College Admissions Essay:

How to Nail Prompt #2 for UC Essays

If you want to be a freshman or transfer student at one of the University of California schools, you will need to answer this question to write one of their two required personal statement essays, also known as Prompt #2:

“Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?”

In essence, they want you to write a personal statement.

A personal statement is an essay that shows the reader what makes you tick, what you care about, what sets you apart from the crowd.

Yes, it’s pretty wide open. Almost any topic can work—it’s all about what you have to say about it.

This entire blog has advice on how to write these.

But I’m going to map out a specific plan that should help you target this exact prompt.

A. First, you need to pick your topic: a quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience.

I would lean toward writing about either a core quality or an experience–which can overlap with the others on the list, and that’s fine.

If you start out writing about a talent or accomplishment, it can be challenging to keep the tone humble and likable.

I think it would be more effective to write about an experience that related to a talent or accomplishment—see the difference?

My best advice would be to look for an experience that demonstrates one of your core qualities—two for one!

Writing about an experience gives your essay a natural, story-telling style (the definition of  a “narrative essay” is an essay about an experience.)

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

If that experience highlights or showcases one of your core qualities, then your essay is assured of revealing something important and unique about yourself—another big plus. (Sample core qualities: creative, self-disciplined, motivated, generous, adventurous, insightful, intuitive, logical, funny, shy, etc.)

Find your defining qualities HERE.


B. Now don’t get too hung up on the wording of this prompt. That list–“personal quality, talent, etc.”–is mainly to help you brainstorm something to write about yourself.

The biggest challenge with Prompt #2 is how outrageously broad this question is—it’s the curse of the blank page.

The trick is to focus in on one a topic–or the main point you want to make about yourself. (If you don’t quite get the idea of how to focus your ideas, read this post.)

Yes, you have to pick something–and get specific. Generality is essay death!

Pick one core quality. Pick one experience. Just pick one thing!

I have a great post (if I do say so myself) on how to write a personal statement using a story-telling style—perfect for relaying an experience and/or a core quality, as well as a talent, accomplishment, etc.

Just follow the steps in my Jumpstart Guide.

C. There is one red flag that I want you to be wary of—the requirement to say “what makes you proud” about what you choose to write about.

In general, pride is not an attractive quality. Pride implies that you are the best, top dog, better than everyone else, the winner, all that. Humility works a lot better. You can still showcase your admirable qualities or experiences, but it’s what you have to say about them that will cast you in a likable light.

Instead of stating something you did “made you proud,” I would instead focus on including your ideas/thoughts/opinions on what you valued or learned through your experience, talent or core quality.

Check out my post on How to Be Likable in your essay (it’s really more about how to avoid coming across as unlikeable.).

Another brilliant way to keep your personal statement humble and memorable at the same time is to find a “mundane” topic.

Personal quality, talent, accomplishment

D. Also, the final part of the Prompt #2 question that asks you to describe how your experience or accomplishment “relate(s) to the person you are,” is something you most likely will naturally cover in your essay without even thinking about it. One trick, just to make sure, is to include what you learned from the experience, accomplishment or talent, or what you value and why, in your personal quality.

E. The secret to writing a terrific personal statement is to find a terrific topic. Check out this list of posts I wrote all about how to find the perfect topic.

This post about how to write Prompt #2 for the UC application has more tips and advice, most of which are along the same lines as I’ve spelled out here.

You can do this! Just read up on how to find a great idea, then just pick one and go for it! Good luck!

See if this video from the UC Admissions Department helps.

I think it might give you an idea of what they want from the two personal statements, but not a lot of how to deliver it.

That part is left up to you, as far as I can tell.

(Tips from video: “Be thoughtful, clear, succinct and provide depth.” “Just be honest.” “Focus on a strength.” “Write about what makes you different.” “I wrote from my heart.” All great stuff–the only thing missing is any direction, instruction or support for students on how to do all this in 500 words.)


Here’s help for answering Prompt #1 for the UC essay: Describe the World You Come From…

Another excellent way to find a great topic and learn how to write a personal statement is to watch my free online tutorial, How to Answer Common Application Prompt 4: What’s Your Problem? Even though I geared it toward a Common App prompt, this video teaches you how to write a personal statement that would be perfect for this UC prompt.

Hint: There’s a strong chance you could use your UC Prompt 2 essay as your Common App essay, or your Common App essay for this UC Prompt. Just make sure the essay you write does answer the prompt, and don’t make it obvious you are recycling your essays.

If you want more help focusing your topic, telling a compelling anecdote and writing a narrative essay, this guide works perfectly with most of the Common App prompts (especially 1,2, and 5) and other prompts asking you to write about yourself (such as Prompt 2 of the UC app.).

It costs < $10 and you can order using the button below.


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37 Responses to Personal Quality, Talent, Accomplishment…UC Prompt #2

  1. stephanie says:

    Hello. I’m going to be talking about how being an athletic trainer at my school is considered important to me. Is that a good topic to talk about for this second prompt? If so, what should I talk about or include in my essay?

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi, I have a question. Would my Common App essay (answering prompt #1) work for this prompt? I want to minimize my essay-writing, but I don’t want to cheat myself, either.

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Great question. I don’t believe using the same essay for different colleges is unethical or a bad idea, as long as they answer the prompt. Before The Common Application folks dropped the option of writing about whatever you wanted (“Topic of Choice”) this year, a lot of my students applying to the UCs used one of their two UC essays for the Common App. So I don’t see why you can’t write an essay to answer Prompt 1 of the new Common App questions and use that essay for one of your UC essays (as long as they answer the prompt.) If you tell a story that is central to who you are, there’s a strong chance it could easily answer the UC Prompt 2. Hope this makes sense! Good luck! (I will float this question to some college counselors that I know just to double check and will get back to you if I learn differently.) Janine Robinson

  3. Sarthak says:

    Hello JR,

    First of all, should I focus on a core quality or core qualities? I’m thinking of qualities that go hand in hand like insight, deduction, logic etc. But this prompt makes me a little confused. Do I have to write about a quality that made me proud or can I just stick to a personal statement. As you know I attempted prompt4 in common app that helped me in the first UC prompt, this is a whole new ball game. Im inclining towards a core quality supported by an experience. But I don’t know about the whole “proud” concept.

  4. j9robinson says:

    Hi Sarthak,
    The wording of this prompt is very confusing. Try not to interpret it too literally. First, you pick which you want to feature in your essay: A quality, achievement, experience, contribution, accomplishment. The essay you write will be a “personal statement” because the intention is to show who you are by writing about one of these topics. My suggestion is to first decide what it is you want to showcase about yourself (and I think it’s easiest to focus on one quality or characteristic: for you, pick that you are insightful, or logical…just one!) and then use an example of when you developed that quality or characteristic to start your essay. So think of a time when you were insightful (and it most likely will involve “an experience” or “an accomplishment”). As far as going into why you are proud about that quality or accomplishment, just talk about why it has value to you (why having insight is valuable), how you have used it so far, and how you plan to use it in the future. If you write about your insight, and use an example, and then explain why you value that quality in yourself, chances are you will talk about “how it relates to you” in a natural way. Like I said, this prompt is not very clear, and you need to just try to understand what it is they want to hear from you. They want you to pick something meaningful and formative and write an essay about that. The whole trick is to focus on one part of yourself, give examples, and explain its value. Don’t try to talk about all your great qualities. Use examples and specifics. Read my posts about using anecdotes. This is how you focus your essay and make them highly readable. Janine

  5. Ank says:

    Hello. I am wondering if “hard-working” would be suitable for this essay; I consider “hard-working” as a a notable quality of mine, but it seems as if the quality would make for an unoriginal essay. What kind of experience would be appropriate for displaying this quality?

    • Ank says:

      I actually have another question, too. Is the narrative supposed to span the entire length of the essay? I ask this for both UC prompts, and I ask this because I’ve seen some people’s essays on the internet—some of the essays talk about an event/”story” for the entire length of the essay!

  6. Laura says:

    Hi Janine!
    I was thinking about writing for this topic about the time i face-planted jumping over a pole. My brothers and I were competing and my brothers both cleared the pole and being the competitive person i am I attempted to jump the pole and fell right on my face. As a result i had a big scar on my face for weeks.I thought this would go under the category of “an experience”. I would talk about how i am a really competitive person, especially with my brothers and my family and how i am also a really determined. I thought this topic was good because it is a mundane topic that shows humility but can also show a big piece of who i am today. I am not particularly “proud” of this specific incident, but i am proud of my determination and strive to always be the best i can be. Would this topic work well for this prompt?

  7. angelica says:

    What if you dont do anything and havent done anything in your life? (prompt two?)

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Aneglica,

      I don’t believe you. You do not need to find something “impressive,” but look at the things you care about. Read my posts about “mundane” topics–look in the Index on right side of web site. JR

  8. Anxious Senior says:

    Hi, I am currently writing my Prompt #2 and have no idea what to write about. Nothing comes to mind at the moment and I am starting to get very anxious. My teacher wants our Personal Statements due tomorrow and like always I left it for the last minute… (PROCRASTINATOR). I will not be applying until 2 more years but he still considers this an assignment, can you please help me brainstorm?

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Diocelyn,

      Read my posts on Jumpstart Guide, Finding Topics and other posts–all will help you learn what make great topics and where to find them. Don’t fret–just start! JR

  9. christopher says:


    I wanted to write my prompt on how cross country is important to me, and how i had a bad season. But in that bad season i took the liberty of helping out my competition during regular meets and helping them achieve a better season time. Would this be a good idea?

  10. Taylor says:

    Hello! For my common app essay I did the prompt about an environment you are most content in. I did scuba diving and was wondering if it would be a good idea to use that essay and adjust some parts(make scuba diving as my experience) so I could use it for this essay prompt?

    Thank you!

  11. Sara says:

    Hi, I was thinking about writing about a peaceful protest that I was a part of. It was related to my culture and supported the people of my family’s home country. I’m not sure exactly how to start the essay and what qualities that i could write about that college admissions officers would like to see in an applicant. All i could come up with was passionate, and also that the experience taught me to stand up for what i believe in and not be afraid to speak up and express my opinions. do you think this topic would work well for this prompt?

  12. Haylee says:

    Would it be okay if i say that something i value about myself is that i know to value things, and then proceed to give examples of how i value time, money, relationships, memories and rsources

  13. Ali says:

    Hi there, I am wondering if talking about a specific time when I played the role of the “Nurse” in Romeo and Juliet as a junior at my school would fit this prompt? I had never had a speaking role prior to this experience.

  14. Courtney says:

    Hi, I was just wondering if it’s a problem to talk about similar qualities in the two essays. For example, In prompt #1, I talked about my dancing ability and my photography interests; Is it wrong to allude to those qualities in prompt #2?

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Courtney,

      I really like your question, because it’s important. I think that your two UC essays should try to complement each other. That means that should both offer different things about you. So to answer your question, you should showcase two different qualities about yourself. If one shows how your are creative, the other should reveal a different side of you. Also, if one is more structured and formal, make the other more casual or even playful. When things “complement” each other, they both have aspects that together put the whole into a type of balance. If you write about your passion for architecture in one essay, maybe write about your obsession with spiders in the other. I hope this makes sense. Remember, these essays are all about giving you the opportunity to show you colleges something about you that the admissions folks would not learn from other parts of your application. Since the UCs require two essays, they are giving you two places to tell them something about yourself–so make sure to take advantage of this opportunity to show TWO different parts of what make your unique. Good luck! Janine Robinson

  15. Dan says:

    Hi!I’m writing about an internship experience over summer. It was a paid internship at a very prestigious firm, but I did no enjoy it one bit because the job didn’t interest me. The point is that it helped me see that money isn’t the most important thing, and that doing what I love is truly significant. I’m proud of it because through the experience I was able to self-correct my misguided upholding of money, and the experience has shaped the person I am by balancing my motivations; since I am no longer a passionless, money driven individual, I am free to pursue my passions. Do you think my ideas link and that my essay is on topic? Any advice or things to look out for would be much appreciated. Thank you! :)

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Dan,

      I really like your idea. It’s gives us something unexpected: You didn’t like what you were supposed to like or other would like–and yet you learned something anyway. And it also will reflect on your values. Good stuff! Start with an example of something that happened that helped you see that you didn’t like the internship job, and then relate what you realized about yourself, and why that’s important, etc. Good luck! Janine Robinson

  16. Anna says:

    Hello! I plan to write about the fact that I am a first generation college student, and as a result I am very self-disciplined and a determined individual. Is there any way that I could make this work? thank you!

  17. Odessa says:

    Hi! When I think of my personal qualities, I can’t help but get stuck on my unusual name and equally unusual curly hair and how it has truly shaped my life. Is that appropriate for this essay?


  18. Savannah says:

    Is it irrelevant to talk about the death of my brother and how it transformed me for prompt 2?

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Savannah,
      I totally think so. I can’t imagine that it hasn’t affected you and your life in a fundamental way. The trick for the essay is to talk about his death, but to quickly focus on how it affected you, and changed you. I’m sure you will write an amazing essay! JR

  19. Sohil says:

    Hi JR,
    I wanted to know, would it be relevant to talk about an internship I did in a garment factory in India this past summer. And how it broadened my horizons on how business in India works and how the day-to-day life of a poor laborer is. Basically this internship made me realize how much struggle and hardships are put into making clothes and other products we American consumers use everyday. And this internship also made me embrace my own Indian culture even more as I was able to understand and see my culture and heritage first hand living in India for 2 months.

  20. Anika says:

    Hi Janine! Do you think its necessary to title your University of California essays? Thank you :)

  21. dennis says:

    Hi – thanks for the awesome information. It’s really helping me focus. For prompt two, I’m thinking of using my school trip to Costa Rica as an experience – first time out of the US, with both cultural and educational components. The experience really moved me, and made me realize how lucky I am to live here…but also made me appreciate the diversity I encountered. Thoughts?

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Dennis,

      Your trip could make a good essay, but you must focus it on something specific that happened. If you just write in a general way about your trip and what you did and who you helped, it will fall into the world of overdone, cliche topics. The essay must be about you, so think about one quality you developed during that trip and think of one incident or moment or experience that happened while you were there that involved that quality. That will give your essay focus and give you something meaningful to write about. Best of luck! JR

  22. jake says:

    can my prompt 1 and prompt 2 responses be similar? I have an extra curricular that I’m very passionate about, so can I write about it in both my “the world I come from” and my personal statement?

    • j9robinson says:

      Hi Jake,

      My advice would be to only write about the extra curricular passion in only one of the essays. Use the other essay as an opportunity to showcase something else about yourself. These two essays should be what’s called “complimentary,” which means they fit together but almost have opposite topics/themes/etc. For example, if one is more serious, consider writing the other with a more lighter tone or topic. Or if one is about your passion for singing (which is an interest or talent), consider writing the other about your background or a personality trait. The idea is that you balance them out by choosing different elements. If you passion is football, I definitely would not make both topics about football.

  23. m says:

    I have two ideas for this prompt: my love for telling jokes/puns, and my passion for social justice. Would either of these work for this prompt? Which do you think would be better

  24. ponci says:

    Would it be good to talk about my experiences spending summer vacations at my grandma’s house in Mexico as an elementary school kid? I saw how different society was there than the always busy Los Angeles, California that I live in. I’m also going to say that I’m not proud of myself, but of my family because I witnessed the circumstances they came from when moving to the US. And I noticed that my grandma still has a “poor person mentality”, and it affected me because I have developed similar qualities.

  25. jay says:

    Does my name count as a personal quality? I have a lot of great ideas to include in an essay about my name but I’m just not sure if it’s appropriate for the prompt?


  26. Gopika says:


    I was wondering if I should write 2 different anecdotes for the two UC personal statements. I worry that it will seem like some sort of gimmick if I do it twice. Would that be a problem?

  27. ellie says:

    can I write about scuba diving? specifically, i wanted to start how I was initially disappointed with the diving site, and then found out the beauty in it. I would highlight how I am a very analytical person and can find the silver lining in it.
    Another option would be the fact that I took AP lang and comp as an exchange student to the USA, and it was really hard because i could not speak english well. Then I passed it with a 5, which was a great accomplishment for me. Or even how I was pretty terrible in english in middle school, but in high school I worked hard and improved greatly.

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