Writing the Essay


General Advice

  • Finish the rest of the application first. Listing all of the activities, classes, and awards will remind you of things that might be good to write about.
  • Brainstorm on several topics.
  • Choose a topic you can say something meaningful about (not the one you think will impress admissions readers). Admissions officers read thousands of essays and can spot when someone is writing about an AP course they took just because they think it will make them sound smart.
  • Ask parents, teachers, and friends for ideas about your good qualities or accomplishments. Sometimes it is difficult for us to see the things about ourselves that are obvious to others.

Once You Begin Writing

  • Stick to one or two important “stories.” Any more and you’ll dilute things to the point where they have little impact.
  • Grab the reader’s interest from the start.
  • Show, don’t tell—give concrete examples of something instead of just saying it.
  • Make sure you answer the question instead of going on a tangent.
  • Show who you are, not who you think the admissions officers want to see.
  • Don’t just list information that is already in your application—you are missing the opportunity to tell the reader something new.
  • Include the “So What?” Why did you tell this story? How did it impact your life? What does it show about you? How is it important to the question?

After You Write

  • Write more than one draft. You probably haven’t written something like this before and it will take more than one attempt to get it right.
  • Don’t be afraid to scrap your first draft and start from scratch.
  • Ask others for feedback, but have useful questions for them. You know your friend will say “It’s good” before you even ask. So ask things like “Did it grab your interest from the start?” “What did you think I was trying to say?” and “Did you think it was funny/sad/passionate/(whatever tone you were going for)?”
  • Proofread, and read it over carefully even after you spellcheck! Sometimes it tries to fix your mistakes by replacing them with the wrong word.

Common Application Essay (250-500 words)

  • There are several topics, as well as the option to choose your own topic. All the questions are just basically saying “Tell us about yourself.” The specific questions are just trying to make it easier for you to talk about your values and other aspects of yourself.
  • Each question is just as valid as the other ones. There are no questions that “get you more points” if you pick that one.
  • Some of the questions ask you to talk about an issue, historical figure, etc. Do NOT turn your answer into a report on this. Each one asks you to relate the topic to yourself—how has it influenced you? Why is it important to you? You are only using that topic as a way to get at your life and values.

UC ​Personal Insight Questions (8 questions, you select 4 to answer, 350 words maximum each)

  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions. Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.

To look at the personal insight questions and for helpful tips on how to respond to each one, clink here: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/personal-questions/index.html

For additional guidance EAOP has come up with 5 general topics to help you answer the personal insight questions. As you write your UC personal essays think about the most relevant and significant experiences that best reflect your individual circumstances for the topics below. You can use one of the topics to answer more than one of the insight questions. (ex. Leadership experience could fit with questions 1 and 7, an obstacle experience could fit questions 4,5 and 7)

  • Leadership
  • Overcoming obstacles/challenges
  • Diversity of perspective
  • Commitment
  • Goals for the future.

Leadership: Not just offices and titles. Think about things YOU made happen that wouldn’t have happened without you. Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience. What are your responsibilities? 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?

Overcoming obstacles/challenges: This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? Did responsibilities and chores limit your activities and studies? Did a disability make things more difficult academically or socially?

Diversity of Perspective: Highlight your cultural background and experiences. Learning a second language, moving from a different country, had to balance your parents’ culture against American culture ect. What things have made you see the world differently? How have they impacted your life?

Commitment: Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience. Do you have a passion for music, theater, visual art, dance, etc.? What have you gained from it that has affected other parts of your life? What kinds of things have you worked hard to achieve? In what ways did you show your determination and commitment to accomplish those things? How does your commitment/creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom?

Goals for the future: Goals can be general things like helping others, having your own business, helping your family, or being a good role model for your siblings. What do you want for your future? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?