Students Must Write Four, All-New Short Transfer Essays
to Apply to University of California

If you want to transfer to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.

The UC changed the required essays this year (2016-17), and calls the new prompts “Personal Insight Questions.”

All but one of the four short essay prompts are almost the same as required for incoming freshmen: You have seven prompts to choose from to write three of your essays.

The fourth essay is a required prompt and specifically addresses your reasons for transferring.

The four essays are on the short side: no more than 350 words each. That’s usually only a couple paragraphs.

The UC admissions stresses that all four of these short essays will be considered equally.


I have written separate posts on my ideas, tips and strategies on ways to address the 7 “Personal Insight Questions” (essay prompts) that you have to choose from to write 3 of your UC transfer essays. Find links to these helpful posts at the bottom of this post.

Before you do anything else, however, I would advise that you start by reading the instructions from the UC Admissions for transfer students explaining all about the new Personal Insight Questions on this page of their web site. Notice that they also include this worksheet guide for transfer applicants, which you should also read closely for ideas on how to address these prompts.

Also, check out these Writing Tips from the UC for these transfer essays!

uc transfer



Since there are four essays, try to pick topics that complement each other and don’t say the same thing. As you brainstorm ideas, think of the four as one unit that showcases why you are prepared to transfer into a UC.

If you don’t know where to start, consider starting with the one Personal Insight Question (prompt) about your intended major, which is required.

And then identify three other prompts from the 7 other Personal Insight Questions that will let you expand on your personal background and educational experiences so far.

Look for Personal Insight Questions (essay prompts) that would allow you to expand on themes related to your intended field of study and educational goals. (This will make more sense once you review all the prompts.)


uc transfer


The One Required Question for UC Transfer Essays

“Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university.”

Things to consider: How did your interest in your major develop? Do you have any experience related to your major outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, or participation in student organizations and activities? If you haven’t had experience in the field, consider including experience in the classroom. This may include working with faculty or doing research projects.

If you’re applying to multiple campuses with a different major at each campus, think about approaching the topic from a broader perspective, or find a common thread among the majors you’ve chosen.

Those three paragraphs are all part of the official “Personal Insight Question” that is required for UC transfer applicants. As you can see, the UC is working hard to make sure you give the information about you that they want.

Based on their “Things to Consider,” start with what first interested you in your major

How did your interest develop? You could start your essay with a specific example of a moment or experience that first sparked your interest in this field.

Then brainstorm specific examples to illustrate how you developed this interest, what you learned in the process, and how they helped prepare you to study this major.

As the UC suggested, first look for activities and experiences outside the classroom to include. If you didn’t have any there, brainstorm ones inside the classroom. (You can infer here that they find outside experiences potentially more relevant, interesting or important; although it certainly depends on the specific activities and experiences.)

The trick to writing shorter essays is to look for specific moments, incidents or experiences that you can use to illustrate a larger point you are making. This helps give your essay a sharp focus, instead of trying to cram too many points into a short piece of writing.

If you want to make a point about how you are prepared for your major, make sure to support it with specific examples from your past.

Another way to give a focus to this essay would be to showcase a defining quality or characteristic that has helped you prepare so far with this major, and which you believe will help you once you transfer and continue your studies.


Strategies for Writing About Each of the 7 New UC Essay Prompts (Transfer students pick 3 to write about)

Here are my ideas and tips on ways you could think about the 7 essay prompts to get started.

NOTE: Since you are writing about these topics for your transfer essays, it wouldn’t hurt to find ways to include how they related to your intended major, whether it’s your leadership experience, creative side, volunteer work or that “one thing that sets you apart” from other applicants.

Click on the prompt and it will link to an entire post on that Personal Insight Question:

  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.
  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.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  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?
  6. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  7. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

You also might find my tutorial How to Write a Short Essay helpful, since each of these essays needs to be less than 350 words each.

Good luck!