top of page

Guide to UC Personal Insight Question #8: Free Response

Welcome to the final installment of 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 eighth Personal Insight Question option, which is a free response.

Question Breakdown

Here's the text of PIQ #8, straight from UC's website:

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Right away, students either see this question as a blessing or a curse: a blessing, because the question gives the writer so much freedom in how they choose to respond to it, or a curse, because the question gives the writer too much freedom in how they choose to respond to it and making the best choice of topic seems impossible.

No matter which reaction you have to the question, I'm here to help you better understand what UC intends by it and what directions you may want to go.

Pro Tips

Simply put, UC includes this PIQ in order to give applicants the opportunity to share something about themselves that doesn't neatly fit into any other of the question categories. With that being said, when determining what to write about in response to this PIQ, don't choose something that would neatly fit into another category. For example, if you already chose to write about your greatest challenge for PIQ #5, don't just write another "greatest challenge" essay here because you decided you wanted to talk about another one.

So what should you write about for PIQ #8? UC offers some insight on their Guide for Freshman Applicants worksheet, in which they provide a few more specific prompts for you to think about. Here's a screenshot of that section of their brainstorming sheet:

It seems the direction UC points applicants in is to write either about 1) one of their most important values, 2) one of their biggest passions, or 3) what they're most excited about when they think about attending UC. I encourage you to use the prompts to do a little brainstorming before moving forward with this one.

After you do some good thinking about these questions, choose just ONE element to discuss in your response. Because PIQ #8 is so open-ended, oftentimes, students are tempted to just dump as much stuff into their response as possible within the word limit. Avoid this, and instead, opt for an essay that is tightly-focused and specific.

Finally, when choosing a topic, remember some of the things UC application readers love to see in PIQ responses: evidence of leadership, contribution to/engagement with a community, clear growth over time, and strong moral character and self-awareness. Keep those things in mind when making your decision on what to write about for this free response PIQ.

I always recommend that you have at least one other person read your writing and give you their feedback. 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 #8 Response

Before we go, let's take a look at an example response to PIQ #8.

I would have to say that I am somewhat a living representation of the quote, “It is better to be looked over than overlooked”. With my blue hair, rainbow makeup, and statement clothing, it is likely that someone would quickly notice me in a crowd. But, I haven’t always stood out. In middle school, I was about as plain as a person could get- brown hair, brown eyes, and patternless sweatshirt and jeans. Back then, I wasn’t comfortable being outside the social norm. This mindset completely changed when I discovered I was part of the LGBTQ community.

My freshman year of high school, I discovered I was bisexual, an idea I was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. I even attempted to dismiss these thoughts as though I had somehow misinterpreted them, however, my attraction to both of these genders refused to subside. Luckily, I was attending an extremely LGBTQ-accepting schools- OCSA.

The positive environment surrounding LGBTQ members at OCSA helped me feel completely accepted by straight and gay people alike. The blaring music, extreme dance contests, and glittering pride stickers made OCSA’s National Pride Day unlike any event I’d ever experienced. Though skeptical at first, OCSA made it clear to me that being part of the LGBTQ community is not something to be ashamed of; it is instead something to embrace.

Being able to accept this part of my identity allowed me to explore, discover, and embrace my my unique attributes. I began to freely express myself through my art and my style in an unapologetic manner. Now, when pressured by society to compromise my individuality and conform to the status quo, I always remember to stay true to myself.

The idea behind my current non-conformist mindset applies to what I believe in. While many other of my peers succumb to the pressure of social norms, I stand firm, refusing to compromise my beliefs for the sake of “fitting in”. Whether it be about environmental issues, LGBTQ rights, or animal testing, I voice my opinions loudly, passionately, and without hesitation, no longer afraid to face judgement or opposition.

Thanks for checking out our series on the UC Personal Insight Questions. Read all the other blogs in the series at the links at the beginning of this article, and stay tuned for other college prep tips from me and the other experts at Thinque Prep.


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!

9,771 views0 comments


bottom of page