Frequently Asked Questions About the UC Essays
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.
The Brainstorming Process
How do you recall experiences that are substantive enough to write about?
The process of recalling experiences is different for each person, and you have to find the method that works best for you. Some people may find it helpful to do free-writing, brainstorming, and outlining exercises. Others may have discussions with a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor to reflect on and pressure test possible responses to the different essay questions.
Where is the line between being a good, unique response and being completely off topic from the original question?
The line changes depending on the prompt you are responding to. The best thing you can do in cases where you are unsure of whether you have crossed the line is to gut-check your idea with a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor. Ultimately, it is up to you to figure out where the line is and to push the boundary just a bit so that your unique personality and profile come to the fore.
Choosing Essay Topics
Is writing about my culture a compelling topic, or is it overused?
Unless you come from a culture that is rare among applicants to the University of California (UC), then chances are high that many other applicants have already written the same or similar essays as you would. This does not mean that it is impossible to write a great essay about a frequently used topic. It just means that the barrier to entry is higher and you may find it more difficult to write an original essay about your culture.
Is talking about mental health struggles in application essays considered a red flag to admissions officers?
If you write about a mental health challenge, then you need to do so in the context of how you have adapted to, managed, or even overcome such a challenge. By focusing on your perseverance or triumph against mental health challenges, you are shifting the narrative away from something that would raise a red flag and towards the profile of a resilient applicant.
Writing Your Response
How do you deliver a clear and compelling message in 350 words?
You should start by responding to the prompt as you naturally would without paying attention to the word count. Once you have responded to the question in its entirety and written between 400 and 600 words, then you can step away and take a break. When you return to what you have written, you can whittle away at redundant or superfluous words and phrases until you reach a tight 350-word essay. After you have gone through this process on your own, it can be helpful to show your essay to someone whose opinion you trust, like a parent, friend, teacher, counselor, or college advisor.
How might you incorporate elements of humor into your essays?
Proceed carefully. In the case of humor, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a slightly different definition of humor and sometimes the written page does not lend itself to joke-telling because the reader cannot hear the author’s tone of voice. For instance, sarcasm can sometimes be misconstrued or perceived as overly self-deprecating, which may not be the appropriate tone for an essay. If you are committed to being humorous, “dad joke” type humor will be the least offensive. You can take chances with other types of humor, but doing so can be risky.
For more information on writing the application essays for admission to the University of California, review the article on How to Write the University of California Essays.