University Of California Essay Word Limit On College

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally feature "guest? bloggers and invite other college counselors to join the blog team. We are members of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling (WACAC). Lori McCormick: I began my college advising career in 2006 at Notre Dame de Namur in Transfer Admissions. Since then, I have worked at San Jose State in the Career Center, for a local independent college advising firm, and for BUILD a college access program for underrepresented youth. I graduated with a BA in Sociology from UCSB and a MA in Psychology with a concentration in Career Counseling from Antioch University. I am an active volunteer with The Parent?s Club of the Peninsula (PAMP), the Palo Alto Community Child Care (PACCC) and I am a seasonal application reader for the Maisin Scholar Award. I reside in Palo Alto with my husband and two sons. John Raftrey: I have been advising students for the last three admission cycles. I regularly attend conferences, tour colleges, and keep up with the changing landscape of college admissions. I'll share what I learn and throw in a few opinions along the way. I moved to Palo Alto in 1991. My three sons are all veterans of PAUSD and graduated from Paly. I graduated from the University of Michigan, earned an MBA at Columbia University and hold a certificate in College Counseling from UC San Diego. In my past life I worked in TV news and high tech marketing.  (Hide)

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UC’s Change Application Essay Prompts

Uploaded: Mar 26, 2016
(written by John Raftrey)

The University of California announced this week it is eliminating the two essay prompts in their current application and replacing them with eight short answer questions of which undergraduate will have to pick four and transfer students will have to pick three. Transfer students also have to answer a specific question on how they are prepared for their major.

The change will affect students who are applying to the UC’s this fall. The previous prompts had a maximum word count of 1,000 total words between them. The new prompts allow for a 350-word limit on each of the four prompts.

My thoughts:
• I’m glad they got rid of the poorly worded prompts they had been using.
• Students will now feel compelled to write 1400 words compared to the 1000 words maximum of the old prompts
• Student should not try to figure out which are the four “best” prompts.
• In an era when colleges are looking to make it easier to apply to college, the UC’s just made it harder. It’s not because of the word count, it is because instead of having to brainstorm two essays, students will now have to brainstorm four essays. Picking a theme and figuring out what to say is the hard part, not the actual writing.
• This will lead to some wild admission decisions, making it even harder for students to figure out if they have a shot at a particular UC.

Here are the eight new prompts:

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.  
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.  
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
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?
6.  Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  
8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the

More information can be found at the UC website
Freshmen Prompts

Transfer Prompts

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Personal Insight Questions

The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.

Think of it as your interview with the Admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.

Learn more about Personal Insight questions in the video below:

  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. 
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you, but you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

Freshman Personal Insight Questions (link is external)

  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions. 

Transfer Personal Insight Questions (link is external)

  • There is one required question you must answer. 
  • You must also answer 3 out of 7 additional questions.

As a vital part of your application, the personal insight questions—short-answer questions you will choose from—are reviewed by both the Admissions and Scholarship offices.

At Berkeley we use personal insight questions to:

  • Discover and evaluate distinctions among applicants whose academic records are often very similar
  • Gain insight into your level of academic, personal and extracurricular achievement
  • Provide us with information that may not be evident in other parts of the application

What we look for:

  • Initiative, motivation, leadership, persistence, service to others, special potential and substantial experience with other cultures
  • All achievement in light of the opportunities available to you
  • Any unusual circumstances or hardships you have faced and the ways in which you have overcome or responded to them. Having a hardship is no guarantee of admission. If you choose to write about difficulties you have experienced, you should describe:
    • How you confronted and overcame your challenges, rather than describing a hardship just for the sake of including it in your application
    • What you learned from or achieved in spite of these circumstances

Academic achievement

For freshman applicants:

  • Academic accomplishments, beyond those shown in your transcript

For transfer students:

  • Include interest in your intended major, explain the way in which your academic interests developed, and describe any related work or volunteer experience.
  • Explain your reason for transferring if you are applying from a four-year institution or a community college outside of California. For example, you may substantiate your choice of a particular major or your interest in studying with certain faculty on our campus.

How to answer your personal insight questions

  • Thoughtfully describe not only what you’ve done, but also the choices you have made and what you have gained as a result.
  • Allow sufficient time for preparation, revisions, and careful composition. Your answers are not evaluated on correct grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, but these qualities will enhance overall presentation and readability.

If you are applying...

  • to a professional college (such as the College of Engineering or Chemistry), it is important that you discuss:
    • Your intended field of study
    • Your interest in your specific major
    • Any school or work-related experience
  • for a scholarship, we recommend that you elaborate on the academic and extracurricular information in the application that demonstrates your motivation, achievement, leadership, and commitmen (link is external)t.
  • to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)—the support program for students from low-income families in which neither parent is a college graduate:
    • Discuss how the program might benefit you
    • Tell us about your determination to succeed even though you may have lacked academic or financial support

Keep in mind

You can use the Additional Comments box to convey any information that will help us understand the context of your achievement; to list any additional honors awards, activities, leadership elements, volunteer activities, etc.; to share information regarding a nontraditional school environment or unusual circumstances that has not been included in any other area of the application. And, finally, after we read your personal insight questions, we will ask the question, “What do we know about this individual?” If we have learned very little about you, your answers were not successful.

​Learn more

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