University of california essay samples

University of California — Admissions


How to apply

Freshman: Personal insight questions

What do you want UC to know about you? Here’s your chance to tell us in your own words.


  • 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.

Keep in mind

  • All questions are equal: All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions: It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal questions are just that — personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.

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.

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?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

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?

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 are you today?

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?”

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?

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

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?

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

Need more help?

  • Download the worksheet for freshman applicants [PDF]
  • See our writing tips & techniques

Ready to get started?

It’s a good idea to work on the questions before you enter them into the application. Here’s a word doc with all the questions to help you.

University of California — Admissions


How to apply

Personal insight questions

The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.

Think of it as your interview with the admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.

While this section of the application is just one part we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.

University of California Example Essay Freshman Prompt 2

University of California: Freshman Essay — Prompt #2 (2016)

Prompt: 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.

University of California Example Essay Freshman Prompt 2

I tend to express my creative side visually, usually in the form of drawings and charts. Imagine you’re tasked with creating a 30-minute pitch to present your business idea to investors. If I were involved, I would contribute by adding visual design elements such as posters, charts and drawings to enhance the presentation. For me, creativity is the process of creating something that did not previously exist. My natural skill allows me to take information and present it in a new way, using visual media such as pens, paint, digital images and digital design. Whether it’s taking data and creating an infographic or taking a slogan and creating a logo, you’ll find me among the first to volunteer my skills.

A time when my creative skills became practical was during my senior-year research paper for Honors English. My paper was about the history of immigration from Europe to the United States. There were many statistics listed in the text of my paper. With my creativity, I was able to design graphic representations to portray the number of immigrants over time. I created a series of colorful graphs to accompany my paper. The graphs went beyond typical bar and pie graphs and included small drawings and an attractive color scheme. My teacher noted in her grading comments that she appreciated the creative addition and that it added to a reader’s ability to both enjoy and learn from a research paper.

Because of my natural affinity for visual art, I am always seeking ways to apply it. In the business world, there are no shortages of opportunities to add visual appeal. The entire business world is fueled by advertising, one of the most visually-impactful industries in existence, and one I plan to enter. My skills are also a personal passion and bridge the gap between my professional and my personal life. In my free time, you’ll even find me designing greeting cards for friends and family. Creativity, I have learned, is not something I do, it’s something I am.