The University of California Personal Insight Essays Will Matter More Than Ever in 2022

Students admitted to U.C. Berkeley
Students at the University of California, Berkeley walk past Wheeler Hall and the Campanile

Standardized Tests Dropped by the University of California–Forever, More or Less

So many things coming together in the last couple of years are reshaping your college applications.

The most obvious example as you start writing your application essays for systems like the University of California goes back to last year, when the UC dropped standardized tests from their application process. Possibly forever, or at least for the next generation or so, as their stated alternative to the College Board mafia is . . . to write a proprietary UC admissions test. Lots of luck with that.

Why? Good question! (If you don’t care why, skip the next paragraph).

There is more than one reason for this move, but the big booster was a court decision that came down in 2021: the University of California will no longer even consider standardized test scores for admissions because of the bias inherit in the current tests, meaning both the SAT and the ACT. This comes a year after the UC suspended use of standardized tests during the early days of Covid, in 2020, while planning to create its own admissions test. As a result, all standardized aptitude tests of any kind are off the table as far as the calendar can see. Nothing except your high school grades and transcript, your activities and your application essays will be evaluated in your UC application.

But a minor rule change in the big scheme of things is a major event in the micro world of UC Admissions. And with the temporary halt to standardized testing already having an impact last year, expect that impact to build. Before we talk about that, let’s do a heading to make a big point–

Test Optional and Tests Not Considered are NOT the Same Thing

UC is not even looking at tests. That is much different than saying that tests are optional. Keep that in mind. For a list of schools who have joined the UC in dropping test scores, see here: No tests considered.

You will notice that most of the schools listed with the UC are. not top “brands” (I have a lot to say about this concept through many posts on this blog) but some are worth considering for anybody’s college list.

More common, of course, is the idea of “test optional.” This is a much more fluid category, and you can see a list of those schools here: Tests Optional.

Of course this last list should come with a “But” appended. After all, tests may be optional, but they can be considered. And if they can be, they are in the mix.

In other words, if tests are optional, they still help those with good to great scores.

Like Sun Tzu said, you have to study your field of battle carefully, and looking at if from the application side, test scores do make it easier to evaluate an application, so with the most popular schools swamped by applicants, a simple score makes life so much easier for those doing the screening.

And for those of you who may not want a test score, or have decided that the extra effort (and dollars for prep) demanded to get high SAT and ACT scores are simply not worth it, then you need to pay even more attention to your essays–because the application readers will do the same. That is your takeaway on this topic. If you are applying to the UC or simply want a more detailed explanation, read on. If not, now might be the time to start writing some essays.

Application Essays for The University of California Will Matter More than Ever in 2022

Returning to the UC to explain why essays are such a big deal:

Your essays will be much more important simply because the UC has now lost a simple up or down tool for screening students. As much as the UC tried to evaluate the “whole person” via their holistic approach, the use of test scores created a funneling effect for “prequalified” students and was an easy way to separate students who otherwise seemed similar. This process was called funneling. Colleges, no kidding, actually purchased lists of students with the test data they wanted–the going rate for the College Board (a.k.a. the SAT here) was 47 cents per name. No kidding. And that can add up to a lot of money for the folks over at the College Board. If you like the details as much as I do, take a look: The Decline of Testing. No doubt the folks over at the College Board are upset at this lost revenue.

Me? Not so much. And I don’t think you should be, either. If you have the ability to get a stellar score on an SAT or ACT, you also have the ability to write a good essay. And if the trend continues–as it may, with the UC system being a major setter of trends for college admissions–you may find, if you are early in your high school career, that you can discard all of the time wasted on becoming a standardized test killer and turn it to good use doing something more constructive. And if that more constructive time is used for activities you like that help your community, or whatever, or even if it just gives you time to read a book you otherwise would not have read, it’s all to the better.

Changes in Applications and Enrollment are Already Emerging

As for the impact of this change? Well, let’s just say we can already see that students who we know have been admitted skew away from the traditional profile of recent years. In particular, UC saw a surge in Latino and Black applicants in the last couple of years, and this is expected to continue. So if you are applying this fall (November of 2022) or in the coming years, you will be applying with, and most likely attending school with, a much more diverse group of people. I think that’s good.

But the problem for you now is how to differentiate yourself from a shipload of people with equally high GPA’s. And the place to start is with your activities–you have about two months to develop anything new if you are applying this fall.

And of course, those essays.

It’s Not too Soon to Start Thinking About those Application Essays–Start Here:

And here they are: UC Application Essays, otherwise know as the Personal Insight Essays. The name says it all, but how to write effective and winning essays that offer personal insights is another thing entirely–which I will turn to in my next two posts on the UC application for 2022-2023. The video overview is sincere, so I’d take a look, then copy the 8 prompts and print a few to post where you will see them regularly. Let your brain start working on the problem that way, indirectly and over time, and have a notebook or your phone handy whenever an idea pops up. I will write more about the proces of creating winning essays soon, but that’s my first tip–let it become part of your daily background for a few weeks before you officially start writing the essays, and write down any ideas that come up–or you might lose them.

Come back soon for more information on the college essay process, the UC and other important colleges. And if you want help developing essays and editing contact me.