Dos and Don'ts of UC Essays: Tips to Help You Succeed

Padya Paramita

Dos and Don't of UC Essays: Tips to Help You Succeed

As the November 1st deadline creeps closer and closer, students scramble to gather all of their early admission materials together. But even once you’ve hit send on your early Common App schools, it’s not over if you’re applying to one or more of the Universities of California. The UC school application filing period begins November 1st. To make sure you’ve got everything in place when the portal opens, you need to keep working thoroughly on your application components, especially the UC essays! To help guide you through what to do and what not to do, we have outlined some dos and don’ts of UC essays to help guide you towards the right direction.


DO Choose Essays That Can Help Showcase Your Best Side 

Number one on things to make sure of when it comes to the dos and don’ts of UC essays is to choose the four questions that will make you stand out! Focus on showing who you are and what makes you unique. If you don’t have a story that fits a particular prompt, choose a different one. The UC essays need to emphasize why you’re a must-have candidate. Make your selections accordingly. If you’re someone creative who takes a lot of pride in their writing or art skills, answering the creativity question makes a lot of sense.

DO Consider Your Common App Personal Statement

Chances are, other schools on your list use the Common Application so you’ve already written a 650-word personal statement, especially if you’ve applied somewhere early decision or early action. The Common App essay is a great way to let admissions officers know your story—and chances are, your UC application could also benefit from such an essay. Although the word limit for the UC essays is much shorter, you’ll already have a template for one of the essay topics from your Common App personal statement. So, as you consider the dos and don’ts of the UC essays, don’t forget to look into your own work to find inspiration when it comes to essay topics. 

DO Use Strong Examples

The University of California essays are all about gauging your intellectual pursuits, community involvement, and engagements outside the classroom. Since the word limits for the prompts aren’t generous, each of your essays should focus on being as specific as possible in depicting your personality and interests. Adding specific examples lets admissions officers understand your perspective better and envision the areas of campus where you’d contribute and how you’d fit in with the communities of their respective UC schools.

DO Use the Word Limit Wisely

Speaking of word limits, while 200-250 isn’t the most restrictive range in the world, it’s not extremely generous either. When writing your UC essays, think about which information your application would be incomplete without conveying. Then, prioritize the content necessary to get your narrative across, and cut any unnecessary statements. Each sentence should provide new information that makes you memorable in the reader’s mind. If you go over the limit—or start repeating your activities or other information you’ve already provided—it’s time to make cuts and keep what’s new and relevant.

DON’T Repeat the Activities List

The University of California application provides a very generous amount of space when it comes to adding information about your activities, jobs, community service involvements, and awards. As a result, a lot of the information about your extracurriculars has already entered the application. When you think about what not to do when considering the dos and don’ts of your UC essays, do not repeat activity descriptions. Admissions officers have very limited time and don’t want to read about the same topic, so make sure you cover new information!

DON’T Mention Any Specific UC School

The University of California system allows you to apply to multiple UC schools through the same portal. As a result, all of the UC schools that you apply to will see the same set of essays. This bit in the dos and don’ts of UC essays especially applies if you’re applying to multiple UC colleges. Do not mention how excited you are about the extracurricular offerings at Berkeley when your essays will also go to UCLA and UC Santa Barbara! Admissions officers do not want to see you demonstrate greater interest in a different school. Revise your answers thoroughly to make sure you’ve avoided this error.

DON’T Answer the Challenges Question if It Doesn’t Apply to You

Prompt 5 in the UC essays says: “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?” This is an adversity question, so be careful here. Before you choose this topic, it is important to think about how your situation compares to your peers. Although everyone has challenges of their own, writing about not getting an allowance will not be seen as a “real” challenge to an admissions office. Other students in your applicant pool will have experienced homelessness, life-threatening illnesses, and abuse. No matter what, watch yourself so that you do not sound privileged. If your adversity isn’t significant, I’d stay away from this question.

DON’T Save the UC Essays for the Last Minute

The months of October, November, and December are stressful for any high schooler applying to college. A lot of deadlines and assignments and essays are piling up and as a result, it can be easy to forget about the UC essays, which, alongside the application, are due on the last day of November. As soon as you submit your early application, you must start working on the UC essays. Since one month isn’t a lot of time, you might have to dedicate extra time to make sure you have outlined, drafted, and polished them. The editing process is important too, so don’t leave it for the last minute! 

The UC essays help the University of California admissions officers understand what makes you tick and how you can uniquely contribute to their campus. Making sure you follow the dos and don’ts of the UC essays can help make a big difference in ensuring you put your best foot forward. Good luck!

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