Young people who attend school today may be the least read of any previous generation.
Well, life is about to get even easier.
In a sign of the attention-deficient times, the University of California (UC) has announced a change in the personal statements previously required in applications.
No longer will high school seniors need to write up to 1,000 words responding to the following two prompts:
- 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.
- 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
This fall, the two personal statements transforms into eight “personal insight questions” whereby applicants respond to four of the eight prompts of their choosing, with no response longer than 350 words, and the total word count not to exceed 1,400 words:
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
- Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
- Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
- What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?
(At this point, I have just written the UC maximum of 350 words.)
The impetus to change the prompts came out of a desire to “better reflect [student] voices and personalities,” according to UC spokesperson Claire Doan.
Gary A. Clark, Jr., UCLA director of admission, told me that “far too often, students would respond to the personal statement prompts with information that did not provide the kind of personal insights” that was helpful.
“An applicant might have written about an inspiring family member and would share more about the family member than themselves,” Clark said.
With the maximum word count jumping from 1,000 to 1,400, how will this impact the workload of those reviewing applications?
Clark does not believe this will be a problem, stating that admission officers are committed to reading “everything a student shares with us.”
I asked my current sophomores, who will be the second class to write to the new prompts, what they thought about the change.
While more than a quarter preferred the older personal statements, the majority liked the new questions, one calling them “more precise and to the point.”
Overall, I applaud the University of California in developing more focused questions that cover a wider range of topics to pique a student’s interest. I lament, however, the demise of a longer piece of writing, a skill that needs mastering at the college level.
Here’s hoping that in 2020 the University of California does not further downsize the four 350-word questions into 12 140-character tweets.