The Journey- How I got to Cal (Part 3)

Published Saturday, December 11, 2021 by Tarang

I’m back! Last time we left off, I made some important decisions which ultimately led to me only wanting to apply to the UC schools. As you can guess, this decision had greatly simplified the application process for me. However, this may not be the case for you. If you want to apply to other schools, you will have to do individual applications, request letters of recommendation, and work in supplemental essay questions for each school. However the beauty of the UC system is that you can apply to all 9 schools through the same application.

Now, without needing to worry about so many different things, it was time to focus on the one part of the application that is hardest for most people: the personal statement. Most people dislike writing essays for various reasons: 1) They aren’t into writing in general. It is a hard skill to master, and it’s way too tedious with the rough drafts and editing. 2) They aren’t too fond of the type of writing in school. This is mainly analytical writing, and it is an important skill so we have to learn to do it. 3) It’s not fun writing essays like it is to write something creative like a poem. 4) They are better at quantitative subjects like math or chemistry. Whatever the reason, writing has never been the American student’s favorite subject. The worst part is that it is a very basic skill, so you can never give it up. In college, most courses including microbiology will make you write. So basically, I was a number 3 and 4 type person. I was better at math and science and essay style writing was not fun for me.

The other part of the personal essays that scared me was that I was writing about myself, not some novel that was assigned by an English teacher. I worked hard in school, so I ended up getting good grades in English. As hard as writing was for me, I could analyze a book pretty well and train myself to write about it, however I had never written about myself before. I had to get the point across in my essay that I was basically fit to attend college.

The best place to start when you’re not sure how to approach something is seeking some professional help. I decided to buy a book on how to write college admissions essays. Many different companies make these types of books, from the College Board itself to Barron’s to the Princeton Review. Usually, these books have useful exercises to get you started on the essay. The UC application had three essays. Keep in mind, this was when I was applying – now the UC’s use Personal Insight Questions (PIQ’s). There are 8 PIQ prompts, out of which you must choose 4 to respond to. When I applied, I had the following prompts:

1) A prompt relating to taking full advantages of educational/academic opportunities

2) What would you contribute to the UC campus? (Why should we want you?- this is something you need to get across in at least one of the essays of every school you apply to.)

3) Anything else you would like to tell us? (Tell us your X factor. Use these open-ended prompts to make yourself stand out.)

These questions have changed, but chances are one of them is the same. The word count for all three combined had to be 1,000. The recommended breakdown was 200 words for two questions and 600 words for one of them. I chose #2 as the 600 word one. I did the writing exercises prescribed by the book I had bought. For example, an exercise I used was listing the five extracurricular activities I was most involved with. I then timed myself and wrote about each one for five minutes each without stopping. Chances are that some sort of theme will develop that is common to you and your experiences, and you might also find that some activities are easier to write about. These are the ones that you are most passionate about and writing with passion is key.

Other exercises that are useful require you to dig a little deeper. Create a timeline of your life and highlight your most difficult experiences. Also, try to find moments where you had an epiphany or you learned something about yourself. How would you describe yourself in one word? What books/movies/TV shows have influenced your life? What is your most prized accomplishment? Writing an answer to these sorts of questions helped me brainstorm ideas. While I did not end up using everything I came up with, it was a good starting point.

I ended up writing about:

1) My biotechnology internship, and how that was me taking advantage of academic opportunities to learn more about science. Plus I threw in how it influenced my decision to maybe pursue healthcare in the future.

2) My experiences with marching band and learning music have taught me valuable lessons that hopefully I can contribute to the UC campus.

3) My visit to an Indian village, and how seeing global poverty opened my eyes to another part of the world. (Epiphany moment X factor)

Check out Part 4 for what happened with my application.

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