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UC Personal Insight Questions


The November 30th deadline is fast approaching and you still haven’t finished writing your personal insight responses for the University of California system. What do you do?

Panic?


There are enough other things to panic about these days, these short answers shouldn’t be one of them.

Here’s the deal. The UCs decided that they weren’t getting enough information about students so they dumped their old requirement for two essays answering prompts in a combined 1000 words or less. They got tired of essays talking about how wonderful grandpa was and how your trip to Africa to dig wells for the Kalahari Bushmen opened your eyes for the first time. The admissions officers decided they wanted genuine information about something you experienced and how it affected you. They nixed the two essays and replaced them with “personal insight questions.” You pick 4 out of the 8 questions and answer each one in 350 words or less.

Here are the questions:

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. (Leadership)

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. (Creativity)

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (Skill, Talent)

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

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? (Challenge, how affect academics)

6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you. (Favorite subject)

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? (Volunteering or community service)

8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the Univ. of California? (What makes you different?)

(Source: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/personal-questions/index.html)

There is even a handy worksheet: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/files/uc-personal-questions-guide-freshman.pdf

None of the questions is more important than the others. And there is no advantage to choosing one over another. Look at the questions and find ones that you can genuinely talk about.

Can’t think of anything. Download the worksheet and brainstorm. Never been a leader? Do you take care of a younger sibling? Did you help a fellow student understand a tough concept? Describe how you acted as a leader AND what did you learn about yourself from this experience.

All answers should contain two very important parts:

  1. Details relating to the topic AND

  2. How it impacted you. Did it change how you did things or thought of yourself? Did it make you want to learn more or want to influence others?

Quoting directly from the UC: “Remember, the personal questions are just that — personal…The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.”

Writing Tips:

  • Give yourself enough time to write, edit, or rewrite

  • Be persuasive: use concrete examples to support what you are saying

  • Use “I” statements. Talk about yourself so they can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments, and potential for success as a college student.

  • Proofread and edit: Limit 350 words. They are not looking for standard essays; however, you need to check your grammar, spelling and sentence structure.

  • Get feedback from people who can offer genuine support. Do you make yourself clear? Who do you trust to give you an unbiased view about yourself?

  • COPY AND PASTE Write your answers in word or Google Docs, save them as plain text, then copy and paste them into the space on the application. THEN READ THEM AGAIN on the screen to make sure they transferred properly.

  • WATCH THE WORD COUNT Do not go over the 350 word limit as it is defined in the application. Be ready to edit out those beautiful phrases and write concisely to stay within the limit. Your word count in Word may be different, go by the word count in the UC application. It rules, and it would be silly if your sentence got chopped off in the

  • RELAX

  • You have been studying this topic for 17 or 18 years. Because you are the topic

  • The answers are just one part of the application and can only add value. Admissions decisions are not based on your answers. The answers are your way of creating a three-dimensional image of yourself apart from grades, test scores, and activity lists.

  • DO NOT USE THE ADDITIONAL COMMENTS SECTION TO CONTINUE YOUR ANSWERS.

Things to avoid:

  1. Don’t talk about only one school. These answers are for all of the UCs you are applying to.

  2. Watch your humor, make sure it is appropriate and wouldn’t make Grandma uncomfortable.

  3. Avoid creative writing, poems, clichés.

  4. Don’t use other people’s words or quotes. They want to know your thoughts and words.

  5. Repetition: give them new information that isn’t available in other parts of the application.

  6. Don’t fritter away your word limit by asking philosophical questions. Get to the point and tell them what you mean.

  7. Don’t use acronyms or jargon. Spell it out. Not everyone knows what CIF, ROP, ITE, or YNG mean.

Remember, this is not your typical essay and they are not looking at how artfully you craft your sentences. Get down to the point. Be genuine. Be concrete.

Don’t listen to people who tell you it is the most important essay you will ever write. The essay is part of the application; admissions officers look at the whole document so do the best you can but don’t drive yourself crazy. Keep in mind that where you go to school is not as important as what you do when you get there.

FINALLY: GET THE DARNED THINGS DONE BEFORE THANKSGIVING.

Give yourself the gift of enjoying Thanksgiving and your 5 days off from school! Submit your applications before Nov. 30th. The earlier the better.


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