San Jose State University, California State University (LA and Long Beach) “World You Come From” Essay
Prompt: 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.
One chance, my time, an opportunity that will help shape who I am and who I will become. My parents shared their misfortunate childhood, of living in poverty, having abusive parents, and constantly struggling. They have shared those stories to show us that it does not matter where you come from, that having hope and the will to succeed is all you need.
Coming from a Hispanic family growing up meant also growing up along side my cousins, aunts, and uncles, and always having family around. I grew up along side my older cousins and watching them drop out of high school was something normal to see in our family. I knew I did not want that for myself. My cousin’s constant struggle to get a job or to even keep one was hard to see. My parents even though they did not receive a high school education, they knew that the way to succeed was to educate myself and strive for a better future. My cousin just settled for what he thought he deserved or could achieve, but everyone has they ability to do well. It is just how you take in all the opportunities you are given, and what you do with them. Educating myself will be the greatest opportunity that I can ask for, and being a successful Hispanic women is what I am and want to continue to be. My mom especially helped me realize this because when everyone pushed her down to see her fail, she stood proud of what she wanted to do, and that was to educate her self.
I want to go to college, and wanting something so bad, that to me is the most powerful thing that anyone with an ambition to succeed could have. I will attend college because that has always been a long term goal for me since I could remember. To be the first in my entire family to go to college would be such and honor for myself because of all the hard work that I have done to better my self. The “go getter” attitude that my parents have shown me has always fascinated me because they never let anything get in their way of getting what they absolutely desired. It is my chance to continue what I have always wanted.
I have spent the past month giving presentations on writing powerful college application essays and reading first drafts of students’ UC personal statements. Regardless of where I’ve gone, I’ve seen a troubling pattern in interpreting and writing UC Essay Prompt 1, which reads:
PROMPT #1: 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.
Students read the prompt literally, and I have read hundreds of essays about where students grew up or dramatic family situations. Students do not appear in their own essays until the end of the essay when they discuss why they want to go to college. These students cut across all socio-economic statuses. They do not understand the prompt.
UC1 is not a literal essay. It is designed to help the UCs accept a diverse class with kids from diverse experience backgrounds. They want to know that kids belong to communities and will come to a large UC campus and make a difference. They want to know that if they come from a challenging background, how they’ve overcome or adapted to them by becoming passionate teenagers.
UC Berkeley give powerful advice about the personal statement on its website:
What we look for:
- Initiative, motivation, leadership, persistence, service to others, special potential andsubstantial experience with other cultures
- All achievement in light of the opportunities available to you
- Any unusual circumstances or hardships you have faced and the ways in which you have overcome or responded to them. Having a hardship is no guarantee of admission. If you choose to write about difficulties you have experienced, you should describe:
- How you confronted and overcame your challenges, rather than describing a hardship just for the sake of including it in your application
- What you learned from or achieved in spite of these circumstances
So to help kids show up in their worlds, I now rephrase the prompt during my presentations and ask the following questions:
1. Where are you making a difference in your world? Pick a community service activity, a job, or an experience that reveals where you are making a difference in the world.
2. How has your world shaped what you’ve experienced and your goals for college and/or life?
3. Just a drop of water can change the ocean. Where are you adding your drop of water? How does this connect to your community and your goals?
Rephrasing the prompt helps. Here’s one example of how I helped a student reframe his UC1 personal statement to help colleges see his initiative, motivation, leadership, and ability to navigate different worlds.
Juan initially wrote about his loving, yet poor family and how he wanted to go to college for them. It answered the literal prompt but he didn’t show up specifically in his essay until the last paragraph. Moreover, he remained in the past and never made his way to the present.
After reading his resume and speaking with him, I learned that because he was the only one in his family (eight people shared three rooms) who spoke English, he became their medical translator. He called doctors, made appointments, and translated during visits. He fell in love with medicine and then began volunteering at his local hospital for more than 300 hours. There he often translated for families and knew he wanted to become a community doctor.
After he told me these powerful stories, I suggested that he weave them into the world he comes from essay. Juan then created a powerful essay that no one else could write. It revealed his ability to already change the world he comes from and that while people may think he’s poor, he’s rich in love. Moreover, his dreams and aspirations became clearer because through communication and medicine, he was able to show how by becoming pre-med, he could continue his work at bigger levels.
This process did not talk long. It was the conversation that mattered. It was the reframing of the essay for Juan. I have had these conversations with teenagers across all social-economic groups, and they have an easier time writing truly effective UC1 essays.
Many kids need to see how they can write this essay from the first person and be the protagonist from the first paragraph. Their relatives are not going to college. Their backgrounds do not show why they deserve to go to college. They help the University of California see their potential by sharing who they are now because of the world they come from.
I recommend that counselors help re-frame this essay for all students. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students are adding their drops of water through their work, service, activities, and academic passions. These activities connect back to their worlds and lead towards their futures. We need to help them understand the purpose of the essay. Then students can draft essays that help gain admission to the amazing diverse and wonderful UC campuses.
By Rebecca Joseph