I remember as a senior, college applications loomed large around this time of year. And I had barely cracked the UC essays. I sat in my living room, staring at the questions, hoping the essays would just write themselves.
They never do. I finally built up the fortitude to start writing. And when I did, I found it was not that bad. I was telling a story, one of my favorite past times. And I was thinking about myself and my growth. We make these tasks out to be much harder than they actually are. The hardest part, honestly, is getting started.
Think about challenges you’ve faced. A large portion of the UC essays ask about challenges and obstacles you have overcome. Getting a B+ in a class is usually not a good example of this. But talking about struggling to understand content and working all semester to achieve mastery and a higher grade can be. I would think about challenges outside of the classroom though. It shows a greater depth in your persona and adds a new dimension to your application. They already see what you have done in the class through your GPA. They want to get to know you past your academics.
Maybe you tried to play a sport and were benched on the JV team your first year. But you worked hard, practiced, and made varsity by your junior or senior year. That demonstrates discipline, passion, and stamina. Or you were extremely scared to speak up in any social setting when you first entered high school. So you challenged yourself by joining Speech and Debate or Model UN or Mock Trial and by junior or senior year you had overcome your fear by giving speeches in class or winning awards in the activity.
Do not focus on the challenge itself. Focus on the steps you took to overcome that challenge. There is no college or career that wants someone who focuses on the problem. Everyone wants a solutions oriented individual who can identify the problem and then create and execute a solution to reconcile it. Make sure you illustrate the fact that you have a growth mindset.
Be aware of your skills and talents. I feel like society tends to have a negative view of people who are loud and proud about what they are good at. I don’t understand why. There is no reason why you should not know what you are good and be proud of what you are good at. That does not mean you need to post on social media constantly about the awards that you are winning, but in the proper setting you should be able to talk about it.
This is the proper setting. Embody quiet confidence. Talk about how you have developed your skills. LeBron James always had raw talent but that is not why he is one of the greatest basketball players. It is because he worked hard to develop his talent and become an all around impressive player. There are a lot of players that have talent that never build it. And there are a lot of players that do not have as much talent that work hard and become the best. Steph Curry and Chris Paul are undersized and were undervalued. They worked hard to become the best. You want to show colleges that you can work hard too.
So if there was a talent that you have that you never really cultivated, do not talk about it. I am a good dancer and I love to dance. But I did not dance in high school and never really did anything to develop my talent. In my college essays I never mentioned that talent because there was no story to tell. I talked about my passions for social justice and love for public speaking because I actually had activities and accomplishments that related to that.
Now you are probably overwhelmed with all that information and how does it have anything to do with Thanksgiving? Think about it this way- tomorrow you should take time to give thanks. You may give thanks for your family and friends but also give thanks for the many opportunities you have gotten over the past 4 years and the things you have accomplished.
Once you have reflected on that, sit down and list 4-5 of your greatest accomplishments. Which ones are you the most thankful for? Then look at the UC prompts and see how you can use those accomplishments to craft a story. Then write a story to embody your best qualities, the ones you want colleges to know most about.
It’ll feel like those essays just wrote themselves.