Applying to the University of California? The 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.
The breadth of 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.
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.
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.
- Attend to the style, mechanics, and tone of your essay: With only 1,000 words with which to answer prompts #1 and #2, your personal statement needs to be lean and engaging. Keep these 5 essay tips in mind, follow these suggestions for improving your essay's style, and cut anything that is tangential to the prompt.