How to Write the UC Essay on Leadership Experience
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 first of the University of California’s essay prompts states:
Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
This prompt is all about conveying your leadership experience. However, keep in mind that your essay does not need to be limited to an example of school-based leadership. Many of the better versions of this essay convey leadership in ways that are about neither academic leadership nor direct or positional extracurricular leadership.
What Exactly is Leadership?
It’s really easy to get lost in a definition of what leadership means with this prompt. Remember that leadership has a very expansive definition. What leadership looks like to each student will vary drastically, but, in other words, the prompt is asking you to describe how you have utilized your personal experience for the betterment of yourself and others.
This prompt focuses on concrete actions that create tangible benefits for members of an organization, or even for an individual within the organization. Many students focus on how they have inspired their classmates or helped to resolve a conflict. While these are good examples of being a leader, try not to limit yourself to formal leadership positions and actions when brainstorming your response.
Consider Different Types of Leadership
Leadership can range from formal leadership positions, such as being president of a club, to informal positions, such as mentoring a younger peer. Some examples of more formal leadership would be leadership positions in extracurricular activities including athletics, academics, and even work with non-profit organizations. Informal leadership, on the other hand, is leading in any capacity that is out of the ordinary, specifically when you do not have an official title.These are events or instances that you may not think of as leadership, but discussing such examples may actually help your essay stand out even more.
A really powerful example of this could be a student helping peers deal with and overcome mental health struggles. Another example could be a student taking on more responsibility within their family by helping a sibling with their homework. The most compelling essays tend to be about informal examples of leadership, which are then supplemented by the formal leadership positions on your resume.
Mistakes to Avoid
Though there is no right or wrong answer for this essay prompt, here are a few things that you should avoid in your response.
A cliche essay response is any topic that reviewers may see repeatedly, and therefore is something you want to try and avoid in order to stand out among the applicant pool. Cliche responses for this essay prompt generally include examples about a club, such as a sports team, orchestra, or group, failing at something initially, and then the student helping the group succeed. It is possible to tackle such topics if you are an incredible writer, but if you aren’t then it may be hard for your essay to really make a lasting impact.
Restating Your Resume
Always avoid using the leadership experience prompt to restate your resume! It often seems that the most direct way to complete this essay is to speak about the leadership that can be found in your Activities section. Remember, however, that colleges already can see what’s on your resume. Therefore if you’re only expanding on the information in your application and using your essay to further list the clubs you led or your accomplishments, you’re not conveying anything new. You are missing an opportunity to add additional context to your application by doing this.
What the schools are really looking for are the qualities of leadership demonstrated through your experience – not the accomplishments or awards that you’ve accumulated from leadership positions. Instead of focusing on a title, focus on the impact of your leadership on others or on the approach used to build personal dynamics and relationships in leadership. Remember you want your essay to show which of your concrete actions have driven tangible benefits for others.