Writing a University of California Application Essay: Essay Prompts for 2019-2020

If you wish to know how to get into the University of Southern California, the information provided below will be useful for you.

The UC (University of California) system is one of the most reputable and prestigious in the USA and is comprised of nine universities for undergraduates i.e. UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz. Potential candidates are required to submit a university of California application essay in order to be admitted to the college of their choice. Of the listed colleges, six made the top fifty in World Report and US News’ 2017 college ratings, and of these UC Berkley and UCLA were ranked as high as 21. The total number of enrollments at UC schools is over 250,000, and each of the above campuses has approximately students at undergraduate level.

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Each University of California school has its own web portal and the closing date for applications is 30th November, a whole month before the due date for Common Applications. Every UC school accepts the Common Application system and so applying to a number of UCs is easy provided finances allow it. Writing a university of California application essay can be something of a challenge and you are required to answer four of eight questions of the personal insight variety as part of the process, with a limit of 350 words per prompt. While the UC prompts can at first appear daunting, the team is always on hand to help you write your application essays as successfully as possible.

Prompts for Application Essays for the University of California

If you are worried about writing a university of California application essay, then you will be pleased to know that all of the schools in the UC group require just one application. Hence, the responses you give to these prompts will be received by every UC school you submit an application to. So try to ensure your school-specific essays are devoid of mistakes (unless you are only preparing an application for one UC school).

To select the questions you want to respond to, you should first scan the list of eight essay prompts and sort these into one of the following three groupings: “definites,” “possibles,” and “totally avoid.” Upon reading the prompts, you will instantly know which ones you can answer and what your response will be so you can put these in the “definites” group. With other prompts, some vague or partial ideas will come into your mind and you may want to consign these to the “possibles” group where some of them may materialize into brilliant responses later. Then there will be prompts you will not want to touch at all and these can go into the “totally avoid” group.

Once this exercise is complete, write down a few ideas in bullet point form against the questions you know you want to respond to – the “definites.” You should next sort through your “possibles” list and select those that are likely to, when coupled with some of your “definites,” make a good essay outline that highlights your main strengths and the breadth and complexities of your character. When you are doing this, it is essential your decision-making is not solely based on topics you immediately like but also on how readily you can find substance (i.e. relevant experiences, anecdotes, etc.). Keep repeating this activity until only four feasible essay questions remain.

Provide a relevant example where you got experience in leadership and where you influenced other people in a positive way, contributed to group activities over a period of time, or got involved in resolving disputes.

In this instance, an admissions committee would want to see your experience in leadership as something more solid than just having a “treasurer” or “president” title on a resume. They will want to see how you mentored people, alleviated tension, and worked on group activities in a club or organization. Roles in leadership need not be restricted to titles held in various positions or to a school situation.

For instance, even if you were just a mere member of a basketball club, it is not to say you did not take the lead in organizing fundraisers or tournaments. If indeed you have held a leadership position, do your best to show the admissions committee how you influenced others in a positive way in that role.

There is a creative streak in virtually every individual and there are many different ways of expressing this: artistic dexterity, thinking in an innovative and original way, solving problems, and so on. Describe the type of expression your creativity takes.

In describing creative flair as, and without being restricted to, artistic dexterity, innovative thinking, and solving problems, this essay prompt extends the term to embrace every field of academic endeavor. So, do not let this prompt put you off if you do not fit into the conventional meaning of being “creative”, e.g., a poet or artist. The ability to solve problems enables an individual to find their creative side in everyday activities, for example, developing a foot massage contraption for people with problematic feet.

Some Examples of Creativity:

  • Developing something other than a math textbook to prove complex theorems.
  • Integrating new quantitative technological mechanisms to help political operators understand voter patterns.
  • Looking for places of “inspiration” to set the scene for your next English language story.
  • Finding scientific solutions for the provision of affordable treatment to people diagnosed with HIV.
  • Writing an article for a history journal setting out a new way of looking at Hitler’s invasive attack on Poland.

If properly explained, all of the above examples demonstrate some form of creativity. In an ideal situation, you would probably want to end your application essay by explaining how you would apply a creative thought process during college life and well beyond.

What do you think your best skill or talent is? How has this skill or talent developed with the passage of time and how has it been demonstrated?

While it may seem easy to provide a list of any awards you have received for your best activity, this essay prompt actually expects something more deep and meaningful. Describing a worthwhile activity, you dedicate a lot of time is fine but you should also consider the personality and character traits related to this activity i.e. traits such as compassion, honesty, and perseverance. Explain what this activity means and the beauty of it with a view to persuading the admissions committee that it takes rightful precedence over every other thing you do.

Do not feel daunted by this essay prompt if it is the case you have never won a significant award. All you are being asked to do is say what you believe your best skill or talent is.

Do not forget to talk about how this skill or talent was developed and how you have demonstrated it. Perhaps you devote some time to daily practice or put in a strenuous effort for brief periods every year. What have you done to demonstrate your skill or talent to others? Can you say you have performed to an audience, won any competitions, or showcased any artistic endeavor? Below are some examples:

  1. As a star tennis player on your school team, you have played since you were aged six or seven. Now you are your team’s captain and most valuable player (MVP) and have lead the rest of your school team to a first-time win in a prestigious competition and to second place at state-wide level. As captain it has been your task to settle several player feuds and boost player morale as seasons come to an end. This is a good place to discuss the strong leadership and team working experience you have acquired from playing tennis as part of a team.
  2. As a budding piano player, you have not won any major competitions yet or played at any major events but you have entertained the senior residents at your local care center every week without missing a week. During these visits, you discovered deep meaning in your playing and in sharing your musical gift with other people.

Explain how an important learning opportunity came your way and you took advantage of it or strived to overcome a significant barrier to your getting a good education.

Things you should consider: A learning opportunity may encompass anything that adds value to a person’s educational progress to better prepare them for the life ahead of them. Taking part in an honors enhancement program, enrolling in a school or academy that trains students for professions, or an especially insightful conversation with an older person even, and similar activities can be classified as learning opportunities.

In the event you decide to talk about any barriers you have encountered to getting a good education, describe the personal skills or characteristics you drew on to get through. How have you been affected or shaped by this process? It would be an additional advantage if you could say you passed your experience on to others and helped them benefit from the knowledge you acquired from your particular experience.

The following is a good example of a learning opportunity:

Your school was running a specialist program for which you applied and gained admission. This gave you the chance to work extensively in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) field. You choose engineering and were invited to work as an intern with some engineering firms in your locality. Here you had the opportunity of working with elementary-level students on progressive engineering projects.

The following is an example of a barrier to getting a good education:

You attended a certain school where there was no option of an honors Geography class – and there is a branch of this subject you feel passionately about. So you joined an online class. After completing your course, you approached the administrator at your school to suggest the possibility of running higher-level classes for high achievement students. As a result they said they would collaborate with a nearby community college with a view to implementing your suggestion.

Of all the challenges you have encountered, what one was the most momentous and what steps did you take to come out on the winning side? How have your academic achievements been affected by the difficulty you described?

“Challenge” is a word that is very broad ranging in its scope and could mean anything from a family situation to a learning difficulty, beating an illness or suffering financial difficulties. This essay prompt requires you to link an obstacle with your educational circumstances to the extent it impacted your academic performance at school.

“Academic success” can reach well beyond exams and grades. It may be a reference to your academic goals or how you are always struggling to balance part-time work with homework and possibly time restrictions that are straining the relationships you have with teachers and peers. Consequently, you need to consider the specific challenge facing you before deciding if it can be related to some aspect of your academic life.

Do not forget to discuss what this challenge taught you; provide details of how you matured and grew from it. It may be that you have not yet overcome the challenge, you are still struggling with it, or it may have beaten you. In each case, there should be some development so make sure you write about this. Has the challenge changed anything? Below are a few examples:

  • Both you and your brother and younger sister witnessed the long and bitter divorce of your parents and were left with deep scars, particularly your younger sister who was still at elementary level education. She was in a constant distraught state, sad, and getting more and more behind at school. You looked after her but this was at the expense of your own grades. Yet, despite this difficulty, you vowed to look after your siblings whatever the cost. At high school, you devoted yourself to computer studies and hoped to get a degree in this field and save sufficient money to pay your sister’s tuition fees when she was old enough for college. This focus strengthened your determination and resolve and resulted in an outstanding academic performance later on your part.
  • Your greatest challenge while growing up was racial discrimination. Teachers in your school did not seek your input or opinion and they had little faith in you, which they demonstrated by treating students from other racial backgrounds more favorably. As a way of fighting this inequality, you spoke to students from your own race and set up a support group where you all pooled your resources and provided a support network to other people who needed counseling because of this same issue.
  • Choose a school subject you derive inspiration from. Explain what you have done to develop your interest in this subject both within the classroom and/or beyond it.
  • You were fascinated by the complexities of an AP US Government and Politics class and decided to support a local candidate who was running for congress and challenging the sitting incumbent. You went around your community canvassing, went to campaign HQ to work, collected voter information, and undertook a variety of administrative tasks. Even though you found this work difficult, you also found taking part in history quite enjoyable and fulfilling.
  • You felt amazed by the power of cell regeneration and decided to study AP Biology. You eventually mustered sufficient courage to send an email to a group of professors at a university near you. You got a response from one of the professors and he even invited you to help with the research work he was doing on C Elegans (a microorganism) for a few weeks.
  • You kept on developing games and other apps even when your computer science course ended for the academic year. You eventually got sufficiently good to be offered a coveted internship at a startup business in your locality thanks to the knowledge you had acquired in different programming languages through your own efforts.

You should additionally mention anything you have learned through other people via any actions, initiatives or services you provide to your community and how this learning from other members of your community will continue into the foreseeable future. Below are some examples:

  • With a passion for music – the classical variety – you set up a club to teach instrumental and classical music to elementary-level children from local schools. You were aware that these youngsters did not have the necessary resources and you wanted to provide them with this musical opportunity as someone did for you during your middle school years. With your encouragement, the school children played with the musical instruments and are now urging their schools to introduce music lessons. This proposal may or may not get approved but these children now know about something that might otherwise have eluded them altogether.
  • You sometimes found your job at the library to be mundane, but the realization came to you that in the long-term you were accommodating the transfer of knowledge and safeguarding the intellectual property of respected scholars. As time passed, you devised ways to make the library a livelier place by arranging puppetry shows for the young children of working parents and arts and crafts evenings for grown-ups. The relationships you developed with the visiting children ultimately became a close bond built on a deep respect for each other with you sometimes acting as their mentor.

Over and above what you have already shared in various parts of your UC application, in your opinion what distinguishes you as a suitable candidate for this university?

This question is entirely open-ended – as open-ended as a question can be. You may, of course, write about anything that comes into your mind. The main goal, however, is to make sure that the focus of your chosen content can be summed up in a couple of sentences that show you are a unique candidate.

Our experts strongly recommend the following process for an open-ended essay, although you could use these steps for any type of question or prompt:

  1. Get a clean sheet of paper and write down each feeling, idea, keyword and phrase that comes to mind when you have read the above prompt.
  2. Your thoughts and ideas will need to be narrowed down to a single topic – e.g., how you pause for up to five or six seconds at minimum before responding to a real-life conversation or on paper.
  3. Create an outline of your essay’s structure and draft a plan for the content of the introductory section, main body, and concluding section.
  4. Before you actually begin writing your essay, describe the way you want the admissions committee to perceive you upon reading your essay and condense this description into a sentence or two. Referring back to an earlier example, “Being able to collect her thoughts fully before she responds to a question or prompt enables Jane to avoid blunders and undesirable hostility in the course of heated conversations. This does not just help her preserve good relations with the workers at the youth clubs she is leader of, but it also helps her find her way through the political situations she may find herself in when she joins a professional workforce.”
  5. You should dedicate your response essay in its entirety to building the picture of yourself you developed in step number four. Half of your writing at least should refer in a direct or indirect manner to what is contained in your essay’s two-sentence summing-up. This is a way of preventing you spending excessive time writing anecdotal incidents and losing track of the type of character you initially hoped to convey to UC’s admissions committee.
  6. Enjoy writing your essay!

Where the question for an essay is more keenly focused you could consider reversing the process described above to see if your response has achieved its purpose. This means writing your essay to start with, getting someone else to read through it, and getting them to sum it all up in a couple of concise sentences. If the result of their effort fits with how you want to be perceived by readers, your work is a success. If it is not, you will need to adjust your analysis and anecdotes so that they adequately convey your main message.

A couple of examples for open-ended prompts:

  • A well-loved tree where you are accustomed to deriving inspiration for many of your essays.
  • An unusual skill or some irritation that has unexpectedly rescued you at awkward moments.

California Application Essay Example

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