Everyone says to “tweak” my essays for different prompts…

Tweak??? my essay?

What is the difference between the “personal statements” for application to the UCs and essays written for application through the Common Application or proprietary application processes? Everyone tells you they are different and you need to “tweak” the essays for one or the other. But what to tweak?

In California, the college application season usually starts with students focusing on either the essays necessary for early applications or those for the UCs because these both have earlier deadlines than others. While not ideal, a chronological approach to essay writing is very often a reality for students managing a rigorous course load after coming out of summer with only one or two rough drafts of an essay completed. These students will pragmatically prioritize by deadline to get their essays completed.

A commonly asked question is whether the essays for the UCs will work for the Common Application essay and supplementals, or vice versa, depending on the student’s application schedule. And the answer almost always involves some aspect of “tweaking” whatever essay is first to fit the second. Of course, there is truth to this, but what does a student tweak and how?

The University of California admissions process is one driven by its mandate as a public institution. One primary result of this condition is the non-inclusion of letters of recommendation from either counselors or teachers in the undergraduate application process. These letters, even though their contents remain unknown to students, provide admissions officers with perspectives on students in their high school classes and in their academic and social environments. Such perspectives carry weight because they come from professionals knowledgeable about the conditions in which the students have performed over the last few years and hint at how students will perform at a particular college.

Because the UCs do not accept such letters, UC application essays have somewhat different territory to cover than do Common Application and other application essays. It is not so much that the UC essays must address what might have been in the letters as it is that they should complement what is in the entire UC application. Consider carefully how complete the UC application is and use the essays to address anything important that hasn’t been considered elsewhere in the application.Newton-WilliamBlakeSm

Yes, you will still write your essay to show your brilliance. Yes, you will still use your rhetorical skills to their utmost. Yes, you will still address a meaningfully topic. But you will choose what to write based on what the admissions officers need to get about you to admit you. Without those letters of recommendation, your essays may have to do a bit more with less.

So what gets tweaked when revising essays for other uses? The answer isn’t simple, but it is straightforward. Consider what picture the application creates with all its components and make sure that your essays complement the other elements to form a whole. There is creative flexibility available in most essays, but those you write for the UCs should be constructed to help admissions officers best understand you with the limited range of information accepted in the application.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to what a good tweak is, and it’s nature depends on the essay you start with, but the constant is making whatever tweak improve the perspective the admissions officers have of you with the materials they receive.

Consider your application holistically and tweak to complete.