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 third Personal Insight Question option, which is concerned with your greatest talent.
Here's the text of PIQ #3, straight from UC's website:
What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
Many students read this prompt and start stressing about having to choose their strongest talent. After all, it's almost impossible to objectively decide what you're "best" at when you're choosing out of a pool of both highly specific skills, like baking, coding, or translating, and more general ones like problem-solving, practicing empathy, or thinking outside the box.
The good news is that you don't really have to identify your "greatest" skill for this essay. You don't even have to write about something you're great at! Your topic just has to be something you've put consistent effort into (rather than something you picked up last week), because the reader will want to see how you've worked to improve that skill over time. With that being said, I do have a few suggestions regarding what not to choose to write about, keeping in mind the context of this essay alongside your other application materials.
First, I encourage you to remember that the PIQ responses represent an opportunity to show other sides of you that admissions officers might not encounter elsewhere in your application. If you choose to write about how you’re “hardworking” or “a great student” for PIQ #3, those qualities are probably going to be things application readers can already ascertain from other areas of your application, like your transcript. Don't become obsessed with making sure PIQ responses mention things totally different than what’s communicated by your transcript or activity list, but just keep the possibility of redundancy in mind when choosing topics.
Speaking of redundancy, if you choose to answer PIQ #2 (about expressing your creative side) and this one, make sure your responses are about different topics. For example, don’t write about you express your creative side through painting for PIQ #2 then go on to say your greatest talent is painting for PIQ #3. Again, take advantage of the opportunity to show variety.
One more thing regarding topic choice: I don’t recommend picking a sport for this prompt. The point is not to convince the reader you're great at a sport; it's to show them that you're a well-rounded, self-aware person who's taken time to cultivate positive qualities. If you're still stuck on writing about a sport, try this inversion: instead of saying your greatest talent is basketball and mentioning your commitment to developing team morale as just one element of that, instead claim that your greatest skill is your ability to encourage others, then give examples of ways you’ve done this on and off the court. It’s more interesting, more specific, and more focused on your personality rather than your athletic ability.
Question To Consider
No matter what talent you choose, your response should answer these essential questions:
What's the talent or skill?
What was your skill level at first?
What's your skill level now?
What specific things have you done to cultivate this skill?
How do you demonstrate it today?
What has your journey of improvement taught you?
What's important about this PIQ is that your response to it should show a clear narrative of growth. Beginning by sketching out some rough answers to the questions above is a great place to start. Then you can improve over the course of every draft, 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 6 questions above 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 #3 Response
Finally, let's check out a real example response to PIQ #3.
From my experience in Model United Nations, I have seen that words possess the power to sway the masses and evoke change. Through MUN, I developed my greatest skill: public speaking. However, my initial struggles with stage fright made the program difficult. Yet when I witnessed my peers improve their abilities, I was inspired to continue. After each speech, each comment, each conference, I improved. My knees no longer shook, the tremble in my voice faded, and my tone grew confident.
MUN offered an exciting way to measure progress. I was granted awards for demonstrating skills such as research, problem solving, and leadership. This kept me motivated as I participated in numerous conferences, discussing a wide range of world crises. The peak of which was when I attended a national conference hosted at the University of Chicago and debated the prospects of nuclear energy in a global context.
Representing Botswana, I had to ensure that the concerns of countries with developing economies were heard by the committee. Working in such a fashion lent me a shift in my perspective that was sorely needed. As Americans, we feel it is our privilege to exist in all spheres of global influence. Yet what about the voices of those less fortunate? If we hope to avoid a crisis as threatening as climate change, then we must not only hear the voices of developing countries, but include them in our solutions for a better future.
Not only do words hold the power to influence the populace, but they possess the ability to impact the world. My newfound superpower has helped me serve as an effective Tennis Captain and as Vice President of the Culinary and Nutrition Club. I have become more social and have built genuine relationships with others. As I transition into college, I look forward to applying this skill to more vital concerns. While working as a scientist, I am excited to use my passion for public speaking as a means of educating the public and leading the next generation of minds through the many global crises we have encountered.
Ready to get more in-depth with the next question? Check out Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #4: Greatest Educational Opportunity/Barrier 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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