Doubling Up on Essays Part II: The University of California and the University of Oregon Application Essays Compared


In keeping with the spirit of making double use of essay prompts, I turn to a university that is an increasingly favorite first-choice, as well as long-time safety valve application for California students: the University of Oregon. In particular when you are creating a safety school application, you want to also be creative about reusing an essay (or two). Compared to U.C. Berkeley, Oregon is indeed a safety school, and it is also a very good, large public university. Read on for some insights on essay reuse, if that works for you.

U Oregon has an open-ended prompt for their main essay which could be paired with a number of prompts—most obviously with the nearly identical UC prompt number 8.   Of course, this also means I am making suggestions for any open-ended, tell-us-something-about-yourself prompt, paired with the University of California. See my last post for more on writing for the University of California and a selection of other schools: The Harvard Supplement and the University of California Personal Insight Questions.

Here is UO’s main prompt: Write an essay of 500 words or less that shares information that we cannot find elsewhere on your application. Any topic you choose is welcome. Some ideas you might consider include your future ambitions and goals, a special talent, extracurricular activity, or unusual interest that sets you apart from your peers, or a significant experience that influenced your life.

Keep in mind that that University of California essay that was so painful to cut down to 350 words can now take back some or more than all of those words you cut.


Let’s compare this to the University of California to see if how we might expand a U.C. essay to use for U Oregon.   Here we go, U.C. prompts in black font, commentary and comparison in red font:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  Hey, the right leadership essay could set you apart . . . for Oregon as well as for the U.C. How could you set it up to work for both? Of course, if this is just about how you put up posters for your leadership class at high school, or served as class Treasurer, with nothing distinct or distinguishing about it, fuggedaboutit. They already know about that, from your activities. You’d have to do something really spectacular for an essay on school leadership to stand out, or have taken some kind of legit stand. Just choosing a better venue for Prom? Nah. Move on to something else.    Whatever it is should show what a great/creative/unique person you are. Or maybe try the next prompt.
    2. 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.  And, by golly, your actual creative side instead of your leadership creative side could also set you apart—this might be an even better way to address UO . . . depending, of course. If you are an artist, have at it, but you need more than a list of art activities, briefly described, that are already on your activities . . . perhaps you artistic side has helped you solve problems in engineering . . . No, really, I have seen this: artist realizes she is an engineer after helping create a heat shield for a satellite (Don’t’ we all have a summer internship that offers us the freedom to work on spacecraft?). Not you? Then maybe you just really like art or music and can talk passionately about it—it’s that passion that will make this essay shine.3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  What could set you apart in the UO essay on information they can’t see than a talent you haven’t talked (much) about? Notice that this overlaps with the last essay, if you are a (talented) artist. BTW, in truth, application readers do not really look to see if you “answered” the prompt—unless you wrote something cheesy with an overly obvious “lesson learned,” in which case they may look for evidence that you are forcing all kinds of activities and lessons into your essay in a rote way. Rote=Bad.4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. You would, of course, choose things that won’t really show up in your transcript or your activities directly, though you could drag some classes and whatnot into your essay, and this prompt would definitely fit what UO is looking for.5. 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? Ditto my last comment.

    6.  Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you. Sure, your academic subjects and grades are in here, but hey—they can’t really see how it influenced you in great detail, so why not?

    7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  
    U Oregon Prompt on equity and conclusion could work here if making your school or community better involved some kind of diversity or inclusivity issue. And then, of course, there is U.C.’s prompt number 8: What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California? And for this one . . . oh, wait. This basically is the UO prompt, except it’s for UC, and UC only allows 350 words. But hey, it’s pretty easy to add words, really. So have at it.