written by
Laura Frustaci

University of California (UC) Personal Insight Questions Guide: 2021-2022

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Not sure how to approach the UC Personal Insight Questions? With tips from an Ivy League graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the UC essay prompts will show you how to write engaging UC essay prompts.  Using both the UC essays guide and our UC PIQ examples, you can stand out from the crowd and maximize your admissions odds.

Want help crafting your UC personal insight questions? Create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

There are nine University of California campuses that offer undergraduate programs. The tenth campus, UC San Francisco, only offers graduate programs in the health sciences. Each campus requires essay responses for the UC Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). In this guide, we'll walk through each of the UC Personal Insight Questions. We’ll also break down what each UC school looks for in its applicants.

UC Personal Insight Questions Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • UC Berkeley has an acceptance rate of 14.5%—U.S. News ranks UC Berkeley as a highly competitive school.
  • UC Davis has an acceptance rate of 49%—U.S. News ranks UC Davis as a competitive school.
  • UC Irvine has an acceptance rate of 29%—U.S. News ranks UC Irvine as a competitive school.
  • UC Los Angeles has an acceptance rate of 10.8%—U.S. News ranks UCLA as a highly competitive school.
  • UC San Diego has an acceptance rate of 34.3%—U.S. News ranks UC San Diego as a highly competitive school.
  • UC Santa Barbara has an acceptance rate of 29.2%—U.S. News ranks UC Santa Barbara as a highly competitive school.
  • We recommend answering the UC Personal Insight Questions comprehensively and thoughtfully.

UC Merced, UC Riverside, and UC Santa Cruz are not ranked in the top 100 schools on U.S. News.

What are the UC Personal Insight Questions?

The UC Personal Insight Questions are UC essay prompts specific to the University of California campuses. The UC system does not accept the Common or Coalition Application—instead, they use their own application system called UC Apply. You can find the main UC application here.

Looking for more information on how to navigate UC Apply? Check out our webinar hosted by a UC alumnus.

Read on for tips on the UC Personal Insight Questions as well as information about successful UC essay examples. Need tips on writing your Common App essay for other schools? Check out our blog article.

How Many UC Essays are Required?

There are a total of eight UC Personal Insight Questions. You will only choose and complete four UC essay prompts, however. All eight UC PIQs are accepted at all of the University of California schools. This means you’ll have a bit of flexibility when writing your UC essays.

Below, we will walk you through all of the UC essay prompts. We're also proud to feature our UC PIQ examples here. Our UC PIQ examples include information from admissions officers about why each of the UC essay examples worked. Struggling to respond to the UC essay prompts? These UC Personal Insight Questions examples are a great place to start! Reading the UC essay examples will give you added insight on how to approach the UC essay prompts.

Remember that you will only need to respond to four UC essay prompts. Use this guide to determine which of the UC essay prompts is best for you!

How Long is Each UC Essay?

Each of the UC essay prompts has a maximum of 350 words. This is equal to about one double-spaced page for each of the UC essay prompts.

When reviewing our UC PIQ examples, you might notice that the UC essays feel long compared to other supplemental essays. However, once you read these UC Personal Insight Questions examples and start writing your responses to the UC essay prompts, you may find 350 words feels like relatively little space to answer the UC essay prompts!

Which UC Essay Should I Write?

Narrowing down which four UC essay prompts to respond to may be challenging—but don’t stress. No single UC PIQ will make or break your application. Read over the UC essay prompts and remind yourself—there is no wrong choice.

Struggling to select a prompt? Return to the UC Personal Insight Questions examples. From a Science Olympiad to a bullied student with a vocal coach, and finally, the teen hotline volunteer—notice how each of the UC PIQ examples offers a different perspective. Take your cue from the UC essay examples. A successful UC essay is not about prompt selection—it's about how you write it.

You should select each UC essay based on what you think best reflects your identity, experiences, and personal circumstances. The most effective UC essay will be honest and well-written while allowing your personality to shine through. Read on for details about each of the UC essay prompts and more information on successful UC essay examples.

How to write UC Application Essays:

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 1

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. (350 words maximum)

This guide will walk you through responding to all of the UC PIQs. Looking at the first UC essay, this UC PIQ asks you to discuss a leadership role you’ve held. It also asks you to reflect on the impact you had on others during this experience. Remember, leadership can mean more than just being president of a club at school. Leadership can also come from mentoring others, taking care of family members, or taking initiative in a volunteer position.

However you define leadership, make sure you write about an activity that is important to you. Have you resolved a dispute between members of an extracurricular organization that you belong to? Perhaps you took over for someone at church when they had to step down last minute from planning an event.

Additionally, leadership does not necessarily have to mean that you’re the one person “in charge.” You can discuss how you have contributed to group efforts in a collaborative way, working closely with a team of others to make a positive impact and lead by example. Let’s take a look at how they accomplished this in the UC Personal Insight Questions examples.

UC essay example

In the UC essay examples, one writer discusses her experience as a Science Olympiad in high school:

Three thousand, four hundred and seventy-one dollars. That was the bill for the hotel room expenses alone for our thirty-member excursion. And those were the least of my worries for the weekend. Between drilling wood pieces into a working frame for Air Trajectory and tying a knot in floss to build a pendulum, I was running down the halls, talking to worried parents on the phone, anatomy textbook in hand. The other captains study while I ensure everyone eats dinner and sleeps by 2 am, responsible as the school’s sole legal representative for ensuring typical high school shenanigans of music blasting didn’t manifest into real danger.

All of the UC essay examples begin with great anecdotes that pull the reader into the story, and the first of the UC essay examples is no different. Let’s tease out some of the information that this writer provides in the first few sentences of their UC PIQ. From reading, we know that they are a captain, which establishes their leadership role in the organization. We also know that they carry many responsibilities. From keeping track of trip expenses to overseeing team members’ welfare and acting as an informal representative with the hotel. Successful UC essay examples, like this, will show and not tell.

Be detailed

Like in the UC personal insight questions examples, and specifically, in the UC PIQ example above, you should provide context for your answer. In other words, describe the leadership position and organization and pay specific attention to your role. Another great way to discuss leadership is by demonstrating how you noticed something was missing and stepped in to fulfill the need. Admissions officers will want to hear about how and why you ended up in the position you were in. They'll also want to know what you did in that position and what you learned from it.

Next, talk about your own actions and impact. Once you give context, then you can get into specifics. Did you elect to be in the leadership position? Did you offer to help a friend with their project and find you wanted to take on a more serious role?  Were you unsure of your capabilities as a leader and then proved your doubts wrong?

You will also want to reflect on the leadership experience itself. Was something about the situation particularly challenging? Did it make you realize you were a born leader? Did you gain a quality or notice an attribute about yourself that you’re proud of? Reflection is an important part of all the UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC essay example feedback

Finally, let’s review some of the feedback from the UC essay examples article for this UC PIC response. According to a former admission officer, “This essay works because the author not only demonstrates their leadership skills but also highlights the qualities and characteristics that make her a successful leader.” Finally, in the UC personal insight questions examples article, the admissions officer comments that “Beyond demonstrating her leadership, she effectively shows the admissions committee the type of student she will be on campus and how she will possibly contribute to the community.”

When crafting your own essay response, think about how your leadership experience works on broader terms. Does your chosen experience for this UC essay communicate a positive influence you had within a community? If not, you may want to consider if this is the strongest experience you can write on.

While we reviewed portions of the first UC Personal Insight Questions examples, you can read the rest of the UC PIQ response and the admission officer’s feedback in  CollegeAdvisor’s UC essay examples article. As with all of the provided UC essay examples, remember that you don’t need to model your UC PIQ response after them. What made the UC personal insight questions most effective is their authenticity. The University of California also publishes a UC Personal Insight Questions guide for applying freshmen.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you define what leadership means to you?
  • Does your UC PIQ essay directly describe how you made a positive impact, resolved a dispute, or worked with others?
  • Like the first of the UC essay examples, does your draft reflect on your role in the community?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 2

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. (350 words maximum)

This UC PIQ might push you to think further outside the box than some of the other UC essay prompts. Creativity can take many different shapes and forms; every industry has some sort of creative aspect. When this UC essay says “creative,” they’re asking what kinds of things or experiences do you create in your daily life. How do you innovate?

Your answer to this UC essay could discuss a more conventional creative outlet, such as poetry or visual art. You could also write about a less conventional activity. This could look like making your own crossword puzzles or talking about an entrepreneurial project or a nonprofit startup you are working on.

In this UC essay, you will first want to describe what it is that you do. Paint a picture of your creative outlet. What is your creative process? Once you have used active storytelling to talk about the what, you can turn to the why. Is this something you started doing for others, as a performance-based activity, or is it something that you use as a calming and centering activity in private?

UC essay example

Let’s look at the UC personal insight questions examples article again. In the second of the provided UC essay examples, the author wrote the following:

440 Hz exactly. The flames flare to life, forming the perfect wavelength as I transitioned from note to note, the curves transitioning along. My classmates crowded around as I sang (shouted?) into the Ruben’s tube, a simple PVC pipe with holes cut at even intervals so that high notes translated to beautiful waves of flames.

The fight to get a vocal teacher in the first place was an uphill run. Singing, unlike playing the piano or learning to draw, wasn’t deemed worthy of spending money on - wasn’t even seen as a skill. After multiple pitches, I finally got my way, just a foot in the door: one month.

Each of the UC personal insight questions examples begins with a really strong story, and this UC essay is no different. The author doesn’t hop right in and tell us she sings and has a vocal coach. Instead, she draws readers in with a story that at first glance seems unrelated.

UC essay examples like the one above are most successful because they offer a brief history of how the student became involved with their creative activity. Other things to consider when you draft a response to this UC PIQ: end with a few thoughts on how this activity has shaped you and discuss what you’ve learned from it. Will you continue to pursue this creative activity while at school? How will this creativity inform your academic and personal development?

Dig deep

Whatever creative activity you choose to describe, make sure it is something that you enjoy doing. Your passion will shine through in your writing and make your UC essay engaging and dynamic. These UC Personal Insight Questions aim to reveal who you are on a deeper level than just the academic and extracurricular information you have already listed on your application. Admissions officers want to read your responses to the UC essay prompts and feel like they know you.

In fact, in the UC personal insight questions article, the former admissions officer notes how well the student who wrote the UC PIQ above highlighted her creativity by “weaving in examples of finding and using her voice in various situations.” Like in the second of the UC essay examples, your response to this prompt should just be a discussion of something creative you like to do, but how that creative pursuit has shaped your life.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay give an example of a creative endeavor you enjoy?
  • Like in the second of the UC personal insight questions examples, do you connect what you do with why you do it?
  • Does your essay gesture towards how this creative activity connects to your future goals or your success at UC?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words maximum)

This UC essay asks you to do something a little different from other UC PIQ, and that might not come naturally to you—brag about yourself. Of course, you will want to keep a humble tone. However, this UC essay prompt is asking what you do best. In this UC PIQ, you should write about a time when you stood out or a time when you were the best at something. Do you have an interesting hidden talent? If so, this might be the essay for you!

Talent vs. skill

If you are having a hard time thinking of particular talents you have, you might turn to the second option in this prompt: a skill. A skill can be anything from an accomplishment to a trait you like about yourself. Perhaps you never fail to make your friends laugh, even in the most stressful of situations. Maybe your biggest strength is that you’re an incredibly empathetic person. You could provide anecdotes of times when empathy has helped you, perhaps to understand a friend when they needed help that they couldn’t articulate.

You will want to include a narrative arc in this UC essay. Here, Admissions Officers will be looking to read a story of what your talent is, how you have developed it, and why it means so much to you. You could describe an obstacle you have faced while performing this skill or talent and then demonstrate growth in how you overcame that obstacle.

As you respond to this UC PIQ, you want to show that you value creative pursuits and that you will bring your creative skills to the UC campuses. How has this activity offered you a new perspective on other aspects of your experiences? How does this creative activity interact with other areas of your life?

UC essay example

Let’s look at how one student approached this prompt in the third of our UC personal insight questions examples. The second paragraph in our provided UC essay examples is the heart of why this author’s response was successful.

The best swimmers are 5'10" with broad shoulders and huge feet. These characteristics are advantages during competitions because the athletes are able to move faster in the pool without being pushed back by the waves. I am not a typical swimmer. I am half-Black and half-Mexican, topping out at a whopping 5'0". My skills are not Olympic-bound, but I am passionate about the sport despite the fact that I initially felt like an outlier.

Let your self-awareness shine through

As you can see, the author isn’t necessarily bragging, which you may see in many UC PIQ examples. Instead, she readily admits that she may not be the best swimmer, but it is her greatest skill, one that she’s passionate about and has developed since the age of eight. UC PIQ examples like this demonstrate that there are many ways to answer this prompt, especially if you don’t feel that you have any talents/skills. Like the author, think of the things that you’re passionate about and have been practicing for years. While you may not be a prodigy, you have most likely become skilled. Let the passion and dedication that you feel for this talent/skill shine through in your response. Additionally, UC PIQ examples like this are effective because the author doesn’t just establish her skill but talks about what the skill/talent has brought her.

Even though I used to get lonely when swimming, I found a huge amount of joy in being a part of the sport at my high school. Our team started off with only six members, most of whom had never even been to a swim meet before. Eventually, we gained enough participants and experience to compete against other schools. We were neither the largest nor the fastest team, but I did not care. I had finally found a group of people I connected with.

UC essay example feedback

Of the three UC personal insight questions examples, this draws the reader into the author’s vulnerabilities. Not only does she “confess” to not being the greatest swimmer, but she talks of how lonely she found her skill until she was able to find community in her high school swim team. The former admissions officer in the UC PIQ examples article, says that this is the author’s strength.

This essay works because it’s touching and speaks to the admissions officers’ emotional side. This applicant scores high on the likability factor. As a reader, you are able to quickly connect with the author and find yourself cheering for them. The student comes across as dedicated, determined, humble, appreciative, caring, and sincere - which is a lot to accomplish in just 350 words.

In other words, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in your UC essay prompts, this can be an effective way to connect with your readers.

As you can see from the third of our UC personal insight questions examples, there are different ways to answer this UC PIQ! Check out the remainder of this author’s essay in our UC essay examples article.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay define what your skill or talent is?
  • Have you discussed how you’ve worked at this talent over time?
  • Do you sound proud of yourself?
  • Do you fit this accomplishment into who you are as a person and who you hope to be on a UC campus?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 4

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. (350 words maximum)

This UC essay asks about your journey in overcoming a specific hardship. You will want to take readers through the narrative arc you followed while you were living through your chosen experience. You will then want to discuss the resonance of this event for the rest of your life, with specific regard to your academic career. This emphasis on academics sets this UC PIQ apart from other UC essay prompts.

How to discuss an educational opportunity

There are two directions you can take when writing this UC PIQ. If you discuss an educational opportunity, you should first describe what the opportunity was and how you came to do it. You should then focus on describing how you made the most of this opportunity. It’s one thing to go to the best summer intensive research program in your field, and it’s another thing to follow up with one of the professors you meet there and pursue a personal project with them as a mentor.

You'll want to talk about how you utilized the resources that this opportunity provided in order to squeeze the most out of it. This UC essay prompt examines how much of a go-getter you are, so show that to the Admissions Officers!

How to discuss an educational barrier

You might also choose to follow the second avenue this UC PIQ offers and discuss a setback or barrier you encountered. If you go this route, you will first want to define and contextualize the challenge you faced. Because this UC essay specifically asks about an educational barrier, you want to make sure that the experience you discuss impacted your academic life specifically. If you have a non-academic-related challenge that deeply impacted your life, save that for UC PIQ 5. You’ll want to pay careful attention to what each of the UC essay prompts asks of you and be sure to respond directly to the question in each of the UC Personal Insight Questions.

After you define the challenge, explain how you overcame it. Focus on your strategies, ideas, and actions specifically. This is the work that you did to defeat the barrier and come out stronger on the other side. You’ll want to demonstrate how you learned or matured from your experience. If you need inspiration, check out our UC Personal Insight Questions examples; you'll notice that growth and maturity are common themes.

You will also want to reflect a bit on how this experience affected you long term. How did this barrier influence other aspects of your life? What did you gain from the opportunity you had? You could mention any professional skills or qualities that you might have developed from your chosen experience and how you will carry those with you in your future endeavors. In all of these UC essay prompts, you will want to gesture toward your future intentions; Admissions Officers would like to see that you're forward-thinking in your responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you address a topic specifically related to your academic experience?
  • Does your essay show that you learned something from the experience?
  • Does your essay demonstrate a thoughtful approach to your academic career and opportunities?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 5

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (350 words maximum)

Overcoming a challenge is a classic college supplemental essay topic, and the UC essay prompts are no exception. Admissions Officers want to see how you handle a crisis and how you move forward in the face of adversity when they read your UC PIQ responses.

Make sure it’s a “real” challenge

This UC essay asks for the most significant challenge you’ve ever faced—so try to pick something bigger than your first C on a test. This UC PIQ should discuss a time when you faced a setback but did not let that setback beat you. As you can see from reading successful UC PIQ examples, Admissions Officers will be looking for your resourcefulness, creativity, and problem-solving skills when they are reading this UC essay. Make sure you focus on describing the how and not just the what in this UC PIQ.

In a college environment, you will likely face unexpected academic and personal challenges. UC wants to know that you can struggle, or even fail, and come back stronger than before. This UC PIQ asks you to prove that you will face any challenges head-on and not be overwhelmed when things take a turn for the worse.

Be sure to demonstrate growth

In this UC essay, be sure to clearly address both what the problem was and how you fixed it. Focus on your storytelling abilities to connect point A (the setback) to point B (your solution). Admissions Officers are looking for your creativity and problem-solving methodology: what is the process you use when addressing a challenge? Why was this challenge such a meaningful one to you? What was at stake for you? You will want to indicate that you perform well under pressure in this UC essay.

Once you have described both the challenge and your process in overcoming it, you should turn to the final part of this UC PIQ; that is, you'll want to discuss the relationship between this challenge and your academics. Be sure to address how the challenge you faced impacted your academic achievement in particular, though the challenge itself does not have to be an academic one. You should describe how overcoming this challenge resonated throughout your life and perhaps changed your perspective, provided you a new way of thinking, or altered your academic path in some way. These UC Personal Insight Questions want you to showcase what kind of student you are and how you will succeed on the UC campuses.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you explain why this challenge was so important to you?
  • Does your UC PIQ response demonstrate how you solved or addressed the challenge?
  • Do you reflect on the impact of overcoming this challenge?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words maximum)

You might read this UC PIQ and know exactly what subject you want to write about. It might be clear that you have a passion for English because you took AP Language and AP Literature, you’re in the journalism club, you write for the school literary magazine, and tutor ESL students after school. Even if you have all of these great examples, you will still want to address why this subject inspires you. What is it about literature or the English language that excites you? Maybe you’re obsessed with grammar, or maybe you read translations in their original language and then in English to discover any discrepancies. This UC PIQ gives you a valuable opportunity to discuss your academic inspirations and where they come from!

However, you might not have such an easy response to this UC PIQ. Maybe you're passionate about multiple subjects, or maybe you only discovered your true passion a few months ago and don't have that many specific experiences to discuss. If no subject immediately jumps to mind when you look at this UC essay, you can still answer this UC PIQ! Once again, refer to the UC Personal Insight Questions examples for more guidance.

In this UC PIQ, you don’t have to write about your favorite subject or the subject where you got the very best grades. Instead, you can write about an academic subject that really challenged you, for example, and discuss how that inspired you to go above and beyond what was required in the classroom in order to grasp the material better.

Make connections between your chosen academic subject and your other interests

You could also connect an extracurricular to an academic subject in a more abstract way. Maybe you love physics, and you use your understanding of the body in motion to aid you in dance competitions outside of school. Maybe a love of math translates into a love of baking because you devise your own recipes and perfect the ratios of ingredients.

Whatever you choose to write about in this UC PIQ, make sure you tie everything back together to the subject which sparks your interest. You should also give anecdotal details about things you have done either inside the classroom, outside the classroom, or, or if you can, both.

In this UC essay, you should aim to show how you are goal-oriented and directed in your studies and extracurriculars. You’ll want to synthesize your academic and non-academic activities to reinforce an interest in your chosen subject. Show that you’re passionate, use specific anecdotal examples, and illustrate what you have learned from your chosen subject.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your UC essay clearly communicate the topic which excites you?
  • Do you articulate why your chosen subject matters to you, and how it has influenced your growth and identity?
  • Does your UC PIQ supplement and/or complicate the other aspects of your application, with special regard to academic preferences?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 7

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (350 words maximum)

This UC PIQ asks how you interact with those around you. There are many ways to understand “community,” so you should begin your UC essay by defining what community means to you. Are you talking about a club or organization, a certain place where you feel at home, or a group of people? You might also mention what makes you feel connected to this community—why it is so meaningful to you. If you decide to write about your school, make sure you clarify that as your chosen definition of community for this UC essay.

In order to reflect on your impact on your community, you should first define the particular areas for growth you noticed in this community. You might want to describe how your connection with your community helped you to see what they needed or what you could give to them.

Here, you will show your capacity for empathy and your ability to think big-picture, especially with regard to an organization or group of people that might be close to your heart. This will show Admissions Officers that you can think critically, which is what the UC Personal Insight Questions are all about.

Be specific

Once you explain how you identified a problem or a challenge facing your community, you will want to discuss the concrete steps you took towards fixing this problem. How did you improve your chosen community? This UC essay wants to understand how you interact with those around you in meaningful and effective ways.

Be as specific as possible in your UC PIQ response. Walk your reader through your journey of joining this community, discovering a need within the community, and filing that need with your problem-solving skills. You should also frontload your decision-making process as you write this UC essay. In your UC PIQ response, Admissions Officers want to see how you will contribute to the community on the UC campuses.

UC example essay

Let’s look at the creative way that one student approached this in the fourth example in our UC PIQ examples article. The final essay in our UC Personal Insight Questions examples broaches a heavy subject and begins with a vivid anecdote.

“Hi, this is Teen Line, what’s bothering you tonight?” That simple phrase rings through the tiny room, merely enough space for a few desks and chairs. On one end of the line is a teenager, sharing stories of anything from the dark dread of depression and anxiety to a plea for a savior from the downward spiral of suicide. A tearful voice, desperate for help - a girl barely in high school, suffering at the hands of her “friends” and on the brink of suicide, complete with a plan to choke herself with a dog leash.

UC example essay feedback

UC personal insight questions examples like this one show the power of a strong beginning to draw in your readers. The author goes on to discuss her participation in Teen Line, a non-profit nationwide teen helpline. She defines community not only as of the teens that she talks to in her immediate area but also as of the national and international callers as well. The best UC PIQ examples show you how you can take your reader on a journey in 350 words or less. This is reflected in the former admissions officer’s strong feedback.

Sometimes admissions officers have to present candidates before a larger committee. This is an example where, if it came down to it, an officer would probably fight to ensure this student is admitted to the college or university if the rest of their application materials were strong overall, but perhaps slightly weaker in some areas. Simply put, this is a student an admissions officer would want as part of their campus community.

Among the UC personal insight questions examples that we cover in our UC PIQ examples article, this is a great example of how to discuss sensitive topics like depression and suicide.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you define what community means to you?
  • Does your essay describe both the problem you found within the community and the solution you crafted to address this problem?
  • Does your essay reflect on the journey of your experience and the problem-solving skills you employed?

UC Personal Insight Questions — Essay 8

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? (350 words maximum)

This UC essay seems misleadingly simple; you may think this UC PIQ asks you to respond with anything that you feel makes you a strong applicant, but that is not entirely true. You will want to think very hard about whether the information you share in this UC essay could easily be a response to any of the other UC essay prompts. If so, choose that prompt instead. The previous 7 UC PIQ prompts cover a lot of ground, so read through those UC Personal Insight Questions and review the UC PIQ examples before choosing this prompt.

When you should answer this prompt

You should only select this UC PIQ if you have something extraordinary to write about that genuinely has no other place anywhere on the application for you to discuss it. Though the prompt asks for what makes you stand out, you have lots of other places to demonstrate what makes you stand out from other applicants in the other UC essay prompts. Notably, this UC PIQ does not appear in our UC Personal Insight Questions examples, as it's much more open-ended.

For example, if you’re considering answering this question by talking about the time you overcame a chronic illness that kept you out of school for months at a time, you could also respond to UC essay 5 with this answer. Did you grow up in a suburban town with same-sex parents and face homophobia towards your family because your peers all had a mom and a dad? That’s a unique experience you could definitely write about for this UC essay.

How you should answer this prompt

If you're having trouble, return to the UC Personal Insight Questions examples. Notice how each of the UC essay examples is unique. Just because this UC PIQ is more open-ended doesn't mean it's the only one that will let you be creative. If there's one thing to learn from the UC Personal Insight Questions examples, it's that any prompt will let you be creative.

Your response to this UC essay should describe your unique situation or experience. It should also turn outwards to demonstrate how this experience, skill, or activity sets you apart from other UC applicants. This UC essay can help readers understand how you will help diversify campus through your lived experience. It can also help explain any gaps or dips in your grades or the rest of your application.

You will want to be direct and specific in this UC essay. Honesty is important here; try not to exaggerate too much with your tone or over-dramatize your story. Since you’re writing about an experience that is specific and unique to you, you don’t need to do the work of performatively explaining just how unique your activity, talent, or experience is. The topic you discuss should speak for itself.

UC PIQ Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay respond to a different prompt in the UC PIQ examples?
  • Do you use straightforward language to discuss your chosen topic?
  • Does your essay describe what happened to you, how it affected you, and how this will impact the perspective you bring to the UC campuses?

What Should I Put in the Additional Comments Section of the UC application?

There are two additional comments sections of the UC application. These are separate from the UC Personal Insight Questions and are not covered by our UC Personal Insight Questions examples. One is listed under the Academic History section, and the second is listed under the Personal Insight section.

For additional comments under Academic History, you should address only your academic record. This includes your transcript and grades, course choices, and anything you did not have the opportunity to discuss previously in the academic section or anywhere in your UC essay prompts.

For additional comments under Personal Insight, you should not discuss anything to do with your academic record. Instead, use this space to elaborate on the extracurricular section of the application. This is the space for more detail on an experience that was very meaningful to you. However, be careful about how you use this space. Ask yourself if what you’re sharing is really necessary to your application. Try to use the UC PIQ prompts to say anything you would want to say here.

Both of these sections are optional. You should not feel obligated to fill these sections with additional information if everything you want to share with your readers has been discussed in your UC essay prompts. UC Berkeley offers some advice on how to utilize this section of the application here.

UC Personal Insight Questions—Final Thoughts

Completing the UC essay prompts can seem daunting, but don’t let that discourage you from applying. The UC essay prompts are a great opportunity to demonstrate who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

We hope that this UC personal insight questions guide as well as our UC essay examples will help jumpstart your thinking! Your UC essays can boost your application if you have a lower than average GPA or SAT score. Use this UC personal insight questions guide as a step-by-step aid when approaching the UC essay prompts. And if you want more support, don't forget to read our UC personal insight questions examples for feedback from Admissions Officers on various UC essay examples.

UC video resources

You can also view these videos on UC PIQ prompts from the University of California:

Additionally, start earlier than you think you should when responding to the UC essay examples. It's always important to leave yourself time to draft, and this is especially true with the UC PIQ prompts. As you can likely tell from our UC PIQ examples, strong UC essays don't appear overnight.

Remember, the UC essay prompts are for four essays of equal length, and each of the UC PIQ prompts holds equal importance. Be considerate when selecting which of the UC PIQs to write about. Select four UC essay prompts that cater best to your lived experiences. If you find yourself struggling to come up with a compelling answer to one of your chosen UC essay prompts, go back to our UC PIQ examples or try another PIQ!

You can also read additional UC personal insight questions examples in this 2019 Insider article. The two UC PIQ examples in the piece showcase unique backgrounds and the creative ways each author approached their essay.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for revisions on your UC personal insight questions from a trusted adult; it’s helpful to have another set of eyes checking your UC PIQ responses for grammatical errors, tone, and clarity. Good luck!


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This 2021-2022 essay guide on the University of California was written by Laura Frustaci, Harvard ‘21. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on the University of California, click here. Want help crafting your UC Personal Insight Questions? Create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

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