Step-by-Step Process To Write UC Essays Prompts With Examples For The Year 2021/2022

November 25, 2021

The University of California (UC) school system is the most prestigious state university system in the United States. It comprises nine undergraduate universities: UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Irvine.

You’ve come to the right place if you apply to the University of California schools and write the UC Personal Insight Questions.

In this post, we’ll talk about 

  • UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) prompts
  • What exactly are the UCs looking for in a candidate?
  • Best PIQ prompts you must choose?
  • From where can you find ideas to pick your UC PIQ topics?
  • A list of past topics other students have selected
  • Common topics + a few topics to probably avoid (because they’re so common) 
  • Tips for all the UC PIQ prompts
  • A step-by-step guide to each UC Essay Prompt (+ Examples) 
  • Examples essays for each Personal Insight Question

Let’s get started with the ultimate guide on the UC application. 

What is UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) prompts?

UC calls these “Personal Insight Questions” instead of “essays.” So these must be treated differently from your personal statement/college essay. 

Remember, these are not essays you write for a class—they’re somewhat different. You’ll know that in a minute. 

But to make it easy for readers, I’ll alter between “Personal Insight Questions” and “essays” because people search for both.

The UC Personal Insight Question (PIQ) Prompts 

  1. Describe an example of a leadership experience in which you’ve positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  1. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem-solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistic, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  1. What would you say is your most outstanding talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  1. Describe how you’ve taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you’ve faced.
  1. Describe the most significant challenge you’ve faced and the steps you’ve taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  1. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you’ve furthered this interest inside and/or outside the classroom.
  2. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  1. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admission to the University of California?

You’ll pick four prompts, and your answers can be up to 350 words each.

What exactly are the UCs looking for in a candidate?

You can check UC’s website to find out what they’re looking for in the 13 points of a comprehensive review. When they evaluate your application, they look for these elements. I’ll still mention all the points below. 

The UC Points of Comprehensive Review 

  1. Grade-point average 
  1. Performance in and number of courses beyond minimum A-G requirements 
  1. UC-approved honors courses and advanced courses 
  1. Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) (CA residents only) 
  1. Quality of senior-year program of study 
  1. Academic opportunities in California high schools 
  1. Outstanding performance in one or more academic subject areas 
  1. Achievements in special projects 
  1. Improvement in academic performance 
  1. Unique talents, achievements, and awards 
  1. Participation in educational preparation programs 
  1. Academic accomplishment in light of life experiences 
  1. Geographic location

For more details, click here.

What’s Your Objective on Your UC Application? 

Your objective is to do three things: 

  • You have to be better than other students applying from your school.
  • You’ve to show how you’ve won the most of the opportunities you’ve received and,

From where you can find ideas to pick your UC PIQ topics

You can start from your UC activities list. If you haven’t developed your list yet, do it immediately. 

Your UC Activities List is the best place to find ideas for your topics. 

You can do that by clicking here. 

After creating your UC activities list, you have to choose 4 or 5 prompts that can help you explore your different personalities and dimensions. 

For example …

List of Past Topics Other Students Have Selected  

I’ve also mentioned the prompt numbers (UC1, 2, etc.):

  • 1: Significant family responsibilities, 2: Acapella singing, 4: Working as a teacher’s assistant, 7: Advocating for worker’s rights
  • 1: Robotics Club, 2: Drumming, 4: Developing an app, 8: Gardening
  • 2: Drawing, 4: Research project, 6: Physics, 7: Filming school sports events
  • 1: Leadership class, 5: Family challenges related to father’s unemployment, 7: Spreading awareness about disaster preparedness, 8: Experiencing three very different educational systems
  • 1: Dance, 4: Volunteering at a physical therapist’s office, 6: Neuroscience, 7: Teaching kids more about STEM topics
  • 2: Sculpting, 3: Cooking, 4: Inability to take AP courses and self-studying instead, 7: Starting a recycling program 
  • 2: How art has shaped me, 5: Challenges related to taking care of brother, 6: Biology, 8: Fashion
  • 1: Econ Club, 2: Emceeing, 6: Physics, 7: Creating an app

Examples of Common UC PIQ Topics In No Particular Order

  • Anime/Manga Club
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Boy Scouts
  • Coding
  • Cross Country
  • Dance
  • Debate
  • Filmmaking
  • Football
  • Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA)
  • Girl Scouts
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Hospital Volunteering
  • Lacrosse
  • Marching Band
  • Mission Trip
  • Junior Statesmen of America
  • Martial Arts
  • Mentoring
  • Mock Trial Club
  • Model United Nations
  • Music (piano, violin, flute)
  • Photography
  • Religious Groups
  • Robotics
  • Running
  • Science Olympiad
  • Singing
  • Skiing
  • Soccer
  • Speech
  • Student Government
  • Swimming
  • Theater
  • Tennis
  • Track & Field
  • Tutoring
  • Video Games
  • Volleyball
  • Water Polo
  • Yearbook

So, the question is should you avoid these topics? The answer is you don’t need to if you have spent a lot of time writing about them. 

Having said that, here is a

List of Few Topics to Probably Avoid (The reason is they’re very common) 

A very common one is The Big Performance PIQ, here the author is actually able to remember all the lines/give a motivating speech, etc. 

The Big Game PIQ, here author either wins or loses and learns an important life lesson. A common script of all movies. 

The Mission Trip PIQ, here author visits a foreign/third world country and eventually learns one how grateful and happy they’re in very little or while they initially went there expecting to teach, what instead happened was just the opposite/something interesting 

If you’re still not sure which topics to choose? Let’s check out some

Important Tips For Each of The UC PIQ Prompts 

UC 1: Leadership

Prompt: Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Important Tip: A powerful way to start your application. Write about how you’ve shown leadership in high school. Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the owner or president of some organization. There are several ways to show leadership like taking huge responsibilities in your family at the time of financial crisis. If you feel people consider you any type of leader, consider writing for this prompt.

UC 2: Creative Side

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.

Important Tip: You can talk about how you’re creative like how you paint or you play multiple instruments. Here you have a good opportunity to bring variety to your application because the UCs are interested in more than just your academics. 

UC 3: Greatest Talent or Skill

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

Important Tip: Remember to connect your quality (it could be anything) to particular things you’ve done. Otherwise, your PIQ may sound very mainstream. How will you know if you’re being specific enough? Read your PIQ and ask, “Can I visualize this as I read it?” If not, brainstorm more specific examples of how this quality manifests itself in your life.

Another Important Tip: Let’s say soccer is your greatest talent and you can write about how soccer has taught you things like “discipline, hard work, and determination.” Instead, I recommend that you describe a talent or skill you’ve learned through soccer—looking out for others’ needs, for example, or looking at life in a more profound way. Show how volleyball has taught you that. Then, if you do end up mentioning how volleyball has helped you learn this, you can maybe even segue into how you’ve been able to use this skill elsewhere in your life (at home, for example, or in class).  

UC 4: Significant Educational Opportunity Or Educational Barrier

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

Important Tip: If you’re thinking to write about an “educational barrier,” ask yourself this question: Is this something I could shortly explain in my Additional Comments section? If you can explain it shortly there, don’t waste one of your PIQs on this prompt.

UC 5: Most Significant Challenge You’ve Faced 

Prompt: 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? 

Important Tip: Keep in mind some topics are more powerful than others when it comes to this prompt.

In the past, I’ve observed students write successfully about challenges such as: 

  • Crime, racism, sexism, unemployment, violence, physical disability  
  • How a challenging family situation influenced you to take on more responsibilities

I’ve found that these tend to be less successful topics: 

  • Heavy breakup in a relationship
  • Not making a team which you wanted to  
  • Taking a challenging class
  • Shy at first but then finding your voice (this is very common topic)
  • Getting a bad grade

Another important tip: Remember to address how the hurdle impacted your academics since the prompt asks about this. If you faced big challenges but were still able to keep good grades, you can say simply, “Despite these difficulties, I was able to maintain my grades” or something alike.

UC 6: Academic Subject 

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

Important Tip: This is an excellent prompt to reflect on. Why? Because it’s a solid way to show your intellectual side, and also you can pack in a lot of information. 

Another important tip: If you’re preparing to major in engineering, IT, or computer science, then you should definitely consider it because lots of students choose these majors and you can really show the UCs that you’re capable.

If you’re applying as a transfer student, you must write it as one of your four choices.

UC 7: School or Community Service 

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

Important Tip: One more great prompt you can consider. Why? Because UCs love to hear how and what kind of impact you have made on your community. Can you think of any/several ways you have made an impact?

Another important tip: If you don’t choose this prompt, it’s a good idea to demonstrate the impact on your school or community in two of the other prompts.

UC 8: What else makes you stand out? 

Prompt: 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?

Important Tip: This is the kind of prompt if you have something you want to include but you are not sure which other prompt it works for.

A step-by-step guide to each UC Essay Prompt (+ Examples)

UC Essay Prompt 1: The “Leadership” Ship Essay 

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

How to compose an essay for UC Prompt 1:

1. Generate content for your essay by filling out the Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (aka BEABIES), below.

The BEABIES Exercise


2.  Select a structure

Does your BEABIES content focus on a particular challenge you faced, what you did about it, and what you learned?

Use Narrative Structure.

Does your content focus on a few different experiences and problems that taught you different values and insights about leadership?

Try Montage Structure.

3. Build an outline

To outline a narrative, organize your BEABIES content into three sections: 

  • Challenge (the Problem You Solved column)
  • What I Did About It (What I Did and Impact I Had columns)
  • What I Learned (Lessons Learned/Skills I Gained, and How I Applied What I Learned columns)

To outline a montage, you can take a couple of approaches:

  • Think about (and write down) how different actions connect to and taught you about different values and insights regarding leadership. These can become your body paragraphs.

For example:

  • Evolving robotics club and encouraging debate → pushed back against stereotypes learned to listen without moralizing or judgment
  • Learning to listen first → invite dialogue; better at controlling momentum with debate team or basketball, help team maintain composure and resolve
  • Another option is to just flip the BEABIES Exercise vertically, and that’s basically your outline (check out the essay below that essentially did just that).

4. Compose a draft!

If you’re writing a narrative (i.e., challenges-based) story, try devoting about ⅓ of your PIQ to each of the following: 

  • Challenge (the Problem You Solved column)
  • What I Did About It (What I Did and Impact I Had columns)
  • What I Learned (Lessons Learned/Skills I Gained, and How I Applied What I Learned columns)

UC Prompt 1 example essay: Ming Ji Restaurant

Since 5th grade, I have been my parents’ right hand at Ming Ji Restaurant in our hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico. Sometimes, they needed me to be the cashier, other times, a dishwasher or chef’s assistant in the kitchen, and eventually I was expected to interact with customers as the youngest waiter on staff.

As I developed more in this role, I became a keystone piece for the waiters. I taught them how to properly attend groups of unsatisfied customers and the fundamentals of customer service. Consequently, I acquired organizational habits and dialogued more fluently to resolve problems. I developed better strategies to speed up home-delivery and in restaurant service. Through this, I achieved not only a better rapport with my colleagues but also a more honest and enjoyable relation with my dad’s employees. It implanted a strong work ethic in me that reminds me of the hardworking farmers of my past generations.

I believe that to achieve efficiency and productivity in the working environment between employees and the manager, it requires not only the firmness and attention of a boss, but also the empathy and vision of a leader. These were the very qualities I developed as my dad’s assistant.

Working through the many facets of a small business has taught me the key role of small groups in a system, and I applied this beyond the walls of the restaurant. In school, you will see me managing and organizing one-on-one mediations with peer counselors, and at the same time, earning myself a leading position in my school’s British English Olympics team. 

As a result of my years laboring for my family restaurant, you might think that I would like to become an entrepreneur. But in actuality, I picture myself as an engineer, as I believe both require adaptability, perseverance, dedication, and strategy to succeed in this field.

UC Essay Prompt 2: The “Creative Side” Essay 

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.

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 2: 

For Prompt #2 I recommend the Uncommon Connections Exercise:

  1. Choose a topic.
  1. Imagine what someone else writing an essay on this same topic might write about—in particular, what values might that person emphasize? (Example: For violin, someone else might emphasize “discipline, hard work, and perseverance.” But that’s what a lot of others would focus on.) 
  1. Once you’ve brainstormed some usual (read: common or obvious) values, vow to NOT discuss only these values in your essay. Why? You’re more likely to blend in.

Dare to stand out! How? Like this:

  1. Choose several uncommon values. (Example: For violin, you might select “privacy,” “practicality,” or even “healthy boundaries” in one of the blanks and then discuss how violin has helped you develop all three of these instead.)

Here’s an essay that demonstrates lots of variety:

UC Prompt 2 example essay: Drumming

Sometime during middle school, I began my journey to establish a rock band, become its drummer, and, most importantly, grow magnificent long hair. I enrolled at a local music institute for drum classes twice a week. I didn’t have a drum kit at home, so I’d eagerly wait for those two one-hour sessions of smashing cymbals and double-kicking bases every week. I was having a great time, but some part of me always felt that I was not exploring my musical creativity as much as I could. 

Over the next few months, as I continued to develop my mastery of the drum kit, percussion became a part of my everyday life and soon I could sense rhythmic patterns in ordinary sounds. When no drums were available, I’d start finger-tapping in synchronous rhythms on any rigid surface and, before long, finger-tapping became an integral part of my rhythmic intelligence.

Unlike drumming, finger-tapping allowed me to incorporate melody into standard grooves by tapping on surfaces that had varying degrees of hollowness. Since it was a percussion style that I instinctively developed by myself, finger-tapping gave me the artistic freedom to create something new.

But I didn’t want to shape my spontaneous finger-tapping artistry to master another percussion instrument like the Tabla or Maschine.

Therefore, I decided to invent my own instrument. Equipped with my expertise in robotics and coding, I used electronic items like piezoelectric sensors, pcbs, and transistors to build an instrument that reflected my own finger-tapping habits and patterns. It had ten small pads for my fingers and two large pads for my palms. I chose a raspberry-pi as its CPU and programmed it to play all kinds of melodies and beats. In this way, I learned how to coordinate my different talents and skills to amplify my total creative output.

My friends and family suggested that I name and advertise my invention and maybe sell it to a company. But if I did that, I would lose the essence of why I built it. I built it not to master its musical capacity but to develop my own musical creativity. 

UC Essay Prompt 3: The “Greatest talent or skill” Essay 

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

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 3:

As with Prompt 2, I recommend completing the Uncommon Connections Exercise. How? Like this:

  1. Choose a topic. 
  1. Imagine what someone else writing an essay on the same topic might write about using the Values Exercise—in other words, brainstorm the cliché version. 
  1. Once you’ve done this, vow to NOT discuss only these values in your essay. Why? You’re more likely to blend in. Stand out by instead electing to:
  1. Choose several uncommon values. 

Then, before you start writing:

  1. Create a simple outline by picking a theme for each paragraph. Here were the themes for this author’s paragraphs

UC Prompt 3 example essay: Finding connections among the dissimilar

I’ve always strived to find connections among the dissimilar. 

It started when I was a kid and my dad taught me Sudoku. As he explained the rules, those mysterious scaffoldings of numbers I often saw on his computer screen transformed into complex structures of logic built by strategy. Gradually, puzzles became a constant in my life. In elementary school, I began searching for patterns in the world around me: thin, dark clouds signaled rain, the moon changed shape every week, and the best snacks were the first to go. I wanted to know what unseen rules affected these things and how they worked. My parents, both pipeline engineers, encouraged this inquisitiveness and tried explaining how they solved puzzles in their own work. Their analytical mindsets helped me muddle through homework and optimize matches in Candy Crush.

In high school, I threw myself into all my classes and studied by linking concepts across subjects. Mathematical syntax transitioned easily to English grammar, and the catalysts for revolutions resembled isomers of the same element, nominally different with the same properties. 

As I grew older, my interests expanded to include the delicate systems of biology, the complexity of animation, and the nuances of language. Despite these subjects’ apparent dissimilarity, each provides fascinating perspectives on the world with approaches like color theory and evolution. Unsurprisingly, my career aspirations changed every week: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand up comedian. But when I discovered computer science, something seemed to settle; I had finally found a field where I could be creative, explore a different type of language, and, yes, solve puzzles.

Best of all, I believe my superpower has helped me knit together my identity. Although my relatives’ rapid Mandarin escapes me, in them I recognize the same work ethic that fueled me through marching band practices and late nights. My multicultural friend group is linked by our diverse passions: k-pop, hockey, Hamilton. While to others my life may seem like a jumble of incompatible fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to become something more. (350 words)

UC Essay Prompt 4: The “Educational Opportunity or Barrier” Essay 

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

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 4:

There are a couple of possibilities for this essay, and note that you don’t have to write about both a significant educational opportunity and an educational barrier—just write about one. For the “significant educational opportunity,” you could write about anything from an internship experience, a challenge you faced that taught you something or something else entirely. 

If you’re writing about a significant educational opportunity,” you might choose to use the Montage Structure and use the BEABIES Exercise to brainstorm your content (scroll up to find that).

If you’re writing about an educational barrier, the Narrative (challenges essay) Structure works well for this. Try devoting about ⅓ of your PIQ to each of the following: 

  • Challenge (the Problem You Solved column)
  • What I Did About It (What I Did and Impact I Had columns)
  • What I Learned (Lessons Learned/Skills I Gained, and How I Applied What I Learned columns)

Let’s look at an example that uses the Montage Structure to discuss a significant educational opportunity. But notice that the student interpreted the prompt in an unusual way.

UC Prompt 4 example essay: Construction

Five years ago I took up a job in construction from a couple of neighbors who needed help doing a demolition job on an old house. I saw this as an opportunity to help pay bills around the house as well as cover my own personal expenses. I did a good enough job that my neighbors told me that, if I wanted, I could continue working with them. 

It has been a demanding job and I made numerous mistakes at first, like using the wrong tools for different tasks or the wrong size screw. On occasion, I was scolded for my mistakes and I felt incompetent, as I wasn’t able to complete tasks as fast as my co-workers. There were even days that I considered quitting, but I stuck with it. 

Since then, I've built, repaired, and remodeled numerous homes for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. I’ve removed and replaced carpets; broken down walls as well as driveways; installed cabinets, lights, both wood and tile flooring; and painted room after room. 

Working in construction has made me feel like a bigger part of society, because I’m shaping the buildings and offices my community uses. Although I don’t make the choices in design, my workmanship is reflected in every job I’ve done. Because of this, my most memorable projects are those that I’ve taken on by myself.

It has been a personally fulfilling experience—there’s just something about peeling away the last strip of tape off a new floor that’s indescribable—and getting to see hours of planning, preparation, and work come together is such a rewarding experience. The best part? Knowing that some family will get to enjoy my work.

But this is not what I will do the rest of my life. 

There are other ways I can help cover my family’s expenses, and getting a degree is the next step. In fact, I have a feeling that would be an even more fulfilling journey.

UC Essay Prompt 5: The “Significant Challenges” Essay 

Prompt: 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?

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 5:

  1. Finish the Feelings and Needs Exercise.
  1. Determine what the 3-6 “parts” of your essay are. One easy way to do this is to use the Challenges/What I Did/What I Learned structure. Use the questions in the outline above to expand from the 3“chunks” (i.e., paragraphs or “scenes” in your story) to 5 or 6. Note that you might also choose to take your Feelings and Needs Exercise and simply write a paragraph on each column. (Cool, huh?) 
  1. Write a draft!

Have a look at a shortened version of an essay that was composed as part of a four-day workshop. The student wrote this after finishing the Feelings and Needs Exercise, and then shortened it from 650 words (for the Common App) to 350 words (so that I could share it with you here):

UC Prompt 5 example essay: Example 1: What had to be done (Narrative Approach, based on a challenge)

At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. My dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. He’d hurt my mom physically and mentally, and my brother Jose and I had shared the mental strain. It’s what had to be done.

For a few years the quality of our lives started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me, but our prosperity was short-lived as my step dad’s chronic alcoholism became more recurrent. When I was eight, my younger brother Fernando’s birth complicated things even further. As my step-dad slipped away, Fernando’s care was left to Jose and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do.

I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself.    

Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix bikes, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls. I found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me.

I worked hard to earn straight A’s, I shattered my school’s 1ooM breaststroke record, and I learned to play the oboe. I tutored kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. As the captain of the water polo and swim team I’ve led practices, and I became the first student in my school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam.

I’ve done tons, and I'm proud of it.

But I’m excited to say there’s so much I have yet to do. I haven’t danced the tango, solved a Rubix Cube, or seen the World Trade Center. And I have yet to see how Fernando will grow.  

I’ll do as much as I can from now on. Not because I have to.

Because I choose to. 

UC Essay Prompt 6: The “Favorite Subject” Essay 

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

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 6:

Head to BEABIES. To learn more about how to fill out the BEABIES Exercise, head here. 

No need to go crazy with this chart to write a strong essay. After you’ve filled the chart:

  1. You now have to decide on the 3-6 “chunks” (read: paragraphs) of your essay based on the content you’ve created and decide what the main point of each paragraph will be.
  1. Write a draft!

UC Prompt 6 example essay: History

Through books like Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl about his incarceration at Auschwitz and documentaries like Enemies of the People about the Khmer Rouge, history has taught me that human empathy knows no borders. 

My favorite “history nerd” moments occur when I can explain a modern socio-political phenomenon by drawing connections to a historical event, like tying the gender pay gap to the Neolithic Revolution and linking recent voting patterns to centuries of de jure/de facto racism. For my IB Extended Essay, I am writing about the Second Amendment, and I hope to elucidate the current gun control debate with research surrounding the legacy of the Glorious Revolution. 

My passion for history led me to an internship at the Sejong Institute, a think-tank specializing in Korean diplomacy. While I translated Korean research publications on topics like denuclearizing North Korea and resolving the South China Sea disputes, I drew heavily from what I learned of the region’s past, coming to understand that international conflicts cannot be resolved in the absence of historical insight. 

This notion also applies to my participation in Model UN. Exploring the ramifications of historical events has helped me create more comprehensive solutions; learning about the often-controversial past actions of nations has prompted me to raise ethical questions. For instance, I was appalled to learn that the Kurdish crisis, Syrian Civil War, and ISIL could be traced to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which carved up the region into ‘spheres of influence’ in 1916. In resolving these conflicts, how do we balance national sovereignty with the responsibility of former colonial powers to stabilize the region?

This summer, I enrolled in “Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology” at UC Irvine. From tracing the African exodus of Homo erectus two million years ago to examining La Bestia (Mexican freight trains used by US-bound migrants), I now understand that migration is as old as history itself. 

In college, I hope to continue drawing connections between history and contemporary geopolitics as a Political Science major. Eventually, I hope to become a civil rights attorney, and the first Asian woman on the Supreme Court. 

UC Essay Prompt 7: The “Community Service” Essay

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

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 7:

There’s an exercise our team has developed based on an article, it is about a pitch that Elon Musk made for the Tesla Powerwall. You can check out this article here after reading this article you’ll end up writing a “community service” essay.

The Elon Musk Exercise

1. Buy a blank sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and start making these columns:

  • In Column 1: Identify the problem. Describe the challenge you were facing. The problem could be something global, like an environmental issue, or something more local, like a lack of creative opportunities in your high school.
  • In Column 2: Raise the stakes. Help us understand: Why was (or is) overcoming this challenge important? What might happen if this problem went (or goes) unchecked? 
  • In Column 3: Articulate the vision. What might the world look like if this problem were solved? As Raskin says in his article, “Show the promised land before explaining how you’ll get there.” Inspire us to dream with you.
  • In Column 4: Describe what you did. Tell us the specific things you (or you and your team) did to solve the problem.
  • In Column 5: Clarify your role.  Describe your particular involvement. Why were (or are) you crucial to the project’s or club’s success?
  • In Column 6: Share the impact you had, lessons you learned, or values you gained. Provide specific evidence that gives us a sense that your work mattered. 

2. Then fill in the chart with all of these details.

3. Turn the paper vertical and notice (voila!) those six columns = your essay.

4. Write a draft using one column per paragraph (or so).

Once you’ve completed your draft, read the first sentence of each paragraph out loud to see whether they flow together. If not, rewrite them so that they sound better. After that rewrite the paragraphs so they connect to those first sentences. 

If they do flow together, then your work is done.

If you don’t think it’s possible to fit all that content into just 350 words? Check out this essay. 

UC Prompt 7 example essay: Earthquakes

Last year, nearly 600 earthquakes hit my hometown of Reno in a ‘swarm’. Although the magnitudes of these quakes ranged from 2.5 to 3.7, the constant fear and anxiety of impending doom rose in the community. A disaster is unprecedented and unpredictable and, in our community, we always acknowledged their occurrence elsewhere but never fully admitted that a large-scale catastrophe may happen at our doorsteps.

Recognizing this unspoken apathy, I decided to take a step beyond my school club and get involved in the community chapter of the Reno Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services team. As I was learning the basics of preparedness i.e., general earthquake and fire safety drills, I realized that if disaster were to strike, the majority of people in my community could not confidently say that they are prepared. As part of the DCS committee, it is my goal to increase the confidence of as many youth and families as possible.

During my training, I accompanied volunteers during the Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, where we installed and updated smoke alarms and detectors in over thirty low income households in the Reno area, free of charge. I began teaching the “Pillowcase Project” in local elementary schools, leading workshops in and instilling the importance of disaster preparedness for the youngest of children.

Representing DCS on the Youth Executive Board for our local chapter, I also led a Youth in Disaster Services Seminar, where we trained young adults in CPR Certification as well as basic Shelter Fundamentals.

Through my work with the Red Cross, and in my interactions with survivors and rescuers who assisted during Hurricane Katrina, I’ve come to discover how teaching even just small preparedness procedures to individuals can help save entire communities.

The impact of disaster services reverberates throughout our communities, both at home and internationally. It is a selfless, necessary job in which youth, as the future generation of an ever-changing disaster prone world, must take urgent action.

UC Essay Prompt 8: The “The One Thing That Sets You Apart”

Prompt: 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?

How to write an essay for UC Prompt 8:

To me, this is a kind of catch-all, or “topic of your choice” prompt that essentially asks, “What else you got?” Several of the samples above, you’ll notice, work for this prompt too.

So far, we’ve discussed three ways/exercises to use when brainstorming and writing your essay. 

Good news: Any of these could work for Prompt 8. 

How? Once you’ve decided on a topic (ideally, something that shares a part of you that isn’t demonstrated elsewhere in your other three essays), read over these methods again:

The Uncommon Connection (UC) Game

Find several uncommon qualities or values that connect to your topic, and focus on one quality/value per paragraph. Example: The santur has helped me connect with my culture and Persian heritage (one paragraph), serves as a tool for social change (another paragraph), and connects me to my father and grandfather (another paragraph).

Or if you’re writing about an extracurricular activity, you might consider using …

The Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (BEABIES)

Choose your topic. Then, create a chart with four columns labeled:

  1. What I did
  1. Problems I solved
  1. Lessons learned/values gained 
  1. Impact I had

Choose the two most impressive, and emphasize those in your essay.

Or, if you’re writing about a service project, you might opt for …

The Elon Musk Exercise

Create a chart with six columns labeled:

  1. The problem/challenge
  1. Raise the stakes/why now?
  1. Promised land/vision
  1. What I/we did
  1. My specific role
  1. Impact/lessons/values

UC Prompt 8 example essay: Three IDs (Narrative Approach, based on a challenge)

Ten minutes had passed and I was stuck on the same question. Which of the three bubbles am I supposed to fill? It was one of the most complicated questions I faced in my life: the question of race. “Which choice best describes you?“

Chinese? True, I have the physical traits of my parents who are both Chinese. 

However, I was born in Washington. So technically I should fill in Chinese-American. It was there when my feelings arose. “Felipe, there is barely anything you know about your legal hometown, Taxco. You have never been back there after your birth,” I told myself. I reassessed my choice.

I began recalling the community where I grew up, Zacatecas. Most of my friends speak Spanish; I eat enchiladas and I listen to banda; the fiery lyrics of the Mexican Anthem echoes my pride. It turns out that my heart does indeed belong to Mexico. However, when I would first encounter other Mexican-Americans, they would jolt in curiosity or gaze with suspicion. 

It was impossible to extinguish the burning enigma that is my identity.

Fortunately, everything became clearer in high school when I moved to the US. I was classified as the “Asian Felipe” amongst my peers; I still embraced and honored my Mexican culture, since my mind works in Spanish. At home, I attempt to recount my day to my grandparents in Taishan, my family’s native language, and I practice Buddhism while living in my birthland, America. 

Sometimes, I do not resonate with any of these worlds. Differentiated by my physical appearance in Mexico, and ostracized by my lack of fluency in Chinese here, I define myself as a Third Culture Kid, yet here I stand converging across the various cultures that makes me more than a “math genius” or a “lazy machista”.

 While I could blend three entities of mine and become part of the melting pot, I instead choose to keep each unique trait of my multiethnicity to become a salad bowl, with all of its ingredients mixed together, yet separated enough to taste the individual flavor of each one.

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