written by
Julia Riew

University of California Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

Essay Examples 11 min read

The following essays were written by several different authors who were admitted to University of California (UC) schools and are intended to provide examples of successful UC essays. All names have been redacted for anonymity. Please note that CollegeAdvisor.com has shared these essays with admissions officers within the University of California system in order to deter potential plagiarism.

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

Three thousand, four hundred and seventy one dollars. That was the bill for the hotel room expenses alone for our thirty member excursion. And those were the least of my worries for the weekend. Between drilling wood pieces into a working frame for Air Trajectory and tying a knot in floss to build a pendulum, I was running down the halls, talking to worried parents on the phone, anatomy textbook in hand. The other captains study while I ensure everyone eats dinner and sleeps by 2am, responsible as the school’s sole legal representative for ensuring typical high school shenanigans of music blasting didn’t manifest into real danger. Despite the challenges, I love how self-sufficient we are. North Hollywood students are greeted with an association of, “Aren’t you that school that crushes us in Science Olympiad?” followed by a joking, “Stop!” We don’t have a single adult teaching us, whether in learning to use power tools or conducting flame tests.

As the only member of the Science Olympiad team with four years of experience, I carry weight with seniority and position, but also a nostalgia for friendships dimmed as team members graduate. When others concentrated solely on performing well at competition, I couldn’t disagree however heart-wrenching it felt -- but I wanted a strong team dynamic, a home for us at school. So I worked on producing it, forming mentorship programs, pairing up freshmen with upperclassmen in events. Whether teaching about mosquito reproduction in standing water or the equivalent of a statistics course I had yet to take, my own enthusiasm seeping into a bobbing ponytail, all I hope for is a continuation of the “FamilyOly” I’ve grown to love.

Science Olympiad was a microcosm of the larger school, where competition ran in the very veins of the institution. But to me, it had become a family evolving with my role, from the little sister of the team to finally the senior captain.

Why this University of California School essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

This essay prompt was meant for the author. This essay works because the author not only demonstrates their leadership skills throughout, but highlights the qualities and characteristics that make her a successful leader. The author successfully conveys that she is involved in every aspect of leading her Olympiad team, and even picks up the slack when needed. You get the sense that even though it’s stressful for her at times, she truly enjoys the experience and the connections she has made throughout her four years on the team.

The admissions officers learn that this is a dedicated student with grit. Not only has she committed to this extracurricular throughout high school, she has been impactful within the organization as demonstrated by the mentorship program she created and the active role she takes in ensuring the team’s overall success. Furthermore, the author shows a vulnerable side proving that though she is obviously driven, she has layers.

Beyond demonstrating her leadership, she effectively shows the admissions committee the type of student she will be on campus and how she will possibly contribute to the community. An admissions officer will likely finish reading this essay feeling that this is a student they want on campus!

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.

440 Hz exactly. The flames flare to life, forming the perfect wave length as I transitioned from note to note, the curves transitioning along. My classmates crowded around as I sang (shouted?) into the Ruben’s tube, a simple PVC pipe with holes cut at even intervals so that high notes translated to beautiful waves of flames.

The fight to get a vocal teacher in the first place was an uphill run. Singing, unlike playing the piano or learning to draw, wasn’t deemed worthy of spending money on - wasn’t even seen as a skill. After multiple pitches, I finally got my way, just a foot in the door: one month.

It was an odd request from a girl raised to be stringent with money, knowing that a few hours of lessons was equivalent to a new pair of tennis shoes to replace her mother’s long-broken in ones. It started with a classmate’s hate list - number 1? Me. For my voice - -the single-most confusing criterion. I couldn’t change my speaking voice. But in an environment which valued acapellas and Barbershop choirs, singing - singing I could improve on.

Six years later, I’m still driving down to lessons every week. I haven’t performed outside of karaokes, I haven’t released recordings to the public, and there’s no record of my voice anywhere in the public eye. But years of vocal exercises and training has done so much for me, even outside of music in strengthening tone and amplitude.

It wasn’t until high school that I could reap the benefits, not byway of choir, but through debate. Walking into round meant adopting an entirely new persona, a thick-skinned, articulate force to be reckoned with. Crossfire was my time to shine, to show how I could twist their arguments to fit my logic, and win. My best tournament came with a topic that coincided with my interests - genetically modified foods. In wielding knowledge of biology, from the damages of fertilizer to individual agricultural efficiency methods, we not only won all rounds undefeated, but managed to score the top speaker position and of course a trophy to signify my newly-found voice.

I remember standing in an half empty auditorium, standing far away from the students, pitching my virtues as a secretary for a middle school honor society. My arguments were sound, as the first row of students mentioned to me later, nodding along. But with the counselor repeating, like an endless drone - speak louder, yell - the simple repetition of my spiel simply lost its use. I sat down with never-mind-eyes cast to the floor, withdrawing from the election.

Why this University of California School essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

The author of this essay took an interesting approach to highlighting her creativity by weaving in examples of finding and using her voice in various situations. Two of the qualities that her stories convey is resilience and fortitude. This is demonstrated by the fact that she had been picked on and overlooked as a child but was able to find her voice and confidence, albeit in an unexpected way, through vocal lessons. As an added bonus, the admissions officers also learn about some of the student’s academic and extracurricular interests such as biology, food science, and debate.

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

My chest is burning, my eyes are stinging, and my legs are numb. A thousand thoughts are passing through my brain, but I cannot grasp any of them. All I can do is keep pushing forward. Strangely enough, it is this moment when I feel most alive and connected with the universe. This is my life under water. I have been a swimmer since I was eight years old, for both a swim club and a high school team. In the water, the stress and anxiety from school fades away, allowing me to relax in peace and tranquility.

The best swimmers are 5'10" with broad shoulders and huge feet. These characteristics are advantages during competitions because the athletes are able to move faster in the pool without being pushed back by the waves. I am not a typical swimmer. I am half- Black and half- Mexican, topping out at a whopping 5'0". My skills are not Olympic-bound, but I am passionate about the sport despite the fact that I initially felt like an outlier.

Even though I used to get lonely when swimming, I found a huge amount of joy in being a part of the sport at my high school. Our team started off with only six members, most of whom had never even been to a swim meet before. Eventually we gained enough participants and experience to compete against other schools. We were neither the largest nor the fastest team, but I did not care. I had finally found a group of people I connected with. More importantly, I found a group with whom I could share my passion. The daily routine of striving to perfect our techniques formed a bond between us that resulted in the sense of a family. I felt honored when I was chosen as captain and MVP; however, my deepest honor was simply having opportunity to join the team.

After I graduate, I hope that the swim team continues to prosper. Then, maybe it will become another young girl's safe haven, the way the sport has always been mine.

Why this University of California essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

This essay works because it’s touching and speaks to the admissions officers’ emotional side. This applicant scores high on the likability factor. As a reader you are able to quickly connect with the author and find yourself cheering for them. The student comes across as dedicated, determined, humble, appreciative, caring, and sincere - which is a lot to accomplish in just 350 words.

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

“Hi, this is Teen Line, what’s bothering you tonight?” That simple phrase rings through the tiny room, merely enough space for a few desks and chairs. On one end of the line is a teenager, sharing stories of anything from the dark dread of depression and anxiety to a plea for a savior from the downward spiral of suicide. A tearful voice, desperate for help - a girl barely in high school, suffering at the hands of her “friends” and on the brink of suicide, complete with a plan to choke herself with a dog leash.

It’s another hard-hitting story for the night, one that affects all the listeners in the room. But by the end of the hour, we’ve not only managed to get her resources like the National Suicide Hotline, but also managed to get her laughing. It’s a skill that is extremely hard to master, to put aside your fears of failure and empathize. To move from a situation edging on a police call to one with a girl singing songs and laughing at jokes is a seemingly impossible feat that the volunteers at Teen Line must perform every shift, one that takes a lot of inner strength.

For me, entering Teen Line was an odd activity for a family whose culture did not center around talking out feelings. Yet, I specifically sought out a suicide hotline in which a high schooler could participate; it was my chance to give back, to listen and hopefully guide those who were willing to seek help, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on. It was an opportunity to do for others what I could not obtain for myself, and for that I am grateful. Whether calls from low-income neighborhoods of the nearby Los Angeles to international Skypes of New Zealand and India, never have I felt more productive. The end of a shift always left me with the same satisfied feeling of knowing that someone who needed to be heard was acknowledged, just a small rippling effect on one caller leaving a lifetime’s worth of impression.

Why this University of California essay worked, from an ex-admissions officer

This is another example of an essay that speaks to the reader’s emotional side. This is an essay that sticks out not only because of its content, but because an admissions officer has a true sense of the kind of person this student is by the end. This student has a high level of maturity and is a genuinely committed young adult who readily and willingly takes on huge responsibility.

Apart from identifying the authors values and qualities, the essay is very well written. The vivid use of language draws the reader in, both time and place, on the emotional journey of that particular night.

Sometimes admissions officers have to present candidates before a larger committee. This is an example where, if it came down to it, an officer would probably fight to ensure this student is admitted to the college or university if the rest of their application materials were strong overall, but perhaps slightly weaker in some areas. Simply put, this is a student an admissions officer would want as part of their campus community.


These University of California essay examples were compiled by the advising team at CollegeAdvisor.com. If you want to get help writing your UC application essays from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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