Essay tips from the University of California and Davis High staff

By Emily Chapman, Editor–

Arguably one of the most strenuous pieces of a college application is the personal essay supplement.

Although some private universities require supplemental essays, most private schools require a 650-word personal essay responding to one of seven Common App prompts. In addition, the nine undergraduate colleges in the University of California system require students to write four 350-word personal insight questions, responding to half of the eight prompts provided.

As you work on your Common App and UC essays, consider these tips provided by the UC admissions and Davis High faculty.

DHS head counselor Catherine Periera advises students to picture their essays as a meet and greet, or an interview.

“They want to know what makes you ‘you.’ What obstacles have you overcome? What are your talents?  What is your favorite class and why?” Periera said. 

Periera recommends that students be wary of others’ help with essays.

“The essays should be from your voice, so be careful letting others help you,” Periera said.

According to the UC admissions webpage, there is no one way to write your responses to the personal insight questions.

“The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC,” the website reads.

UC admissions recommend that students begin their essays early, use “I” statements, and write persuasively.

According to UC admissions, “making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make. […] It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.”  

When selecting which prompts to respond to, UC admissions advise students to remember that all questions are given equal consideration “which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others,” according to the website.

DHS English teacher David Achimore recommends that students’ 650-word Common App essay have an organic flow rather than a clear thesis.

Achimore also encourages students to use a “two-step process to tackle the personal statement essay.” This includes showing the readers the story of an important event through vivid and sensory detail and reflecting on what was learned. Reflecting should take at least a third of the essay, Achimore suggests.

Achimore recommends that students not use quotations from famous historical figures to avoid to coming off as cliche and wasting word space that could add to the story.

Achimore also warns against using a universal reflection, which means tying what was learned to how the lesson can impact society or the world.

“Instead of using an unoriginal universal statement, rewrite the sentiment in personal terms making it about you and what you have learned about yourself,” Achimore said.

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