How to Write the UC Berkeley/University of California Application Essays 2016-2017
The University of California system is comprised of ten public research universities all over California, from San Diego to Berkeley. UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara are all ranked in the top 75 national universities.
The flagship institution, UC Berkeley, is the oldest institution of the University of California universities, all of which are public research universities. With over 38,000 students, Berkeley is an academic powerhouse in a wide range of fields, and currently ranks fourth on U.S. News’ Best Global Universities list for its worldwide reputation.
In addition, it is consistently ranked among the very top of public universities. It is particularly well known in science and especially chemistry, claiming 16 of the periodic table’s elements (including number 97, the eponymous Berkelium) and 72 Nobel Prizes.
Berkeley’s 106 bachelor’s majors are offered across 7 colleges and schools, and the most popular majors are Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), Political Science, Molecular and Cell Biology, Environmental Science, and Economics.
The campus is located in beautiful northern California, and encompasses 1232 acres, though only about 178 are occupied by the central campus (the rest include various laboratories and institutes, museums, an 800-acre ecological preserve, and a botanical garden). Berkeley is known to have a diverse student body as well and holds a long-standing sports rivalry with Stanford.
For the entering class of 2016, Berkeley received 82,539 applications and admitted 12,226 for an admission rate of 14.8%. Its admissions rate has been steadily declining over the past five years.
The University of California system has just developed a new set of eight application prompts, from which you choose four. Each essay has a maximum of 350 words. Fortunately for you, these prompts come with some questions to get you started in your brainstorming!
The University of California Application Essay Prompts
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 lead role in organizing an event or project.
Think about your accomplishments 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?
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?
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, 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 inside or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?
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 are you today?
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?”
Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
Things to consider: Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or activities — and what you have gained from your involvement. Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)?
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?
What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?
Things to consider: Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Even if you don’t think you’re unique, you are — remember, there’s only one of you in the world. From your point of view, what do you feel makes you belong on one of UC’s campuses? When looking at your life, what does a stranger need to understand in order to know you? 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? We’re not necessarily looking for what makes you unique compared to others, but what makes you, YOU.
When choosing your four prompts, keep in mind that you will want to cover a very broad range in your four essays.
If you find yourself repeating topics in a couple of the essays, you may want to diversify. For example, if you are writing an essay for the fourth prompt about an educational barrier, and also one for the fifth prompt about overcoming a significant challenge, make sure that the essays are different from each other. You want to say as much as you can about yourself, and you only have a total of 1400 words to do so, so don’t waste precious words repeating yourself!
Also, don’t necessarily start drafting ideas until you’ve thought about all of the prompts. Do any of these questions provoke an immediate, strong response from you? If yes, then definitely write about those. However, it is likely that you will not have immediate responses to four of the prompts, and that is perfectly fine. You can also approach the process from the opposite direction — what topics are important to you, and how can you use those topics as responses to some of these questions?
In general, remember that the UC system wants to see you as a real person. Think about what makes you special, use your own voice, and tell your own story!
Check out our blog post The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of California to get a comprehensive understanding of how to apply to the UC system.