The University of California has released a modified application for this coming school year. Instead of requiring applicants to complete two essays with a combined word count of 1000, the new application will ask students to choose four of eight “Personal Insight Questions” to answer, each not exceeding 350 words.
The new questions are more specific: they focus on leadership, creativity and challenges in addition to community outreach and accomplishments. The U.C. website states that the questions are meant to guide applicants by providing suggestions about what to write: “The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with U.C.”
This is a change from the previous questions in which one question asked about the “world” an applicant comes from and the other about a personal “quality or accomplishment.” Such questions encouraged students to describe how these factors had shaped them as people.
Co-Director of College Counseling Monica DePriest speculated that the adjustment may have been initiated to change the pace of assessing applications at each U.C. school.
“I think that any time people who are reading thousands of essays and reading responses to the same questions over and over again, it can become really tedious and boring,” she said. “I also suspect that they weren’t necessarily getting everything that they wanted out of those original questions, and they are looking for questions that might reveal more of what they actually want to hear from applicants than what the previous questions were really revealing.”
The increased number of questions requires a larger variety of writing samples from students. For many students, including Olivia ’16 and Rachel ’16, who are both headed to U.C. Berkeley in the fall, the U.C. application was a relatively easy addition to their college processes because the former essay questions overlapped with the Common Application questions. Olivia and Rachel used slightly altered versions of their Common Application essays to submit with their U.C. applications. Rachel noted how this close similarity made the U.C. application process quite “seamless” and predicted that a different system would affect applicants.
“I think [the change] definitely can dissuade people who aren’t as confident writing or have as much guidance [when] applying because it’s more work and more time that is taken up, but I think that since [U.C.s] still are highly regarded schools, people will make the effort,” Rachel said.
DePriest suspected that part of the motivation for making the change was to potentially affect the size of the applicant pool. According to DePriest, UCLA and U.C. Berkeley each received over 90,000 freshman applications this year, according to her. Indeed, Olivia’s sentiments suggested that the increased effort required to apply may very well help lower the immense number of applications each school receives.
“I think I would be a little more hesitant to apply to the U.C.s if I had more questions to answer,” Olivia said.
Incoming seniors will be the first to submit applications with the new questions. Sophia ’17 said that she felt the more specific questions would be easier for her to get started on. Natania ’17, on the other hand, noted that the format of the application may pose challenges to be articulate and concise.
“The more questions, the harder it is to think about, and it can be hard to limit yourself to a specific word count,” Natania said.
The more specific questions require more specific answers, indeed, and may affect the applicant pool. The new questions target California students looking to impress the University by showcasing their thoughts, accomplishments and writing.
“I think as a state institution, they have a charge to have their student bodies really reflect the diversity of the state of California, and, I suspect that the selection of these questions is very much tied to that mission of really providing the strongest students in the state of California with the opportunity to attend a U.C.,” DePriest said.