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The Common App essay (CA) cannot exceed 650 words.  UC's Personal Inquiry Questions (PIQs) cannot exceed 350 words.  Elise used the same topic -- a math team competition -- for both applications.  Here's how she did it:


First: she figured out which of the CA and UC prompts were applicable to her story.


Second: Before she wrote a single word, she figured out how to shape each essay according to the 2 different word limits, and what info was most appropriate for each prompt. Here are the prompts she chose:  

CA #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 

UC-PIQ #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. 


The CA’s 650 word-count gives you the opportunity to address the prompt through a story. This is a good thing. Your story invites the reader into your world lets them observe you in action. You come to life and that makes you likable.   


Elise focused her essay on her “personal growth”as a leader. Her “new understanding of others” easily related to her gradual insight into how she could motivate her slacker team mates to contribute.  Here’s a brief description of her essay:

In her first 2 paragraphs, Elise took us to her school.  We learn that the math competition is a big deal and that Elise wants to win. She introduced her two teammates, and described the competition: design a highway and build a model out of Popsicle sticks. 


Note how much information Elise packs into her beginning.  When the admissions officer can see your story unfold in their imagination they’re more likely to get sucked in and keep reading. This is the key benefit of longer essays.


For the next few paragraphs, Elise detailed a few tactics she tried (both successful and not)  to get her team mates moving.   She included some dialog from an argument over glue guns late one night in her basement.  This allowed admissions officers to hear as well as well as see the story happening.

Elise concludes by telling us how the team fared in the competition, and reiterates the "personal growth" theme by reflecting on her before-and-after leadership skills.


Because shorter essays do not allow for fully-developed stories, Elise used only the information that addressed the UC prompt, and she wisely planted it in her very first sentence; She learned how to lead when she guided her slacker team mates in their school's math competition.  

Elise  briefly described  the competition and gave two examples of  the leadership tactics she tried  -- one successful, one not so much. She boiled down the glue gun argument to just two sentences.  She concludes by stating that what she learned about leadership is more valuable  than their third place prize -- $25 iTunes gift cards.

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