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By Josh Staab on November 14, 2018

For just a moment, let's forget about Abstract Algebra, PseudorandomnessKant's Critique of Pure Reason or what to do with your major. We're going to talk about another subject that can fill students with anxiety: submitting a college application.

Much like articulating the merits of Mechanics and Special Relativity, students can have trouble writing about themselves, upon which they know they will be judged.

Fear not. The undergraduate admission evaluators at UC Davis see many applications cross their desks. Here are their tips.

Write it yourself, about yourself

Write your college application yourself, about yourself
Your college application should highlight all of the experiences and accomplishments you've collected that have inspired you to succeed at UC Davis and enrich your learning community. (Getty Images)

Provide any relevant information about yourself you don't think is captured elsewhere in your application. Write about your experiences and accomplishments that happened prior to college. Include specific examples of your accomplishments or activities in which you've participated.

Read the Instructions

This cannot be overstated: Read the instructions for the application carefully. Believe it or not, the most common mistake applicants make is to skim the written instructions or to rely on misinformation received from others.

Keep your application focused

Keep your writing focused
Writing your college application should start well in advance of its deadline. When you feel like you've reached your final draft, leave it for a day or two and return to see how it reads and if it needs further revisions. (Getty Images)

Begin writing your well in advance of its deadline. This can help alleviate pressure for yourself and improve the quality of the final draft. Make a list of ideas. When you feel like you've finished your first draft, leave it for a day or two, and return to make revisions. Reading each draft out loud can help you catch misspellings or awkward or inappropriate wording. When you prepare your final draft, review it for grammar and spelling. Have your responses checked by a teacher, counselor or other adviser for clarity. It's also a good idea to save your responses on a computer as a plain text document, then pasting them into the UC application.

What We Are Looking For

The University of California uses a unique series of questions to better get to know its prospective applicants. The personal insight questions are about getting to know students better — life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations. Think of it as your interview with the admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. 

Providing details and examples of your personal experience can help you stand out from the crowd. Your responses can also be very successful if they elaborate upon the insights you gained, or on the way your outlook, activities, commitment or goals have been shaped and influenced.

Discuss your personal commitment to learning; any special talent(s), your creativity, leadership experience, accomplishments, contributions or personal qualities you will bring to the university. Talk about your tenacity, your response to life challenges. We are looking for qualities we know will help you succeed at UC Davis and also enrich our learning community.

Common Pitfalls

What to avoid when you're writing your college application essay
There are many challenges to writing your college application. There are also many pitfalls to avoid as well. (Getty Images)
  • Not reading the instructions in the application.
  • Not writing about recent events.
  • Reiterating information listed elsewhere in the application.
  • Listing accomplishments without explanation or detail.
  • Using gimmicky writing techniques, such as poems.
  • Using clichés.
  • Writing more about an inspirational person than yourself (e.g. your mother, favorite uncle, etc).
  • Rambling, unfocused thoughts.
  • Being overly humorous, self-deprecating or glorifying.

Not every freshman applicant fits into the typical profile and not every transfer student fits the typical profile of a California community college student. See how our admission policies affect freshmen

Are you a transfer student with special educational circumstances? There are personal insight questions for you, too.

Remember: We pass along this advice as ambassadors to the UC Davis campus. Other universities may review applications differently. This information is a supplement, not a substitute, for the application instructions.

You can view the UC online application for admission and financial aid and scholarships and start preparing your application as early as August 1. Submit your completed application beginning November 1, and no later than November 30. Visit our Apply page today for final tips and to get started!

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