The Ivy Coach Daily

September 12, 2023

2023-2024 University of California Essay Prompts: Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD

A tower is featured, standing above a red-roofed building at the University of California, Berkeley.
The UC schools have released their essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2028 (photo credit: Brainchldvn).

The University of California schools have released their 2023-2024 essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2024. Unlike most highly selective universities, the UC schools are not members of The Common Application — the school has its own application.

Just like in previous years, applicants to the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Diego, and the seven other UC institutions must answer four essay prompts out of a batch of eight options. So, what are this year’s essay prompts? Let’s dive in!

2023-2024 UC Essay Topics and Questions: Personal Insights

Below are the UC essay prompts for applicants to the Class of 2028, along with the guidance issued by the UC admissions committee. These essays apply to all UC schools — including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of California, Irvine, the University of California, Merced, and the the University of California, Riverside.

Applicants have up to 350 words to respond to four of the eight prompts. And, yes, applicants should go to the maximum word count to make their case!

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.

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

Applicants should share one small story here to demonstrate their leadership. Rather than tell the UC admissions committee about what great leaders they are, they can show it through one specific example. And it doesn’t even need to be a successful example of leadership. Instead, students can highlight what they learned from the scenario to be even better leaders.

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.

Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

Even in an essay that could lend itself to silliness, applicants must showcase intellectual curiosity. So, suppose a student expresses their creative side by tie-dying t-shirts and their singular hook in their activities section that they’ll be contributing to schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD is math. In that case, they can write about the mathematics behind the patterns they love to create on clothing.

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Things to consider: If there is a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

Too many students choose to write about awards and honors they’ve received in this prompt. Some sneak it into the essay, thinking it’s a subtle way of reinforcing their success. What a mistake! Doing so will only render them unlikable, which should be the precise opposite of their objective.

Ideally, an applicant will share a skill related to their singular hook. If their hook is poetry, let’s hear all about how they became passionate about performing spoken word at open mic nights at a local establishment.

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today?

If students have yet to face a genuine academic barrier, such as the ones many students in low-income communities face, it would behoove them to focus on the significant educational opportunity they’ve encountered. Was it the chance to perform research on Russian literature with a local professor? Was it a chance to do an archaeological dig in a student’s hometown? The opportunity will ideally fit with the student’s singular hook.

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?

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?

Unless a student comes from an underprivileged background, we at Ivy Coach would encourage them to avoid choosing this essay prompt since there are going to be students who have faced significant obstacles and writing about how a school ran out of math courses while another student writes about the evictions their family has endured isn’t going to sit well with UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC admissions officers.

6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

Ideally, a student will choose an academic subject that aligns perfectly with their hook. If their activities reflect a passion for physics, they should share the origin story of their interest in the discipline — as a high schooler rather than a child. What made them fall in love with matter and energy? What made them want to better understand our universe?

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

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

An applicant’s answer should align with their hook as articulated in their activities section. Suppose a student’s hook is political science. In that case, they should write an essay that shares one small story about how their political activism created the change they wished to see — or failed to create the change they hoped to see, only further motivating them to agitate for further change.

Maybe they wanted to stop developers from razing affordable housing communities. Perhaps they tried to fix un-level sidewalks. Whatever it is, applicants should share an anecdote here about their activism — whether successful or not.

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Things to consider: If there’s anything you want us to know about you but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.

Since the University of California has a unique application and is not a member of The Common Application, this essay prompt presents a perfect opportunity for applicants to include an abbreviated version of their 650-word Personal Statements from their Common Applications.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with the University of California Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your chances of admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and other UC institutions by submitting the most compelling essays possible, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to delineate our college counseling services for applicants to the Class of 2028.

You are permitted to use (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.


If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling,
fill out our complimentary consultation form and we’ll be in touch.

Get Started