I attended an online webinar last week hosted by UC Santa Barbara about the UC Personal Statements. As you probably know, students applying to any UC campuses are required to submit two essays (the prompts are here). Both essays combined can be no more than 1000 words, and each one must be a minimum of 250 words. Aside from the prompts and the word counts, the UC application doesn’t give much additional guidance on what the UCs are really looking for from students in these essays.
So we turn to the people who read them for guidance!
Here’s the advice that admissions counselors ALWAYS give about your essay: your goal should be to be memorable. Keep in mind that essay readers sometimes read 50-60 applications PER DAY, every day for up to three months. Most essays are not very well-written, not very interesting, and above all, don’t serve to breathe any life into the impression admissions counselors have of each student. All they know about you is your grades and test scores! There is no interview and there are no teacher recommendations for the UC campuses. So your essay really is your only chance to transform those numbers into the human being that you are, and the wonderful person you will be on their campus. As UCSB admissions counselor Melissa Chavez said on the webinar, your essay “provides clarity, richness and meaning to your application.”
You have to make them want you!
Each UC campus looks at both your academic and your non-academic accomplishments as they review applications. Each campus decides how much weight to put on each side of their review process – both academic and non-academic. What is your academic potential? What is your potential to succeed outside the classroom on their campus? How can you show them the answers to these questions?
Think outside the box for your topic!
Content matters. Spelling and grammar matter. You want to present the absolute best work you are capable of doing.
Consider these topics for your essay:
- Personal triumphs or challenges – Don’t forget to explain what you learned from an experience
- Leadership opportunities – How is the world a different place because of your involvement?
- Experiences outside the classroom that have made an impact on your life (travels, church, youth groups)
- If you have an LD, feel free to talk about it in the context of your ability to succeed
- If your culture has influenced who you are, talk about it. Let it add to the picture they form of you as a person and as a student.
A few quick “dos” and “don’ts” for your UC essays:
- Don’t use acronyms. They won’t look them up.
- Don’t give them a haiku or a poem. This is not a creative writing exercise.
- Use dialogue sparingly unless it illustrates how YOU dealt with a situation. Don’t waste your words using someone else’s words.
- Jokes and sarcasm are usually a bad idea.
- Don’t use excessive or flowery language – it’s a waste of words and you don’t sound smarter by using them.
- Don’t title your essay – it just adds unnecessary words.
- Avoid slang, abbreviations or hashtags.
- Don’t philosophize – just tell your story!
- Do NOT be campus-specific! These essays go to all UC campuses!
- Use “I” or “my” because this is about YOU!
Here’s some good news – you can watch this webinar – live – twice a week for the whole summer! Different admissions counselors will offer the personal statement webinar every Wednesday and every Thursday in June and July, so students can get different perspectives or even attend just once. It’s just over 40 minutes and worth the time for students to start thinking about how they can stand out in their personal statements. Click here to sign up for a webinar.