How to Get it Right with the UC 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.   I am sure you’ve read this before if you work with students applying to the UCs; it’s a quote from the University of California admissions website, an introduction to their personal insight questions for students.   Year after year, we hear how different the UC prompts are from other personal statements.   That likely comes from the UC’s insistence that the PIQs are nothing like Common App personal statements. That’s not entirely true.   Let me explain.   Sure, the questions are different. And they are more specific and straightforward. Not to mention shorter.   But what the UCs want is pretty much the same as what colleges want in any personal statement.   Insight.   The UCs, and schools reading essays on the Common App, want to know this in any personal statement:

Who are these applicants? What matters to them? What do they want to share with UC? And why?

It’s a whole lot easier to help students answer prompts when we realize the UC prompts are the same as any other personal statement. (Sigh!)   And best of all, you don’t need special training just for UC to help your students answer these prompts effectively. We start with the Common App, a more traditional essay prompt that serves as our best teaching essay, and then help our students with the UCs. You probably already know that we break down the essay-writing process into ten steps.   The first six steps focus on content (what the student will write about and why). Once the content is solid, we move on to structure (how to present that content), and finally, we wrap it up with polish (checking grammar, spelling and all those other last-minute details).    Every essay, whether it’s a Common App personal statement, a UC PIQ, a straightforward “Why Us” supplement or a University of Chicago creative essay, should focus on content first.   Every. Single. Time.   We give our students prep questions that they have to answer and send to us before we brainstorm topics for any essay. We don’t want them to show up to our brainstorm discussion unprepared.
We don’t want your students to show up unprepared either.
Here’s the pre-brainstorm worksheet our students complete before choosing topics for their UC PIQs. Feel free to use it, then let us know if it helps. We create worksheets like this for all of our schools. It saves us tons of time, and helps students focus.

Perceptive, resourceful, and curious, Kim Lifton, President of Wow Writing Workshop, can get a story out of anyone; she helped create the brainstorming process used in the Wow Method.

Wow provides students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. At Wow, we’re transforming the college essay experience from daunting and frightening to calm and empowering.

Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager with a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University.

Here’s a link to get free resources for you (including a book for counselors and a free monthly Pro Chat)!