Writing UC Prompt 4: Educational Experiences

[This article is part of a new series where we will be dissecting each of the UC essay prompts in depth, providing examples and tips on how you can make your application stand out.]

Click here to read yesterday’s post about UC Prompt #3.

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

As UC admissions officers have stated, you only have to answer either the education opportunity or the education barrier part of the prompt; it’s completely okay if you’ve experienced on and not the other.

Educational Opportunity

So what exactly counts as a “significant educational opportunity?” A good way to start brainstorming is to write down all the moments in your life where you can vividly remember learning something meaningful or feeling intellectually stimulated. Ideally, this would be a learning experience that can be related to your field of study, but it could also just be an experience that changed how you view the world.

The trap many fall into with this prompt is simply being too boring. Far too many essays begin with some variant of “AP Literature was my favorite class in junior year, because I love reading a variety of books…”

Instead, you need to focus on showing your love of a certain class or subject rather than telling. What this means is maybe you start by describing how you feel when you’re lost in a specific book that you read in that class, or you draw parallels between a certain plot and your own life. Then you have room to expand into your love of the overall topic and be more general. The latter half of this essay should be about how this educational experience has impacted your life and how you want to approach the future.

How to structure this essay:

  1. Start with a descriptive anecdote that shows your love of an educational moment

  2. Connect this educational experience to how you are as a person

  3. Wrap up by explaining how you can apply what you’ve learned to the future

Educational Barrier

The barrier prompt is much more open to interpretation, because the challenges that we face in life vary so dramatically. Essentially, they’re looking for you to write about any obstacles you’ve faced while learning what you love, and more importantly, how you overcame them. Your challenges could range from something as small as a single problem that you just could not figure out to something more ongoing like a family circumstance that inhibits your learning.

How to structure this essay:

  1. Describe the problem. Ideally in a descriptive way that makes the reader feel your emotions

  2. Explain your thought process as you began to deal with this issue

  3. Describe how you ended up figuring it out

  4. Reflect on what you learned in the process and how you’ll apply it to the future

The bottom line is, whichever part of the prompt you choose to write about, UCs want to know what you took away from each of these experiences.

If you found this article helpful, stay tuned tomorrow for a discussion of UC Prompt #5!

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