Dear Dr. LaScala,
We enjoy reading your column. We are the parents of twin girls who will be seniors in high school this fall and both plan to apply to the UC system. Our kids are motivated to write their college essays but they really don't know where to start. Can you give more details?
~Parents of Twins in Danville
Dear Parents of Twins,
Students applying to one or more of the University of California csmpuses are required to write two personal statements that respond to what are called the "UC Prompts". In combination, the two statements may not exceed 1,000 words and no statement can be fewer than 250 words. I offer college essay workshops throughout the summer because it is an excellent time to get a start on writing the college essay. Here are some useful tips and strategies that work well for students applying to the UC system:
Do understand the purpose of the UC personal statements. The UC does not ask for letters of recommendation. Therefore, each campus relies on the personal statements to add clarity, depth and meaning to the student's application. Put simply, these essays help the university to better know and understand the applicant.
Do fill out a hard copy of the UC application. Then review it critically. Pretend to be an admissions officer. What questions may come up in the reader's mind? Have you attended different high schools? Have you been employed many hours a week? Did your grades fluctuate? For example, if a student's grades dipped during junior year and she worked many hours during the same time period, a reader might reasonably wonder: "Why did the student work so many hours at the expense of grades?" A student may work to supplement family income because a parent has lost a job. That is something an admissions reader needs to understand, and the student should find a way to weave this information into her essay.
Do be yourself and use your own voice. Choose topics that highlight your strengths. This is not the time to be modest about your accomplishments. Craft unique personal statements that only you could write. If you tell the reader about a particular experience you have had, be sure to explain in detail exactly what you have learned and how you grown from your experience.
Do be certain your essay clearly responds to the question being asked. Get feedback, revise your work and ask someone (a trusted advisor or teacher) to proof read. Submit work that is free of spelling and grammatical errors, and uses good writing conventions.
Remember that a key component of success in college is your ability to write. For this reason, colleges want to know you as a writer. Colleges assess your writing in several waysfor example they look at your coursework and grades, especially in subjects that require a good deal of writing. Students are are starting their senior year in high school this fall, probably have already taken the SAT or the ACT. The essay section of these standardized tests represents another way colleges evaluate writing skills. However, the essay section of these tests is time and topic limited. In contrast, the UC personal statements provide an opportunity to compose two personal narratives on topics of your choosing. It is well worth the time and effort to develop essays that you are proud to submit because they support and strengthen your application. I have included the two prompts below for your convenience. As far as I know, the UC Prompts are not changing for the fall admission cycle.
Prompt #1: Describe the world you come fromfor example, your family, community or school. Tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations. Prompt #2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution, or an 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?
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Contact her @ (925) 891-4491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.