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College Essay Series: Writing the Academic Interest Essay (UC Prompt #6)

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Students who truly love a school subject can’t get enough of it in the classroom, so they will continue learning and applying their knowledge outside the classroom. The sixth essay prompt from the University of California Application invites students to discuss this:

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Don’t write a love letter to your favorite subject.

The most tempting thing to do in this space, especially if you really love the topic, is to rhapsodize about your favorite subject in school. After all, if you love rockets, you probably have lots to say about rockets. Or, if you’re into psychology, you might want to tell us all about the human brain. Unfortunately, though, this defeats your college essay, which must in all cases be an essay about you.

So, just like with all the other essays, make sure you are the primary focus of the essay. “I” should be the subject of most of the sentences, and “I” should be doing lots of action verbs to show how you apply the subject.

You need to apply the academic subject, ideally outside the classroom.

It’s not enough to know the subject, or to be learning it in the essay. Even though “know” and “learn” are grammatically active verbs, they are passive in idea. If you know, you’ve got something in your head; if you learn, you’re sponging up knowledge, but not doing anything with it. Instead, you should be applying your knowledge (doing new things with it) inside and outside the classroom.

The prompt asks you to tell how you furthered the academic subject, and this is the key word of the prompt. Replace “furthered” with action verbs that tell what you did with the academic subject, beyond just learning it. Come up with a big list, so that you have options to pick and choose from. Then, incorporate your favorites into your outline. Make sure at least half of your verbs are happening outside the classroom, as those actions will have required more motivation for you to accomplish.

Be ready to show us how you exemplify knowledge in action… simply knowing stuff isn’t enough for you!

Get specific.

Don’t write a broad essay about math or history. Zoom in as much as possible and show something specific. Think about individual lessons you’ve learned. Then, maybe you can even zoom in further to show a specific topic from a specific lesson. Your essay focus is not likely to become too narrow, so don’t stop yourself.


  • Instead of “history,” show how you used Henry Ford’s assembly line to create the homecoming float right before the deadline.

  • Instead of “physics,” show how you used convex and concave mirrors to install safety mirrors in your apartment complex’s parking garage.

  • Instead of “geometry,” show how you used trigonometry to create the plans for your Eagle Scout project.

  • Instead of “botany,” show how you correctly identified the various plants in the local botanical garden and labeled them in English and Latin, color-coding the native and non-native plants.

When you look at the specific topic, it’s hard to imagine how you would have known what to write for the original one! You could have rambled about anything in that “I love history” essay.

Let your excited voice come out.

Answering the prompt is important, but the reader will also be able to tell from your writing whether you genuinely love talking about this subject. Use your words to let them hear your passion for the topic. Of course, you can’t just come out and say you love it. It has to come out in your writer’s voice.

Think about something you honestly, truly, completely love. (Call of Duty? Boba? Baby Yoda?) Imagine someone secretly records you talking at length about it to a friend. What kind of words are you using to gush about this thing? Are your sentences long, short, choppy, connected? Are you giving detail? Do you have stories? This is what you’re going for in the UC6 essay.

Watch for pitfalls.

Try to avoid some of these common mistakes:

  • Listing achievements. Get these into your resume instead!

  • Using too much academic vocabulary or technical jargon.

  • Getting off topic from the academic subject.

  • Discussing your childhood or a childhood experience.

  • Letting the whole essay take place in a classroom.

  • Letting the essay take place virtually (computer or other device).

  • Talking about a specific UC campus.

UC6 is not the easiest essay to write correctly. However, when you accomplish the task, you’ll prove to your prospective colleges that you engage with academics actively and authentically. That definitely sounds like a student they would want on campus!

Now you know about the academic interest essay, but to craft your best PIQ responses you'll need to understand all the prompts so you can choose between them. Get my completely free UC Essay Planning Guide to see what the UC readers are looking for in all 8 UC essay prompts:

The previous post in our UC Essay blog series was about UC5, the personal challenge prompt. The next post is about UC7, the community service prompt.

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Follow College Torch by joining our Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.

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