College Application Booster​®: High School Seniors, Get ahead on your college application!

Command EducationGuide

How to Write the University of California Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

All eight UC undergraduate colleges use their own application rather than the Common, Universal, or Coalition application. Consequently they provide a unique set of prompts for students applying to the UC system. You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. You should select questions that are most relevant to your experience, that best reflect your individual circumstances and highlight your personal strengths.

Essay Prompt 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.



A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

This prompt is asking about what you’ve learned through your leadership roles. How did you make a positive impact through your actions, and what was the lasting change you created? The impact does not have to be on a macro level; in fact, it could be a positive interaction you’ve had with your team or with the members of the community that changed you or the people around you for the better. Here are some great examples to reflect on – caring for a family member(s), resolving a conflict, or stepping up in an organization you’re already a part of!

Essay Prompt 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.



What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem? How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

For this prompt, try to think outside the box and reflect on unique and memorable ways in which you’ve approached thinking differently. As stated in the prompt, your response is not limited to creative or artistic endeavors. You can think back to an experience where you took a nontraditional approach to address an issue that came up in a club or an organization you’re a part of. Tell us a story. Walk us through the experience, your thought process and how you implemented a creative approach to resolving the conflict or problem.

Essay Prompt 3:

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?



If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you? Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

This is the space where you can write about how you’ve developed skills and talents that are unique to you. Here are a few other questions to reflect on: what is your first memory of you exploring this talent or skill? How have you developed it over time, and how does it bring you joy? Do you see yourself continuing to hone your skill or talent in college, and if so, how?

Essay Prompt 4:

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.



An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few. If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today?

This prompt is open-ended and deliberately vague in describing educational opportunities and barriers. That means you are free to call upon memorable experiences that you have had, and how your participation inspired or encouraged you to learn and grow. You may also choose to write about a time when you faced an obstacle and how you overcame it to continue your education, a passion, or an experience. What did you learn by overcoming the obstacle(s) and how did that change your approach to learning, people, or life in general? Did it inspire you to make a change within your community? Do you see yourself in a role that will knock those barriers down for others?

Essay Prompt 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?



A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?”

Life is an adventure, and challenges play a huge role in shaping our values and skills! Of all the different barriers you’ve surmounted throughout your life, selecting the most moving and impactful anecdote will be key to answering this question. Your essay should demonstrate maturity, resilience, and have a clear narrative arc explaining why you wouldn’t be the same person without undergoing your challenge.

To tackle this question, you really want to focus on three key aspects: recency, uniqueness and impact. Firstly, rather than address an obstacle you overcame when you were young, zero in on a recent challenge that you can write about with fresh and vivid detail. Additionally chronicling a roadblock that colleges may have heard a million times, such as persisting through quarantine boredom or conquering a difficult research paper, may not help you stand out as much as detailing that time you coached your Bharatanatyam troupe through a stellar performance. If Covid-19 irrevocably shifted your family life or worldview, definitely don’t shy away from discussing it, but missed friends and TikTok rabbit holes may not speak to your personal development in the most distinctive way. It’s crucial to prioritize two words from the prompt here: “personal” and “overcome.” Focus your writing on how the difficulty affected your personal life and the specific ways in which you transformed it into a learning experience.

Colleges want to know how well you can thrive and endure when things don’t go your way, since college itself will be full of hurdles that you’ll have to face with a good head on your shoulders. For this reason, try to show, rather than tell, your growth mindset. You could potentially juxtapose two situations: one in which you failed, and a later one in which you implemented what you learned the first time around in order to succeed.Whatever topic you choose, make sure it’s one that you’ve fully grappled with and are ready to discuss! You don’t want a bitter or unsure undertone to ruin a potentially great story, so select your topic with discretion.

Essay Prompt 6:

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.



Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement. Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

Ah, the classic “Why this major?” question… you’ve seen it many times before, so you should feel a bit more comfortable approaching this prompt! Unlike at many other top colleges, students applying to the UC system choose a major before they start school. While you don’t have to stick to this major forever, you should definitely do some soul searching before you apply to determine what major would be the best choice for you. What sparks your curiosity the most? What do you dream of doing 10 years from now? Although you don’t have to choose an esoteric topic to prove your cerebral might, you shouldn’t be afraid of showing your academic, passionate or nerdy side here! Be yourself, and explain both what your most authentic intellectual interests are and how UC is the perfect place for you to pursue them.

Essay Prompt 7:

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?



Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place — like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community? Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

This essay is a great opportunity to show your admissions officer your values and culture, as to help them imagine how you would function within their college community. Focusing on a single, measurable community impact will be a far greater use of this essay’s real estate than several vague and disjointed examples, so describe your experience with leadership in mind. How would your community have been different without you? Why was your impact a contribution only you could make?

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?



If there’s anything you want us to know about you, but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. 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?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.

This is the prompt equivalent of Bingo’s “free space:” it’s a chance for you to write about a new part of your interests, values and background. If you choose to answer this prompt, your essay should help paint a more complete picture of you as a UC applicant, student, and person. This essay should not be a list of all of the accomplishments you couldn’t fit elsewhere in your application. You can, however, dive into a passion project you completed that didn’t exactly fit with any of the other prompts, a competition you won that has a great story behind it, or a talent you are developing that you think really sets you apart.