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Nadira Berman

How to Answer the University of California Essay Prompts


The University of California is making some big changes to their essay prompts for fall of 2017.

In the past, applicants had to write two essays, which had to add up to less than 1,000 words. Now, the UC will be altering their prompts for the first time in 10 years. Students must choose four out of eight “personal insight questions.” Each of the four essays is limited to 350 words. So applicants will be writing 1,400 words instead of 1,000.

Choose your prompts wisely

Out of the eight questions you can choose from, pick the ones that will show you in the best light. For example, if you were student body president, pick the leadership prompt (#1). If you spent a lot of time volunteering, then pick the one about making your community a better place (#7). But you also shouldn’t be afraid to think outside the box. You don’t always need to take the prompts completely literally. Prompt three focuses on your greatest talent or skill. This could mean a wide variety of things, whether your talent is something you were born good at or something you learned over time. Prompt two about creativity could also be answered in many different ways, whether you wish to write about artistic work or your ability to think of creative solutions to difficult problems.

No matter who you are, I think everyone should answer prompt eight, because it gives you the chance to explain what makes you special. This is exactly what colleges want to know about you and exactly what will get you admitted. You can have all of the qualifications, but if there’s nothing about you that sets you apart, then you may not be accepted. Make sure you don’t blend into the crowd.

Show the different sides of yourself

Choose prompts that allow you to write about a variety of different topics. Don’t write about similar subjects in more than one essay. There’s a reason why the UC changed the application from two essays to four. They want to learn more about the various parts of students’ lives. Take the opportunity to show that you’re well rounded.

Don’t worry about being wrong

There isn’t really a right way and a wrong way to answer these prompts. It all depends on how you interpret them. If you’re feeling stuck, make sure you utilize the “things to consider” that the UC has provided underneath each prompt. These questions will help inspire you and guide your essay.

Don’t just list your achievements

However, you have gone wrong if your essay is just a list of your achievements. There’s already a section on the application where you can list your extracurricular activities and all of your accomplishments. The essay is the place to describe who you really are. Try to write persuasively and entertainingly. You want to come off as genuine. Make sure you have a few key ideas that you support with specific examples.

Use the UC’s guide

The UC has provided applicants with a guide to help them through the process of writing their essays. This will be a great help for brainstorming topics. It’s a great resource to take advantage of.

Wondering what kinds of SAT scores you need to get into a UC school? Check out my post on UC Davis scores.

About Nadira Berman

As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.

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