UC Essay Examples – Personal Insight Questions 1-8

December 29, 2023

UC essay samples

When applying to any of the University of California schools, you’ll face a series of supplemental essays in which you are asked to quickly and, with sufficient detail, provide personal insight into who you are as a person. These essays can be confusing to students, who might be used to writing the Common App essay, which asks for a well-written story in 650 words. The UC essays (see UC essay examples below), by contrast, ask you to provide as much concrete detail as possible while showcasing your positive traits. This means your writing will need to be as efficient as possible. To be clear, that means cutting down on flowery descriptions and pulling out the clear details about your achievements while leaving enough space for mature reflection and forward thinking. 

(For help with writing efficiency, check out our tips in our Why This College Essay blog post. For tips on how to get started, check out our Overcoming Challenges Essay blog post.)

In the following examples, we’ll show you some example responses to the first four UC prompts while talking you through what works and what doesn’t. 

UC Essay Prompt #1: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

It was the third night in a row that we couldn’t get it together. My school’s mock trial team was finally going to the state championship after years of working together, but we couldn’t agree on how to build our prosecution. The “case” was that several people had died during a rock concert when the crowd became violent. We needed to decide if we should “sue” the event space or the artist, and the group was split around two natural leaders. 

Mark, our lead attorney for the last two years, wanted to build a logical argument that the event space intentionally oversold the show, creating danger. Emma, our star witness, said that we needed to build the case around sympathy for the families and sue the artist, who had inspired the violence.

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

I had watched Mark and Emma disagree over the last two years. They were two very different people who loved arguing, and the rest of us often had to wait through it. I typically hang back and observe, but we were down to the wire, and I realized someone needed to speak up. I came up with an idea and pulled aside some of my friends to explain my thoughts. They agreed, and encouraged me to step up. 

I surprised myself when, in a moment of silence, I opened my mouth. I calmly explained that we didn’t have to abandon either strategy and that we could, in fact, combine them to greater effect. Because I had taken time to convince the rest of the team before speaking, they rallied around me, and Mark and Emma had no choice but to agree. I realized at that moment that groups need people who are willing to listen, strategize, and then put a plan into motion, and that I have a strength for this style of leadership. Since then, I’ve started speaking up more, specifically in my robotics club, where I recently led us to second place at the 24-Hour Code-athon. I look forward to bringing those skills to my classes and volunteer work at UC. 


The first thing we should note about UC’s essays is that they are asking about important parts of your life, but they want brief responses. Because UC is sorting through so many applications, we want to be sure that you are providing as much concrete detail as possible and showcasing as many positive traits about yourself as possible in these quick responses.

What I’ve written here attempts to combine a single story with positive traits that a more introverted student might possess. So, it’s a story about the development of someone’s leadership style in a single moment in time. But, there’s another way to write this essay. 

Another Option for UC1: 

A more extroverted student who has been prone to leadership activities all throughout their high school experience could write an incredibly successful essay that simply focused, paragraph by paragraph on quick snippets that showcased their leadership throughout time. For example: 

  • Paragraph 1: I learned I was a natural leader the first time I successfully rallied my rhythm gymnastics team after our star tumbler got injured during a competition.
  • Paragraph 2: I then became our team captain, working to institute a new bonding retreat at the start of each year to bring the team together.
  • Paragraph 3: I took that same sense of leadership to my volunteer work at the local food bank, where I have worked with my colleagues to create a conversation hour. Every Wednesday, we invite volunteers and clients to a collective meal where we share stories, tough spots, and triumphs.
  • Paragraph 4: While I won’t be dancing competitively in college, I plan to continue my volunteer work with the Meals on Wheels chapter at UC, bringing food and friendly conversation to people in the community, rooted in my practice and experience with community building and bonding in high school. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

No matter what your experience is, you really want to focus on direct, deliverable moments in time that showcase what you’ve done. If you have a ton of leadership experience, try to showcase as much as you can while meeting the word count. If you have less experience but a really compelling story, focus on quickly laying out the basics of the story and then building power in the essay by reflecting on your leadership style.

In the end, make sure you comment on how you will bring your leadership style to campus, being as specific as possible. 

If I edited the above essay even more, I would further condense the story and elaborate more on how I’ve applied what I’ve learned. I mention the robotics club and winning second place at the 24-Hour Code-athon, but I could have saved some space above and expanded on it to show that I have the capacity to build my skill set over time. I could have also talked about the deliverables from the mock trial experience. Did we win our case? How does the story end? If I gave this essay another pass, I would focus a bit less on the story and balance things out more with what happened as a result of my leadership revelation.  

UC Essay Prompt #2: 

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.

UC Example Essay: 

When I was just two-years-old, my mom enrolled me in ballet classes—and I hated them. Because I was young and she wanted me to do it, I danced for another nine years, until I finally gave up ballet for the soccer field. What I hadn’t realized was that everything I learned in ballet would quickly translate to make me a star player on the field. I knew how to turn on a dime, I could jump over a slide tackle faster than anyone else, and I never took it that seriously when we lost (the show must go on, after all). This led me to being named captain of my varsity team, where my team has nicknamed me The Swann—a combination of the football player who used ballet to train, Lynn Swann, and the famous ballet, Swan Lake. 

UC Personal Insight Questions Examples (Continued)

I realized quickly that my creativity could have this extracurricular quality no matter where I went. In my high school’s annual Physics-in-the-Raw Competition, I used famous chase scenes from my favorite black and white movies (I’m a big fan of Vertigo and Chinatown) and pulled all the data I could from the movies themselves to crunch the numbers and show whether or not the actual chase would have played out like that in real life. I even filmed shot-for-shot remakes on my phone using Matchbox cars—in black and white, of course. My AP Physics teacher never stopped laughing, even as they noted that my calculations were correct. I was the first 11th grader to win the competition in the school’s history, and I have my creativity to thank for it. 

I’ve expressed interest in both English and Physics as a double major, but I’m excited to talk to my future advisers about what might be possible for me in Interdisciplinary Studies. When I let myself think creatively, I wonder about the possibility of bringing ballet back into my life—and what it might look like to combine my love of physics with the beauty of dance and literature, all on the UC campus.  


Here’s a cheeky example from a dream student whose only obstacle in life is that they didn’t really like ballet. I wrote this essay as a way to show you how you can quickly combine story with concrete elements. Look at how we jump into the essay. The first sentence I actually typed was “Creativity is one of my favorite things about me,” and then deleted it after I wrote the rest of the paragraph. I realized quickly that it was a placeholder for what I was attempting to show throughout the rest of the essay. If you find yourself writing bland or empty sentences like that in your UC essays, you should delete them, too. 

Then, look at what happens along the way. I try to list vivid-yet-concrete examples of my creativity (I knew how to turn on a dime, I could jump over a slide tackle faster than anyone else, and I never took it that seriously when we lost), and then I take what I learned about myself (that I have an “extracurricular sense” of creativity) and show the achievement that best showcases that sensibility on display: I was the first 11th grader to win the school physics competition because I’m so creative. I don’t need to over-explain the connection: it’s there for my readers and they can easily see how the experience in the first paragraph leads to the second experience. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

Finally, I take the chance to project myself onto the UC Campus by talking earnestly about an interest I have in the Interdisciplinary B.A. This moment is effective because I’m not promising anything or using overextended language to build a fake version of myself on campus, but because it makes sense that this type of student would be interested in this type of major. I demonstrate that I’ve done some research and that I’m thinking critically about how I would fit in on campus. 

If I edited this essay into another version, and I had another set of accomplishments to showcase, I would skip talking about the Interdisciplinary major and talk instead about that third accomplishment.  

UC Essay Prompt #3: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

I stepped onto the pad and looked over at my coach. She gave me the sign: breathe in, breathe out, pull. One kick to the right to loosen my tight hip, and I lowered my hands to the bar. In the 2022 USA Powerlifting High School Nationals, I set a personal deadlift record of 242.5 pounds, putting me in fifth place. When the rankings shook out, my coach screamed and hugged me: she knew what it had taken me to get here. 

Something about powerlifting always compelled me. I was tiny at the start of my journey in ninth grade, but I decided to just keep with it. My coach laid out a progressive plan for me, and I followed it to a T. I was making steady progress all through fall of sophomore year, and I even won a regional title.  I broke my right leg in a skiing accident that winter and was devastated. But I remembered all the progress I had made and didn’t want to stop. I watched practice with my cast on, doing seated, upper-body lifts when my coach said it was safe. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

In the meantime, I focused on my academics. I turned around my AP Chemistry grade by showing up to afterschool tutoring and finally making flashcards the way my teacher had recommended, dedicating an extra 30 minutes to chem every day.  I realized I could apply my same sense of persistence and tenacity to the classroom, too, and it paid off: I got a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam. 

My coach wasn’t surprised when she saw me back at the barbell a week after my cast was off. Over the next year, I dedicated myself to rebuilding the muscle I had lost by following an increased- calorie diet and working accessory lifts to challenge myself. I realized I could see precisely what my ability to perform sustained, focused effort got me: a comeback fifth place ranking at a national competition in the sport that I love. I can’t wait to apply my focus to my major at UC. 


Many students think about “skill” or “talent” as a discrete thing. For example, this student could have simply written about being really good at powerlifting. However, if we take one step back, we can see that the student’s true talent (and the more interesting thing to say) is that they are really good at persistence, tenacity, and sustained, focused attention on a goal. This is a tremendous thing to talk about when it comes to applying to college, because going to university is a project in your sustained focus over the course of four years. 

That meant that it was important to also bring in an academic component to the essay to showcase how this student was skilled in persistence in another realm. In this context, obviously, the academic realm is incredibly important. Drawing the parallel with the AP Chem course shows the reader that the student also understands how their skillset works in an abstract way. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

I’ll repeat the same editing principle here that I’ve said above: if the student had other stellar examples of exhibiting persistence and focus, I would cut down on the storytelling elements, and I would include those pieces, instead. If you’re working on an essay for which you have a lot of solid examples, you can think of your response to the prompt like a vividly conceptualized list. You can showcase your personality through your language choices, and you can tell the story of your achievements, but again, worry less about setting the scene and more about highlighting your successes. 

UC Essay Prompt #4: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

As a gifted student, I was shocked when my favorite teacher asked me if I had ever considered getting examined for ADHD. My grades had been slipping that semester, but it was just because I wasn’t working hard enough to stay organized, right? My teacher indicated that he knew I was working really hard already, and that maybe, I would benefit from a little help. 

When my diagnosis came back as primarily inattentive ADHD, I felt both surprise and grief. My psychologist talked to me about how my hyperfocus had been likely sparked when I was a little kid in elementary school, but that, as time went on, it was easier and easier for me to become bored in school. Even if the classes were more challenging, the repetition of the structure wasn’t. I had enough coping mechanisms to do “well enough,” but if I wasn’t being challenged, my inattention could be taking over and making me lose out on reaching my goals. 

UC Personal Insight Questions Examples (Continued)

Working closely with my parents, my psychologist, and my teachers, I was able to build a plan for myself to get back on track. I chose for myself that I wanted to start treatment without medication, so I did counseling to put my time in high school in perspective, and I started practicing mindfulness meditation, which has been a revelation. When I focus on the fact that every day is a new opportunity to learn something new, I can really savor those opportunities. The semester that I received my diagnosis, I stabilized my grades and my 4.0 GPA before anything started to slip, thanks to my careful teacher. 

When I come to UC, I know I may be faced with challenges to my inattentive ADHD as time goes on, however, I now know what warning signs and how to rely on my support networks. I look forward to volunteering as a peer mentor to share my tips, tricks, and to help other students identify when they need help, as well. 


Writing about mental health and learning disabilities can be tricky. In every case, you need to be sure that you’re demonstrating a clear arc of overcoming something. There is no shame in actively dealing with a mental health problem or diagnosis, but when it comes to writing your college admissions essays, you want to be sure that you have a demonstrable positive outcome that you can discuss if you choose to go down this path. 

So, I wanted to show an example of someone who had that clarity of overcoming their diagnosis with a demonstrable stabilization of their GPA. Pay attention to the way in which the essay departs from the identification of the problem, the diagnosis, and then focuses mainly on the solutions that the student finds. Leaving the essay in a place of generosity where the student wants to extend what they’ve learned to others around them solidifies their success and showcases that they truly have overcome this educational barrier. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

Of course, there are other significant educational barriers that someone could talk about. They could include structural barriers within a school system or unfortunate events, like surviving a wildfire or a flood, that can demonstrate a student’s perseverance. To write this essay in the opposite direction, about a significant educational opportunity, might entail writing about an invitation to speak at an important event, an opportunity to travel to a foreign country, or the chance to participate in an extracurricular activity that led to a particular success. Were you asked to help start your school’s award-winning field hockey team? That would be an excellent thing to write about. 

To view all of the full list of prompts and other helpful tips, check out our other UC Essay blog post, here. And when you need help crafting and editing your UC essays, reach out to College Transitions for a free consultation and to get started. 

Now let’s dive into the next series of supplemental prompts, UC Personal Insight Questions 5 through 8. 

UC Essay Prompt #5: 

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?

UC Example Essay: 

When I was five years old, my mother decided to separate from my father because of his addiction. I have learned to understand the details based on what my mother does not say. My mother tried to help him overcome his illness. She had hoped that doctors, rehab, and twelve-step programs would have stopped him from becoming violent. She was wrong. I grew up without him. 

Last year, out of the blue, my father started showing up outside of my high school, telling me he wanted to see my mom again. It became severe enough that the police issued a restraining order. I haven’t seen him since. 

But I suffered. The idea that he could appear outside of my school at any moment made me paranoid. I was scared for my mother, and I wanted to believe that the restraining order would be sufficient, but then I stopped trusting myself. What if something happened and no one believed me? I had never experienced anxiety before, but all of the sudden, I was having tunnel vision and couldn’t be alone. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

My physics teacher, Mr. Bevelacqua, noticed first. He saw that my grade had slid from an A to a C- in five weeks, and he rightly assumed that, if it was happening in his class, it was happening in others. I loved his class and sense of humor, so I felt comfortable enough confiding in my teacher about my fears. He helped me talk with the school psychologist, who suggested a course in mindfulness and a series of conversations with the police. I created healthy boundaries for myself and developed a mindfulness routine with my mother that has benefited both of us.

Now, my grades are back up, and I’m helping Mr. Bevelacqua tutor other students for the AP Physics exam. I’ve even started attending Alateen meetings, where I’ve made close friends who have experienced similar things. Sharing our experiences has almost helped them dissolve. I’ve learned that, even though I’ve thought I should be ashamed of my father, I can talk openly about my experiences—and maybe even help myself and others.  


This essay is a completely fictional one in which I’m imagining a rather difficult experience that triggers a mental health episode in a student. You’ll see that I spend the first three, quick paragraphs detailing the challenge and the final paragraph outlining the steps the student has taken to overcome the problem. The student shows self-awareness by confiding in a favorite teacher about what’s happening, then the student doesn’t hesitate to take the teacher’s advice, then the advice pays off and we see the positive effects of the student’s willingness to address their fears and work with the people they trust around them.  

I want to point out that both sections are fairly concrete. I take some creative liberties in the first paragraph in order to artfully describe a situation of domestic violence, but for the most part, I’m stating directly what happened. This doesn’t mean excluding difficult details, like the anxiety attacks and fear, but it does mean that I’ve avoided overly flowery language. 

Writing about heavy things doesn’t mean that your prose has to be particularly heavy. In fact, writing about particularly difficult things in plain, straightforward ways—without the use of too many colorful adjectives—can help communicate the painfulness even more. You don’t want to smother your reader in emotion; you want to lead them to their own emotional reaction through the things that happened. Restraint in prose can help to achieve this goal. Let the painful things be painful. They will do the work for you. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

That is all to say: when you’re tackling this essay, you don’t want to bleed on the page. Oftentimes, students who have suffered traumatic, difficult things believe that they need to convey the full weight of their distress to admissions officers. To be clear, your trauma and your suffering matters, but admissions officers are reading the full breadth of painful experiences from across the spectrum of human existence. Adversity and suffering visit us all, and the unfortunate pain of these events is highly relative.

Admissions officers are interested in seeing what you do with your pain. You want to focus on the tangible, provable things that you have done to overcome your challenges. Those things could be big or small. It would have been enough for this student, for example, to have simply found a productive mindfulness meditation routine that they practiced with their mother, and then described their newfound perspectives that came from that practice. You don’t have to do twenty things to prove that you’re emotionally mature enough to attend college; but you do want to prove that you’re doing well despite adversity. 

UC Essay Prompt #6: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

Standing in front of the seven-foot-tall, room-length canvas for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Then, slowly, I realized what Warhol was doing. Here was Elvis, the iconic American figure of rock ‘n’ roll, stamped out eleven times, his pistol pointed at us, his larger-than-life body repeating like a film strip left on the cutting room floor and then splayed out before us, so that we could see each instance of his fame, however fleeting, now indelible. 

Going to the Andy Warhol Museum in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania opened my eyes to the world of Art History, and as soon as I realized I could study it, I ran full speed ahead. To compete in National History Day, I underwent a six-month research process in the Warhol Museum archives, reading Warhol’s journals, correspondences, and making analytical reviews of drafts of his earlier, un-exhibited works. I made a thirty-minute documentary about Warhol’s work, including interviews I conducted with experts, museum curators, and with the only living family member who knew Warhol when he was still alive. With my documentary, I progressed to the national competition and placed as an honorable mention in the individual documentary category. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

Growing out of that experience, I worked with my AP History teacher to establish a connection with Duquesne University Art History Professor Laney McGunnigan, with whom I completed a semester-long independent study project on the development of pop art in the twentieth century. This fall, I will be assisting Professor McGunnigan in cataloging the body of Diego Rivera’s work held at Fallingwater, in order to assist with a larger place-based analysis on the intersection of diverse artistic movements hidden across the greater Pittsburgh area. 

I am thrilled by the possibility of studying under UCLA Department Chair Saloni Mathur. The Fallingwater project has opened my eyes to the influence of colonialism and post-colonialism in Art History, and I am deeply interested in the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach that involves anthropological practices like those I engaged during my Warhol documentary production process. 


For this essay, you want to choose that interest toward which you’ve put the most effort during your time in high school. It’s kind of like a “Why This College?” essay, but it’s about a subject, instead. In this fictional example essay, I’m drawing on a personal experience with creating a Warhol documentary in high school (true story!) and how an incredibly diligent and well-resourced student might have expanded that experience into further study (that part is fiction). No matter the level of involvement, you want to pull out all of the details about what you’ve done as a high school student as you’ve pursued a particular interest. 

You can see that I’m naming names throughout the essay, and also that I’m talking about how I’ve used my academic network to further my interest. For example, I say that I worked with my AP History teacher to make a valuable connection with a professor—don’t leave those things out. Seemingly small conversations and connections that lead to bigger things are worth including in this essay because they demonstrate your pursuit. Show the reader the steps you took along the way to get to where you are; every step counts—and you can always pare down the word count later.  

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

The opening lines are deceptively normal. Yes, they paint a quick scene for the reader. However, they’re also showing how I got interested in art history to begin with. The reader can see the first moment of inspiration outside of the classroom, and how I pull that inspiration into my academic life. 

Finally, I closed the essay by doing some quick research into the Art History department at UCLA. I might not know a ton about anthropology as a high school student, but I do know that I did interviews for my documentary. A good essay coach (like someone from College Transitions) could help you make the elegant connection between the work you’ve already done and the academic interests of the faculty in the department where you’d like to study. 

UC Essay Prompt #7: 

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

UC Example Essay: 

I can’t begin to tell you how the opioid epidemic has ravaged my community. In the last three years, three graduating seniors and eight recent graduates have died from heroin-related overdoses. The most recent death was my best friend Evan’s older brother; he had been a star soccer player and he went on to study communications at Regional State University. When Evan called to tell me what happened, I did the math silently as I listened to my friend cry: his brother overdosed at the age of 23. 

In the weeks following the funeral, I felt a heaviness I had never felt before. I’m pretty introverted; to say that I’ve never had anyone offer me drugs is an understatement. It’s the same with Evan. Even though his brother had gotten into drugs, we never saw them, which made the whole thing all the more painful, scary, and confusing. We felt hopeless. I watched Evan start to plummet. 

UC Essay Examples (Continued)

It was then that I heard a news story about a Harm Reduction group out of Chicago. It was the first time I’d ever heard of harm reduction, but Evan and I took the idea and ran. In just four months, we contacted the National Harm Reduction Coalition and set up a voluntary Narcan Network through our school. We built a program where kids and their parents can get trained on how to use free Narcan kits that we receive through donations we organized with NHRC.

We got trained, and we have trained more than two hundred people in our monthly sessions. The community support has been overwhelming. Parents who have had kids die or go to rehab have become integral parts of our project, and we’ve helped them start a monthly support group. If someone takes a kit, they don’t have to report using it to us, but through voluntary reporting, we know that our kits have been used at least twenty times so far. Twenty lives, twenty families, twenty more reasons to keep doing what we do. We like to think that Evan’s brother would be proud. 


In this essay, you can see that I dedicate a fair amount of time to the problem. The first two paragraphs set up what happened to the student and their best friend’s family. If I were editing this essay—and the student had a substantial amount more to say about the Narcan group—I might shorten those two paragraphs and leave space at the end for more reflection and balance, especially if the student had more achievement-oriented information to include. 

Writing about the positive things you brought to the situation is the crucial part here. The admissions officers want to know about the context for the solution, yes, but the more important thing here is your character that has allowed you to improve your community. You need to provide significant, concrete details that demonstrate your contribution to your school or community. In this case, the student is able to provide a time frame, the name of outside organizations with which they organized, the number of people trained, and an approximate number of lives saved. This is a Herculean effort that I invented for the sake of this prompt, however, I’m using it to show you the kinds of information you should provide. 

UC Personal Insight Questions Examples (Continued)

Maybe you didn’t create a live-saving program at your school, but perhaps you organized a fundraiser that brought in hundreds of dollars for cancer research or even your marching band’s annual competition trip. Tell us that. And tell us how you did it. Maybe you organized the calendars of thirty different students to do tabling during different periods of the school day. Maybe you held a week’s worth of car washes in the parking lot of your local library, and you had to coordinate the efforts between the library staff and fifteen volunteers. Or perhaps you were in charge of keeping the cash box, opening a bank account, and ensuring the safe transfer of funds to the organization.

Those are the kinds of concrete details this essay wants to see. Be sure to gas yourself up and don’t be afraid to sound like you’re “bragging:” UC wants to see your personal achievements.  

Essay Prompt #8: 

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? 

UC Example Essay: 

Well, why don’t you take a crack at it? 


For this essay, I’ll reiterate those best practices for all of your UC Personal Insight Essays. You want to quickly describe, in concrete language, a situation that distinguishes you from others. Then, you want to use numbers, names, responses, and your personal process to show very clearly how you overcame a situation, created something beneficial, committed yourself to a positive outcome, helped your family, helped your friends, helped your community, and on and on. Don’t take this opportunity to flex your creative writing muscles. Do stick to demonstrative outcomes. Don’t worry about winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Again, UC essays are different from the storytelling you’re expected to do in the Common App essay. Do concern yourself with communicating the clear, discrete benefits of your work on a project, course, or group of people. Don’t worry about “bragging.” Your 350 words will go by fast! Gas yourself up while you can.