The University of California is a system of public schools located across the Golden State, including Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Davis, Irvine, Santa Cruz, and Merced. The schools range in acceptance rates from 14.1% to 66.9%, with UCLA and Berkeley as the most exclusive.
The supplement hasn’t changed in years. Applicants are asked to answer four prompts out of eight with 350-word essays, and then click on the schools to which they’d like to send their supplement. Four essays might seem like a lot, but the upside is you can effectively apply to nine schools with just one application.
This past year, over 65 percent of students accepted at UC Berkeley were California resident. We’ve helped a lot of out-of-state kids apply for UC schools, especially for UC Berkeley. We like these prompts (or most of them anyway) because the school talks you through each question. Before starting off, remember to keep it simple with the majority of these. Avoid recounting stories of tragedies, major life-altering events, or really…anything that could be misconstrued as arrogance. If you’re feeling uninspired by one, or don’t have a story that comes to mind, don’t choose it.
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.
We’ve never answered this question. It falls into a category of talking about an extra-curricular you’ve probably already listed somewhere else in your application. Avoid redundancy in your application at all costs and try to think of each section as an opportunity to show the school something new about you.
The ONLY TIME you should answer this question is if you demonstrate leadership in a small way. Again, this can’t be an offshoot of anything that’s already represented on your resume or elsewhere. UC doesn’t take the Common Application, but they do have a portion where applicants can write down activities and awards, so you also shouldn’t be talking about anything that is listed therein.
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.
We always answer this question. When you’re applying to a school like Berkeley with an astronomically low acceptance rate, you NEED to show them your creative side. The keys to this one is show, don’t tell and have fun. One of our students actually wrote a series of haikus for his answer. Don’t be afraid to break form or tell a funny story. Either way, this one should be light.
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
We’re not even sure adults can answer this question properly. We think it can be very hard to answer this question honestly and not sound like an awful, self-involved person. So we’ve always taken a more sarcastic approach.
One of our kids wrote about his Cacio e Pepe recipe and that is the right tone to strike. It was funny. It was light. It was all the things a normal college essay is not. It’s hard to talk about your strengths without sounding cocky or brash. Your goal, throughout all of your applications, should be to show humility and humanity.
Pasta is humanizing. Everyone eats. And the UC admissions counselors are no exception. It’s imperative to guarantee touch points of empathy throughout your essays and to find ways to connect with your anonymous readers. You also don’t want your greatest skill or talent to be off-putting. So, do what comedians do and downplay your strengths and talk about how dumb they are. It’s endearing. It also shows confidence and schools really want to see that.
Earlier we said we like that UC gives you recommendations for answering each prompt. This question is the exception. They tell you to consider discussing awards you’ve received. We STRONGLY recommend against that. It will be listed elsewhere in your application, so stick with something simple and new.
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
If you haven’t worked through something, and we mean really worked through something, do not answer this question. Don’t stretch it. If you got Instagram for the first time and your grades slipped, and that’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced academically, just move right onto #5. If you think your teacher sucked and caused you to get bad grades, move right on, too. However, if you were sick or faced another serious barrier, this is a question you can answer.
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?
Similar to #3, the response to this question should be subjective, funny, and simple. Strive for sensitivity and make it personal. We honestly don’t love this question. Don’t answer it if you don’t have to. It’s a bit too leading.
6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Responses to this question could go down one of two Avenues: If you’re interested in a major, such as pre-med, you really need to double-down on that here and let the admissions committee know. The other avenue is to talk about a passion or a quirky academic subject, for example: feminism, especially if you’re a guy. You have 350 words. Be passionate about anything and feel free to stretch the term “academic subject.” Culinary arts count.
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Beware. This one can be a trap. Don’t talk about beautifying your school, the weeks you spent planning homecoming, or anything else that is classic enough to be a scene from “Freaks and Geeks” or any John Hughes film (ask your parents). Make this small and something you’ve never been recognized for. Focus on your community, not your school, and feel free to expand the term “community.”
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?
If you are working with us, you are choosing this question. It asks you to write anything and if you’ve been reading the blog at all, you should know that we, at the Koppelman Group, help students thrive off creativity.
Do literally anything here.
If our kid likes to fish on the weekends or take their dog to the dog park and has relationships with other dogs, we have them write about. Choose anything that you might consider low-skill heroic (for example, maybe you risked your reputation to help someone who needed it and it didn’t go well in the long run). Talking about how you organize your desk says a lot about you. Very few kids are going to think to write about something so small and personal, but the truth is, it is those everyday moments that add something new—everything else is already in your app somewhere.
And no…whatever idea just popped into your head is not dumb.
Here are a few more ideas to get you started:
A recipe for pancakes
A scene from a flight you once took (just make sure it doesn’t show your privilege. No trips to St. Thomas)
The list of to-dos that runs through your head before you fall asleep
A list of your favorite books
A defense of why you are a Hufflepuff
A short news cast you and your friends filmed and edited
A short story about your favorite word
A poem about your favorite television character
A book report (make sure it’s not a cliché book, or required reading material)
A journey into your locker
Have you taken medical leave from school and need to figure out how to address it with schools? Reach out to us here. We help students with the whole college application process.