UC Personal Statement Prompt #2

Tips for Writing Your Response to the University of California Essay Prompt #2

The University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr

Note: The article below is for the pre-2016 University of California application. For tips on the new essay requirements, read this article: Tips and Strategies for the 8 UC Personal Insight Questions.

University of California Personal Statement #2:

The pre-2016 UC personal statement prompt #2 states, "Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?" Every freshman and transfer applicant to one of the nine undergraduate UC campuses must answer this prompt.

Note: A separate article explores the old UC personal statement prompt #1.

While these UC tips refer to an application that is no longer used, note that the strategies can be relevant to some of the new Personal Insight Questions, and the prompt also overlaps with Common Application Option #1 and Option #5.

Strategies for Prompt #2:

The breadth of the University of California prompt #2 can be paralyzing. When you have the freedom to write about any "personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience," you really have the freedom to write about almost anything at all.

The first step to answering the prompt, then, is identifying your focus. Some subjects work better than others. An essay on your game-winning goal or tackle can easily turn into a boastful essay that reveals little about you other than a healthy ego. Essays on a talent or personal quality can also strike the wrong chord if they become too solipsistic (see 10 Bad Essay Topics).

Always keep in mind the purpose of the essay. The UC admissions officers want to learn something about you that can't be revealed by your test scores, GPA, and list of extracurricular activities. The personal statement is one place where you can actually communicate your passions and personality.

So, what topics work best? Any, but make sure you are passionate about your subject matter. If you feel that soccer or swimming has had a major influence on you as you've grown and matured, write about soccer or swimming. If a personal tragedy has made you approach life in a new way, feel free to explore the experience. The UC admissions officers are not looking for any specific focus in your essay. Rather, they are looking for a well-crafted essay that helps them get to know you better. The essay needs to be true to you and your passions. If you can imagine another applicant submitting a nearly identical essay, you haven't succeeded in conveying your uniqueness in your personal statement.

Breaking Down Prompt #2:

As you consider prompt #2, keep the following in mind:

  • Do more than just "tell": The prompt begins by asking you to "tell us about" a quality, accomplishment, or experience. The word "tell," however, doesn't fully capture what the best essays actually do. First off, it's always better to "show" than to "tell." Bring your subject to life. Also, telling about an experience should be about more than summing up what happened. In the process of "telling," you should also be analytical and reflective. Reveal your critical thinking abilities through your writing.
  • Tread softly around that word "proud": Hubris brought down Agamemnon, and pride is often considered the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins. When the prompt asks you to explain how your quality or experience "makes you proud," be careful to steer clear of a response that is boastful. Your tone will be more palatable if your personal statement shows humility. I like to think of the essay not in terms of pride, but as an exploration of something that is worthy of admiration.
  • Focus on that word "how." How has the focus of your essay made you the person you are today? A good essay needs to explore thoughtfully this cause and effect. Introspection and analysis are key here.

A Final Word:

It's easy to overthink essays for college applications. Students often feel pressure to be clever, to use a highly sophisticated vocabulary, or to present qualities that are truly extraordinary. If you're feeling this pressure, take a deep breath and step back for some perspective. The essay is simply a piece of the application that helps the admissions folks get to know you better. If your essay is well written and is true to you--that is, if it honestly presents your interests and personality--then you have succeeded with your essay.