Essay Scoop: How to Answer UC Berkeley's Essays

[fa icon="calendar"] 10/16/20 6:45 AM / by Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine Karydes

It's a fact: UC Berkeley is the most competitive state school in California. The school boasts Nobel laureates and ground-breaking research in many fields, and is considered by many to even be the #1 public university in the world.

Beyond the classroom, the vibrant Bay Area community in close proximity to other top universities and the Silicon Valley make this campus a very attractive option for young scholars looking for a launchpad into their future. With all these resources on the table, it's no surprise the admissions readers must be picky.

Empowerly provides guidance on how to answer some of its personal insight essay questions.


Curvy road and view of downtown at sunrise from Twin Peaks, in San Francisco, California.


Here's the good news: the entire University of California state school system evaluates applicants holistically, which means that your personal character is one of the most important deciding factors. Demonstrating your drive, commitment, and work ethic are key.


If you'd like to read through tips directly from Berkeley's application website, be sure to read up on how they describe the purpose of the Personal Insight Questions here. The Berkeley website will have the most updated official news and published guidelines. It will give you a clearer picture on the qualities they are searching for in competitive applicants. Additionally, you can review tips for how to approach the questions (and technical details like word limits) on this page here. By providing so much contest and support for students approaching these short essays, you can already tell that they're not trying to trick you--they just want to understand your mind better. 


Sounds easy, right? Well, not so much. Many highly-intelligent and talented scholars aren't good writers, which means they can't demonstrate their full potential on paper. We're here to support you and make sure you put your best foot forward.


Take the plunge


  1. You only need to pick four (4) out of the eight (8) essay prompts to answer. They specifically state that all questions are weighted equally, so pick the ones that speak to you most. 
  2. Be authentic and think about your goals. The UC Berkeley readers care about what you want to do with your education after you graduate.
  3. Emphasize your desire for knowledge. At such a big campus, you have to be willing to pursue your interests and find resources to help you learn. There isn't a lot of hand-holding here.
  4. Stay on-track. With any essay prompts, you have to stick to the point; but with only 350 words per response, these essays must be particularly succinct to convey your point.
  5. Branch outside the resume. Options for leadership include being a good role model, considering the underdog, and other unsuspecting moments of personal growth and leadership. Try to think of moments you really noticed meaningful insight in your life.


Think Critically


Here are two of the prompts broken down with a little more detail. Take this kind of thinking and analysis to each prompt and you're well on your way to becoming part of the next class of Golden Bears! 


  • Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Every applicant has lived through unique experiences in their life and sometimes these moments leave a lasting imprint. Focus on a moment or two or a trend between experiences that have contributed to your goals for the future. Keep in mind that the message can complement the next prompt by explaining the motivations behind your passions. This question requires reflection of the past that serves as the rationale for your aspirations.

  • 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?

This is a great place to connect your goals for the future to a specific moment or an approach you have. Either way, the reader will need to see an explanation that connects your career/life goals to your observations. What moments directly contributed to your vision and what problems do you hope to address?



You've got this. And once you've got some ideas, reach out to the Empowerly team to ask about our essay writing support services! From completely digital access to our Essay Editor team, to working with a coach to discuss and brainstorm your writing, as well as an entire database of previously accepted essays for you to browse, we know what actually helps students produce a successful personal statement and well-rounded application. 


Good luck!

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Topics: College Applications, College Essays

Madeleine Karydes

Written by Madeleine Karydes

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