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Guide to Personal Insight Question #7: Community Service

Welcome to Thinque Prep's series on the UC Personal Insight Question responses. You can access other posts in the series at the following links...

This post will focus on the seventh Personal Insight Question option, which is concerned with community service.

Question Breakdown

Here's the text of PIQ #7, straight from UC's website:

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Hopefully, this isn't news to you, but UC really values community involvement. If you choose not to respond to this prompt, make sure you explain how you've made a positive impact on your school/greater community in at least one other response.

UC encourages you to "define community as you see fit." This means that the "community" you write about can be a specific group of people (i.e. members of your youth group at church, a club you're highly involved in) or a place, like your school or hometown. Start by thinking about a time when you noticed a problem within one of your communities and did something about it. It's that simple.

Pro Tips

Students tend to stress about this question because they either 1) have read examples of successful responses to this PIQ that were insanely impressive or 2) think they need to have done something totally world-changing to write a suitable response to this question at all (or both). If that sounds like you, I encourage you to avoid seeing PIQ #7 as a competition for the Greatest Community Service Ever. It's seriously just an opportunity to share a positive impact you've had on other people. Stressing about your actions' perceived magnitude is not going to help you write a better essay.

I also find that students frequently read this question and think they have to respond by writing about formal volunteering experience. To be clear, your topic for this PIQ does NOT have to fall under that category.

One more important thing about topic choice: avoid taking a list approach. Just like I recommended in Guide to UC PIQ #1: Leadership Experience, you shouldn't just write 350 words about all the times you've helped make your community a better place. PIQ responses are all about depth over breadth. Instead of trying to cover too much ground, instead, choose one specific experience to go into detail about.

Questions to Consider

Your response to PIQ #7 should answer these essential questions:

  1. What problem or area for improvement in your community did you identify?

  2. What inspired you to act?

  3. How did you act?

  4. What was the impact?

  5. What did you learn from the experience?

  6. How can you apply what you learned in the future?*

*#6 is optional. Describing how you can apply what you learned in your academic/professional future is certainly on-topic, but I wouldn't say it's strictly necessary.

I suggest you simply copy/paste the 6 questions above in a document and start answering all of them with some brief sentences and/or bullet points. Don't rush. Don't be anxious about getting wording or structure "perfect." Be thoughtful. Take time for reflection.

Once you've thoroughly answered the questions above, you will have formed a solid rough draft. Just keep coming back to your writing, adding more detail, cutting material that might have gone a little off-topic, organizing your writing into paragraphs, and polishing your spelling and grammar.

My other suggestion? Ask someone to read your writing. Give them the questions above and ask how thoroughly you answered each of them. Also consider showing them the thesis you came up with and asking them how well they think you stayed true to it throughout the essay. Friends and family can be excellent readers. You should also consider having a professional writing coach check out your work. Thinque Prep's college counseling and essay help services can help you out at any step in the essay-writing process, from brainstorming to your final draft.

Example PIQ #7 Response

Finally, let's check out a real example response to PIQ #7.

As I scramble out of my father’s car, he reminds me, “Don’t forget to make someone smile today!” It is one of his favorite sayings, but this time I remember it clearly. I rush into the classroom during the Pledge of Allegiance, stroll through to my seat, trip over a chair, and go sprawling across the floor. As I get up, the class erupts in laughter. I think to myself, I guess I made 31 people smile today: overachieving as always.

Though this memory is just a silly example, it has come to represent one of my greatest strengths: propagating social change through humour and goodwill. Most importantly, a classroom full of grinning kids tells me that genuine and kind interactions with people are the foundation of all sustainable and ethical change.

As an intern on a campaign for the US House of Representatives, I certainly tested this theory. Every time I met constituents, I sought to make them smile, no matter how harsh or bitter the interaction seemed. In the beginning, I used to shy away when interactions turned unwelcoming; however, I learned that to initiate a positive change, I have to bear the uncomfortable situations and envision the issue at hand through the eyes of another.

This realization helped me find common ground with even the most caustic adversaries of the campaign. It seems that in today’s political climate, people see things in an “us versus them” mentality. So many have forgotten the progress that comes with connection, communication, and compromise.

Whether it be bringing together neighbors who have never spoken to each other, propagating a calm conversation with people who vehemently disagree with me, or meeting people with unique stories to tell, my work on the campaign has helped me build friendly connections across my community. It is within this community that I hope to nourish collaboration between like-minded friends as well as strong opponents. For if we wish to make true progress, we need, at the very least, to be able to share a smile.

Ready to get more in-depth with the next question? Check out Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #8: Free Response for more insight on how to make your UC application essays shine.


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.

With offices located in beautiful Orange County, ThinquePrep specializes in the personalized mentorship of students and their families through the entire college preparation process and beyond. With many recent changes to college admissions - standardized tests, financial aid, varied admissions processes - the educational landscape has never been more competitive or confusing. We’re here from the first summer program to the last college acceptance letter. It’s never too early to start thinking about your student’s future, so schedule your complimentary consultation today!

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