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This post is now outdated.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!!


Looking for your World to answer the University of California Prompt 1?


A high school English teacher contacted me this week asking if I had any sample essays for the University of California college application Prompt 1.

She was using my guides and Essay Hell blog posts to help teach her students how to write their college application essays. 

The teacher said she had my collection of 50 narrative essays, Heavenly Essays, but that I had not included what prompts they addressed.

She was right. I only introduced the sample essays as examples of personal statements. (It would have been too confusing to explain how each essay was used for different colleges and prompts in the book.)

Most were used for The Common App prompts, but many were also written for the UCs, including Prompt 1.

I told her many students end up re-tooling their Common App essay for one of the UC essays.

I told her how the idea of describing a world should be viewed figuratively.

A student should be able to say after writing this essay: “Welcome to my world!”

The idea is that they have written a piece that reveals what their life is like, or at least one important piece of it, and helped the reader walk in their shoes.

Related: How to Write About Your World

It also helps to read these posts that talk about how to think about the Describe the World You Come From prompt first, and then check out sample essays.

To help the enterprising English teacher, I went through the 50 essays and found the ones that either were used for the UC Prompt 1, or easily could have been used for that one, since they wrote about a world.

I sent her the page numbers, (some listed here) in case you have Heavenly Essays. They include students writing about everything from the world of:

  • living with divorced parents (30)
  • two lesbian moms (59)
  • three older sisters (33)
  • discrimination based upon race (45)
  • an extreme religion (84)
  • being a big guy in a small person’s world (21)
  • ice skating (92)
  • activism (98)
  • excessive reading (114)
  • theater (129)
  • child of two shrinks (144)
  • ice cream making (140)
  • yoga (105)
  • everyone shorter than you (111)

on and on…Wow, quite a World we live in!

If you don’t have Heavenly Essays, I’m sharing three sample college application essays below from that collection here that I believe will give you an idea of how you can write about your world.

No one knows exactly how far you can push this idea of a world, but I believe it’s hard to go too far out there.

If you think you are pushing it, maybe find a way to somewhere work in the actual word “world” somewhere–no more than once!–just so they know your intentions.

1. (The World of living with mostly short people…)

Duncan Lynd
Laguna Beach, CA
California State University, Long Beach, CA

 A Small World

 While grabbing lunch between games at a water polo tournament, I noticed one of my new teammates rarely looked me in the eye. Instead of taking the empty seat next to me, he opted to sit across the table. Even when I tried to start a conversation with him, he only looked down, and mumbled, “Oh, hey,” and walked away.

This type of cold-shoulder treatment wasn’t new to me. I’m a big guy. In bare feet, I’m about 6 feet 7 inches tall, and I’m pushing 300 pounds. Yes, it can be a pain. I bump my head going through doorways, I don’t fit in most mid-size cars, and I can barely squeeze into most classroom desks. But I understand that the world is made for average-sized people, and I like to think I’m above average. One thing, however, is hard for me to take: People who don’t know me assume I’m mean.

Like my frosty water polo teammate. I understand why he was intimidated by me, especially since he was one of the smaller players. I would have felt the same way. When I meet people for the first time, I often draw conclusions or make assumptions. Almost all my life, I’ve had to deal with the expectations and judgments people make about me just because I’m often the largest kid in the room. Ever since I was a kid there has been pressure for me to perform athletically because of my size and strength.

When I went to grocery store, random people consistently asked me if I played football. When I told them, “No,” the men always lectured me not only about why I should play football, but what I should be doing with my life, with my body, and with my potential. I normally just nodded and smiled, but it bothered me that they thought they knew what was best for me.

Not only did I never play football, but I defied many of the assumptions people made about me. How many people my size love nothing more than mixing up a chocolate batter, and decorating a three-layer cake? Beside my passion for baking, I also love working with little kids. For the last two summers, I volunteered at a camp where I taught kids how to surf. My nickname was Teddy Bear. And if I wanted to make my friends fall on the ground laughing, I reminded them of my dream to learn to play the violin.

In general, I ignore what people say to me or think about me when it comes to my size. Instead of reacting, I usually just give them a smile. On many levels, there are advantages to towering over most of the world. I always get the front seat since I don’t fit in the back. No one even dares call “shotgun.” I usually have the best seat in the house, whether it’s a rock concert or a ball game, no matter where I sit. And if people are getting rowdy and making my friends uncomfortable, all I need to do is step in the middle and simply ask, “What’s going on?” and they disperse.

Even the people who are intimidated at first by me eventually come around once they get to know me. Like the water polo player at the restaurant. Within about two weeks, we finally had a conversation and ended up finding we had a lot in common. In fact, he ended up as my best friend. For me, it is a small world after all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

ANALYSIS: How can you not like this guy after reading his essay? When I met with Duncan, it was obvious that his impressive stature could make a nifty essay topic. On some level, it had to define him. But we didn’t want it to be predictable or cliché.

Many students have traits or idiosyncrasies that feel unique to them, but the truth is many other students share them, such as being a big guy, being super tall, having too many freckles, being clumsy, afraid of heights, etc. They can all make terrific topics, but you have to work a little harder to give them a twist or something unexpected.

 After talking about his height and girth a bit, it came out that not only did he bump his head a lot, but that people made assumptions about him based on his difference. Bingo! That other kids thought he was mean just because he was big was a different twist on the idea of being large.

 By sharing how this bothered him, Duncan revealed himself as a sensitive, empathetic and insightful guy. That is all great stuff! You don’t only want to share your stories, but also how they make your feel, what you think and learn from them. Then you will have a knock-out essay.



2. (The World of life living between divorced parents…)

Gabrielle Mark Bachoua
San Diego, CA
University of California, Davis, CA

Leaping Dancer

As my mom backs out of our driveway, I glance at the back seats to make sure my basketball gear is there, along with my schoolbooks, phone charger, and beat-up copy of Catch-22. We slowly wind through my neighborhood and over about a half dozen speed bumps, then pull onto the highway heading south with the other Sunday traffic.

I sit back and watch the familiar landmarks—the large Denny’s sign with the missing “N,” the short stretch of undeveloped land, the Shell billboard that meant we were almost there—flash past my window.

I’ve made this 20-mile trip between my parent’s homes for the last decade, four times a week, ever since they divorced when I was seven. I must have taken it more than a thousand times. Sometimes I dreaded getting into that car, and resented my parents for putting my older sister and me through the circular logic that moving us back and forth will make our lives normal because we see each parent often, but moving back and forth isn’t normal, unless they make it normal, which isn’t normal. Now I know it makes sense because normal isn’t ideal, normal is the unexpected and the crazy and the unforgiving.

 I now realize that those rides were the consistency amid the madness. Looking out the window and down to the lane reflectors I think…about how on Friday’s basketball game my jump shot was off because I was floating to the left, about how I’m excited to see my dog and cat, about how upset I am because of Yossarian’s predicament, about how I’ll miss my dad, about how veterinary medicine is fascinating, about how I needed to study for my chemistry test, about how I will work harder to get into my dream school, and about how I’m glad that I get to take a nice nap before I go to mom’s.

I even remember the first time years ago when I noticed the smudge on the rear driver’s side window, which was shaped into a leaping dancer—a dancer in white. I would watch her move through the trees in El Cajon Valley, bob my head up and down to help her jump over hillside terraces of Spring Valley, and keep her from crashing into the Westfield mall sign two miles from my mom’s home.

It was those hours I spent thinking silently to myself when I learned more about who I am, where I envision myself going, and what my role is in this world. Sitting in the front seat, I’d take a moment to look back to see that same dancer in white, however faceless, nameless, and abstract, gave me a sense of comfort. That even though I wasn’t really ‘home,’ I still was, because home isn’t simply where you rest your head, but also where you have the security to dream inside of it.

ANALYSIS: Once again, an essay like this proves that you can pick almost anything to write about as long as you give it a focus. In this case, Gabrielle picked a simple stretch of roadway between her parent’s homes. She described the weekly routine and drive with vivid, descriptive details, so you felt as though you were in the car staring out the same window.

 But she used the trip as a metaphor for a meaningful time in her life, when she had lots of downtime to reflect on her life, her feelings and dreams. Even though it shares the pain of her parent’s divorce in an understated way, that’s always in the background—and we can tell it has shaped her.

If she never had the time to daydream and reflect on her day, who knows how she would have been different somehow, or those emotions would have played out somewhere else.

Nothing really happens in this essay, but it still manages to have momentum and hold our interest. I love how she personifies a little smudge on the window into a dancer, another metaphor for her own journey.

In the end, Gabrielle explored the idea of home, and defined it more as a journey than a destination—whether riding in a car for a commute between houses or a lifelong adventure.

I believe Gabrielle didn’t set out to write a “deep” essay filled with metaphors and heavy insights, but by describing a simple routine and then reflecting upon what it meant to her, she revealed herself as an observant, reflective and wise young woman.



3. (When a World literally falls out from under you…)

Luc Stevens
Laguna Beach, CA
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR


Skating Through Hard Times

I was in fifth grade eating breakfast with my family when the floor of my home gave way under our feet. We barely escaped from the house before it buckled into two pieces, and ran to safety before the entire hillside gave way. Our home was destroyed, and we narrowly escaped with our lives.

Six years ago, my family was caught in this terrifying landslide when my house and a dozen others slid down the side of a canyon in Laguna Beach. Within less than 10 minutes, my life literally fell out from under me. For the next five years, my family moved over a dozen times, often living out of boxes with friends and relatives. Besides my clothes and basic necessities, the only thing I hauled from house to house was my collection of skateboards.

Six months after the landslide, the city of Laguna Beach relocated us to a recycled trailer on a parking lot at the end of town so my parents could save money to rebuild our home. I see it now as an extremely generous gesture but at the time it was difficult. Living in this dilapidated, thin-walled trailer was definitely not the life I had envisioned. My backyard was an enormous parking lot.

As a lifelong skateboarder, however, that flat expanse of asphalt helped me get through the hardest years of my life. You see, I’m a skater from a hillside neighborhood and had never experienced such space and opportunity. I took advantage of the situation and made this neglected, dirty parking lot into a skateboarding oasis with ramps and rails that my friends donated.

We would all gather together after school as a release from the pressures of life for a while, practicing trick after trick, working to fine-tune each maneuver. Contests were created, videos shot, and movies made.

For the first time in my life, I had a flat area where my friends and I could hang out. Even though we didn’t talk much about the landslide, these friendships were both a distraction and softened the unpleasant living situation.

Also, balancing sports and loads of homework, I turned to what I thought of as my new backyard skate park at night to escape from reality each day. The sense of riding back and forth on a cold night helped me relax and persevere through my studies and life in general.

Numerous years passed in that cramped rickety, old trailer and life wore on dealing with everything from highway noise reverberating right outside our door to the constant rodent problem. When my family’s new, hillside home finally came to completion at Christmas last year, I was more than ready to move.

The only thing I would miss from my five-year ordeal was my beloved “skate park.” After moving into our permanent home, the crazy life I endured since fifth grade was now over and even though I could not bring the skate ramps themselves, I was able to bring plenty of memories.

One of the most important lessons I learned through all this is that I have the ability to find positive opportunities even in the grimmest circumstances. If I could find friendship, support and fun in a parking lot, I know I can find the upside to almost any situation.

ANALYSIS: Luc almost had no choice but to write about how he and his family lost their home in a landslide when he was young. It was such a defining experience—not just the terrifying event, but the long, slow process of “going home.”

 I like how Luc recounted briefly the actual slide, and how he didn’t over dramatize or dwell on that. Instead, he picked right up on how he turned a bad situation into something positive. Like any good personal essay, this one has a clear universal truth: How every cloud has a silver lining (if you find it.)

 Because Luc’s description of his experience showed us how bad things were and then the steps he took to improve them, he never had to spend a lot of time explaining what he learned. He only needed a couple sentences at the very end to share his lessons.

 A lot of students who grow up in Southern California want to write about their passions for sports, such as surfing and skate boarding. I usually steer them away from these topics, since they aren’t very interesting to read. Luc’s essay is a huge exception!

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Want to learn to write anecdotes to start your own essay like the ones in these samples? Watch My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

Did you notice the titles? You can also learn how to title your own college application essay.

You also might find Essay Hell’s Pinterest Board on How to Find The World You Come From helpful.

If you are an English teacher interested in using my advice, ideas and tips from my books and/or this blog, I wrote a post on Lesson Plan Ideas for The College Application Essay to try to help you. Let me know if you have any questions or comments!