I have spent the past couple of months helping seniors conceptualize and edit their two personal statements for the University of California. In the large majority of them, I have witnessed many of the same misconceptions about the prompts, leadings students to disappear within their drafts.
These tips will help students show up in their own essays.
Prompt 1: Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
Prompt 2: 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?
- You only have 1,000 words to distribute between the two essays. Remember, the University of California is looking to admit a diverse class: diverse in experiences, backgrounds, leadership, and initiative. Get to the point in your essays. Give specific examples in each essay that reveal why you deserve to be admitted to campuses that value diversity: however you define it.
- You are going to college next year. Colleges want to know about the recent you, the you that is closest to being ready for college. So make sure you connect your essays to the present day as quickly as possible.
- What did you do last summer? Please focus on specifics to help the admissions officers picture what you can contribute to their campuses. So literally what did you do last summer? If you helped your mother on her job, that could help you in prompt 1. If you did an internship, had a job, or volunteered, describe that in prompt 2.
- Try to connect your essays to activities that reveal your true commitments and talents. These essays are not about your relatives or neighborhoods. When prompt 1 asks you to describe the world you come from…think about the prompt this way: how have you made an impact in the world you are from? What are you doing to make the world stronger?
- In prompt #1, if you want to use your family or neighborhood, use them as a metaphor. How are you fulfilling new possibilities? If you the first person or first generation to go to college, please mention that as part of your dreams and aspirations in prompt 1.
- When addressing prompt 2, please describe something specific about which you are proud. Look at your resume or UC activity list and describe the one with a great story. Again, please choose something relatively recent. If you start far in the past, get to the present very quickly.
- If you are proud of something academic, can this go in another part of the application? Or can you describe a specific project, a specific moment. Perhaps you are a teacher’s assistant. Perhaps you tutor. Perhaps you are part of a college readiness program. Then these are better topics. If you made an amazing academic recovery, can you describe that in additional comments?
- If you discuss an individual accomplishment in one essay, please try to describe a different one in the second essay. Can you show how you are giving back to the community in one and developing a talent in another?
- Edit, edit, edit. These essays cannot be one paragraph each. Break them into smaller paragraphs and make sure you grammar check each one.
- Admissions officers are not mind-readers. Please brag. Please show up in your essays. If you want to be a scientist, describe a scientific experience. If you ran a marathon, describe running the marathon and what you learned.