prompt 8

University of California Essay Prompts for Fall 2017
(Ideas for Answering Personal Insight Question No. 8)

UC Essay Prompt 8: Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Out of the eight new University of California essay prompts for Fall 2017, I think that most students should consider writing about Prompt 8 as one of their four required mini-essays.

More than any of the other questions, this prompt targets most directly what makes you YOU, and asks to understand something about your most fundamental qualities, characteristics or values.

It is also the most open-ended of the bunch.

This makes it a great opportunity to showcase something about yourself that the other seven prompts don’t offer.

It also makes it critical to focus your answer.

How to Zero in on a Great Topic for University of California Prompt 8

Students will share a complete picture of themselves with the UCs by the four questions they write about.

They can start by brainstorming topics for their other three mini-essays first, and use Number 8 last to come up with a final topic about themselves they haven’t included yet.

However, I believe that brainstorming ideas for this last prompt 8 FIRST is a great way to spark ideas for the other seven prompts at the same time.

Whichever works best to get those ideas percolating!

The approach I love to brainstorm topic ideas for any personal-statement essays (like UC Prompt 8) is to first identify a short list of your defining qualities, characteristics or values.

(Find your Core Qualities and Core Values in these posts.)

Then you can move on to brainstorming a specific moment, event or experience from your life to illustrate that key part of yourself.


prompt 8


These new University of California essay prompts (aka Personal Insight Questions) are each relatively short: no longer than 350 words.

This amounts to two substantial paragraphs, or three shorter ones.

To keep a strong focus in your mini-essay for Prompt 8, make sure to pick only ONE core quality, characteristic or value to highlight.

Then start fleshing out your ideas and related experiences about it.

Look for one specific example that will support the point you want to make in your essay. For example, try to think of a “time,” or experience where you did something that helped you stand out. That way, you show yourself in action standing out, rather than simply explaining how you do it.

Start your Prompt 8 essay with that example to engage the reader.

Use the questions the University of California admissions department provided with each Personal Insight Question, as well as the excellent related worksheet they shared on their web site (see below).

Nothing else can tell you exactly what they want to learn about you in this essay!

prompt 8

Here is the rest of the Personal Insight Question for Number 8:

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.

If you already have some ideas of what you want to write about in your other three mini-essays for the UC, check to make sure that this Number 8 essay explores or shares something different about you from the other three.

Some students might know immediately what sets them apart from everyone else. If that’s you, go for it and trust your instincts.

prompt 8

Maybe you have one blue eye and one brown eye. Yes, that’s different.

Maybe you are a champion yo-yo expert. Yup, that’s unique, too!

Maybe you are the youngest of five girls. Also, unusual.

But if you are like most students, you might not have some odd, abnormal or bizarre component to your life.

And that’s totally fine!

You can still find something that is unique to you. Start with one of your defining qualities, characteristics or values—and find an interesting moment or “a time” that can serve as an example of it.

prompt 8

Here’s a Simple Outline for UC Essay Prompt 8 

  1. Start with an example of one unique quality, characteristic or value you want to showcase that helps you stand out (Look for “a time” or moment or incident that involved it)
  2. Describe how you think about that specific quality, characteristic or value 
  3. Explain what you learned about yourself from that “time” that involved it
  4. Include what you learned through it
  5. Detail why that mattered–to yourself, to others and to the world
  6. Share how you believe that quality, characteristic or value will serve you in college and the future (involving your personal and professional goals)

Start by writing several sentences about each number, and you will end up with a rough draft before you know it. That’s the hardest part!

Don’t worry if it’s one long paragraph. You can go back later and divide it into two or three shorter ones that make sense.

Trim it down if it’s over 350 words.

If you recounted “a time” to illustrate your quality, characteristic or value at the start of your essay, make sure that specific example doesn’t take up too much of your piece.

Usually, you can condense that into only two to three sentence, and move on.

The most important part of this essay is how you explain why that unique part of you is important, and how it will help you thrive at a UC and tie into your personal and academic goals.

The UC provided a worksheet to help students brainstorm ideas for these essays.

prompt 8

Here is what the UC admissions department offered for Number 8:

8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

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. Lots of things can influence who you are, such as your experiences, family, interests and values.

Here are a few lists to help you get started.

List three of your personality traits (if you need help, ask your friends or family how they would describe you):




What do you value in your life? What’s important to you?

List three of them here:




What are you passionate about?



3. What items or possessions do you cherish? List them here and think about why they’re meaningful to you:




Does anything overlap? Is there one thing that stands out? Are there any that you would want to share more information about? Just remember, once you get an idea, make sure to focus your essay with a specific example.

prompt 8

Back to me and my ideas for you on Prompt 8:

Do you notice that this exercise is essentially trying to help you identify a core personal quality, characteristic or value? The UC uses other words for these, such as your personality traits, passions, what you “value in your life,” or “items or possessions” you cherish.

It’s all the same stuff. Just pick ONE good one, find a specific example of it, and write on!

There’s also a strong chance that you might flesh out great topic ideas for the other 7 mini-essays by going through this brainstorming process for Prompt 8!

Such as a leadership experience for UC Prompt 1, or something about your creative side for UC Prompt 2, or a specific talent or skill for Prompt 3, or a challenge you faced for Prompt 5, or a do-good volunteer or job experience for Prompt 7.

Collect ALL your ideas, and then sort through them to see how they line up with the prompts.

Remember, the best way to give admissions officers at the UC a clear picture of you is to paint four SPECIFIC and CLEAR smaller images of parts of you in each essay.

If you try to cram in too many ideas and points into each essay, the picture grows muddled and murky.

This short presentation can help you learn How to Write a Short Essay, such as these short UC essays that need to be fewer than 350 words each.

If you need more help with these, I offer tutoring and editing services on these and other application essays. Learn more on my SERVICES page.

Good luck!