The UC Personal Insight Questions are the most stress-inducing part of applying to UC schools. One of the main reasons they cause so much anxiety is that they are completely unlike the essays that most colleges require students to write for admission. They are not essay questions in the traditional sense, which most students are familiar with writing. Rather, they are more like interview questions which require a written answer. With a word limit of only 350 words per question, students need to be able to pack a lot of information into a short response. The UC application requires students to respond to four of the eight Personal Insight Questions. Read on for our tips for answering the UC Personal Insight Questions.
- Do not cut down your Common App essay. With so many essays to write, tests to take, and applications to fill out, it’s easy to see why students look for shortcuts wherever they can find them. In some situations, it is ok to reuse or re-tool an essay and use it for another school. However, it is NOT a good idea to cut down your Common App essay and try to use it for the Personal Insight Questions. The Common App essay and the Personal Insight Questions are fundamentally different in their intended purposes and are seeking different kinds of responses. While you can write on the same topic as your Common App, it’s best to start from scratch writing your Personal Insight Question responses.
- Answer like you’re answering an interview question. The Personal Insight Questions are not typical essay questions and therefore should not be answered in typical essay form. It’s best to think of the Personal Insight Questions as interview questions and answer them as you would an interview question. For example, in an interview, you wouldn’t begin your response to a question with a profound quote, philosophical question, or anecdote from your childhood. Rather, you would get straight to the point and directly answer the question being asked. Responses that get straight to the point and directly answer the question being asked are exactly what the UC admissions officers are looking for when reading applications.
- Be specific. You should be able to support your answers to the questions being asked with specific examples. If you’re answering the question about your favorite academic subject, you should be prepared to explain exactly why you feel strongly about that subject and specifically what it is about the subject that draws you to it. If you’re answering the question about how you make your community a better place, give specific examples of how you personally have contributed. It won’t be enough to say “I volunteer at the local food bank.” You would need to describe how you personally have had an impact on the community by volunteering at the food bank. The same rule about using “empty phrases” as discussed in our post about Common App essays applies here. The more specific the better!
- No creative writing. It doesn’t matter how great you are at writing poetry or short stories or crafting beautiful metaphors, the UC Personal Insight Questions are not the place for you to showcase those talents! These responses need to be straightforward and concise. The admissions teams are looking to get a sense of who you are through your answers to these questions, so don’t hide your answers under layers of flowery, dramatic writing.
- Answer the question. The UC admissions team created this list of questions for applicants to answer because they want to know the answers to these questions. Unlike some other universities’ questions or even the Common App Essay prompts, the UC Personal Insight Questions are narrowly focused, specific questions. Please don’t try to fit a loosely related story into an answer to one of these questions just because it’s something you think you should share. The UC admissions officers want to know the answers to these questions, so make sure your responses actually answer the questions.
- Use the tips/guidelines the UC admissions page provides. The UC Personal Insight Questions page of the UC website is extremely helpful! First of all, for every prompt, they provide a section of things to consider when answering the question. Sometimes a question can be answered in an unconventional way that you might not have thought of, and the “things to consider” might help spark an idea. Additionally, the “Writing Tips” page offers some helpful tips as well as things to avoid when writing your answers.