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The University of California admissions officers place more importance on their essays than any other school in America. Knowing which prompts to pick, how to attempt them, and tricks to making sure they have a powerful impact on your application, can make all the difference to getting accepted. Here are some tips for each of the 8 choices.

  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.   This isn’t one to phone in. If you attempt this one, make sure your leadership experience is easily explained. And be clear and give examples to its influence on others, and the group.
  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.  This is one of my favorites because surprisingly, few applicants I’ve worked with choose it. Keep this one simple. Describe your creative side. Try and NOT choose something they’ve seen before. ie: painting, music, acting. Dig deeper and find a creative endeavor admissions officer might not see all the time. Stand apart from the pack.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  I try and steer applicants away from this one. But if they must: open with an anecdote, then a history of your talent or skill, then its impact.
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. Admissions people love this one! Anything related to education is impressive. Get into that barrier right away. And describe in detail how you overcame it.
  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? I try and make the challenge exist outside of the classroom. It can be based in your family, or community. What they’re looking for is how this challenge made you a better student. So bring it all back to academics.
  6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. This is another go-to prompt. It seems like every applicant I have worked with has a class unlike any other class. It’s okay to use a required class like: math, science, or english. But when an applicant chooses a class I never expected and I learn something from this class – awesome!
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  This is another prompt admissions officers like. Whatever you write about, they envision you doing things like that on their campus. You can’t lose on this one!
  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? Another “road less traveled” essay. Hardly anyone ever chooses it. This is a big risk, which I always endorse. This is the essay where you can gamble big, show them a unique or unusual side of you, and leave a very positive impression.