How to Write the UC Essays: Analysis, Examples, and Tips

Student in orange blouse brainstorming to write the UC essays.
Updated:
December 21, 2023
12 min read
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

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.

Prompt One

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!

Prompt Two

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. 

Prompt Six

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

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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.

Why This Works

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.” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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. 

Why This Works

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!” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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.

Why This Works

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.” 

Why This Works

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

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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.

Why This Works

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.” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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.

Why This Works

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

Tips on How to Write This Essay

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.

Why This Works

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.” 

Tips on How to Write This Essay

Here are tips to help you write this essay:

  • 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.

Why This Works

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.

Essay #1

“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.

Essay #2

“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.

Essay #3

“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. 

Be Sincere

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!

FAQs 

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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