#College Essays and Applications

With ten campuses and a study body of nearly 300,000, the University of California (UC) system is an attractive option for many students, not only in California but throughout the rest of the country and the world. 

However, the UCs have their own application process which is important to understand. 

What is the UC system?

The UC system is made up of ten campuses throughout California, sharing a certain amount of governance and an application system. 

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego (UCSD)
  • UC San Francisco, although this campus offers only graduate and professional programs. 
  • UC Santa Cruz

How do you apply to the UC system? 

Incoming first-year students apply to the UC system using the UC’s own application process. The application opens on October 1st; students must submit their applications by November 30th to be considered for the following fall. 

The UC application also differs from other schools in a few significant ways. 

  • Students use one application to apply to as many UC schools as they want, although each campus has a separate application fee. 
  • The UCs do not offer early action or early decision. All applications are due by November 30th, but each school will release its admissions decisions independently. 
  • The UC system is test-blind, meaning that they do not accept or consider SAT or ACT scores in the application process. 
  • The UC system also does not accept teacher recommendations. In total, this means of the factors under your control, the UC system only considers grades and rigor, extracurricular activities, and the application and essays a student completes. 
  • The UC system asks students to self-report all of their grades, requiring them to fill out each course a student has taken during high school. As a result, the system will audit 2% of their applications every year. Students in that 2% will be required to submit official transcripts and have their self-reported grades verified against those transcripts. Once everything checks out, the students’ applications will be unpaused and continue through the review process.

What is the UC application?

The UC application varies from the Common Application in a few significant ways. 

  • The UC app gives students twenty spaces to include both their activities and their awards, with 350 characters for each space. 
    • The Common App gives students space to list ten activities with 150 characters to describe their involvement. It also gives space to list five academic honors with 100 characters to describe the award. 
  • The UC app asks students to respond to four of eight personal insight questions (PIQs) in 350 words each.  

How do I write the PIQs?

The PIQs are very distinct from the Common App personal statement. The Common App personal statement is truly a personal essay, where a student might pay attention to having a hook and conclusion. They might include narrative elements, dialogue, or even literary devices. 

The PIQs, however, more closely resemble written versions of interview questions, focusing  directly on the student’s experiences and insights. 

Students writing responses to the PIQs should:

  • Spend time brainstorming stories, life experiences, and accomplishments that reflect meaningful personal insights
  • Focus on what THEY have accomplished during their high school years (not before!) and why it was meaningful to them
  • Be as specific as possible
  • Take time to revise and proofread

Students should not:

  • Linger on stories that occur before high school
  • Spend word count on elaborate metaphors, introductions or conclusions
  • Include dialogue