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Uc Applications Personal Statement Prompts

Personal insight questions

When was the last time you changed the personal statement? Why are you making these changes now?

The last time the personal statement prompts were revised was in 2008, nearly 10 years ago. However, this is the first time that UC is departing from a longer format to a short-answer, multiple question format.

Over the past couple years we’ve received feedback from high school and community college counselors, outreach staff, students, and other universities, and felt that a new format would not only help our applicants, but also help campuses in their admissions decisions. With record-high numbers of applications and increased selectivity throughout the system, we felt it critical to ensure that the written responses received from our applicants truly provided the type of reflective and personal insights we value so greatly.

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How are these questions different than the current two prompts?

The new format aims to give applicants a greater say in the kind of information they want to share with us. Students can express who they are and what matters to them not only in how they respond to the questions, but also through their selection of questions.

At the same time, the new personal questions provide students with better direction and focus on topics that are important to campuses. It also reduces the chances that students will take a generic essay that they’ve created for other colleges or class assignments and simply transpose it to the UC application. Rather, it will help applicants use the application to its fullest by letting their own voices come through.

We hope that by giving them more choice and clearer guidance, students will have a better understanding of what is expected of them in this process. 

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How should I tell my students to prepare for these questions? What is UC’s guidance on these - same as the original personal statement?

We’ll post guidance for students on our systemwide admissions website and produce other materials including a student worksheet, PowerPoint presentations and recorded webinars for counselors and students throughout the spring.

We also plan on presenting on the new questions at this year’s Counselor Conferences in the fall. Because we are shifting from a longer format to a short-answer, multiple question format, our advice will be different especially in the type of content we’re looking for. However, we still encourage students to start early and make sure their writing is as clear as possible (see question below).

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Are you assessing the quality or content of the writing in these responses?

The personal statement section was never a test to assess a student’s writing ability. The same holds true for the new personal questions. The personal questions section is where students should express themselves, and let their unique voices and personalities shine through.

However, students should always put their best foot forward and make sure their writing is organized in a clear and thoughtful manner. Students should give themselves plenty of time to prepare, carefully compose and revise their answers. Typos, grammatical or spelling errors can be distracting to the application readers and get in the way of what applicants are trying to communicate.

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I have some students who have already started drafting their personal statement based on the previous prompts. What should I tell these students?

In some cases, the work students have already prepared can help inform their answers to the new questions. Students may find that they’ve touched upon many of the new question topics at a broad level in the existing personal statement prompts.

However, it’s in students’ best interest to familiarize themselves with the new questions and make sure their answers align with what’s being asked – which is much more specific than the prompts. They should express their personalities, backgrounds, interests and achievements in their own unique voices – which means content, not writing style, is of utmost importance and should be the main focus of their answers.

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Why is one of the questions required for transfer students?

Since all campuses review transfer students specifically with consideration to their major, we needed a direct question about major preparation. This question is similar to the previous transfer personal statement prompt that has been asked over the last several years. And, although freshmen could choose to write about their intended major, the majority of first-year students are not admitted directly into a major.

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Will all questions be given equal consideration?

All questions will have equal value in the admissions selection process. For applicants, there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others. In fact, the goal is to allow students to choose which questions are more representative of themselves.

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Who did you consult in your process? What kind of feedback or input did you receive?

We’ve received feedback from counselors and students — both formally through conferences and interviews, and informally through our outreach programs and admissions officers. We also consulted with faculty, researchers, and other colleges and universities.

We know from our research and conversations that the personal statement has been one of the most stressful and time-demanding sections of our application. While our new format may not eliminate this stress, we hope that by giving applicants more choice and clearer guidance, they will have a better understanding of what is expected of them in this process. 

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Can applicants answer more than four questions?

No. Freshman applicants must answer four out of the eight questions, and transfer applicants must answer the one required question plus any three of the seven additional questions. Applicants also cannot use the additional comments section as a place to answer more than the four personal insight questions.

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Are you considering applying to one of the UC schools? UC schools are known for being one of the best state school systems available, regardless if you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. To apply, here are the UC essay prompts you can expect. 

Students choose 4 out of the 8 total UC essay prompts and respond with 350-word answers. The prompts were updated as recently as last year, so we can anticipate no change for the 2017-2018 application season. UPDATE: No major changes to the essay prompts this year! Just more details in essay prompt 6 & 8.

Here are the UC Essay Prompts for 2017-2018:

  1. Leadership experience

    Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  1. Creative expression

    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.
  1. Talent or special skill

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

  2. Overcoming educational barrier

    Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

  3. Overcoming significant challenge

    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?

  4. Academic inspiration

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

  1. Bettering the community

    What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

  2. What makes you special?

    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?

Applying to college?

View the app files and essays of accepted students.


Are you planning to apply to University of California schools? Or you must just be starting the process of building your college list. Make sure to search through profiles of students accepted. Read full essays, stats, and student advice. See how our students got in, and how you can too!

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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