College Essay Series: Writing the Leadership Essay (UC Prompt 1)

This post will help you to write a compelling, personal, and persuasive response to the UC1 leadership prompt. This is the first of the eight UC Personal Insight Question prompts. Of the eight PIQs, you only need to answer four.

The first prompt of the University of California Personal Insight Questions is all about leadership. Many students are alarmed at the prompt, particularly those who don’t hold formal leadership roles, or those who are shyer. Don’t worry! This essay prompt is for everyone. 

Know that leadership doesn’t have to be about being a founder or president. You can show leadership in many different ways. Maybe you took on large responsibilities within your family or identified a need in your community or school and worked hard to address it. If you don’t have a leadership position, you can write about how you’ve used leadership skills. Consider writing this prompt if you have ever been called a leader.

This is the UC1 leadership prompt:

Prompt #1 Give an example of a leadership situation in which you have positively influenced others or helped to resolve disputes. (350 words maximum)

What you want to avoid in the Leadership Essay UC:

Avoid writing about winning a big game, or other clichés. Avoid writing about other people. Negativity should be avoided at all cost. You also don’t want to just list descriptions of all your positons. You already listed your activities in the activity section of your application. You want to provide new information.

Remember that this essay is for describing only one moment/experience of your leadership. You should not write about multiple times you’ve demonstrated leadership. The UC1 leadership prompt essay should not be used for bragging. (UC Admissions will tell you to brag because many students feel uncomfortable speaking positively about themselves) but you won’t show growth if you spend your essay praising your leadership achievements. You have to start low to show maximum growth in leadership by the end of the essay. Plus, it’s human. Everyone loves to read about real people.

You also want to avoid using passive voice. It is important to use active voice because passive voice can make you look passive. In active voice, the subject performs the verb’s action. In passive voice, the subject receives the verb’s action. 

The following sentences illustrate the differences:

Active: The cat scratched Joanna

Passive: Joanna was scratched by the cat.

How to start brainstorming ideas for UC PIQ 1

Preface: UC Application readers love a unique interpretation, so think about your personal contribution to a group or team — regardless of title or position.

Think about what you contributed to your community. What would have happened if your contribution wasn’t noticed by others? What were your most challenging moments and how did you handle them?

Imagine two competing UC1 essays. The first shows a tennis captain leading drills. The second shows a younger player helping others through difficult drills. The second essay is my favorite, even though the younger player doesn’t hold the official position. It shows the student’s leadership in action.

This essay can also be written in a unique way: it could examine your leadership style. Do you lead by establishing authority or do you try to build relationships? Are you more comfortable asking questions than giving orders? These questions don’t need to be answered with a position. In fact, it is more honest and personal to write about an instance or experience in which you have demonstrated these qualities.

Display changes over time and tell application readers about the future for the Leadership Essay UC

Something that most applicants miss doing is explaining how their newfound leadership abilities will continue with them for the rest of their lives and into college. You have to show how your experiences changed you and how these lessons will carry with you for the rest of your life. 

While it’s wonderful to explain an example, you can show more growth by describing what happened after the example. You should say what’s next for your future. What could you do to bring this type of leadership to your community? What would your leadership look like on a UC campus? This could be a powerful closing sentence to a UC1 piq leadership prompt.

According to the College Essay Guy you should dedicate 1/3 of your PIQ each of these:

  • Challenge (the column “The Problem You Solved”)
  • What I Did About it (What I Did and the Impact I Had columns).
  • What I learned (Lessons learnt/Skills gained, and How I Applied What I Learned Columns)

Here is the BEABES exercise from the College Essay Guy that is helpful to fill out:

leadership essay uc

If you need any other help with the college application process, you can read my guide on how to link Common App and Naviance here. You can also read my post about yield protection.

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