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 second Personal Insight Question option, which is concerned with creativity.
Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
I can only speak for myself, but when I hear the word "creative," I think of things that might be more traditionally thought of as artistic, like painting, music, and literature. However, as the PIQ itself points out, we can express creativity in so many ways beyond drawing, writing, or playing instruments.
I also want to remind you that your topic for this PIQ (or any PIQ, for that matter) doesn't have to be something you participate in at school. It doesn't even have to be organized (i.e. in a group setting); it can just be something you enjoy and find meaningful on your own.
To help with brainstorming, I came up with a few "nontraditional" examples of creative expression - some broader, some more specific:
Coding original projects
Making handcrafted goods
Writing speeches for school campaigns or special occasions
Performing in plays and musicals
Coming up with ideas for inventions
Creating new games to play with family and friends
Practicing and performing magic tricks
Solving a difficult problem by coming up with a creative solution
You may notice that all but one of these bullet points are pretty "concrete" activities, meaning that you definitely know if you've done them before. The very last one, on the other hand, is more nebulous. It's likely that you have "solved a difficult problem by coming up with a creative solution" before, but nothing comes to your mind right away. That's okay. I just want you to know that, if an experience does come to mind in this category, it could also work as great material for a PIQ #2 essay. I'll get to that in a minute.
Questions to Consider
If you choose to write about a topic OTHER than creative problem solving, then your essay should answer these essential questions:
What activity do you do to express your creative side?
How do you do this activity (in DETAIL)?
What kinds of skills has this activity helped you develop?
Why is it meaningful to you?
To bring these questions to life, let me provide some quick answers to them, using an imaginary persona and their activity of choice...
What activity do you do to express your creative side? I perform in plays and musicals with a community theatre group.
How do you do this activity (in DETAIL)? I've performed different roles in the musicals Into the Woods, Crazy for You, South Pacific, and West Side Story and the plays You Can't Take it With You, All My Sons, and The Miracle Worker. Each of these shows has required 2-4 months of preparation. We typically rehearse 3 times a week, either with the whole cast or in small groups based on scenes and musical numbers. If I'm having trouble with particular dance moves or lines, I often organize separate rehearsal sessions at my house so I can work on them together with other cast members.
What kinds of skills has this activity helped you develop? Playing different roles has taught me about empathy. I always try to understand my characters' emotions and motivations and see the humanity in them even if they're very different from myself. This has helped me look at my family, friends, and neighbors in more compassionate ways. Theatre has also helped me develop discipline and commitment to excellence. At the beginning of rehearsals, the cast always sounds pitchy and looks clumsy, but over the course of months, we're able to transform into a skillful and polished ensemble through hard work and dedication. I really take pride in what I'm able to present on stage and I'm committed to putting in long hours so I can help transport audiences to the time and place they've come to escape in.
Why is it meaningful to you? Performance is meaningful to me because it allows me to harness all of the powerful feelings I experience in day-to-day life - both positive and negative - and channel them into creating an experience for others to feel immersed in and enjoy. Constantly performing different roles gives me exciting opportunities to practice other ways of speaking, behaving, and moving through the world. This reminds me of how much freedom I have in my "real" life to choose my own identity and avoid being "stuck" in one place, believing I have to keep doing something or behaving a certain way just because that's what I'm used to or that's what society thinks I should do. I have the power to determine my destiny and change the world around me, and performance keeps me aware of and excited about that power.
Note that the example above is just a start. I would consider it a strong first draft of the essay itself. To continue improving, I would suggest the writer go into even more detail on each point; for example, the answer to #2 could be even more specific. What do they do in rehearsals? What kinds of challenges have they experienced? What kinds of triumphs? How does this particular activity unleash their creativity in ways other activities might not? All of the answers, overall, could use more polish and development, but I encourage you to copy and paste the questions above and begin working through the same steps, with a focus on being honest, thorough, and reflective.
If you choose to write about creative problem-solving, then your essay should answer these essential questions:
What problem did you face?
What was your thought process as you came to a solution?
What was the solution?
How was your solution creative? In other words, how did it differ from ways other people might have solved the problem?
How can you apply this type of creative thought in the future?
*#5 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.
Note that I ask what "problem" (singular) you faced. If you choose to write about creative problem-solving, I encourage you to focus on one instance. Don't try to cover too much in one response. These essays are all about depth, not breadth.
I believe that if you thoroughly answer the questions above, you'll find yourself with 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 4 or 5 questions appropriate to your topic and ask how well they think you answered them. 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 #2 Response
Finally, let's check out a real example response to PIQ #2:
As my opponent makes his opening moves, I visualize future variations of the chess match and firmly decide on a playstyle to carry out. “What if I transpose this line into the aggressive King’s Gambit? Or defensively fianchetto my bishop?” Through a series of questions like these, I’m able to eliminate potential flaws in my strategy, however, like most plans, there are unexpected, human-made, miscalculations that can cost even the best players a sure victory.
In one of my more memorable blitz games (5-minute timed games), my father trapped me in a fork, a terrible blunder on my part. My resignation was expected, but he hadn’t accounted for all of my viable moves; after exactly 13 seconds of concentration I launched a counter-attack. I reversed the situation with a quick rook-lift and eventual queen-sacrifice, in which I then ended my turn with a “checkmate in one move” situation in my favor. By this moment, victory was unavoidable. I replayed the game in my head and recognized that the sole reason I won was not due to my father’s underestimation, but my ability to embrace and resolve difficult inaccuracies.
Most chess players believe that just because they got outmaneuvered by an opponent, it’s reasonable to resign. However, I play for the enjoyment of being caught in these sticky situations and to find the “best possible move”. From a young age, I’ve demonstrated my creativity through quick-wit and sharp ingenuity on the chessboard. I’ve learned to focus on solutions rather than harp on mistakes because I understand that miscalculations are inevitable. As I developed a passion for chess, many of the qualities that have defined my identity as a chess player translated into aspects of my life. From planning and completing a community service project in a small amount of time, to finding unconventional ways to solve physics problems, the mental strain chess causes has prepared me to overcome a wide variety of obstacles. Learning to be resourceful in high-pressure situations has contributed to my growth as an individual, and these qualities will only enable me to solve life’s most perplexing issues.
Ready to get more in-depth with the next question? Check out Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #3: Greatest Talent 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.
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