student possesses to plan and execute such a large event.

Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student’s emotions are intertwined throughout the essay. We see this student go from being a shy figure in the background to the confident architect of a celebrated community event, all due to their motivation to create Academic Signing Day. The student consistently shows throughout the essay, instead of telling us what happened. One example is when they convey their trepidation to public speaking in this sentence: “I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets.”

Employing detailed descriptions of feelings, emotions, fears, and body language all contribute to an essay that reveals so much in subtle ways. Without having to be explicitly told, the reader learns the student is ambitious, organized, a leader, and someone who deeply values academic recognition when they read this essay.

While this essay has many positives, there are a couple of things the student could work on. The first is to pay more attention to grammar. There was one obvious typo where the student wrote “the fourth-month planning was a laborious joy”, but there were also many sentences that felt clunky and disjointed. Each and every essay you submit should put your best foot forward and impress admissions officers with your writing ability, but typos immediately diminish your credibility as a writer and sincerity as an applicant.

It’s important to read through your essay multiple times and consider your specific word choice—does each word serve a purpose, could a sentence be rewritten to be less wordy, etc? However, it’s also important you have at least one other person edit your essay. Had this student given their essay to a fresh set of eyes they might have caught the typo and other areas in need of improvement.

Additionally, this student began and ended the essay with the smell of eucalyptus. Although this makes for an intriguing hook, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual point of the essay. It’s great to start your essay with an evocative anecdote or figurative language, but it needs to relate to your topic. Rather than wasting words on eucalyptus, a much stronger hook could have been the student nervously walking up to the stage with clammy hands and a lump in their throat. Beginning the essay with a descriptive sentence that puts us directly into the story with the student would draw the reader in and get them excited about the topic at hand.

Prompt: What have you done to make your school or community a better place? (350 words) 

“I wish my parents understood.” Sitting at the lunch table, I listened as my friends aired out every detail of their life that they were too afraid to share with their parents. Sexuality, relationships, dreams; the options were limitless. While I enjoyed playing therapist every 7th period, a nagging sensation that perhaps their parents should understand manifested in me. Yet, my proposal was always met with rolling eyes; “I wish they understood” began every conversation, but nothing was being done beyond wishing on both sides. 

I wanted to help not just my friends but the countless other stories I was told of severed relationships and hidden secrets. Ultimately, my quest for change led me to BFB, a local nonprofit. Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I devised and implemented a plan for opening up the conversation between students and parents with the team I led. We successfully hosted relationship seminars with guest speakers specializing on a range of topics, from inclusive education to parental pressure, and were invited to speak for BFB at various external events with local government by the end of my junior year. Collaborating with mental health organizations and receiving over $1,000 in funding from international companies facilitated our message to spread throughout the community and eventually awarded us with an opportunity to tackle a research project studying mental health among teens during the pandemic with professors from the University at Buffalo and UC Los Angeles. 

While these endeavors collectively facilitated my team to win the competition, the most rewarding part of it all was receiving positive feedback from my community and close friends. “I wish my parents understood” morphed into “I’m glad they tried to understand”. I now lead a separate program under BFB inspired by my previous endeavors, advancing its message even further and leaving a legacy of change and initiative for future high schoolers in the program. As I leave for college, I hope to continue this work at the University of California and foster a diverse community that embraces understanding and growth across cultures and generations.

The essay begins with a strong, human-centered story that paints a picture of what the writer’s community looks like. The first sentence acts as a hook by leaving readers with questions — whose parents are being discussed, and what don’t they understand? With their curiosity now piqued, readers become intrigued enough to move on to the next sentences. The last sentence of the first paragraph and beginning of the second relate to the same topic of stories from friends, making for a highly effective transition.

The writer then does a great job of describing their community impact in specific detail, which is crucial for this prompt. Rather than using vague and overly generalized language, the writer highlights their role in BFB with strong action verbs like “devised” and “implemented.” They also communicate the full scope of their impact with quantifiable metrics like “$1,000 in funding,” all while maintaining a flowing narrative style.

The essay ends by circling back to the reason why the writer got involved in improving their community through BFB, which makes the essay more cohesive and moving. The last sentences connect their current experiences improving community with their future aspirations to do so, both in the wider world and at a UC school. This forward-looking part allows admissions officers to get a sense of what the writer might accomplish as a UC alum/alumna, and is certainly something to emulate.

This essay’s biggest weakness is its organization. Since the second paragraph contains lots of dense information about the writer’s role in BFB, it would benefit from a few sentences that tie it back to the narrative in the first paragraph. For instance, the third sentence of the paragraph could be changed like so: “Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I led my team through devising and implementing a plan to foster student-parent conversations — the ones that my 7th period friends were in need of.”

The last paragraph also has the potential to be reorganized. The sentence with the “I wish my parents understood” quote would be more powerful at the end of the paragraph rather than in the middle. With a short transition added to the beginning, the new conclusion would look like so: “ Through it all, I hope to help ‘I wish my parents understood’ morph into ‘I’m glad they tried to understand’ for my 7th period friends and many more.” 

I drop my toothbrush in the sink as I hear a scream. Rushing outside, I find my mom’s hand painfully wedged in the gap between our outward-opening veranda doors. I quickly open it, freeing her hand as she gasps in relief. 

As she ices her hand, I regard the door like I would a trivia question or math problem – getting to know the facts before I start working on a solution. I find that, surprisingly, there is not a single protrusion to open the door from the outside! 

Perhaps it was the fact that my mom couldn’t drive or that my dad worked long hours, but the crafts store was off-limits; I’ve always ended up having to get resourceful and creative with whatever materials happened to be on hand in order to complete my impromptu STEM projects or garage builds. Used plastic bottles of various shapes and sizes became buildings for a model of a futuristic city. Cylindrical capacitors from an old computer, a few inches in height, became scale-size storage tanks. 

Inspired by these inventive work-arounds and spurred on by my mom’s plight, I procure a Command Strip, a roll of tennis racket grip, and, of course, duct tape. I fashion a rudimentary but effective solution: a pull handle, ensuring she would never find herself stuck again.

A desire to instill others in my community with this same sense of resourcefulness led me to co-found “Repair Workshops” at my school – sessions where we teach students to fix broken objects rather than disposing of them. My hope is that participants will walk away with a renewed sense of purpose to identify problems faced by members of their community (whether that’s their neighbor next door or the planet as a whole) and apply their newfound engineering skills towards solutions.

As I look towards a degree and career in engineering and business, these connections will serve as my grounding point: my reminder that in disciplines growing increasingly quantitative, sometimes the best startup ideas or engineering solutions originate from a desire to to better the lives of people around me.

This essay is a good example of telling a story with an authentic voice. With its down-to-earth tone and short, punchy paragraphs, it stands out as a piece of writing that only the author could have written. That is an effective way for you to write any of your college essays as well.

After readers are hooked by the mention of screaming in the first sentence, the writer immerses the readers in their thinking. This makes the essay flow very naturally — rather than a first paragraph of narrative followed by an unrelated description of STEM projects, the whole essay is a cohesive story that shows how the writer came to improve their community. 

Their take on community also makes the essay stand out. While many responses to this prompt will focus on an amorphous, big-picture concept of community, such as school or humanity, this essay is about a community that the writer has a close connection to — their family. Family is also not the large group of people that most applicants would first attach to the word “community,” but writing about it here is a creative take on the prompt. Though explaining community impact is most important, choosing the most unique community you are a part of is a great way to make your essay stand out.

This essay’s main weakness is that the paragraph about Repair Workshops does not go into enough detail about community impact. The writer should highlight more specific examples of leadership here, since it would allow them to demonstrate how they hope to impact many more communities besides their family. 

After the sentence ending with “fix broken objects rather than disposing of them,” a new part could be added that shows how the writer taught students. For example, the writer could tell the story of how “tin cans became compost bins” as they explained the importance of making the world a better place. 

Then, at the end of the paragraph, the writer could more concretely explain the visions they have to expand the impact of Repair Workshops. A good concluding sentence could start with “I too hope to use engineering skills and resourcefulness to…” Adding this extra context would also make the paragraph transition better to the final paragraph of the essay, which somewhat abruptly begins by mentioning the writer’s previously unmentioned career interests in engineering and business.

Where to Get Feedback on Your UC Essays

Want feedback like this on your University of California essays before you submit? We offer expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with an expert to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers. In fact, Alexander Oddo , an essay expert on CollegeVine, provided commentary on several of the essays in this post.

Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Advisors on CollegeVine also offer expert college counseling packages . You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.

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UC Essay Examples for the Personal Insight Questions

Sample essays with explanations of their strengths and weaknesses

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Every applicant to one of the University of California campuses must write four short essays in response to the UC application's Personal Insight questions. The UC essay examples below reveal how two different students approached the prompts. Both essays are accompanied by an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.

Features of a Winning UC Personal Insight Essay

The strongest UC essays present information that isn't available elsewhere in the application, and they paint the portrait of someone who will play a positive role in the campus community. Let your kindness, humor, talent, and creativity shine, but also make sure each of your four essays is substantive.

As you figure out your strategy for responding to the UC Personal Insight questions , keep in mind that it's not just the individual essays that matter, but also the full portrait of yourself that you create through the combination of all four essays. Ideally, each essay should present a different dimension of your personality, interests, and talents so that the admissions folks get to know you as a three-dimensional individual who has a lot to contribute to the campus community.

UC Sample Essay, Question #2

For one of her Personal Insight essays, Angie responded to 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.

Here is her essay:

I’m not great at drawing. Even after taking the required art classes in elementary and middle school, I don’t really see myself becoming a famous artist anytime soon. I’m most comfortable creating stick figures and notebook doodles. However, my lack of innate talent hasn’t kept me from using drawing communicate or entertain through cartoons.
Now, like I said, the artwork itself isn’t going to win any awards, but that’s only part of my creative process. I draw cartoons to make my friends laugh, to make my siblings feel better if they’re having a bad day, to poke fun at myself. I don’t make cartoons to show off my artistic ability; I make them because I think they’re fun to create, and (so far) other people enjoy them.
When I was about seven or eight, my sister got dumped by her boyfriend unexpectedly. She was feeling really down about it, and I was trying to think of something I could do that would cheer her up. So I drew a (pretty bad) likeness of her ex, made better by some rather unflattering details. It made my sister laugh, and I like to think I helped her through her break-up, even if only a little bit. Since then, I’ve drawn caricatures of my teachers, friends, and celebrities, ventured a little into political cartooning, and started a series about my interactions with my idiotic cat, Gingerale.
Cartooning is a way for me to be creative and express myself. Not only am I being artistic (and I use that term loosely), but I’m using my imagination to create scenarios and figure out how how to represent people and things. I’ve learned what people find funny, and what is not funny. I’ve come to realize that my drawing skills are not the important part of my cartooning. What is important is that I’m expressing myself, making others happy, and doing something small and silly, but also worthwhile.

Discussion of UC Sample Essay by Angie

Angie's essay comes in at 322 words, a little below the 350-word limit. 350 words is already a small space in which to tell a meaningful story, so don't be afraid to submit an essay that's close to the word limit (as long as your essay isn't wordy, repetitive, or lacking substance).

The essay does a good job showing the reader a dimension of Angie that probably isn't apparent anywhere else in her application. Her love of creating cartoons wouldn't appear in her academic record or list of extracurricular activities . Thus, it's a good choice for one of her Personal Insight essays (after all, it's providing new insight into her person). We learn that Angie isn't just a good student who is involved in some school activities. She also has a hobby she is passionate about. Crucially, Angie explains why cartooning is important to her.

The tone of Angie's essay is also a plus. She has not written a typical "look how great I am" essay. Instead, Angie clearly tells us that her artistic skills are rather weak. Her honesty is refreshing, and at the same time, the essay does convey much to admire about Angie: she is funny, self-deprecating, and caring. This latter point, in fact, is the true strength of the essay. By explaining that she enjoys this hobby because of the happiness it brings other people, Angie comes across as someone who is genuine, considerate, and kind.

Overall, the essay is quite strong. It is clearly written, uses an engaging style , and is free of any major grammatical errors . It presents a dimension of Angie's character that should appeal to the admissions staff who read her essay. If there is one weakness, it would be that the third paragraph focuses on Angie's early childhood. Colleges are much more interested in what you have done in recent years than your activities as a child. That said, the childhood information connects to Angie's current interests in clear, relevant ways, so it does not detract too much from the overall essay.

UC Sample Essay, Question #6

For one of his University of California Personal Insight essays, Terrance responded to option #6: Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you .

Here is his essay:

One of my strongest memories in elementary school is rehearsing for the annual “Learning on the Move” show. The fourth graders put on this show every year, each one focusing on something different. Our show was about food and making healthy choices. We could pick which group to be in: dancing, stage design, writing, or music. I chose music, not because I was interested in it the most, but because my best friend had picked it.
I remember the music director showing us a long row of various percussion instruments, and asking us what we thought different foods would sound like. This was not my first experience in playing an instrument, but I was a novice when it came to creating music, deciding what the music meant, and what its intent and meaning was. Granted, choosing a güiro to represent scrambled eggs was not Beethoven writing his Ninth Symphony, but it was a start.
In middle school, I joined the orchestra, taking up the cello. Freshmen year of high school, I auditioned for, and was accepted into, the regional youth symphony. More importantly, though, I took two semesters of Music Theory my sophomore year. I love playing music, but I’ve learned that I love writing it even more. Since my high school only offers Music Theory I and II, I attended a summer music camp with a program in theory and composition. I learned so much, and I’m looking forward to pursuing a major in Music Composition.
I find writing music is a way for me to express emotions and tell stories that are beyond language. Music is such a unifying force; it’s a way to communicate across languages and borders. Music has been such a large part of my life—from fourth grade and on—and studying music and music composition is a way for me to create something beautiful and share it with others.

Discussion of UC Sample Essay by Terrance

Like Angie's essay, Terrance's essay comes in at a little over 300 words. This length is perfectly appropriate assuming all of the words add substance to the narrative. When it comes to the features of a good application essay , Terrance does well and avoids common pitfalls.

For Terrance, the choice of question #6 makes sense—he fell in love with composing music, and he is entering college knowing what his major will be. If you are like many college applicants and have a wide range of interests and possible college majors, you may want to steer clear of this question.

Terrance's essay does a good job balancing humor with substance. The opening paragraph presents an entertaining vignette in which he chooses to study music based on nothing more than peer pressure. By paragraph three, we learn how that rather serendipitous introduction to music has led to something very meaningful. The final paragraph also establishes a pleasing tone with its emphasis on music as a "unifying force" and something that Terrance wants to share with others. He comes across as a passionate and generous person who will contribute to the campus community in a meaningful way.

A Final Word on Personal Insight Essays

Unlike the California State University system , the University of California schools have a holistic admissions process. The admissions officers are evaluating you as a whole person, not just as numerical data related to test scores and grades (although both are important). The Personal Insight questions are one of the primary ways the admissions officers get to know you, your personality, and your interests.

Think of each essay as an independent entity, as well as one piece of a four-essay application. Each essay should present an engaging narrative that reveals an important aspect of your life as well as explain why the topic you've chosen is important to you. When you consider all four essays in combination, they should work together to reveal the true breadth and depth of your character and interests.

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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. 

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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.

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  • How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions

Bonus Material:  Download 25 UC Essays That Worked

Preparing to apply to any of the University of California schools? If so, you may have already heard about the UC Personal Insight Questions or PIQs, which are just their version of the college admissions essay. 

Students who earn admission to the UC schools–especially the more selective ones like UCLA or UC Berkeley–spend countless hours perfecting their UC PIQ essays, which are a crucial factor in the admissions committee’s decisions. 

Over years of helping students gain admission to the UC schools, we’ve developed an approach designed to help you respond to these unique essays and maximize your chances of admission. This post will cover everything you need to know about the UC Personal Insight Questions, including a detailed analysis of 8 real sample essays. 

Download 25 UC Essays That Worked

Jump to section: What are the UC Personal Insight Questions? How to approach each of the 8 UC Personal Insight Questions Analysis of 8 Real Sample UC Essays Final considerations for UC essays as a whole Next steps

What are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

While many other colleges simply use the Common App as their application portal, the University of California schools have a completely different system. The primary difference is that instead of writing one long essay, you’ll choose to answer 4 out of 8 “Personal Insight Questions,” with each response between 250 and 350 words. 

The good news is that these same four essays can go to all of the UC schools: it takes no more work to apply to all the UCs than to apply to just one. 

uc essay question examples

The bad news is that even if you’ve already written your Common App essay, you’ll have to do a lot of additional work to prepare your UC application. In this post, we’ll walk you through tips for answering each prompt, discuss how to ensure all of your application essays work together, and then do an in-depth analysis of 8 real sample essays. 

You can also jump ahead to the analysis of the sample essays here Analysis of 8 Real PIQs or download our collection of real, successful responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions below. 

How to approach each of the 8 UC 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.  .

uc essay question examples

The first UC essay prompt is straightforward enough: you’re expected to tell a story exemplifying your leadership experience. If you can think of a concrete instance that demonstrates your leadership ability, this is a great prompt for you to answer. In particular, it can let you expand on one of your extracurricular or resume activities and really highlight what made that experience unique. 

A few suggestions and warnings before you start drafting, however. As with the majority of college admissions essays, the key here is to tell an evocative narrative story and really get the admissions committee’s attention and interest. With that in mind, here is a quick list of do s and don’t s specifically for the first prompt: 

  • Do begin this particular essay with a detailed story, as if you were writing a chapter of a novel. The number one thing college essay counselors have to tell students is: “Show, don’t tell!” and that’s especially true for this personal insight question.
  • Do interpret the prompt broadly. Leadership isn’t just being president of a club or captain of a sports team, and you don’t need to have an official “position” to write about a moment you influenced others. 
  • Do pick an example that involves you contributing to the community or the greater good.
  • Do , above all, stay self-aware and humble.

On that note, some important things to avoid: 

  • Don’t brag or self-aggrandize! This is much tougher than it may seem, and is where a second set of eyes from one of our college essay experts would come in handy. Almost nothing is worse than an application essay that makes it seem like you’re full of yourself, and it’s tricky to avoid that when you’re meant to write about your own abilities. 
  • Don’t pick an example of leadership without any positive social effects. This goes hand in hand with the previous Don’t. Let’s say you were part of a school club where you became president–if you can’t point to any positive outcomes for the organization or other people, it’s not worth writing about. 
  • Don’t rehash your resume. This is meant to be a story of a particular moment, with a little bit of reflection on what you learned. Don’t make this a run-down of your roles and responsibilities–or you might have the admissions committee yawning. 

The following are things to consider when writing this essay, according to the UC schools themselves: 

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?

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.  

uc essay question examples

The second UC Personal Insight Question lets you talk about almost anything. Do you make art, music, or literature of any kind? Do you have a unique way of looking at the world and making decisions? Do you organize your life in an unusual way? Any and all of these would make good topics for this essay prompt. 

As before, take a look at a handful of quick do s and don’t s below. Later in this blog post Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 2 , we’ll do an in-depth analysis of a response to this prompt. 

  • Do interpret the prompt, well, creatively! You get to decide what counts as “creativity,” so long as you can tell a convincing story about it. 
  • This is, of course a risk, but a necessary one. We often recommend reaching out to a trusted college essay expert (like, say, one of our very own here) to make sure you’re not being a bit too risky. 
  • Do use specific examples of this creative practice, as opposed to just generalities. 

Below are specific things to avoid with the second UC PIQ essay prompt:

  • Don’t shoehorn something impressive from your resume into this essay if it doesn’t fit. Students too often try to cram every impressive achievement from their lives into their college admissions essays, but that won’t come off the right way here. 
  • Don’t choose anything that would be a red flag for colleges. Weird is perfectly okay (even good!), but anything illegal or antisocial is a big no. They want you to be creative, but they also want you to be a good member of their college community. 

There aren’t many absolute don’t s for this essay–it’s designed to be flexible and fun. For a thorough analysis of a successful example, see the end of this post  Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 2 . 

Here are some more drafting tips from the UC schools: 

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?

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?  

Here’s another great essay prompt for those of you with strange or unique skills: the more unusual, the more unexpected, the better! As with the first two prompts, see below for some advice based on the mistakes we’ve seen students make with this essay prompt. 

uc essay question examples

  • Do interpret “talent or skill” as broadly as you like. Sure, if you’re a world-class pianist, you can write about that. But we’ve also seen stellar responses to this prompt that talk about students’ empathy, or their ability to speak up for others, or their ability to recite obscure facts. 
  • Do show your talent or skill in action, with one or more specific stories. 
  • Do connect those stories with what it actually says about you. Why should a college admissions officer care that you’re an expert woodworker or yodeler? How has it shaped how you view the world?

Like any essay prompt that asks you to talk about what you’re good at, this one can bait you into coming off as cocky. Here’s what to avoid: 

  • Don’t spend the whole essay talking about how good you are at this skill or talent. It’s fine to brag a tiny bit, but you don’t want to cross the line into cockiness or egoism. 
  • Don’t present the talent or skill, whatever it is, as inherently valuable or impressive. Let’s say you bench 300 pounds or are a chess grandmaster (or both): don’t just toss that fact at the admissions committee and expect them to be impressed. Explain why it matters. 
  • Don’t write about something that’s only in the past unless you can connect it with your future. If you achieved something great years ago, you need to explain how it affects you now .

Here are the UC schools’ pointers: 

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

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

UC 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.

This looks like one question, but is really two very different questions bound together. 

The first asks what important or unusual educational opportunity you’ve made use of–this can be a summer class you voluntarily enrolled in, an independent research project you conducted, or some sort of international service learning experience. In other words, it should be something that goes beyond your regular schoolwork. 

The second is quite different: has there ever been something stopping you from learning or attending school? This could be trouble at home, health problems, or learning challenges. In other words, this is a “hardship” question, and the ideal place to tell the UC schools’ admissions officers what challenges you overcame to get the grades and test scores you did.

The advice below varies depending on which aspect of this prompt you’re planning to address. 

For the opportunity:

uc essay question examples

  • Do convey excitement about the educational opportunity, whatever it may be. The more passionate you are about what you learned or achieved, the better. 
  • Do highlight how it changed you and your perspective on learning/academics in general. 
  • Do note any concrete outcomes from this experience: did you publish a paper, learn a new skill you still use, etc.? If so, here’s the place to tell the admissions committee about it. 
  • Don’t just write about something you were forced to do as part of your schoolwork.
  • This is a tricky one, as it’s hard to know what comes off this way to admissions officers. The best advice we can give here is to talk this over with a college admissions counselor or essay expert . 
  • Don’t try to undermine or downplay the experience by saying you weren’t interested in it or didn’t get much out of it. If that’s how you feel, you should answer a different prompt. 

For the educational barrier:

  • Do go into an appropriate level of detail about the barrier. It may be difficult to write about, but if there was real hardship preventing you from attending school, completing assignments, or testing well, you need to convey the severity to the admissions committee.
  • Do focus more on “overcoming” than on the hardship itself. While you want to make the severity of what you faced clear, you want to highlight what you did to overcome it. 
  • Don’t write about something that could be considered minor, or something that most students face. Struggling to get up early, procrastination, or problems with “bad” teachers are almost never worth discussing in an essay like this. 
  • Don’t try too hard to explain away grades or other academic problems. It’s fine to touch on how the obstacles affected your academic performance, but you don’t need to make excuses. Let your story speak for itself. 

Here’s what the UC schools have to say about this prompt: 

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?

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?

uc essay question examples

This prompt is very similar to the “obstacles” element of the fourth PIQ. For that reason, it’s quite rare to see a student answer both prompt 4 and 5: there’s generally a bit too much overlap.

 What sets this prompt apart from the previous one is that the “challenge” is a bit broader. It’s not just asking for an educational barrier, but for the most significant challenge of any sort you’ve had to overcome. 

That being said, our advice for this one is generally the same as for the second half of prompt number four, and there aren’t any special rules for this one in particular. If you have a story that fits both this prompt and prompt number 4, the deciding factor should be the nature of the obstacle. 

If the hardship is more personal, choose prompt number 5; if it’s more logistical/educational, choose prompt number 4. In either case, the choice of prompt doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you tell the story. 

Here’s what the UC website advises for this prompt: 

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 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. 

uc essay question examples

If you already know what major you want to pursue, PIQ 6 is a great prompt to respond to–especially because you can largely reuse any “Why Major?” essays you may have written for other schools.

If not, you can still answer this question, so long as you’ve got some sort of academic interest or passion. But don’t forget the second part of the prompt: they don’t just want to hear what interests you, they want to hear what you’ve done about it. 

Great avenues for exploration here: research projects or papers, particularly interesting school projects, and any kind of self-directed learning. You don’t have to have published something or anything like that. So long as you’ve seriously engaged with an intellectual interest by reading and thinking, you’ll have plenty to write about. 

In general, most students would be wise to select this prompt. It lets you seriously discuss something that is otherwise unlikely to be represented in your application, and your intellectual passions are something every college admissions officer wants to hear about. 

For this essay: 

  • Do think about a specific moment that exemplifies this interest, perhaps telling the story of when you first fell in love with a subject or idea. 
  • Do highlight your passion and interest with evocative, almost over-the-top language–you want your love for this topic to really come across in this college essay. 
  • Do feel free to go a bit into the nitty-gritty of your research or reading. Even if the UC admissions committee isn’t familiar with the terms or authors, they’ll appreciate the fact that you are. 
  • Don’t just write about a class or subject in which you perform well, grades-wise. Here, passion matters more than performance. 
  • Don’t forget the second part of the prompt: convey your passion, but prove that you actually pursued that passion beyond what is simply required by school. 
  • Please don’t try to play this one too cool and write about how nothing taught in school is interesting/engaging/etc. If that is how you feel, pick a different prompt. 

The UC schools’ website suggests you bear this in mind: 

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?

UC Personal Insight Question 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  

uc essay question examples

Like the previous essay prompt, this question is one that you should easily be able to recycle from one of your supplemental essays for another school, which often ask a similar question. 

This one is totally straightforward: simply give the UC admissions officers detailed information about some sort of community-oriented project you’ve been involved in. It’s also a great place for you to explore what community means to you. 

The ideal way to answer this question is with a mix of narrative and big-picture overview. Start with a scene of you in the action, actually contributing to these service efforts. Then, zoom out and talk more broadly about your involvement and what service to your community means to you. 

Specific pointers for this essay prompt include: 

  • Do use at least one specific, detailed anecdote of you engaged in this community or service work. 
  • Do stress your commitment to this work and talk about its importance. 
  • Do , if applicable, talk about this work’s broader implications for you as a student and community member: has it changed how you view your role in the community? Will it affect how you contribute to the UC community?
  • Don’t pick something that you were only involved with in the past or a handful of times. For example, if you just volunteered at a soup kitchen twice to get your NHS hours, it’ll be clear to admissions officers that this doesn’t represent a serious commitment to service. 
  • Don’t pick an activity that solely involved you raising money for charitable causes. You need to have been actively involved in whatever this work was. 
  • Don’t use this as an opportunity to highlight your accomplishments. It’s fine to talk about how successful (or not) you were in your efforts, but you want the focus to be on the importance of service work and how it benefited others. 

Other things to bear in mind, courtesy of the UC schools themselves: 

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?

UC Personal Insight Question 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?

Like the very last prompt of the Common App personal statement, this is the catch-all question designed to let you write more or less anything. This is a real double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, with UC PIQ 8, you have tons of freedom: you can write about whatever you think is an important part of your UC admissions application. 

uc essay question examples

On the other, this prompt often baits students into trying to cram in a highlight reel of what makes them a “strong candidate,” which is not the way to go. 

If you have compelling answers to four of the other UC prompts, you should simply answer those. The only reason to tackle this prompt is if there is something fundamental to your story and who you are that cannot be made to fit one of those other prompts. In that case, this is your chance to tell that story. 

Because responses to this prompt can go so wrong so easily, we especially recommend running any ideas by one of our college essay advisors, who can ensure you don’t jeopardize your UC application by picking the wrong approach to this prompt. 

Since this one is a freeform prompt, we just have a couple things to definitely avoid:

  • Don’t use this as a place to brag about achievements, grades, test scores, or broadly about how great you are. 
  • Don’t use this prompt to double down on something that’s already sufficiently explored in other areas of your application (like in the other essay responses, for example). 

Analysis of 8 Real Sample UC Essays

In this section, we’ll present you with a successful sample response to each of the first 8 UC Personal Insight Questions, then explain what about each one works. Using these examples and our guide above, you should have most of what you need to start your own UC application essays. 

For more sample essays like the one below, you can check out the collection we put together of 25 real UC application essays that worked, getting students into schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley. 

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 1

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

Tck. Tck. Tck. The sound of my pen streaking across my notebook — marking every concern, inquiry, and supporting point in the meeting. My nonprofit was considering partnering with a local organization, and our board was meeting to discuss the ramifications of such a decision. Opposing board members were concerned that partnering with New Jersey organizations would disadvantage members in other parts of the world, but supporting members believed the partnership would grow our impact by creating more direct service opportunities.

As the meeting ended, I stared at my notes. Both “sides” had made valid points, and I knew I needed to come up with a solution that incorporated both to ensure none of our members were at a disadvantage. As I paced around my room, thinking of possible solutions —it hit me. We don’t need to limit our impact to solely New Jersians: we can offer all our members the opportunity to introduce us to local nonprofit organizations and offer virtual opportunities to support those groups, like phone-banking.

uc essay question examples

 As the leader of our organization, it’s my job to listen to the ideas of each board and community member to come up with a way forward. In the time since that board meeting, I have made it more of a priority to work with our members to figure out which issues mean most to them and tackle those head on. The outcome of this team-oriented approach has not only allowed us to create more direct-service opportunities, but it’s also allowed me to foster a collaborative and tight-knit community where everyone feels valued and heard. People work harder and are more engaged when they are fighting for issues they specifically care about, so fostering this collaborative planning environment has made our impact even stronger. 

By learning to encompass various viewpoints—even ones different from my own—I have taken a more balanced approach to leadership as I learn to meld multiple opinions into a cohesive whole. The sum of our varied perspectives is more potent than any one could be alone.

Analysis 

So, what makes this essay work? 

Beginning: First, it starts creatively, putting us directly into the middle of a narrative. The first words are slightly disorienting, but that’s a good thing–it means we want to read to find out what’s going on. Note that even though the narrative scene isn’t all that exciting (it’s a meeting, after all), the author uses strong storytelling to make it compelling anyway. 

Middle: After dropping us into the story, the essay quickly and efficiently moves on to giving us the background and setting up the stakes: there’s a problem this organization faces, and the writer, as the organization’s leader, needs to find the solution. 

End: Without giving us too many bureaucratic details (which would probably lose the admissions officers’ interest), the writer quickly conveys that they found a solution. Far more importantly, they move on to discussing why this matters and how it affected their understanding of leadership. 

uc essay question examples

The last two paragraphs are the real heart of this essay: admissions officers at elite universities want to see that you’re someone who thinks critically about what “leadership” means, and how you see yourself as a member of a larger community or project. 

The situation this essay describes isn’t life or death; it is, in fact, a pretty classic problem faced by many students holding any kind of leadership role in a school club or local organization. But what’s crucial is that the writer of this essay always frames leadership in terms of doing good for others. The writer never brags, never comes off as cocky. Instead, they focus on what positives they’ve been able to accomplish for others. 

The key elements of this essay that allow it to work: story, stakes, self-awareness. 

For more examples of responses to this and other UC Personal Insight Questions, download our collection of real sample essays below. 

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 2

Prompt: Describe how you express your creative side.  

uc essay question examples

When photography was first invented in 1837, most people didn’t consider it a form of art. Photography was truth, they claimed. Even now, some still see photography as the least “artsy” of the arts. I started challenging that idea when I first picked up a digital camera two years ago. My camera has taught me to use technical skills in a creative way. Not only do I have to master lighting, composition, and Photoshop, I have to envision the work that I want to produce and move towards that goal at every moment. 

For me, the artistic process is far from linear, especially when things don’t quite work out the way I’d originally wanted. The lighting is too harsh, the digital noise gets overwhelming, or the highlights are blown out. But I never give up on a photo just because something’s off about it. Although those cases are hard to work with, sometimes they’re the most interesting, because that’s when I start using my most creative post-processing techniques. With some smoke and mirrors — and a few brush strokes in Photoshop — I can transform a seemingly boring photo into something that makes my friends go, “Wow, how did you do that?” The end result often qualifies more as digital art than photography. 

I’ve found that creativity in photography is not so different from creativity in science. Humans are visual learners, so it’s much easier to deliver a message through an image than through words alone, even when that message is about math or biology. In past years, I’ve served as a tutor to students in various environments, be it debate camp or frenzied lunchtime cram sessions, and when I need to explain something abstract, I gravitate towards diagrams rather than long-winded explanations. When my initial attempts don’t get through, I think of analogies or stories to help my hardworking classmates access their abilities to learn visually. 

At college, I would expect to engage in equally challenging conversations with fellow scholars, during which we will have to use every creative resource at our disposal to truly see what we’re learning.

This is a great example of a straightforward response to the “Creative side” prompt. The writer doesn’t do any formal tricks, instead directly conveying their passion for a particular art form in detail. 

Beginning: The essay starts off with an interesting take on its subject, and very clearly articulates why it’s important to the student: photography is art, and has taught them to view the world more creatively. 

Middle: This essay really shines in its body paragraphs, precisely because of the level of detail (“The lighting is too harsh, the digital noise gets overwhelming, or the highlights are blown out”) it manages to convey about the process of photography. It doesn’t matter whether we know exactly what that all means; what matters is that the author clearly does. 

End: The writer successfully connects this creative passion with other aspects of their life (science, tutoring) and even ends by suggesting how this passion will make them a better and more capable classmate and student. 

Key elements: passion+detail+connection to academics.

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 3

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

The stall horn blares, and the plane sways under the control of my feet. Shoulders tense, I look outside to maintain balance: even a small tap of a foot or shift of the stick could throw the plane into a downwards roll. The plane begins to shake- my cue to recover. I pitch the nose down and push the throttle full forwards. Despite high-stress situations, piloting is my dream career. Whether airliners or navy jets, I know I will be happiest in the air.

uc essay question examples

I started out building model airplanes out of paper and pencils at Civil Air Patrol meetings, which first introduced me to basic aviation principles: pitch, roll, and yaw. From there, a presentation in my computer science class taught me about Joby Aviation, a local startup working on electric gyrocopters for everyday travel. Already knowing I wanted to fly, I felt inspired to work with aircraft as an engineer as well. I decided to enroll in flight lessons and subsequently took a job as a receptionist at my flight school.

When flying, time passes by as fast as the air around me. As warnings blare, pilots chatter over the radio and the plane’s glass bubble gets swelteringly hot. There’s a lot to be aware of, but I’ve learned to multitask and focus amidst distractions. Similarly, being at the airport quickly thrust me into the world of aviation. I found myself fascinated not only by aerodynamics but also by fuel chemistry, avionics, and materials. Sumping fuel from the fuel tanks, I wondered, how do different fuel textures affect planes’ engines? Running my hand along the propeller, I pondered: how would the aircraft fly if this were wood? Plastic? I became fascinated by the specificity and variability of aerospace materials and eager to learn more about them.

My love for aerospace is part of why I am eager to study engineering. I imagine myself designing new aircraft and optimizing the ones I fly. Whether I become a pilot or an engineer, the lessons I learn flying will be beneficial in any future paths I take.

Beginning: Like many (though not all) of the best essays, this one starts by dropping us directly into the story. It’s far less appealing or interesting to read someone say “my greatest strength is…” and far more enjoyable to see that strength in action. The story here is told with precise details, highlighting the stakes of what’s going on. 

Middle: Details, details, details–look at all those details! You should, by now, be seeing a trend in these essays. What makes this background about the students passions work are the specific details they provide about it: the models, the aviation principles, the gyrocopters. As with the example essay for the second prompt, these details serve to convey the student’s passion and their knowledge. 

End: As with the previous essay, the importance–the “so what?”–of this essay appear here. Why should we (and all those admissions committees) care that this student can fly planes? Well, because it’s taught them to “multitask and focus amidst distractions,” plus lead them to learn more about all sorts of related fields. 

Key elements: story+detail+connection to academics.

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 4

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

uc essay question examples

Last summer, I volunteered with a global NGO called the Paper Carton Alliance. Its focus is recycling and sustainability, and I was fortunate enough to assist them while practicing my Mandarin Chinese. While I was there, we conducted site research at recycling plants and I learned about one of the most efficient recycling systems in the world. I came to understand Chinese by speaking it daily and hearing it in different contexts. I spoke in meetings as well as in casual conversations with my coworkers.

I also learned how to address cultural barriers and discomfort. Especially in the more rural areas of Taiwan, people weren’t expecting foreigners and would ask me where I was from or why I was there. At one meeting, once the manager learned that I could understand Chinese, he instead began to speak Taiwanese so that I wouldn’t understand him because he felt uncomfortable about a foreigner participating in the meeting. I was frustrated, but I realized that this wasn’t the time to assert myself. It was more important to respect my elders. I let them continue the meeting, taking notes to learn, and appreciating that there are times to step back.

Learning this cultural “language” was as important, if not more, as learning Mandarin. It’s an experience that I wouldn’t have had in an American classroom, but saw firsthand in a foreign Country.

Throughout the trip, I also saw efficient recycling methods and how governmental economic policy creates measurable differences in how businesses operate. Taiwan’s recycling program, one of the best in the world, inspires me to create something similarly effective after I graduate, starting on a local level. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I interact with nature regularly, whether running cross-country or swimming in Aquatic Park. I’m co-president of our school’s Ocean Conservation Club because I feel it’s not only a passion, but a human obligation to consider the environment. My volunteering with the Paper Carton Alliance stimulated both my passions for multiculturalism and environmental preservation. I hope to continue to work on behalf of the global environment in college and beyond.

Beginning: This essay opens clearly and directly without much of a story. It tells us what the student was involved in, sets up the context, and helps us understand why it matters. While normally we love seeing an essay start with a story, sometimes the topic doesn’t lend itself to that. 

Middle: The little anecdote in the middle of this essay about the manager switching languages is interesting and engaging; more importantly, it allows the writer to reflect critically on a nuanced issue (respecting cultural norms vs asserting yourself). By exploring that question, the writer shows admissions officers that they’re someone who thinks deeply about real-life issues and walks away from them with lessons. 

End: At the end, the author connects this educational opportunity with their passion for sustainable change and other areas of their life. They don’t try to cram every accomplishment in–instead, they just briefly connect some relevant aspects of their life to show that this learning opportunity wasn’t just a one-off, but actually continues to shape how they view the world.

Key elements: Passion+self-awareness+stakes.

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 5

Prompt: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. 

Until that moment, I hated being black. I hated my dark brown skin and wished that I was just a few shades lighter so that I was pretty. I hated my thick coily hair and wished it was straight like the other girls at school. I hated my African features and looking so different from everyone.  

But I hid it all. The older I got the harder it was to feel comfortable in my skin.

My mom held me as I cried, and for the first time in my life, I actually believed her when she called me beautiful. My wide nose and big lips make me uniquely interesting. My curly 4c hair gives me character and expression. My dark skin is exactly what makes me beautiful. For years I was blinded, but after my mom hugged me, I looked in the mirror seeing myself for the first time. I admired my dark skin that glows in the sun. I marveled at my wild hair that frames my face and fits any style of my character. I smiled at my full lips that speak my truth everyday, sharing my experiences with the world as I learn to love myself and love others. 

uc essay question examples

Every day I face life in a society that wants me to doubt myself, my abilities, and my success as an African American woman. Yet everyday when I look in the mirror I love the reflection looking back at me. The little black girl who never thought she was pretty is almost unrecognizable today. I will share my confidence with all the black girls around me. I will uplift them as my mother uplifted me. As a black woman in STEM, I have the unique opportunity to serve my sisters who are often overlooked in the healthcare industry. Not only can I set an example to young black girls of the greatness they will achieve, but I’ll also get to provide them care in a system that delegitimizes their pains. I will protect them and show them that they are beautiful and valid because they are black. 

Beginning: This essay starts with a series of incredibly powerful, vulnerable assertions. Not only does this student speak frankly about how she viewed herself, but by writing, “until that moment…” she’s also conveying to readers that there’s a story to come. 

Middle: The body of this essay tells a compact, fluid story, effectively using the “But I hid it all” for emphasis and contrast. It recounts that moment of change when the student overcame this discomfort, recounting an emotionally charged experience in bold, detailed prose. 

End: The student then connects this story more directly to the prompt, to wider social issues, and to the student’s academic calling. Note that this essay doesn’t try too hard to recount the writer’s accomplishments or to “sell” the writer as a good student or community member. It doesn’t need to. Instead, it clearly connects a moment of personal growth with the issues faced by black women, articulating how that connection has shaped what this student hopes to accomplish. 

Key elements: Vulnerability+detail+social issue+academics

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 6

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

uc essay question examples

After watching a video about a man with 1,000 Klein bottles under his house, I became fascinated with topological shapes, figures that cannot be broken or torn, only morphed. Inspired to research single-surfaced Klein bottles, twisted Mobius strips, and their relationship to other branches of mathematics, I turned to Google Drawings and started designing a topology infographic.

As I traversed the web for information, one search led to a million others. I tumbled down the topology rabbit hole, hopping from one definition to the next to make sense of fundamental concepts. However, I found joy in deciphering definitions and complex notation. As I learned, I imagined myself taking classes and fully comprehending what were then somewhat cryptic definitions.

My calculus teacher, Mr. K, lent me a book: “Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid”. Absorbing the information in the pages, I recognized the miraculous nature of mathematics. Godel’s logical theorems, Escher’s topological visuals, and Bach’s musical epiphanies connected and built upon each other through a vastly spreading mathematical web. An excitement stirred within me and my eyes gradually opened up to the full extent of mathematics left to learn after high school. I began to wonder if I could study advanced mathematics with an engineering degree. Later, I discovered that topology, a seemingly unrelated field to engineering, is used to construct circuits and optimize materials for aerospace engineering. Through this, I realized that I can always find a way to connect my passions to my goals.

As I wrapped up my research project, I added the finishing touches: a vector icon of a torus and an image of a Klein bottle. Conveying what I’ve learned through a creative presentation is something I excel at, and I enjoy helping others learn in a visually dynamic way. As well as being an artistic opportunity, my topology research also deepened my passion for mathematics, something I am determined to follow through as I select my college courses.

Beginning: with a quirky start (what’s a Klein bottle? Why are so many under that house? Is that where Klein bottles are supposed to go?), this essay hooks us readers and begins recounting the writer’s intellectual pursuit of “topological figures.” It’s unusual, it’s detailed, and it’s clearly from the heart. 

Middle: As is classic for these essays, the middle sketches in detail how the student pursued this interest: a specific book connecting three different figures, each of which inspired this student’s love of math. Again, the details make this work: think about how much more boring this essay would be if we didn’t get the specific names and contributions of the three figures in the book.

End: the end shows, very briefly, the outcome of this learning process: a creative research project tying back to that original Klein bottle. What’s great about this essay is that it doesn’t recount some expensive or inaccessible learning experience like an elite summer camp or trip abroad. The student’s interest was hooked by a weird fact, so they pursued that interest through books, online searches, and a project, all things that just about anyone can do if they wish to. 

Key elements: quirky intro+Details+tangible outcome. I just wish this student told us what a Klein bottle is. 

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 7

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

One. Two. Three. Four. I looked around the room as anxious faces filled in. An awkward silence hung over us as I turned toward my best friend. A part of me felt guilty to be here; I wondered what would happen if any of my family members found out I was bringing “shame” to them. On the other hand, a part of me was glad that there was a place where I could proudly express this part of my identity. 

Finally, I broke the ice and introduced myself, “Hey guys, I’m the co-President; thank you all for coming to the first meeting of the year.” Soon enough, other people introduced themselves, and we started discussing our goals for the year in the affinity group. 

uc essay question examples

With a plan came weekly meetings. We made posters to promote inclusivity within the school, created educational presentations highlighting LGBTQ+ figures/struggles, and spearheaded activities/discussions to foster a safe place within the Gender and Sexualities Alliance. Our conversations ranged from inspiring LGBTQ+ activists throughout history to members’ personal experiences of coming out to loved ones and what that can mean for a person based on individual circumstances. I realized that the Gender and Sexualities Alliance wasn’t, in fact, a place of shame: it was a community where we could educate, empower, and (most importantly) be ourselves. 

At the very beginning, neither my co-President nor I thought the Gender and Sexualities Alliance would become what it is today. Through all of our efforts came more people, and that group of four became a group of fifteen and only kept growing. Those previously nervous faces turned into ones of confidence and pride—ready to make a difference within our school. The GSA founded a community passionate about creating a more inclusive environment where individuals felt safe to be themselves—enabling them to be more confident in all aspects of their lives, including academic/social pursuits within the school and beyond. I’m proud to have created a space where I can feel secure in myself and encourage others to feel so, as well.

Analysis: 

Beginning: As some others, this essay starts in the middle of a story, with a catchy, slightly confusing first line. Done well, these kinds of openers just about always work: we want to know what’s happening, so we read on. That this opening also introduces something like a secret that could bring “shame” further raises the stakes and interest. 

Middle: In this essay, the body serves to provide the relevant context–like what the meeting is about and what the writer’s role is–while also continuing the important narrative of the author coming to terms with their identity. It’s that last bit, which requires vulnerability and self-awareness to write about, that is crucial to this sort of essay. 

End: As we’ve seen before with similar essays, this conclusion serves to move the focus partially away from the student and onto the larger community. The student’s identity is clearly important here, but no less important is “creating a space” where people can feel secure. This shows a commitment to diverse, open-minded communities, which is precisely what colleges are meant to be. 

Key elements: narrative intro+vulnerability+community

Real Sample Essay for UC PIQ 8

I’ve always hated Las Vegas, so I wasn’t thrilled when my dad’s family gathered there to celebrate my Grandma’s birthday one summer. Being around my Nigerian family made me nervous because I felt so -washed. Because I’m not close with my dad, I’m especially distant from my Nigerian heritage. I don’t speak our tribe’s native dialect, Ishan, like the rest of my family. I barely recognized the traditional dishes my cousins ate so comfortably. 

As my relatives lovingly reunited, I quickly felt lost in my own family. 

uc essay question examples

Nigerian parties are always spent dancing the night away. I hid in a corner, waiting desperately for the night to end before it had begun. Yet my cousins took me in with open arms, quickly erasing my fear of being the sore thumb. They didn’t see me as the outcast I envisioned myself to be. As we swayed to the motions the song progressed the strangers in the audience grew more and more familiar. We danced the night away to Nigerian hip hop, and the lively music drowned out the distance I felt from my culture. The lights of the hall illuminated the bright colors of our traditional African outfits as we jerked and jived to the beats. For the first time in my life I was fully immersed in my culture, and I felt so blessed to have a family with so much pride that leaves no one behind. They had given Vegas a new meaning: one of love, acceptance, and family. 

Being an American-born child to immigrant parents is a unique identity, one that comes with a beautiful background of cultural pride met with self-assimilation to avoid a sense of “other” we often feel. There are countless students who feel out of place in their families, out of touch from their backgrounds as I did. But that summer showed me how much you can give to others by sharing your culture. My hope is that in sharing my experiences with the UC community, we all learn from one another’s cultures and welcome each other with open arms as a family

Essays that respond well to the 8th prompt don’t tend to follow a particular pattern. All that matters is that they convey some essential element of the applicant’s background, which is precisely what this one does. 

Beginning: This essay starts with a strong assertion that immediately leads into a story, leading the reader to question why it is that the writer hated Las Vegas. At the same time, it sets the stakes of this essay: this writer doesn’t feel at home with aspects of her family’s background. 

Middle: The middle picks up and works to resolve that tension, most importantly by telling a detail-rich narrative of this writer’s experience at the family reunion. 

End: Finally, the essay directly and clearly articulates why all this matters: this student’s unique identity has shaped their understanding of community, and has helped them develop into someone who’ll be an open-minded, empathetic member of the University of California.

Key elements: narrative+detail+vulnerability+community

Final considerations for UC essays as a whole

uc essay question examples

It’s crucial to remember that, unlike in most other colleges’ admissions processes, there is no “main” essay or “personal statement” here. That means your four essays have to work together, painting a coherent but not repetitive picture of you as a college applicant. 

This leads to several important takeaways:

  • Don’t double dip. Each essay needs to illuminate some new aspect of your personality. If you answer the leadership prompt by writing about your role as president of a STEM club, you shouldn’t try to talk about that same club for the community prompt. 
  • Vary your style and structure . This is an often underlooked one. Because UC admissions officers will be reading your four college application essays back to back, you need to vary how you tell each story. We’ve said in this post that a great way to start is in the middle of a story, and that’s true. But you can’t do that for every single essay, or it’ll look like you only know the one trick. 
  • Use each prompt tactically. What we mean here is that you need to think carefully about what you want each of your UC college admissions essays to do for your application. Are you someone whose profile is all-STEM, all the time? Then you might want to use, say, the creativity prompt to highlight something about you totally unrelated to STEM, while using the academic interest prompt to expand on a particularly impressive research project you were involved in. 
  • Reuse and recycle. If you’re applying to non-UC schools, then you’ll also likely have to write a Common App personal statement and supplemental essays. The Common App essay can always be cut down and turned into one of the UC essays. Most of your supplemental essays are also going to be perfect responses (once lengthened) to many of the UC prompts. 

To check out more real-life examples of successful UC application essays, click the link below. And, if you’re ready to start drafting and want to maximize your chances of an admission to one of the more selective UC schools, contact us to get paired with an expert tutor–many of whom have gone through and succeeded in the University of California admissions process. 

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-24

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UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024

Students applying to UC schools must be prepared to answer the UC prompts as part of the application process. Each year, the University of California receives over 200,000 undergraduate freshmen applications. An important part of these applications are the UC Personal Insight Questions, also known as UC PIQs. In this article, we’ll break down the UC essay prompts to help you ace your UC application.

In addition to reviewing each of the UC essay prompts, we will discuss unique aspects of the UC application. We will also share tips to help you choose the UC prompts that are best suited to you. Finally, we’ll share additional resources that can aid you in writing your UC PIQs, including UC essay examples.

Applying to the University of California

uc essay prompts

Many of the University of California’s campuses are ranked among the best colleges in the nation. Not only that, the UCs are also some of the most affordable schools, especially for California residents. So, it’s no surprise the number of students that end up applying to UC schools. With so many qualified applicants, it’s important to start early and put dedicated time and effort into your UC PIQs.

Ready to learn more about UC Personal Insight Questions? Before we dive into the UC PIQs, we’d like to share a bit about the UC application process . The UC admissions process differs in several ways from many other U.S. schools. Here are a few key facts to keep in mind before you start responding to the UC essay prompts:

You must apply through the UC system’s application, known as UC Apply .

The UC schools do not accept the Common Application or the Coalition Application. As such, they will not see the personal statement that many schools require you to submit via these applications. Ensure anything you want to share comes across in your responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions.

The UC Apply deadline is November 30 .

The UC schools do not have special deadlines like early action or early decision. However, their general application deadline is earlier than it is at most other schools. The UC application is available to fill out from October 1 to November 30 each year. As a result, we recommend choosing your UC essay prompts as soon as they become available. That way, you can write several drafts of your UC essays and polish them in advance of the November deadline.

The UCs use a holistic admissions process.

After reading your UC Personal Insight Questions, each UC school will consider your application as a whole. That means your grades, courses, special research projects, talents, and high school rank, among many other factors, are all important. As such, put effort into every part of your application. Notably, the UC schools are test blind , meaning they do not review test scores. Hence, do not lose sight of the importance of answering your UC prompts fully. Each of the UC Personal Insight Questions is a chance to prove yourself as a candidate for admission. 

We hope this provides more context as to how the UC Personal Insight Questions fit into the broader application process. Next, we’ll explore the UC schools more in-depth.

How many UCs are there?

uc essay prompts

There are ten University of California schools in total. However, only nine have undergraduate programs. These nine schools are the following, in order of most selective to least selective:

UC Acceptance Rates

  • UCLA – 9% acceptance rate
  • UC Berkeley – 11% acceptance rate
  • UC Irvine – 21% acceptance rate
  • UC San Diego – 24% acceptance rate
  • UC Santa Barbara – 26% acceptance rate
  • UC Davis – 37% acceptance rate
  • UC Santa Cruz – 47% acceptance rate
  • UC Riverside – 69% acceptance rate
  • UC Merced – 89% acceptance rate

Several of these schools rank among the best colleges in California . Keep in mind that you can apply to all nine with the same application using UC Apply. While this makes applying convenient, it also means that all the UCs you apply to will receive the same UC essays. As a result, your UC Berkeley essays will be identical to your UC Davis essays and UC Irvine essays.

With this in mind, you might be wondering how to make your application stand out to a specific UC. First, start by reviewing the admissions processes for each of the UC schools you wish to attend. Then, identify key characteristics those UC schools are looking for in their applicants.

For example, consider UCLA. A successful UCLA application will demonstrate a student’s academic and personal achievements, despite any challenges they may have faced. Touching on these themes in your UCLA essay can help you build a strong UCLA application.

Make sure that your UC essays reflect your best characteristics in some form. Since the UC schools are part of the same system, they share many of the same values. Common characteristics they are looking for include creativity, problem-solving, persistence, leadership, and diversity. Use your responses to UC essay prompts to highlight how you demonstrate these qualities.

Which UCs require essay prompts?

All of the UCs require students to respond to UC Personal Insight Questions as part of their UC application. When you submit your responses to the UC PIQs on UC Apply, you’ll select which UCs to send them to. Unlike the school-specific nature of some supplemental essays, your UC essays should not mention a specific school. They are, instead, solely focused on your personal experiences.  

Furthermore, each of the UCs you apply to will review your application independently. Schools are not aware of which other UCs you applied to. Nor are they able to tell whether you were admitted to another UC. In short, although the UC essay prompts are the same at every school, they are evaluated separately by each school.

How many UC Personal Insight Questions are required?

uc essay prompts

Freshmen are required to submit responses to four of the eight available UC Personal Insight Questions. Meanwhile, transfer students must only respond to three. However, in addition to these UC essay prompts, transfer students must also submit a response to one additional required question.

Later, we’ll explore each of the eight UC PIQ prompts in depth. We’ll also share tips for selecting the right UC PIQs for you. Before we get to the prompts, let’s look at how long your responses to the UC essay prompts should be.

How long are UC Personal Insight Questions?

Each of your four responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions can be up to 350 words long. With limited space, you should focus on sharing only the most important reflections and details to strengthen your story. Once you’ve written drafts, ask a friend or mentor to help edit your responses to the UC essay prompts. A second set of eyes can help you remove unnecessary words or phrases, finding space for more critical ideas. 

While 350 words for one essay is not a lot of space, remember you are writing four essays in total. As such, you have 1400 words in total to express who you are in your UC PIQs. 

Next, we’ll share the UC essay prompts that you can respond to for your PIQs. 

What are the UC Essay Prompts?

As we mentioned above, there are eight UC essay prompts. Remember, all eight UC essay prompts are the same no matter which school you are applying to. So, you can use the same prompt for your UC Irvine essay, UC San Diego essay, or UC Davis essay. 

Here are the eight UC prompts for the UC PIQs:

Below, we’ll explore each UC essay prompt in greater detail. And, we’ll provide tips and reflection questions to ensure your responses answer the prompt effectively .

UC Essay Prompt #1: Leadership

uc essay prompts

The first of the eight UC essay prompts is about leadership. The question is as follows:

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..

The word leadership often calls to mind a formal title, such as president of a club or head of student council. However, that is not how these UC prompts define leadership. In fact, the UC essay prompts allude to the fact that leadership occurs in many different scenarios. Colleges also value informal forms of leadership, such as the examples listed in the prompt.

Importantly, the UC essay prompts ask for an example of your leadership. Be sure to provide a specific example in your essay, rather than simply stating that you are a leader. For instance, maybe you stood up for a friend who was being bullied. Or maybe you created a study group to help your classmates do well on a difficult test. These are instances of informal leadership that would be excellent ideas for UC PIQ prompts.

Writing UC Personal Insight Questions about leadership can be intimidating if you feel like you haven’t had much formal leadership experience. However, almost everyone has had some experience where they’ve positively influenced others. Use these tips to discover and capture your leadership experience when answering your UC PIQ prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #1

1. ask friends, family, and mentors for examples..

Sometimes, it can be hard to see our own accomplishments. Consider surveying your friends, family, and mentors, like teachers or coaches, for examples. Ask them how they have seen you positively influence others. From there, note if any examples feel particularly meaningful to you.

2. Be specific.

As with all UC essays, you’ll want to be specific to make a captivating argument. Spend time brainstorming specific details about your experience so that you can write about it in a compelling manner. For example, if you stood up for a friend who was being bullied, consider including details about the incident. How did you feel in the moment? What stands out to you now? 

3. Highlight your impact.

In this UC PIQ, admissions is looking for an example of how you made an impact on others. So, don’t forget to include what the effect of your involvement was. Perhaps in the bullying example, your friend told you they felt supported and safer at school, and the bullying stopped. What you learned from your experiences is as important as what happened to you.

If you choose the leadership prompt as one of your UC PIQ prompts, be sure to use these tips. Thoroughly reflecting on an experience is key to writing successful UC PIQs. Strong UC PIQ examples demonstrate strong critical thinking, another valuable trait to demonstrate in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #1 Reflection Questions

As you review your draft response to the leadership UC PIQ, consider whether your response answers the following questions:

  • Does your response clearly demonstrate a positive impact you had on others?
  • Did you provide details to illustrate your story?
  • Does your essay have an insightful reflection on what you learned about leadership?

Responding effectively to PIQ #1 requires answering yes to all these questions. Now, let’s continue looking at the UC prompts with UC PIQ #2.

UC Essay #2: Creativity 

uc essay prompts

The second of the eight available UC PIQ prompts focuses on creativity. Like the leadership question, you should interpret creativity broadly. Here is the second of the UC prompts:

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..

You might read this question and think: “I’m not creative!” However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose it for one of your UC Personal Insight Questions. As the UC prompts state, every person is creative. We simply express our creativity differently. Creativity can include finding new routes to school in the morning to evade traffic. It might also look like discovering new ingredients and recipes for your school lunches. However you define or express your creativity is valid and could make a great topic for your UC PIQs.

When selecting a topic for your UC essay prompts, think about moments when you were particularly mentally energized. Reflect on what you were doing and how you approached that situation. Then consider whether you can tell an engaging story about that situation that demonstrates your creativity. 

Here are some tips for writing strong responses to UC essay prompts on creativity:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #2

1. think outside the box..

Creativity at its core is about tapping into your individual passions and interests. Allow yourself to think broadly about your own creativity and release any assumptions about what it means to be traditionally creative. Your UC essay prompts are a space for you to be yourself.

2. Pick a passion.

This prompt is designed to let you highlight personal passions. Maybe that passion is drawing or singing, or maybe it is solving math problems. Whatever you choose to describe, make sure it is a topic that matters deeply to you. 

3. Paint a picture.

Even if your chosen topic has nothing to do with art, use details that awaken the reader’s senses. Help us feel the joy behind your creative endeavor by giving us specific sensory details that excite you. Make your UC PIQs enjoyable and exciting to read.

Of all the UC essay prompts, this one is about creativity – so be creative and have fun writing! That will translate into an interesting response. If you’re feeling stuck, it might be helpful to review other UC PIQ examples. That way, you can get a sense of how different students respond to their UC essay prompts.

UC PIQ #2 Reflection Questions

As you finish drafting your UC Personal Insight Questions, use these questions to reflect upon your response:

  • Does your topic reflect a unique way of thinking or creating?
  • Does your response reflect your passion for a creative endeavor?
  • Do you include sensory details that make your creativity come to life?

Whether you are working on a UC Irvine essay or a UC San Diego essay, ask yourself these questions. That way, you can feel confident you’ve done a comprehensive job responding to your UC prompts.

UC Essay Prompt #3: Talent

uc essay prompts

When choosing among the UC essay prompts, you might be drawn to one that allows you to talk about one of your strengths. This is your opportunity to brag about yourself, while also having self-awareness and reflecting upon your skills or talents. The third prompt on our list of the UC prompts is as follows:

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.

The key to answering this question well is to respond to all parts of the question. Start by reflecting on talents and skills that you have. A talent is anything you feel you can naturally do well, while a skill is something you’ve acquired over time. Both require work to hone. Sharing how you put work into your passions is important for any student including this talent prompt in their UC PIQs.

Again, keep an open mind as you reflect. We often associate talents and skills with huge accomplishments, like being a famous singer or an Olympic swimmer. In fact, talents can be seemingly small abilities, like memorizing difficult rap lyrics or putting together a stylish outfit. Skills can include everything from planning fun birthday parties to listening well to others. No talent or skill is too small to mention, so long as you provide engaging descriptions and meaningful reflections. (You might hear that caveat a lot when reviewing the UC prompts.)

Here are some tips for acing the third of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #3

1. brag a little..

As we mentioned, these UC prompts are designed to learn more about you. If you don’t tell UC admissions officers about your accomplishments, they won’t know about them. The strongest UC essay examples share achievements that may not be evident elsewhere on an application.

2. Be honest and vulnerable.

Just because you have a skill doesn’t mean you are perfect. Feel free to share what you find challenging about this activity or how you have sought to improve. Several UC PIQ examples highlight where students have struggled or failed in learning a new skill. Whether writing a UC Davis or UC San Diego essay, this vulnerability will stand out.

3. Focus on growth.

A strong response to UC prompts always includes self-reflection. Find the balance between bragging and highlighting weaknesses by finding the lessons you learned from this experience. Maybe you have always had a knack for predicting the weather, but one day predicted wrong and ended up soaked by a downpour. Perhaps your lesson is to be humble and always find secondary evidence to back up your predictions. 

As with all UC essay prompts, try to pick a topic you enjoy writing about. That genuine interest will come across, whether you’re writing a UCLA essay or UC Berkeley essay.

UC PIQ #3 Reflection Questions

After capturing your talent for one of your four UC PIQs, consider these reflection questions:

  • Did you highlight a talent or skill that is important to you?
  • Did you find a balance between bragging and reflecting upon your growth?
  • Did you describe your talent or skill with descriptions that make it come to life?

Check out other UC essay examples in this guide for ideas of how other students approached their UC prompts. But for now, let’s continue our exploration of the UC prompts.

UC PIQ #4: Educational opportunities and barriers

uc essay prompts

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..

The fourth of the UC essay prompts is a unique question that asks you to share an educational opportunity or barrier. Other UC prompts thus far have asked you to focus on experiences you chose. However, this question opens the door to discuss an experience that happened to you. But remember, your PIQs should always focus on you. Just as you would for other UC essay prompts, you must make a point to highlight your own growth or learnings.

Indeed, the UC school system is very aware of educational inequities across the state and country. This question acknowledges that disparity, providing space for UC admissions officers to consider a student’s educational experience in their evaluation. Students working on their UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay might be worried about their grades not being strong enough. Those students may wish to choose this prompt if their grades or course choices don’t reflect their best abilities. 

On the flip side, applicants can also use this PIQ to share further details about an opportunity they took advantage of. For example, maybe your UCLA application includes your summer research experiences but doesn’t offer space to elaborate on them. In that case, you may want to choose PIQ #4 as one of your four UC essay prompts.

When writing about education barriers or opportunities, you should be cautious about how you explain your experience. Here is some guidance about responding to this question as one of your UC PIQs effectively:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #4

1. choose a barrier or an opportunity that had significant impact on your academic career..

Your UC PIQs must highlight experiences which shaped you profoundly. Some UC PIQ examples highlight how students were accepted into programs that exposed them to a new career path. Other UC essay examples discuss how their school’s lack of classes for students with special needs prevented them from excelling. Use your UC essay prompts to your advantage by being strategic about which experiences to highlight. 

2. Remain an active participant in your story.

The goal of these UC prompts is to learn more about how you approach life. After describing the barrier or opportunity, share how it shaped you. What did you learn from the experience? What did you put into the experience to make sure you could succeed? A UC Davis essay passively complaining about a high school’s lack of advanced courses is unlikely to impress UC Admissions.

3. Focus on your growth and goals.

In many of the UC essay prompts, you have an opportunity to share your intentions for the future. Whether you grew up extremely privileged or lacking resources, UC Admissions wants to understand the quality of your character. Share how you have grown and what you hope to accomplish next.

No matter which UC prompts you select, give your full effort towards making sure they reflect your best qualities. 

UC PIQ #4 Reflection Questions

In contrast to other UC prompts, this response can be answered in two distinct ways. By focusing on an educational barrier or an educational opportunity. Regardless of which route you take, you’ll want to review your response to ensure it answers these reflection questions:

  • Does your response highlight an opportunity or barrier that is academic in nature?
  • Do you demonstrate how you played an active role in overcoming the barrier or making the most of the opportunity you chose?
  • Does your response demonstrate how you grew or learned from your experience?  

As much as your UC essay prompts are about your experiences, they are ultimately about you. Make sure you demonstrate how you became who you are in your responses to the UC essay prompts.

Alright, we’re halfway through reviewing the UC essay prompts! If these first four UC prompts didn’t speak to you, there are four more you can choose from. Keep reading to learn about PIQ #5.

UC Essay Prompt #5: Significant Challenge

uc essay prompts

Next is the significant challenge prompt. Of the UC prompts, this UC PIQ is considered the challenge essay. This is a common topic – you’ve probably encountered similar prompts for supplemental essays on other applications. The prompt for #5 of the UC PIQS is as follows:

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.

Like all the UC essay prompts, this requires some thought before diving in — what do successful UC essays cover here? Firstly, remember all of the UC PIQ prompts are very particular with their wording. Note “overcome” and “affected” in this UC PIQ. These are the “whats” of your essay.

The UC essay prompts ask for essays that reveal more about who you are as a person and a learner. Therefore, if you use this prompt for one of your UC PIQs, your challenge should be linked to your academics. That is to say, while not all successful UC essay examples for this prompt concern academic challenges, many do.

So, what topics are ideal for these UC essay prompts? Although you may have faced many academic challenges, the best UC Personal Insight Questions go above and beyond. Some UC PIQs discuss challenges that have little to do with academics but nevertheless have an effect. When brainstorming here, think about times that you struggled academically, and pinpoint the source. Common challenges are not off-limits, provided you tackle them with specificity and nuance in your UC PIQs.

Your responses to UC essay prompts should give your readers a better sense of who you are. Think of how many UC PIQs the UC Berkeley essay readers or UC Irvine essay review team see every year. The strongest UC PIQs will discuss a challenge and the writer’s reaction in a compelling way. Here are some tips to consider when answering #5 of the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #5

1. consider your personal narrative..

Once you’ve decided on your topic, consider the most unique or interesting aspect of your journey with your challenge. Answering UC essay prompts starts with determining how your topic relates to your personal narrative . Let your writing capture something about your personality while highlighting certain aspects of your background.

2. Focus on the journey.

It may be tempting to get caught up in the what and the why of the challenge. While these are important details to include in your essay, be sure to detail what you did to overcome this challenge. Effective responses to UC essay prompts about challenges illustrate the writer’s character through their response to adversity. 

3. Connect back to academics.

Even if your challenge was not directly related to academics, it should connect back to some aspect of your education. Emphasize ways in which you continued to apply yourself academically, despite or in spite of this challenge. Successful UC essay examples demonstrate academic tenacity—not necessarily unbroken success—throughout hardship. 

Remember, this prompt is about overcoming a challenge. Frame the challenge as something you surmounted when drafting your UC PIQs. 

UC PIQ #5 Reflection Questions

Here are some reflection questions to consider if you choose to write about #5 of the UC PIQ prompts:

  • Does your essay clearly define the challenge you overcame?
  • Does your approach to the challenge highlight your unique and compelling traits?
  • Do you describe the effect of the challenge on your academic achievement?

Keep these questions in mind to keep your response focused and continually engaged with the prompt.

UC PIQ #6: Academic Interests

uc essay prompts

Next on our list of UC essay prompts is the academic interests essay. Among the UC prompts, this is one of the most straightforward:

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..

Some of the UC essay prompts give a lot of room for interpretation and exploration. However, academic interest UC PIQs are rather simple. These UC essays should discuss the writer’s academic passion and their track record engaging with it. As with other UC essay prompts, look closely at the wording. Your focus may be “inside and/or outside of the classroom.” Let’s say you’ve researched astronomy on your own but your school doesn’t offer an astronomy class. If it inspires you, that’s still a great topic for this essay prompt!

Your topic can be any academic subject that you’ve pursued in a tangible way. Of course, if you’ve undertaken research or other work in that field, that experience is an excellent start. However, you could also write about personal research projects, or maybe school organizations and events you’ve been a part of. Like the other UC essay prompts, this PIQ asks not just what you like, but how you pursue your interests.

UC prompts invite you to showcase what makes you unique, from your academic passions to your creative drive. Consider these tips when writing your own responses to the UC essay prompts:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #6

1. ground your essay in an anecdote..

Think about when you first engaged in this topic – what inspired you? How did you get involved? If it is directly aligned with your intended college major, when did you decide you wanted to continue your studies? Or make a career out of it? Grounding your essay in a specific moment can demonstrate your passion while bringing life to the person behind that passion.

2. Showcase your drive.

A strong UC PIQ essay for this prompt will be unambiguous in describing your interest and how you pursue it. But great UC essays will describe these in a way that leaves little doubt about your force of will. Learning, particularly at a college level, does not end in a classroom. A curious and driven student will take any chance to learn. Will a UC San Diego essay reader see you as a passionate, driven, inspired person? Strong responses to the UC prompts should leave the reader with no doubt that you will excel at a UC.

3. Tell a story.

Make sure there is movement in your essay. That means telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end, propelled forward through change and action. Is there a way your UC PIQ can demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for your topic through your actions? The best responses for UC essay prompts exhibit out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to pursue—or make—opportunities.

When writing responses to the UC essay questions, reading UC essay examples may inspire you. If you’re unclear on ideal approaches for UC prompts, UC PIQ examples can steer you in the right direction. Since the UC PIQ prompts often overlap through UC application cycles, you may find guidance in past UC PIQs.

UC PIQ #6 Reflection Questions

Use these reflection questions to keep you on track during the writing process:

  • Do you clearly identify your academic passion and ways you’ve pursued it?
  • Do you highlight positive traits about yourself (persistence, creativity, curiosity, etc.) through your actions?
  • Does your essay portray you as a flexible learner who goes beyond textbooks in pursuit of understanding?

This academic PIQ is one of the best opportunities you have to characterize yourself as a student and a learner.

UC Essay Prompt #7: Community

uc essay prompts

The next of the UC prompts asks a question common to college essays. Other UC essay prompts ask about you—your background and qualities, your leadership potential. In contrast to those UC Personal Insight Questions, this one asks about your contributions to a community. Here is the prompt:

UC Personal Insight Question #7

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

Like with the other UC Personal Insight Questions, the wording here matters. UC PIQ examples for community UC prompts, past and present, discuss a variety of communities, including school. Your community may be a religious or cultural community, or one centered on a particular identity. Your UC Davis essay or UC San Diego essay may even center around a hobby community, like a knitting circle.

In a similar vein, “a better place” is a key point here. Poorly thought-out UC PIQs may simply rehash a scenario where the writer exhibited leadership or initiated something. However, remember that responses to the UC prompts should address the prompt directly. Therefore, effective UC Personal Insight Questions will emphasize the positive impact the writers had on their community. Consider how your leadership or initiative improved the community and the experiences of its members and beyond.

Strong UC PIQ examples build on the personal narrative constructed elsewhere in the UC application. UC Personal Insight Questions should show the writer demonstrating core traits that they want UC admissions to know. Here are some tips to help you be clear about your contribution(s) to the community and your impact:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #7

1. identify your community..

When responding to UC essay prompts about community, the obvious first step is to identify the community and its significance. Touch on how you got involved and what this community means to you.

2. Measure your impact.

Answering these UC essay prompts can feel somewhat similar to completing your Common App extracurriculars section. That is to say, strong UC essays often use concrete figures and details when discussing impact. Would the UC Irvine essay review team have a clear picture of your impact from your essay? Can a UC Berkeley essay reader understand exactly what you’ve accomplished from your UC essays?

3. Be honest and realistic.

Be honest about your efforts and the difference you’ve made, however large or small. The connection between action and effect should be logical. A shared calendar for your gardening club may not save lives, but organizing mutual aid through a community organization might. Don’t oversell the impact your actions have had. Of course, your UC application (and college applications in general) should portray you as an ideal candidate—but not through exaggeration. 

Finally, take pride in your contribution. Certainly, leadership tends to make for strong UC PIQs. However, you can improve your community even without being in an official leadership role. Think deeply about your community participation and how you can best highlight your impact in your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ #7 Reflection Questions

Use these questions during the editing process to ensure you submit as strong an essay as possible to UC Admissions:

  • Do you clearly identify your community and your contribution—with statistics where applicable?
  • Does your UC PIQ showcase positive personal traits in the way you improved your community?
  • Do you portray yourself as a helpful member of your community?

Next, we’ll review the final UC PIQ prompt.

UC PIQ #8: Beyond Your Application

uc essay prompts

The last of the UC essay prompts gives applicants carte blanche to cover anything not mentioned in other UC PIQs. Let’s look at the final item on the list of UC prompts:

UC Personal Insight Question #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.

This is distinct from other UC essay prompts in that it is very open-ended. While it may seem easy to write this essay, it can be much more challenging than the other UC PIQs. Whatever topic you choose, your essay should ultimately strengthen your case for admission. Particularly if this is a UC Berkeley essay or UCLA essay, this UC PIQ should be highly individualized and impressive.

Think carefully about your topic and whether it could be used for other UC essay prompts. A chronic health condition may be better suited for the challenge essay. Efforts in activism might be a better answer to the leadership, creativity, or community UC Personal Insight Questions. Of the UC prompts, this may lend itself best to preparation through reading UC PIQ examples. Successful UC essay examples can help you figure out what kinds of experiences you may have that fit this prompt.

So you’ve chosen your topic and decided it doesn’t fit any other UC essay prompts as well as this one. How can you approach this essay? Here are some tips to help you get started:

Tips for approaching UC PIQ #8

1. focus on character..

Like with other UC prompts, there’s a question that you need to answer: why are you an outstanding candidate? Strong candidates are curious, self-driven students whose values align with those of the institution to which they are applying. Consider the qualities that make you prepared to take on challenging coursework and enrich the campus community. 

2. Fill in the gaps.

Consider how your personality and character show in your other three UC essay prompts answers. Is there another trait that a UC Davis essay reviewer would miss if they read your UC Personal Insight Questions? Maybe you mentioned a non-academic interest that you could expand on to add depth to your UC Irvine or UCLA application. Either way, this UC PIQ should add additional, essential context that wouldn’t suit the other UC prompts.

3. Save it for last.

It may be best to finish the other UC Personal Insight Questions before this one. In doing so, you can review your responses to other UC prompts to see what’s missing from your application. And, you can be sure your response connects back and complements your other essays.

If, while writing, you find that your topic fits the other UC essay prompts better, roll with it! Unlike UC prompts 1 through 7, not everyone will have something to say for this prompt. Since you can choose four of the eight UC Personal Insight Questions, you’ll have ample opportunity to reflect elsewhere.

UC PIQ #8 Reflection Questions

Keep these questions in mind throughout the writing process, from choosing a topic to revising your drafts:

  • Is your essay topic best suited to this topic out of the eight UC essay prompts?
  • Does your essay introduce new information or context that bolsters the strength of your application?
  • Does your essay build on the narrative you’ve built in your other UC Personal Insight Questions?

Now, we’ve covered all eight of the UC essay prompts. Next, let’s discuss how to choose the right UC prompts for you.

Choosing the Right UC PIQs for You

Of the eight UC essay prompts, you can only write four UC essays. So which ones should you pick? The first step to choosing your UC prompts is to read them thoroughly and see which ones stand out. Trust your gut and start brainstorming —you may even end up making ideas for all eight UC essay prompts. There are tons of writing exercises you can use when searching for essay topics, and you may need to try several.

Once you’ve thought of essay topics, figure out which ones are most viable. Which ideas could spark great UC PIQ examples, written with genuine enthusiasm and clarity? If you can’t avoid a somewhat cliche topic, can you write about it in a compelling way? What insights can you find in your experiences that nobody else would—and how do you show them? Choose the UC prompts that excite you and enable you to showcase the traits that make you a strong candidate. 

Every strong UC San Diego essay or UC Davis essay will be personally inspiring and aspirational. It may take a few brainstorming sessions for you to figure out which UC essay prompts inspire your best writing. Be flexible when planning your essays: ideas for one of the UC PIQ prompts may end up fitting other UC prompts. In those cases, be willing to change your chosen UC essay prompts to get the best fit for your ideas.

How to Make Your UC Essays Stand Out

uc essay prompts

Once you’ve chosen your UC essay prompts and drafted your UC essays, there’s still work to be done. Between writing a first draft and submitting an Irvine or UCLA application, you must revise your essays. Above, we gave you reflection questions for each of the UC prompts. Now, here are a few questions you should ask yourself about your responses to UC essay prompts as a whole.

Do your UC PIQs paint a vivid picture of who you are and what you’ll bring to the campus community?

At heart, the UC essay prompts ask you to explain who you are and how you navigate the world. Remember, every aspect of your application is evaluated holistically, whether it’s a UCLA application or a UC Davis application. And, since UC Apply doesn’t use standardized test scores for admission decisions, your essays must help make your case. Your UC Personal Insight Questions should explore key parts of your experience in an interesting, authentic fashion. After reviewing your PIQs, a reader should have no doubt that you’re a great fit for your UCs of choice.

Have you gotten feedback from a trusted peer or mentor about how well your essays describe you?

Getting a fresh pair of eyes on a UC PIQ is an often-underrated style of editing. After you’ve reviewed them on your own, ask someone you trust to review your responses to the UC essay prompts. They may have suggestions on ways to help your voice shine through. Or even notes on if you’ve misrepresented yourself in your writing. Before putting anything in UC Apply, try to have another person read your UC PIQs.

Are there any technical errors in your UC PIQs?

This is pretty obvious, but the last thing you want in your essays is a spelling or grammar mistake. This is another reason a second opinion can be helpful! Ensuring your essays are error-free is an easy way to help polish your UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC Application Deadlines

uc essay prompts

After all that effort you’ve put into your UC Personal Insight Questions, don’t let a missed deadline ruin your chances. Since all UC schools from UCLA to UC Davis use the UC Apply portal , they have the same deadline: November 30 . Note that UC Apply does not have early decision or early action application options .

Contrary to the Common Application, which can be submitted as early as September, UC Apply opens its filing period in October. Of course, just because you can’t submit your UC application before October 1 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start early. Your UCSD or UCLA essay writing should start well before the deadline. That way, you can ensure you have time to plan, draft, revise, and make your application stand out . Especially in light of the competitiveness of top schools like Berkeley and UCLA , you don’t want to rush the process.

Another benefit of starting early is that you get plenty of time to research the UC Personal Insight Questions. You’ll have time to read the UC prompts, find UC PIQ examples, and learn what UC admissions officers look for. If you browse UC sites, you may even find additional tips for writing your UC Personal Insight Questions.

More Essay UC Resources from CollegeAdvisor

CollegeAdvisor has a lot of experience helping students through the UC admissions process. To help more students, we’ve put our wisdom into free resources. Our online resources are open to all, providing helpful advice from current and former students, as well as admissions officers.

We have an array of broad-scope “how to get into” guides for the UCs and beyond. Our UCLA guide covers everything from the ideal GPA to UCLA essay strategies. Other UC schools we’ve covered include UC Irvine , UC Berkeley , and UC Santa Barbara . If you’re interested in other UCs, search our website for other schools on your list!

Maybe you’re still focused on the UC essay prompts. In that case, we have other UC essay guides that may be helpful to your writing process. Since the UC prompts haven’t changed significantly in the past few years, a winning UC Irvine essay approach from 2020 still holds up. We have 2021-2022 UC essay examples to inspire you as you write your own. Another excellent resource is our article on common college essay questions , which covers challenge essays and unique essays.

As some of the best schools in California, the UC schools can be challenging to get into without excellent essays. But, with in-depth, free resources from CollegeAdvisor.com, you’ll be better equipped to craft knockout UC PIQs.

UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024 – Final Thoughts

With schools from UC Berkeley to UC Santa Barbara , the UC system serves thousands of students from across the world. Applying to the best UC schools can seem daunting, especially given the eight different UC essay prompts. Even if you have impressive extracurriculars, a high GPA, and California residency, UC essays can tip your admissions odds.

In this article, we took a deep dive into the UC essay prompts, also called the UC Personal Insight Questions. We discussed each of the UC PIQ prompts and what sorts of topics may be best suited for each. Then, we went into more detail about approaching each essay, from exploring ideas to putting them together. Additionally, we provided some advice on reflecting on your experiences and choosing your four UC essay prompts. Finally, we left you with a hearty helping of UC essay examples and guides.

Your UC Essay matter

Whether you’re applying to UC Santa Cruz or ticking off boxes from UCLA to UCSD, you need strong UC essays. We hope this article has given you a steady foundation from which to start your essay writing journey. With the tips and tricks we provided, you’re better prepared to write essays to wow UC Admissions.

Still looking for more support? CollegeAdvisor.com specializes in personalized, one-on-one college advising, even before senior year. If you’re looking for individual guidance for your UC essays, reach out for a consultation with our admissions experts.

uc essay question examples

This essay guide was written by Gina Goosby and senior advisor, Courtney Ng . Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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How to write the uc essays: analysis, examples, and tips.

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Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/21/23

Stuck on your UC personal insight questions? Read on to learn how to write the UC essays!

Whether you’re an amazing essayist or dread writing them, it’s essential you put careful thought into your UC personal insight questions. After all, these essays are your opportunity to express yourself, share your most meaningful experiences and abilities, and impress the admissions committee!

Considering how important this application requirement is, you may be wondering how to write the UC supplemental essays in a compelling and memorable way. Look no further; this guide has you covered! We’ll review how to write the UC application essays , how to pick the right prompts, and provide you with sample answers to inspire you!

UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQ)

Before getting into the specifics of how to answer the UC personal insight questions (PIQ), let’s review the eight prompts you’ll choose from:

“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 a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?”

Students are required to answer four UC personal insight questions. The UC system has no preference over the prompts students choose. Be sure that your essays stay under the University of California PIQ word count of 350 words. 

Students hoping to transfer to a UC school will also have to answer some of the prompts. Here is a guide to help applicants complete their UC transfer personal statements. 

Many of these prompts are similar to the UC Common App questions, so you can even use your answers to the UC prompts to inspire your Common App essays or vice versa! 

Understanding UC Essay Prompts

The first step to writing the UC school essays is picking four prompts to respond to. These eight prompts for UC schools may seem intimidating at first glance, but your careful thought can help you choose those that will elevate your application. Selecting prompts at random isn’t the best strategy here.

If you find you’re struggling to come up with at least a 300-word response to any prompt, it could be a sign to choose another. If you choose the right UC college essay prompts, it should be hard for you to stop writing!

To aid you in the process, we’ll discuss each of the UC essay prompts in detail, providing you with tips on how to answer them.

Students often misunderstand this prompt because they believe leadership is a particular role or position, such as an executive member of a club, job supervisor, or head of a volunteer organization. 

Unless you genuinely fit in one of these categories, you should consider other ways you’ve shown leadership. Define the word in your own terms! If you led people in any way, you could write about the experience and what you accomplished. As you brainstorm ideas, ensure you write about the following:

  • The skills you developed and used as a leader
  • Why you assumed the role 
  • The actions you took as a leader
  • The impact you had through your actions

Ensure you only choose one event to describe. Don’t list all your leadership experiences, as this goes against the premise of this prompt. Part of the difficulty is choosing just one experience to share. However, the committee does this to learn what is most meaningful to you and to see if you can follow guidelines!

For this prompt, students shouldn’t limit themselves by viewing creativity as an artistic skill. You don’t necessarily have to be artistically inclined to be creative; all you have to do is demonstrate your ability to think outside the box or use your skills in an original way. 

Think about your passions, what you do in your free time, and how your creativity has influenced you.

Prompt Three

Students tend to struggle with prompt three. When learning how to write UC essays, some students struggle to choose the perfect experience. For this prompt, students can typically list several talents or skills but struggle to pinpoint just one to expand upon. They wonder which talent is best or most impressive. 

Begin by listing your top talents and skills. Choose talents you have put effort and time into developing. If you’re a natural singer and have done little to develop your falsetto except sing in the shower, choose another skill that required more intense practice to perfect.

Be honest, and don’t be afraid to brag a little! If you’re having trouble choosing a talent, ask your friends and family for assistance. 

Prompt Four

Prompt four may not apply to you, making choosing which questions to respond to easier! This prompt may be worth answering if you participated in a program, course, club, or workshop that helped you prepare for college and supplement your learning. 

Regarding educational barriers, reflect on academic roadblocks. Was there anything that made it difficult for you to attend school, do well in a course, or study effectively? For instance, not liking the teachers that taught the AP classes at your school doesn’t count as an educational barrier, but financial struggles could. 

Prompt Five

Prompt five is somewhat similar to four. This challenge can doesn’t have to be related to your education. But you should still share how it affected your academics and any barriers it created in your education. Don’t repeat the same challenge you described in prompt four.

Your response should give the admissions committee more insight into your background, experiences, life circumstances, and personality. The most important trait to demonstrate with your response is resilience. The committee wants to know you can overcome the challenges life throws at you. 

Everyone has a favorite subject, which is what prompt six focuses on. This response is popular among students because they often know exactly which subject to discuss! There’s usually an academic subject that students excel in and just can’t seem to get enough of, whether it’s science, music, or something else.

You likely have a topic in mind as you read this! Use that topic and demonstrate how you’ve developed your interest through additional courses, programs, extracurriculars, internships, or jobs. Talk about what you learned from participating in these activities and how this subject has influenced your college path.

Prompt Seven

Prompt seven is fairly straightforward, but you do have some leeway. There are several communities you’re a part of, so don’t feel obligated to focus only on your school or local community. Choose one that you’ve made the largest impact on; perhaps it’s a school club, your work community, or your family. 

Define community as you see fit and explain your role in it. Focus on one or two major ways you’ve contributed to this community and its impact. 

Prompt Eight

The final UC personal insight question gives you a chance to share anything about yourself that’s missing from your application or didn’t fit into the other essay prompts.

If, after reading through all the prompts, none of them allow you to share more about a trait, experience, or talent you feel makes you a strong UC candidate, use this response to share it. Don’t be afraid to brag a little here! You have free reign to discuss whatever you want to share with the admissions committee. 

Female student typing essay on laptop

UC Essay Prompts With Examples 

It’s often helpful to look at examples of personal statements to get your ideas flowing. Below are sample UC supplemental essays for each prompt to help inspire your writing. These essays can also be used as examples of UC transfer student essays, as they respond to the same prompts. 

Please note that these essays have been anonymized to protect the privacy of the authors.

Prompt One Example

Here’s one example showcasing a student’s experiences with responsibilities as they answer, “Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.” 

“While I’ve participated in several clubs where I have been given leadership titles, the one I am most proud of, and has allowed me to accomplish the most, is the role I play within my family.

From an early age, it was clear I would have to take on more responsibilities than was expected of me. After my father passed away when I was twelve years old, relatives constantly reminded me I was now the head of the house and responsible for my family. 

While I do not think they expected me to take their words to heart completely, I did. I became a leader within my own family and was more than just a big brother to my younger sibling. I knew that my sibling would look up to me for guidance and that I had to be the best role model for him. 

I took the initiative to work part-time at an Arby’s nearby to help my mother with bills, and took on various other roles to ensure my sibling grew up with the same guidance and support I did. 

I was a caretaker, a teacher, a protector, a counselor, and sometimes even a chauffeur. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen so I could take Johnathan to all of his soccer games and play recitals.

I cannot say it was easy; sometimes, it felt impossible to take on so many roles, but I persevered. I remained dedicated to my family, perfected my time management, learned how to multitask, and remained driven because I knew my hard work would result in great rewards - the success of my family. 

Jonathan is now on track to finish at the top of his freshman year. He graduated the eighth grade as valedictorian and hopes to become a pediatric nurse in the future. 

While I cannot say I am grateful for the circumstances that led me to this role, I can say I am proud of the impact I have had on my family because of it.” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

Here are some effective tips to help you answer this prompt:

  • Choose a relevant example : Choose a leadership experience that is both relevant to the prompt and significant in demonstrating your abilities. 
  • Provide context : Begin by setting the stage. Offer a brief but clear introduction to the situation, including the context, the group involved, and the challenges or goals that the team faced. Help the reader understand the importance of the leadership experience.
  • Highlight positive outcomes : Emphasize the positive outcomes or changes achieved through your leadership. This could include improved team dynamics, successful resolution of disputes, or the accomplishment of group goals. 

Why This Works

This essay works because it’s unique and highly personal. It explains the role this student plays within a community that has the most meaning to them. It offers valuable insight into how this role helped them grow and develop important, transferable traits such as perseverance, selflessness, dedication, time management, and multitasking.

Understanding what UC schools are looking for can also help you craft masterful essays. Learn more about what the UC system seeks in applicants here! 

Prompt Two Example

Prompt two is, “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.” Use this example for the second UC prompt to guide you:

“My friends have always responded to my love for debate with confused looks and eye rolls. In their minds, debate involves pressure, critical thinking, and conversation about uninteresting topics. But, for me, debate club has always been my greatest talent and favorite way to express my creativity.

I consider it to be a craft to take a seemingly dry topic, such as tariff imposition in developing nations, and become enthusiastic about it. During debate, we are only given half an hour to come up with our primary argument. Within this half hour, I must convince others of my opinion and examine the topic from every angle.

Once both sides have presented, it is my responsibility to then think of compelling counter-arguments on the spot. Debate is where I shine. I recognize that humans only use 10% of their brains, but it truly feels like I use 11% during these debates.

I have to carefully choose the language I use to sway the judges, disprove equally crafted opposing views, and out-think my intelligent and driven peers. Contrary to my friends’ beliefs, there is truly never a dull moment in debate—there is simply no time for one. 

It is a battle of wits in which both teams can only use their words as their weapons. If I do not think my arguments through, it can be like bringing a sword to a gunfight. 

I have participated in debate competitions throughout high school and have even helped my school’s team advance to the top rounds at national debate competitions. Through this experience, I have not only developed excellent critical thinking skills but have become a more confident and articulate speaker.

My love for debate has also influenced me to pursue a career in criminal law, where my creativity and skill can be used to uphold justice and ensure the safety of society—which even my most skeptic friends won’t call boring!” 

Three high school students talking together

Here is how can you answer this prompt:

  • Narrate a story : Frame your response as a narrative to make it engaging and memorable. Take the reader through a journey that illustrates how your creative side has manifested in different situations. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of your creative expression.
  • Reflect on the impact : Discuss the impact of your creative expression. This could involve positive outcomes, solutions to challenges, or the reception of your artistic work. Reflecting on the consequences of your creativity adds substance to your response.
  • Be concise : Given the word limit, be concise and focused in your response. Avoid unnecessary details and stay on topic. Make every sentence count to effectively communicate the essence of your creative side.

This is a great example of the UC creativity prompt because this student explains their creativity in a way that doesn’t relate to artistic talent. They appropriately describe how they use their creativity to excel in their passion and use examples to make their story more genuine. They also share the success they’ve had because of their creativity, which further proves their skill and ability.

Prompt Three Example

The next prompt is, “What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?” Consider this example for inspiration:

“She lacked luster. She was plain-looking, with dull hair and unsymmetrical features. Her right eye seemed to droop lower than her left, giving her the appearance of a slight lazy eye. There was no sparkle in her eye, no life in her gaze. She barely seemed alive. 

She almost looked like a Tim Burton character gone wrong, although even that description was too considerate and failed to capture her true mediocrity. 

That’s how I would describe the first-ever portrait I made in middle school. While I always enjoyed sketching, it did not come naturally to me. That was until I enrolled in a summer art program offered by the City Art Lab.

During this program, I learned how to modify the pressure on my pencil to produce different textures. I learned how to add highlights and create shadows to give my sketches depth. But most importantly, I learned the importance of practice. 

I practiced my art skills that entire summer, and the transformation was unbelievable. I went from creating wonky, left-behind Tim Burton characters to realistic, detailed portraits that began to resemble black-and-white photos. 

I have taken visual arts classes throughout high school and even won an art competition held among all sophomore students. Through all of my practice, I have learned to take risks, trust my abilities, and be open to new techniques to improve my work. 

I have begun using different mediums, such as charcoal, oil, and even acrylic. While I haven’t perfected my skills in these mediums, I am confident I will be able to with enough practice and commitment. 

Having the right mentors is important too, which is why I plan on continuing to develop my art skills at UC Irvine through their robust visual arts program taught by talented and accomplished faculty.” 

Here are some tips to help you write this essay:

  • Self-reflection : Begin by reflecting on your strengths and skills. Identify the talent you believe is your greatest and think about how you’ve developed and demonstrated that talent over time.
  • Choose a specific talent : Select a talent or skill that is not only significant but also relevant to the program you’re applying to. Whether it's a technical skill, leadership ability, communication proficiency, or something else, be specific in your choice.
  • Share examples : Illustrate your talent with concrete examples from your experiences. Discuss situations where you have demonstrated this skill, showcasing its impact and relevance. 

This response opens with a hook that catches the reader’s attention, influencing them to keep reading. Readers will likely be surprised to learn this student is just describing a sketch and not a real person.

They share their complete experience with art, show vulnerability by stating they struggled with their sketches, and ultimately show their dedication by explaining how they improved. They also end their essay well by explaining how they plan on continuing to develop their skills at UC Irvine. 

Learn more about writing college essays from a Brown graduate here! 

Prompt Four Examples

Prompt four asks you to “Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.” We’ll include two UC essay examples to help guide your writing: 

“It is the perfect course for any students that hope to become doctors—is what my junior year AP Biology teacher Mr. Wilson told me about an eight-week introductory biology course that was being offered to high school students at our local community college.

Mr. Wilson always told us about the best opportunities to pursue if we wanted to join the medical field. It was a dream of his as well, but he always said “life got in the way” and he never took it as seriously as he should have. He warned me not to make the same mistake. If I was serious about becoming a physician, I had to prove it.

So, I enrolled in the course and was ready for a summer full of 8 am laboratories, 20-page readings, and late-night study sessions instead of sleeping in, reading mystery novels on the beach, and staying up late with my friends playing video games. But, I was willing to make that sacrifice to better prepare myself for college.

It was clear from my first class that I was in over my head. I struggled to retain the readings and had a hard time keeping up during lectures. I felt ashamed and downright defeated. I questioned if I deserved to even be a physician and wondered why it seemed to come so easily to my peers. 

But, wondering and wallowing would do me no good. So, I picked myself up and strategized. I spoke to my professor to ask for some tips. He assured me most students struggle to adjust in the beginning, but his biggest tip was to review the readings the night before our lectures, make notes during, and review those notes again after class. 

While his suggestions were time-consuming, they helped me increase my grades and I actually began to enjoy the course! I graduated with an A and learned more than just cell biology and evolutionary ecology. I learned how to manage my time better, stay organized, persevere through challenges, and to ask for help when needed!” 

Use these tips to help you write an impactful essay: 

  • Choose a relevant experience : Select a specific educational opportunity or barrier that is not only significant but also relevant to your personal and academic journey. This could include a challenging course, a unique learning experience, or overcoming obstacles to pursue education.
  • Provide context : Begin by providing context for the educational opportunity or barrier. Explain the circumstances that made it significant or challenging, including any personal or external factors that influenced your experience.
  • Highlight the significance : Clearly explain why the educational opportunity or barrier is significant in your academic journey. Discuss the impact it had on your learning, personal growth, or overall development.

This response works because it demonstrates how the student took advantage of an educational opportunity and their real experience. They show their drive, determination, and perseverance through their story of overcoming difficulties during the program. 

They also mentioned their reason for taking this course was to better prepare themself for college, which also allowed them to develop study habits to aid them. Both these points can convince the UC admissions committee of this student’s academic potential. 

Here’s another example: 

“After the first few tests in my geometry course my freshman year, my teacher, [NAME #1], noticed my passion for and proficiency with math. At the same time, my physics teacher, [NAME #2], noticed how I enjoyed challenging extra credit problems. I would visit him during the advisory period to review the problems so I could understand the concepts. Both of these teachers recognized my curiosity and desire to challenge myself beyond existing coursework. By the end of the first quarter, I had decided I wanted to take calculus as a sophomore, but I needed to complete Algebra 2 and precalculus first.

One day, I noticed [NAME #2] AP Calculus book on his desk and asked him if I could borrow it, even though the topic was well beyond what I had been studying. I worked with [NAME #1] and asked how I could accelerate my math courses so I could take calculus the following year. The largest obstacle standing in my way was time. I still needed to take a year’s worth of Algebra 2 and a year’s worth of precalculus before I could enroll in AP Calculus AB. 

Despite this barrier, I was determined to progress. I would ask [NAME #1] to give me practice material from Algebra 2, which I would study in addition to my freshman workload. [NAME #1] agreed that if I passed both Algebra 2 semester finals, she would give me credit for the class. My studying paid off. I passed and was able to take an accelerated precalculus course over the summer before my sophomore year. 

My initiative and my teachers’ recognition of my skills and abilities allowed me to advance in mathematics faster than what the school would normally allow. As a result, I am now taking Advanced Topics in Calculus as a senior, and I will be able to jumpstart my lower-division coursework as an Applied Mathematics major. I learned that good teachers nurture potential and that if I take initiative, I can accomplish anything. I have confidence that I can handle a heavy workload and look forward to new challenges.” 

This essay demonstrates the student’s ability to take the initiative and take charge of their education despite originally not being on track to take their desired courses. The author’s essay shares their passion for math, their ability to solve problems, and how they worked around an educational barrier to advance their learning. 

Ready to elevate your UC essays? Check out our video on writing perfect college essays here! 

Prompt Five Example

Prompt five asks you to “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?”

Gain a better understanding of how to write the UC essays from this sample response: 

“I grew up in Mumbai, where the air was always warm and welcoming and carried the scent of flowers and cardamom. Everywhere I went, I heard my beautiful language being spoken by people in my village that knew my name and always greeted me with smiles as warm as the sun that was constantly out. 

Then, I moved to America. My father received a job opportunity that would provide us with more economic stability and a chance for a better life for me and my soon-to-be younger brother who was due to be born in a few months. America was not like Mumbai. 

We traded our small, tight-knit village for the bustling, large city Denver where no one knew my name, and I rarely heard my beautiful language. Instead, I heard a foreign language that always seemed too quick to catch. I struggled to string along even the most simple sentences. I missed the warmth of the sun and the smell of the air. 

When I started school in the sixth grade, I was an easy target for bullies. I had a thick accent and mismatched clothes. I was still learning how Westerners dressed, and I stuck out like a sore thumb—an expression that always confused me as a child.

But, I took ESL classes throughout middle school. I read in my free time and joined ESL summer programs every year. Soon, I was able to string along sentences with ease and Denver started to feel more like home. I started hearing a different beautiful language that I understood more and more every day. 

By high school, English became my favorite subject. I understood even the most complex Shakespeare plays and wrote compelling essays on them. My accent still lingers on certain words, but it only reminds me of the idyllic place that I come from. 

I am no longer ashamed of my roots, in fact, I smile when I hear the remnants of my accent. I also smile when I learn new English words, and am happy to say I am now the master of two beautiful languages.” 

India flag blowing in wind

Here are some helpful tips on how to write this essay:

  • Choose a genuine challenge : Pick a challenge that is genuinely significant in your life and has had a tangible impact on your academic journey. This could be a personal, academic, or professional challenge that has shaped your experiences and perspectives.
  • Detail the steps taken : Outline the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge. Discuss any strategies, actions, or decisions you made to address the obstacles. Highlight your problem-solving skills, resilience, and determination.
  • Reflect on the experience : Reflect on what you learned from overcoming the challenge. Discuss how the experience has shaped your character, influenced your approach to challenges, and contributed to your personal and academic growth.

This response shares a story that is clearly meaningful to the student. It revolves around their upbringing, a major event in their life, and the challenges they faced because of this change. They show persistence and resilience and provide concrete examples of how they overcame the odds and perfected their English.

Prompt Six Examples

Prompt six asks you to “Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.” 

The best way to grasp how to write the UC essays is to learn by example! Here are two UC essay examples to help you get inspired: 

“Logophile. 

It doesn’t sound like a pleasant word. In fact, most people ask me to repeat myself when I describe myself as one. But, it is the only word that captures how important writing and reading is to me. Every definition of the word states logophiles are lovers of words, which is exactly what I am, no more and no less. 

English was always my favorite subject. My mother constantly reminds me of how I would pretend to write even when I couldn’t. It was only ever just scribbles, but she was convinced those scribbles held meaning to me. 

I would scribble on lined paper for hours until I began learning the alphabet and how to make those scribbles mean something to someone other than myself.

Throughout middle school, I spent all of my free time reading. You would never see me without a book, and I would read an average of three novels each week. 

I loved how words came together to create wonderful stories that I could immerse myself into. I marveled at the amazing gift authors had to be able to give life to words that had such little meaning on their own. I knew, someday, I would also be able to create worlds out of words. 

I took all of the English courses offered at my school and supplemented these classes with writing camps and workshops led by real authors during my summers. By my sophomore year, it was a notebook that I always carried around with me. I found inspiration in everything. 

I looked at the tan line where my biology teacher’s wedding ring must have been and wrote a story about their doomed love. I submitted it for a nation-wide junior writing competition and won second place.” 

This summer, I will be participating in a writing internship offered by a local news station. While I will mainly be writing investigative work, I hope to expand my writing skills and learn new techniques through it.

I plan on developing my skills even further at UC Merced through their Karen Merritt Writing Program.” 

Consider these tips when answering the above prompt:

  • Choose a genuine academic interest : Select an academic subject that genuinely inspires and excites you. Your enthusiasm for the subject should be apparent in your writing, and the chosen topic should align with your academic interests.
  • Connect to future goals : Tie your passion for the academic subject to your future academic and professional goals. Explain how this interest aligns with your aspirations and how it will contribute to your success in the program and beyond.
  • Be concise : While expressing enthusiasm, ensure that your essay remains focused and concise. Avoid unnecessary details and tangents, and prioritize conveying a clear and impactful story about your passion for the academic subject.

This student not only describes why they love English and writing but also provides background information to demonstrate how long they’ve been honing their writing and reading skills. They explain how they’ve already developed their skills and how they plan on further enhancing them at UC Merced. 

Here’s another example answering this prompt: 

“Throughout literature, I see time. Thousands of works hundreds of years old have been lost, and yet some manage to survive longer than the authors who brought them to life. I read a Greek piece of writing and see in the sentiments expressed in the text that besides some trivial differences attributable to history, we’re still essentially the same. We’re all human, navigating the world and finding comfort in words.

Words have given humans the ability to communicate at extraordinary levels, which has only exponentiated in the digital age of technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). In an increasingly impersonal digital world, language makes experiences tangible - real - and enables us to break barriers of individuality and possibly even loneliness. Literature provides a sense of unity and perpetuity, allowing me to understand our history more personally when I read timeless works written by another author’s hand.

It wasn’t until reading and comparing multitudinous genres (ranging from fiction and [LANGUAGE] to Shakespearean sonnets) in sophomore English that I realized, although we come from different times, we still laugh at the same jokes, suffer similar tragedies, and have a collective sense of duty to maintain what was - and still is - deemed beautiful.

Thus, from sophomore year onward, I started pleasure reading, a hobby I’d long neglected. The first year, I managed to read 6 books, all simple digestible fiction works. The year after: 30 books, with a medley of genres from fantasy and classics to non-fiction. The next year: 50 books, with so many genres and topics that I began listening to debates and commentaries about books I’d finished, reading essays written on them and writing my own, and watching my favorite videos of Brandon Sanderson on writing.

Of all my hobbies, I must say reading affords me the most invaluable understanding of literature. Vicariously experiencing other authors’ thoughts and beliefs, I’m immersed in their minds, and whenever I finish their book, I’m back on my own timeline in history, unable to contain the inspiration that often strikes to use my words and languages to weave works of literature.” 

Why This Worked 

This student’s love of literature fuelled their narrative while demonstrating how they pursued their passions outside the classroom. 

The tangible numbers they provide on how many books they’ve read and their descriptions of how they’d engaged with the content shows their commitment to learning and exploring history and writing – their conclusion about unity and perpetuity is especially compelling. 

Prompt Seven Example

Prompt seven asks, “What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?” Here’s a sample answer: 

“We have a fourteen-day adoption policy. Animals that are not adopted within two weeks of entering the shelter are likely to be euthanized. We simply do not have the room or resources to keep them longer. Considering she’s a black cat, it’s highly likely she will not be adopted. 

That’s what I was told when I surrendered an injured black cat to my local animal shelter. I found Midnight cowering under my car during a hail storm. It was clear she once belonged to someone, she had a tattered collar, but she must have been abandoned recently. 

Her nails were beginning to grow out, and her fur was matted and unbrushed. After hearing about her chances of adoption, I researched the phenomena of black pet deaths.

Out of all of the other pets, black dogs and cats were not only the least likely to be adopted but were euthanized at the highest rates. By day thirteen, no one had adopted Midnight, so I did. 

But I knew just saving one cat wasn’t enough. So, I brought up the issue to the other members of our Animal Activist club at school. I was an executive member of the club, and my peers agreed we had to do more for the black pets in our community. So, we set up two bake sales and three fundraisers throughout my junior year of high school.

We raised over $20,000 that we donated to our local animal shelter for what has coined the “Black Pet Initiative”. With this money, all of the black pets at the shelter were groomed, professionally photographed, and given the best chances of being adopted. 

Any leftover funds were used to provide the shelter with more resources to keep their animals for longer before they were euthanized. 

Our initiative has had great success so far. Mandy, the adoption coordinator, told us there was a 50% increase in black pet adoptions so far and that she only expects it to grow as they receive more donations through the social media presence we created for them on TikTok and Instagram.”

Black cat walking in grassy field

Here are tips to help you write this essay:

  • Choose specific examples : Pick specific examples of initiatives or projects that you have been involved in to improve your school or community. Choose instances that showcase your leadership, commitment, and impact.
  • Provide context : Begin by providing context for the school or community environment. Briefly describe the challenges or opportunities that motivated your involvement. Clearly explain why you felt compelled to contribute.
  • Reflect on challenges : If you faced challenges during your efforts, discuss how you overcame them. Reflect on what you learned from the experience and how it contributed to your personal and leadership development.

Above all else, there’s clear passion in this answer. Readers can feel how important the issue is to this student, and the personal anecdote of Midnight adds to this. The student also explains the role they played in their community, how they contributed to it, and the extent of their contributions!

These essay prompts present a fantastic opportunity to strategically position yourself as the ultimate UC applicant. 

Prompt Eight Example

The final UC prompt is, “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?” 

Here’s an example to help you brainstorm:

“A year ago, I decided to work at my neighbor’s new restaurant that they were struggling to keep afloat. I saw it as an opportunity to help my parents pay bills and save up for a car, which I felt I desperately needed at the time. 

I only planned to work there during the summer, but my neighbors said I was an asset to their team and could continue working reduced hours during the school year if I wanted. The money was good, and I knew I would be helping out neighbors I’ve known my whole life.

So, I continued working throughout my junior year, and still work there now in my senior year. It has been a demanding job, especially as business picked up last year. I made numerous mistakes in the beginning, like punching in take-out orders as dine-in orders, dropping plates, and overbooking our waitlist.

There were days I considered quitting, but I pushed through. Over time, I learned the ins and outs of the diner. I’ve become one of the restaurant's star waitresses and have even won employee of the month five months in a row. 

Working in this industry has made me feel like a bigger part of society. I have the ability to make a person’s day better and always offer kind conversation to people who often need it most. It has made me a better listener, communicator, and harder worker.

It has been a personally fulfilling experience--there’s just something about being part of people’s celebrations and sharing moments with strangers that’s indescribable. These special moments are what inspired me to continue working in this industry, but not as a waitress. 

I hope to become a co-manager at my neighbor’s restaurant to have an even bigger impact on my community. I know getting a degree is the next step in this aspiration.” 

  • Identify unique strengths : Identify unique strengths or qualities about yourself that have not been extensively covered in your application. Consider personal characteristics, experiences, or skills that set you apart and contribute to your candidacy.
  • Focus on diversity : Emphasize aspects of your background, experiences, or perspectives that contribute to the diversity and richness of the university community. Showcase how your unique qualities will enhance the overall student body.
  • Connect to university values : Connect your strengths with the values and mission of the University of California. Demonstrate how your goals and values align with the university's commitment to academic excellence, diversity, and community engagement.

This student shares more about their work experience and what led them to pursue a degree at a UC school. It offers more insight into the type of person they are, what they value, and how important community is to them. 

We hope these UC personal insight questions examples help you understand what UC schools look for. 

UC Essay Examples

Here are some UC essay examples to give you a better idea of what a successful essay looks like.

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

My grandfather delights in scenic diversions while traveling, and I am his willing companion on road trips. Our journeys have taken us to trails and prime fishing spots as memorable as our final destination. Information processing in my brain resembles these scenic journeys. I have dyslexia, and one of the greatest challenges I have overcome has been to find the beauty and advantage in the way my neural pathways function–never a direct route and usually a lengthy journey. 
Learning to read was an arduous undertaking for me. While my siblings learned to read with ease, I toiled along and avoided tasks that involved reading. After I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I drudged through hours of remediation and studied twice as hard as my neurotypical peers. I had difficulty attributing my success to natural ability because I worked so hard to attain it. It wasn’t until my freshman year that my mindset shifted. A guest speaker visited my school to talk about the gifts of neurodiversity. As I listened, I began to think about my own neural pathways as roadways for information. I realized that my destination is the same as someone with an ordinary brain, but information in my brain takes the scenic route. I then started uncovering the benefits of neurodiversity. Dyslexia has helped me excel in forming creative solutions to problems, and as my classes become more advanced, the processing differences become less apparent. What’s more, I’ve spent my life working hard to spot and rectify errors, reading and re-reading passages, and intensely persevering to meet my own high expectations. This has culminated in a work ethic for which I will always have muscle memory. Above all, I now confidently own my success.
As I reflect on expeditions with my grandfather, it is clear my experience on the road could never be the same as my siblings, who rode with my parents in the “fast car”. I would never trade the memories made for the time spent. As for my neural pathways, I am content knowing that my brain will always take me where the fish are biting.

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

The test covered L’Hopital’s Rule and Related Rates–a topic I felt I had mastered but would need extra time to complete. But there I was. Waiting patiently with everyone else for [NAME] to hand out the test. As a student with a learning difference, I had a written contract for accommodations: extended time in a distraction free setting, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t the first time this happened, and I knew how this story would unfold. He placed the test on my desk. I frantically solved as many problems as I could. I flew through the first half of the test, but just as I began solving related rates, I heard a disappointing “5 Minutes Left”. I frantically jotted down anything that came to mind on the remaining portion of the test, but it didn’t matter. Time was up.
I sat quietly in class the next day, enraged. Every question I completed was correct, but it didn’t make up for the unattempted problems. “79%” engraved in dark red ink. What’s worse, he wrote, “Why didn’t you try these problems?” across the page of unanswered questions. Nearly every problem I attempted on any quiz or test in his class was mathematically correct, but I ran out of time on almost every assessment. It didn’t matter how good I truly was at Precalculus.
Until then, I had a hard time advocating for myself. That day something ignited in me and I knew I carried the responsibility to advocate for not only myself but for other students with learning differences. I wrote a letter to the school which reviewed the rights of students with learning differences set forth by the ADA. The following semester, my teacher was obligated to allow accommodations in his class, and as a result, those of use with differences were allowed “equal playing time.” The grade I received that semester did not reflect my mastery of Honors Precalculus, but it was a very impactful experience. I now understand the mental burden true discrimination can have on a person, and I carry the motivation to fight it.

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

It was her fourth honor council. I sat on the committee for her third that granted her one last chance. It was mid-April–just weeks before graduation, and she would walk across the stage with her diploma. The third honor council debated for hours about the best course of action. No student had ever been given 4 chances without separation from the school. One attendee argued for her future in retaining her college admission, while another suggested her negative impacts on the school community. After hours of debate, the honor council was split. It was left up to just a few of her peers to decide her fate. We reviewed her previous violation, and then it appeared: “Any future violations of school rules WILL result in separation from the school”. I believe strongly in seeking first to understand a person’s circumstances before drawing judgment, and I think there is great value in the second chance. Unfortunately, this student was unable to take responsibility after failing on multiple counts, and we eventually decided it would be best for the community if she separated from the school. She was given the opportunity to receive her diploma with successful completion of online classes.
Hard decisions like these have been a driving factor in shaping my character and values caring for the greater good of the community. I faced discrimination as a person with learning differences, which prompted me to solve issues of inequity through leadership positions. I give back to the community by leading school discussions about acts of hate and aggression that happen on and off campus, and I strive to create diversity and inclusion by attracting new people to [CITY]. I attempt to create a well-rounded incoming class of freshmen that will better the FVS community and help to solve issues of discrimination and a lack of diversity on campus. Together, my roles have heavily aligned with my values of creating diversity and solving a wide range of issues on campus.

What Are the UC Schools Looking For In Your Essays? 

When it comes to the essay, UC schools look for specific aspects, these include:

  • Personality : The essay is a great way for UC admission to get to know their applicants. They look for an applicant's voice and want to get to know more about them. 
  • Diversity of experiences :  UC schools value diversity, not only in terms of ethnicity and background but also in experiences, perspectives, and talents. They are interested in students who can bring unique viewpoints and contribute to a diverse and vibrant campus community.
  • Impact and initiative : The essays should highlight instances where you took initiative or made a positive impact in your community, school, or personal life. Admissions officers are interested in applicants who demonstrate leadership, problem-solving skills, and a commitment to making a difference.
  • Interest in the schools : Demonstrate a genuine interest in the UC schools you are applying to. Mention specific programs, faculty, or opportunities that attract you to each campus, showing that you've done your research.

Make sure you keep the above in mind when writing your essays. You never know, it might help you get accepted! 

Tips For Writing the UC Application Essays

Reviewing sample answers and getting inspired by them is an excellent first step when learning how to write the UC personal insight questions. Once you’ve made it past the brainstorming phase, consider these tips for your UC supplemental essays:

Use “I” Statements

Throughout your personal insight questions, you should use “I” statements. Make yourself the protagonist of all your stories, and don’t use third-person narration. This can make your answers confusing, less personal, and academic-sounding. 

Your personal insight questions give the admissions committee a glimpse into who you are outside the classroom. While your stats give them a sense of your academic potential, your essays provide a sense of who you are and what you can contribute to the school community.

Be sincere in your answers. Show your enthusiasm about the topics you’re writing about, and be honest. You don’t need to have jaw-dropping, tragic, or life-changing stories to write compelling UC essays. 

Your feelings towards these experiences, what you learned from them, and the impact they had on others make your responses unique and interesting!

Get Feedback

Your friends, family, and other members of your community who know you best can offer feedback on your essays. If they feel you’re selling yourself short or your answers don’t reflect your personal story, you can revise them to be more accurate.

At the same time, however, you do not want to lose your unique voice by accepting all of the suggestions of your peers and family members. You are still the best narrator of your own story, and it may have been a long while since they applied to college.

If you’re unsure how to write the UC supplemental essays or want expert guidance and feedback, consider scheduling a consultation with an admissions counselor to ensure your narratives stand out! 

Edit, Edit, Edit

Grammar and spelling errors can distract your readers and reduce the efficacy of your words. Ensure you proofread your work several times before you submit it so your answers are clear and powerful!

For any remaining questions about the UC application insight questions, read on!

1. How Do You Write a Good UC Essay?

Writing a good University of California insight questions involves several steps:

  • Choose prompts that truly resonate with you
  • Brainstorm ideas before you write your answers
  • Limit your options to the experiences you feel most connected to so you can portray your best traits
  • Be sincere and honest 
  • Use real-life anecdotes to propel your story
  • Proofread your work several times
  • Ask for input from people close to you, but ensure your voice still shines through

A good UC essay is crafted with care and effort! Ensure you start early, and don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts until you’re happy with your answers.

2. Can UC Essays Be Over 350 Words?

No, your UC essays should be 350 words or fewer.

3. Do UC Essays Have to Be 250 Words?

There’s no minimum word count for the UC essays. However, you should aim for your answers to be at least 250 words so you can adequately answer the prompt. 

4. How Many UC Essays Are There?

You’ll be given the choice between eight essay prompts, of which you must answer four. 

5. What Should I Not Do When Writing UC Essays? 

When writing UC essays, you shouldn’t mention the school’s name if you’re applying to more than one in the system. Additionally, you don’t want to fudge any details, randomly select essays to write, repeat anything from your personal statement, or exceed the word limit. 

6. What Do UC Admissions Look for in Essays? 

UC schools are looking for applicants who demonstrate their personality and strong character through anecdotes and experiences. Ensure your responses show your passions, interests, values, and what makes you unique. 

Final Thoughts

After reviewing how to write the UC essays in depth, you should be able to craft compelling responses. Ensure you choose the right prompts, pick experiences that portray your most favorable traits, and prove you’ll make an excellent addition to the UC community!

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

uc essay question examples

If you’re applying to a University of California campus, you may already know that you’ll need to respond to four (out of eight) personal insight questions. The UC personal insight questions will require a good amount of time and effort, but fortunately we’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll dissect each prompt and offer some tips on how to respond. And if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, be sure to check out our example essays as well. Let’s get started!

Don’t miss: How to write an essay about yourself

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (max: 350 words)”

You don’t have to be captain of a sports team or president of a school club to be a leader. Titles like those are great (and are definitely worth talking about), but leadership can be demonstrated in more subtle ways as well. Think about the times in which people have looked to you for guidance or support. It could be a group of friends, your coworkers, or even a younger sibling or family member. Whatever the case may be, you should write about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. This essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your ability to make a positive impact outside the classroom. 

Questions to consider: 

  • What does being a leader mean to you?
  • How has your perspective on leadership changed over time?
  • What qualities do you possess that make you a good leader?
“Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (max: 350 words)”

Creativity takes so many different forms. From music to cooking to fashion, there are countless ways to express creativity. Think about the area of your life in which you exhibit original ideas or unique ways of thinking. It may not be obvious for everyone, but chances are you’re creative in ways that you haven’t even realized. Any time you produce a new thought, idea, or concept, you’re being creative. Once you find your creative niche, focus on your motive. Why do you create? Does it bring you joy? Does it connect to your personal or professional ambitions? Ultimately, your goal in this essay should be to articulate the value of your creativity. 

  • How do you define creativity? 
  • How does being creative make you feel?
  • What impact does your creativity have on yourself and others?
“What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (max: 350 words)”

Some people have a talent or skill that is central to their identity. Maybe you’re a gifted athlete or you have a knack for making people laugh. Maybe you’re a skilled communicator. Consider your greatest talents and what they mean to you. Think about how your talent has shaped your own life and how it has influenced others. It is important to remember to avoid coming across as boastful. You may be a talented soccer player, for instance, but don’t use the entire essay to talk about how good you are at playing goalie. Instead, focus on how soccer has had a positive impact on your life. 

  • How has your talent influenced who you are as a person?
  • How did you discover your talent, and how has it grown since then?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your talent?
“Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (max: 350 words)”

This prompt is interesting because it gives students a couple of options. Students can choose to either write about an educational opportunity or an educational barrier. If you decide to write about an opportunity, think about the experiences that have better prepared you for college. Have you taken any advanced classes, enrolled in any academic enrichment programs, or completed any internships? If so, write about what you gained from the experience and what you learned. 

If you choose to write about a barrier, think about the times in which you’ve faced significant obstacles to your education. Obstacles could include a variety of things, such as family issues, switching schools, or lacking the money needed for school supplies. Whatever the case may be, it’s better to emphasize what you did to overcome the problem rather than focusing on the issue itself. This essay is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your resilience to adversity. 

  • In what ways have you gone above and beyond to further your education?
  • Have you faced any disruptions to your education? If so, how did you react?
  • How did your opportunity or barrier influence who you are today? 
“Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (max: 350 words)”

We all face challenges in life, but the key to overcoming any obstacle is the manner in which we react. Think about a setback in your life that could have derailed you, but instead you persevered. Examples include moving to a new school or town, coping with the loss of a loved one, or dealing with financial hardship. Describe the problem, but avoid lingering on the negative side of things. Similar to the fourth prompt, you should focus the majority of your response on what you actually did to overcome the challenge. 

  • Have you ever turned a negative situation into a positive one?
  • How have the challenges in your life made you better-equipped to deal with future setbacks? 
  • Why are obstacles an important part of life? 
“Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (max: 350 words)”

This is your chance to write about your academic passions. Think about your favorite field of study and what excites you about it. Discuss how your interest in the subject has taken shape over time, and what you have done to cultivate that interest. Have you participated in any activities outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, or student clubs — to learn more about your field? If applicable, you can also discuss how your academic interests connect to your future career goals. 

  • What’s a topic or idea that you never get bored of? 
  • What was the moment that sparked your interest in this subject?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your interest?
“What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (max: 350 words)”

Colleges love to see candidates who have the potential to make a positive impact on campus, and this essay is a great chance to demonstrate that potential. When brainstorming ideas, remember that the word “community” can mean a lot of different things. It could refer to a sports team, a school club, a neighborhood, a family, a workplace, or even a group of friends. Think about the people and places that constitute your community, and consider what you have done to make a difference. 

  • How have your actions benefited your community? 
  • How does your community add value to your life? 
  • How would members of your community describe you? 
“Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? (max: 350 words)”

This is a great prompt for students who have a story or experience that doesn’t fit the mold of the other prompts. It’s essentially a catch-all prompt that allows you to write about anything you want. That being said, it’s important to find a focus and stick with it. Don’t let your essay become too broad. Instead, try to focus on one or two specific experiences and describe how they make you an excellent candidate for UC.

  • What should UC know about you that they wouldn’t learn from the rest of your application?
  • Do you have any amazing or exceptional stories that don’t fit the mold of the other prompts?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates? 

Don’t miss: Tips for a successful college application

Example essays 

We’ve given you some tips on how to respond to each prompt, but sometimes it’s helpful to see how another person approached the prompt. Below you’ll find example essays for each of the eight UC prompts. Check them out if you’re looking for some inspiration! We’ve also included feedback on each example from our seasoned admissions expert Bill Jack .

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

Thirty-six hours to plan a triathlon with minimal course congestion and road closure time, write a 30-33 page solution to this problem, and address a two-page letter to the “mayor” summarizing our solution. This was our assigned task as part of the 2016 annual High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

This hypothetical triathlon was set to host around 2000 participants, all ranging in skill level. Further, the local roads surrounding the triathlon could only be closed for a maximum of 5.5 hours. Confronting this information, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I sat, perplexed. How could we prevent the less experienced competitors from potentially slowing down their faster counterparts? Allowing the less experienced competitors to start last wouldn’t work, we figured, as this would probably close the roads for too long.

After some thought, I figured that initially separating the participants by lanes and implementing a wave-start system would be the best way to go. If those faster competitors were separated from those slower at first, then they would be able to get ahead before the lanes eventually merged – preventing any participants from potentially hindering others’ progress.

While we celebrated having finally figured out an answer to the question, there was a lot of work to go. To me, it seemed reasonable that everyone do the work best suited to their strengths. My teammates agreed. After some deliberation, it was settled: I would complete the bulk of the writing, Ellen and Megan the math, and Daisy the graph and map-making. A mere 30-ish hours later, we were finished.

After a few read-throughs of the finished products, admiration of each other’s work, and an agreement that all looked good, we sent in the completed project. For our work, we were honored with “Meritorious” in the contest, the third-highest possible honor in the competition. Exchanging texts, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I took pride in such an honor. The project had not only given me practical knowledge on how to organize a triathlon, but also taught me leadership and teamwork skills that I hope to use in my future endeavors – hypothetical or not. (Word count: 349 words)

Expert analysis from an admissions professional:

While the person at UC who reads this might know about this particular mathematical contest, it is definitely wise to assume they know nothing.  It was super helpful that the writer chose to give some background about what exactly they were tasked to do.  Readers will glean many things in an application relative to a student’s leadership skills.  While leadership skills are certainly quite desirable to admission officers, one reason this personal insight response is particularly… well… insightful (!!), is because it speaks to how the person performs as part of a team. – Bill Jack

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

A beautiful road, the darkness of the tall trees contrasting the bright orange, pink, and purples hues up above. These are the types of pictures I love on Instagram: beautiful scenes of nature, typically including trees. I am always delighted to see them on my screen, but rarely, if ever, do I get to see such scenes in real life. 

Such photos inspired me to try painting a similar landscape this past summer to capture the scenes I love so much. I decided to use acrylic paints throughout, from the mesmerizing sky, to the trees themselves. It turned out that this wasn’t the best idea; acrylics dry too quickly to be spread across a large area, which made it incredibly difficult to paint the vast, all-encompassing sky. Before moving on, I considered what to do next: keep trudging on, or start anew? 

Eventually, I added some water to the paint, unknowingly thinking that it would help the paint spread more easily. This did not help, and the painting turned out looking like a number of navy green blobs in front of another, pinker blob, rather than green fir trees in front of a beautiful evening sky. 

Despite this setback, I persevered and tried again. I used watercolors and smaller brushes instead, hoping to make the tree branches more distinct. The sky initially turned out better, with the colors mixing more easily this time. However, I hadn’t waited long enough to paint the trees. The dark green of the leaves had mixed with the hues of the far brighter sky, again making the trees nearly indiscernible.

Problem solving is a key part of doing something new. My lack of experience with painting forced me to put careful thought into what I was going to do next, teaching me that I should put more time into what I do, rather than rushing to finish as soon as possible. I hope that whatever comes next, whether it be painting another landscape or preparing for a marathon, is done with the same care and thought that I put into painting those exquisite fir trees. (Word count: 350 words)

Responses that can paint a picture allow the person reading the application to dive into the world of the student.  In this case, painting a picture is literally what is happening!  Using such good adjectives really does a great job describing why they started with acrylics and why they ended with watercolors.  Although the purpose of this response is to showcase the student’s creativity, it is neat how this response also happens to allow the reader to tap into their own creativity, too, because they are invited to imagine what the finished painting might look like. – Bill Jack

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

Whether a love song by Taylor Swift or a story about George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, I have always enjoyed being completely absorbed in a story. Wanting to recreate this same feeling for others, at nine years old, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods. I only got a few pages through. However, my next protagonist, Phil the pig, would see some longevity. Whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, he was always at the forefront, angry. In my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my high school, I decided to join to see if my interest had survived. Luckily, it did. The club not only reaffirmed my passion for writing, but introduced me to new means of expression as well. From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, putting it all down in a journal.

Around the same time, I developed an interest in classic literature. A project in English class had required us to read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and develop my abilities, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing being part of my future, and hope that Phil will accompany me every step of the way. (Word count: 350 words)

Near the end, we learn that writing is likely to be part of the student’s future.  This is great to learn.  Too often admission officers might not know how a student’s current pursuits relate to their goals.  We learn here about Phil the pig, we learn about their interest in classic literature, and we learn why they joined the writing club.  We are taken on a journey that tells us how writing–and reading–has been part of their life, including how it has evolved and developed over the years. – Bill Jack

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

Nineteen ninety-nine marked the year my mom moved to the U.S. from South Korea. Stepping off the plane, my mom’s English level was impressive for someone who had never stepped foot outside her native country. Her English speaking skills were quite proficient, and she understood the language with ease. However, having aspirations of becoming a teacher in this new country, she knew she had to brush up on her English. Quick.

To accomplish this goal, my parents decided to speak English at home. Days and years of discussing shows, events, and daily tasks in English were a great source of practice. As my brother and I got older and saw improvements in our English, she did too. All was good.

That was until I realized I didn’t really “know” Korean. Besides the familial terms I used for my obba (older brother) and omma (mom) and a number of other food-related and random words, I was largely clueless. So, I decided it would be nice to be able to speak the native language of, not only my mom, but her entire side of the family.

As my high school didn’t offer Korean language classes, I figured that self-studying would be the best course of action. I did some research online and found an elementary-level Korean workbook. After outlining a quick “study plan,” the following summer was filled with hours of working in my Korean workbook. My mom helped, reading over my completed pages, alerting me to any mistakes I made, and setting me on the right path. 

Around the end of the summer, I was able to form simple sentences and even somewhat communicate with my Korean relatives. Self-studying also had its perks: I learned how to manage my time and motivate myself to study, something that might’ve surprised the former procrastinator in me. My mom was pleasantly surprised too, embracing her role as the teacher and I, the student. As I move into this next part of my life, I hope to continue following in her footsteps, using the new skills – Korean and otherwise – I learned that dear summer. (Word count: 350 words)

This response covers so much ground!  We learn about the student’s family background, about the family’s transition to the United States, and the student’s desire to connect deeper with their Korean culture.  We also learn about personal traits such as motivation, perseverance, and determination.  Often in college students will want to explore a subject further than the curriculum allows, and this response speaks loudly about what the student will do when faced with that barrier.  And that we got to learn a couple of Korean words is just a cherry on top! – Bill Jack

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

New city, new school, new home — a lot of new things came into my life during my seventh grade year. It wasn’t easy getting used to so many changes, and the circumstances surrounding those changes were tough to wrap my head around. 

To give you some context, my dad was a carpenter and a year earlier he had fallen off a roof on one of his job sites. He severely injured his back, became unable to work, and our family fell into a tough financial situation as a result. Our house in Asheville met foreclosure and the only option was to move to Winston-Salem. Fortunately, my parents owned a second home there. The situation could have been much worse, looking back on it, but that didn’t change the fact that my life in Asheville had been uprooted.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, all my friends were gone, and I was sitting among complete strangers at the lunch table. I was also navigating some unfamiliar cultural territory, being one of the few white students at a school that was largely black and Latino. I was completely out of my element, but looking back on it, it’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. 

During my first year in Winston-Salem, I was pushed out of my comfort zone in a way that I had never experienced before. To make new friends, I made a conscious effort to be more outgoing. I connected with my classmates, making jokes and striking up conversations. Eventually I formed some strong friendships, several of which I maintain to this day. On top of that, my new friends were a diverse bunch — black, white, Mexican, male, female — and as a result I gained a different cultural perspective that shaped the way I view the world today. 

The whole experience showed me that change brings discomfort, but it can also bring positive growth. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if I had never left Asheville. I probably wouldn’t have been as open-minded, and I definitely wouldn’t have been as good at adjusting to new situations. As I prepare for my first year of college, I look forward to embracing all the changes that will come along with it. (Word count: 380 words)

The last sentence of this response really encapsulates why what we learn is relevant to the college search.  For people who work in education, we know all too well how lunchroom dynamics really do have a large impact on a high school student’s life.  As we learn, the student was uprooted, had to make new friends, and absolutely was not in their comfort zone.  Let’s face it: that’s your first semester of college.  Seeing that the student has had success already transitioning into an unfamiliar environment bodes very well for how their transition to college will be. -Bill Jack

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

I’ve always been fascinated by people. So has my dad. Not in a weird way, but rather in an isn’t-it-interesting-why-people-act-the-way-they-do way. Over the years, this has led to hours of discussing how the environment one grows up in, and a number of other factors, contribute to one’s general disposition. Perhaps expectedly, these talks led me to develop an interest in psychology.

However, they were not my only early exposure to the field. For as long as I can remember, I have tuned in to watch Criminal Minds on CBS at 9 p.m. every Wednesday. Particularly fascinating to me has been how J.J., Morgan, Reid, and the rest of the crew are able to use insights from psychology to create largely accurate assessments about suspects based on evidence alone.

Having gotten a little older, I now realize that this process is called “profiling” and that it shares similarities with abnormal psychology. Wanting to dive deeper and learn more about the subject, I was led to Dr. Roxane Gold’s psychology lab at the University of California, Irvine, the summer after my junior year.

Arriving at the lab, I was assigned to a project wherein participants were exposed to surprising or potentially stressful events through videos or pictures, all while their slight movements were tracked. As a research assistant, I was responsible for the movement data, tracking the peaks which signified surprise on behalf of participants. It was surprising to learn how repeated exposure to shocking or stressful media, even images, could have enduring negative impacts on people.

Such an experience certainly taught me a lot about the realities of conducting psychological research. The results, unlike the discussions with my dad, were not always so lighthearted. However, I hope to eventually use this experience to produce something more positive. If possible, I want to one day apply the knowledge I gained to my own research, to discover methods to help the people suffering from the psychological problems I study. As learning about psychology has brought me much joy, I hope to use it to do the same for others. (Word count: 348 words)

Citing television shows or movies can be risky because the reader might not be familiar.  (Criminal Minds is an awesome show, by the way!)  One reason this response works well is because it is not merely a report about the show.  It is not merely why the student likes watching it.  Instead they explain the show’s influence on their life: they have taken the initiative to be a research assistant already and they want to pursue their own psychology research.  And it is great to learn about their future plans: to bring joy to folks who might be suffering. – Bill Jack

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

Smiling faces, cheerful conversation, upbeat music – this was the scene surrounding me on that early April afternoon at Corpening Plaza in downtown Winston-Salem. I surveyed the bustling plaza, observing the many food truck vendors, musicians, and small business owners who had come together to celebrate Everyone Matters Day. I smiled to myself, knowing that it was the result of months of hard work.

But let’s rewind. Planning for the event was initiated almost five months earlier by the Winston-Salem Youth Advisory Council, a group in which I was involved for most of my high school career. Also known as YAC, the council is a space for high school students to actively engage the community in partnership with the city government. Throughout my three years on the council, I helped organize several community projects. One year we delivered school supplies and clothes to homeless children, and another year we filmed some commercials speaking out against bullying. 

But for several reasons, the downtown festival celebrating Everyone Matters Day is the project that I cherish the most. For one, I felt the project was especially timely. The idea for the festival spawned in late 2015, during a time when racial tensions in the U.S. were soaring. The council and I wanted to do something that would bring the city together and uplift residents in a positive way. We had caught wind of a recently established holiday called Everyone Matters Day — a day in which people around the world acknowledge everyone’s right to be who they are — and decided to host an event in honor of the day. 

The project was also particularly important to me because it was the one in which I was most involved. This was my third year on the council, and by this point I had taken on more of a leadership role. There was a lot of work that went into making the event a success, and I helped take the lead in the planning process. We needed a venue, volunteers, food truck vendors, live music, and the support of small business owners. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off when April 2 finally rolled around, and our vision became a reality. For a couple hours, our festival brought joy and positivity into the lives of others, making those months of planning absolutely worth it. (Word count: 392 words)

Often the reader does not learn in great detail about what the student’s outside-of-school activities actually entail.  After all, the college counselor and the teachers might not mention these activities in their letters of recommendation.  So if given the opportunity to tell the reader about one of these activities, please do.  You almost certainly will end up sharing something that cannot be gleaned from other parts of the application, and as we learn here, the Youth Advisory Council clearly is an important part of the student’s life. – Bill Jack

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

Many families have traditions. These range from those more common, like opening up Christmas presents at a specific time each year, to those more unusual – like choosing to ring in the holidays with the consumption of fruitcake. Probably amongst the nerdiest of such traditions, however, is what my family has done every Monday through Friday for as long as I can remember: tune in to watch Jeopardy.

Like a long-time friend, Jeopardy is something that has been by my side since childhood. Thus, tuning in and seeing Alex Trebek’s familiar face quiz contestants on a variety of random subjects is something that has brought me comfort throughout the years, even if I couldn’t always answer many of the questions. As a child, besides during the annual “Kids Week” tournament for those between the ages of 10 and 12, I was often clueless. The rest of my family would typically perform better, having more years of experience and knowledge under their hypothetical belts.

Being a young child, though, I didn’t take my mistakes or lack of knowledge so trivially. After all, how could a 12-year-old be unfamiliar with Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign song? I wasn’t sure, but I did know that I wanted to prove myself. 

So, from then on, I decided to take the pursuit of knowledge more seriously. Rather than learning just to test, I would try to retain the information I learned, putting it in context and understanding its importance. As the years went on, this strategy proved successful – to an extent. I still never quite excelled at the geography questions, but I was certainly able to answer more across the board. 

Today, while I still might not be able to answer every question about Shakespeare out there, Jeopardy has given me something that will likely outlast my retention of any trivia answer: a thirst for knowledge. As I move into this next chapter of my life, I plan to bring this useful tool with me, helping me better understand and appreciate what’s come before me, and what will come after. 

Thanks, Alex! (Word count: 345 words)

This response may not be a tribute to Alex Trebek in the traditional sense, but it certainly demonstrates the power of the show: developing a thirst for knowledge.  Many college and university mottos include “knowledge,” “learn,” or similar words.  As such, it is probably no surprise that an admission officer might be particularly drawn to a student like this because they seem to like learning for learning’s sake.  Clearly this student will be at college to make the most of what they are taught: not just to memorize facts but also to retain what they learn. -Bill Jack

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal insight) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable. Whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate), make sure to “hook” your reader in. Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Your essays should ultimately reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are. Most of all, though, they should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to answer the UC personal insight questions. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal insight essay is all about effort. So long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Additional resources

If you’re filling out the UC personal insight questions, you are probably in the thick of your college applications. Luckily, we’ve got a host of resources to help you through the process! Check out our guides on writing a 250 word essay and a 500 word essay . We also have a guide to respond to the Common App prompts , as well as a list of California scholarships to pursue.

And even if you are set on a UC school, remember to apply to a wide range of schools. We can help you choose a school and find a financial safety school as well. Finally, to help you fund your education, check out our free scholarship search tool . It will custom-match you to vetted scholarships and automatically update as opportunities close and new ones open. Good luck!

Frequently asked questions about how to answer the UC Personal Insight Questions 

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Freshman requirements

  • Subject requirement (A-G)
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Additional information for

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Personal insight questions

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  • There is one required question you must answer.
  • You must also answer 3 out of 7 additional questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which three questions you choose to answer are 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 questions 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.

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.

Required question

Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university. Things to consider: How did your interest in your major develop? Do you have any experience related to your major outside the classroom;such as volunteer work, internships and employment, or participation in student organizations and activities? If you haven't had experience in the field, consider including experience in the classroom. This may include working with faculty or doing research projects.

If you're applying to multiple campuses with a different major at each campus, think about approaching the topic from a broader perspective, or find a common thread among the majors you've chosen.

Choose to answer any three of the following seven questions:

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 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? 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'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? 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. 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? 7. 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]
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18 UC Berkeley Essay Examples that Worked (2023)

UC Berkeley Essay Examples

If you want to get into the University of California, Berkeley in 2022, you need to write strong Personal Insight Question essays.

In this article I've gathered 18 of the best University of California essays that worked in recent years for you to learn from and get inspired.

What is UC Berkeley's Acceptance Rate?

UC Berkeley is one of the top public universities and therefore highly competitive to get admitted into.

This past year 112,854 students applied to Berkeley and only 16,412 got accepted. Which gives UC Berkeley an overall admit rate of 14.5%.

And as of 2022, the University of California no longer uses your SAT and ACT when deciding which students to admit.

UC Berkeley Acceptance Scattergram

This means that your Personal Insight Questions are even more important to stand out in the admissions process. That is, your essays are more heavily weighed.

If you're trying to get accepted to UC Berkeley, here are 18 of the best examples of Personal Insight Questions that got into Berkeley.

What are the UC Personal Insight Question Prompts for 2022-23?

The Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) are a set of eight questions asked by the UC application, of which students must answer four of those questions in 350 words or less.

Here are the Personal Insight Question prompts for this year:

  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  • Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  • What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  • Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  • Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  • Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

18 UC Berkeley Personal Insight Question Examples

Here are the 18 best Berkeley essays that worked for each Personal Insight Question prompt #1-8.

If you're also applying to UCLA, check out more unique UCLA essays from admitted students.

UC Berkeley Example Essay #1

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UC PIQ #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. (350 words max)

From an early age I became a translator for my mother anytime we went out in public. This experience forced me to have conversations with adults from a young age. It made me become a great communicator, while helping my parents overcome their language barrier.

Being a communicator has allowed me to lead. When I joined my school’s National Honor Society I was given the opportunity to lead. Applying the skills I used from being my mother’s translator I was able to do what no one else could, make the calls and start the club’s most successful event to date an annual Food Drive at a local Albertson’s, which collects over one ton of food every November. Also developing events like an egg hunt at the local elementary school, a goods drive for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and stabilizing a volunteer partnership with a local park. I have been able to grow as a leader, who actively communicates and brings parties together, planning events and having them run smoothly with minor issues. For instance, last year there was an issue with the homeless shelter not picking up the food for the food drive. In a spur of the moment solution I managed for club member’s parents to collectively deliver the food. My ability to communicate benefited me allowing me to find a solution to an unanticipated problem.

Throughout the four years I have been in journalism I have led; mentoring younger writers and improving the way the paper operates. Staying after hours, skyping with writers about their articles all helped establish my role as a leader, who is always supporting his team. I have done this while writing over 100 articles, editing tons of pages, and managing deadlines. I learned that while being a leader requires effort, it is the passion like I have for journalism that motivates me to lead in my community.

Being a leader so far in my life has taught me that I need to communicate, be passionate, and pass on my knowledge helping cultivate future leaders, who can expand and supersede my work.

UC PIQ #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. (350 words max)

Video games have cultivated my creative thought process. When I was a toddler I invented a game I would play with my brothers. It was nothing along the lines of Hide-and-Seek or Tag, but rather, it was meant to mimic a role-playing video game. It was called "Guy" and came with its own story, leveling system, and narrative story. While seemingly impossible to translate the mechanics of a video game into real life, the "Guy" trilogy provided hundreds of hours of fun to pass hot summer days and escape the harsh reality of our parents arguing and eventual divorce.

This thought process translated into my educational career. have always thought of a tough class or test as a video game. This mostly due to my excessive amounts of video games I played as a child through middle school (especially 7th grade). Each year comes bigger and "stronger" challenges, bigger and stronger bosses to defeat. My senior year will have me face the most powerful boss yet; full AP course load on top of heavy club involvement and community college classes.

Many thought of this "secret boss" as an impossible challenge; something that could never be beaten. No one from my school has ever attempted to take on such a challenge, let alone defeat it. That is probably what excites me about it. In a game, messing around with lower level enemies is fun for a while, but gets boring when it is too easy. The thought of a challenge so great and difficult makes the victory even more rewarding. Stormy skies, heavy rain, and epic boss battle music; I'll take that over a peaceful village any day. In the future, I seek to use this thinking to drive research. I think of abstract physics concepts like secret door and levels that need to be proven true or just a myth in the game. One day, I can make my own discovery of a secret "cheat code' that can help everyone who plays a little game called life.

UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)

I’ve always hated the feeling of clammy hands, the needless overflow of adrenaline rushing through my veins, and the piercing eyes that can see through my façade—the eyes that judge me. I felt like this debilitating anxiety that I suffered through was something I could not avoid when doing the thing I was most afraid of—public speaking. I still felt every sweat droplet run down my skin before each speech, and this anguish never completely dissipated. Fortunately, I learned to moderate my fear in high school when I decided to join the speech and debate program. My anxiety has slowly faded in intensity as I’ve gained certitude and poise with every tournament, and every chance I’m given to speak on behalf of others; this talent has allowed me to be a voice for the voiceless.

Out of all the national tournaments that I’ve competed in, the MLK invitational holds a distinct place in my heart. It was my first invitational tournament in which I competed exclusively in Lincoln Douglas debate. I only had two weeks to prepare myself since it was finals week, while my competitors had upwards of two months to prepare. I was fortunate to break into the final round, as my years of experience helped me to articulate and explain my few arguments more effectively, while also refuting my opponent’s.

I realized that the extent of one’s knowledge is useless if it cannot be made known in a way that is clear to others. I learned that preparation is necessary, but one can be so focused on what they are going to say that they don’t hear the arguments presented. I kept an open and ready mind for various claims and strategies which left me free to adapt to the opponent’s argumentative style each round. This ability to think on my feet has served me well in countless debates, speeches, and presentations. I continuously use these skills to become a better and more active listener in my daily interactions as well.

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Students

My greatest skill is my ability to remember things really well, whether they be minute details or important information that should not be forgotten. Over time, I’ve had a knack for remembering details most people would not even bother to remember, such as old test scores, atomic masses, and other details involving numbers. My friends have always marveled at my ability to remember all these numbers. When I was in chemistry class, we used the periodic table so much that I soon began to remember the atomic mass of the more common elements, and even the molecular mass of common compounds like glucose or water. One of my best friends, who is undoubtedly the smartest person in our class, even finds it crazy that I can remember all these numbers and always tells me that my memory of numbers is amazing. I also used my memory to learn and remember how to solve the Rubik's cube, which amazes my friends, as they find it to be complex with many different, possible combinations.

This skill that I have developed, however, isn’t completely under my control, as sometimes I just remember random and irrelevant facts without really trying to do so. I recall one weekend when my eight-year-old cousin was attempting to memorize the digits of pi: I remembered them along with him, learning up to forty digits in just one day. The skill is seemingly natural and not something I have worked hard to develop, as I may be able to use my memory to my advantage, or it can be a disadvantage. It helps when I have multiple tests in one day, or a test with many questions where I have to remember a lot of information, such as finals. Sometimes, however, it is a disadvantage when I remember information during a test that is not relevant to the topic, such as random dates, names, or song lyrics, to name a few. This skill is very important to nonetheless, as it has assisted me all throughout my life in many tests and challenges involving memory.

UC PIQ #4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (350 words max)

At 10:30 pm on a hot, summer, Wednesday night, you would expect my friends and me to be having the time of our lives and going out on crazy high school adventures— but instead, we were actually stuck in a chemistry laboratory trying to map out the Lewis structure of sulfuric acid.

Over the summer of my sophomore year, my friends and I enrolled into ‘Introduction to Chemistry’, an evening course at our local community college. As a six-week summer course, I spent two hours in lecture, two hours in the laboratory, and another two hours studying on my own for four days a week for six weeks. It was evident that I struggled with adjusting to the pace of college when I received 19% on a quiz. I felt left behind, exhausted, and overall pathetic. No matter how many hours I spent studying, I couldn’t keep up. But instead of giving up, I picked up certain strategies like reading the material the night before, rewriting my notes, and joining a study group; eventually working my way up to a B.

At the end of that summer, I learned so much more than just chemistry. On top of having the raw experience of what college is like, my chemistry experience taught me that it is okay to fail. I discovered that failure is an essential part of learning. Coming to this realization inspired me to take more college courses and rigorous courses in high school. I transformed into a hungry learner, eager to fail, learn, and improve. By seizing the opportunity to take this course, I pushed myself beyond my limits. This experience and realization changed how I wanted to pursue the rest of high school, college, and life in general.

I walked into my first day of the chemistry class expecting to walk out with an A; but thankfully, I didn’t. Instead, I walked out of that class with a taste of the college experience and a principle that I now live by-- that it is okay to fail, as long as you get back up.

The relationship I cultivated with my school's college center, by simply being inquisitive, has been most significant. Over my years in high school the college center became my 2nd home, where I learned about extra opportunities and triumphed with help from counselors.

For instance, with help from my school’s college center I applied and was accepted as an LAUSD Superintendent Summer Scholar this past summer. The program selected 15 juniors out of over 450 applicants to work in one of 15 departments, and I was chosen to work for the communications department, which received over 70 applications – making me 1 of 70. Interning for LAUSD at their 29 floor high rise was very eye-opening and exposed me to working in communications alongside seasoned professionals. The opportunity gave me the chance to meet the Superintendent and school board members, who are politically in charge of my education. As part of the communications department I learned how the district operates a network of over 1,300 schools and saw how the 2nd largest school district shares info with stakeholders through universal press releases, phone calls, and the district homepage.

I wrote several articles for the district publication and worked with public information officers who taught me the principles of professionalism and how to communicate to over 1 million people. Recently, I was called from the district to become a part of their Media Advisory Council working alongside district heads, representing the students of LAUSD.

Working for LAUSD furthered my passion to pursue careers in both communication and education. I have always had a desire to be a journalist and the internship assured me of that. I want to write stories bringing student issues from areas like mine to light. Being exposed to the movers and shakers that control education in Los Angeles has heavily motivated me to become an educator and at some point become a school board member influencing the education students like me receive.

Support from the college center has spawned opportunities like a life-changing internship and set me on course for a future full of opportunity.

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”, I proudly exclaimed, finishing up a speech during my first Individual Event competition for Speech and Debate, also known as Forensics Workshop. Public speaking was always one of my shortcomings. During countless in-class presentations, I suffered from stage-fright and anxiety, and my voice always turned nervous and silent. I saw Speech and Debate as a solution to this barrier that hindered my ability to teach and learn. With excessive practice, I passed the tryout and found myself in the zero-period class. All of my teammates, however, joined because they loved chattering and arguing. I had the opposite reason: I despised public speaking.

I was definitely one of the least competitive members of the team, probably because I didn’t take the tournaments very seriously and mainly worried about being a better speaker for the future. Throughout the daily class, I engaged in impromptu competitions, speech interpretations, spontaneous arguments, etc... Throughout my two years on the team, my communication, reciting, writing, and arguing skills overall improved through participation in events such as Impromptu, Original Oratory, Oratorical Interpretation, Lincoln Douglas Debate, and Congress. I even achieved a Certificate of Excellence in my first competition for Oratorical Interpretation -- where we had to recite a historical or current speech -- for Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death.”

I decided to quit Speech and Debate because I felt as if it has completed its purpose. After this educational experience, my communications skilled soared, so I could perform better in school, especially on essays and presentations. Leaving this activity after two years gave me more time to focus on other activities, and apply communications skills to them. In fact, I even did better in interviews (which is how I got into the Torrance Youth Development Program) and even obtained leadership positions in clubs such as Math Club and Science Olympiad Through my two years in Speech and Debate, I believe I became a much better thinker, speaker, and leader. Taking advantage of this opportunity boosted my self-esteem and overall made high school a better experience.

UC PIQ #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? (350 words max)

Although many would say that hardships are the greatest hindrance on a person, my hardships are my greatest assets. The hardships I have overcome are what push and drive me forward. If I had not gone through the failures of my 7th grade year I may have been satisfied as a B or C student. It is easy for us to use our hardships as excuses for not doing work, however, this is a mistake that many people make.

Through my struggles and failure, I have realized an important truth: I am not special. The world will continue to go on and expect me to contribute no matter what I have gone through. Everyone endures some type of obstacle in their life; what makes people different is how they handle them. Some sit around and cry "boo-hoo" waiting for people to feel sorry for them. Others actually take action to improve their situation.

Through hard work, I have been able to outperform my peers, yet I know there is still room for improvement. The thought of actual geniuses in top universities excited me; I long to learn from them and eventually surpass them, or perhaps enter a never ending race for knowledge with them. I used to live an hour away from school. I would have to wake up and be dropped off at a donut shop at 4 in the morning and then walk to school at 6:30 am. After school, I would have to walk to the public library and stay for as long as it was open then wait outside and get picked up around 9:30 pm. I am reluctant to retell this story; not because I am ashamed, but because it is not important. It doesn't matter what hardships I have endured, they do not determine who I am. What matters is what I have done.

At the start of high school, I saw nothing but success. From grades to extracurricular activities, everything seemed to be going smoothly. However, as my sophomore year progressed, this wave of success was soon swamped by a wave of disillusionment. I struggled to perform in Calculus and as a Vice-President, but instead of looking for a solution, I looked for excuses. Ultimately, when I was forced to face my two F’s and my lost elections, the world came crashing down. The vision I had meticulously planned out for the future seemed to shatter before my eyes. My self-confidence plummeted to an all-time low. I thought my life was over.

However, my response to this failure was what would ultimately determine the direction my life would take. In the end, I made the right choice: instead of continuing to blind myself with a false narrative that cast all the blame off my own shoulders, I admitted to my own shortcomings and used this experience as a lesson to grow from.

In doing so, I learned to focus on the aspects of my life that I was truly passionate about instead of spreading myself too thin. I learned to face challenges head-on instead cowering at the first sign of difficulty, even if it meant asking others for help. I learned to accept and utilize my own differences to create my own unique leadership style. Most importantly, rather than letting this mistake define me, I ignited a sense of determination that would guide me back on the right path no matter how many obstacles I encounter.

Looking back, this tragic mistake was a double-edged sword. While it definitely leaves a stain on my record, it is also likely that I wouldn’t have been able to find the same success a year later without the lessons I gained from this experience. At the end of the day, while I still grimace every time I contemplate my sophomore year, I understand now that this mistake is what has allowed me to develop into the person I am today.

Throughout my childhood, I grew up in a nine-person household where the channels of our TV never left the Filipino drama station and the air always smelled of Filipino food. But the moment I left home, I would go to a typical suburban elementary school as an average American kid at the playground. I grew up in a unique position which I both love and hate: being a second-generation Filipino American.

I love being a second-generation immigrant. I have the best of both worlds. But I also hate it. It chains me to this ongoing struggle of living under the high expectations of immigrant parents. How could I hate the part of me that I loved the most?

Growing up, I lived under the constant academic stress that my parents placed on me. Their expectations were through the roof, demanding that I only bring home A’s on my report card. My entire academic career was based on my parent’s expectations. Their eyes beat down on every test score I received. I loved them so much, but I could only handle so much. The stress ate me alive, but I silently continued to work hard.

Living under this stress is the biggest ongoing challenge of my life thus far. Until last year, I never understood why my parents expected so much from me. Finally being old enough to understand my parent’s point of view, I realize that they set these high expectations in the hopes that one day, all of the pain and struggles it took to get to America will pay off. Since then, I’ve overcome the high expectations of my parents by converting their pressure into a fireball of ambition and motivation, deeply ingrained in my mentality.

This intense desire to succeed in America as a second-generation immigrant is something that has and always will fuel my academic drive. As the first person in my family to go to college in America, I’ve made it my life aspiration to succeed in academics in the honor of my family-- a decision made by me.

UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)

Understanding the past helps us make better choices in today’s society. History provides us with the views of people and politics, the ethnic origin of people, and much more. At the base of all history, there is an intensive culmination of research which hopes to address or bring light to a story.

My passion for history began while digging deep into own family’s story, researching the history of Latin America, and the origins of the city I was raised in.

For example, when I first saw my favorite show Avatar The Last Airbender, I spent hours researching the mythology of the show which in the process made me learn about the philosophy of China: daoism, Confucius, and the mandate of heaven. Anything can be put within a historical framework to understand the context; every decision, tv show, and law has a history and that is exactly what I love. History forces us to take into account the voices of the past before we can attempt to plan for the future.

History has helped me become a more effective writer for the school paper. It has made me think like a attorney, revisiting old cases, and writing up a winning argument in a mock trial. Thinking like a historian has helped me make sense of the current political climate and motivated me to help start Students For Liberty, at my school’s campus where political ideologies are shared respectfully.

Learning, about history drives my inquisitive nature — I demonstrated this desire by volunteering at a local museum to learn more about the origins of my community in Carson. Ultimately, learning about the Dominguez family who established the Harbor Area of LA.

In terms of academics and performance, I have passed both of my history AP exams in World and U.S. history — being the 2nd person in my school’s history to do so. Studying history in highschool has nurtured my love for social science, which I hope to continue in college and throughout my life.

Ever since I was little, I have possessed a unique fascination for nature and the way it interacts with itself. As I sat in the prickly seats of old tour buses and the bilingual tour guide has silenced himself for the dozens of passengers that have closed their curtains and fallen into deep slumber, I would keep my eyes glued to the window, waiting to catch a glimpse of wild animals and admiring the beautiful scenery that mother nature had pieced together. At Outdoor Science Camp, while most of my friends were fixated on socializing and games, I was obsessed with finding every organism in the book. Nothing else caught my attention quite like ecology.

As high school dragged on and the relentless responsibilities, assignments, and tests washed away the thrill of learning, ecology was one interest that withstood the turmoil. At the end of a draining day, I would always enjoy relaxing to articles detailing newly discovered species or relationships between species.

This past summer, I was able to further this interest when a unique opportunity to volunteer abroad caught my eye. Flying over to the beautiful tropical shorelines of the Dominican Republic, I was able to dive into the frontlines of the battle against climate change, dwindling populations, and habitat destruction brought about by mankind, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

While everyone was obviously ecstatic about snorkeling in the crystal blue waters, only I was able to retain that same excitement about trekking through knee thick mud and mosquito infested forests to replant mangrove trees. While tracking animal populations, my heart leaped at the sight of every new species that swam right in front of my eyes. Even when it came to the dirty work of building structures to rebuild coral and picking up trash along the beach, I always found myself leading the pack, eager to start and do the most.

From this experience, I realized that pursuing the field of ecology was what I could picture myself doing far into the future, and this was how I was going to impact the world.

UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)

Originally I saw volunteer work as a nuisance. I felt that it was an unnecessary "requirement" for college. I felt that someone decided to do volunteer work while in high school and now it has become the norm and is essentially required for college. Once I began to get involved, however, I found a true appreciation for the work I was doing.

I loved helping people and, as always, wanted to challenge myself. I worked at the Bellflower Volunteer center and tutored kids every day available, as well as helping out with large special events put on by the city. I then joined Key Club and made it my mission to attend every single event no matter what; even going to the lengths to walk for 4 hours starting at 5 in the morning (it was still dark outside) for a 2-hour beach clean up. I then became Service Event Coordinator and also made it my mission to have an event every week, while attending all of them, while still working at the Volunteer Center. I also started a tutoring program in math at my school as I really enjoy helping my peers academically.

It always warmed my heart to see fellow ninjas( our division mascot) at events I had planned, friends and neighbors at Bellflower events, and CSF members at tutoring.I am always willing to help people with anything. If someone needs my help I will stop whatever I am doing to help in any way that I can. Lending a helping hand is an important part of our society; however, a helping hand cannot do anything if the other hand does not reach for it as well. We need to be able to help ourselves first before others can help us. I tried to create a community where I could help people, but also people could help themselves so that there is no reason for anyone to not be able to achieve their goals and aspirations.

Throughout my childhood, the phrases “get good grades” and “make money” constantly harassed my every waking moment. Life seemed pointless, a never-ending cycle of trying to make more money to create artificial happiness. However, through partaking in my middle school’s ASB, I discovered my love for helping others, and I realized that I wanted to make my life about changing the world and leaving behind a better future for the generations to come.

In an attempt to live up to this philosophy, I have performed hundreds of hours of community service. From volunteering at a senior home to distributing food to the homeless, there is no doubt that I have made a substantial impact on those around me.

Despite all this, my most significant contributions are the ones that take place every day and are often undocumented. Picking up trash, staying long after my job is complete to help other groups, or even saying, “Thank you. Have a nice day,” to anyone who has provided a service for me are just a few examples. While they seem insignificant, these small actions add up.

However, above all, my biggest contribution is building meaningful connections with the people around me and making sure they realize how special and important they are to me and everyone else. In nurturing those who are less experienced, assisting those who are struggling with their emotions or their studies, and inspiring those who have untapped potential, I am not merely applying a band-aid on a wound, but elevating a whole community around me to tackle and prevent ailments the next decades will bring.

Years from now, I will likely have forgotten about my modest academic achievements. However, the memories of seeing someone I had mentored blossom into a strong leader and the smiles and laughter of someone I’ve helped battle through depression will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Serving food at school carnivals, embellishing the local marsh, tutoring students after school, and discharging patients at my local hospital were some of the ways I actively supported my city. However, a distinct way of being engaged in my community involved being selected for the Youth Development Program last summer. This organization works with the Torrance Refinery and selects thirty out of hundreds of applicants. The first week of this program involved activities that trained students for college and eventually their careers by making them adept in communication, leadership, and teamwork skills. For the next four weeks, students were assigned a specific job around the City of Torrance and Torrance Unified School District (TUSD).

I was placed in the TUSD Information Technology Department, along with six other students, and we essentially helped deal with technology-based issues around the district. Even though my professional desire incorporates biology and chemistry, I had a compelling interest and math and technology. I gave back to my community by utilizing the technological skills I gained at work. My colleagues and I traveled daily to several schools around the district and assisted in technological advancements: testing network ports and preparing schools for newer phones, imaging and updating new laptops and desktops, and arranging and setting up new computer labs and Chrome book carts.

Today, many people globally use technological and visual aids to assist their education. My summer job also allowed me to make a difference in the education of others. With the faster internet, newer telephones and computers, teachers could instruct more efficiently and students can be educated more effectively, thus improving their academic performance in the future. This program helped me a lot by boosting my teamwork and leadership skills, which will be extremely valuable as I will be pursuing many president/vice-president positions in my senior year. However, this program has allowed me to make a stronger impact on other people rather than myself; I feel delighted that my work in summer will be beneficial to twenty-thousand students across Torrance.

UC PIQ #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? (350 words max)

In 2011, I started at a newly built school spanning sixth to twelfth grade. The school’s inception was not the greatest with gang culture and issues plaguing the school and nearby community. From this moment I knew wanted to make a change, improving the school and local community.

For example, two years ago a bicyclist was crushed by a container truck across the street from my school, several peers of mine and I advocated for a bike lane to get installed on the street to protect cyclists from the busy traffic. I worked day and night for three weeks using my connection with the city’s public works director to meet with city officials and make a change. I looked for solutions and ways to improve my community and lead the charge to better our street. When we met with city officials they agreed and ultimately approved our bike lane proposal. This civic action started with a group of three concerned high school students, in which I helped facilitate the conversations resulting into a bike lane project, that will be built the summer of 2018 after I graduate high school. Ultimately helping solve an issue in my community.

Using my influence as part of the Associated Student Body I advocated for a new medical academy on my school’s campus to address the growing interest in medicine and health careers of many students at my school. While I am not personally interested in a health related field, I recognized that many students at my school did and teachers agreed. I came in as an intermediary, who because of my position in ASB was also a member of my School’s Shared Leadership Council (SLC), through these means I motivated other ASB officers to support the academy’s inception and after a grueling amount of meetings in which we went through logistics the academy was approved for the benefit of students.

I am a student who will attend a UC pursuing my passions in journalism, education, and history; while being an involved student making the campus a better place than when I first arrived.

Rather than relying on pure intellect, I choose to excel through continual self-improvement, my ability to overpower obstacles, and an unrelenting force of determination. There are thousands of students smarter than me, students with better test scores, students with more volunteer hours, and quite possibly, a more socially acceptable sense of humor. I can assert, however, that my determination and ambition is hard to match.

I am willing to look in the face of the impossible without fear; in fact, the only emotion flowing through my body would be excitement. There are thousands of intelligent students, however many are unable or are unwilling to utilize their full potential. Although not a genius, I have shown my ability to improve drastically in capability over time.

At some point in my middle school career I was not technically supposed to still be enrolled because my grades were too low; now I'm on track to be valedictorian of my class. I am willing to do whatever it takes to meet my goal; if there were a service event across the country I would be willing to walk the entire way; if I could take a million AP's I would. I understand that it is a big jump to go from Bellflower High School to a UC in terms of academic difficulty; however, that is part of the excitement. I am not afraid of failure, it does nothing but make me stronger. Am I capable of making a jump of such a magnitude? It is not my judgment to make; I am only here to try.

The spin-the-wheel slows down and eventually stops at ‘try again next time’. That is, until I secretly push it one slot over to ‘princess tiara’. As the child hurries away to the next carnival game with the tiara in her hair, her mom turns back at me with a warm smile and mouths the words “thank you”. Seeing genuine happiness in the people of my community while volunteering at events such as my school carnival always remind me why I love my community so much.

I hold a lot of pride in how I’ve become a prominent figure in my community. From volunteering at festivals for my local elementary school to becoming employed by the City of American Canyon Parks and Recreation Department, I relish being in the hub of the community. I love our annual Fourth of July parades and Easter egg hunts, where I am stopped every 15 minutes to catch up with the crazy kids I worked with at summer camp or even just with the staff I’ve met from school. Growing up and connecting with such a diverse community is and will always be a large part of who I am. From kindergarten up until my senior year of high school, both my small community and I as an individual have grown immensely. By volunteering at local events, connecting with the people of my community, and finally getting employed by my city, I know that I have contributed to the successful growth of my community.

Although I really love my community here in the small town of American Canyon, I cannot help but think of the other great communities that I can potentially be a part of as well. I believe that by going to the University of California, I will be able to thrive in the liveliness of the communities that the campuses are well-known for. A major contribution I believe that I can bring to the University of California is integrating, being involved in, and building the school’s community so that both I and the school can grow together for each other.

What can you learn from these UC Berkeley essays?

If you want to get into UC Berkeley in 2022, you need to write great essays that help make you stand out. From these 18 Berkeley essays that worked, here are some takeaways:

  • Use specific examples of places and events (name them) ( #8 , #17 )
  • Tell a story ( #6 , #18 , #7 )
  • Demonstrate your background, identity, or culture ( #3 , #15 , #4 )

If you enjoyed these UC Berkeley essays, you'll also like reading our top UCLA essays that worked. They answer the same PIQ prompts, but quite differently.

Applying to other public universities? Check out these awesome University of Michigan essays.

Let me know, which UC Berkeley essay was your favorite and why?

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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UC Essay Example: Personal Insight Question #7

by Winning Ivy Prep Team | Feb 3, 2023 | UC Personal Insight Essay Examples

UC Essay Examples

This UC Prompt is one that students seem to gravitate towards. So, we have tons of UC Personal Insight Essay examples for this one. 

So, what have you done to make your school or community a better place?

A lot, I’m sure. But how do you put all this passion and hard-work into 350 words? That’s what makes answering the UC Personal Insight Questions so tricky. But don’t fret! In this post, we’ve got a successful, creative UC essay prompt 7 example for you. 

And if you’re looking for more UC Personal Insight Questions examples, checkout this blogpost: 2020 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC essay examples .

UC Personal Insight Example: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Within six months, four students from my school district committed suicide, shocking the community.  These were our classmates and neighbors—why did they do it?  As a good friend to one of the students, I knew he suffered from insomnia—and I wondered about the correlation between unhealthy sleep habits and depression.   

My sorrow and yearning for clarity directed me towards sleep research—I walked into Dr. _____ leading sleep research lab at the VA Hospital, seeking to join their mission to better understand sleep.  I was blessed when she took me on as an intern during my sophomore year.  Dr. _____’s lab focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i).  CBT-i tackles insomnia on two fronts: cognitive therapy helps patients overcome mental sleeping blocks, and behavioral therapy ensures that the patients’ behaviors enhance sleep.  We investigate individual effects of the cognitive and behavioral parts.

This was my chance to learn about the science behind insomnia—especially about its effects on our overall wellness—to better understand my friend’s tragic situation.  My first duty was patient recruitment through marketing our clinical study to the community, but soon transitioned to data analysis and treatment.  Statistical programs such as R and SAS became my best friends, and tests for cognitive ability and neuropsychological status like MOCA and RBANS were my favorite patient evaluations.  I’ve always enjoyed science, but my time with Dr. _____ helped me gain a deeper appreciation for research.

Research and medicine are integral parts of my future—there is still ways to go in finding an effective long-term solution to teenage sleep issues and well-being.   I have ideas such as marketing CBT-i sleep therapy to increase its accessibility and prevent more tragedies like the ones at my school, and the guidance of UC professors as well as the tight-knit student body gives me the best chances of pursuing my goals and contribute back to the community.  An education in the University of California system would provide me with plentiful resources to continue making strides towards solving this problem.

Source: One of my students that was admitted to Berkeley & UCLA.

UC Personal Insight Prompt #7 Pro Tips

Hold on! Before you go off and write your UC Essays, take a moment and analyze the strengths of this UC Personal Insight example. We’re giving you highly successful UC essay examples here — in fact, this student got into all the UCs he applied to, including UCLA and Berkeley. So, here are some best practices and tips. 

UC Essay Example: Personal Insight Questions

UC Prompt 7 Tip #1: Consider a unique angle

Most essays I read that attempt to answer this UC Personal Insight Question prompt 7 usually delve deeply into volunteering and community service. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s always nice to read a fresh take on a prompt that gets almost monotonous. This UC essay example does a fantastic job of creating a unique take on this prompt!

UC Essay Example Tip #2: Discuss goals for the future

Many UC essays I read do a good job of telling the story of the past/present. For instance, this UC essay example does just that — it talks in great detail about the student’s research and the motivation behind his research project. This UC Personal Insight example however, goes one step further than most others: The student ends the essay by giving a concrete idea of how he wants to take his current research and delve deeper into it at a UC. 

This idea is important because UC admissions officers love to see that students aren’t doing activities for the sake of doing it — admissions officers love it when students are passionate about the extracurricular activity, and have ideas to continue pursuing it throughout college to contribute to the academic environment!

UC Essay Example Tip #3. Show your curiosity

A common pitfall that students have when writing UC essays (and college essays in general) is throwing around words like “passion” with nothing to back it up. 

Remember: you’ve got to show , not tell. 

This particular UC essay example does a great job doing that. This student makes it abundantly clear: He has a genuine, deep love for learning. He has a personal WHY he is invested in tackling the issue of sleep, which compels him to follow his curiosities into a research setting. 

This motivation to seek opportunities to deepen your interests in an academic setting is absolutely critical to be a successful UC applicant (at least, for UCLA and UC Berkeley). 

Alright, now that we’ve gone through this successful UC essay prompt 7 example, you’re probably wondering: how are you going to write a stellar UC essay yourself? Well, we’ve got you covered! Take a look at this UC Personal Insight essay guide . 

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  1. 20 UC Essay Examples

    Prompt 1: Leadership Experience UC Example Essay #1 UC Example Essay #2 UC Example Essay #3 UC Example Essay #4 Prompt 2: Creative Side UC Example Essay #5 UC Example Essay #6 UC Example Essay #7 Prompt 3: Greatest Talent or Skill UC Example Essay #8: "The Art Girl" Prompt 4: Significant Opportunity or Barrier UC Example Essay #9

  2. 17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

    Describe how you express your creative side. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

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

    Part 1: Introduction Part 2: The UC personal insight questions Overview: The UC essay prompts How to choose UC prompts Outlining your UC essays UC personal insight question 1: Leadership UC personal insight question 2: Creativity UC personal insight question 3: Talent UC personal insight question 4: Educational opportunity/barrier

  4. Personal insight questions

    Personal insight questions Personal insight questions Imagine UC was a person. If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you? These personal insight questions allow you to tell us. You could write about your creative side. Your thoughts on leadership. A challenge you've faced.

  5. 8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

    8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers) Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions Key Takeaway We'll go through outstanding essay examples for each of the UC essay prompts.

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

    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.

  7. 12 Great University of California Essay Examples

    12 Great University of California Essay Examples What's Covered Essay #1: Leadership Essay #2: Creativity Essay #3: Creativity Essay #4: Creativity Essay #5: Talent Essay #6: Talent Essay #7: Academic Interest Essay #8: Academic Interest Essay #9: Community Essay #10: Community Essay #11: Community Essay #12: Community

  8. 2023 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC Essay Examples

    Here are 20 UC essay examples (also called UC Personal Insight Essay Examples) from students of ours that have been accepted to at least UCLA or UC Berkeley. If you have writer's block and want to jumpstart your UC personal insight essay writing process, then these UC essay examples will most definitely help :).

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

    Prompt #1: Leadership Prompt #2: Creative Prompt #3: Greatest Talent or Skill Prompt #4: Significant Educational Opportunity/Barrier Prompt #5: Significant Challenge Prompt #6: Academic Subject Prompt #7: School/Community Service Prompt #8: What Else?

  10. UC Essay Examples for the Personal Insight Questions

    Updated on November 30, 2020 Every applicant to one of the University of California campuses must write four short essays in response to the UC application's Personal Insight questions. The UC essay examples below reveal how two different students approached the prompts. Both essays are accompanied by an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.

  11. UC Essay Prompts 2023-24

    A Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions *Note: Your response to each prompt is limited to 350 words. UC Essay Prompt # 1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

  12. University of California Personal Insight Questions

    Let's take a look at how they accomplished this in the UC Personal Insight Questions examples. UC essay example. In the UC essay examples, one writer discusses her experience as a Science Olympiad in high school: "Three thousand, four hundred and seventy-one dollars. That was the bill for the hotel room expenses alone for our thirty-member ...

  13. 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.

  14. How to Answer the UC 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. The first UC essay prompt is straightforward enough: you're expected to tell a story exemplifying your leadership experience.

  15. UC Essay Prompts

    UC Essay Prompts 2023-2024. Students applying to UC schools must be prepared to answer the UC prompts as part of the application process. Each year, the University of California receives over 200,000 undergraduate freshmen applications. An important part of these applications are the UC Personal Insight Questions, also known as UC PIQs.

  16. How to Write the UC Essays: Analysis, Examples, and Tips

    "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.

  17. UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples

    Many of the UC personal insight essay examples I've shown you do a fantastic job showcasing intellectual curiosity — your UC essays should do the same. Admissions officers always look for students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity (basically, it means love of learning) in the UC application and UC Personal Insight essays.

  18. PDF stions: g s

    you: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances. • All questions are equal: All questions are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.

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

    Edited by Maria Geiger Updated: October 10th, 2023 If you're applying to a University of California campus, you may already know that you'll need to respond to four (out of eight) personal insight questions. The UC personal insight questions will require a good amount of time and effort, but fortunately we're here to help.

  20. Personal insight questions

    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.

  21. 18 UC Berkeley Essay Examples that Worked (2023)

    Prompt #1: Leadership Experience UC Berkeley Example Essay #1 Prompt #2: Creative Side UC Berkeley Example Essay #2 Prompt #3: Greatest Talent or Skill UC Berkeley Example Essay #3: Clammy Hands

  22. UC Personal Insight Essay Examples

    Personal Insight Prompt 2: Pro-tip. This UC Essay is an essay prompt that maaaany students gravitate towards. This is a creative UC essay, so here's a tip: define creativity in your own way. You'll see in the UC essay examples that you can define creativity in a traditional way, from art to dance.

  23. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    your questions will form the basis of a strong essay. For example, your initial questions about a source may be answered by reading the source more closely. On the other hand, sometimes you will identify a genuine ambiguity or problem in your sources that raises a question that others considering the same sources would also have. In that case, your

  24. UC Essay Example: Personal Insight Question #7

    UC Essay Example Tip #2: Discuss goals for the future. Many UC essays I read do a good job of telling the story of the past/present. For instance, this UC essay example does just that — it talks in great detail about the student's research and the motivation behind his research project.