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new university of california essay prompts

First New University of California Essay Prompts
for their College Application in 10 Years!

The University of California just listed brand new college application essay prompts—for the first time in a decade!

In the past, incoming freshman wrote two core essays answering two prompts.

The two essays had to be a total of no more than 1,000 words.

The UC is now calling its new essay prompts, “Personal insight questions,” and students must choose four out of eight to answer.

And they are each supposed to be under 350 words. (So, total under 1,400 words.)

That’s a huge shift.

I love that there are more prompts to choose from, with themes ranging from leadership, creativity, service and personal individuality to more serious ones, such as sharing personal challenges or barriers to success.

I’ve written separate posts for each of the 8 new prompts, and you can find them below. Just click the blue link to get specific ideas and strategies for each Personal Insight Question.

RELATED: 21 Tips for UC Personal Insight Questions and Essays

After reading through these new prompts, I believe it will be important to choose four that show a nice variety as well as balance to showcase who you are.

In essence, these mini-essays will serve as your one personal statement, in that the goal is to highlight your most core qualities and values–and help you stand out from the crowd.

These new prompts are great news since they allow more flexibility in how you write about yourself. I also believe they should also be easier to craft than writing two longer essays.

If you are just starting the admissions process, I would just take the time to read through them and start thinking about which ones you might like to write about.

Unlike the old prompts, each of these new University of California essay prompts includes a series of additional questions, which can help you brainstorm ideas for your essays and also help you understand exactly what the UCs want to learn from you.

That is super helpful, so read them closely!

The UC also provided a new worksheet–Personal Insight Questions: Guide for Freshman Applicants–to help students brainstorm and craft their answers to these new prompts. This is an invaluable tool, and I urge everyone to use it!


One piece of advice: If you are a student who has faced significant challenges or obstacles so far in your life or personal background, I would strongly urge you to write about them.

Numbers 4 and especially 5 would be the most obvious ones to help you write about those issues. I also believe those two prompts will produce the most poignant and meaningful mini-essays.

(I would suggest all students explore if they could include Number 4 or 5  as part of their four essays for the same reason.)

I also think UC Essay Prompt 8 is a terrific prompt, since it asks you to write about something unique about yourself. What a perfect opportunity to stand out!

The main danger of some of the other prompts is that you simply answer them and they end up being dull or boring to read. Even though these will be shorter essays, they still need to be engaging and meaningful!

As with all essays, I would advise you to always try to think of specific examples to support any main point you make.

Even though these are shorter pieces, look for your real-life moments and experiences to help you illustrate your points, especially when talking about your leadership, creativity, talents, skills, favorite subjects or volunteer activities. And ditto for sharing personal struggles.

One bit of sad news about these new prompts is that this will make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for students to recycle their essays from other applications, especially The Common Application. Students also will need to come up with four rather than two strong topic ideas.

The key is to look at these new University of California essay prompts as opportunities to showcase yourself through a variety of lens so the admissions deciders can get an accurate picture of your individuality.


new university of california essay prompts

Locations of UC campuses

Here are the new University of California essay prompts and admissions instructions from the UC web site for incoming freshman (I will address the new University of California transfer essay prompts in an upcoming post):

Freshman: Personal insight questions

What do you want UC to know about you? Here’s your chance to tell us in your own words.


You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.
Keep in mind

All questions are equal: All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions: It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.
Questions & guidance

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 a 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 strived 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.

* * * * *

Here are some additional details about these new University of California essay prompts that you might find helpful or interesting (This was released from the admissions department today.):

After almost 10 years, UC is changing the personal statement section of its undergraduate admissions application, replacing the current two personal statement prompts with short-answer questions that students can choose from.  The new questions, now called personal insight questions, aim to give applicants a greater say in the kind of information they share with the University. Students can express who they are and what matters to them not only in how they respond to the questions, but also through the questions they choose to answer.
The new questions also provide students with better direction and focus on topics that are important to campuses. Each new question aligns to one or more of the 14 comprehensive review criteria (nine criteria for transfer students) that campuses consider in their admissions decisions. “We hope this new format will not only provide us with additional insight into applicants, but also allow students to better choose the questions that speak to them most directly,” stated a UC admissions director.