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Writing College Applications

“There are no essays on the new UC application" was the message university representatives conveyed to counselors at end-of-year conferences in 2016, weeks after announcing the first major overhaul to its application in a decade. But applicants must write 350-word responses to four "personal insight questions,” increasing the writing requirements by nearly 50 percent.

So, is this just semantics? Downplaying the use of “essay,” a literary term, reveals the intention: to remove the perceived barrier of writing skills and have students focus on conveying personal information in their own voices. The university has compiled worksheets to direct the applicants toward the type of responses it finds most useful in its evaluations.

I was struck by suggestions in the worksheet for Question 8, which requests information that is revealed by brainstorming and writing exercises that I have created over several years.

What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

The answers are as unique as each student. But the information they elicit creates the foundation for an essay portfolio, adaptable to many colleges and essay questions. For other colleges, drop the last line, but use the question to reveal what makes you special: your interests, values, accomplishments, and aspirations.

Drawing from decades of editorial experience, Tish provides tools and techniques for each student’s unique voice to emerge. Nail UC Question 8 and you’ve passed an important milestone on the route to college, even if you don’t apply to the University of California.

How can I stand out in the field of applicants?

Put in the time and energy to write your applications carefully.

Identify a unifying theme that is supported by recommendations and extracurricular activities. Create an easy-to-remember summary of your credentials.

Each application is a composite: its elements should synchronize, but not repeat. Together the essays and short answers reiterate the central truth of who you are, what you hope to gain from attending this particular college, and what you will add to the campus culture.

Are my essays engaging? revealing? well crafted?

They had better be! You will be evaluated on this writing, so give it your all  and get some help to make the best case for yourself. Tish is a professional editor who has helped dozens of students create memorable self-portraits and win admission to selective schools.

CollegeConsult Santa Barbara