Ace the UC Personal Insight Questions
Gabrielle Glancy’s students will never, never forget her. Her gift is not simply the dedication of the inspired teacher; it is the uncompromising truth of genius, the laser-like insight of honesty and the courage of the divine. — Stanley Bosworth, Founding Head of The Saint Ann’s School
Phew! Early Action/Early Decision deadlines are (mostly) behind us. That’s already a big accomplishment. What’s next?
Now is the time to re-rev the engine and re-purpose whatever we can as we look towards the November 30th University of California deadline.
Having been in the business for over 30 years, I’ve seen who gets in and who doesn’t. And though they’re not the only factor, the essays can tip the scales in your favor.
So here are my top tips for writing Personal Insight Essays that will stand out and get you in:
- The UC’s ask for four essays and offer eight choices, 350 words each. This is unusual. Use this to your advantage.
- Choosing which questions to answer is not only important, but critical.
- You want to write on four subjects that, when taken together, will give UC admissions the broadest view of you possible. So you don’t want to write about your interest in aeronautics for all of the essays! Or even for 3.
- Look at what you’ve already written for EA/ED schools. This will help you decide. Personal Insight Question #5 can often be used for a cut-down Common App Personal Statement. See if your Common App Essay works for this question.
- Because there are so many questions (I’ve pasted in the longer versions below), and they are long-winded in the way they’re expressed, I break them down to the following shorthand so you can keep all the questions in mind at once to make a good choice: 1. Leadership 2. Creativity 3. Greatest Talent or Skill 4. Educational Opportunity or Barrier, 5. Most significant Challenge 6. Inspiring Class or Topic 7. What have you done to help your community? 8. What makes you stand out as a candidate?
- Once you’ve chosen your 4 topics, what do you do next? Same as for any other essay, although, I will say, the University of California seems to want more straightforward answers to their questions. This does not mean you should be satisfied with writing a boring essay. It does mean that your style can be more reflective and explanatory than narrative/expositional.
For tips on getting started on essays (in general), here are some tips for Jumpstarting Your Essays.UC Personal Insight Questions: You Can Do This!
An expert in helping students get into the UC’s, I am available to help if you need me. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you ASAP. And of course, to schedule an INITIAL Consultation, click here or go to BOOK NOW.
Stay tuned for tips on repurposing essays. This will be very useful as you move forward — writing the UC essays and for RD (regular decision) schools!
Here are the Personal Insight Questions from the horse’s mouth:
Personal insight questions
Imagine UC was a person. If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you? These personal insight questions allow you to tell us. You could write about your creative side. Your thoughts on leadership. A challenge you’ve faced. Whatever questions you answer, make sure you show us your personality—just as you would in real life.
- You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
- Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
- Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. However, you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.
Keep in mind
- All questions are equal. All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
- There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.
- Use the additional comments field if there are issues you’d like to address that you didn’t have the opportunity to discuss elsewhere on the application. This shouldn’t be an essay, but rather a place to note unusual circumstances or anything that might be unclear in other parts of the application. You may use the additional comments field to note extraordinary circumstances related to COVID-19, if necessary.
Questions & guidance
Remember, the personal insight questions are just that — personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.
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.
Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?
Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?
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.
Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?
How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
Things to consider: If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?
Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few.
If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today?
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?
Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?
If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family?”
6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
Things to consider: Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can’t get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs — and what you have gained from your involvement.
Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place — like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?
Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?
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?
Things to consider: If there’s anything you want us to know about you, but didn’t find a question or place in the application to tell us, now’s your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?
From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don’t be afraid to brag a little.