1. Getting to Know You
Tips for Writing Powerful College
2. College Four By Four Plan
Four Cal States
No essays except for EOP and Honors
Common Application and
Four insight Questions
Additional Information and Questions
3. The Role of Essays
Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
4. Essays Are One Piece of The
7. One application
• What do you want UC to know about you?
Here’s your chance to tell us in your own
• You will have 8 questions to choose from. You
must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
• Each response is limited to a maximum of 350
• 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
• Keep in mind
• All questions are equal: All are given equal
consideration in the application review
process, which means there is no advantage
or disadvantage to choosing certain questions
• There is no right or wrong way to answer
these questions: It’s about getting to know
your personality, background, interests and
achievements in your own unique voice.
8. Fall 2019 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. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest
inside and/or outside of the classroom.
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
University of California?
9. •“Think of it as
office. Be open.
and express it.”
10. Sample Responses
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
I never noticed that every block I walk by has at least one liquor store. Moms buying chips for
their children as prizes for good grades or as ways to quiet them so they won’t annoy people
with their cries are a common sight of my community. Liquor stores represent the obstacles
Latino families have in order to achieve a better life. The irony behind their arduous struggle to
cross borders and give their families a better life is hampered when the indecent and poor
availability of fresh food damages their health and leads to the generalization that Latinos are
vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases.
My internship with UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities gave me the
chance to change those statistics. In the morning I would plan promotion and use social
marketing skills. I and other students broke concrete on the hottest days of the summer,
sweating and getting sored from using hand tools. I was transforming one horrible liquor store
into a store that offers now fresh fruits and vegetables and also offering exotic fruits and
spices. Within a few weeks, I began to see how our actions can make small, yet important
changes in our community.
My participation with my internship has inspired me to become a nutritionist and work with
children. I am a strong believer that any child deserves a healthy life. After I graduate I will
come back to my community to continue the progress my friends and I have made. I know that
a child’s health is in the best interest of any one which is why I have no doubt in my mind that
in a couple of years my community’s cardiovascular health diseases will lower and the sight of
more fresh food choices will be available.
11. Sample Responses
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?
When I was 14-years-old, my dad was diagnosed with severe depression and became suicidal. Within
the space of two months, my entire life changed. Soon after the diagnosis while my father was in and
out of programs, our family had to move out of our house, and my parents separated. During this
time, all I could think about was the memories I had with my dad like the Dodger games he used to
take me to and his unique laugh when I would tell him a joke. It shocked me to think that my then
five-year-old brother Joey would not have these same memories that I had. Rather than letting my
dad’s illness affect my aspirations in life, I believe that my dad’s illness allowed me to fully mature as
With my father no longer able to support the family, my mom began work, and I took on a bigger
responsibility as an older brother. For a while, I tried to replicate my dad’s persona to my brother so
he would get the same amazing experience that I had with my dad growing up. However, it was quite
difficult as Joey did not understand why his dad could not be with him anymore. My approach shifted
during the summer of 10th grade when I became a counselor at Camp Harmony, a non-profit that
sends underprivileged kids to camp. I realized that just as it was unsuccessful for me to act like a
father to Joey, the kids at camp did not want me to be a fatherly figure to them. However, they
needed a brother, and I knew I could be that.
After camp, I started to be a better role model to my brother which helped him understand our
situation much better. I have returned to Camp Harmony two more summers and serve on their teen
board. While I would do anything to have my dad back as he once was, I believe that in overcoming
his absence, I became a stronger person for my family and community.
12. Sample Responses
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an
educational barrier you have faced.
“Sorry I can’t take you in,” was the response that a teacher gave me when I tried to add her Honors English class. I
started my sophomore year at James A. Garfield High School with a rejection. The structure of the school did not
allow me to take Advanced Placement World History and have Honors English at the same time. Rather than accept a
lower level class, I went to my academy coordinator, Mr. Buchman, who after seeing my high 9th grade transcript,
offered me an amazing opportunity to take both classes. I was the only student at my high school to take an
independent Honors English class. Mr. Buchman gave me the individualized attention that helped me change my
perspective of education and broaden my academic and personal decisions and goals.
The individualized learning experience I received was beneficial to my academic achievements. I am tremendously
grateful to him because he allowed me to take both courses and challenged me to become a better and insightful
writer. My writing skills improved dramatically, and it was evident when I reread the essays I wrote in the beginning of
the class to the rhetorical analysis papers I write now. Since then, I have taken every honors and AP course possible for
me to take.
Moreover, my relationship with Mr. Buchman allowed me to become more involved at my school. At the end of 10th
grade, he asked me to serve as the only student on the principal hiring committee for the first high school built in East
Los Angeles in the last 82 years, Esteban Torres High School. During my work in helping to staff the school I now
attend, I saw the passion the teachers possessed. Through that interaction I was ensured that my fellow students had
the adequate administrative support. This is what motivated me to make one of the most significant decisions of my
life--switching schools. I went from having no independence at my previous school to having an independence that
meant I had the power to make a change not only for myself but for my community too.
13. Sample Responses
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over
I joined Pali’s Moot Court program last year as the only new member among a group of seasoned participants fearing
that I would not compare. Of course I overlooked how I had been developing my argumentation skills since I was
blessed with a younger sister and had debated proposals in Youth and Government since ninth grade.
In preparation for my first Moot Court competition, I devoted countless hours to studying case law and writing my
speech. In the months before the statewide competition, I practiced my speech dozens of times before a fake justice
panel. In Moot Court participants compete as a Petitioner, Respondent, and Justice, meaning simply that everyone
argues both sides of a case and then presides over the debaters. To excel, I have to know the case law like the palm of
my hand, create completely original arguments, and respond very quickly to questions.
During this first statewide competition, I was arguing issue 1 and 2 while my partner was supposed to argue issue 3,
but my skills were put to the test when my partner failed to show up. An hour before giving my speech, I was forced to
learn the entirety of issue 3 and create unique arguments for it.
Having to work within such a demanding time limit and then present before a panel of six scrupulous justices, I
learned that my eloquence and demeanor held up under pressure. Even without my partner, I won 1st place Petitioner
and 1st place justice in California.
Even since then, I’ve continued working to better myself, and six months later my new 2-person team competed in the
national Moot Court competition at Princeton. Despite the sweltering heat, we kept our composure round after round
and won third out of 500 teams across the nation.
By participating in Moot Court, I have advanced my greatest talent: debating, which harnesses my strengths in public
speaking, spontaneity, and innovative idea development.
14. Sample Responses
8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?
I believe I stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California because I am dedicated
simultaneously to improving the individual problems of teenagers and to creating multiple avenues for teenagers to
seek and receive support.
For the past three years, I have volunteered as a listener at Teen Line, a nationally recognized, confidential peer-to-
peer call in and email hotline. Time and time again, I connect with distressed teenagers, whether they have just fought
with a friend, suffer from bullying, or just feel blue. Serving as a safe haven hopefully helps the callers and has most
definitely changed my life. I am now a mental health advocate and activist because I value the power of empathetic
Last spring I was asked to mentor the incoming Teen Line training group. Not only did this experience connect me to
my passion for psychology and helping the community, but it also prompted me to bring peer mental health support
to my high school, because I have met many students in crisis in my community. Although I initially experienced
administrative opposition, when I demonstrated the power of Teen Line, I received approval. I created “NormanAid
Mail,” an email service that advises students in crisis and specifically refers them to school resources.
Realizing I wanted to reach additional struggling teens, I needed to become proactive. Therefore, I began the
“NormanAid Monthly Mental Health Series,” thematic activities for students, families, and teachers. In addition, I
overcame my fear of public speaking and began addressing groups of parents, therapists, and even Los Angeles Police
Department cadets. For each community, I tailor my message and observe how desperate they are for additional
powerful strategies to help the increasing number of emotionally distraught teens.
My work is never-ending. Currently, I am about to be featured in a national campaign--Different Is Beautiful-- to
highlight the power of celebrating our differences and erasing stereotypes for students in middle and high school. I
don’t envision my commitment to expanding and depending mental health support to adolescents to ever end.
15. Fall 2020 EOP Questions
Answers to the following questions will help us determine your motivation
and preparation to undertake college work. Please answer as precisely and
honestly as possible. Use complete sentences and avoid responses such as
“yes” or “no.”
• List any volunteer, extracurricular activities, or work experience in which
you are or have been involved in the past two years.
• Why would you like to attend college? Discuss your career and personal
goals. Are there any particular circumstances, school experiences, or
persons that influenced your preparation or motivation to attend
college (e.g., cultural/financial background, family, teachers, schools you
attended)? Please explain.
• Briefly discuss your academic background. Did you utilize any additional
support at your high school, such as tutoring? Do your grades in high
school and/or college reflect your academic ability or potential? 4
• Briefly describe your family’s economic background. Include information
about your financial challenges.
• Please tell us more about yourself. Is there any additional information
you would like EOP to consider in determining your admission to the
17. Fall 2020 Common Application Prompts
• 1. 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.
• 2. 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?
• 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What
prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
• 4. 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.
• 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of
personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
• 6. 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?
• 7. 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.
18. Sample Essay
The rain felt like needles pricking at my skin, causing me to wish I could have had an extra layer
of clothing. But what could have an extra layer of clothing done? Not much since further
ahead it would have been damped and heavy. I always wished for marathons to be on cloudy
and rainy days so the heat wouldn’t cause the runs to be harder. A year ago during the LA
Marathon, I got more than I wished for. It poured heavily.
But this time, I wasn’t running for myself; I was running with the four middle school students I
had trained for the past eight months. I started off the race running alongside the coach and a
student who wanted to be sure she would have a good pace to finish. Surprisingly, by the
second mile, she had already started to speed up, and I asked her if she would like to run
ahead. The enthusiastic look in her eyes shone through like a ray of light; she was hopeful that
by running ahead she could beat the time people expected of her. As both of us continued on
towards the fourth mile, the rain became heavier and the chilly wind grew fierce. The only way
we could try to battle the cold and try to keep our bodies warm was to run faster and longer.
Little by little we managed to run the magnificent “From the Stadium to the Sea” course. It
was my fourth time running the L.A. Marathon and second time running the course. To my
benefit and disgrace knowing the path helped and hurt me--I knew how far we were from the
finish line, the hills, streets, and places. That made the temptation to stop when I felt sleepy
and exhausted great just like the temptation to run ahead when I had energy, but I was aware
that my partner was going to need help and encouragement in those last and arduous miles.
With her I was able to give back the support I received in my first marathon, and deep inside I
was grateful for the opportunity.
19. As we headed to Rodeo Drive a sudden rush of energy came over me. The view of
the stores and their elegance made me remember that the marathon represented
my struggle to achieve a better life for myself and the people I loved. I remembered
that I had my family standing in the cold and harsh rain trying to stay dry under the
umbrellas whose flaps were weak against that ocean wind.
Remembering all this carried me through when I hit the wall on mile 22. The energy
I had felt before was leaving my grasp. I felt that that was as far as I could go. My
partner had become exhausted and our walking pace had become slower. We had
met three other students who were struggling to continue, one of them was
starting to get the chills, while another had cramps; it was at that moment that my
real fear began. I was scared that they might collapse and that I wouldn’t be able to
help them. All I could think of was to accommodate the pace to their needs
without letting them give up on running at least a little.
All five of us completed the Los Angeles Marathon on the rainiest and coldest day
we ever experienced. My greatest accomplishment was to help students achieve
the goals they thought impossible to complete. I learned that I have the strength
and character to accomplish and succeed, and that though the road may not be
easy, it is possible.
22. USC=CommonApp + 2AdditionalShortEssays
• 1. 250 word max. Pick one.
• USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of
different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a
time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were
challenged by another point of view.
• Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about
which you are interested in learning.
• What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding
When asked constantly why I do so much civic leadership at Brentwood, I always answer
because I want to give back to the community that has done so much for me. I feel a huge
sense of debt to my school, which when my financial situation changed in 9th grade, funded
my education for the past three years. As a leader, I believe in giving back to the community
for which I have the utmost appreciation and respect.
As head-prefect, I am focusing on building up unity within the high school. To improve school
spirit, I brought the House Cup back to the high school . This is a competition between grades
where students earn points for their perspective grades by attending different school events.
The winning grade each month celebrates with the House Cup trophy in their possession while
also receiving different prizes throughout the year. So far, the House Cup has not only
increased attendance at sports and art events but has also been very successful in increasing
school spirit and enhancing unity.
As head-prefect, I have also represented my school in the community. I was recently asked by
the head of school to represent the student body during a public hearing regarding
Brentwood’s construction plans. In front of an audience of a few hundred people, I defended
Brentwood in front of two public officials. I am thoroughly excited to continue to lead my
school the rest of senior year.
24. USC 2nd Supplement
2. Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at
USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice
major selections. (250 word limit) (Required. 250 word max,
After extensive research and conversations with former alumni, I know firsthand how the
University of Southern California will sate my academic and intellectual hunger. Economics and
Political Science are two areas that I desire to study in college, and USC offers a great
combination of these passions.
While taking AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics junior year, I learned that thinking
about the economy allows one to understand politics even more. Knowing that Economics and
Politics are two studies so rich in connection to each other, I was excited to discover that USC’s
Political Economy program not only combines two of my current passions but also allows me
the opportunity to integrate ethics and logic.
Along with the standard economic and political science courses available, two Political
Economy courses really stand out. The Political Economy of Institutions class will combine my
two passions right away, as I have always been interested in the role the government plays in
the economy. Another course that grabs my attention is the Law, Politics, and Public Policy
class. As a civic leader, I want to better understand the process of decision-making in making
laws. This class would allow me to explore how laws are made by researching and analyzing
different moral theories. The Political Economy major at USC would allow me to explore the
intersections with the economy and political theory and thus I am honored to submit my
34. College Four By Four Plan
Four Cal States
No essays except for EOP and Honors
Common Application and
Four insight Questions
Additional Information and Questions
35. Contact Dr. Joseph
• All College Application Essays
Getti to know you,
Gettin' to know all about you.
Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan. College essays should work together to help you communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in your application.
Letters to Roommates
UC Insight Questions
Short Activities Statements
Explain Gladwell’s Outliers. How Are They An Outlier
Explain Harvard’s View of Kindness. How Are They Kind
Read Sample Essays on College Websites
Determining top academic, extracurricular, and activity interests. Make a chart of what schools offers. Also see what you learned during trip and talks. Sp