UC PROMPT #2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
Thank goodness for UC Prompt #2. This prompt gives applicants the opportunity to share, reflect, and stand out. Yet many don’t go far enough in bragging about themselves specifically and then connecting this to the second and third parts of the prompt.
As UC Berkeley states on its admissions website with advice about personal statements:
This prompt gives students ample opportunities to share what the UCs want in their entering classes: vibrant active students who are already making an impact. They need to know specifics so that they build a diverse class, where students can immediately feel comfortable taking action.
I break the UC Prompt #2 into three sections so that seniors can powerful personal statements.
Part 1: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you.
The prompt is asking students to brag, literally brag, about themselves in a very specific way. This first part literally asks applicants to write about “a” particular event or quality. They don’t want an autobiography or a generic quality. They want a specific example, and they want it to be “personal”– something that only the applicant can write about.
Many students don’t realize how significant many of their actions are. That’s why I have them develop a resume that is filled with action verbs. These action verbs not only help them complete the UC activity sections, but also can help students identify powerful topics for UC Prompt #2.
When I do workshops on the UC Personal Statements, I talk briefly about impact and different ways we can make a difference. Then I ask seniors to write down three actions that they initiated or took part of during high school that make them proud. I ask them to think about actions that reveal how amazing they are and what they have to offer a college. I then ask them to share a story about one of their actions with a partner, and I often hear first paragraphs of their statements emerge.
I encourage students to pick topics that no one else can write about in their senior class. Even if they are part of a team, trip, or cast, they can write about specific events or moments that led to their unique experiences and contributions. I show them some samples of essays: some that begin with specifics and lead out to the motives and the actions that contributed to the topic and others that begin with the overall success and lead backwards to a specific example.
Many students want to end their essays there, but there are only done with one third of the prompt.
To help students with both Part 2 and Part 3 of the prompt, I show seniors positive personality charts, and sometimes these traits help them identify what makes them proud and what kind of person they are. These charts also lead to great character development lessons.
Part 2: What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud
The second part of the prompt asks them to literally explain what about this quality or accomplishment makes them proud. Students need to dig deep and reflect on what this means individually and communally. They need to help the readers see their ability to understand themselves and how their actions benefit themselves and diverse communities.
For kids who are stuck, we can help them try to understand why they chose to participate in the activity and what impact it has had on themselves and the communities they serve.
Part 3: how does it relate to the person you are?
Finally, the last part of the prompt asks high school seniors to connect their specific example to the kind of person they are. This is challenging for any adult to produce and even harder for 17 and 18 year olds who are just figuring out who they are.
With this part of the prompt, I help students understand they can take this as narrowly or globally as they are able. I ask them guiding questions to help them navigate the transition from the specific to the more general. I use the image of a metaphor and try to help them see that whatever we do or accomplish is connected to who we are –whether we realize it or not.
Helping students see their strengths and their power through metaphors is very empowering. It can be as simple as looking at the significance behind a role or a position. One girl wrote about being a sweeper on and off the soccer field and that led to powerful second and third sections. A young man wrote about washing cars and connected that to being the kind of person who will go back two or three times until it’s done the way the “customer” wants it. Another young man connected his trying to register people to vote with his own optimistic belief in the political system and everyone’s place in it—even though he couldn’t himself yet vote.
I don’t believe that the last two parts of the prompt have to take that much literal space in the essays. Sometimes, it’s just a line or two. Sometimes it’s a paragraph or two because students connect it to other parts of their life. The best writers infer much of it throughout their essays and can summarize it at the end.
The beauty of UC Prompt #2 is that we really get to see the seniors’ passions emerge. We really get to see what they value and the different ways they are making an impact. This statement is often re-usable for scholarships and other applications because it can share unique ways students are sharing, reflecting, and ultimately standing out.
By Rebecca Joseph