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Essay Prompts


WHO ARE YOU? in 650 words.


Don’t do this all in one sitting! Take breaks, think about it.

-------------- Part A ----------------

Brainstorm a list of 8 stories that give your audience a real sense of who you are and how you look at the world. For each story, boil it down to a few sentences.

Where do you live? How did your family get there? Where does your family work?

Is there a way you, your family, or your culture do things you might take for granted?

Are their social norms in your family or culture that people in other times or other places might not share?

Look at the most ordinary details about your everyday life--what your mom makes you for lunch, or what you do when you get home from school--and see if there is a story there.

What’s something you’ve been through that was difficult, but that changed you for the better?

What’s your favorite subject in school? How did you discover that you were passionate about it? Do you do anything with it outside the classroom?

What’s your favorite thing outside of school? How did you discover that you were passionate about it? What have you done to feed, explore, develop that passion?

What motivates you?

-------------- Part B ----------------

What matters to you?

What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever done?

What’s something that may not sound that impressive on the surface but actually means a lot to you?

What three things do people need to know about you in order to understand who you are.

If I really wanted to get how you view the world, what would I need to know?

-------------- Part C ----------------

What groups do you belong to? How do you know (by your habits or activities) that you are a member of that group? What makes your heart sing? What part of your week is the highlight?

-------------- Part D ----------------

If you had a time machine with one round trip, what point in the future or in the history would you visit?

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

If your house was burning down, what three objects would you try to save?

If you could talk to any one person now living, who would it be and why?

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

Name a gift you will never forget.

Name one thing you really like about yourself.

What is your favorite thing to do in the summer?

Does your name have a special meaning?

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

What was the best thing that happened to you this past week?

If you had this week over again, what would you do differently?

If you could change one problem in the world today, what would you change?

What book, movie, or video have you read/seen recently you would recommend? Why?

What is your favorite tradition?

Describe yourself in 3 words.

What do you like to do for fun?

Who is your role model?

Dream Job(s)

...and what does this say about you?

-------------- Part E ----------------

Give us your top ten list (OF ANYTHING)

-------------- Part F ----------------

Identity Iceberg (draw)


Cluster Web (draw): Take 5 min to inventory who you are. What is important to me?

Family values, heritage, structure, birth order, religion📷

Interest, favorite food

Learning style, language

Neighborhood, race

Activity (talk): take 3 minutes, find someone you trust, and list as many things you can that begin with “If you knew me you would know…”


After you’ve answered, take a couple days break.


When you come back, read through your answers and look for:


Ex. I wrote a lot about how much I love math.

Events/Experiences that can show a part of your personality:

Ex. Helping with my grandparents shows that I think about more than just myself.



Have someone who you trust read through your brainstorm madness and have them pick out the most impactful stories, themes, experiences.

Based on what you think is strong, create a SUPER rough draft using the Common App // UC Prompts below. How can you tie in your love of math to a prompt?


Write. Write. Write.

None of it has to be perfect or even remotely good.


What did you learn about the writer through reading this essay?

What did the writer tell you?

What is the most interesting part of the essay?

What questions do you still have? What do you wish to know more about?


What message do I want to convey through this essay?

What is the most interesting part of the essay?

What do I wish I could write more about?

What do I want the reader to know about me?


Essay Do’s and Don’ts

Personal essays should reveal something about you.

Topics should add context to your application.

Show not tell. Add sensory writing. You want to pull at the reader’s empathy.

Your voice is important, focus on how you write as much as what you write.

Describe the impact and how you have changed because of XYZ experience.

Your writing should not be rushed. Plan ahead.

IF you’re writing about community service, make it about your own personal growth NOT about helping others.

DON’T write about winning sports.

DON’T write about mental health.

This topic should be about YOU and how YOU have grown.

Be vulnerable, it’s a beautiful thing.



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

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.

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

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

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?

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

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

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?


Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (COLOMBIA)

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.


*Some of this material comes from the Aaron Price Fellows Program📷📷


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