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How to Write the “Education Barrier” UC Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



The University of California system requires you to answer four out of eight essay prompts. The fourth University of California prompt asks, “Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.”


In this article, we will discuss how to define these “Barriers” and how to approach your response. For more tips and advice on how to write the other UC essays, consider reading this article: How to Write the University of California Essays.


The Best Type of Response


This prompt is asking you about an educational opportunity or educational barrier that you’ve overcome. The best kind of response to this prompt is usually about educational work done outside of the classroom. There are so many other places in the UC schools application to talk about your academic achievements inside of school, so take this chance to write about your education beyond the classroom. 


A lot of students get hung up on the word education here, and they think that their response has to be about an academic topic. That isn’t the case here. You can talk about learning a new life skill, taking care of your sibling, or your job. All of these topics are about learning experiences that aren’t necessarily linked to your academics but still contributed to your education. This prompt is going to involve a bit of brainstorming work as you may need to apply an academic mindset to a non-academic topic and think outside the box. 


Different Types of Barriers 


This is a good prompt to discuss structural, personal or environmental barriers to your academic development. A structural barrier could be something that’s happening in your community or in your family. Environmental factors could also encompass family problems or any illnesses you faced. If any of these barriers affected your academic performance, this is a good place to write about that. 


There might even be a specific weakness in your application. You might want to consider addressing the cause of that weakness in this essay if it was caused by a barrier you faced. 


Keep in mind that this approach doesn’t work as well when you’re talking about a specific class; this usage is a bit too cliche to work here as nearly every student has struggled with a specific class before. 


Writing About Covid


A topic that a lot of students think of with this prompt is the pandemic, or COVID-19. Of course, that is the environmental barrier that affected everyone for nearly two years, but because it affected everyone, this might not be your best approach. Admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications a day, and they are bound to read countless essays about the pandemic. While this is the most relevant barrier, writing about COVID is not the most unique answer, and you risk your essay being lost in the crowd. 


That being said, if writing about the pandemic really speaks to you, then you should go for it. You should, however, try to bring in a unique perspective to your experience. Maybe your parents were essential workers so you had to take care of your younger siblings. Or perhaps you could write about covid being an educational opportunity if you learned something  during the lockdown that you wouldn’t have otherwise.


Can Your Extracurriculars Be Barriers? 


To answer this question, it’s important to understand what a barrier is. A barrier is something outside of your control that impedes your ability to learn. Internships, extra classes, and coding courses are all considered opportunities. They allow you to learn even more than you might in school, so if you want to talk about your extracurriculars it should be in a positive light. 


This is different from writing about any difficulties you faced to get those extracurriculars. For example, writing about working an entire summer to pay for coding courses would be a better topic to write about than finding a coding course challenging.