10 Quickie Tips to Nail Your UC Essays

Posted on 07/14/2020.

10 Quickie Tips to Nail Your UC Essays

If you are just starting to write your four short UC essays (called Personal Insight Questions), listed here are ten simple tips that can help you crank them out.

I’ve written longer posts on how best to brainstorm and map away answers for each of those questions for the University of California application, if you have the time and inclination. Find them here.

Too busy to read all those posts? No worries.

Start with these 10 basic ideas to make sureyour UC essays hit the mark:

  • Content: utilize these essays to share more about your talents, accomplishments and experiences, and explain what they implied to you (eg What you learned all about yourself). Pick prompts that allow you to feature what you need to your overall application; perhaps not simply ones which can be easiest to answer. Say you worked as an intern in a science lab; this is your chance to explain exactly what you did and learned. Or you played classical piano since age six; this is when it is possible to go deeper and share just how that shaped you somehow beyond your playing ability.
  • Impact: The best trick to making your essay engaging and meaningful is to include some form of related problem. For example, if you are currently talking about leadership (#1), search for examples from your past where you tackled some variety of problem in a leadership role. (Problems=challenges, mistake, obstacle, setback, conflict, phobia, flaw, obsession, change, etc.) This could work for many eight prompts.
  • Substance: Always include particular examples (moments, incidents or experiences from your lifetime) to support your main points in these UC essays. If you don’t have at least one of these real-life details in each essay, it’s almost a done deal your essay is far too general and can lack meaning. If at all possible, start your essay with one of those specific examples to grab your reader in the beginning; then explain their larger meaning and go from there. (Example: If you’re talking about leadership, start with a specific ‘time’ you acted being a leader in a group setting. Then explain exactly what qualities you used, your thoughts about exactly what leadership way to you, and why, and that which you learned.)
  • Meaning: In the second 50 % of any of these UC essays you can’t go wrong if you shift from explaining your answer, and supporting it with real-life examples, into explaining WHAT YOUR LEARNED about YOURSELF in the process. This is the way it is possible to share something you did, and that which you love, or the method that you are, and also expand into WHAT YOUR LEARNED along the way. If you’d like to shift even deeper, include a sentence or two on WHY IT MATTERS to you and the world that you learned that lesson.
  • Hardship: when you have experienced any variety of hardship that you experienced, including a major financial setback in your family due to task loss, low income, deportation, mental or physical disease, or other reasons, ensure to utilize at least one of these simple prompts to share that with the UCs. The best one (in fact, it’s designed for this function) is #4, at least the second half asking about an ‘educational barrier you have faced.’ It is possible to also utilize #5 in regards to a ‘significant challenge,’ just make sure to consist of second part about how it affected your academics. The UCs want to know if it is often more challenging for you to quickly attain your success to date, and why. Also, if you are a first-gen student (first in your household to go to college), let them know! (You can also make use of the ‘Additional Comments’ section in the Other Academic History section to share personal obstacles to your success.)
  • Majors: knowing exactly what field you wish to study or major in at the UCs, it is a good idea to utilize one of these simple prompts to showcase that, and include exactly what inspired you and just why you wish to pursue it, and just how. (Colleges like to see this.) You can use almost some of the eight UC essays to share your intended field of study or major, or even the general field that interests you at this point. Find the prompts that most naturally enables you to work what you want to say into your related topic.
  • Effort: These prompts can feel overwhelming at first. Read through all eight so you get yourself a sense associated with different topics and options. If some of them spark an idea of a related experience or point you would like to showcase about yourself, start thinking about writing about that one. At the same time, it is possible to create a variety of the experiences, accomplishments, talents or whatever you want to generally share with the UCs, and then find the prompt that makes it the simplest to write about them.
  • Strategy: When you choose your four prompts for your UC essays, make sure the points you make, or the major experiences you share, don’t overlap. Ideally, you want these to highlight a variety of your experiences, accomplishments and talents, but also your defining qualities and values. Search for variety and balance among the four your write on. Make certain your essays are about YOU, and YOUR experiences, and perhaps not general discussions about your topic or others.
  • Style: The UCs have made a huge effort to escape the phrase that these short essays need not be literary masterpieces. Of course, make an effort to know the primary POINT you want to make in each one so they have a focus, and support that with specific details and real-life examples. Begin with something specific, if at all possible, and then state the more general main point, and lastly, share what you learned. Write in a casual, familiar tone; don’t try to impress with fancy descriptive language or big words; get out a rough draft and then go back and trim under 350 words and proof it for errors. Don’t sweat these!
  • Formatting: When you copy and paste your four Personal Insight Question UC essays to the application, it only accepts simple text. That means any formatting you did are lost. So, for indicating paragraphs, do not indent and alternatively break them up with a double area. Rather than italics (which won’t show), use quotation marks to indicate things like titles, foreign words, etc. Bolding also doesn’t show; instead use CAPS, but sparingly.

thesis statements for to kill a mockingbird

Extra Tip: If you want to explain anything about your academic performance (such as problems associated with your grades or performance), don’t always utilize these UC essays to explain why. Instead, you will find two places to talk about these explanations within the ‘Additional Comments’ portion of the UC application: One is under ‘Other Academic History’ and the other with the ‘Personal Insight Questions.’ (Read how UC Berkeley advises applicants to make use of the Additional Comments section.)

As a whole, only use these two sections to describe unusual circumstances that you didn’t address in the four Personal Insight Question essays. Examples: changes in your grade patterns; a move in high school that prevented you from taking advanced level courses; medical or mental problems that affected your performance; financial issues (parental task loss; homelessness; low-income); immigration status issues, such as you are first generation (first in your household to go to college: MENTION THIS!) or deportation of family members; unexplained gaps in educational history, such as for instance gap year or other absence. They are not essays so be direct and succinct; bullets points often work nicely.

If you want more help on particular Personal Insight Questions and UC essa, take a look at these 21 strategies for UC Personal Insight Questions that I published last year once they first arrived on the scene. All of the info and advice continues to be relevant and helpful.

When I became invited to offer one of my college application essay writing workshops to students at Colorado Academy in Denver, Colorado, I had no idea it might be in the day associated with big eclipse.

As Monday, August 21, neared, all of us noticed the sky would darken just about lunchtime within my daylong workshop.

Even though I knew it might be hard to contend with a full-on solar eclipse, I ended up being excited because Denver ended up being more in line with the action than my home in Southern California.

‘You’re going to get results in the eclipse into your workshop, aren’t you?’ friend asked months before the trip.

‘I guess,’ I replied, agreeing the idea made perfect sense even though I wasn’t sure how to integrate it.

Sara Purviance, a college counselor at Colorado Academy, told me that she had purchased the protective glasses for the 100 rising seniors, and they might go outside during the peak hour or so and eat their lunch.

At some time, I noticed that watching the eclipse could be an ideal mini experience for the students to capture in the shape of an anecdote.

Workshop students from Colorado Academy in Denver watching the eclipse

If you know my method of how to write narrative-style college application essays, you have heard me discuss my love of anecdotes many times.

An anecdote is a fancy word for currently talking about a single moment or incident and recreating the essence of the knowledge using descriptive language techniques. The goal is to put the reader in that moment so they would ever guess exactly what it was like.

RELATED: Find Out How to Write an Anecdote

I encourage students to use anecdotes to power their essays with their own real-life experiences, using them to illustrate the higher points they wish to make about themselves inside their essays.

Anecdotes can be tricky to craft. The target is to keep them super short (a paragraph or two) without much build-up and start as close to your excitement or whatever happened as you are able to.

Even though they take practice to understand, students usually get this writing device quickly if someone teaches them how exactly to craft them, utilizing sensory details, dialogue and emotion.

The bright, attentive students at Colorado Academy were no exception.

When they returned from their lunch break, and eclipse gazing, I gave them an assignment to recreate their experience as an anecdote.

After sharing some sample anecdotes from my best-selling college app essay writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, so they might get the idea of exactly what they would write, I directed them having a few simple prompts to incorporate:

  • The Who, Exactly What, When, Where and Why.
  • A minumum of one line of dialogue (quote someone), recording either what went through their head at the time or something another person said.
  • A sentence expressing how they felt

I offered them about fifteen minutes to create, and asked them to share. Three brave students read what they wrote. (See two of the anecdotes at end of this post.)

As usual, I was amazed in what they’d to express, and how they said it.

After the workshop, it dawned on me that I forgot to inform those students one important point:

Do not choose the eclipse as your topic ( for a personal statement type of essay, such due to the fact Common Application)!!!

The eclipse as a college application essay topic is packed with common topic pitfalls.

RELATED: How to locate a Great Topic for Your College Application Essay

Even though it was a unique and a rare natural trend, ‘the time’ you experienced the eclipse most likely was not the most useful experience you could share in your essay to illustrate something meaningful about yourself.

While you can write about momentous or special experiences in your essay, the greater everyday or ordinary (mundane) moments or incidents typically make better anecdotes.

I’d also guess that students who decide to write about the eclipse will end up writing more about the science of the knowledge than exactly what they experienced and learned from this.

The most useful college application essays are those that aren’t educational or formal in content or style, and instead share personal experiences they could use to exhibit how they learned, changed and grew.

Also, anecdotes, which are really mini-stories, need something to happen. Even though something ‘happened’ with the eclipse (the moon went as you’re watching sun plus it got dark in the centre of your day), you need something more personal.

For an effective anecdote, something needed happened to you. That’s exactly what makes the knowledge personal and meaningful, which is your goal.

The takeaway?

When brainstorming topic ideas for your essays, you don’t have to find impressive or momentous events to create a great college application essay.

RELATED: Mundane Topics Work Best

Currently talking about earning your Eagle Scout badge, or the time you threw a fantastic pass to win the state football championship, or leading a Model U.N. session, often become on the dull side.

It is possible to still feature achievements and life-changing moments in your essays, just make sure the essay is all about YOU and not just those standout experiences.

One last reason to stay away from the eclipse as your college application essay topic: there is a good opportunity a lot of other students watched that eclipse and will come up with it.

I can hear the school admissions folks rolling their eyes and groaning, ‘Another eclipse essay.’

You’ve probably heard about cliché college application essays, and that’s because so many students have had similar experiences and published about them. Examples: mission trips, tutoring special needs children, activities injuries….watching the eclipse.

It isn’t impossible to write a standout essay about the eclipse, but you will find thousands of other topics which will serve you lot better.

Here are two anecdotes that College Academy students crafted in no more than 10 to 15 moments.

First anecdote:

The light is slightly dimmer, only noticeable by an expecting eye. Quite contrary to the prior visions associated with event I had in my head. Frustration fills the air in murmurs as my high school class munches on their Domino’s Pizza. ‘That was it?’ is being repeated by different mouths through the courtyard. I didn’t think it was that bad. Seeing the sun nearly totally covered by the moon is really a sight I am not going to forget too soon. The black as night atmosphere wasn’t achieved like I ended up being expecting, but it will still be a tale I can tell my kids.

Second anecdote:

I stood outside of my high school, staring up at the sky, wearing eyeglasses that blackened the sky with the exception of the stunning and rarely seen solar eclipse. Everybody around me ended up being wearing the same eyeglasses, but due to the fact moon got closer and closer to covering the sun’s rays, more people lost interested and began to talk to friends alternatively. ‘ Don’t you wish some food, Jack?’ My friend Mags asked. ‘I’m not necessarily hungry right now. Besides, let me experience this stunning moment in nature instead The black silhouette slowly inched closer over the bright shining orb of gas. It had finally reached it’s peaked so I decided it had been time and energy to get food. I looked down, took off my eyeglasses and saw that everything around me seemed darker and colder. It had been very surreal and I felt unstable but also very in tuned. I also saw that I was the last person out of 100 students that was still putting on their glasses. I felt a type of pride to be able to recognize and appreciate this beautiful event. I became able to stand in a single spot, look up at the sky, and appreciate that which was going on in front of me without missing out on an enjoyable conversation with my friends whom I hadn’t seen all summer. The sensation ended up being sensational.

See how awesome these are?

If these students could write these in such a short time, I understand you will find your real-life stories and tell them as anecdotes to power your own personal essays.