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 sixth Personal Insight Question option, which is concerned with your favorite academic subject.
Here's the text of PIQ #6, straight from UC's website:
Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Okay, so it might not be quite accurate to say this question is about your "favorite" academic subject; it's technically about a subject that "inspires you" (close enough!). UC wants you to write about a subject that ignites your curiosity, that you would find yourself coming to class to learn more about even if you weren't required to.
Of course, you can write about any academic subject for this question, including those outside of STEM. However, I will say that if you're planning to apply to UC as an engineering or computer science major, you definitely want to respond to this question. These are currently UC's most impacted programs, so you'll want to show admissions officers you have what it takes to excel in those particular areas.
You may be wondering what counts as "furthering an interest in an academic subject inside and/or outside of the classroom." I went with an example subject - marine biology - and created a list of some activities that a student might write about:
Tutoring other students in marine biology and/or regular biology
Starting a Marine Science club at school
Participating in LiMPETS, a citizen science program that monitors California's coastal ecosystems
Completing a summer internship at the Ocean Institute
Taking AP Biology and/or AP Environmental Science
Creating a research project on the relationship between sea urchin populations and kelp health (either in or outside of school)
Reading extensively on related topics
You may notice that taking AP classes related to your subject of interest is listed as a great example of showing how you furthered your interest in it; however, it shouldn't be the only thing you write about if you choose to respond to this PIQ. In other words, if you want to write about your interest in physics, but the only example you have of pursuing it is taking AP Physics, you may want to pass this PIQ up. It works best for those who have multiple examples of their engagement with a particular area of study.
Questions to Consider
Your response to PIQ #6 should address these essential questions:
What academic subject inspires you?
Why does it inspire you? Why do you find it meaningful?
What specific activities have you done to further your interest in it?
What have you gained from those activities?
Has your interest in the subject influenced your choice of major and/or future career?
How could you pursue this subject further at UC?
In some of the other Guides to UC PIQ blogs I've written, I've made questions addressing your future at UC optional. This time, I suggest you treat #6 as an essential part of your response. I know it's a challenging question, and you may be reading this feeling very unsure of where to start with it. My suggestion is that you take the time to research UC's relationship with the subject, investigating if they have any special initiatives devoted to it, how they approach and fund research in that area, how they help maintain the discipline's importance and relevance in today's world, etc. UC wants to see you demonstrate knowledge of what makes their system unique and how you can see yourself contributing to their existing goals. Looking into this stuff takes time, so give yourself plenty of it.
To get started responding to PIQ #6, I suggest you simply copy/paste these 6 questions 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 6 questions above and ask how thoroughly you answered each of 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 #6 Response
Finally, let's check out a real example response to PIQ #6.
I’ve been asking questions my entire life. At age six, I recall sitting in my room terrified at the prospect of eternity. At twelve, I remember gazing at Jupiter and its four largest moons through my eight-inch Dobsonian. At fifteen, I remember hearing the words of Richard Feynman for the first time.
I had been trapped in the endless cycle of YouTube’s deceiving algorithm, and I expected it was going to be another unproductive day on the train ride home from the lab; however, a video titled, “Physics is Fun to Imagine” by Feynman, caught my attention. Interested, I clicked on it and was introduced to a world that I never imagined would have such an impact on me.
Soon enough, complex questions arose out of everyday occurrences. Questions like, “Why does time only move forwards and not backwards?” or “Why does a bicycle stand upright?” were commonplace. Often, I didn’t have the answers to these problems, but physics changed that. Physics, in combination with mathematics, has given me the opportunity to intuitively come to conclusions about the universe, but with scientific proof.
Furthermore, I’ve found that I am most drawn to theoretical physics as I can visualize experiments in my head, and I have a great desire to learn about the phenomena that aren’t discovered experimentally. My desire for this understanding culminated in the purchase of various physics books, but none have superseded the absolute brilliance of “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.” Essentially, the lectures bridged the separation between my intuition and complete understanding with a combination of mathematics and a rigorous introduction to physics.
This introduction, coupled with my IB Physics HL Course, has granted me a solid base from which I can begin my physics career, but I find that my true desire comes not from learning by others, but by creating new knowledge myself. In the words of Newton, I wish “to see a little further by standing on the shoulders of giants” to cultivate an innovative, scientific life where I can propagate new ideas to create a better future for myself and others.
Ready to get more in-depth with the next question? Check out Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #7: Community Service 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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