If you’re the middle of applying to colleges, you should know by now that the UC applications have undergone a drastic change. Eliminating the 2 required UC prompts, the UC application now consists of four 350 word essay, chosen from 8 new UC prompts.
The change might seem a little drastic, but don’t freak out just yet. This doesn’t mean you can’t still learn from previous UC application essay examples. In fact, we’ve put together all the UC prompts that are available and examples from our database to help with your essay writing:
UC Prompt #1
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.
UCBerkeley2019, UC Berkeley ‘19
“As a high school student, I wondered how I can make a difference on this suburban dullness. Rather than just looking at the high school that I attended, I decided to impact something bigger, my community. More specifically, I became motivated to reach out to my entire city by hosting a carnival-themed festival called Sharkfest.”
UC Prompt #2
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.
ClaireL, UC Los Angeles ‘20
“Suddenly, a glimmer of inspiration. My gaze settled on my viola, sitting patiently in its gleaming silver case. Why not try Pythagoras’ experiment for myself? I plucked the C-string, holding my finger down at exactly ½ of its length. Almost miraculously, the sound of a C—one octave higher, exactly twice the frequency—rang out. Moving my finger to 1/3 its length, this time it was the G with a frequency three times the original C, one octave and a perfect 5th higher.”
UC Prompt #3
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
Sydney_hack, UC Davis ‘20
“Then high school happened. I started taking theatre classes and film classes and I saw my friends go to college as musical theatre majors and film production majors. I saw people following their dreams. I’d entered a whole new world. I began to think of all the things that made me happy. Filmmaking stood out to me and I began to pursue any opportunity I could-I took the filmmaking class at school, I offered to help film video series for the San Diego County Bar Association and the Enright Chapter of the American Inns of Court. I’d run into this new, creative world full force, with no guide or notion of what I was to expect.”
UC Prompt #4
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
G.carrascou4, UC Berkeley ‘19
“This was initially a problem for me, however, as I attended three different schools within the short period of my first six months in the country. The first school only saw me for one week; the second school saw me for a semester; the third school saw me finally settling in what would become my home school from elementary all through high school. This transition from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary one provided me with an idea of what my goals were, where I was going to achieve them, and how I was going to accomplish them. In a sense, it was my transition from a helpless, extinct Cro-Magnon to a Homo Sapiens with a future ahead.”
UC Prompt #5
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?
Stellaaa, UC Santa Barbara ‘19
“School became difficult for me emotionally and academically. Rumors about my brother spread like a wildfire. A majority of my friends heard about these rumors and no longer wanted to associate with me. It was not soon before I felt isolated at school. I tried my best to cope with the loneliness, repeatedly telling myself that it was a phase. It became difficult for me to focus in school without thinking about my brother or that people were afraid to be around me. This did not discourage me from making new friends; however, it made me develop trust issues. I began to take more caution of who to trust, which served to be an advantage for me because during this time I become more self-aware of myself. At that moment of self realization, I had a clear perception of what was best for me, as well as the two options I had - to allow the emotional and academic stress to eat me away, or to see it as a challenge to overcome.”
UC Prompt #6
6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
AndyDC, UC Berkeley ‘19
“Another factor that I consider a major contributor to my personal identity is, oddly enough, a computer program that I was introduced to at age 12. RCT3, as it is called, is a 3D physics simulation game that allows users to essentially build and manage anything users dream up. For me, it offered a refreshing creative outlet for my imagination to flourish. But what enthralled me most was not the game itself, but the flowering community of users behind it. Making our home on internet forums, we were a thriving community of real-life architects, engineers, and programmers all bound by love of the game. Political and geographical barriers had never seemed so trivial to me. We discussed and collaborated on projects and even edited the source code of the game. I was enamored by the hardware and simple code that gave rise to such a versatile platform.”
UC Prompt #7
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Lord of the Lords, UC Berkeley ‘19
I have always been someone who takes initiative. I pick up trash during trips to the beach, I spend my winter break raising money for hurricane relief, and I make anti-bullying videos in my spare time. And I always want to do more. So when I noticed all the trash that seemed to be accumulating at my high school, I decided to start a campus-wide recycling and composting program. I presented my idea to my AP Environmental Science teacher who shared my concern. She suggested starting a club to get more people involved, an idea which I loved. Thus, the AP Environmental Science (or APES, for short) Club was born.
UC Prompt #8
8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?
Want to know what set you apart? Check out these two packages that were curated by 2 UC admission experts:
Ms. Sun focused on finding UC applications with strong, competitive GPA and test scores that was accompanied by strong essays. After all, numbers are important, but they don’t tell the full story
Suzanne Dougherty curated her package with a different approach. She specifically wanted to highlight UC applicants who were accepted by Ivy League universities, but still chose to attend UC schools. This not only demonstrates each profile’s strong application, but also reveals the appeal and opportunity that UC schools offer.
Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.LEARN MORE
Are you looking to apply to UC Schools? or just starting to build out your college list? Make sure to search through profiles of students accepted to see essays, stats, and advice. See how they got in, and how you can too!
Pick the 4 Best UC Personal Insight Questions for YOU!
If you’re applying to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.
To start, read through all eight of the Personal Insight Questions you have to choose from.
(Find specific ideas and strategies for each of the 8 new Personal Insight Questions at the bottom of this post!)
The goal is to write four short essays that as a whole will provide the UC admissions deciders with a picture of what makes you unique and special—and help set you apart from the competition.
Think of each short piece (no longer than 350 each) as a lens for them to see and understand different parts of you.
Also, keep in mind how these four pieces fit together to showcase your character and personality as a whole.
Each short piece for your Personal Insight Questions should feature an interesting topic on its own. And all four topics should complement each other to paint a varied and balanced picture.
In effect, these four short essays will serve as your one personal statement, which colleges and universities use to help decide if you will be a fit at their institution.
The best ones are engaging (especially at the start), meaningful and memorable.
Here are some strategies, tips and ideas on how to pull this off
and ace your Personal Insight Questions:
Read all eight questions first. Then read them again.
The UC Admissions Department has worked hard to provide you many tips and brainstorming ideas to help you respond to their Personal Insight Questions. Make sure to use them.
There’s no better way to learn what they want from you, and how to give it to them.
Start with the Personal Insight Questions and related instructions, then read about each prompt on the PDF writing worksheet, and also check out their Writing Tips, especially the tips on Avoiding Common Mistakes in sidebar box (below). It can be overwhelming, but they cover everything.
Note which ones you like the best right off the top, and take notes of any ideas that pop out on your first read.
For each prompt, figure out what it wants you to write about, and then brainstorm specific examples from real-life to illustrate your topic. This will make sure each mini-essay has a clear topic and focus, and isn’t too general and dull.
Pick your favorite prompt and write it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s a great starting point, since you will see that these aren’t that hard and embolden you to move to the next.
As you get ideas for the different prompts, start to think about how your topics will work together. Make sure your topics don’t overlap and that you highlight something distinctly different about yourself in each essay.
Look for topics that showcase parts of you or your experiences and accomplishments that admissions officers would not learn about in other parts of your application. Use those!
Let yourself write in different styles and tones with these essays. Some might be more serious and others lighter in nature. That’s a good way to add variety and interest to your total essay package.
Even though these are shorter essays, you still need to make them interesting to read, especially at the start. Make sure not to simply answer directly each question.
For example, don’t start your essay for Prompt 6 (about your favorite subject) with something like: “My favorite academic subject is math. It has influenced me in many ways…”
Instead, think of your favorite subject, and then brainstorm what first inspired you or excited you about it, and start with that specific example of the “time.” Or start with a specific example of “a time” you were challenged in that subject, and why you then got hooked on it.
Since there are four separate essays, consider taking more of a risk with at least one of the essays. Think a little out of the box for your topic idea, or use a more creative writing style or approach.
Even short essays can be dull. One of the best ways to inject interest is to think of some type of problem that relates to your topic, whether it’s leadership, creativity, talent, skill, favorite subjects or volunteer work. Start by relating that specific problematic “time” or incident and go from there.
Consider starting with the last of the Personal Insight Questions, Prompt 8, about what “sets you apart.” It is the most open-ended, and brainstorming for topic ideas can spark ideas for the other UC prompts, or even prompts for other longer essays, such as The Common Application or Coalition main essay. (In fact, you can use any or all of the 8 UC prompts to inspire topic ideas for your other required essays!)
If you faced some type of hardship in your life or background, strongly consider writing one of your essays about Personal Insight Question 5. This is your chance to show the UC what obstacles or barriers you have overcome to achieve your current accomplishments. It makes a big difference when they understand how far you have come!
If you are considering writing about Personal Insight Questions Prompt 4 and your educational experiences, notice that it’s really two separate questions asking about either an education opportunity or an educational barrier. Don’t try to answer both questions in your one essay. Pick one or the other to make sure you have a focused essay.
The best way to avoid a dull essay is to look for ways to “show” about your point instead of just “tell” about it. (Showing uses examples; telling explains.)
For example, for Prompt 3 (about a talent or skill), instead of explaining how and why you are great at the piano, think of “a time” or moment that you faced some type of challenge involving your piano playing and start with that. Don’t just tell (explain) how you got good at it and how good you are. That would not go over well. Give specific examples so the readers can see for themselves. This “Show First” approach applies to almost all eight prompts.
Every student works differently when it comes to thinking and writing. Some might like to pick the four that appeal to them and crank out four, rough short essays, and then go back and see how they fit together, and edit and change them to produce a strong mix.
Others might want to start with the one they feel the strongest about, polish it up and then go onto the second and do the same. No matter what your style, at some point, read your four essays to look for overlap and make sure you have diversity and balance.
Remember that the UC is weighing all four essays equally. So don’t put all your energy into just one or even two of the essays. Make sure they can each stand alone as interesting and complete essays about one main point.
The word limit is 350 for each Personal Insight Questions essay. There’s no minimum. I would make sure to write at least 250 for each essay, and best to shoot for 300-350 to take advantage of the space. Why waste a single word? (The total word count is 1,400)
I would write your essays on a Word doc or by hand, and then transfer the final essays to the UC application only when you are finished. Don’t include the entire prompt; just the number, such as “Prompt 3.”
Consider how to order your Personal Insight Questions essays. You could go in the order of the numbers of the ones you wrote about. My opinion, however, would be to put your strongest (most engaging and interesting) essay at the top, and work down by variety and strength from there. Don’t stress about this; just something to try.
Write these short essays as you would a longer personal essay. Use the first person (“I” and “me” and “my” and “us.” Avoid “you”!). Do not simply list accomplishments, achievements, awards and work. Avoid overdone or cliche topics. Seek feedback from a trusted person. Proofread closely before submitting.
This might be the best for last: One way to approach these essays strategically would be to first write down the activities, accomplishments, personal qualities, core values, meaningful experiences and other aspects of yourself that you want to showcase to the UCs.
Then scroll through the 8 Personal Insight Questions and match up which prompts would best showcase these features in your essays. That way, you are in command of shaping the picture of yourself that you want to show the UCs, instead of randomly writing essays to answer the prompts.
If you actually read all these 21 tips, then you are obviously a serious student and someone who does their homework.
Now, take a deep breath and do your best not to over-stress on these. These four essays will not make or break your chance at a UC school. They are just one piece of your application. Give them your best shot.
Keep everything in perspective. You are already ahead of the pack and will land in an amazing school!
One of the best tips the UC admissions provided are these common pitfalls—especially because they are the experts at how students in the past have hurt their essays:
Avoid common mistakes in Your Personal Insight Essays:
- Talking about one campus: You’re talking to all UC campuses you apply to in your responses
- Inappropriate use of humor
- Creative writing (poems, clichés)
- Quotations: We want to know your thoughts & words, not someone else’s
- Generalities: Stick to facts and personal examples
- Repetition: Give us new info. we can’t find in other sections of the application
- Asking philosophical questions: Get to the point and tell us what you mean
- Acronyms: Spell it out for us!
Above all, don’t sweat these.
These Personal Insight Questions essays are just one piece of your application.
These are all about a subject you know better than anything else: Yourself!
Now just spend some time to figure out what parts you want to spotlight, and get cranking.
If it helps, here are the 8 questions without the additional advice if you want to compare them:
Freshman applicants: Personal insight questions
Answer any 4 of the following 8 questions: (click blue to see post on that 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.
- 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?
If you need more help with these, I offer tutoring and editing services. Learn more on my SERVICES page.