UPDATE: The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.
The following content in this post is no longer relevant and is outdated!
About three years ago, I wrote a post to try to help students applying to the University of California find topics to answer Prompt 1 for their college application essay: Describe the World You Come From. Since I shared my advice in my Describe the World You Come From post, I have received more than a 100 comments from students. Most have specific questions, mainly trying to see if their idea of a “world” would make a great essay.
Since then, I tried to answer most of their questions. This year, I am so swamped with tutoring students, however, that I’m not able to answer all the questions right now. But I have noticed that many cover the same ground—even though the topics range from someone’s world of books, to playing tennis, to making cookies, to an ill family member, etc. So I pulled some of the questions that I thought are more common, along with my answers, in hopes they might answer questions still lingering out there. See below.
Most students say they feel stuck. Or they have an idea, but wonder if it’s really a world or if it’s too general or interesting enough for their essay. If that’s one of your concerns, I would suggest reading some of the Q&As below, and see if you find them of help. If you want to read more of these, just go to that Describe the World You Come From Post and scroll to the bottom–at last count there were 228 comments (including my replies). Even if you don’t have a specific question, just skimming through these comments is a great way to search for ideas for your own topics!
Also, check out 3 Sample UC Prompt 1 Essays for Describe the World You Come From. And, I have this Brainstorm the World You Come From post and this Show The World You Come From post to help you write your essay in a narrative style.
November is a big month for the UC application season, since these are due for undergraduates by the end of this month. You still have plenty of time, but the sooner you get cracking the better!
Here are some of the comments/questions from students and my answers. (I put the topic ideas in bold.) Remember, I’m just giving you my best opinion, so trust yourself when deciding what to write about. This is your world and your essay!
Erica: Hi, for the “world I come from” prompt, how specific can I get? I was thinking about writing about my hobby of drawing faces and how that connects to me. But I’m not sure if this is even answering the question.)
Me: Your topic idea of writing about your hobby drawing faces is an excellent one, but not necessarily for this prompt. It would be a better choice for a prompt that asks you to describe a hobby, a passion, an accomplishment, that type of thing (more of a personal statement or Prompt #2 for UC app.).For this prompt, you are looking for a larger “world” or community that influenced you. If you loved drawing faces in a special place, such as an art room at school or a sun porch in your house, you could describe that as your world, and then go on to talking about how this “world” has shaped your love of art, etc. (Other words to think about instead of your “world” could be “community,” “environment,” “space,” or “habitat”–I believe it needs to somehow be a place, either literally or figuratively.) Hope this helps!
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Aditya: For the “world I come from” prompt, I just don’t understand exactly what it wants me to answer. I come from an Indian Family who doesn’t go to temple much but is deeply connected with my roots. I am very social and active in school, however I feel at peace with all the craziness that goes on in my life when I play Carrom (Indian Board Game) which I learned from my grand father. Could that be a good topic for this prompt?
Courtney: For the first prompt, I was thinking of writing about my volunteering at Girl Scouts and at a tennis program. Is that okay for this prompt?
Me: You totally get it!! Yes, focus on that one memory, and then expand upon what it meant to you, and highlight some values that have shaped you to this day. You could start with a simple anecdote (see my post on How to Write an Anecdote) that would “show” us “a time” your grandmother made these sweets with you. Include what they look like, smell like, feel like, taste like, and how they make you feel–so much wonderful fodder for descriptive writing. (The challenge is condensing that moment into about a paragraph or two at the most. One tip: Start in the middle of the action.) But after the anecdote, then you must explain to us what this interaction meant to you, what you learned from it, and how those lessons “shaped your dreams and aspirations” for the future. Best of luck!
Me: Hi Hussam, I think you could write a great essay about your passion for dinosaurs. But first, I think you need to explore what it is about dinosaurs that intrigues you. The essay needs to be mainly about you. What core quality do dinosaurs bring out about you, or do they represent to you? Your interest in them could totally be a world! When you learn about them, aren’t you travelling back to another world, time, place? Pick “a time” or example of when you learned something about dinosaurs, whether at a museum or even a t.v. show and describe that moment (be specific, include descriptive details), and then background your interest in dinosaurs and what you have learned about your life and life in general from hanging out with them. What is it about the ancient world of dinosaurs that you love so much? Once you hit on that, share an example of a time you were in that world, and go from there. Good luck! It’s a great topic–you just need to use specific examples to illustrate the main point you make about dinosaurs and your passion for them. JR
Me: I think your passion with dying hair could make a colorful essay. Haha! Seriously, it would mainly depend on what you had to say about hair dying and how it was a “world” for you. I believe there could be many life metaphors to hair dying, and that you could expound upon those. YOu need to decide what exactly you want this essay to say about you. I think the idea of personal expression and how you found the courage to explore that and step out as your unique, bold self could be a great essay. Maybe start be describing one of the first times you went for a crazy color, how you felt at first, the results, how you felt about them, and the reaction from friends/family—and then analyze that experience, and what you learned. Make sure include how your new sense of self will affect your future dreams/aspiration–or life goals. Good luck! JR
Me: Hi Sandrine, YES, I believe books can create a world, absolutely! I think you are wise to focus in one one book, or one author, or even one place in a book, that has felt as though it transformed you into a different world. I would think about how specifically books have created a world for you, and what quality of yours they have helped your develop (“shaped”). Then I would think of an example from a book you read that you could recreate with your introduction to put us in your place when you are being transformed to that other world (creative writing opp!! see my posts on how to write anecdotes!! Let us see how even a small piece of a book can change how you think, feel, etc.) Then you can talk about how that book and then work in how other books have created a world, and then go into how they have shaped you–and end with how you will continue to use that quality in your future. The key is to get specific, and use those specific examples to support the point you are making about your world and what it means to you. (Yes, explaining how these books have helped you cope with the “real” world could make a nice twist! Good luck! (Thank God for books, right!!) JR