UPDATE: as of March 23, 2016 The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.

This post is now outdated. The information is no longer relevant!!


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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