How to Write the UC Supplemental Essay

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: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

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.

Things to consider: 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?

As stated in “Things to consider,” this prompt is asking about your experiences in a leadership role and what you’ve learned in that capacity. How did you make a positive impact through your role, 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!

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.

Things to consider: 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 to think and reflect on unique and memorable ways in which you’ve approached thinking differently. As stated in the prompt, your response is not only limited to creative or artistic endeavors. You can think back to an experience of solving a math problem you were stuck on for hours, or incorporated a different 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 that experience, your thought process and how you implemented a creative approach to resolving the conflict or problem.

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

Things to consider: 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 talk about how you’ve developed the skills and talents that are unique to you. You do not need to have received awards, distinctions or accolades related to your skills or talents. Some questions to reflect on: what was the first memory of you exploring this talent/skill? How have you developed it over time, and how does this bring you joy? Do you see yourself continuing to hone your skill/talent in college, and how?

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

Things to consider: 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 very open-ended and deliberately vague in describing educational opportunity or barrier. You may think back to when you stepped up and took an opportunity to continue your education or continue challenging yourself. What were some of the most memorable experiences that you have had, and how did your participation through those experiences inspire or encourage you to pursue further opportunities?

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 life? Did that inspire you to make a change within your community? Do you see yourself in a role that will knock down those barriers to help others?

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?

Things to consider: 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?”

We’ve all faced challenges, big and small, so the key here is choosing the right one. First of all, you’ll want to focus on recent history rather than on an obstacle you overcame when you were young and may not remember with as much clarity.

Additionally, try to avoid writing about a generic challenge—anything from failing a test to the 2020 quarantine. If Covid-19 greatly affected you or your family and you can write about it in a unique way, then it may be a story worth telling. But colleges certainly won’t want to read another story about how you missed your friends and got addicted to social media during the pandemic. There are two key words in this prompt you should focus on: “personal” and “overcome.” The challenge should be personal to you and one that you can write about thoughtfully.

Once you choose the obstacle or setback you want to discuss, talk about your feelings in a mature and emotionally intelligent way, selecting an experience that demonstrates your potential to thrive in and learn from difficult situations. As with any other prompt, try to show, rather than tell, this growth. 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.

Avoid issues which you haven’t fully processed and still view with bitterness or hopelessness. Remember, you are trying to demonstrate growth, not wallow or complain.

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

Things to consider: 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?

You can approach this essay the way you might approach a supplement from another school asking you “why this major?” Unlike 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. Think about what you enjoy in school, what you see yourself doing in the future, and what sparks your curiosity and passion. You don’t have to choose something super niche or esoteric to make yourself seem smarter. Show your genuine, nerdy, and passionate side of yourself!

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

Things to consider: 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. To make a good, lasting impression on your admissions officer, describe a time you made an impact on your community, rather than listing the many ways you were involved in it. Think about how your community would have been different without you, and why your impact was unique.

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?

Things to consider: 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 essay is basically a free for all. But don’t take that as an excuse to write just anything. If you use this prompt as one of your four essays, it should help paint a more complete picture of you as a UC applicant, student, and person. While it is okay to brag in this essay, keep in mind the caveat “a little.” This essay should be just that—an essay, not a list of all of the accomplishments you couldn’t fit elsewhere in your application. You can, however, dive into a passion project you did that didn’t exactly fit with any of the other prompts, a competition you won that has a great story to go with it, or a talent you are developing that you think really sets you apart.