If you clicked on this post, you probably already know what the UC Personal Insight Questions are. However, if you're here just because you love Thinque Prep and/or you're just a huge fan of my writing (lol), here's what you need to know, followed by the top 10 tips you came here for.
Fast Facts About the UC Personal Insight Questions
They're the prompts for the UC system's college application essays.
There are eight question options. You can read all of them here.
You must respond to your choice of four out of the eight question options.
Each response has a 350-word limit.
The point of the responses is to give UC application readers a holistic picture of who you are: your "personality, background, interests, and achievements," as they say.
Let me preface this with a quick reminder that I've also written other blog posts specific to each Personal Insight Question. You can access them via these links:
The tips below are NOT question specific; they apply to any of the questions you choose to respond to.
1. Start EARLY
If you’re reading this on the day of the application deadline, that’s too bad. However, if you still have time, start now. Rushing is your enemy here. Having enough time to write and carefully revise is essential.
2. Don't stress about the first draft
Remember how I said you need time to “write and carefully revise”? The “carefully revise” part of that is huge. You should be writing multiple drafts for each PIQ response (or any college admissions essay, really) that you edit and improve each time. When tackling the first draft, just get some thoughts out. Don't worry about how rough or undeveloped they might seem. Get some words down and come back to it later.
3. Use "I"
Maybe you’ve learned that you shouldn’t use “I” in your writing at school. Throw that rule out the window for these short essays, because they’re supposed to be all about you! They should be highly subjective and personal rather than objective or unbiased.
4. Keep it professional
When I said you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself for your first draft, I meant it. Your initial drafts can be as casual/slangy/Twitter-y as you want. Just make sure that, by the final draft, your language is polished and appropriate for the occasion.
5. Don't do too much in one essay
Think “depth” rather than “breadth.” Instead of trying to squeeze 3 different topics into one 350-word max essay, instead, choose one topic per PIQ and go into lots of detail on it.
6. Focus on growth, even if that means admitting past shortcomings
Pretty much every PIQ has an emphasis on how you grew or what you learned from certain experiences. UC admissions officers love to see this. However, it can be difficult to write about growth/improvement without admitting that there was once a lower point you had to start at. Sure, you might be embarrassed about admitting to an admissions officer that during your sophomore year, you had such bad time management skills that you missed 2 months' worth of math homework. It might be tough to talk about, but explaining how you started there but took the initiative to become more disciplined over time makes for an effective narrative of growth.
7. Avoid redundancy
Each PIQ is a valuable opportunity to write about something different. Do NOT write more than one response about, for example, your love for coding. Address that in one and use the rest to show other sides of yourself.
8. Prove it!
I go into a bit more detail on this in "Three Common College Essay Mistakes and How to Fix Them," but let me just say here that whoever’s reading your essay doesn’t know you at all. Everything you claim about yourself (“I’m hardworking,” “I love animals,” “Baseball means everything to me,” etc.) HAS to be backed up by specific examples that make your reader believe it.
9. Don't be extra
Let me clarify - when talking about yourself and your accomplishments, of course it’s okay to be extra - in fact, I encourage it! I mean that you should avoid trying to impress readers with flowery language, extra-big words, and/or stuff you found in a thesaurus but don’t really know how to use. Oftentimes, going over-the-top with your language actually makes your writing less clear, and for these responses, clarity is key.
10. Have someone else read your writing
Finally, have at least one family member, friend, teacher, or tutor read through your responses. Ask them questions like "If you didn't know me at all, what would this essay tell you about me? What qualities stand out? Does everything make sense to you? Does it fully address the prompt? After reading, were you left with any nagging questions I could have answered?" It’s really easy to get stuck in your own head with these responses, so outside feedback can be super helpful.
I hope you've enjoyed 10 of my best tips for the UC PIQ responses. To read the blogs on each individual question, you can access them via the links posted earlier in this article. If you think you'd benefit from some one-on-one help with these or any other of your college application essays, check out Thinque Prep's college counseling and essay help services.
Nina Calabretta is a college English instructor, tutor, and writer native to Orange County, CA. When she’s not writing or helping students improve their skills as readers, writers, and critical thinkers, she can be found hiking the local trails with friends and family or curled up with a good book and her cat, Betsy. She has been part of the ThinquePrep team since 2018.
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