Essays, personal statements, and personal insight questions will help colleges become acquainted with you as a person and a student apart from grades, courses, test scores, and other objective data. You will also be able to demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself in a cohesive and meaningful essay. Think of your essays and responses as opportunities to share accomplishments, perspectives, talents, and experiences that are important to you. The University of California asks students to answer personal insight questions that are designed to get to know you better. Think of these questions as an interview with the admissions office. As an undergraduate applicant, the University of California wants you to be open and reflective and find your individual voice as you compose your answers.
The new format aims to give applicants a greater say in the kind of information they want to share with us. Students can express who they are and what matters to them not only in how they respond to the questions, but also through their selection of questions. At the same time, the new personal questions provide students with better direction and focus on topics that are important to campuses. It also reduces the chances that students will take a generic essay that they’ve created for other colleges or class assignments and simply transpose it to the UC application. Rather, it will help applicants use the application to its fullest by letting their own voices come through. We hope that by giving them more choice and clearer guidance, students will have a better understanding of what is expected of them in this process. Back to top
We’ll post guidance for students on our systemwide admissions website and produce other materials including a student worksheet, PowerPoint presentations and recorded webinars for counselors and students throughout the spring. We also plan on presenting on the new questions at this year’s Counselor Conferences in the fall. Because we are shifting from a longer format to a short-answer, multiple question format, our advice will be different especially in the type of content we’re looking for. However, we still encourage students to start early and make sure their writing is as clear as possible (see question below). Back to top
The personal statement section was never a test to assess a student’s writing ability. The same holds true for the new personal questions. The personal questions section is where students should express themselves, and let their unique voices and personalities shine through. However, students should always put their best foot forward and make sure their writing is organized in a clear and thoughtful manner. Students should give themselves plenty of time to prepare, carefully compose and revise their answers. Typos, grammatical or spelling errors can be distracting to the application readers and get in the way of what applicants are trying to communicate. Back to top
In some cases, the work students have already prepared can help inform their answers to the new questions. Students may find that they’ve touched upon many of the new question topics at a broad level in the existing personal statement prompts. However, it’s in students’ best interest to familiarize themselves with the new questions and make sure their answers align with what’s being asked – which is much more specific than the prompts. They should express their personalities, backgrounds, interests and achievements in their own unique voices – which means content, not writing style, is of utmost importance and should be the main focus of their answers. Back to top
Since all campuses review transfer students specifically with consideration to their major, we needed a direct question about major preparation. This question is similar to the previous transfer personal statement prompt that has been asked over the last several years. And, although freshmen could choose to write about their intended major, the majority of first-year students are not admitted directly into a major. Back to top
All questions will have equal value in the admissions selection process. For applicants, there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others. In fact, the goal is to allow students to choose which questions are more representative of themselves. Back to top
We’ve received feedback from counselors and students — both formally through conferences and interviews, and informally through our outreach programs and admissions officers. We also consulted with faculty, researchers, and other colleges and universities. We know from our research and conversations that the personal statement has been one of the most stressful and time-demanding sections of our application. While our new format may not eliminate this stress, we hope that by giving applicants more choice and clearer guidance, they will have a better understanding of what is expected of them in this process. Back to top
No. Freshman applicants must answer four out of the eight questions, and transfer applicants must answer the one required question plus any three of the seven additional questions. Applicants also cannot use the additional comments section as a place to answer more than the four personal insight questions. Back to top
Remember, the personal 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 are you, 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 lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about your accomplishments 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’s 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, 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 are you 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. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
Things to consider: Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.
Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)?
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. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?
Things to consider: Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Even if you don’t think you’re unique, you are — remember, there’s only one of you in the world. From your point of view, what do you feel makes you belong on one of UC’s campuses? When looking at your life, what does a stranger need to understand in order to know you?
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? We’re not necessarily looking for what makes you unique compared to others, but what makes you, YOU.