Which University of California Essays Should You Write? Questions to Ask Yourself

Padya Paramita

Which University of California Essays Should You Write? Questions to Ask Yourself

The University of California application system is a centralized portal which allows you to apply to any or all of the UC schools at once. As part of the process, you must answer several essay prompts in order to let the admissions officers know who you are, where your interests lie, and how you can uniquely contribute to their college. You have to answer four out of the eight prompts within the University of California essays in 350 words or less. It might be hard to choose, given that the UC system has a longer space to elaborate on your activities than the Common App.

In this blog, I’ve provided you with questions to guide you when deciding which of the University of California essays you should write. While you can read more on how to write each of the individual University of California essays in our UC Essays blog, the specific questions in this particular article will help you reflect deeper on which choice can help highlight your most impressive side.

Prompts for the University of California Essays

Having a choice of prompts is definitely helpful. However, it might leave you confused about whether one topic for the University of California essays might be better than others for explaining who you are—or you might be torn between six different prompts and struggling to pick four. Read the questions below and use them to guide you as you respond to each of the prompts you choose.

Question 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.

  • Have you founded a club or started your own initiative?
  • Are you the president of any organizations in your school?
  • What’s an extracurricular activity you do that’s incredibly rare?
  • What’s an extracurricular activity that has shaped your personality and character?
  • Why does this activity matter so much to you?
  • Have you made an impact on your community?
  • How did your interest and commitment to this activity evolve over time?
  • Have you done something with this activity that no one else you know has done?
  • How has this activity helped develop your leadership and teamwork skills?
  • Do you have more to say on this activity beyond what you’ve discussed in the activities section?

Question 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.

  • What does creativity mean to you?
  • Is there a way through which you enjoy expressing yourself?
  • How has your creativity shaped your thoughts and ideas?
  • Is there a story behind how your creative outlet emerged?
  • How have you pursued this creative side outlet further?
  • Does this creativity come through in any of your activities?
  • Is your creative interest connected to your academic pursuits?
  • Have you solved any problems using creative methods?
  • Is there an original idea that you came up with that has helped people in your community?
  • Is there a creative outlet you have that you haven’t discussed in the activities section?

Question 3:

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

  • What are all the things you’re good at?
  • Is there something unique that you have a lot of knowledge about?
  • What could you give a 5-minute presentation about on the spot?
  • Is there a soft skill you have that people admire?
  • What awards have you won?
  • What differentiates you from other candidates?
  • Do you have a skill that you’ve worked to develop over time?
  • Why is this skill meaningful to you?
  • Why do you think it’s an admirable ability?
  • Will you continue to use this talent in your future goals and career?

Question 4:

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

  • How have you been challenged in your education?
  • Have you pushed yourself academically beyond what’s offered at your school?
  • Did you pursue outside learning opportunities  because your school didn’t offer a particular course?
  • Did you ever go beyond the regular curriculum to expand your knowledge on a topic of interest?
  • Even if your school offered many opportunities, how has your intellectual curiosity driven you to do more than just your assigned schoolwork?
  • What motivated the initiative?
  • What have you learned from the process?
  • Are you glad you took such steps?
  • How have you grown because of your initiative?
  • Why did you choose to explore further?

Question 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?

  • Do you have a situation that would look like a challenge when compared to peers who have faced serious issues and adversity in life?
  • Was this challenge the result of your family’s socio-economic background?
  • Was this challenge the result of your gender, race, or religion?
  • Was this challenge the result of the culture of the place you lived?
  • Will answering this question make you seem tone-deaf or privileged?
  • How have you persevered despite the challenge?
  • Have you worked hard to improve your situation?
  • Were your academics affected as a result of this challenge? 
  • Did you bounce back from an academic or personal setback?
  • Has your situation inspired your choice of major or career goal? 

Questions 6:

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

  • What is your main academic area of interest?
  • Why does this matter to you?
  • When did this interest first start to matter to you? 
  • Was there a specific event that sparked your interest?
  • How did your interest evolve over time?
  • How did you go beyond the required material to further your knowledge?
  • Did you ever face a big challenge in continuing to study this topic?
  • How can a University of California education support your interests and goals?
  • Have you taken challenging courses in the subject?
  • Have you participated in relevant extracurriculars? 
  • Have you started any initiatives related to the field?

Question 7:

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

  • What does community mean to you? 
  • Which community is important to you?
  • What impact have you made on your school, neighborhood, or town community?
  • How has your work involved others in the community?
  • Did your community lack something that you helped establish?
  • Did you resolve any issues in your community?
  • How is it a better place now?
  • How have you grown from this experience?
  • Did you face any challenges in the process?
  • How do you hope to bring this experience to the UC community?

Question 8:

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?

  • Is your application missing something important about you?
  • Is there an interest or activity you haven’t written about yet?
  • Do you have any impressive hobbies you work hard on?
  • Have you started any initiatives or clubs that you would like to further highlight?
  • What is your passion?
  • What has been your biggest inspiration?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • Is this a topic you think shows something about your character and personality?
  • Is this a topic that shows something impressive and / or unique about your achievements or activities?
  • Is this topic memorable to you? Do you think about this fairly often in your life?

As you look through the questions asked by the UC, you might have been struck by different ideas that you can elaborate on in your responses. Some of the prompts may have inspired topics that are more impressive or relevant to you than others. Use the fact that you have a choice to your advantage and avoid topics you are not able to discuss in depth and shoot for the ones that add new and impressive information to your application. 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 University of California essays need to emphasize why you’re a must-have candidate. Make your selections accordingly.

The University of California essays help admissions officers understand what you have done so far in your high school career and how you will meaningfully contribute to the classroom and campus community if admitted, so you must write essays that help you stand out. Think carefully about the questions and you’ll be able to write four stellar essays that put you in a strong position. Good luck!

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