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12 Great University of California Essay Examples

The University of California system is comprised of nine undergraduate universities, and is one of the most prestigious public school systems in the country. The UC schools have their own application system, and students must respond to four of eight personal insight questions in 350 words each. Every UC school you apply to receives the same application and essays, so it’s important that your responses accurately represent your personality and writing abilities. 

 

In this post, we’ll share some UC essay examples and go over what they did well and where they could improve. We will also point you to free resources you can use to improve your college essays. 

 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

 

Read our guide to the UC personal insight questions for more tips on writing strong essays for each of the prompts.

 

Essay 1: Leadership

 

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words)

 

1400 lines of code. 6 weeks. 1 Pizza.

 

I believe pizza makers are the backbone of society. Without pizza, life as we know it would cease to exist. From a toddler’s birthday party to President Obama’s sporadic campaigning cravings, these 8 slices of pure goodness cleverly seep into every one of our lives; yet, we never talk about it. In a very cheesy way, I find representation in a pizza maker. 

 

The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough. We had textbooks and worksheets, but viewing printed rhythms and attempting to recognize them in real-time is about as straining as watching someone eat pizza crust-first. Furthermore, online simulators were vastly over-engineered, featuring complex interfaces foreign to high-school students.

 

Eventually, I realized the only way to pull myself out of the sauce was by creating my own tools. This was also the first year I took a programming course, so I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment by extrapolating knowledge from Computer Science and Physiology to code and share my own Electrocardiogram Simulator. To enhance my program, I went beyond the textbook and classroom by learning directly from Java API – the programmer’s Bible.

 

The algorithms I wrote not only simulated rhythms in real-time but also actively engaged with the user, allowing my classmates and I to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the curriculum. Little did I know that a small project born out of desperation would eventually become a tool adopted by my teacher to serve hundreds of students in the future.

 

Like pizza, people will reap the benefits of my app over and over again, and hardly anyone will know its maker. Being a leader doesn’t always mean standing at the front of rallies, giving speeches, and leading organizations. Yes, I have done all three, but this app taught me leaders are also found behind-the-scenes, solving problems in unimaginable ways and fulfilling the hidden, yet crucial niches of the world. 

 

1400 lines of code, and 6 weeks later, it’s time to order a pizza. 

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This is a great essay because it is both engaging and informative. What exactly does it inform us about? The answer: the personality, work ethic, and achievements of this student (exactly what admissions officers want to hear about).

 

With regards to personality, the pizza through-line—which notably starts the essay, ends the essay, and carries us through the essay—speaks volumes about this student. They are admittedly “cheesy,” but they appear unabashedly themself. They own their goofiness. That being said, the student’s pizza connections are also fitting and smoothly advance their points—watching someone eat pizza crust-first is straining and pizza is an invention that hardly anyone can identify the maker of. 

 

While we learn about this student’s fun personality in this essay, we also learn about their work ethic. A student who takes the initiative to solve a problem that no one asked them to solve is the kind of student an admissions officer wants to admit. The phrase “I decided to initiate a little hobbyist experiment” alone tells us that this student is a curious go-getter.

 

Lastly, this student tells us about their achievements in the last two paragraphs. Not only did they take the initiative to create this program, but it was also successful. On top of that, it’s notable how this student’s accomplishments as a leader defy the traditional expectations people have for leaders. The student’s ability to demonstrate their untraditional leadership path is an achievement in itself that sets the student apart form other applicants.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This is a strong essay as is, but the one way this student could take it above and beyond would be to tell less and show more. To really highlight the student’s writing ability, the essay should show the reader all the details it’s currently telling us. For example, these sentences primarily tell the reader what happened: “The most perplexing section of physiology is deciphering electrocardiograms. According to our teacher, this was when most students hit their annual trough.” 

 

Rewriting this sentence to show the reader the student’s impetus for creating their app could look like this: “When my teacher flashed the electrocardiogram on the screen, my once attentive physiology class became a sea of blank stares and furrowed brows.” This sentence still conveys the key details—student’s in the physiology class found electrocardiograms to be the hardest unit of the year—but it does so in a far more descriptive way. Implementing this exercise of rewriting sentences to show what happened throughout the piece would elevate the entire essay.

 

Essay 2: Creativity

 

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. (350 words)

 

For the past few years, participating in debate has been one of the foremost expressions of my creativity. Nothing is as electrifying as an Asian parliamentary-style debate. Each team is given only thirty minutes to prepare seven-minute speeches to either support or oppose the assigned motion. Given the immense time pressure, this is where my creativity shines most brightly.

 

To craft the most impactful and convincing argument, I have to consider the context of the motion, different stakeholders, the goals we want to achieve, the mechanisms to reach those goals, and so much more. I have to frame these arguments effectively and paint a compelling and cohesive world to sway my listeners to my side on both an emotional and logical level. For example, In a debate about the implementation of rice importation in the Philippines, I had to frequently switch between the macro perspective by discussing the broad economic implications of the policy and the micro perspective by painting a picture of the struggles that local rice farmers would experience when forcefully thrust into an increasingly competitive global economy. It’s a tough balancing act.

 

To add to the challenge, there is an opposing team on the other side of the room hell-bent on disproving everything I say. They generate equally plausible sounding arguments, and my mission is to react on the spot to dispel their viewpoints and build up our team’s case.

 

When two debate teams, both well-prepared and hungry for victory, face off and try to out-think one another, they clash to form a sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments and rebuttals. They fill up a room with unbelievable energy. After several years of debate, I have developed the capacity to still a room of fury and chaos with nothing but my words and wit.

 

Debate has been instrumental in shaping me into the person I am today. Because of debate, I have become a quicker and stronger thinker. Lightning quick on my feet, I am ready to thoroughly and passionately defend my beliefs at a moment’s notice.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This prompt is about creativity, though its wording emphasizes how students aren’t required to talk about typically-creative subjects. That said, it might take a bit more work and explanation (even creativity, one could say) to position a logical process as creative. This student’s main strength is the way they convince the reader that debate is creative.

 

First, they identify how “Asian parliamentary-style debate” differs from other forms of debate, emphasizing how time constraints necessitate the use of creativity. Then, they explain how both the argument’s content (the goals and solutions they outline) and the argument’s composition (the way they frame the argument) must be creatively orchestrated to be convincing. 

 

To drive home the point that debate is a creative process, this student provides an example of how they structured their argument about rice importation in the Philippines. This essay is successful because, after reading it, an admissions officer has no doubt that this student can combine logic and creativity to think intellectually.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

One aspect of this essay that could be improved is the language use. Although there are some creative metaphors like the “sixty-minute thunderstorm raining down fierce arguments”, the essay is lacking the extra oomph and wow-factor that carefully chosen diction provides. In the second paragraph, the student repeats the phrase “I have to” three different times when stronger, more active verbs could have been used.

 

Essays should always reflect the student’s natural voice and shouldn’t sound like every word came straight out of a thesaurus, but that doesn’t mean they can’t incorporate a bit of colorful language. If this student took the time to go through their essay and ask themself if an overused word could be replaced with a more exciting one, it would make the essay much more interesting to read.

 

Essay 3: Creativity

 

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. (350 words)

 

As I open the door to the Makerspace, I am greeted by a sea of cubicle-like machines and I watch eagerly, as one of them completes the final layer of my print.

 

Much like any scientific experiment, my countless failures in the Makerspace – hours spent designing a print, only to have it disintegrate – were my greatest teachers. I learned, the hard way, what types of shapes and patterns a 3D printer would play nice to. Then, drawing inspiration from the engineering method, I developed a system for myself – start with a solid foundation and add complexity with each iteration – a flourish here, a flying buttress there. 

 

But it wasn’t until the following summer, vacationing on a beach inundated with plastic, that the “aha” moment struck. In an era where capturing people’s attention in a split-second is everything, what better way to draw awareness to the plastic problem than with quirky 3D-printed products? By the time I had returned home, I had a business case on my hands and a desire to make my impact.

 

Equipped with vital skills from the advanced math-and-science courses I had taken in sophomore year, I began applying these to my growing business. Using my AP Chemistry analytical laboratory skills, I devised a simple water bath experiment to test the biodegradability claims of 3D-printer filaments from different manufacturers, guaranteeing that my products could serve as both a statement and play their part for our planet. The optimization techniques I had learned in AP Calculus were put to good use, as I determined the most space-efficient packaging for my products, reducing my dependence on unsustainable filler material. Even my designs were tweaked and riffed on to reflect my newfound maturity and keen eye for aesthetics.

 

My business is still going strong today, raising $1000 to date. I attribute this success to a fateful spark of creative inspiration, which has, and will, continue to inspire me to weave together multiple disciplines to address issues as endemic as the plastic problem. 

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This essay begins with a simple, yet highly effective hook. It catches readers’ attention by only giving a hint about the essay’s main topic, and being a standalone paragraph makes it all the more intriguing. 

 

The next paragraph then begins with a seamless transition that ties back to the Makerspace. The essay goes on to show the writer’s creative side and how it has developed over time. Rather than directly stating “I am most creative when I am working on my business,” the writer tells the story of their creativity while working with 3-D printers and vacationing on the beach. 

 

It is the “aha” moment that perhaps responds to the prompt best. Here we get to see the writer create a new idea on the spot. The next two paragraphs then show the writer executing on their idea in great detail. Small and specific details, such as applying analytical laboratory skills from AP Chemistry, make the writer’s creativity come to life. 

 

From start to finish, this essay shows that the key to writing a stellar response to this prompt is to fill your writing with details and vivid imagery. 

 

What Could Be Improved

 

The second to last paragraph of this essay focuses a bit too much on how the writer built their business. Though many of these details show the writer’s creativity in action, a few of them could be restated to make the connection to creativity clearer. The last sentences could be rewritten like so: 

 

Working on my business was where my creativity blossomed. In my workshop, optimization techniques that I learned in AP Calculus became something new — the basis for space-efficient packaging for my products that reduced my dependence on unsustainable filler material…

 

Essay 4: Creativity

 

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. (350 words)

 

Profusely sweating after trying on what felt like a thousand different outfits, I collapsed on the floor in exasperation. The heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down in disdain; with ten minutes left to spare before the first day of seventh grade, I let go of my screaming thoughts and settled on the very first outfit I tried on: my favorite.

 

Donning a neon pink dress, that moment marked the first time I chose expression over fear. Being one of the few Asians in my grade, clothing was my source of disguise. I looked to the bold Stacy London of What Not to Wear for daily inspiration, but, in actuality, I dressed to conceal my uniqueness so I wouldn’t be noticed for my race. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I envied the popular girls who hiked their shorts up just a few inches higher than dress code allowed and flaunted Uggs decorated with plastic jewels, a statement that Stacy London would have viewed as heinous and my mother impractical. 

 

However, entering school that day and the days after, each compliment I received walking down the hallways slowly but surely broke down the armored shield. Morphing into an outlet to amplify my voice and creativity, dressing up soon became what I looked forward to each morning. I was awarded best dressed the year after that during my middle school graduation, a recognition most would scoff at. But, to me, that flimsy paper certificate was a warm embrace telling me that I was valued for my originality and expression. I was valued for my differences. 

 

Confidence was what I found and is now an essential accessory to every outfit I wear. Taking inspiration from vintage, simplistic silhouettes and Asian styles, I adorn my body’s canvas with a variety of fabrics and vibrant colors, no longer depriving it of the freedom to self expression and cultural exploration. I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California with opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

Colorful language and emotion are conveyed powerfully in this essay, which is one of its key strengths. We can see this in the first paragraph, where the writer communicates that they were feeling searing judgment by using a metaphor: “the heaping pile of clothes on my bed stared me down.” The writer weaves other rich phrases into the essay — for example, “my screaming thoughts” — to show readers their emotions. All of these writing choices are much more moving than plainly stating “I was nervous.”

 

The essay moves on to tell a story that responds to the prompt in a unique way. While typical responses will be about a very direct example of expressing creativity, e.g. oil painting, this essay has a fittingly creative take on the prompt. The story also allows the writer to avoid a common pitfall — talking more about the means of being creative rather than how those means allow you to express yourself. In other words, make sure to avoid talking about the act of oil painting so much that your essay loses focus on what painting means to you.

 

The last sentence of the essay is one more part to emulate. “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included…” is a well-crafted, flawlessly succinct metaphor that looks to the future while connecting the end of the essay to its beginning. The metaphors are then juxtaposed with a summary of the essay’s main topic: “intertwine creativity with my identity.” 

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This essay’s main areas for improvement are grammatical. What Not to Wear should be italicized, “self-expression” should be hyphenated, and the last sentence could use the following tweaks to make it less of a run-on: “I hope that my future will open new doors for me, closet doors included, at the University of California. There, I will have opportunities to intertwine creativity with my identity even further.”

 

Since identity is the main topic of this essay, it would also be fitting for the writer to go into more depth about it. The immediate takeaways from the essay are that the writer is Asian and interested in fashion — however, more descriptions could be added to these parts. For example, the writer could replace Asian with Laotian-American and change a sentence in the second to last paragraph to “dressing up in everything from bell bottom jeans to oversized flannel shirts soon became what I looked forward to each morning.”

 

Essay 5: Talent

 

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words)

 

Let’s fast-forward time. Strides were made toward racial equality. Healthcare is accessible to all; however, one issue remains. Our aquatic ecosystems are parched with dead coral from ocean acidification. Climate change has prevailed.

 

Rewind to the present day.

 

My activism skills are how I express my concerns for the environment. Whether I play on sandy beaches or rest under forest treetops, nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world. When my body is met by trash in the ocean or my nose is met by harmful pollutants, Earth’s pain becomes my own. 

 

Substituting coffee grinds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale. I often found performative activism to be ineffective when communicating climate concerns. My days of reposting awareness graphics on social media never filled the ambition I had left to put my activism skills to greater use. I decided to share my ecocentric worldview with a coalition of environmentalists and host a climate change rally outside my high school.

 

Meetings were scheduled where I informed students about the unseen impact they have on the oceans and local habitual communities. My fingers were cramped from all the constant typing and investigating of micro causes of the Pacific Waste Patch, creating reusable flyers, displaying steps people could take from home in reducing their carbon footprint. I aided my fellow environmentalists in translating these flyers into other languages, repeating this process hourly, for five days, up until rally day. 

 

It was 7:00 AM. The faces of 100 students were shouting, “The climate is changing, why can’t we?” I proudly walked on the dewy grass, grabbing the microphone, repeating those same words. The rally not only taught me efficient methods of communication but it echoed my environmental activism to the masses. The City of Corona would be the first of many cities to see my activism, as more rallies were planned for various parts of SoCal. My once unfulfilled ambition was fueled by my tangible activism, understanding that it takes more than one person to make an environmental impact.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

One of the largest strengths of this response is its speed. From the very beginning, we are invited to “fast-forward” and “rewind” with the writer. Then, after we focus ourselves in the present, this writer keeps their quick pace with sentences like “Substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer, using bamboo straws, starting my sustainable garden, my individual actions needed to reach a larger scale.” A common essay-writing blunder is using a predictable structure that loses the attention of the reader, but this unique pacing keeps things interesting.

 

Another positive of this essay is how their passion for environmental activism shines through. The essay begins by describing the student’s connection to nature (“nature offers me an escape from the haste of the world”), moves into discussing the personal actions they have taken (“substituting coffee grounds as fertilizer”), and then explains the rally the student hosted. While the talent the student is writing about is their ability to inspire others to fight against climate change, establishing the personal affinity towards nature and individual steps they took demonstrate the development of their passion. This makes their talent appear much more significant and unique. 

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This essay could be improved by being more specific about what this student’s talent is. There is no sentence that directly states what this student considers to be their talent. Although the essay is still successful at displaying the student’s personality, interests, and ambition, by not explicitly mentioning their talent, they leave it up to the reader’s interpretation.

 

Depending on how quickly they read the essay or how focused they are, there’s a possibility the reader will miss the key talent the student wanted to convey. Making sure to avoid spoon-feeding the answer to their audience, the student should include a short sentence that lays out what they view as their main talent.

 

Essay 6: Talent

 

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words)

 

At six, Mama reads me a story for the first time. I listen right up until Peter Pan talks about the stars in the night sky.

“What’s the point of stars if they can’t be part of something?”

Mama looks at me strangely before closing the book.

“Sometimes, looking on is more helpful than actively taking part. Besides, stars listen- like you. You’re a good listener, aren’t you?”

I nod.

At eleven, my sister confides in me for the first time. She’s always been different, in a way even those ‘mind doctors’ could never understand. I don’t understand either, but I do know that I like my sister. She’s mean to me, but not like people are to her. She tells me how she sees the world, and chokes over her words in a struggle to speak. She trusts me, and that makes me happy. So, I listen. I don’t speak; this isn’t a story where I speak.

At sixteen, I find myself involved with an organization that provides education to rural children. Dakshata is the first person I’ve tutored in Hindi. She’s also my favorite. So, when she interrupts me mid-lesson one evening, lips trembling and eyes filling with tears, I decide to put my pen down and listen. I don’t speak; I don’t take part in this story. Later, as I hug the girl, I tell her about the stars and how her mother is among their kind- unable to speak yet forever willing to listen. Dakshata now loves the stars as much as I do.

At seventeen, I realize that the first thing that comes to my mind when someone asks me about a skill I possess is my ability to listen. Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but it’s important. When you listen, you see, you need not necessarily understand, but you do comprehend. You empathize on a near-cosmic level with the people around you and learn so much more than you ever thought possible. Everything is a part of something- even the stars with their ears.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

The essay as a whole is an excellent example of narrative-based writing. The narrative begins with a captivating hook. The first sentence catches the reader by surprise, since it does not directly respond to the prompt by naming the writer’s greatest talent or skill. Instead, it tells a childhood story which does not seem to be related to a skill at first. This creates intrigue, and the second sentence adds to it by introducing a conflict. It causes readers to wonder why Peter Pan’s stargazing would make a six year old stop listening — hooked into the story, they continue reading.

 

The writer continues to create a moving narrative by using dialogue. Dialogue allows the writer to show rather than tell, which is a highly effective way to make an essay convey emotion and keep readers’ attention. The writer also shows their story by using language such as “mind doctors” instead of “psychologists” — this immerses readers in the author’s perspective as an 11 year old at the time. 

 

Two motifs, or recurring themes, tie the essay together: listening and looking at the stars. The last paragraph powerfully concludes the essay by explaining these themes and circling back to the introduction.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

Crafting transitions is one area where this essay could be improved. The paragraph after “I nod” begins abruptly, and without any sentence to connect the writer’s dialogue at age six with her experiences at age 11. One way to make the transition smoother would be to begin the paragraph after “I nod” with “I try to be a good listener again at eleven, when my sister confides in me for the first time.”

 

This essay would also be more impactful if the writer explained what they aspire to do with their ability to listen in the future. While it is most important for your essay to explain how your past experiences have made you who you are in the present, looking towards the future allows admissions readers to imagine the impact you might make after graduation. The writer could do this in the last paragraph of their essay by writing the following: “Many don’t see it as a skill, and I wouldn’t ask them to either, but I find it important — especially as an aspiring social worker.”

 

Essay 7: Academic Interest

 

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)

 

I distinctly remember the smile on Perela’s face when she found out her mother would be nursed back to health. I first met Perela and her mother at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in San Bernardino where I volunteered as a Spanish translator. I was in awe of the deep understanding of biology that the medical team employed to discover solutions. Despite having no medical qualifications of my own, I realized that by exercising my abilities to communicate and empathize, I could serve as a source of comfort and encouragement for Perela and her mother. The opportunity to combine my scientific curiosity and passion for caring for people cultivated my interest in a career as a physician.

 

To further explore this interest, I attended a summer medical program at Georgetown University. I participated in lectures on circulation through the heart, practiced stitches on a chicken leg, and assisted in giving CPR to a dummy in the patient simulation laboratory. Every fact about the human body I learned brought with it ten new questions for me to research. I consistently stayed after each lecture to gain insight about how cells, tissues, and organs all work together to carry out immensely complicated functions. The next year, in my AP Biology class, I was further amazed with the interconnected biological systems as I learned about the relationships between the human body and ecosystems. I discussed with my teacher how environmental changes will impact human health and how we must broaden our perspectives to use medicine to tackle these issues.

 

By integrating environmental and medical science, we can develop effective solutions to reduce the adverse effects of environmental degradation that Perela’s mother may have faced unintentionally. I want to go into the medical field so I can employ a long-term approach to combat biology’s hidden anomalies with a holistic viewpoint. I look forward to utilizing my undergraduate classes and extracurriculars to prepare for medical school so I can fight for both health care and environmental protection.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This student primarily answers the prompt in their middle paragraph as they describe their experience at a summer medical program as well as their science coursework in high school. This content shows their academic curiosity and rigor, yet the best part of the essay isn’t the student’s response to the prompt. The best part of this essay is the way the student positions their interest in medicine as authentic and unique.

 

The student appears authentic when they admit that they haven’t always been interested in medical school. Many applicants have wanted to be doctors their whole life, but this student is different. They were just in a medical office to translate and help, then got hooked on the profession and took that interest to the next level by signing up for a summer program.

 

Additionally, this student positions themself as unique as they describe the specifics of their interest in medicine, emphasizing their concern with the ways medicine and the environment interact. This is also refreshing!

 

Of course, you should always answer the prompt, but it’s important to remember that you can make room within most prompts to say what you want and show off unique aspects of yourself—just as this student did.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

One thing this student should be careful of is namedropping Georgetown for the sake of it. There is no problem in discussing a summer program they attended that furthered their interest in medicine, but there is a problem when the experience is used to build prestige. Admissions officers already know that this student attended a summer program at Georgetown because it’s on their application. The purpose of the essay is to show why attending the program was a formative moment in their interest.

 

The essay gets at the why a bit when it discusses staying after class to learn more about specific topics, but the student could have gone further in depth. Rather than explaining the things the student did during the program, like stitching chicken legs and practicing CPR, they should have continued the emotional reflection from the first paragraph by describing what they thought and felt when they got hands-on medical experience during the program. 

 

Save describing prestigious accomplishments for your extracurriculars and resume; your essay is meant to demonstrate what made you you.

 

Essay 8: Academic Interest

 

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)

 

I love spreadsheets.

 

It’s weird, I know. But there’s something endlessly fascinating about taking a bunch of raw numbers, whipping and whacking them into different shapes and forms with formulas and equations to reveal hidden truths about the universe. The way I like to think about it is that the universe has an innate burning desire to tell us its stories. The only issue is its inability to talk with us directly. Most human stories are written in simple words and letters, but the tales of the universe are encrypted in numbers and relationships, which require greater effort to decode to even achieve basic comprehension. After all, it took Newton countless experimentation to discover the love story between mass and gravitation.

 

In middle school, whenever I opened a spreadsheet, I felt like I was part of this big journey towards understanding the universe. It took me a couple of years, but I eventually found out that my interest had a name: Data Science. With this knowledge, I began to read extensively about the field and took online courses in my spare time. I found out that the spreadsheets I had been using was just the tip of the iceberg. As I gained more experience, I started using more powerful tools like R (a statistical programming language) which allowed me to use sophisticated methods like linear regressions and decision trees. It opened my eyes to new ways to understand reality and changed the way I approached the world.

 

The thing I love most about data science is its versatility. It doesn’t matter if the data at hand is about the airflow on an owl’s wing or the living conditions of communities most crippled by poverty. I am able to utilize data science to dissect and analyze issues in any field. Each new method of analysis yields different stories, with distinct actors, settings, and plots. I’m an avid reader of the stories of the universe, and one day I will help the world by letting the universe write its own narrative.

 

What the Essay Does Well

 

This is an essay that draws the reader in. The student’s candid nature and openness truly allows us to understand why they are fascinated with spreadsheets themself, which in turn makes the reader appreciate the meaning of this interest in the student’s life. 

 

First, the student engages readers with their conversational tone, beginning “I love spreadsheets. It’s weird, I know,” followed shortly after by the phrase “whipping and whacking.” Then, they introduce their idea to us, explaining how the universe is trying to tell us something through numbers and saying that Newton discovered “the love story between mass and gravitation,” and we find ourselves clearly following along. They put us right there with them, on their team, also trying to discover the secrets of the universe. It is this bond between the student and the reader that makes the essay so engaging and worth reading.

 

Because the essay is focused on the big picture, the reader gets a sense of the wide-eyed wonderment this student experiences when they handle and analyze data. The student takes us on the “big journey towards understanding the universe” through the lens of Data Science. Explaining both the tools the student has used, like R and statistical regression, and the ideas the student has explored, like owl’s wings and poverty, demonstrates how this student fits into the micro and macro levels of Data Science. The reader gets a complete picture of how this student could change the world through this essay—something admissions officers always want to see.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

The biggest thing that would improve this essay is an anecdote. As it’s written, the essay looks at Data Science from a more theoretical or aspirational perspective. The student explains all that Data Science can enable, but besides for explaining that they started coding with spreadsheets and R, they provide very little personal experience working with Data Science. This is where an anecdote would elevate the essay.

 

Adding a story about the first data set they examined or an independent project they undertook as a hobby would have elicited more emotion and allowed for the student to showcase their accomplishments and way of thinking. For example, they could delve into the feeling of enlightenment that came from first discovering a pattern in the universe. Or maybe they could describe how analyzing data was the catalyst that led them to reach out to local businesses to help them improve their revenue. 

 

If you have an impactful and enduring interest, such as this student does, you will have at least one anecdote you could include in your essay. You’ll find that essays with anecdotes are able to work in more emotional reflection that make the essay more memorable and the student more likable.

 

Essay 9: Community

 

What have you done to make your community a better place? (350 words)

 

Blinking sweat from my eyes, I raised my chin up to the pullup bar one last time before dropping down, my muscles trembling. But despite my physical exhaustion at the end of the workout, mentally, I felt reinvigorated and stronger than ever.

 

Minutes later, I sat at my computer, chatting with my friends about our first week in quarantine. After listening to numerous stories concerning boredom and loneliness, it struck me that I could use my passion for fitness to help my friends—I jumped at the chance to do so. 

 

After scouring the internet for the most effective exercises and fitness techniques, I began hosting Zoom workouts, leading friends, family, and anyone else who wanted to join in several fun exercises each week. I hoped these meetings would uplift anyone struggling during quarantine, whether from loneliness, uncertainty, or loss of routine. I created weekly workout plans, integrating cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises into each. Using what I learned from skating, I incorporated off-ice training exercises into the plans and added stretching routines to each session. 

 

Although many members were worried that they wouldn’t be able to complete exercises as well as others and hesitated to turn their cameras on, I encouraged them to show themselves on screen, knowing we’d only support one another. After all, the “face-to-face” interactions we had while exercising were what distinguished our workouts from others online; and I hoped that they would lead us to grow closer as a community. 

 

As we progressed, I saw a new-found eagerness in members to show themselves on camera, enjoying the support of others. Seeing how far we had all come was immensely inspiring: I watched people who couldn’t make it through one circuit finish a whole workout and ask for more; instead of staying silent during meetings, they continually asked for tips and corrections.

 

Despite the limitations placed on our interactions by computer screens, we found comfort in our collective efforts, the camaraderie between us growing with every workout. For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This essay accomplishes three main goals: it tells a story of how this student took initiative, it explores the student’s values, and it demonstrates their emotional maturity. We really get a sense of how this student improved their community while also gaining a large amount of insight into what type of person this student is.

 

With regards to initiative, this student writes about a need they saw in their community and the steps they took to satisfy that need. They describe the extensive thought that went into their decisions as they outline the planning of their classes and their unique decision to incorporate skating techniques in at-home workouts.

 

Additionally, they explore their values, including human connection. The importance of connection to this student is obvious throughout the essay as they write about their desire “to grow closer as a community.” It is particularly apparent with their final summarizing sentence: “For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times.”

 

Lastly, this student positions themself as thoughtful when they recognize the way that embarrassment can get in the way of forming community. They do this through the specific example of feeling embarrassment when turning on one’s camera during a video call—a commonly-felt feeling. This ability to recognize fear of embarrassment as an obstacle to camaraderie shows maturity on the part of this applicant. 

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This essay already has really descriptive content, a strong story, and a complete answer to the prompt, however there is room for every essay to improve. In this case, the student could have worked more descriptive word choice and figurative language into their essay to make it more engaging and impressive. You want your college essay to showcase your writing abilities as best as possible, while still sounding like you.

 

One literary device that would have been useful in this essay is a conceit or an extended metaphor. Essays that utilize conceits tend to begin with a metaphor, allude to the metaphor during the body of the paragraph, and end by circling back to the original metaphor. All together, it makes for a cohesive essay that is easy to follow and gives the reader a satisfying opening and conclusion to the essay.

 

The idea at the heart of this essay—working out to strengthen a community—would make for a great conceit. By changing the anecdote at the beginning to maybe reflect the lack of strength the student felt when working out alone and sprinkling in words and phrases that allude to strength and exercise during the essay, the last sentence (“For me, it confirmed the strength we find in community and the importance of helping one another through tough times”) would feel like a fulfilling end to the conceit rather than just a clever metaphor thrown in. 

 

Essay 10: Community

 

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words)

 

The scent of eucalyptus caressed my nose in a gentle breeze. Spring had arrived. Senior class activities were here. As a sophomore, I noticed a difference between athletic and academic seniors at my high school; one received recognition while the other received silence. I wanted to create an event celebrating students academically-committed to four-years, community colleges, trades schools, and military programs. This event was Academic Signing Day.

 

The leadership label, “Events Coordinator,” felt heavy on my introverted mind. I usually was setting up for rallies and spirit weeks, being overlooked around the exuberant nature of my peers. 

 

I knew a change of mind was needed; I designed flyers, painted posters, presented powerpoints, created student-led committees, and practiced countless hours for my introductory speech. Each committee would play a vital role on event day: one dedicated to refreshments, another to technology, and one for decorations. The fourth-month planning was a laborious joy, but I was still fearful of being in the spotlight. Being acknowledged by hundreds of people was new to me. 

 

The day was here. Parents filled the stands of the multi-purpose room. The atmosphere was tense; I could feel the angst building in my throat, worried about the impression I would leave. Applause followed each of the 400 students as they walked to their college table, indicating my time to speak. 

 

I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets; instead, smiles lit up the stands, realizing my voice shone through my actions. I was finally coming out of my shell. The floor was met by confetti as I was met by the sincerity of staff, students, and parents, solidifying the event for years to come. 

 

Academic students were no longer overshadowed. Their accomplishments were equally recognized to their athletic counterparts. The school culture of athletics over academics was no longer imbalanced. Now, everytime I smell eucalyptus, it is a friendly reminder that on Academic Signing Day, not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This is a good essay because it describes the contribution the student made to their community and the impact that experience had on shaping their personality. Admissions officers get to see what this student is capable of and how they have grown, which is important to demonstrate in your essays. Throughout the essay there is a nice balance between focusing on planning the event and the emotions it elicited from this student, which is summed up in the last sentence: “not only were academic students in the spotlight but so was my voice.”

 

With prompts like this one (which is essentially a Community Service Essay) students sometimes take very small contributions to their community and stretch them—oftentimes in a very obvious way. Here, the reader can see the importance of Academic Signing Day to the community and the student, making it feel like a genuine and enjoyable experience for all involved. Including details like the four months of planning the student oversaw, the specific committees they delegated tasks to, and the hundreds of students and parents that attended highlights the skills this student possesses to plan and execute such a large event.

 

Another positive aspect of this essay is how the student’s emotions are intertwined throughout the essay. We see this student go from being a shy figure in the background to the confident architect of a celebrated community event, all due to their motivation to create Academic Signing Day. The student consistently shows throughout the essay, instead of telling us what happened. One example is when they convey their trepidation to public speaking in this sentence: “I walked up to the stand, hands clammy, expression tranquil, my words echoing to the audience. I thought my speech would be met by the sounds of crickets.”

 

Employing detailed descriptions of feelings, emotions, fears, and body language all contribute to an essay that reveals so much in subtle ways. Without having to be explicitly told, the reader learns the student is ambitious, organized, a leader, and someone who deeply values academic recognition when they read this essay.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

While this essay has many positives, there are a couple of things the student could work on. The first is to pay more attention to grammar. There was one obvious typo where the student wrote “the fourth-month planning was a laborious joy”, but there were also many sentences that felt clunky and disjointed. Each and every essay you submit should put your best foot forward and impress admissions officers with your writing ability, but typos immediately diminish your credibility as a writer and sincerity as an applicant.

 

It’s important to read through your essay multiple times and consider your specific word choice—does each word serve a purpose, could a sentence be rewritten to be less wordy, etc? However, it’s also important you have at least one other person edit your essay. Had this student given their essay to a fresh set of eyes they might have caught the typo and other areas in need of improvement.

 

Additionally, this student began and ended the essay with the smell of eucalyptus. Although this makes for an intriguing hook, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual point of the essay. It’s great to start your essay with an evocative anecdote or figurative language, but it needs to relate to your topic. Rather than wasting words on eucalyptus, a much stronger hook could have been the student nervously walking up to the stage with clammy hands and a lump in their throat. Beginning the essay with a descriptive sentence that puts us directly into the story with the student would draw the reader in and get them excited about the topic at hand.

 

Essay 11: Community

 

What have you done to make your school or community a better place? (350 words) 

 

“I wish my parents understood.” Sitting at the lunch table, I listened as my friends aired out every detail of their life that they were too afraid to share with their parents. Sexuality, relationships, dreams; the options were limitless. While I enjoyed playing therapist every 7th period, a nagging sensation that perhaps their parents should understand manifested in me. Yet, my proposal was always met with rolling eyes; “I wish they understood” began every conversation, but nothing was being done beyond wishing on both sides. 

 

I wanted to help not just my friends but the countless other stories I was told of severed relationships and hidden secrets. Ultimately, my quest for change led me to BFB, a local nonprofit. Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I devised and implemented a plan for opening up the conversation between students and parents with the team I led. We successfully hosted relationship seminars with guest speakers specializing on a range of topics, from inclusive education to parental pressure, and were invited to speak for BFB at various external events with local government by the end of my junior year. Collaborating with mental health organizations and receiving over $1,000 in funding from international companies facilitated our message to spread throughout the community and eventually awarded us with an opportunity to tackle a research project studying mental health among teens during the pandemic with professors from the University at Buffalo and UC Los Angeles. 

 

While these endeavors collectively facilitated my team to win the competition, the most rewarding part of it all was receiving positive feedback from my community and close friends. “I wish my parents understood” morphed into “I’m glad they tried to understand”. I now lead a separate program under BFB inspired by my previous endeavors, advancing its message even further and leaving a legacy of change and initiative for future high schoolers in the program. As I leave for college, I hope to continue this work at the University of California and foster a diverse community that embraces understanding and growth across cultures and generations.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

The essay begins with a strong, human-centered story that paints a picture of what the writer’s community looks like. The first sentence acts as a hook by leaving readers with questions — whose parents are being discussed, and what don’t they understand? With their curiosity now piqued, readers become intrigued enough to move on to the next sentences. The last sentence of the first paragraph and beginning of the second relate to the same topic of stories from friends, making for a highly effective transition.

 

The writer then does a great job of describing their community impact in specific detail, which is crucial for this prompt. Rather than using vague and overly generalized language, the writer highlights their role in BFB with strong action verbs like “devised” and “implemented.” They also communicate the full scope of their impact with quantifiable metrics like “$1,000 in funding,” all while maintaining a flowing narrative style.

 

The essay ends by circling back to the reason why the writer got involved in improving their community through BFB, which makes the essay more cohesive and moving. The last sentences connect their current experiences improving community with their future aspirations to do so, both in the wider world and at a UC school. This forward-looking part allows admissions officers to get a sense of what the writer might accomplish as a UC alum/alumna, and is certainly something to emulate.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This essay’s biggest weakness is its organization. Since the second paragraph contains lots of dense information about the writer’s role in BFB, it would benefit from a few sentences that tie it back to the narrative in the first paragraph. For instance, the third sentence of the paragraph could be changed like so: “Participating in their Youth Leadership program, I led my team through devising and implementing a plan to foster student-parent conversations — the ones that my 7th period friends were in need of.”

 

The last paragraph also has the potential to be reorganized. The sentence with the “I wish my parents understood” quote would be more powerful at the end of the paragraph rather than in the middle. With a short transition added to the beginning, the new conclusion would look like so: “Through it all, I hope to help ‘I wish my parents understood’ morph into ‘I’m glad they tried to understand’ for my 7th period friends and many more.” 

 

Essay 12: Community

 

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words)

 

I drop my toothbrush in the sink as I hear a scream. Rushing outside, I find my mom’s hand painfully wedged in the gap between our outward-opening veranda doors. I quickly open it, freeing her hand as she gasps in relief. 

 

As she ices her hand, I regard the door like I would a trivia question or math problem – getting to know the facts before I start working on a solution. I find that, surprisingly, there is not a single protrusion to open the door from the outside! 

 

Perhaps it was the fact that my mom couldn’t drive or that my dad worked long hours, but the crafts store was off-limits; I’ve always ended up having to get resourceful and creative with whatever materials happened to be on hand in order to complete my impromptu STEM projects or garage builds. Used plastic bottles of various shapes and sizes became buildings for a model of a futuristic city. Cylindrical capacitors from an old computer, a few inches in height, became scale-size storage tanks. 

 

Inspired by these inventive work-arounds and spurred on by my mom’s plight, I procure a Command Strip, a roll of tennis racket grip, and, of course, duct tape. I fashion a rudimentary but effective solution: a pull handle, ensuring she would never find herself stuck again.

 

A desire to instill others in my community with this same sense of resourcefulness led me to co-found “Repair Workshops” at my school – sessions where we teach students to fix broken objects rather than disposing of them. My hope is that participants will walk away with a renewed sense of purpose to identify problems faced by members of their community (whether that’s their neighbor next door or the planet as a whole) and apply their newfound engineering skills towards solutions.

 

As I look towards a degree and career in engineering and business, these connections will serve as my grounding point: my reminder that in disciplines growing increasingly quantitative, sometimes the best startup ideas or engineering solutions originate from a desire to to better the lives of people around me.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This essay is a good example of telling a story with an authentic voice. With its down-to-earth tone and short, punchy paragraphs, it stands out as a piece of writing that only the author could have written. That is an effective way for you to write any of your college essays as well.

 

After readers are hooked by the mention of screaming in the first sentence, the writer immerses the readers in their thinking. This makes the essay flow very naturally — rather than a first paragraph of narrative followed by an unrelated description of STEM projects, the whole essay is a cohesive story that shows how the writer came to improve their community. 

 

Their take on community also makes the essay stand out. While many responses to this prompt will focus on an amorphous, big-picture concept of community, such as school or humanity, this essay is about a community that the writer has a close connection to — their family. Family is also not the large group of people that most applicants would first attach to the word “community,” but writing about it here is a creative take on the prompt. Though explaining community impact is most important, choosing the most unique community you are a part of is a great way to make your essay stand out.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

This essay’s main weakness is that the paragraph about Repair Workshops does not go into enough detail about community impact. The writer should highlight more specific examples of leadership here, since it would allow them to demonstrate how they hope to impact many more communities besides their family. 

 

After the sentence ending with “fix broken objects rather than disposing of them,” a new part could be added that shows how the writer taught students. For example, the writer could tell the story of how “tin cans became compost bins” as they explained the importance of making the world a better place. 

 

Then, at the end of the paragraph, the writer could more concretely explain the visions they have to expand the impact of Repair Workshops. A good concluding sentence could start with “I too hope to use engineering skills and resourcefulness to…” Adding this extra context would also make the paragraph transition better to the final paragraph of the essay, which somewhat abruptly begins by mentioning the writer’s previously unmentioned career interests in engineering and business.

 

Where to Get Feedback on Your UC Essays

 

Want feedback like this on your University of California essays before you submit? We offer expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with an expert to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers. In fact, Alexander Oddo, an essay expert on CollegeVine, provided commentary on several of the essays in this post.

 

Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Advisors on CollegeVine also offer expert college counseling packages. You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.


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