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Last updated March 21, 2024

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Blog > Essay Examples , UC Essays > 8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

8 Outstanding UC Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

We talk a lot about essays in the college application process. And for good reason. Essays are one of the most critical parts of your application, and the University of California Personal Insight Questions are no different. Even though they’re quite different from personal statements or supplemental essays , UC essays serve a similar purpose: to help admissions officers get to know you and envision you on their campus.

But the tricky thing about UC essays is that they have a very particular style and form. If you don’t write your UC essays in the right way, you risk tanking your application.

Writing them the right way, however, can land you in the admit pile.

So how do you write your own outstanding UC essays? We recommend you start by reading outstanding examples.

As writing coaches, we know that the best way to become a better writer is to read. More specifically, if there’s a type of writing you want to improve on, then you should read more in that genre.

For you, that means reading UC essays to help prepare you to write your own.

And in this post, you won’t just be reading example UC essays. You’ll also see commentary from former admissions officers that will help guide you through why each essay works.

Let’s get started.

The UC Personal Insight Question Prompts

The University of California system, which consists of nine campuses across the state, requires students to apply directly via their institutional application portal. That means that you won’t be submitting your Common Application to them or writing school-specific supplemental essays. Instead, you’ll choose four of the following eight prompts to respond to.

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 a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Once you have your prompts chosen, the essays themselves should be no greater than 350 words each.

Together, your essays should be different but cohesive enough to tell a fairly complete story of who you are.

Before we get to the examples, we have a few tips to keep you on track.

How to Write the UC Personal Insight Questions

Okay, so we actually have a whole other comprehensive guide to the UC essays that breaks down the process in extreme detail.

So for now, we’ll just go over the essentials.

What’s helpful about the UC PIQs is that we don’t have to guess what admissions officers are looking for—the UCs tell us directly in the Points of Comprehensive Review . Read through all thirteen points, but pay special attention to #10. That’s where your essays will be doing the heaviest lifting.

With that in mind, there are four rules for writing UC essays that you should stick to like glue:

Answer the prompt.

We’ll say it again for the people in the back: answer the prompt! The UC essay prompts ask very specific questions and contain multiple parts. If you misinterpret the prompt, you may end up writing the completely wrong essay.

You might find that diagramming or annotating the prompts helps you pull out the important pieces. Break down what each of your chosen prompts asks you to do, and list out all the questions in order. That way, you’ll make sure you’re not missing anything.

Skip the fluff.

Your personal statement likely has some creative descriptions or metaphors. You may have even incorporated figurative or poetic language into your supplementals. And that’s great. In fact, that’s encouraged (within reason, of course).

But UC essays are different. They’re all business.

Whereas your personal statement might open with an attention-catching hook that describes a scene in vivid detail, your UC essays should jump straight in. In general, your essay should be organized in a clear way that tells a straightforward story.

Focus on action steps.

As we saw in the Points of Comprehensive Review, admissions officers want to learn about how your concrete experiences have shaped you. That means that your essays should revolve around action steps rather than, say, 350 words of intense personal reflection. What those action steps should look like will depend on the prompts you’ve chosen. But by the end of your essay, your admissions officers should know what you’ve done and why.

Show a strength.

In the UC essays, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the prompt and style of the essay. But don’t lose sight of the purpose of any college essay in the process: to showcase a strength to your admissions officers.

Every UC essay you write should correspond with a specific strength. That might be wisdom, artistry, good judgement, entrepreneurship, leadership—you get the idea.

Let’s say you want one of your essays to demonstrate leadership. The idea isn’t that you come out and say, “This shows that I am a leader.” Instead, by the end of the essay, after reading about everything you’ve done and reflected on, your admissions officers should sit back in their chair and say, “Wow, that student is a leader.” You’ll see what we mean in the examples.

Because of all these golden rules, your UC essays will look quite different than your Common Application essay or supplementals. They’ll probably look quite different from any essay you’ve written.

That’s where examples come in handy. Ready to dive in?

UC Prompt 1: Leadership

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.

Prompt 1 Example Essay

When we moved to a new neighborhood, my dad always complained about the house next to us. Full of weeds and random objects, it had clearly been neglected(( Notice how, at least compared with common application personal essays, the tone of this essay is much more staid?)) .

I didn’t pay much attention to his complaints until one day when I saw that our neighbor was an elderly man. He was struggling to bring his trash to the bins outside. Suddenly, it all clicked. If taking out the garbage was a challenge, then surely he wasn’t able to do yard work. That’s why it looked neglected.

My dad always taught me that leadership isn’t about giving orders. It’s about doing what needs to be done(( A direct, succinct definition of leadership.)) . With this advice in mind, I decided that I would help our neighbor.

After my realization, I went and knocked on our neighbor’s door. I introduced myself and learned that his name was Hank. When the time was right, I informed him that I’d be cutting our grass the following weekend and would love to cut his as well. Hank initially refused.

Speaking with Hank, I learned that leadership is also about listening to people’s needs(( Showing a lesson from the experience.)) . In that moment, Hank needed to be reassured that I wanted to help. I told him it would be easy for me to cross over to his yard while I had the equipment out. He finally agreed.

The next Saturday, I got to work. The job would be bigger than I expected. All the objects needed to be picked up before I could mow. I decided to enlist the help of my two younger siblings. At first, they said no. But a good leader knows how to inspire, so I told them about Hank and explained why it was important to help. Together, we cleaned up the yard. Now, each time I mow our lawn, I mow Hank’s afterward.

Through this experience, I learned that leadership is about seeing problems and finding solutions. Most importantly, it’s about attitude and kindness(( The author of this essay does a good job staying focused on a clear definition.)) . The neighborhood is grateful that the eyesore is gone, Hank is grateful for the help, and I am grateful for my new friend.

Word Count: 343

UC Essay Checklist

Does the writer convey a strength?

Yes. The writer shows initiative in seeking out the neighbor and willingness to help in all the hard work they did.

Is every part of the prompt answered?

Yes. Since this prompt has an “or,” we know that the writer doesn’t have to meet every single criterion listed. They respond to the “positively influenced others” part of the prompt, which we can see through their interactions with their neighbor.

Does the writer adhere to UC conventions?

Yes. The essay is straightforward and clearly organized. The writer lists action steps in chronological order.

UC Prompt 2: Creativity

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.

Prompt 2 Example Essay

As a cellist, I express my creativity through music(( Directly answering the prompt up front. )) . Whether I’m playing in a symphony, chamber orchestra, quartet, or solo performance, I bring my art to the world with my instrument. My creativity has transformed me from a small child playing out of tune to a solo artist featured in my state’s youth symphony.

I’ve loved music from a young age, and I began playing the cello when I was six years old. What began as a hobby to keep an energetic child engaged has become my life’s purpose.

At first, I only played along with my private lesson teacher, Ms. Smith. I loved dancing my fingers across the fingerboard, plucking the strings, and making screeching noises with my bow. Ms. Smith told my parents that I had promise but needed to develop discipline. Despite my young age, I listened. By the time I reached middle school, I had made principal cellist in my school’s orchestra. Leading a section of fellow cellists brought my creativity to a whole new level. Not only was I expressing myself through my own music, but I also expressed myself through my leadership. With a subtle nod or an expressive sway, I learned to shape the music those behind me played. I felt most comfortable and free when I was playing my cello.

That feeling only grew as I moved into high school. In ninth grade, I landed my first solo. With it came a new creative sensation: stage fright(( This part of the essay distracts a bit from the main theme.)) . Until then, I’d only experienced positive emotions while playing. I needed to make solo performance more positive. With endless practice and exercises like playing for the public on the sidewalk, I learned that solo performance is simply a way to share my love of music with those around me.

Now, as principal cellist of my state’s youth orchestra, I jump at the chance to perform any solo I can get. Getting to this point has taken me countless late nights practicing in my bedroom and weekends spent in rehearsals. But without my cello to express my creative side, I wouldn’t be me.

Word Count: 347

Yes. The writer is an artist—a musician specifically. Their creativity shines through.

Yes. This prompt is pretty straightforward: “Describe how you express your creative side,” which the writer does by describing their love of the cello. Notice how the writer doesn’t just say they’re creative because they play the cello. They describe that creativity in detail.

Mostly. The short paragraph about stage fright takes us on a slight detour from the prompt. To make this essay even better, the writer could have eliminated that anecdote or reframed it to be more about creative expression.

UC Prompt 3: Talent or Skill

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

Prompt 3 Example Essay

How many toes does an armadillo have? What were the main causes of the Crimean War? Who discovered atoms? When my friends or family have questions, they come to me for answers. I am an expert researcher. Although my passion for research began as a fun hobby, it has evolved into one of my greatest skills(( The writer opens with an interesting but not too out-there hook and then gets straight to answering the prompt.)) .

My first real mystery came when I was in ninth grade. My mom wanted to track down an old friend from high school but hadn’t had any luck searching on her own. Having grown up with the internet, I was my mom’s best chance. Not sure where to begin, I took to YouTube tutorials. Using the few family details my mom remembered, I tracked down the friend’s brother then found the friend’s married name(( Here’s a great example of what the skill looks like.)) . Alas–we found her on social media. I felt triumphant as I saw the happiness wash over my mom’s face.

Since then, my skill has grown exponentially(( And here the writer gets at the “developed and demonstrated the talent over time” part of the prompt.)) . Combining my natural curiosity with my love of history, I’ve advanced my research skills by volunteering with my local library for the past two years. I have learned about how keywords and search engines work, practiced cataloging and archiving, and waded my way through the intricacies of the library’s database technology. Suddenly, researching wasn’t just about finding people’s Facebook profiles. It was about having any information I wanted to find at my fingertips.

Access to information is more important now than ever. That’s why I decided to put my research knowledge to work. Part of being a good researcher is teaching others how to access information too, so I founded the SOHS Research Club. We begin each meeting by raising the hardest question we can think of, and I use the projector in the library to walk club members through my research process. Members have all gone on to share their knowledge with their friends and family. The SOHS Research Club has spread information literacy to my whole community(( Gesturing to the greater significance of the skill)) .

Looking ahead to all the ways my research skills will improve in college, I know that I’ll be ready to find an answer for anything.

Word Count: 350

Yes. We see that they’re not only skilled at research but also that they want to support their community.

Yes—but. The prompt asks about your greatest talent or skill . It also asks how you have developed and demonstrated that talent over time. The writer does answer these questions, but I’d like to see more about when the SOHS Research Club took place as part of this development.

Yes. The essay is clear, organized, and to-the-point.

UC Prompt 4: Educational Opportunity or Barrier

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

Prompt 4 Example Essay

I jump at any chance to get my hands dirty. I am an aspiring ecologist. I’m lucky enough to live in a college town, so I was elated last semester when a postdoctoral fellow invited me to join her research team(( Okay, looks like this writer is addressing the “how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity” part of the prompt.)) .

Although at first(( Good signposting and transitions. UC essays should be clear and straightforward. This writer easily walks us through the step-by-step of what happened.)) I was intimidated by the prospect of working alongside college students and faculty, I decided to embrace the opportunity to learn what being an ecologist is really like.

The project involved studying Asclepias syriaca populations in my local park. More commonly known as Milkweed, this flower species has a long and important history in North America, particularly for Indigenous people. After learning about its history as a food source, medicine, and critical part of ecological function, I couldn’t wait to be part of the research.

As a research assistant, I helped with data collection. We began by using twine to section off population groups in the park. Then, every week I returned to the populations to collect information about population growth. I counted the number of flowers in the population, and, with a clear ruler, I measured and recorded the height of every individual flower.

The work was tedious. On my hands and knees, I squinted at the millimeter markings, trying to obtain the most accurate measurements possible. Each week, I’d return home with muddy jeans and a smile on my face.

Participating in this research project taught me that being an ecologist is about much more than looking at plants(( Going beyond the research to reflect on lessons learned—nice!)) . It’s also about learning from mentors and engaging with and having respect for the historical context of the plants we study. Being a scientist is also not as glamorous as movies like Jurassic Park lead on. Instead, science requires careful planning, patience, and hard work.

But what I learned the most from this educational opportunity is that science doesn’t exist in some nebulous place. It exists right here in front of me. I look forward to continuing to use science to serve my community.

Word count: 328

Yes. We see their intellectual curiosity and willingness to learn through their research journey.

Yes. We have another “or” prompt! This time they’ve chosen to focus on an “educational opportunity,” which is the research project. They certainly explain how they “took advantage” of it.

Yes. There’s no fluff, just a coherent narrative focused on actions the writer took.

UC Prompt 5: Challenge

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?

Prompt 5 Example Essay

While most kids fear monsters, my greatest fear has always been tests. Since elementary school, I’ve dealt with incapacitating test anxiety. I’d sit down for a spelling test and faint from anxiety(( Straight into answering the prompt)) . Math tests in middle school would make me run to the bathroom ill. By the time I reached high school, where the testing stakes became even higher, my test anxiety increased exponentially.

More than normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, it is a diagnosis I wrestle with daily. Test anxiety caused me to miss a number of tests that I had no option to re-take. It’s caused me to receive abysmal scores on standardized and state tests, which has had repercussions in the classes I’m allowed to take(( Strategically, this was a good prompt for this student to answer because it gives them a way to contextualize any poor grades they earned early in high school. It also gets at the “academic achievement” part of the prompt.)) . My test anxiety has been the greatest challenge of my life. In a school system so reliant on testing, it has completely affected my ability to achieve academically.

By the time I took the PSATs, I couldn’t even move my hand to write my name. I knew something had to change. I reached out for help. My mom knew I had been struggling but didn’t understand the extent of my illness. Together, we contacted my school counselor, who told us how to find a therapist.

With my doctors, I worked to mitigate the effects of my test anxiety on a medical and psychological level(( Action steps! This prompt requires you to talk about the specific steps you took to overcome the challenge. The writer does exactly that in this paragraph.)) . I began taking beta-blockers that helped slow my heart rate, thus tricking my body into being less anxious. Alongside that, I spent months working through the reasons my brain interpreted testing as such a threat. I learned to appreciate my intrinsic value instead of relying on external factors like test scores. And rather than viewing tests as chances to fail, I began to understand them as opportunities to showcase my growth.

Now, after two long years of effort, I can take any test with ease. Since learning how to manage my disorder, I’ve successfully taken my driver’s test, SATs and ACTs, and all seven of my AP exams. I’m looking forward to all the tests I’ll take in college(( And we end on a very positive note that shows lots of growth)) .

Yes—which is difficult with this prompt. The writer doesn’t get bogged down in the challenge of having test anxiety. Instead, they use this prompt as an opportunity to show a strength: resilience to overcome such a difficult problem.

Yes. And this prompt has multiple parts, too. It wants you to describe 1) a challenge, 2) the steps you’ve taken to overcome the challenge, and 3) how the challenge affected your academic achievement. This writer does all three.

Yes. The writer doesn’t provide any poetic descriptions or metaphors. They say what they mean.

UC Prompt 6: Academic Interest

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

Prompt 6 Example Essay

Sitting in front of my baby cousin, I held my hands in front of my face. I quickly snapped them down and exclaimed, “Peek-a-boo!” Delighted, he erupted into laughter. From the perspective of my more developed brain, this game is quite boring. It’s overly repetitive, and the outcome—my face reveal—is basic and consistent. But to a brain that hasn’t yet gone through the sensorimotor phase of development, the game is a downright hoot. What I perceive as boring is actually magic to a baby’s mind. Without the concept of object permanence, my cousin thinks that I disappear completely behind my hands. When my face returns, he marvels as I inexplicably materialize in front of him. It’s no wonder he can play peek-a-boo for hours.

Since I took IB Psychology my sophomore year, I have been fascinated with child psychology(( It takes a paragraph before we get to the prompt (a bit too long), but I like the nerdiness the writer shows in the intro)) . No matter when or where we are born, we all undergo similar stages of development that help us understand the world around us. Imagine Albert Einstein chewing on a rock or Genghis Khan taking his first steps. Researching child development unlocks something universal and equalizing about the human experience.

Because of my interest in child psychology, I decided to get more involved with my community. I began by volunteering in a psychology lab at my local university. While there, I get our child participants settled before sessions. Occasionally I get to help with data collection. I also landed a job as a teacher’s aide at a nearby Head Start, where I feed lunches, play, and read. In both of these activities, I’ve learned so much about how to interact with toddlers, to think like they think, and to help them grow into kind and happy children(( This paragraph shows exactly how they’ve furthered their interest.)) .

My school doesn’t offer any additional psychology courses, so I took a community college class this summer. I’m looking forward to taking more advanced psychology classes as a psychology major, and I’m eager to bring the research skills I’ve been developing to one of the UC’s many child development labs. One day, I hope to use all these skills as a child therapist.

Word Count: 348

Yes. The student is very intellectually curious about child development—a perfect strength for this prompt.

Yes. The writer talks about an academic subject, child development, and describes how they advanced that interest through a research lab, classes, and a job at Head Start.

Yes—but. Overall, the essay does a great job adhering to UC essay conventions. But the first paragraph almost doesn’t. As it is, the writer stays focused on telling the story. However, it takes up quite a bit of space in the essay without really conveying much about the writer’s journey. If there were a metaphor or any poetic language in there, it would have been too far. Same goes for the snippet about Einstein and Genghis Khan—it adds personality but is close to overdoing it.

UC Prompt 7: School or Community

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

Prompt 7 Example Essay

Nourishing loved ones by cooking for them is one of my biggest passions. But my hobby has become more difficult since moving to a food desert. Food deserts are areas without easy access to grocery stores or healthy foods. These disparities are clear in the school cafeteria, with the majority of students eating processed school lunches or packaged foods brought from home. I decided to do something about it.

The idea came to me one day as I made my way from AP Biology to my cooking elective. We needed a school community garden(( The writer sets up the stakes in the introduction so we truly understand the situation here)) . If we couldn’t access fresh foods in our neighborhood, then we would grow our own. We just needed a space to grow them and money to buy supplies.

I began by finding a spot to plant our garden. My friends and I walked around the entire school and decided that the courtyard would be the perfect place. After explaining my idea to the Assistant Principal, I got permission to proceed.

Next(( This paragraph is full of good action steps)) I raised money for the supplies. With $20 in seed money from my parents, which I promptly paid back, I drew and printed stickers to sell at lunch. The stickers were anthropomorphized vegetables. They cost $0.10 per sticker to make, and I sold them for $1.00 each. Soon enough, I had not only raised enough money to set up the garden, but I had rallied the whole school around my cause. Thirty of my classmates showed up, vegetable stickers on their water bottles, to help me plant the garden.

For the last year, we’ve maintained a spread of seasonal vegetables in the garden. We bring a basket to the cooking elective teacher each week so students can practice cooking with fresh vegetables, and we hold a daily farm stand at lunch(( And we see that they are legitimately improving their community)) . At the stand, students can grab whatever fresh produce they want to add to their lunch.

My school’s garden nourishes my community, and I am nourished every day by the fact that my efforts have made a true difference to those around me.

Word Count: 341

Yes. The writer shows really great initiative and community understanding in their willingness to start a community garden from scratch.

Yes. With only one question, this prompt is pretty straightforward. And the writer’s answer is simple: to make their school community a better place, they made a community garden.

Yes. The writer goes into detail about every step they took to make the community garden come to life. I especially like how the writer goes beyond these details to emphasize how much the community garden impacted the school community.

UC Prompt 8: Additional Information

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?

Prompt 8 Example Essay

When I posted a TikTok video of myself studying, I didn’t expect anyone but my friends to see it. But within hours, my video had gone viral— tens of thousands of people(( That’s a lot of people. This shows the magnitude and impact of the video.)) saw the carefully-crafted shots I’d taken of my desk setup and homework timelapse. The comment section flooded. People appreciated the work I’d put into curating the perfect desk. They thanked me for inspiring them to get started on their own homework. I was overwhelmed by the response.

At first I felt really shy. What if people from school saw it and made fun of me? I kept questioning myself so much that I completely froze. Finally, one comment caught my attention. It read, “I’ve been having a hard semester and can barely get myself out of bed, let alone to do my homework. But this is so calming! Maybe I’ll try.” That comment made me realize that it didn’t matter what people at my school thought. What mattered was that I loved making that video and it had made an actual difference in the lives of the people who saw it.

And that’s when I decided to make my mark on #StudyTok(( This is a pretty unique topic that wouldn’t have necessarily fit into the other prompt categories, which makes it a good candidate for prompt #8.)) . Since that first video, I’ve posted 318 others and accumulated over 35,000 followers(( More numbers to show impact)) . I’ve had more videos go viral and reach hundreds of thousands of people looking for work inspiration. Even the videos that some would see as “fails” still reach a couple hundred people. That may not be a big deal in the Internet world, but those same people would fill up my high school’s auditorium. My goal for every video is to make my viewers feel relaxed and able to take on whatever work they have to do. It helps me and my viewers complete our work.

These videos have made me more confident and organized, and I can’t wait to continue them in college. When I get an extra assignment or have to stay up late to finish a paper, I become excited instead of frustrated because I know that the little StudyTok community I’ve created will be there right alongside me.(( This conclusion drives home the what “makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the UC” part of the prompt.))

Yes. They show creativity through their video production and leadership through their huge community impact.

Mostly. This prompt is a tricky one to answer because its components aren’t as straightforward as the others. Through such a huge impact, the writer makes it implicitly clear why this story demonstrates that they are a good candidate for admissions to the UC, but the message could be more explicit.

Yes. The writer conveys the sequence of events in a clear and organized way, and they use good metrics to show the impact of their videos.

Key Takeaways

Did you catch our golden rules throughout? Yep. That’s what makes these essays stand out, and that’s what’ll make your essays stand out, too.

And even though these essays come from different students, hopefully you also got a sense of how an admissions officer reads a portfolio of essays for a single student.

Remember: just like your other applications, your overall goal for your UC application is to create a cohesive application narrative that shows your core strengths.

Having read all these essays, you’re now well on your way to writing your own. Try jumping into the Essay Academy or our UC essay writing guide  for help getting started.

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17 Great UC Essay Examples/Personal Insight Questions

amazing uc essays

University of California School System Application Requirements:

Click here for the Freshman Version

Click here for the Transfer Version

Important note: The University of California admissions people would like you to refer to these prompts as “personal insight questions” instead of “essays” or "UC personal statement.” Why? Because sometimes, students link the word “essay” with an academic assignment, which is not precisely what UCs want. 

The University of California school system includes ten universities across the state. The UC system have their unique ways of doing things —they have a separate application and a separate list of essays to write. 

Below there is a compilation of some of the best UC essay examples/UC personal statement examples. 

Check out some of our articles that might help you;

How to Write a Good Personal Statement for College With Examples

Top Personal Statement Example for College

How To Write Effective Common Essay 2021 (With Examples)

The UC Essay Prompts 

Check out 8 UC essay prompts from UC prompts website .

  • 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 artistic, 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 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?

Points to remember to draft a winning UC example?

1. Never forget to connect your personal insight questions to 13 points of a comprehensive review.

How do I know you should do this? The UC directors have openly said that the questions correlate directly to the review points. So as you’re trying to decide your four topics, ask yourself: How will this help me on the 13 points of comprehensive review? 

( Important Tip : Your essay question responses could connect to several of the 13 points.)

2. Use several resources the UCs have provided For good contextual advice, click here. For basic writing advice, click here .

3. Know that it’s perfectly fine to answer your personal insight questions in a direct, straightforward way.

How do I know? Because at a conference recently, one of the UC directors said publicly, “It’s perfectly fine to answer the questions in a direct, straightforward way.” And the other UC directors approved. 

Also, one director said it’s fine to just write bullet points in your response. ( A high school counselor raised her hand and asked, “Really? Bullet points? Like, really really?” and the UC Director was like, “Yes.”)  

It’s totally your personal choice to provide bullet points? It may feel a little uncanny. But remember that at least a few of the UC directors have said it’s okay.

4. Write your essay in a way that a UC reader could glide your responses to the personal insight questions and get your main points.

Why? Because the reader will spend around six to eight minutes on your application. Not on each essay, but on your whole application.

I just want to point out that it’s perfectly fine--and smart--to get straight to the point. 

5. If you’re applying to private schools through the Common App, it can be beneficial to write an essay that’s wise, well-crafted, and shows your core values. 

So, why take the time to write a stand-out essay?

There is a chance you might use your UC Personal Insight Question essay for other schools. Because many selective schools require supplemental essays (i.e: essays you write in addition to your main, 650-word Common App personal statement), a good idea is you can write an essay that works for both the UCs and other private schools 

Michigan Supplement: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (250-word limit).

UC Personal Insight Question 7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words).

It is one of the great essays and also one of my favorites, an intelligent move. The author answered both prompts at once, you get deeper with the answer for both. It also saves you a lot of time. 

The good news is you can do this for multiple prompts.

For more insights check out how to answer the UC essays in this guide. 

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 1: Leadership Experience 

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.  

1 UC Example Essay 

“Capitalism causes extinction! nuclear war is imminent!”

Initially, the debate seemed nonsensical: lambasting opponents while arguing improbable scenarios. But over time I’ve learned that it’s more than the competition that drives me to stay up all night looking for evidence: I love learning about the political and ideological underpinnings of our society and the way they shape us.

On an easy debate tournament weekend, I research foreign diplomatic agendas and synthesize the information into coherent debate evidence. When tournaments become more hectic, however, I delve deeper into the works of philosophers and social critics and translate the knowledge into debate argumentation. While researching foreign policy, a critical theory like Heideggerian phenomenology, and constitutional details, I’ve developed an ability to critically analyze argumentation, make sense of the world around me and creatively express myself in an academic setting.

My hard work has paid off. In the past four tournaments, I’ve received a Top 10 speaker award for the varsity division consisting of about 50 debaters. This trend has increased my credibility in my debate league to such a level that my partner and I were invited to participate in a series of public debates at LA City Hall to defend the water policy for the drought. The opportunity allowed me to actually impact the public’s awareness and accept a larger responsibility in the workings of my community.

More importantly, however, the debate has taught me to strategically choose my battles. When I prepare my arguments, I know that I can’t use all of them at the end of a round. I have to focus. I’ve learned to maximize my strengths and not try to conquer everything. Moreover, I’ve learned to be responsible with my choices. A wrong argument can mean losing if we can’t defend ourselves well. Not only do I now know how to zoom in from a bigger picture, but I also know how to pick the right place to zoom in to so I can achieve my goal.

The debate has turned me into a responsible optimizing, scrutinizing, and strategizing orator.

2 UC Example Essay 

I was part of making silent history at our school this past year. As a part of the Community Outreach Committee of Leadership Class, I contacted the local Food Bank and together with the help of the student body, donated over 600 pounds of canned food for Thanksgiving. Noticing a bulk of unused VHS tapes in our school’s basement, I did some research and discovered that discarding these is harmful to the environment. I found an organization that employs people with disabilities to recycle these tapes, and soon our school shipped over 400 VHS tapes to their warehouse in Missouri. We received overwhelming gratification from them as no other school, even in their own community, had done something like that. Watching a small grassroots initiative in our community benefits people I was unlikely to ever meet made me feel connected to the world at large and showed me the power of putting actions to your words.

As a member of Leadership, I have also spent countless hours preparing for and facilitating New Student Orientation, Homecoming, and Grad Night, among many other programs. Seeing a gap in our care of the student body, I also expanded the New Student Launches Program to include not just freshmen, but all new transfers, regardless of grade level.

Leadership is my own personal critic. It forces me to constantly weigh the pros and cons of how I carry myself, how I speak, and how I listen at every single event we put on for the student body. It has taught me to look objectively and weigh the wants and needs of every student. It has shown me the importance of listening, not just hearing.

Leadership is the ability to make each student a part of something so much bigger than themselves. It holds me accountable and keeps me engaged with my fellow humans even when I’m exhausted. It has allowed me to leave a legacy of purpose. Through vulnerability in times of stress and joy in times of celebration, grooming myself into a better leader has also made me a better student, friend, and daughter.

Check out this video to get a more clear idea THE ESSAYS THAT GOT ME INTO ALL OF THE UCs + Tips on how to choose prompts & approach them | 2020

3 UC Example Essay 

I am twenty years old and I already have kids. Well, 30 actually, and they’re all around my age, some even older.

After a brief few months of training, I was posted to Officer Cadet School as an instructor.  It was my job to shape and mold them; I was ready to attempt everything I’d learned about being a leader and serve my new cadets to the best of my abilities.  I trained my cadets by encouraging teamwork and learning, trying to somehow make the harsh military training fun. I became very close to them in the process.

Leadership was enjoyable until I discovered one of my cadets had cheated on a test. In the military, cheating is resolved with an immediate trip to the detention barracks. Considered worse than jail, the record leaves a permanent mark. If I pressed charges, that’s where my cadet would end up.

My heart sank.  He was also my friend.

After much deliberation, I decided there was only one resolution. I could not, with good conscience, let this go.  It would set precedence for the rest of my cadets. It was painful and brought a few tears, but I could not show any wavering or doubt, at least not in front of them. I charged him, and he went to the detention barracks and eventually was discharged.  The acceptance I had felt from my cadets was replaced with fear.

I found leadership is not all about making friends and having others listen to orders. The rest of my platoon learned, and didn’t repeat the mistake.  While I was never again “one of the guys,” I found pride in the growth of my team. A few weeks later I ran into my old cadet. Despite his hardship, he acknowledged his responsibility and the experience had motivated him as he struggled to recreate his life.

4 UC Example Essay

As president of the Robotics Club, I find building robots and creatively solving technical problems to be easy tasks. What’s difficult and brings more meaning to my work is steering the club itself.

After three years of battling the geeky-male stereotype our club was labeled with, I evolved our small club of 5 techies into a thriving interdisciplinary hub of 80 distinct personalities. Because our club lacks a professional instructor, I not only teach members about STEM-related jargon that I learned from hundreds of Google searches but also encourage constructive debates ranging from topics like Proportional-Integral-Derivative Error Correction Algorithm to how someone should fix her mom’s vacuum cleaner. In this way, I provide beginners with an atmosphere that reflects my own mentality: proactive listening without moralization or judgment.

I also like sharing insights outside the club. In my mathematics class, for example, I sometimes incite intense discussions during lectures on abstruse topics like vectors or calculus by offering examples from my experiences in the lab. In this manner, I not only become an integral part of the intellectual vitality of STEM-related classes at school, but also show people with all kinds of interests and backgrounds how to employ technical intuition when solving problems and, in some cases, I even inspire students to join the Robotics Club.

As an introverted leader, I try to listen first and use my soft-spoken attentiveness to invite dialogue that improves team chemistry. With this ability, I have learned to control the momentum of official debates and basketball matches. Thus, whether my team wins or loses, the external pressure of either suffering a setback or enjoying an achievement rarely affects my team's composure, which helps us maintain our consistency and resolve.

As I visualize myself building projects with a group of coders in the future, I believe that my discreteness, experience in robotics, practical tenacity, and absolute love for innovating technology will be vital for all my endeavors.

UC Personal Insight Question, Prompt 2: Creative Side

Prompt: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistic, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

5 UC Example Essay

Some people speak Chinese, others Spanish; I speak HTML. Language is intricately beautiful, with sentences flowing all within grammar constraints creating a masterpiece bound by rules. If poetry in English can be considered art, so too can programming. Just as every sentence in English has a meaning and purpose, every line of code invokes a function.

Instead of communicating with people, coding is essentially having a conversation with computers, directing them onto what is desired. Unlike people, however, computers don’t have imagination, and therefore require users to be precise in every word and sentence they depict. Just as an artist expresses imagination with a pen, a programmer uses a keyboard.

Aside from being just a program, websites bring people closer together. Because Singapore is incredibly small, in order for my school to challenge its athletes, we have to go overseas to play against other schools. Forming a league called IASAS, schools visit each other and compete. The only issue with this is how expensive it is to travel, resulting in the teams flying without family or friends.  Competitors often feel alone and unwelcome in a foreign school.

A website was the perfect solution for this: after much planning and deliberation, I formed a team to make a site where parents and friends could encourage their athletes! We started by brainstorming how to avoid cluttering the website and how best to keep it simple whilst connecting people together. Using flowcharts and diagrams, I used design principles to make it visually pleasing whilst maintaining structure and foundation. Focusing on supporting the athletes, guests were able to leave comments, get live scoring, and videos of the games.

The site allows parents and friends to encourage their students during some of the most significant tournaments of their high school careers. Creativity serves many functions, and mine intends to bring people closer together.

6 UC Example Essay 

Decorum, delegates.

As the preceding caucus wraps up, young delegates dressed in their most chic outfits (hey, it's not called MODEL United Nations for nothing) scurry to get one more signatory to support their resolution.

For my first conference, I signed up to represent Russia in the General Assembly. Being the naive yet ambitious freshman that I was, I thought it a great honor to represent one of the Permanent Five. According to feedback from my chair, I was overly democratic and too accommodating (and with due cause, I sponsored a resolution with Ukraine), to an extent that it hurt my performance.

Three months later, I accepted the Distinguished Delegate Award in ECOSOC for The Bahamas, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). I broke away from the connotation of another tourist destination to voice some of this country's biggest challenges as well as successes, particularly towards climate change.

I had not blatantly followed the 'power delegate', but stood my ground and made a powerful coalition with numerous other SIDS to become a resolution bloc, embodying the primary value my mentor, Senator Steve Glazer, impressed upon us as interns: "Represent the people of your district, not political parties or special interests".

Creativity is finding the peripheral introverted delegates and persuading them to add numbers to your cause. Creativity is navigating around the complexities of a capitalistic society designed to benefit only the top percentile in industrialized countries. Creativity is diplomacy, an art of itself. The ability to build bridges and forge new alliances in the wake of greed and power (believe me, the high school MUN circuit is equally, if not more, cutthroat than the real political arena) is a skill needed for the ever-complicated future.

MUN has taught me the practice of rhetoric and the relevance of ethos, pathos, and logos. I have learned to listen to opposing viewpoints, a rare skill in my primarily liberal high school.

I see MUN as a theatre production, where success is determined by how well you, in essence, become and portray your country to an audience of the world i.e., the United Nations.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 3: Greatest Talent or Skill

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

7 UC Essay Example: “The Art Girl”  

With a blackened Q-tip, I gave him eyelids and pupils and smoothed the rough edges of his face. I used an eraser to shave down the sharpness of his jaw and add highlights to his skin. After scrutinizing the proportions, I smiled at the finished pencil portrait. Kim Jong-dae was now ready to be wrapped as the perfect present for my friend.

Aside from Korean pop singers, I’ve drawn a variety of other characters. From the gritty roughness of Marvel comics to the soft, cuteness of Sanrio animals, I’ve drawn them all as a creative touch to top off birthday presents. It’s simply the way I choose to express myself when words cannot suffice.

But being an artist comes with its own social expectations. At school, it’s made me the “art girl” who is expected to design the banners and posters. At home, it’s prompted long distant relatives -- regardless of how much I actually know them -- to ask me to draw their portraits. In addition, whenever my parents invite coworkers to my house, I’ve had to deal with the embarrassment of showing my whole portfolio to complete strangers.

On the bright side, being an artist has taught me to take risks and experiment with new techniques and media. It’s taught me to draw meaning and intent with minimal words and text. It’s taught me to organize and focus, by simplifying subjects and filtering out the insignificant details.

Most of all, art has made me a more empathetic human. In drawing a person, I live in their shoes for a moment and try to understand them. I take note of the little idiosyncrasies. I let the details--a hijab, a piercing on a nose, a scar on the chin--tell me their personality, their thoughts, their worldview. I recognize the shared features that make us human and appreciate the differences in culture and values that make us unique. And it’s from this that I am able to embrace the diversity and complexity of people beyond a superficial surface and approach the world with an open heart and an open mind. (347)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 4: Significant Opportunity or Barrier

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

UC Essay Example 

Freshman year, I fell in love with the smell of formaldehyde for its promise of an especially exciting day in Biology. Although my school’s STEM education excelled in theory and concepts, career-focused hands-on experience was lacking and I grew nostalgic for dissections. By junior year, I still had almost no idea what I would do in the future. When asked, I’d mumble a response about biochemistry or technology without daring to specify a job.

Then, I discovered MIT’s Women’s Technology Program and its mission to allow high school girls with little experience in engineering and CS to explore the fields. Naturally, I applied in a blink, and somehow even got accepted.

When I started the program, I never expected to become so enamored with computer science. Every day, I took pages of notes during the class lecture, then enthusiastically attacked the homework problems during the evening. In fact, most nights I stayed late in the computer lab trying to finish just one more (optional) challenge problem or add more features to already completed programs. The assignments themselves ranged from simply printing “hello world” to completing a functional version of Tetris. One of my favorite programs was a Hangman game that made sarcastic remarks at invalid inputs.

However, some programs were notoriously difficult, sparking countless frustrated jokes among the candidates: a version of the card game War overly prone to infinite loops, a queue class apparently comprised entirely of index errors. The sign-up list for TA help overflowed with increasing frequency as the curriculum grew more difficult. So, after I finished a program, I often helped my peers with debugging by pointing out syntax errors and logical missteps. In the final week, I was chosen to be a presenter for CS at the Final Dinner, speaking about the subject I loved to program donors and peers alike.

In that amazing month, I discovered a field that blends creativity with logic and a renewed passion for learning and exploration. Now, imagining my no-longer-nebulous future brings excitement.

And somehow, that excitement always smells faintly of formaldehyde.

9 UC Essay Example 

If given an eye test with the standard Snellen Eye chart (y’know, the one with all the letters on it) you will be asked to stand 20 ft away, cover one eye and read off the letters from the chart as they get increasingly smaller. If you can read up to the lines marked “20” at 20 feet away, you have normal 20/20 vision and your eyes can separate contours that are 1.75 mm apart.  Knowing visual acuity is important because it helps diagnose vision problems.

But the challenge? Usually, people have to go into eye doctors and get an eye test to determine their acuity. However, since more than 40% of Americans don't go to an eye doctor on a regular basis and access to eye care is extremely rare and usually unavailable in third world countries, many people who need glasses don't know it and live with blurred vision.

To tackle this problem, I’ve spent the last four months at the Wyss Institute at Yale University working on an individual project supervised by Yale Medical School professor Maureen Shore. I’m coding a program that measures visual acuity and can determine what glasses prescription someone would need. My goal is to configure this into a mobile app so that it's easy for someone to determine if he or she needs glasses. I hope to continue using my programming skills to make the benefits of research more accessible.

If this technology isn't accessible to society, we’re doing a disservice to humanity. The skills, experience, and network I will build at the computer science department will help me devise solutions to problems and bring the benefits of research to the public.

10 UC Essay Example: "Two Truths, One Lie”

On the first day of school, when a teacher plays “Two Truths, One Lie” I always state living on three different continents. Nine times out of ten, this is picked as the lie.

I spent my primary education years in Bangalore, India. The Indian education system emphasizes skills like handwriting and mental math. I learned how to memorize and understand masses of information in one sitting. This method is rote in comparison to critical thinking but has encouraged me to look beyond classroom walls, learning about the rivers of Eastern Europe and the history of mathematics.

During seventh grade, I traded India’s Silicon Valley for the suburban Welwyn Garden City, UK. Aside from using Oxford Dictionary spellings and the metric system, I found little to no similarities between British and Indian curricula. I was exposed to “Religious Studies” for the first time, as well as constructional activities like textiles and baking. I found these elements to be an enhancing supplement to textbooks and notes. Nevertheless, the elementary level of study frustrated me. I was prevented from advancing in areas I showed an aptitude for, leading to a lack of enthusiasm. I was ashamed and tired of being the only one to raise my hand. Suddenly, striving for success had negative connotations.

Three years later, I began high school in Oakland, California. US education seemed to have the perfect balance between creative thinking, core subjects, and achievement. However, it does have its share of fallacies in comparison to my experience in other systems. I find that my classmates rarely learn details about cultures outside of these borders until very late in their careers. The emphasis on multiple-choice testing and the weight of letter grades has deterred curiosity.

In only seventeen years, I have had the opportunity to experience three very different educational systems. Each has shaped me into a global citizen and prepared me for a world whose borders are growing extremely defined. My perspective in living amongst different cultures has provided me with insight on how to understand various opinions and thus form a comprehensive plan to reach a resolution.

11 UC Essay Example 

In 10th and 11th grade, I explored the world of China with my classmates through feasts of mapo tofu, folk games, and calligraphy . As I developed a familial bond with my classmates and teacher, the class became a chance to discover myself. As a result, I was inspired to take AP Chinese.

But there was a problem: my small school didn’t offer AP Chinese.

So I took matters into my own hands. I asked my AP advisor for a list of other advisors at schools near me, but he didn’t have one. I emailed the College Board, who told me they couldn’t help, so I visited the websites of twenty other high schools and used the information available to find an advisor willing to let me test at his or her school. I emailed all the advisors I could find within a fifty-mile radius.

But all I got back were no’s.

I asked myself: Why was I trying so hard to take an AP test?

After some thought, I realized the driving force behind my decision wasn’t academic. I’d traveled to Taiwan in the past, but at times I felt like an outsider because I could not properly communicate with my family. I wanted to be able to hear my grandpa’s stories in his own tongue about escaping from China during the revolution. I wanted to buy vegetables from the lady at the market and not be known as a visitor. I wanted to gossip with my cousins about things that didn’t just occur during my visit. I wanted to connect.

Despite the lack of support I received from both my school and the College Board, I realized that if I truly wanted this, I’d have to depend on myself. So I emailed ten more advisors and, after weeks, I finally received a ‘maybe’ telling me to wait until midnight to register as a late tester. At 12:10 am on April 19, I got my yes.

Language is not just a form of communication for me . Through, Chinese I connect with my heritage, my people, and my country.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 5: Overcoming a Challenge 

Prompt: 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?

12 UC Essay Example: “Breaking up with Mom”

When I was fifteen years old I broke up with my mother. We could still be friends, I told her, but I needed my space, and she couldn’t give me that.

She and I both knew that I was the only person that she had in America. Her family was in Russia, she only spoke to her estranged ex-husband in court, her oldest son avoided her at all costs. And yet, at fifteen years old, I wasn’t equipped to effectively calm her down from her nightly anxiety attacks. At forty-three, she wasn’t willing to believe that I did love her, but that I couldn’t be responsible for stabilizing her life.

Moving in with my dad full time felt like I was abandoning her after tying a noose around her neck. But as my Drama teacher (and guardian angel) pointed out, my mother wasn’t going to get better if I kept enabling her, and that I wasn’t going to be able to grow if I was constrained by her dependence on me.

For the first time, I had taken action. I was never again going to passively let life happen to me.

During four long months of separation, I filled the space that my mom previously dominated with learning: everything and anything. I taught myself French through online programs, built websites, and began began editing my drawings on Photoshop to sell them online. When my dad lost his third job in five years, I learned to sew my own clothes and applied my new knowledge to costume design in the Drama Department.

On stage, I learned to empathize. Backstage, I worked with teams of dedicated and mutually supportive students. In our improv group, I gained the confidence to act on my instincts. With the help of my Drama teacher, I learned to humble myself enough to ask for help.

On my sixteenth birthday, I picked up the phone and dialed my mom. I waited through three agonizingly long pauses between rings.

“Hi mom, it’s me.”

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 6: Inspiring Academic Subject

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

13 UC Essay Example 

When I was 10, my dad told me that in and on my body, bacteria outnumbered human cells. For a 10-year-old, this was a horrifying idea. I squeezed my forearms tightly in an attempt to squish the foreigners to death. I showered in way-too-hot-for-ten-year-olds water. I poured lemon juice all over my body.

Today, however, I’m no longer terrified of hosting minuscule pals; instead, I embrace them as a way to be surrounded daily by microbiology. Ever since my sixth-grade teacher showed my class a video on Typhoid Mary and taught us about pathogens, I’ve been fascinated by and with cells. I decided then that I wanted to be a doctor and study microbiology.

Over the summer, I shadowed Dr. Wong Mei Ling, a General Practitioner. I observed case after case of bacterial interactions on the human body: an inflamed crimson esophagus suffering from streptococcus, bulging flesh from a staph infection, food poisoning from e.coli-laden dishes. I was her researcher, looking up new drugs or potential illnesses that cause particular symptoms.

Intrigued by the sensitive balance between the good and bad bacteria on our bodies, I changed my lifestyle after researching more about our biological processes.  I viewed my cheek cells through a microscope in AP Bio, and I realized that each cell needs to be given the right nutrients. Learning about foods enhancing my organ functions and immune system, I now eat yogurt regularly for the daily intake of probiotics to facilitate my digestion.

As a future pediatrician, I hope to teach children how to live symbiotically with bacteria instead of fearing them. I will stress the importance of achieving the right balance of good and bad microbes through healthy habits.

Rather than attempting to extinguish the microbes on me, today I dream of working in an environment loaded with bacteria, whether it’s finding cures for diseases or curing kids of illnesses. As a daily reminder, the minute microbes in and on me serve as a reminder of my passion for the complex but tiny foundation of life. (342 words)

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 7: Community Service

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

14 UC Essay Example “House of Pain”

So many of my friends had eating disorders. Scrolling through poems written by students at my school on a poetry publishing site, I was shocked by the number of girls starving or purging in attempts to love themselves. Before finding out about their struggles, I thought I was the only girl hating my reflection. Almost all the girls I knew at SAS were hiding their insecurity behind a facade of “health choices”.

Knowing I wasn’t alone in my fears, I found the courage to take my own first steps. I joined House of Pain (HOP), an exercise club my PE teacher recommended. Although I initially despised working out, I left the gym feeling strong and proud of my body. Over the first weeks, I even developed a finger-shaped bruise on my bicep as I checked it daily. I began to love exercise and wanted to share my hope with my friends.

Since my friends hadn’t directly acknowledged their eating disorders, I had to engage them indirectly. I intentionally talked about the benefits of working out. I regularly invited them to come to the HOP sessions after school. I talked about how fun it was, while at the same time mentioning the healthy body change process. I was only their coach but felt their struggles personally as I watched girls who couldn’t run 10 meters without gasping for air slowly transform. Their language changed from obsessing with size to pride in their strength.  

I was asked to lead classes and scoured the web for effective circuit reps. I researched modifications for injuries and the best warmups and cooldowns for workouts. I continue to lead discussions focusing on finding confidence in our bodies and defining worth through determination and strength rather than our waists.

Although today my weight is almost identical to what it was before HOP, my perspective and, perhaps more importantly, my community is different. There are fewer poems of despair and more about identity. From dreaming of buttoning size zero shorts to pushing ourselves to get “just one more push up”, it is not just our words that have changed.

15 UC Essay Example 

I have lived in the Middle East for the last 11 years of my life. I’ve seen cranes, trucks, cement mixers, bulldozers, and road-rollers build all kinds of architectural monoliths on my way to school. But what really catches my attention are the men who wear blue jumpsuits striped with fluorescent colors, who cover their faces with scarves and sunglasses, and who look so small next to the machines they use and the skyscrapers they build.

These men are the immigrant laborers from South-Asian countries who work for 72 hours a week in the scorching heat of the Middle East and sleep through freezing winter nights without heaters in small unhygienic rooms with 6-12 other men. Sometimes workers are denied their own passports, having become victims of exploitation. International NGOs have recognized this as a violation of basic human rights and classified it as bonded labor.

As fellow immigrants from similar ethnicities, my friends and I decided to help the laborers constructing stadiums for the 2022 FIFA world cup.

Since freedom of speech was limited, we educated ourselves on the legal system of Qatar and carried out our activities within its constraints. After surveying labor camps and collecting testimonials, we spread awareness about the laborer’s plight at our local community gatherings and asked for donations to our cause. With this money, we bought ACs, heaters, and hygienic amenities for the laborers. We then educated laborers about their basic rights. In the process, I became a fluent Nepalese speaker.

As an experienced debater, I gave speeches about the exploitation of laborers at gatherings. Also, I became the percussionist of the small rock band we created to perform songs that might evoke empathy in well-off migrants. As an experienced website developer, I also reached out to other people in the Middle East who were against bonded labor and helped them develop the website.

Although we could only help 64 of the millions of laborers in the Middle East, we hope that our efforts to spread awareness will inspire more people to reach out to the laborers who built their homes.

UC Personal Insight Question Prompt 8: Standing Out 

Prompt: 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?

16 UC Essay Example: “Jungle Confidence Course” 

Hunger. Flames licking my face. Thirst. Unknown creatures circling me restlessly. Aching. The darkness threatening to swallow me. Desperation. I asked for this.

Nine long days in the jungle with only a day's worth of rations, the Jungle Confidence Course was designed to test our survival capabilities. To make matters worse, I had to carry a bunch of heavy military equipment that had no use to me for the purpose of the test. Dropped in the middle of Brunei, no matter which way you walked the terrain always went up. So why on earth would anyone volunteer this?

I was hungry. Not in the physical sense, even though I was starving for those nine days, but rather due to an incurable thirst. Every Singaporean male citizen is required to serve two years in service to the country essentially delaying our education and subsequent entrance into the workforce. Most people, including my friends, see this as something terrible and try to avoid it altogether by flying overseas. Others look for the easiest and most cushiony job to serve during the two long years rather than be another military grunt.

As for myself, since I had to do it why not do the best I can and hope to benefit from it? I’ve been hungry, cold, exhausted beyond the point of belief, yet I’m still standing. I sacrificed lots of free time, lost friends, ended up missing lots of key family moments due to training but I don’t regret a thing. Helicopter rides, urban warfare, assaulting beaches, all in a day’s work. Movies became reality accomplishing tasks once impossible.

Aspiration drove me then and still continues to pilot me now. All these experiences and memories create a lasting impact, creating pride and the motivation to continue forward. I could have given up at any point during those long nine days, but with every pang of hunger, I made myself focus on what I wanted.

To be the best version of myself possible, and come out of this challenge stronger than ever before. What’s the point of living life if you have nothing to be proud of?

17 UC Essay Example 

What’s the most logical thing an electrical engineer and his computer science-obsessed son can do in the deserts of Qatar? Gardening.

My dad and I built a garden in our small rocky backyard to remind us of our village in India, 3,419 km away from our compact metropolitan household in Qatar. Growing plants in a desert, especially outdoors without any type of climate control system, can seem to be a daunting task. But by sowing seeds at the beginning of winter, using manure instead of chemical fertilizers, and choosing the breed of plants that can survive the severe cold, we overcame the harsh climate conditions.

Sitting in the garden with my family reminds me of the rain, the green fields, the forests, the rhythmic sound of the train wheels hitting joints between rails (to which I play beats on any rigid surface), and most of all, the spicy food of India. The garden is my tranquil abode of departure from all forms of technology, regrets about the past, and apprehensions about the future. It contrasts my love for innovating technology and thus maintains a balance between my heritage, beliefs, busy lifestyle, and ambitions.

Unfortunately, my family and I enjoy the garden for fewer months each year. The harsh climate is becoming dangerously extreme: summers are increasingly becoming hotter, reaching record-breaking temperatures of about 50॰C, and winters are becoming colder, the rains flooding areas that only anticipate mild drizzles. Climate change has reduced our season for growing plants from six months to four.

But we’ve agreed to keep our agricultural practices organic to improve the longevity of the garden’s annual lifespan. I’ve also strived to extend the privilege of a garden to all families in our Indian community, giving space for those who, like us, long for something green and organic in the artificial concrete jungle where we reside. We share harvests, seeds, and experiences, and innovate organic agricultural methods, in the gardens we’ve all grown.

So, what makes the Computer Science obsessed applicant from India unique? Balance.

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2023 Ultimate Guide: 20 UC Essay Examples

by Winning Ivy Prep Team | Mar 8, 2023 | UC Admissions , UC Personal Insight Essay Examples

20 UC Essay Examples

Additional UC essay resources:

  • Official UC Personal Insight Question prompts are here.
  • Read our UC Essay / UC Personal Insight Essay Tips

Table of Contents

UC Personal Insight #1 Examples

amazing uc essays

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

Student brainstorming to write the UC essays.

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

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.

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!

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. 

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. 

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!” 

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.

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.” 

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. 

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!” 

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.

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.” 

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.” 

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.

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: 

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.” 

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.

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.”

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.

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.” 
  • 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.

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.

“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.

“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.

“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. 

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!

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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How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions (with examples!)

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Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Answer the UC Personal Insight Questions (with examples!)

If you’re applying to a University of California campus, you may already know that you’ll need to respond to four (out of eight) personal insight questions. The UC personal insight questions will require a good amount of time and effort, but fortunately we’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll dissect each prompt and offer some tips on how to respond. And if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, be sure to check out our example essays as well. Let’s get started!

Don’t miss: How to write an essay about yourself

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (max: 350 words)”

You don’t have to be captain of a sports team or president of a school club to be a leader. Titles like those are great (and are definitely worth talking about), but leadership can be demonstrated in more subtle ways as well. Think about the times in which people have looked to you for guidance or support. It could be a group of friends, your coworkers, or even a younger sibling or family member. Whatever the case may be, you should write about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. This essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your ability to make a positive impact outside the classroom. 

Questions to consider: 

  • What does being a leader mean to you?
  • How has your perspective on leadership changed over time?
  • What qualities do you possess that make you a good leader?
“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. (max: 350 words)”

Creativity takes so many different forms. From music to cooking to fashion, there are countless ways to express creativity. Think about the area of your life in which you exhibit original ideas or unique ways of thinking. It may not be obvious for everyone, but chances are you’re creative in ways that you haven’t even realized. Any time you produce a new thought, idea, or concept, you’re being creative. Once you find your creative niche, focus on your motive. Why do you create? Does it bring you joy? Does it connect to your personal or professional ambitions? Ultimately, your goal in this essay should be to articulate the value of your creativity. 

  • How do you define creativity? 
  • How does being creative make you feel?
  • What impact does your creativity have on yourself and others?
“What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (max: 350 words)”

Some people have a talent or skill that is central to their identity. Maybe you’re a gifted athlete or you have a knack for making people laugh. Maybe you’re a skilled communicator. Consider your greatest talents and what they mean to you. Think about how your talent has shaped your own life and how it has influenced others. It is important to remember to avoid coming across as boastful. You may be a talented soccer player, for instance, but don’t use the entire essay to talk about how good you are at playing goalie. Instead, focus on how soccer has had a positive impact on your life. 

  • How has your talent influenced who you are as a person?
  • How did you discover your talent, and how has it grown since then?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your talent?
“Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (max: 350 words)”

This prompt is interesting because it gives students a couple of options. Students can choose to either write about an educational opportunity or an educational barrier. If you decide to write about an opportunity, think about the experiences that have better prepared you for college. Have you taken any advanced classes, enrolled in any academic enrichment programs, or completed any internships? If so, write about what you gained from the experience and what you learned. 

If you choose to write about a barrier, think about the times in which you’ve faced significant obstacles to your education. Obstacles could include a variety of things, such as family issues, switching schools, or lacking the money needed for school supplies. Whatever the case may be, it’s better to emphasize what you did to overcome the problem rather than focusing on the issue itself. This essay is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your resilience to adversity. 

  • In what ways have you gone above and beyond to further your education?
  • Have you faced any disruptions to your education? If so, how did you react?
  • How did your opportunity or barrier influence who you are today? 
“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? (max: 350 words)”

We all face challenges in life, but the key to overcoming any obstacle is the manner in which we react. Think about a setback in your life that could have derailed you, but instead you persevered. Examples include moving to a new school or town, coping with the loss of a loved one, or dealing with financial hardship. Describe the problem, but avoid lingering on the negative side of things. Similar to the fourth prompt, you should focus the majority of your response on what you actually did to overcome the challenge. 

  • Have you ever turned a negative situation into a positive one?
  • How have the challenges in your life made you better-equipped to deal with future setbacks? 
  • Why are obstacles an important part of life? 
“Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (max: 350 words)”

This is your chance to write about your academic passions. Think about your favorite field of study and what excites you about it. Discuss how your interest in the subject has taken shape over time, and what you have done to cultivate that interest. Have you participated in any activities outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, or student clubs — to learn more about your field? If applicable, you can also discuss how your academic interests connect to your future career goals. 

  • What’s a topic or idea that you never get bored of? 
  • What was the moment that sparked your interest in this subject?
  • How do you plan to continue to develop your interest?
“What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (max: 350 words)”

Colleges love to see candidates who have the potential to make a positive impact on campus, and this essay is a great chance to demonstrate that potential. When brainstorming ideas, remember that the word “community” can mean a lot of different things. It could refer to a sports team, a school club, a neighborhood, a family, a workplace, or even a group of friends. Think about the people and places that constitute your community, and consider what you have done to make a difference. 

  • How have your actions benefited your community? 
  • How does your community add value to your life? 
  • How would members of your community describe you? 
“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? (max: 350 words)”

This is a great prompt for students who have a story or experience that doesn’t fit the mold of the other prompts. It’s essentially a catch-all prompt that allows you to write about anything you want. That being said, it’s important to find a focus and stick with it. Don’t let your essay become too broad. Instead, try to focus on one or two specific experiences and describe how they make you an excellent candidate for UC.

  • What should UC know about you that they wouldn’t learn from the rest of your application?
  • Do you have any amazing or exceptional stories that don’t fit the mold of the other prompts?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates? 

Don’t miss: Tips for a successful college application

Example essays 

We’ve given you some tips on how to respond to each prompt, but sometimes it’s helpful to see how another person approached the prompt. Below you’ll find example essays for each of the eight UC prompts. Check them out if you’re looking for some inspiration! We’ve also included feedback on each example from our seasoned admissions expert Bill Jack .

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.”

Thirty-six hours to plan a triathlon with minimal course congestion and road closure time, write a 30-33 page solution to this problem, and address a two-page letter to the “mayor” summarizing our solution. This was our assigned task as part of the 2016 annual High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

This hypothetical triathlon was set to host around 2000 participants, all ranging in skill level. Further, the local roads surrounding the triathlon could only be closed for a maximum of 5.5 hours. Confronting this information, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I sat, perplexed. How could we prevent the less experienced competitors from potentially slowing down their faster counterparts? Allowing the less experienced competitors to start last wouldn’t work, we figured, as this would probably close the roads for too long.

After some thought, I figured that initially separating the participants by lanes and implementing a wave-start system would be the best way to go. If those faster competitors were separated from those slower at first, then they would be able to get ahead before the lanes eventually merged – preventing any participants from potentially hindering others’ progress.

While we celebrated having finally figured out an answer to the question, there was a lot of work to go. To me, it seemed reasonable that everyone do the work best suited to their strengths. My teammates agreed. After some deliberation, it was settled: I would complete the bulk of the writing, Ellen and Megan the math, and Daisy the graph and map-making. A mere 30-ish hours later, we were finished.

After a few read-throughs of the finished products, admiration of each other’s work, and an agreement that all looked good, we sent in the completed project. For our work, we were honored with “Meritorious” in the contest, the third-highest possible honor in the competition. Exchanging texts, Daisy, Ellen, Megan, and I took pride in such an honor. The project had not only given me practical knowledge on how to organize a triathlon, but also taught me leadership and teamwork skills that I hope to use in my future endeavors – hypothetical or not. (Word count: 349 words)

Expert analysis from an admissions professional:

While the person at UC who reads this might know about this particular mathematical contest, it is definitely wise to assume they know nothing.  It was super helpful that the writer chose to give some background about what exactly they were tasked to do.  Readers will glean many things in an application relative to a student’s leadership skills.  While leadership skills are certainly quite desirable to admission officers, one reason this personal insight response is particularly… well… insightful (!!), is because it speaks to how the person performs as part of a team. – Bill Jack

“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.”

A beautiful road, the darkness of the tall trees contrasting the bright orange, pink, and purples hues up above. These are the types of pictures I love on Instagram: beautiful scenes of nature, typically including trees. I am always delighted to see them on my screen, but rarely, if ever, do I get to see such scenes in real life. 

Such photos inspired me to try painting a similar landscape this past summer to capture the scenes I love so much. I decided to use acrylic paints throughout, from the mesmerizing sky, to the trees themselves. It turned out that this wasn’t the best idea; acrylics dry too quickly to be spread across a large area, which made it incredibly difficult to paint the vast, all-encompassing sky. Before moving on, I considered what to do next: keep trudging on, or start anew? 

Eventually, I added some water to the paint, unknowingly thinking that it would help the paint spread more easily. This did not help, and the painting turned out looking like a number of navy green blobs in front of another, pinker blob, rather than green fir trees in front of a beautiful evening sky. 

Despite this setback, I persevered and tried again. I used watercolors and smaller brushes instead, hoping to make the tree branches more distinct. The sky initially turned out better, with the colors mixing more easily this time. However, I hadn’t waited long enough to paint the trees. The dark green of the leaves had mixed with the hues of the far brighter sky, again making the trees nearly indiscernible.

Problem solving is a key part of doing something new. My lack of experience with painting forced me to put careful thought into what I was going to do next, teaching me that I should put more time into what I do, rather than rushing to finish as soon as possible. I hope that whatever comes next, whether it be painting another landscape or preparing for a marathon, is done with the same care and thought that I put into painting those exquisite fir trees. (Word count: 350 words)

Responses that can paint a picture allow the person reading the application to dive into the world of the student.  In this case, painting a picture is literally what is happening!  Using such good adjectives really does a great job describing why they started with acrylics and why they ended with watercolors.  Although the purpose of this response is to showcase the student’s creativity, it is neat how this response also happens to allow the reader to tap into their own creativity, too, because they are invited to imagine what the finished painting might look like. – Bill Jack

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

Whether a love song by Taylor Swift or a story about George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, I have always enjoyed being completely absorbed in a story. Wanting to recreate this same feeling for others, at nine years old, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods. I only got a few pages through. However, my next protagonist, Phil the pig, would see some longevity. Whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, he was always at the forefront, angry. In my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my high school, I decided to join to see if my interest had survived. Luckily, it did. The club not only reaffirmed my passion for writing, but introduced me to new means of expression as well. From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, putting it all down in a journal.

Around the same time, I developed an interest in classic literature. A project in English class had required us to read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and develop my abilities, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing being part of my future, and hope that Phil will accompany me every step of the way. (Word count: 350 words)

Near the end, we learn that writing is likely to be part of the student’s future.  This is great to learn.  Too often admission officers might not know how a student’s current pursuits relate to their goals.  We learn here about Phil the pig, we learn about their interest in classic literature, and we learn why they joined the writing club.  We are taken on a journey that tells us how writing–and reading–has been part of their life, including how it has evolved and developed over the years. – Bill Jack

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

Nineteen ninety-nine marked the year my mom moved to the U.S. from South Korea. Stepping off the plane, my mom’s English level was impressive for someone who had never stepped foot outside her native country. Her English speaking skills were quite proficient, and she understood the language with ease. However, having aspirations of becoming a teacher in this new country, she knew she had to brush up on her English. Quick.

To accomplish this goal, my parents decided to speak English at home. Days and years of discussing shows, events, and daily tasks in English were a great source of practice. As my brother and I got older and saw improvements in our English, she did too. All was good.

That was until I realized I didn’t really “know” Korean. Besides the familial terms I used for my obba (older brother) and omma (mom) and a number of other food-related and random words, I was largely clueless. So, I decided it would be nice to be able to speak the native language of, not only my mom, but her entire side of the family.

As my high school didn’t offer Korean language classes, I figured that self-studying would be the best course of action. I did some research online and found an elementary-level Korean workbook. After outlining a quick “study plan,” the following summer was filled with hours of working in my Korean workbook. My mom helped, reading over my completed pages, alerting me to any mistakes I made, and setting me on the right path. 

Around the end of the summer, I was able to form simple sentences and even somewhat communicate with my Korean relatives. Self-studying also had its perks: I learned how to manage my time and motivate myself to study, something that might’ve surprised the former procrastinator in me. My mom was pleasantly surprised too, embracing her role as the teacher and I, the student. As I move into this next part of my life, I hope to continue following in her footsteps, using the new skills – Korean and otherwise – I learned that dear summer. (Word count: 350 words)

This response covers so much ground!  We learn about the student’s family background, about the family’s transition to the United States, and the student’s desire to connect deeper with their Korean culture.  We also learn about personal traits such as motivation, perseverance, and determination.  Often in college students will want to explore a subject further than the curriculum allows, and this response speaks loudly about what the student will do when faced with that barrier.  And that we got to learn a couple of Korean words is just a cherry on top! – Bill Jack

“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?”

New city, new school, new home — a lot of new things came into my life during my seventh grade year. It wasn’t easy getting used to so many changes, and the circumstances surrounding those changes were tough to wrap my head around. 

To give you some context, my dad was a carpenter and a year earlier he had fallen off a roof on one of his job sites. He severely injured his back, became unable to work, and our family fell into a tough financial situation as a result. Our house in Asheville met foreclosure and the only option was to move to Winston-Salem. Fortunately, my parents owned a second home there. The situation could have been much worse, looking back on it, but that didn’t change the fact that my life in Asheville had been uprooted.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, all my friends were gone, and I was sitting among complete strangers at the lunch table. I was also navigating some unfamiliar cultural territory, being one of the few white students at a school that was largely black and Latino. I was completely out of my element, but looking back on it, it’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. 

During my first year in Winston-Salem, I was pushed out of my comfort zone in a way that I had never experienced before. To make new friends, I made a conscious effort to be more outgoing. I connected with my classmates, making jokes and striking up conversations. Eventually I formed some strong friendships, several of which I maintain to this day. On top of that, my new friends were a diverse bunch — black, white, Mexican, male, female — and as a result I gained a different cultural perspective that shaped the way I view the world today. 

The whole experience showed me that change brings discomfort, but it can also bring positive growth. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if I had never left Asheville. I probably wouldn’t have been as open-minded, and I definitely wouldn’t have been as good at adjusting to new situations. As I prepare for my first year of college, I look forward to embracing all the changes that will come along with it. (Word count: 380 words)

The last sentence of this response really encapsulates why what we learn is relevant to the college search.  For people who work in education, we know all too well how lunchroom dynamics really do have a large impact on a high school student’s life.  As we learn, the student was uprooted, had to make new friends, and absolutely was not in their comfort zone.  Let’s face it: that’s your first semester of college.  Seeing that the student has had success already transitioning into an unfamiliar environment bodes very well for how their transition to college will be. -Bill Jack

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

I’ve always been fascinated by people. So has my dad. Not in a weird way, but rather in an isn’t-it-interesting-why-people-act-the-way-they-do way. Over the years, this has led to hours of discussing how the environment one grows up in, and a number of other factors, contribute to one’s general disposition. Perhaps expectedly, these talks led me to develop an interest in psychology.

However, they were not my only early exposure to the field. For as long as I can remember, I have tuned in to watch Criminal Minds on CBS at 9 p.m. every Wednesday. Particularly fascinating to me has been how J.J., Morgan, Reid, and the rest of the crew are able to use insights from psychology to create largely accurate assessments about suspects based on evidence alone.

Having gotten a little older, I now realize that this process is called “profiling” and that it shares similarities with abnormal psychology. Wanting to dive deeper and learn more about the subject, I was led to Dr. Roxane Gold’s psychology lab at the University of California, Irvine, the summer after my junior year.

Arriving at the lab, I was assigned to a project wherein participants were exposed to surprising or potentially stressful events through videos or pictures, all while their slight movements were tracked. As a research assistant, I was responsible for the movement data, tracking the peaks which signified surprise on behalf of participants. It was surprising to learn how repeated exposure to shocking or stressful media, even images, could have enduring negative impacts on people.

Such an experience certainly taught me a lot about the realities of conducting psychological research. The results, unlike the discussions with my dad, were not always so lighthearted. However, I hope to eventually use this experience to produce something more positive. If possible, I want to one day apply the knowledge I gained to my own research, to discover methods to help the people suffering from the psychological problems I study. As learning about psychology has brought me much joy, I hope to use it to do the same for others. (Word count: 348 words)

Citing television shows or movies can be risky because the reader might not be familiar.  (Criminal Minds is an awesome show, by the way!)  One reason this response works well is because it is not merely a report about the show.  It is not merely why the student likes watching it.  Instead they explain the show’s influence on their life: they have taken the initiative to be a research assistant already and they want to pursue their own psychology research.  And it is great to learn about their future plans: to bring joy to folks who might be suffering. – Bill Jack

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

Smiling faces, cheerful conversation, upbeat music – this was the scene surrounding me on that early April afternoon at Corpening Plaza in downtown Winston-Salem. I surveyed the bustling plaza, observing the many food truck vendors, musicians, and small business owners who had come together to celebrate Everyone Matters Day. I smiled to myself, knowing that it was the result of months of hard work.

But let’s rewind. Planning for the event was initiated almost five months earlier by the Winston-Salem Youth Advisory Council, a group in which I was involved for most of my high school career. Also known as YAC, the council is a space for high school students to actively engage the community in partnership with the city government. Throughout my three years on the council, I helped organize several community projects. One year we delivered school supplies and clothes to homeless children, and another year we filmed some commercials speaking out against bullying. 

But for several reasons, the downtown festival celebrating Everyone Matters Day is the project that I cherish the most. For one, I felt the project was especially timely. The idea for the festival spawned in late 2015, during a time when racial tensions in the U.S. were soaring. The council and I wanted to do something that would bring the city together and uplift residents in a positive way. We had caught wind of a recently established holiday called Everyone Matters Day — a day in which people around the world acknowledge everyone’s right to be who they are — and decided to host an event in honor of the day. 

The project was also particularly important to me because it was the one in which I was most involved. This was my third year on the council, and by this point I had taken on more of a leadership role. There was a lot of work that went into making the event a success, and I helped take the lead in the planning process. We needed a venue, volunteers, food truck vendors, live music, and the support of small business owners. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off when April 2 finally rolled around, and our vision became a reality. For a couple hours, our festival brought joy and positivity into the lives of others, making those months of planning absolutely worth it. (Word count: 392 words)

Often the reader does not learn in great detail about what the student’s outside-of-school activities actually entail.  After all, the college counselor and the teachers might not mention these activities in their letters of recommendation.  So if given the opportunity to tell the reader about one of these activities, please do.  You almost certainly will end up sharing something that cannot be gleaned from other parts of the application, and as we learn here, the Youth Advisory Council clearly is an important part of the student’s life. – Bill Jack

“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?”

Many families have traditions. These range from those more common, like opening up Christmas presents at a specific time each year, to those more unusual – like choosing to ring in the holidays with the consumption of fruitcake. Probably amongst the nerdiest of such traditions, however, is what my family has done every Monday through Friday for as long as I can remember: tune in to watch Jeopardy.

Like a long-time friend, Jeopardy is something that has been by my side since childhood. Thus, tuning in and seeing Alex Trebek’s familiar face quiz contestants on a variety of random subjects is something that has brought me comfort throughout the years, even if I couldn’t always answer many of the questions. As a child, besides during the annual “Kids Week” tournament for those between the ages of 10 and 12, I was often clueless. The rest of my family would typically perform better, having more years of experience and knowledge under their hypothetical belts.

Being a young child, though, I didn’t take my mistakes or lack of knowledge so trivially. After all, how could a 12-year-old be unfamiliar with Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign song? I wasn’t sure, but I did know that I wanted to prove myself. 

So, from then on, I decided to take the pursuit of knowledge more seriously. Rather than learning just to test, I would try to retain the information I learned, putting it in context and understanding its importance. As the years went on, this strategy proved successful – to an extent. I still never quite excelled at the geography questions, but I was certainly able to answer more across the board. 

Today, while I still might not be able to answer every question about Shakespeare out there, Jeopardy has given me something that will likely outlast my retention of any trivia answer: a thirst for knowledge. As I move into this next chapter of my life, I plan to bring this useful tool with me, helping me better understand and appreciate what’s come before me, and what will come after. 

Thanks, Alex! (Word count: 345 words)

This response may not be a tribute to Alex Trebek in the traditional sense, but it certainly demonstrates the power of the show: developing a thirst for knowledge.  Many college and university mottos include “knowledge,” “learn,” or similar words.  As such, it is probably no surprise that an admission officer might be particularly drawn to a student like this because they seem to like learning for learning’s sake.  Clearly this student will be at college to make the most of what they are taught: not just to memorize facts but also to retain what they learn. -Bill Jack

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal insight) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable. Whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate), make sure to “hook” your reader in. Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Your essays should ultimately reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are. Most of all, though, they should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to answer the UC personal insight questions. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal insight essay is all about effort. So long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Additional resources

If you’re filling out the UC personal insight questions, you are probably in the thick of your college applications. Luckily, we’ve got a host of resources to help you through the process! Check out our guides on writing a 250 word essay and a 500 word essay . We also have a guide to respond to the Common App prompts , as well as a list of California scholarships to pursue.

And even if you are set on a UC school, remember to apply to a wide range of schools. We can help you choose a school and find a financial safety school as well. Finally, to help you fund your education, check out our free scholarship search tool . It will custom-match you to vetted scholarships and automatically update as opportunities close and new ones open. Good luck!

Frequently asked questions about how to answer the UC Personal Insight Questions 

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How to Write the UC Essays 2023–2024

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The ten University of California (UC) schools are prestigious public universities scattered across the state of California. From the northern UC Davis to the southern UC San Diego, these institutions are dream schools for in-state and out-of-state students. In fact, the top 5 most popular schools to apply to in the US are all UC schools. In the fall of 2022, UCLA received 174, 914 applications . That’s greater than the population of Jackson, Mississippi!

UC Berkeley gates

Nine of these schools (the exception is UC San Francisco) offer undergraduate degrees. These schools share an application portal and don’t use the Common App or the Coalition App. As a result, their essay prompts are unique. At the same time, once you’ve applied to one UC school, it’s simple to apply to the rest. In this blog post, we’ll break down the UC essay prompts so that you have the tools to nail your application.

UC 2023-2024 Prompts

Personal insight questions (250-350 words).

  • 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 a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

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General Tips

There are eight UC essay prompts , known as the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). Although each question requires a response of 250-350 words, you don’t need to answer every question. In fact, you’re required to select four prompts to answer. The UC admissions officers understand that some prompts will resonate with some students more than others, and they consider each prompt equally.

It’s important to note that some of the prompts have overlapping qualities. For instance, you could write about an education barrier you have overcome when answering prompt 4, and that educational barrier might have been the most significant challenge you have faced, making it a great response to prompt 5 as well. Therefore, you may want to come up with a few topics that are important to you before even deciding which prompts you would like to answer. Consider the topics which make you who you are. Your background, interests, struggles, and accomplishments might all be topics on your list, with added specificity to make them your own. 

Then, once you’ve determined what you would like to write about, you can peruse the prompts to see which might best align with your listed topics. Of course, if one of the topics does not align with any of the prompts, you’ll need to take a step back and reassess what the UC admissions officers might be looking for that you weren’t prepared to deliver. Is it vulnerability? Humility? Growth? Confidence? Intellectuality? Ambition? These are all qualities admissions officers might look for in applicants. Consider whether your topics demonstrate these qualities, and if not, how you could incorporate them into your topics and/or responses, however subtly.

UC’s Personal Insight Questions

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (250-350 words).

This essay prompt allows you to show the UC admissions officer your leadership style and conflict response . In addition, you can demonstrate your abilities as a leader beyond including it on an activities list or resume. Many students hold leadership positions in high school which are functionally meaningless, but others achieve important impacts through their positive influence and trailblazing energy. If you are in the latter category of students, this is a great prompt for you to describe your leadership experience.

The prompt specifically asks you to provide an example of your leadership experience. This response should not be a list. It should be ONE anecdote, narrative, concept, accomplishment, or event. If possible, you should show through this singular example how you have grown as a leader or as an individual. Lastly, try to use concrete details to flesh out your example and make it feel real and memorable to the reader, avoiding clichés when possible.

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. (250-350 words)

If your creative side is a meaningful aspect of who you are, this is a great prompt for you to choose! Many STEM-oriented students choose this prompt in order to demonstrate that they are well-rounded individuals. If the rest of your application discusses your skills in trigonometry and your summer coding internship, then shedding light on your poetry hobby will help the admissions officers see you as a whole person, full of life and dimension.

That said, creativity comes in many flavors , and this prompt encourages you to think broadly about your creative side. Maybe your creativity comes through in how you approach a chess game or compose a speech for MUN. Maybe your creativity flourishes when you’re under pressure, trying to negotiate the soccer ball away from your opponent. Or maybe you’re most creative when you’re trying to entertain your younger siblings. 

However your creativity manifests, be as authentic in your presentation of it as possible. You don’t need to be a concert pianist to discuss your musical endeavors, and you don’t need to have a portfolio to back up the joy you find in photography. As long as you provide genuine details about your life, your creative side is valid.

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt is especially tricky to tackle. Some students have a prodigal talent in a particular area, whether athletic, academic, interpersonal, or otherwise. Other students, however, excel more broadly and are more well-rounded than pointy. Even if you don’t have a special talent, you might still be able to answer this prompt. You might just answer it more creatively, focusing on “soft skills” like communication, time management, empathy, and so on—or whatever feels authentic to you. However, if it feels like a stretch, perhaps try a different prompt.

Regardless of your talent, you will need to answer this prompt with modesty —and no false modesty, either. Instead of listing your accolades, describe the struggles that have shaped you. Describe your training, your failures, your mentors, and your doubts. Painting a picture of how far you’ve come and how hard you worked will be much more memorable and inspiring than implying you woke up a genius. After all, even if you have a natural aptitude for something, no great skill comes without hard work, and this essay prompt is an opportunity for you to show that work.

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (250-350 words)

This essay prompt seeks to understand how you will function as a student in a UC school. When you’re offered opportunities, how will you take advantage of them? When you face obstacles, how will you surmount them? Of course, you can’t answer these questions just yet, because whatever obstacles you might face and opportunities you might receive in college are probably going to be surprises. Still, through this essay, you can hint at your future responses to opportunities and obstacles by describing your past responses.

Note that the prompt provides two options: you could write about a significant educational opportunity OR an educational barrier. Both topics are focused on your educational history, though. Consider the most formative moments in your personal educational history, and after settling on the most formative one, you’ll want to clearly spin it in your essay as either an opportunity or an obstacle. In both cases, you should express how you grew from the experience. How did you make the most of the opportunity, and how could you have better maximized that opportunity? How did you overcome that obstacle, and what did you gain from the experience? Considering your continued areas for growth will demonstrate your maturity and continued commitment to self-development.

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? (250-350 words)

This essay prompt asks you to look back over your life experiences to date and consider your resilience within the lens of your academic achievement . If an event in your life impacted your academic achievement, then this prompt is a great opportunity for you to discuss that challenge. After you’ve identified the most significant challenge you have faced, you may want to free-write about all the steps you took to overcome this challenge. These steps could include anything—studying, forgiving, going to therapy, praying, working, asking questions, and so on.

This prompt requests vulnerability, and vulnerability demands details. Don’t be shy to share your missteps, but be purposeful in showing your current stability, strength, and achievements despite or even because of this challenge you have faced. After describing this challenge as specifically and concretely as possible, indicate how you have changed, and be sure to include at least 1-2 sentences regarding the impact (or lack thereof) which this challenge had on your academic achievement (for better or for worse).

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (250-350 words)

Admissions officers often look for curiosity in applicants, and if you are a curious person, then this essay prompt is for you. In this essay, you can demonstrate how your curiosity for an academic subject has driven you to pursue research, projects, or other activities. Be sure to discuss ONE academic interest, even if you relate multiple ways you have deepened your relationship with this interest.

Don’t spread yourself too thin when discussing how you have furthered your interest. Focus on 1-3 ways you have furthered your interest, even if you choose to list a few more ways. For instance, if you’re interested in English literature, maybe you have furthered this interest by reading certain books outside of school, participating in an essay competition, and writing short stories. Perhaps each of these topics could receive one paragraph, with the essay framed by a brief introduction and conclusion. Of course, you can get more creative, but that’s a totally valid way to set up your essay if you’re feeling stuck.

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (250-350 words)

If you’re the kind of student for whom community service is really important, or you’ve had a big impact on your high school, then this is a great prompt for you. Similarly, if you’ve engaged in activism, youth advocacy, or similar endeavors, then you should consider answering this prompt. Clearly explain what “a better place” means to you within your response so that the reader understands your motivations.

Specificity is key here —many students will respond generically to this prompt. Less is more when it comes to discussing your accomplishments: providing deep insight regarding one initiative you pursued on behalf of your community is far better than listing all of your achievements. In your response, focus more on how you made your school or community a better place than the awards or recognition you might have received for doing so. Stay humble!

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? (250-350 words)

This prompt is a great choice for you if there are aspects of your character, history, background, academics, or otherwise which haven’t naturally fit into the rest of your application but which feel crucial to your self-representation to the UC schools. Do not use this essay response as an opportunity to list your activities, list the prizes you’ve won, or discuss your impressive grades or test scores. These factors are all extremely important, but they’ll appear elsewhere in your application, so to discuss them here would be redundant.

Instead, this essay response is a place to tie your unique qualities and/or experiences to the values and expectations of a UC admissions officer. Before answering this question, thoroughly research the admission criteria for the UC schools, and consider touching upon (subtly if possible, and definitely with humility) how you fit these criteria, highlighting aspects of yourself which are not otherwise seen in your application. And most importantly, be yourself! Admissions officers don’t want to accept robots with a 36 on their ACT. Rather, they seek nuanced, intelligent, driven individuals with three-dimensional personalities. So bring your authentic self to the page.

If you need help polishing up your UC essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.

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How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

University of California Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

The following essays were written by several different authors who were admitted to University of California (UC) schools and are intended to provide examples of successful UC essays. All names have been redacted for anonymity. Please note that has shared these essays with admissions officers within the University of California system in order to deter potential plagiarism.

For our 2020-2021 University of California Essay Guide, click here . For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-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.

Three thousand, four hundred and seventy one dollars. That was the bill for the hotel room expenses alone for our thirty member excursion. And those were the least of my worries for the weekend. Between drilling wood pieces into a working frame for Air Trajectory and tying a knot in floss to build a pendulum, I was running down the halls, talking to worried parents on the phone, anatomy textbook in hand. The other captains study while I ensure everyone eats dinner and sleeps by 2am, responsible as the school’s sole legal representative for ensuring typical high school shenanigans of music blasting didn’t manifest into real danger. Despite the challenges, I love how self-sufficient we are. North Hollywood students are greeted with an association of, “Aren’t you that school that crushes us in Science Olympiad?” followed by a joking, “Stop!” We don’t have a single adult teaching us, whether in learning to use power tools or conducting flame tests.

As the only member of the Science Olympiad team with four years of experience, I carry weight with seniority and position, but also a nostalgia for friendships dimmed as team members graduate. When others concentrated solely on performing well at competition, I couldn’t disagree however heart-wrenching it felt — but I wanted a strong team dynamic, a home for us at school. So I worked on producing it, forming mentorship programs, pairing up freshmen with upperclassmen in events. Whether teaching about mosquito reproduction in standing water or the equivalent of a statistics course I had yet to take, my own enthusiasm seeping into a bobbing ponytail, all I hope for is a continuation of the “FamilyOly” I’ve grown to love.

Science Olympiad was a microcosm of the larger school, where competition ran in the very veins of the institution. But to me, it had become a family evolving with my role, from the little sister of the team to finally the senior captain.

Why this University of California School essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

This essay prompt was meant for the author. This essay works because the author not only demonstrates their leadership skills throughout, but highlights the qualities and characteristics that make her a successful leader. The author successfully conveys that she is involved in every aspect of leading her Olympiad team, and even picks up the slack when needed. You get the sense that even though it’s stressful for her at times, she truly enjoys the experience and the connections she has made throughout her four years on the team.

The admissions officers learn that this is a dedicated student with grit. Not only has she committed to this extracurricular throughout high school, she has been impactful within the organization as demonstrated by the mentorship program she created and the active role she takes in ensuring the team’s overall success. Furthermore, the author shows a vulnerable side proving that though she is obviously driven, she has layers.

Beyond demonstrating her leadership, she effectively shows the admissions committee the type of student she will be on campus and how she will possibly contribute to the community. An admissions officer will likely finish reading this essay feeling that this is a student they want on campus!

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.

440 Hz exactly. The flames flare to life, forming the perfect wave length as I transitioned from note to note, the curves transitioning along. My classmates crowded around as I sang (shouted?) into the Ruben’s tube, a simple PVC pipe with holes cut at even intervals so that high notes translated to beautiful waves of flames.

The fight to get a vocal teacher in the first place was an uphill run. Singing, unlike playing the piano or learning to draw, wasn’t deemed worthy of spending money on – wasn’t even seen as a skill. After multiple pitches, I finally got my way, just a foot in the door: one month.

It was an odd request from a girl raised to be stringent with money, knowing that a few hours of lessons was equivalent to a new pair of tennis shoes to replace her mother’s long-broken in ones. It started with a classmate’s hate list – number 1? Me. For my voice – -the single-most confusing criterion. I couldn’t change my speaking voice. But in an environment which valued acapellas and Barbershop choirs, singing – singing I could improve on.

Six years later, I’m still driving down to lessons every week. I haven’t performed outside of karaokes, I haven’t released recordings to the public, and there’s no record of my voice anywhere in the public eye. But years of vocal exercises and training has done so much for me, even outside of music in strengthening tone and amplitude.

It wasn’t until high school that I could reap the benefits, not byway of choir, but through debate. Walking into round meant adopting an entirely new persona, a thick-skinned, articulate force to be reckoned with. Crossfire was my time to shine, to show how I could twist their arguments to fit my logic, and win. My best tournament came with a topic that coincided with my interests – genetically modified foods. In wielding knowledge of biology, from the damages of fertilizer to individual agricultural efficiency methods, we not only won all rounds undefeated, but managed to score the top speaker position and of course a trophy to signify my newly-found voice.

I remember standing in an half empty auditorium, standing far away from the students, pitching my virtues as a secretary for a middle school honor society. My arguments were sound, as the first row of students mentioned to me later, nodding along. But with the counselor repeating, like an endless drone – speak louder, yell – the simple repetition of my spiel simply lost its use. I sat down with never-mind-eyes cast to the floor, withdrawing from the election.

The author of this essay took an interesting approach to highlighting her creativity by weaving in examples of finding and using her voice in various situations. Two of the qualities that her stories convey is resilience and fortitude. This is demonstrated by the fact that she had been picked on and overlooked as a child but was able to find her voice and confidence, albeit in an unexpected way, through vocal lessons. As an added bonus, the admissions officers also learn about some of the student’s academic and extracurricular interests such as biology, food science, and debate.

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

My chest is burning, my eyes are stinging, and my legs are numb. A thousand thoughts are passing through my brain, but I cannot grasp any of them. All I can do is keep pushing forward. Strangely enough, it is this moment when I feel most alive and connected with the universe. This is my life under water. I have been a swimmer since I was eight years old, for both a swim club and a high school team. In the water, the stress and anxiety from school fades away, allowing me to relax in peace and tranquility.

The best swimmers are 5’10” with broad shoulders and huge feet. These characteristics are advantages during competitions because the athletes are able to move faster in the pool without being pushed back by the waves. I am not a typical swimmer. I am half- Black and half- Mexican, topping out at a whopping 5’0″. My skills are not Olympic-bound, but I am passionate about the sport despite the fact that I initially felt like an outlier.

Even though I used to get lonely when swimming, I found a huge amount of joy in being a part of the sport at my high school. Our team started off with only six members, most of whom had never even been to a swim meet before. Eventually we gained enough participants and experience to compete against other schools. We were neither the largest nor the fastest team, but I did not care. I had finally found a group of people I connected with. More importantly, I found a group with whom I could share my passion. The daily routine of striving to perfect our techniques formed a bond between us that resulted in the sense of a family. I felt honored when I was chosen as captain and MVP; however, my deepest honor was simply having opportunity to join the team.

After I graduate, I hope that the swim team continues to prosper. Then, maybe it will become another young girl’s safe haven, the way the sport has always been mine.

Why this University of California essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

This essay works because it’s touching and speaks to the admissions officers’ emotional side. This applicant scores high on the likability factor. As a reader you are able to quickly connect with the author and find yourself cheering for them. The student comes across as dedicated, determined, humble, appreciative, caring, and sincere – which is a lot to accomplish in just 350 words.

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

“Hi, this is Teen Line, what’s bothering you tonight?” That simple phrase rings through the tiny room, merely enough space for a few desks and chairs. On one end of the line is a teenager, sharing stories of anything from the dark dread of depression and anxiety to a plea for a savior from the downward spiral of suicide. A tearful voice, desperate for help – a girl barely in high school, suffering at the hands of her “friends” and on the brink of suicide, complete with a plan to choke herself with a dog leash.

It’s another hard-hitting story for the night, one that affects all the listeners in the room. But by the end of the hour, we’ve not only managed to get her resources like the National Suicide Hotline, but also managed to get her laughing. It’s a skill that is extremely hard to master, to put aside your fears of failure and empathize. To move from a situation edging on a police call to one with a girl singing songs and laughing at jokes is a seemingly impossible feat that the volunteers at Teen Line must perform every shift, one that takes a lot of inner strength.

For me, entering Teen Line was an odd activity for a family whose culture did not center around talking out feelings. Yet, I specifically sought out a suicide hotline in which a high schooler could participate; it was my chance to give back, to listen and hopefully guide those who were willing to seek help, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on. It was an opportunity to do for others what I could not obtain for myself, and for that I am grateful. Whether calls from low-income neighborhoods of the nearby Los Angeles to international Skypes of New Zealand and India, never have I felt more productive. The end of a shift always left me with the same satisfied feeling of knowing that someone who needed to be heard was acknowledged, just a small rippling effect on one caller leaving a lifetime’s worth of impression.

This is another example of an essay that speaks to the reader’s emotional side. This is an essay that sticks out not only because of its content, but because an admissions officer has a true sense of the kind of person this student is by the end. This student has a high level of maturity and is a genuinely committed young adult who readily and willingly takes on huge responsibility.

Apart from identifying the authors values and qualities, the essay is very well written. The vivid use of language draws the reader in, both time and place, on the emotional journey of that particular night.

Sometimes admissions officers have to present candidates before a larger committee. This is an example where, if it came down to it, an officer would probably fight to ensure this student is admitted to the college or university if the rest of their application materials were strong overall, but perhaps slightly weaker in some areas. Simply put, this is a student an admissions officer would want as part of their campus community.

These University of California essay examples were compiled by the advising team at . If you want to get help writing your UC application essays from Admissions Experts , register with today.

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How to Write the Academic Subject UC Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Choose your academic subject strategically, how to structure your essay, focus on the process over accomplishments, notice overlaps with other essays.

The sixth University of California personal insight question (PIQ) asks students to respond to the following prompt: 

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)

In this article, we will discuss choosing your academic subject, structuring your essay, and strategies to avoid common pitfalls. 

For more information on University of California’s other supplemental essays and writing dos and don’ts, check out our posts on how to write University of California essays and on great University of California essay examples

Think Beyond the “Headline Subject”

The first step when approaching this essay is to choose an academic subject to write about. Instead of choosing a more general “headline subject,” like physics, history or calculus, try to dig deeper and select a more nuanced, specific topic within a discipline.

Doing this allows you to show off that you are genuinely passionate about the subject you choose, and that you truly know it. This will help you stand out among the students who chose more general, common academic subject essays.

For example, if economics is the headline subject that you are interested in, you could explore sub-disciplines like econometrics, which is a mixture of economics and statistics, or monetary policy, which focuses on how the federal reserve affects the economy. To go even deeper, you could write about a hyper-specific concept like Okun’s Law, which explains the relationship between unemployment and economic growth.

Connect It to Your Intended Major

As you consider topics, keep in mind that the academic subject you choose should align with your intended major. 

While the topic does not have to be exactly the same as your intended major, it should connect in some way. For example, if you are applying as an engineering major, writing about a science or math subject will be beneficial to your application.

This essay is a great opportunity to elaborate on your intellectual interests and passions, and by doing so you help the admissions committee understand the type of person and student you are. 

Discuss Why You Find the Subject Interesting

After you choose your academic subject, the next step is to determine the structure of your essay. It is important to discuss why you find that subject appealing and interesting, and the steps you have taken to learn more about it.

Let’s continue using economics as an example. If you decide to write about Okun’s Law, you could write a story about how you became interested in learning more about it. Maybe your excitement about Okun’s Law took you down a road of discovery where you found some economics blogs that you really liked, which in turn crystallized your passion for economics and ultimately led to your habit of reading economic news for an hour each day.

An essay like that is much stronger than a simple response, such as, “I like economics, and I’ve studied it by looking at blogs.” While both essays have the same ultimate endpoint and share that you have independently studied economics through blogs, the example above approaches this prompt in a much more interesting and memorable way. 

Think Outside the Classroom

Often, the best essays for this prompt tend to focus on things that students do outside the classroom, as opposed to inside the classroom. 

While the prompt states that you can write about either, essays about exploring academic topics inside the classroom are most common. Choosing to write about how you have pursued your academic interest outside of the classroom can help your essay stand out and keep readers engaged. It also highlights how you take the initiative to learn more about, and be involved with, your academic passions outside of the classroom. Admissions officers are always looking for students with the drive and desire to learn new things, so this is a great opportunity for you to showcase this side of yourself.

Keep It Interesting

Because this prompt is so academically focused, students can sometimes end up writing essays that are too academic or dry by focusing on the concepts too heavily or relying on complex jargon. 

While it is helpful to include details that demonstrate your knowledge of a subject and keep your reader engaged, it is most important to focus on why you enjoy the subject and how it impacts your personality or mindset.

A common pitfall with this essay prompt is for students to talk mostly about their accomplishments related to a particular academic subject, like getting a strong grade in a class or winning an academic competition. 

While this information can be useful, it highlights an outcome rather than showing the reader what you actually did to develop your expertise in that subject. 

Instead, it is better to focus on the process by which you pursue the subject, learn more about it, and explore your passion and your interests. 

This PIQ prompt shares some similarities with other college essays, including Common App Prompt #6 , which reads “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

While these two essays are similar, they are not exactly the same. If you choose to reuse part or all of a Common App Prompt #6 essay for PIQ #6, make sure to adjust it accordingly so that your essay still authentically responds to the prompt.

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Successful UC Berkeley Essays

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  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. However, you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

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  • All questions are equal. All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.  
  • Use the additional comments field if there are issues you'd like to address that you didn't have the opportunity to discuss elsewhere on the application. This shouldn't be an essay, but rather a place to note unusual circumstances or anything that might be unclear in other parts of the application. You may use the additional comments field to note extraordinary circumstances related to COVID-19, if necessary. 

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal insight questions are just that—personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC. 

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. Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? 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? 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. Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career? 3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Things to consider: If there is a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it.You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule? 4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today? 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? Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family? 6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. Things to consider:  Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community? 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? Things to consider:  If there's anything you want us to know about you but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.

Writing tips

Start early..

Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.

Write persuasively.

Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.

Use “I” statements.

Talk about yourself so that we can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments and potential for success on a UC campus. Use “I” and “my” statements in your responses.

Proofread and edit.

Although you will not be evaluated on grammar, spelling or sentence structure, you should proofread your work and make sure your writing is clear. Grammatical and spelling errors can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.

Solicit feedback.

Your answers should reflect your own ideas and be written by you alone, but others — family, teachers and friends can offer valuable suggestions. Ask advice of whomever you like, but do not plagiarize from sources in print or online and do not use anyone's words, published or unpublished, but your own.

Copy and paste.

Once you are satisfied with your answers, save them in plain text (ASCII) and paste them into the space provided in the application. Proofread once more to make sure no odd characters or line breaks have appeared.

This is one of many pieces of information we consider in reviewing your application. Your responses can only add value to the application. An admission decision will not be based on this section alone.

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18 UCLA Essays That Worked (and Why) for 2023

UCLA Essay Examples

Do you want to write strong essays that'll help get you into UCLA?

In this article, you'll read and learn from 18 essays written by students who got recently accepted into UCLA and see how they did it.

If you're trying to get into the University of California, Los Angeles, these essays are a valuable resource and give you a peek into UCLA admissions.

Whether you're a student or parent of an applicant, you'll see what to do—and what not to do—when writing your UC essays.

How important are the UCLA essays?

And as of 2022, the UC system no longer uses your SAT and ACT scores to decide whether or not to admit students.

With no more test scores, that means your UC essays are even more important for your application. Besides your grades (GPA) and coursework, your essays are the most influential factor for your UC admissions.

Plus, UCLA is the most applied to school in the world, with well over 100,000 applicants each year. The University of California-Los Angeles acceptance rate is lower each year, which makes your essays even more important.

Since your UC essays matter so much, it's important to get them right.

What are the UC Personal Insight Question Prompts for 2022-23?

It's a mistake to think of the UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) as typical essays you'd write for a class.

Rather, the PIQs are a set of eight open-ended questions asked by the UC app. You must choose exactly four questions to respond to, and each response should be no more than 350 words.

Let's go over the UC Personal Insight Question prompts:

  • 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?

It can be helpful to see how other students responded to the UC Personal Insight Questions.

And since UCLA is one of the hardest UC's to get into, along with UC Berkeley , students that get accepted tend to write outstanding essay responses to the PIQs.

18 UCLA Personal Insight Question Examples

Here are the 18 best UCLA accepted essays that worked written by accepted students for each Personal Insight Question prompt #1-8.

  • UCLA Example Essay #1
  • UCLA Example Essay #2
  • UCLA Example Essay #3: Violin
  • UCLA Example Essay #4

UCLA Example Essay #5: Team Player

  • UCLA Example Essay #6: Flute
  • UCLA Example Essay #7: Optimism
  • UCLA Example Essay #8
  • UCLA Example Essay #9
  • UCLA Example Essay #10
  • UCLA Example Essay #11
  • UCLA Example Essay #12

UCLA Example Essay #13: Computer Science

Ucla example essay #14: korean big toes.

  • UCLA Example Essay #15

UCLA Example Essay #16: LGBT

  • UCLA Example Essay #17

UCLA Example Essay #18: Being Short

Ucla example essay #1: orchestra leadership.

UC PIQ #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. (350 words max)

In my freshman year of high school, I had enrolled in the String Orchestra Advanced Class which was mixed in with the Beginning class. I was the only person with experience, seven years in the Violin at the time, while most of the students in the class were beginners. I got class elected, then re-elected as President my Freshman and Sophomore years, and was First Violin, then First Viola Chair.

My first year consisted of myself and the instructor teaching the basics of each instrument. Learning a new instrument is frustrating, and there were times where older students in the class would get frustrated and unhappy that a Freshman knew more than they did.

As a leader I had to make sure I did not keep a separation between myself and my classmates. Therefore, my Sophomore year, I changed my instrument to the Viola.

By showing my classmates that I too was a beginner, and that I too had to learn because I had a new instrument -inspired the class to learn as well. My classmates no longer saw me as someone who told people to practice and not give up, yet did not have to practice or struggle themselves, but instead, as someone who was there practicing, and struggling along with them.

The Orchestra program at my school started my Freshman year as an experimental class, but the school ended the class after my Sophomore year. Though unfortunate, in the two years of its existence, my classmates went from being novices, to performers, where in the last year of the program, we performed many times for school events and finally in an orchestra conference in my Sophomore year, where judges praised our Orchestra's technique and cohesiveness.

After the class got cut, many of my classmates continued to pursue music independently, or in the District Orchestra. It is a wonderful feeling for me to see my former classmates -to this day- performing, and even teaching others, knowing that I was there when their journeys in music first began, and I look forward to seeing their musical pursuits in the future.

Why This Essay Works:

  • Tells a Story: Gives context and explains how you got this leadership position. By explaining a backstory, it reveals your motivations and what drives you.
  • Shows Takeaways and Lessons Learned: It's not enough to just talk about your achievements. Admissions officers are more interested in why they matter to you, and how you had an impact on others.

What They Might Improve:

  • Fix Capitalization: It's not necessary to capitalize improper nouns like "violin", "viola", and "orchestra".
  • Sentence Flow: Make sure your sentences aren't too long and don't have unnecessary breaks, which can interrupt the flow.

UCLA Example Essay #2: Volunteer Leadership

My group and I spent a total of seven hours preparing five hundred bagged lunches for the extensive homeless community at Oakland. Out of all the obstacles that could have halted our progress, rain was the last thing on our minds. We were lucky enough to distribute three hundred lunches before the rain began to relentlessly pour down on us. There were a few hours left of daylight before we would be able to eat Iftar for Ramadan, so, an overwhelming majority of our group wanted to call it a day. However, there was still a large number of unsheltered and hungry homeless people throughout the city, and I could not bear to let all that food go to waste. So, I raced to one of our nearest vans, grabbed a bullhorn, and yelled to gather the attention of as many people as possible. I instructed them to form lines in front of our eleven vans in order to take everybody to the nearest homeless shelters with the promise of food and entertainment. We went to six other heavily concentrated areas to do the same thing, and within just five hours, nearly five hundred homeless individuals were transported.

This event is one of the dozens of community service projects I’ve performed in my role as vice-president of the youth faction of the Sudanese Association of Northern California (SANC). This Oakland food drive has left me with a sense of clarity of what it takes to get a project, event, or any other endeavor accomplished. The food drive was obviously a success, but what made this particularly memorable is the email the president of SANC sent me the following day: “You have a keen ability to synthesize and communicate anything quickly and effectively.” I realized the explicit connection between my forensics (speech and debate) career and my community service: the power that I carry in my voice can motivate others to do good. I have tried to apply this insight into each new endeavor since.

  • Specific with Numbers: Use exact numbers whenever you can to create authenticity and make it realistic. In this essay, saying "three hundred" lunches makes things concrete.
  • Connects to Academic Interests: Show how your past leadership achievements relate to what you want to do in college.
  • Stronger Conclusion: Make sure your conclusion isn't vague and has a concrete takeaway. Don't just use words like "this insight". Rather, rephrase that insight or draw a new idea from it.
  • Sentence Structure: Having too long of sentences is a common mistake students make. Instead, splitting up complex sentences can make it easier to read.

Learn the secrets of successful top-20 college essays

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UCLA Example Essay #3: Violin Creative Side

UC PIQ #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. (350 words max)

I express my creative side by playing the violin and other musical instruments. Ever since I was a younger child, music had always been a part of my life. The first instrument I remember playing is the piano when I was four years old. My school had a music program, so I went and learned how to read music and play the Recorder. Though it was a simple instrument, it was to prepare us students for the more complex instruments that we could choose to play after completing the Recorder lessons.

I took this class all of first grade, and in second grade I was ready to choose the instrument I wanted to specialize in. I chose the Violin, and now -ten years later- I am still playing it. Throughout the years I have learned to play other instruments as well, such as the Piano, Trumpet, Viola, and more. During that time I have also been able to play those instruments in different styles of music.

From second to seventh grade, I played the Violin and sung in my elementary school district's Mariachi and my middle school's Mariachi even when I did not know how to speak Spanish. I have been playing the Violin at my church's choir almost every Sunday since Seventh grade. I played the Violin and Viola in my high school's Orchestra class in Freshman and Sophomore year, and since my Junior year I have played the trumpet in my school's Jazz Band and Trumpet Choir.

My siblings have also been inspired to be creative musically, and together we perform at our church and other places, and music has become an important part in their lives as well.

Throughout my life I have been able to express my love for music in many different ways. Whether through playing with a group, doing a solo in front of an audience, composing my own music, or teaching my younger siblings how to read and play music the way I was taught many years ago, music has always been a large way that I could express my creative side.

  • Clearly Answers Prompt: For UC essays, being straightforward is not a bad thing. This essay starts off by clearly answering the prompt, before elaborating further.
  • Fix Capitalization: It's not necessary to capitalize improper nouns like "freshman" and "sophomore". An easy fix is to only capitalize proper nouns, like names of people and places.
  • Explain What's Meaningful: Admissions officers want to know more than just "what you did," but also why it was meaningful to you. Try to focus on the impact of your achievements more than just what you did.

UCLA Example Essay #4: Improvised Comedy Creative Side

I was brought into this world with an overactive imagination and an absence of siblings. My abundance of boredom and lack of playmates was solved by creating multiple characters, drawing them, and pretending to be them. When I joined theater my freshman year, I quickly fell in love because it brought me back to that childhood innocence of carelessly being someone else It was an opportunity to evaluate how I could incorporate my personality, experiences, and charisma into a character and to turn my visual concepts into a reality through doing makeup.

I was also introduced to improvised comedy. where I presented my witty and quirky side. On the other hand, working with a cast and crew was something I was unaccustomed to. but I soon saw myself becoming inspired by the surrounding creativity of others. Whether we were doing a dramatic or comedic play, we worked together to evoke an emotional response from the audience. It’s an honor to see people laugh and cry during our performances because I've connected with hundreds of people by putting my heart on a stage. In contrast, painting has been a private indulgence. Every feeling and thought trapped inside becomes free on that canvas into a beautiful visual creation. Like my mood, my paintings aren't uniform and consistent; they range from iridescent beaches to scattered splotches, yet every stroke, color. and mistake had a reason.

As my only patron, my mom couldn't always afford painting supplies, so occasionally I had to improvise with tools like spoons, paper towels, and erasers. Regardless of the tools I was using, my paintings were reflection of myself. The progression of my work is an exhibit of my struggles, success, and how I became who I am today. Painting is not about the finished product; it's about the journey and the lessons I've learned to get there. My creativity is not limited to the arts, but is embedded my appearance, mindset, and career path in solving mental health issues. Creativity, to me, is putting bits and pieces of myself into doing what I love.

  • Strong First Sentence: Starting off with interesting ideas is the best way to get the reader hooked. It doesn't need to be complicated, but find your most interesting idea and start there.
  • Connects Multiple Extracurriculars: Finding multiple examples in your life to explain your answer can make your essay stronger. Rather than focusing on just one activity, how do your activites relate with a common theme?
  • Great Conclusion: A strong conclusion is often one that expands on your ideas or connects to something more universal. Try restating your main idea and add a twist or expand on it.
  • Make Each Paragraph Distinct: Each paragraph should have one central idea or topic. It's better to split up your essay into many paragraphs because it makes it easier for the reader and better organized.

UC PIQ #3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words max)

My greatest talent would be relating to and inspiring others. Throughout my time in school I have demonstrated that talent by becoming a leader where I was trusted by my teachers and peers. It began in 5th grade when I was voted to become Student Council for my class, where my peers knew that I related well with them and that I would do my best to use my position to fix their issues.

In middle school, I became the Knowledge Bowl team Captain. There was a new coach, so the program was small, about five students. There were many students who wanted to join the team but felt that they were not "smart enough" to join. I recognized this and encouraged those students to join and they succeeded. By the end of the year, our team was 3rd in the district overall statistically standing, our highest ranking in a while.

In high school I joined JROTC as a Freshman, and I became a Platoon Sergeant my Junior year. My job for the semester was to teach and motivate cadets in the program. Some cadets did not do well with authority, and felt attacked when other class leaders would be assertive. As a leader I took a different approach, and related to my cadets. My platoon was constantly noted as being a well-rounded platoon by our instructors, and I received the Non-Commisioned Officer Leadership Award.

In Academic League, motivation was key to our team's success. Sometimes personal problems would affect a member of the team, so I showed them I could relate to their struggles and still believe in their ability to help the team. In times when we would be losing in a match, I would inspire the team to keep pushing on, and to remain positive. That year our team placed 5th in the district -again a highest ranking in a while- and I was voted as "Most Inspirational" by the team.

Throughout the years, relating to and inspiring others has been a skill that has allowed me to make great connections with so many people.

  • Uses Multiple Examples: Backing up your answer with various examples from your life makes your case stronger.
  • Unique Take: Rather than thinking of a skill in the literal sense, this author uses a more abstract skill. Sharing your unique perspective is key to having interesting ideas.
  • Show Why It Matters: In addition to explaining your greatest skill or talent, you should tell why it is meaningful. What are the takeaways and how will you use this skill going forward in college?

UCLA Example Essay #6: Flute Greatest Talent

Just when we think we figured things out, the universe throws us a curveball. So, we have to improvise. The universe is funny like that. Sometimes it just has a way of making sure we wind up exactly where we belong.

When I first started playing flute, I probably looked like a pufferfish choking on a clump of wasabi, but that didn't matter. Blasting deep breaths into my flute, I blew voraciously as I tried to produce a B-flat; but all I could muster was a raspy whistle.

6 years later, I was filled with pride knowing that I had worked hard enough to be selected as the concert soloist for the Youth Orchestra of Bucks County. My moment had arrived; I stand center-stage and begin Chaminade's Concertino Op. 107. Recognizing the minor scales and arpeggios, my fingers glide through the measures with absolute certainty; and with each successive measure, my breathing, tone, and articulation seemed to increasingly synchronize. Before long, the piece came to an end. Holding the D-natural farmada as long I could, I let the note fade into submission and lowered my flute. Taking a bow, I reveled in the magnitude of my hard work.

As I grew older, it became evident that I would need orthodontics and jaw reduction surgeries. With my face full of rubber and metal, I couldn't form a tight enough valve to sustain notes. I was officially back to square one. The following months were brutal, I had to put away Tchaikovsky and go back to the basics; but my effort was genuine and I gradually regained my ability to play.

Today, I consider playing flute my greatest skill. Not because I can play complex scales or win competitions, but, instead, because through the horrors of braces, learning how to double-tongue, and impossibly fast measures, I never gave up. Playing flute had crafted in me the relentless determination which I've exhibited over the past 8 years. I may not know what curveballs life will pitch to me next, but I have confidence knowing I will persevere regardless of the circumstances.

  • Strong Hook: Use your best idea at the start to immediately make the reader interested. First impressions matter, and by having a compelling first paragraph, the tone of your essay is immediately better.
  • Specific in Naming Things: Say the names of groups, places, and other things whenever you can. Being specific whenever possible makes you seem more relatable and makes your essay more interesting.

UCLA Example Essay #7: Optimism Greatest Skill

Life can be an overwhelming obstacle course, but my ability to get over any bump with a smile on my face has been my greatest strength. Maintaining an optimistic outlook has introduced me to new opportunities, made me a better leader, and helped me get through everyday life. Although my determination to get back up was built by a couple scrapes and falls. I learned about the impact of a positive attitude on others through my experience on the tennis team.

The motivation and bond my team had because of the encouragement and support from our captains has influenced my approach to interacting with others. For instance, while working with my peers, I always praise them for the effort that they put in and patiently help them. When applying this to class projects and theater productions, I saw an improvement on our performance and our accomplishments felt more satisfying and meaningful. My positive attitude is also influential during my job at a convalescent home. As an activities assistant, my objective is to get residents to participate in activities and to make them fun.

At times, it’s difficult to convince residents that a macaroni necklace is worth getting out of bed for, but I am always that friendly face that cheers them on and picks them up. Knowing that my happiness is brightening someone else's day is extremely valuable and is the fuel to my enthusiasm.

Preserving my optimism is not always easy; however, my excitement for the future retains my drive to overcome any challenge. Every opportunity given to me is taken advantage of, and if something doesn't go as planned. I am confident another door will open. Even though I enjoy focusing on the bright side of life, I'm aware that some people feel like they cant overcome their challenges alone. I recognized that I can be a hand to help people up, someone to believe in them, and a friend to conquer obstacles with. Using this positive influence is the very reason why I am looking forward to a career in psychology.

  • Shows Impact of Your Skill: Whenever possible, try to show how your skill/talent has impacted others. Why is your skill important? And how will you use it going forward in life?
  • Uses Humor: Having small moments of natural humor, when appropriate, makes for a more enjoyable essay. Even a small remark like "it’s difficult to convince residents that a macaroni necklace is worth getting out of bed for" is powerful.
  • Recognizes Challenges: Nobody is perfect, and even with your greatest skill or talent there are likely still shortcomings. Recognizing your challenges is important to humanize yourself and shows self-awareness.

UCLA Example Essay #8: Significant Educational Opportunity

UC PIQ #4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (350 words max)

I was going to University of Southern California for three weeks, and that was all I could think about as the school year came to a close. After finding out that I had been accepted into the Bovard Scholars program, along with one of my best friends, I could not wait for the upcoming summer. As July 16th neared, I became more and more anxious,as I did not know what to expect, but I was looking forward to this new opportunity.

The program had just been launched this year and 49 of around 500 applicants were accepted. Over the course of three weeks, the 48 other people from all over the country would be my new friends. During my time there, I would be assigned a coach who would help with the college process, whether it be working on the college application as a group or having one-on-one sessions to work on personal statements. Outside of working on college applications and essays, we had guest speakers from admissions offices, student panels where we could ask questions, career panels, and workplace visits. We also had many presentations on financial aid, fields of major, jobs, and interviews which, most of it, I did not know beforehand.

Along with all this help, we also dormed at one of the residence halls, which allowed us to experience what college life might be like. I was amazed by the diversity of people that were attending the program, and I was shocked to find out that my roommate from New York was Egyptian. We even had Resident Assistants who planned evening activities for us to further stimulate college life. However, they were not just our Resident Assistants; as we grew closer we were able to gather information from them about college.

As the program came to its end, I did not want it to stop. I had such an incredible experience and learned so much about college. I knew that the program will never truly end, though, as our coaches will continue to work with us until Spring when we are accepted into colleges.

  • Specific in Achievements: Being specific and saying "49 of around 500 applicants were accepted" creates credibility. It also helps admissions officers have context about your achievements and be able to infer how significant they really were.
  • Stronger First Sentence: Try starting your essay with ideas, rather than retelling events. Starting off with interesting ideas helps hook your reader, and you can later support those ideas with your experiences and achievements.
  • Focus on Meaning: Emphasize what your takeaways were from this educational opportunity or barrier. Admissions officers are looking for what you learned, how it affected others, and how you'll use those lessons moving forward.

UCLA Example Essay #9: Working at Health Clinic

I worked in a health clinic in the impoverished village of Amara in Sudan this summer, expecting to be assigned general administrative duties during my internship. However, those expectations were tossed out the window within the first week. I consider myself a pretty squeamish person, so the thought of blood oozing from any injury disgusts me in ways that I cannot describe in words. So naturally, I was shocked when I didn’t flinch or faint as I held the retractors of a ravaged knee during surgery. I can’t say that I confronted the daunting tasks I was given with complete confidence, but I learned from the experiences nonetheless. At times, I would question the challenging orders given to me by the faculty, but I later realized that it was due to the lack of qualified doctors and nurses at the village.

I observed eleven surgeries, ranging from liver disease to a gruesome foot infection. The clinic worked under severe pressure, as basic resources and equipment were scarce, which ended badly for some patients. There was one particular patient who did not survive a disastrous bus crash due to the unavailability of ambulances. He was laying on the floor in agonizing pain for a lingering six hours. As the viscous blood stained the white cloth that covered him when he was brought to the clinic, I felt a surge of sorrow, anger, and helplessness. It was difficult for me to come to grips with the reality that some things cannot be undone. The emotions I felt that day slowly faded, but never completely receded. I left this internship satisfied with the invaluable knowledge I obtained, but I still feel like I needed to do more. I live a relatively privileged life, and don’t have to spend each day worrying about a measly injury that could end my life. At the time, even though I thought I was worked too hard for a high school student, I now know I didn't do enough. I’m eager to return to the clinic soon, and have hopes of gaining more experience and knowledge.

  • Emphasizes the Impact: After talking about what opportunity you had or what barrier you overcame, focusing on the impact of that experience is what matters. Describing your emotions and lessons learned makes the significance of those events more clear.
  • Strong Hook: Focus on finding your best idea and using that as your first sentence. Often, starting off with a story or retelling what you did can come later and isn't as important.

UCLA Example Essay #10: Most Significant Challenge

UC PIQ #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? (350 words max)

Education has always been important in my household, but never paramount. We were always taught to put familial needs first—even before our own. My parents always emphasized the lesson that selfishness leads to bitterness and loneliness. That value is why six new members were added to my family when my father’s brother died two years ago. I did what was expected and shifted my focus from school to helping my kin.

I remember feeling a mosaic of emotions—apprehension, prudence, and displacement—as I greeted them at the airport. The five-hour-long ride back home was awkward and somber, and the complete silence said so much more than words could. We were all just afraid of what the future had in store for us. My step aunt, my two older cousins and the three younger ones were all compassionate, loving people. Yet, I couldn't seem to shed this foreboding feeling the first time we all entered our house. Every passing week made our financial situation more tenuous. So, my brother and I volunteered to help our dad at his small pharmaceutical wholesale business after he laid off two employees. We worked after school three days a week and would return home around 8:30.

That year of juggling school with my new obligations at home and my father’s business was emotionally and physically wrenching. However, I don't pity myself and I wouldn't go back to change anything because I learned so much about my character in that year. I realized that my parent’s belief in selflessness had shaped me into a more capable person because I was able to sacrifice time from socializing and classes to contribute, in some way, to my family. And even though I was concerned that I would hurt my academic performance, I stuck to my promises. That inexplicable sense of uneasiness I felt at the airport was caused by anxiety in anticipating the new demands that could potentially exhaust me. Thankfully, the challenges prepared me for the academic rigor for my junior year, my senior year, and hopefully, for university.

  • Vulnerable and Authentic: Talking about personal stories can be difficult, but often your vulnerable experiences have a lot of meaning. Being vulnerable also makes you more personable and relatable.
  • Explains Realizations: Rather than focusing on what happened, focus on the impact of it and why it's meaningful. How will these past experiences and academic challenges affect you going forward?
  • Stronger Conclusion: Try to connect your ending back to the beginning while expanding on it or connecting it to a universal idea. Alternatively, leave your conclusion more open ended.

UCLA Example Essay #11: Educational Challenge

Growing up, I tackled the challenge of school without much guidance from anyone other than my older sister, who is one grade higher. When I was at the young age of just five, my parents divorced and my sister and I were left with our dad, who we did not see often. Because our time with him was limited to driving us to school and home and dinner, we could not ask him for much help with homework or projects. Most of the time, we did the work ourselves or asked our uncle and aunt for help when they came on Saturdays. By the time we reached middle school, I was in more advanced classes, and although my dad had received an Associate’s Degree, he did not take advanced classes like I did, so he was unable to provide much help. My dad only took math up to geometry, and his English was not as fluent as mine, preventing him from providing much help.

Once I enrolled in high school, I was able to get help from teachers, programs, and even my sister. With this newfound help, I overcame the struggle of not knowing what to do in school and life, and I learned that help is always there, but I just needed to ask. Throughout my time in high school, I became more motivated than I was before to do the best I can and overcome anything that comes my way. I was able to do this with help from others, and I will continue to strive for greatness, overcoming any obstacles. Without the help of others, I would not have had the success that I have had in school. My good grades are a testament to the help that I have received in order for me to be where I am now. Although I can say that I have overcome this challenge, there is still one last hurdle, which is to graduate from high school, attend college, and apply everything I have learned to the real world.

  • Honesty: Authenticity is most important for your essays. By revealing personal details such as your family life and struggles, you can bring admissions officers into your world.
  • Sense of Gratitude: Showing a sense of appreciation and self-awareness makes you immediately more likeable. Nobody succeeds alone, so how did others in your life help you overcome difficulties?
  • Provide Clarification: Some parts could be given more context, such as "why is your dad not as fluent in English?". You could use this as an opportunity to talk about your cultural background and create a more clear picture of yourself for the reader.

UCLA Example Essay #12: Self-Improvement Challenge

The saying "you can be your own worst enemy" was the embodiment of the time I hit lowest point. Finishing my 22-hour days, I expected to lay down in bed close my eyes, and smile: thinking about all my accomplishments. Instead, I was sleep deprived, rapidly losing and gaining weight, and unhappy.

As a result, I stopped being able to focus and my grades began to fall. I lost motivation and the only reason I did anything was because of my obsession with completion. In this vulnerable state, I would tell myself I was useless and shy away from taking opportunities. I started to question if could get out of the hole I dug. Ironically, I have always been an optimist. I thought about the many things I wanted to do and I wouldn't be able to do any of them from a hospital bed.

Seeing the bright light ahead of me, I moved forward to a journey of self-improvement. First, I isolated myself from things that were affecting my happiness through finding a place where I could peacefully think about why I was enduring so much pain, regularly eat, and get some sleep. When I came back from my retreat, I continued my routine which improved my health and performance in school. The greatest outcome was my realization that I was compensating for my lack of self-esteem, I've been trying to get validation from my parents and peers by trying to be perfect, but when my friends left me and my parents didn't notice my efforts I overworked myself.

It was hard to stop searching for approval, yet the support of close friends and acknowledging that I'm doing everything I'm capable of, revealed to me what its like to love yourself. From then on, I determined my self worth, no one else. Now that I found my own drive and am confident, I don't have to beg for friends. struggle to maintain grades, skip meals, or lose sleep. Presently, I can say I am no longer my worst enemy: we're like friends that get closer every day.

  • Vulnerability: Showing your shortcomings and difficulties is important to reveal how you've grown and changed. Revealing your perspective and emotions also shows that you have self-awareness.
  • Provide More Explanation: Don't assume that the reader will remember everything about you. For essays like this, give more context. Answer questions that will come up in the reader's mind, like "Why did you have 22-hour days?".

UC PIQ #6: Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words max)

An academic subject that inspires me is Computer Science. Computers have fascinated me ever since a young age. I used my first computer when I was 4 years old- the Apple Macintosh Performa. I began learning about how computers worked in first grade, where I had my own Windows XP computer. I did not know what I was doing when I clicked through the thousands of files that made the computer run, but it was fascinating, and almost seemed like magic. I knew that a career with computers had to be in my future.

My fascination with computers took a new meaning in freshman year, when I decided to learn how to program. I did not know where to start, so I just typed in the search browser, "how to start programming". That day, I started with the Processing Language. It was a simple language to learn, but it built the foundation for my furthered interest in the computer programming aspect of Computer Science. After a couple months of using Processing, I learned HTML/CSS and JavaScript. These languages would allow me to program a wider range of applications. Soon enough, I became bilingual in the languages of computers. As time went on throughout my freshman and sophomore years I exposed myself to more languages like SQL, Batch Scripting, and in junior year, Java.

In my junior year I took AP Computer Science A, and finally after all the years of loving computers, I was able to take Computer Science as a class where I learned the Java language. I also furthered my interest in Computer Science by integrating it with the Engineering club on campus, using the Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

This year I am in Computer Integrated Manufacturing, where I can implement my knowledge of Computer Programming into Engineering, through the use of Corel Draw with the Laser Cutter Printer and AutoDesk Inventor and OpenGL C++ Code with the CAD 3-D Printing machine.

Computer Science has always been a part of my life inside and outside of the classroom, and I seek to continue pursuing it as my major.

  • Connects Interests to Extracurriculars: Showing how your activities relate to your passions reveals your motivations and what drives you. By connecting to extracurriculars, it also creates a more complete picture of your application.
  • Specific In Naming Things: Whenever you are able to, being specific is better than being vague. By naming programming languages and classes, the story becomes more compelling.
  • Explain Why These Things Interest You: What is the root aspect of your interests that intrigue you? Try explaining how you feel when doing these activities and what motivates you. Admissions officers want to know how these interests developed, and more importantly, why they developed.

UC PIQ #7: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words max)

I am "Korean big toes", "a water panda in disguise", and "Mr. Sweatface" - these are the nicknames I happily accepted over the years. My life was a buoyant bubble, full of gratification, funny nicknames, and simple pleasures; but that changed when I was confronted with the inhumane conditions of the LGBT centers around my town.

Stepping into the stone-house building, a few things immediately caught my attention. The rooms were small, full of broken furniture, smelled of mold, and had poor lighting; moreover, there was no privacy and extremely limited resources. It was obvious that the facility didn't have the funds to sustain itself, let alone help anyone trying to assimilate back into society. My heart ached as I realized the advantages I had been taking for granted; the idealistic mirage of reality I previously held, was now replaced by an overwhelming truth: Life isn't fair. Everyone in that facility had been criminalized for their sexuality, and I was going to do something about it!

Over the next few weeks, I brainstormed ideas and eventually decided on creating a blog where I would share the stories of anyone who was willing to speak up for change. The clickety-clack of my keyboard filled the common rooms of LGBT centers around my city. I slowly-but-surely interviewed the residents of these homes, recording stories of inequality and discrimination. As I uploaded each story to my blog, I felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that I was breaking down barriers and fulfilling my passions. Furthermore, reading the comments flooding my inbox, I realized that although the LGBT centers in my area still remain underfunded, I had made an impact on individuals through my blog and did something for a community I genuinely cared about. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.

In my quest to create change, I forged a new nickname for myself -- "advocate"; except, unlike the titles I was bestowed as a kid, this nickname represented my creativity, ingenuity, and passion, and for those reasons, it is more precious than anyone will ever know.

  • Vivid Descriptions: Painting a picture can make your stories immediately more interesting. By using descriptive language and word choice, your stories have more life to them.
  • Conclusion That Connects to Beginning: Try connecting your ending back to the beginning, but with a new perspective or take. By bringing your essay full circle, it creates a sense of cohesiveness.
  • Name Things Specifically: Rather than being general and saying "LGBT centers", the author could name one specifically. Since not everyone may be faimilar with the concept of "LGBT centers", it helps make your essay more concrete and easier to interpret.

UCLA Example Essay #15: Empowering Others Through Peer Tutoring

I never thought that I would tutor other people after school, but that was what I did my junior year and now in my senior year. During my freshman and sophomore years, I was the one being tutored by upperclassmen who had taken my classes before. Receiving help from others inspired me to become a tutor my junior year so I could give back and share the opportunity that I had. At first, I was not sure if I would be up to the task, as I did not feel confident in my teaching abilities in various subjects. As time went on, however, I became at ease and comfortable tutoring anyone the more I tutored along with my peers.

Every day from Monday through Thursday, I went to library as much as I could to help tutor with others from 3 to 4 o’clock, and it slowly became a part of my daily schedule. To begin with, I was not the greatest teacher, but as I helped more and more, I gradually became better at it due to teaching the same concepts repeatedly. Not only was I helping the person I was tutoring understand the subject, but I also was becoming better at the subject by teaching it. Teaching a subject allowed me to relearn concepts and ideas that I had forgotten, as well as studying for a subject if I was tutoring a classmate.

Motivated by wanting to help other students, I was able to be at tutoring most days, and this led to me receiving a tutoring award at my school’s California Scholarship Federation banquet at the end of the year. It was a surprise to me as I was not expecting to be honored. To me, the best award was the satisfaction of helping others understand how to do homework questions and them being grateful for the help. Although this year tutoring is not being held in the library yet, I joined another club that tutors after school for the time being so I can continue helping others and spread my knowledge.

  • Shows Their Realizations: Realizations and new understanding are how people change. That's why its important to look for what lessons you learned, and what you took away from your activities.
  • Explain Why: Try to predict what questions will arise in the reader's mind, and answer those questions. For this essay, one question that is unanswered is "Why did you never think you would tutor other people?".

UC PIQ #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? (350 words max)

This was the night. Clenching my fists, I called my dad over. Maybe it was the adrenaline coursing through my veins or maybe just suspense, but time seemed to freeze as anxiety washed over my consciousness. A million doubts flooded my mind as I dreaded what would come next. The pitter-patter of his feet hitting the tile floor brought me back to reality. My dad had always loved and supported me, I just had to trust that things would be alright.

In a quivering voice, my hands shaking, I explained to my dad that I was gay. After a brief moment of silence, my dad said ten words that completely changed my life: "I raised you completely wrong, get out of my house". I was devastated, but I wasn't surprised. This was the same person physically forced pork down my throat when I told him I wanted to become a vegetarian; who would hit me and my mom if either of us voiced dissenting opinions; and the same person who would come home drunk and threaten to kill us. With tears running down my cheeks, I packed my belongings and drove my 98' Nissan Pathfinder away from my home. From that night on I learned to be brave, to follow my dreams, and to fight for what I believe in.

The next few years were tough. In my community, being gay was unacceptable and embracing my identity meant enduring the consequences. I will never forget being dragged into a storage room and choked or hiding the bruises I got from being pelted by textbooks. But looking back, I realize that the lessons I learned drove me towards success. They inspired me to be relentless and graduate early, to surpass expectations by doing college-credit classes, and remain strong in the face of oppression and adversity. Moving forward, as I look to broaden my education horizons, I know that I have the emotional vitality to success wherever I go. So I want to dedicate this essay to my dad and to everyone who made me strong, thank you.

  • Honest and Vulnerable: Talking about personal stories can be impactful. Often the most difficult stories are the ones that need to be shared.
  • Explains Your Perspective and Emotions: Sharing how you felt in a certain moment can allow the reader to "be in your shoes." By telling your perspective, you allow admissions officers to better understand your experience.
  • Focus On Takeaways: Although stories are important, what matters more is the lessons and takeaways from those stories. The majority of your essay should be focused on those ideas, with a smaller portion where you talk about what actually happened.

UCLA Example Essay #17: Fostering Inclusive Leadership

All around us, the world is dominated by big voices, people who can present themselves positively and effectively elaborate on their opinions. Many of our most successful politicians carve their paths to the top through their charisma and articulate language. Unfortunately, while many of them possess a strong voice, many of them don’t possess that same strength in listening. While their job is to represent the people, there is a large disconnect between their perspective and the perspectives of their citizens. Even in Congress, civilized debate has transformed into a shouting battle, where both parties attempt to push their ideas, but neither side is willing to listen.

In contrast, a leader with an open ear, an open mind, and an open heart is exactly what I bring to the table. I believe that everyone has a unique story to share. From the most flamboyant billionaires to the people living on the streets, every single person possesses their own unique set of skills, perspective, and knowledge that can be useful to learn from. Because of this, I make it my priority to listen to and understand the human behind each team member I work with. In recognizing each person’s strengths and weaknesses, I’m able to build a positive environment in which every person is able to reach their maximum potential.

For example, when it comes to group projects, I always make sure to know the personalities of those I’m working with and create a transparent and inclusive environment that is conducive to productivity. Rather than dishing out assignments and deadlines, I make sure everyone is able to contribute in a way that matches their strengths and skills. Furthermore, by creating such a transparent atmosphere, group members are able to understand each other’s situations and help each other out like an actual team, allowing everyone to be both productive and pleased.

With all the divisiveness that is taking place in the country today, it is more necessary than ever to have open-minded leaders such as myself to help bring this campus and this nation together.

  • Strong Hook Sentence: Using a thought-provoking idea to start your sentence immediately draws the reader in. By having a unique take on the world, people want to read more and are interested by your thoughts.
  • Using Examples to Explain: For abstract ideas and concepts, try using a real life example to make things more clear. Capture the essence of your ideas and find what is at the core of them.

Stepping foot in public has been like opening a floodgate to questions and comments about the one thing that I've been looked down upon my entire life for - my height. Standing out because I was 4'9" wasn't something I was proud of; I was picked last for sports, not taken seriously, and often used as a human arm rest. My mom warned me life was going to be hard if I didn't drink my milk. However, people aren't aware that my appearance is a deception and what makes me extraordinary is that I've outgrown myself. People should be asking me how a person so "big" can fit into a girl so tiny. I have a huge personality, dreams, goals, and a plethora of talent. My achievements earned me such a high standing that I do know what the weather is like up there, yet, my head is never in the clouds because my distance from the ground makes me down to earth.

My only oddity is that my anatomy has grown out of proportion. It's hard to believe that with such short arms, I can extend them long enough to touch hearts with my art and performances. I have been devoted to helping people and educating myself ever since I was young, but who knew that my brain and heart would become so gigantic? Despite my how big my brain is, I keep my head as small as my body because I value letting others know that I'll never overlook them.

Although I haven't hit as many significant growth spurts as the average person. I grow with ambition every day, considering every moment a step closer to success. Being able to pursue my passions at a university will allow me to continue maturing into a person who will one day be looked up to by many. The reader of my response cannot see the facade that has been the subject of many peoples first impressions of me. instead, they will observe that even though I can't reach the top shelf, I can still reach my goals in life.

  • Using Metaphors: Explaining something ordinary (like being short) in an unusual or not-so-common way can show your unique take on it. By using metaphors, you can connect seemingly unrelated ideas together.

What can you learn from these UCLA essays?

These UC essays are not perfect—nor should they be—but each has interesting ideas and a unique perspective.

Compared to some private university essays , UC essays are relatively straightforward.

So focus on making each UC essay express one interesting idea as your answer.

Here's my top 4 lessons for UCLA essays:

  • Avoid too much storytelling and descriptions. You only have 350 words, so focus on ideas.
  • Answer every part of the prompt, clearly. Avoid implying your answer. Make sure your idea is crystal clear and relevant.
  • Showcase a different aspect of yourself with each essay. Avoid re-using topics, unless you're taking a very different angle.
  • Show your thinking. As with all successful essays, your thinking is most important.

Also applying to UC Berkeley?

I've collected additional essays from admitted Cal students that are completely unique from these UCLA essays.

If you're interested, check out these our essays that worked for UC Berkeley .

Which UCLA essay that worked was your favorite? Let me know!

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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College Admissions , College Essays


The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.


Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018


Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.


Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.


Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.


An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.


An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.


Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.


#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .


What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Middle School Initiative

Middle School Initiative expects to boost college access

Getting the right classes in middle school means getting into college

amazing uc essays

Typical 13-year-olds may not realize it, but the classes they take in middle school can determine whether they will go to college. 

For instance, students who don’t take algebra by the 9th grade most likely will never later take high school physics or calculus—classes that are important for college admissions.

Joi Spencer

“The data shows us that getting into college is based on the courses that you were given, or not given, in middle school,” said Joi Spencer, the dean of UC Riverside’s School of Education.

“It is not only about what kids decide. It's also about what gets decided for them,” she added. “The challenging part is that a lot of times the children and their families simply do not know what classes they should take.”

To boost college access, UCR’s School of Education is reaching out to Inland Empire middle school students and their families through a Middle School Initiative aimed at helping them get on the right academic track for college.

The initiative includes:

•    Sponsoring an essay contest in which middle school students are asked to write about the role of education in their lives. •    Sending representatives to eighth-grade promotion ceremonies to reach out to students and parents. •    Establishing a   STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Academy summer day camp for middle school students on the UCR campus to expose them to the wonders of college.

middle school initiative

The School of Education is approaching the initiative with a sense of urgency because of a disparity in the number of Inland students who don’t take the classes they need to go to a state university, Spencer said.

Less than half—48%—of Inland Empire high school graduates in 2023 completed the coursework they would need to apply for college in the University of California and California State University systems, according to Growing Inland Achievement , an Inland Empire educational collaborative group, which includes UCR. Inland graduates lagged their peers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where 60% and 57%, respectively, completed such coursework.

What’s more, Inland Empire minoritized students fared worse than their white and Asian peers, with only 41% and 44% of African American and Hispanic students, respectively, completing college prep classes with a “C” grade or better to be considered for UC or CSU admissions.

The Middle School Initiative works to increase those numbers. It is a broad umbrella events and activities to help young people develop stronger academic identities and defeat systems and structures that inhibit their access to education, Spencer said.

“We know that young people begin to define themselves at this age, but they also begin to be defined by society,” Spencer said. “Maybe some people see you as a football kid. And that's okay. But could you also be a football kid and a science kid?”

The STEAM Academy will run this summer as a pilot program for two weeks between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the UCR campus with slots for 60 students. The students will be broken into smaller groups or “pods,” each led by UCR undergraduate and graduate student mentors.

“They will be exposed to a really rich and super interactive series of experiences in visual mathematics, engineering, and of all kinds of science and arts,” Spencer said.

Participating families will not be charged. The students are being recruited through Inland Empire school districts. Spencer expects the academy to grow in the coming years and to be offered to as many as 120 middle school students.

“Students and families need to know we are here, and we're thinking about what's coming next for them,” Spencer said.  

Header image: Stock photograph by Getty Images

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"If she's Kenyan then it's not news", " Totally Smashed"- Fans react to Beatrice Chebet's 10k world record run at Prefontaine Classic 2024

K enyan middle-distance runner Beatrice Chebet has once again scripted history, this time in the women's 10,000m. Racing at the Prefontaine Classic, the 24-year-old clocked a 28:54.14, establishing a new world record and leaving fans excited.

Going into the competition, Chebet had her work cut out in order to take the win. While already a world record holder in the women's road 5k event, the Kenyan hadn't raced a 10,000m in over four years. Her last appearance in the event came at the AK Meeting in March of 2020. Additionally, she faced a deep field at the Prefontaine Classic, including the likes of Gudaf Tsegay.

However, come race day in Eugene, the Kenyan managed to hold her own in the opening few rounds, before starting to pull ahead with three laps to go.

Beatrice Chebet crossed the finish line in a stunning 28 minutes and 54.14 seconds, becoming the first woman to ever dip under the 29 minute mark. Hot in pursuit was Ethiopian Tsegay, clocking a 29:05.92, history's third-fastest time, to place second.

Reacting to this feat of athleticism by Chebet, fans took to X (formerly Twitter) to congratulate and compliment the sprinter. One fan wrote:

"If she's Kenyan then it's not news. It's new normal. Congratulations Chebet 👏👏👏"

Another netizen commented on the dominant fashion in which Chebet claimed the world record, writing:

"Wow. It's not often you see records so totally SMASHED! What an amazing achievement."

Here is how a few other fans reacted to Beatrice Chebet scripting a new 10,000m world record at the Prefontaine Classic.

"An incredible milestone. Great to see these barrier breakers," one fan wrote .
"That's wow. Can't wait for the Olympics ," another chimed in .
"10km in less than 29m is not an easy feat. Congratulations," one X user wrote .
"Underrated champion. Congratulations girl," yet another fan joined in .

Beatrice Chebet discusses her record breaking performance at the Prefontaine Classic

For Beatrice Chebet, breaking the 10,000m world record gave her an automatic entry to the event at the Paris Olympics. With her time of 28:54.14, the Kenyan managed to shave nearly four minutes off of her previous personal best and seven seconds from Letesenbet Gidey's previous world record of 29.01.03.

Dissecting her record breaking performance, Chebet explained that she felt her body working well with her, telling AP:

"My body was responding good and I felt strong. I felt like I was very comfortable."

Despite this impressive performance in the 10,000m, the Kenyan is still focused on the shorter race for the 2024 Games:

"My target is to run 5,000 first, then 10,000 comes second. Because this is my first 10,000 outside the country to run, and I'm so happy to run 28, a world record."

Beatrice Chebet has already clicked the necessary 14:52 in the 5,000m that will allow her to run the distance in Paris. With her awe-inspiring performances, the Kenyan is set to be a major show-stealer later this summer.

"If she's Kenyan then it's not news", " Totally Smashed"- Fans react to Beatrice Chebet's 10k world record run at Prefontaine Classic 2024


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