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MAR 14, 2020 • 12 min read
UC Berkeley Essay Tips
In general, the best writing takes place when you are inspired. Think about your life and do several free writes in order to identify a moment of inspiration. You can do this either before or after reading the prompts. The advantage of doing them before is that you will be coming from a place of your own authentic sense of our experience, but later you may have to "fit" these stories into the prompt themes. The advantage of doing them after is that they can serve as drafts to the essay you will eventually complete, but you may not be as connected to the experience you want to share.
This is the format of the free writes are 5 minutes each: Write for 5 minutes without stopping. The following are suggested prompts. You can also try your own.
Write for 5 minutes about a time when:
-You liked yourself.
-You realized you were different than you expected.
-You understood something important about someone else.
-You clarified a desire.
-You went somewhere new and realized the world was big.
Now look at the prompts and divide them into three categories: "Want to write," "Can write...," and "Don't want to write...". Start by drafting an answer to one of the essays in the first category. Writing what you want to write first will make you feel slightly more confident and comfortable moving on.
Essay 1 and Essay 7 are too similar; don't pick both.
Essay 2 and Essay 3 are too similar; don't pick both.
Essay 4 and Essay 5 are too similar; don't pick both.
Essay 8 is the catchall, allowing you to write just about anything. But if your response could be fit to one of the more specific prompts, you should absolutely do that.
Now for the uc essay prompts; there are words of guidance below each prompt.
You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
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 the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished 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?
For this prompt, it's important to consider what leadership is, both to the community in which you are relating to others as a leader, and to you. What is the context? Bring the reader into the scene and explain how leadership works in it. For example, in an educational setting, leadership might be structured around an exchange of knowledge. In an artistic setting, leadership may be about organizing a set of ideas in order to create the conditions for collaboration.
Another thing to think about is avoiding the pitfall of being generic, so think outside the box. Leadership can be the dynamic between just two people, and does not need to involve a formal position of leadership. You can be a leader in a conversation with your family members, with someone older than you, etc.
This prompt could also quite easily provoke bragging; avoid this because it not only paints a distasteful picture of you but also because it doesn't answer the question.
A few examples:
You noticed some students at your school couldn't get extra help in their subjects because they had to work after school. You petition as part of the student government to have some hours of support for students in the mornings.
You helped your siblings get things done to put less of a burden on your caretakers.
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 future career?
For this prompt, think about the notion of making. Making comes in many forms and is not always physical. We "make up our minds" when we decide to do something. We hang out with our friends and make up stories, about the past (using what actually happened as ingredients, but still making the frame, the story), or about the future, often using desires and goals as ingredients.
Do you collect things? This is creative work.
Do you care for children? This is creative work..
Do you paint? This is creative work.
Do you decide how to set up your clothes in your closet? This is creative work.
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 it, 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 in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?
A common problem here is you read the prompt and think "Oh I'm not good at anything." Think about what you are competent at - i.e. does it work? - rather than comparing yourself to others.
Which quality do you feel lucky for having?
Building on the prompt's question about where, and with whom, do you do the things you are best at? For example, if you are great at explaining things, do you ever work with young children and explain how things work to them? Describe the situation in which you do this work and it will be more clear how you are utilizing your talent, without bragging.
Examples of talents and skills:
You excel at learning languages
You're very good at listening to people
You are very responsible
You can remember things easily
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?
Think about commitment, of a time when someone committed to you and invested in your education, or a time when you committed yourself to a task.
Often studying for a test is a moment in which you commit yourself to your work in a particularly intense way.
Another thing to think about is how the educational system you are in creates barriers and how that system works.
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 encountered 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?"
What are the things in your life that have felt hard?
What sorts of challenges forced you to ask family and friends for help, emotional, or practical?
Change does not always occur instantly, in some dramatic plot twist. We change in small ways all the time and our relationships change too.
For example, you experienced a loss of some kind. Loss comes in many forms - death, divorce, moving house, health changes. For a time the loss affected your academic work, but then you learned how to focus on your academic work while grieving.
For example, you started a job and it was extremely time consuming, and you had to learn how to manage your time for school within the constraints of your work schedule.
Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom --- such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs --- and what you have gained from your involvement.
Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?
What do you like about the subject? What does it allow you to do? Think about how this subject lets you do things in the world/ for example, how Math helps you quantify things, analyze data and ground you in logic or how literature helps you imagine a place to which you've never been, how history helps you contextualize a problem in your community.
How is the subject taught?
What kinds of things does the subject bring to your life outside the classroom?
For example, you read about industrialization or deindustrialization in your economics class and you recognize something about the city you live in, why the factory space a are now empty, or the farmland is now a mall.
For example, you hope to be a doctor in the future because you love biology and chemistry.
Don't forget that many careers involve many more years of learning even after college, whether in graduate school, or trainings, or through autodidacticism (learning on one's own.)
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?
First of all, do not brag.
One fascinating part of this story may be how you identified the problem to be solved in the first place. How could you tell something needed fixing? Who taught you how to recognize these kinds of things? Then, think about how you generated a solution. What were the conversations like that you had with people about the best solutions to the problem?
How did people respond to the change?
How did you feel after you did this work?
Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
Things to consider: If there's anything you want us to know about you, but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. 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? From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.
What will make you a positive addition to the campus community? A community needs many different kinds of people with different traits, skills, and interest to thrive. When you think about being in a group of friends, scholars, activists, etc. on that campus, what do you think of as what you are known for? How will you connect to people? Raise awareness? Help people see something larger than themselves? Make people laugh? Bring a sense of balance to a group of people?