Making your UC Personal Statement

For the first time in recent history, the UC Admissions site goes live on the same day as the Common Application: August 1st.

If you’re going to be a senior next year, it might not be a bad idea to celebrate by writing the first draft of your UC Personal Statement now. As the websites at most the UC campuses advise, applicants should take ample time to brainstorm, write, revise and burnish their essays. It is essential to do as good a job as possible on the personal statements as they are key components in the UC selection process at most of the campuses.

Surprisingly, when reviewing the mass of UC Personal Statement tip advice, I ran into an interesting statement from Santa Barbara City College’s transfer center: “The Personal Statements are a critical element in the admission review process for UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD. The other UC campuses typically do not use the Personal Statement in the admission process.” While this might pertain more to community college transfers, I called the admissions offices at Irvine, Davis, and Riverside to confirm. UCI and UC Davis unequivocally confirmed that they read each and every Personal Statement and consider them an invaluable tool in their respective admissions efforts. UC Riverside said that they are a secondary tool in its admissions process, and often they are not read.

Regardless, realize that there are not many ways for the UCs to evaluate applicants. The admissions office gets your grades, which are self-reported, your activity list, honors, and ACT or SAT scores. There are no recommendations (common for public schools), no SAT subject tests (though for the engineering department at Berkeley, for example, requests the Math 2C and a science subject test), and no interviews (though some of the arts programs, such as theatrical arts at UCLA, do interview their applicants). Consequently, the one variable that applicants have absolute control over, and that might prove uncommonly influential in their applications, is the Personal Statement.

The UCs- at least most of them-- do want to learn what type of person you are, and how you might contribute to the campus. So, you want the personal statement to help you pop off the page in three-dimensions.

What might you do to arouse the interest of the admissions people? When you determine what topic you wish to write about make sure that it is something that you’re enamored with. A student who also plays the cello asked me if it would be a good idea to write about something she absolutely loved: rock climbing. For her this was a perfect choice, and one that might bring a unique twist to her talents.

For with any type of writing, consider the audience. In many cases, the reader of your personal statement gazes at dozens of each day, Sundays included. If you make yours interesting, entertaining, and different, then you have a chance of engaging him or her. Once engaged, you’ve just gained a potential advocate for your application; that’s the essence of the exercise.

Additionally, keep in mind it’s generally not the topic, but the execution of the personal statement that matters.

  1. Write about what interests you; don’t worry about what might, or might not, interest the reader. Trust that your enthusiasm will be reflected on the page.
  2. Engage and entertain your audience—make him or her want more
  3. Know your topic thoroughly. If it has to do with rock climbing, know about Yosemite’s Cookie Cliff, carabiners, and crimp.
  4. Keep it loose and relaxed, and always entertaining

Tell the University of California in your personal statements something that it can’t find anywhere else in your application, and you might stack up against the tens of thousands of personal statements they receive each year. August is a good time to start.