Every applicant to one of the University of California campuses must write four short essays in response to the UC application's Personal Insight questions. The UC essay examples below reveal how two different students approached the prompts. Both essays are accompanied by an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.
As you figure out your strategy for responding to the UC Personal Insight questions, keep in mind that it's not just the individual essays that matter, but also the full portrait of yourself that you create through the combination of all four essays. Ideally, each essay should present a different dimension of your personality, interests, and talents so that the admissions folks get to know you as a three-dimensional individual who has a lot to contribute to the campus community.
UC Sample Essay, Question #2
For one of her Personal Insight essays, Angie responded to question #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.
Here is her essay:
I'm not great at drawing. Even after taking the required art classes in elementary and middle school, I don't really see myself becoming a famous artist anytime soon. I'm most comfortable creating stick figures and notebook doodles. However, my lack of innate talent hasn't kept me from using drawing communicate or entertain through cartoons.
Now, like I said, the artwork itself isn't going to win any awards, but that's only part of my creative process. I draw cartoons to make my friends laugh, to make my siblings feel better if they're having a bad day, to poke fun at myself. I don't make cartoons to show off my artistic ability; I make them because I think they're fun to create, and (so far) other people enjoy them.
When I was about seven or eight, my sister got dumped by her boyfriend unexpectedly. She was feeling really down about it, and I was trying to think of something I could do that would cheer her up. So I drew a (pretty bad) likeness of her ex, made better by some rather unflattering details. It made my sister laugh, and I like to think I helped her through her break-up, even if only a little bit. Since then, I've drawn caricatures of my teachers, friends, and celebrities, ventured a little into political cartooning, and started a series about my interactions with my idiotic cat, Gingerale.
Cartooning is a way for me to be creative and express myself. Not only am I being artistic (and I use that term loosely), but I'm using my imagination to create scenarios and figure out how how to represent people and things. I've learned what people find funny, and what is not funny. I've come to realize that my drawing skills are not the important part of my cartooning. What is important is that I'm expressing myself, making others happy, and doing something small and silly, but also worthwhile.
Discussion of UC Sample Essay by Angie
Angie's essay comes in at 322 words, a little below the 350-word limit. 350 words is already a small space in which to tell a meaningful story, so don't be afraid to submit an essay that's close to the word limit (as long as your essay isn't wordy, repetitive, or lacking substance).
The essay does a good job showing the reader a dimension of Angie that probably isn't apparent anywhere else in her application. Her love of creating cartoons wouldn't appear in her academic record or list of extracurricular activities. Thus, it's a good choice for one of her Personal Insight essays (after all, it's providing new insight into her person). We learn that Angie isn't just a good student who is involved in some school activities. She also has a hobby she is passionate about. Crucially, Angie explains why cartooning is important to her.
The tone of Angie's essay is also a plus. She has not written a typical "look how great I am" essay. Instead, Angie clearly tells us that her artistic skills are rather weak. Her honesty is refreshing, and at the same time, the essay does convey much to admire about Angie: she is funny, self-deprecating, and caring. This latter point, in fact, is the true strength of the essay. By explaining that she enjoys this hobby because of the happiness it brings other people, Angie comes across as someone who is genuine, considerate, and kind.
Overall, the essay is quite strong. It is clearly written, uses an engaging style, and is free of any major grammatical errors. It presents a dimension of Angie's character that should appeal to the admissions staff who read her essay. If there is one weakness, it would be that the third paragraph focuses on Angie's early childhood. Colleges are much more interested in what you have done in recent years than your activities as a child. That said, the childhood information connects to Angie's current interests in clear, relevant ways, so it does not detract too much from the overall essay.
UC Sample Essay, Question #6
For one of his University of California Personal Insight essays, Terrance responded to option #6: Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
Here is his essay:
One of my strongest memories in elementary school is rehearsing for the annual “Learning on the Move” show. The fourth graders put on this show every year, each one focusing on something different. Our show was about food and making healthy choices. We could pick which group to be in: dancing, stage design, writing, or music. I chose music, not because I was interested in it the most, but because my best friend had picked it.
I remember the music director showing us a long row of various percussion instruments, and asking us what we thought different foods would sound like. This was not my first experience in playing an instrument, but I was a novice when it came to creating music, deciding what the music meant, and what its intent and meaning was. Granted, choosing a güiro to represent scrambled eggs was not Beethoven writing his Ninth Symphony, but it was a start.
In middle school, I joined the orchestra, taking up the cello. Freshmen year of high school, I auditioned for, and was accepted into, the regional youth symphony. More importantly, though, I took two semesters of Music Theory my sophomore year. I love playing music, but I've learned that I love writing it even more. Since my high school only offers Music Theory I and II, I attended a summer music camp with a program in theory and composition. I learned so much, and I'm looking forward to pursuing a major in Music Composition.
I find writing music is a way for me to express emotions and tell stories that are beyond language. Music is such a unifying force; it's a way to communicate across languages and borders. Music has been such a large part of my life-from fourth grade and on-and studying music and music composition is a way for me to create something beautiful and share it with others.
Discussion of UC Sample Essay by Terrance
Like Angie's essay, Terrance's essay comes in at a little over 300 words. This length is perfectly appropriate assuming all of the words add substance to the narrative. When it comes to the features of a good application essay, Terrance does well and avoids common pitfalls.
For Terrance, the choice of question #6 makes sense-he fell in love with composing music, and he is entering college knowing what his major will be. If you are like many college applicants and have a wide range of interests and possible college majors, you may want to steer clear of this question.
Terrance's essay does a good job balancing humor with substance. The opening paragraph presents an entertaining vignette in which he chooses to study music based on nothing more than peer pressure. By paragraph three, we learn how that rather serendipitous introduction to music has led to something very meaningful. The final paragraph also establishes a pleasing tone with its emphasis on music as a "unifying force" and something that Terrance wants to share with others. He comes across as a passionate and generous person who will contribute to the campus community in a meaningful way.
A Final Word on Personal Insight Essays
Unlike the California State University system, the University of California schools have a holistic admissions process. The admissions officers are evaluating you as a whole person, not just as numerical data related to test scores and grades (although both are important). The Personal Insight questions are one of the primary ways the admissions officers get to know you, your personality, and your interests.
Think of each essay as an independent entity, as well as one piece of a four-essay application. Each essay should present an engaging narrative that reveals an important aspect of your life as well as explain why the topic you've chosen is important to you. When you consider all four essays in combination, they should work together to reveal the true breadth and depth of your character and interests.