The University of California (UC) is one of the most prestigious public research universities in the country.
It’s known for pioneering innovations and its unique ten-campus system.
When it comes to admissions, UC’s application is just as unique as the university itself.
- UC has its own application portal, and you only need to fill out one application to apply to as many UC campuses as you would like.
UC also takes a slightly different approach to the essay, instead posing eight Personal Insight Questions (PIQs).
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about responding to UC’s PIQs and boosting your chances of admission!
What Are PIQs?
As mentioned above, PIQs are Personal Insight Questions – these are the UC essay prompts.
- UC asks eight of these questions, but you’re only required to respond to four of them. Each response must be limited to 350 words.
On UC’s website, the university states that the purpose of these questions is “getting to know your personality, background, interests, and achievements in your own unique voice.”
The eight Personal Insight Questions read as follows:
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.
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.
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
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?
6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
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?
Which PIQs Should I Choose?
In short, it’s up to you!
UC’s website explains that all questions are given equal consideration during the review process, meaning the questions you choose won’t put you at an advantage or disadvantage.
However, UC does recommend that you select questions “that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.”
Basically, you’re on the right track if you choose the questions that best fit your personality and experiences.
We do have one additional tip when it comes to choosing your four PIQs:
- Make sure that your questions don’t overlap.
Each PIQ you answer should reveal a new and interesting piece of your “puzzle.”
- For instance, don’t write about being president of the Math Club for #1, your creative problem solving for #2, your impressive mental math skills for #3, and how Geometry inspires you for #6.
Together, these four questions should form a complete picture of you.
Demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded, unique individual who will make positive contributions to UC.
General Tips for Responding to the PIQs
First, we want to emphasize the importance of starting early. UC’s uniqueness continues with the university’s application deadline:
- November 30.
That’s a full month before the Common Application deadline (and most other college application deadlines).
For this reason, you’ll want to start as early as possible on your PIQs.
Don’t wait until the last minute and end up submitting work that isn’t your best. You might even want to start over the summer.
- Once the school year starts—along with the activities and responsibilities that come with it—you’ll be surprised how quickly that November 30 deadline looms.
Luckily, UC is extremely open about their application and admission process.
The university has provided a wide variety of tips about responding to the PIQs.
Below is an overview of UC’s general tips, along with a few of our own:
- Use first-person “I” statements (per UC).
- Write in your own voice; your writing should “sound” like you. At the same time, avoid being too informal and/or using slang.
- Proofread and edit. UC states that you won’t be directly evaluated on spelling and grammar, but errors “can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.” (Plus, spelling and grammar errors don’t make a great impression!)
- Get feedback from friends and family members.
- Write persuasively. UC explains that you should use “specific, concrete examples” to support your points, rather than relying on lists.
And UC’s last piece of general advice?
The university considers many other factors, and these responses “can only add value” to the application.
Common PIQs Mistakes to Avoid
UC’s website also provides a list of common mistakes to avoid as you complete the PIQs. These mistakes include:
- Talking about one campus: You’re talking to all UC campuses you apply to in your responses. (Unless you apply to only one UC school, don’t make your responses school-specific. All the UC schools you’ve applied to will read your PIQ responses.)
- Inappropriate use of humor
- Creative writing (poems, clichés)
- Quotations: They want to know your words and thoughts, not someone else’s
- Generalities: Stick to facts and personal examples
- Repetition: Provide new information that can’t be found in other sections of the application
- Asking philosophical questions: Get to the point and say what you mean
- Acronyms: Spell it out!
Writing Each Personal Insight Question
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what UC is—and isn’t—looking for in your PIQ responses, let’s take a closer look at each question.
UC PIQ 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.
UC clarifies that “leadership experience” is a broad term. You don’t have to have an official title to be a leader.
Perhaps you’ve been in charge of a specific task, acted as a mentor to others, or taken the lead role in a project.
A leadership experience could also mean resolving a dispute “at your school, church, in your community or an organization.”
It could be something outside of school as well, like helping out or taking care of your family.
To begin writing this essay, first provide some context about the individual or individuals you led.
- What sort of problem or dispute existed before you stepped in?
- Why was this an important problem to solve? (This section should be the shortest, since it’s not yet focused on you and your leadership abilities.)
Then, describe what actions you took.
- How did you plan to address the issue?
- Were there any difficulties along the way, and how did you handle them?
- What were the results of your leadership?
As you wrap up, you may want to reflect on how this experience influenced you.
What did you learn about being a leader? Has your perspective on leadership changed as a result?
Remember to be as specific as possible. Instead of giving a general summary of your role as club president, choose to focus on a particular dispute or issue that you successfully tackled head-on.
UC PIQ 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.
For this prompt, UC poses the following questions 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?
As with the term “leadership experience,” UC is using a broad definition of “creativity” here.
It doesn’t have to be a visual or performance art.
Creativity can be expressed through anything you make or generate, even an idea or theory that didn’t exist before.
Basically, UC is asking how you express creativity in your life. And how does this play a role in your personality, outlook, decisions, or goals?
Start by defining your brand of “creativity.”
- What do you make or do?
- What problems do you solve, and how do you solve them?
- How did you become interested in this activity in the first place?
Next, explain what this creativity means to you.
- What drives you to be creative?
- Why do you enjoy this particular activity or pursuit?
- Does it come naturally to you, or do you have to work hard at it?
As usual, you’ll conclude by reflecting.
- Do you plan to turn this into a career?
- What have you learned through this creative pursuit?
- Has it influenced the way you think or interact with others?
UC PIQ 2 Example
Take one look at my transcript, and you’ll probably assume that I am the quintessential STEM guy: boatloads of computer science courses, AP Physics C and Calculus III my junior year, supplemented by online math videos that I watch just for fun. Still, outside the world of academia, I indulge in the unwavering freedom to create.
When writing equations to solve for the zeros of a quadratic loses its luster, I write screenplays about fake bacon-flavored cure-alls and a lacrosse bench-warmer turned soccer star (due to a gruesome arm injury). My friends and I have always enjoyed listening to podcasts; now, we craft our own, introducing each and every episode with zany bits of copyright-free music and providing commentary on everything from the Dodgers to the latest Assassin’s Creed game. When a novel conceptualization dawns upon me, I take a break from being a questioning historian, astute mathematician, and analyst of rhetoric and transform myself into a set director, podcast host, and game developer. During these moments of self-determination, I create – not merely for a grade, but to fashion something I am proud of and enjoy watching, listening to, or playing.
As I enter my final year of high school, my life has become a world of endless scantrons and mounting review books. The opportunities to create have become increasingly scarce, as the realm of standardized testing only endorses factual regurgitation. However, every time I get the chance to express even the most minute form of creativity, I come alive. Whether I’m filming a music video on Enlightenment philosophers, using Photoshop to design a mathematics Pokémon ball, or designing the logo for my startup, I always make sure to never stop creating and to always preserve a portion of my brain for my imaginative self.
UC PIQ 2 Example 2
Scratch. Python. HTML. C++. Java. These are my creative languages.
After 6 weeks of learning these five languages during a summer immersion program led by Girls Who Code, an organization whose purpose is to empower women in tech, we were given the opportunity to create our own project. One day, passing a food pantry, an idea flashed through my mind: I wanted to create an iOS application that could help individuals, companies, restaurants, and businesses find locations where they could donate excess food.
As the project’s lead programmer, I had to learn a new programming language called “Swift” by spending hours staring at tutorials on YouTube and testing hundreds of versions of code until one combination of different snippets worked. Still, all the hours of gaping blankly at my computer were worth it. We completed our application, naming it EXS, and presented it to an auditorium full of people, including the CTO of Electronic Arts, at our graduation ceremony. What had simply been a vision at first became an actual product that could help people.
The most important aspect of this experience was facing the reality that all programmers encounter in their creative educations: making mistakes – something I had always been afraid of – is fundamental to computer science. It is even considered, by many software engineers, as one of the core truths of coding, and, without it, we would be unable to learn and make a fully-functioning program.
The process behind EXS has taught me that failure and trial-and-error will be significant elements of my future creative ventures. This will allow me to become the best programmer I can possibly be.
Looking forward, I envision myself the leader of my own international computer science company, making video games or applications for social impact that help people on a global scale. Of course, this will involve plenty of failure, but I now know mistakes are inevitable in my field. If my creative failures and ventures will be able to bring a smile upon someone’s face or simply help change one individual’s life, I’m gladly willing to make them.
UC PIQ 3
What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
UC explains that this is the time to share a talent or skill you’re proud of, even if it isn’t one for which you’ve been recognized or awarded.
The overall tone of this essay should convey passion and excitement about the talent you choose to discuss.
Remember that specificity is key.
So if you have a talent or skill in mind, come up with a specific story that showcases it.
- What event or experience can you narrate in order to convey your skill/talent to admissions officers?
This prompt also asks about how you’ve “developed this talent over time.”
- It’s appropriate to talk about struggles or obstacles you’ve overcome.
- Perhaps this skill didn’t come easily to you, but your determination and persistence eventually paid off.
You’ll also want to reflect on why you feel that this is your greatest talent or skill.
- How has it impacted you, others, or your future career goals?
You can tell this story in chronological order:
A description of how you first became interested in this skill/talent or struggled to develop it, an event that shows your improvement or accomplishments in this area, and the impact this talent or skill has had on your life.
UC PIQ 3 Example
The air felt different that day. “Have you seen it?” my friend Jordyn exclaimed as I walked into Washington Charter School swarmed by a sea of sweaty fifth graders. She forced her phone into my hands. Bewildered, I scrolled through endless social media posts of my defaced picture. The captions read, “I’m going to burn her house down. Isabelle’s gonna die.”
The day before, Edna and I competed in a contest to speak at our elementary graduation. My classmates had nominated me, and while I was sleeping, Edna had spent hours threatening my life on every social media platform she belonged to.
I was terrified; I had never experienced such vitriol. Seeing the good in everyone, I showered my bully with benevolence and committed to finding opportunities to prevent others from experiencing what I had. Still reeling from the impact of Edna’s hurtful comments, I was motivated to speak out.
When auditions were announced for TED Talk speakers at my high school, I saw an opportunity to bring much-needed attention to the epidemic of teen social media usage and cyberbullying. I knew I had a gift for public speaking, but Edna’s hate and the fear that I might be harassed online again had almost kept me from fulfilling my passion. My Ted Talk was a huge success that year and was posted on YouTube and Facebook. I was surprised by the messages of hope not only from my peers but from strangers with similar experiences.
Since my Ted Talk, I have demonstrated my strong communication skills by crafting emails and blogs as an intern at my local domestic violence shelter, motivating my soccer team during huddles as a soccer captain, and encouraging my classmates to support their community through my work as a rotary club president. Though the lesson Edna taught me was painful, it allowed me an important glimpse into my future. No matter what direction my life takes, I am certain of this: words have power, and using my own voice to spread positivity and encourage and motivate others is what I was born to do.
UC PIQ 4
Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
For this PIQ, UC asks you 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 are you today?
Here, you’re either detailing an educational opportunity you’ve taken advantage of or an educational barrier you’ve overcome.
With both of these approaches, you should be revealing both your commitment to education and your strength of character.
If you write about an educational opportunity:
- Describe what the opportunity was, why/how you received the opportunity, and why it was so “significant.”
- Demonstrate that you understood the value of this opportunity and took advantage of it.
- Was the opportunity challenging? How did you learn and grow from it?
- What did you do to ensure you benefited from this opportunity as much as possible?
- Has it influenced your career plans or your outlook on education?
- Have you discovered new abilities or learned something new about yourself?
If you write about an educational barrier:
- Describe the barrier. What setback or challenge impacted you academically? It should be something that stood in your way of academic success or prevented you from accessing certain opportunities. As you discuss it, avoid an overly negative tone. Try to speak neutrally and factually about what happened.
- How did you deal with this barrier? Talk about the steps you took to overcome the barrier and how you felt throughout the process.
- Reflect on how this experience has affected you. What did you learn about yourself, and how has this experience shaped you?
Make sure that your response to this PIQ showcases positive aspects of your character, such as determination, a love of learning, problem-solving, persistence, etc.
UC PIQ 4 Example
The Lewis Structures before me were as foreign as Hammurabi’s Code I’d seen in history class. Was this even chemistry? My pulse quickened as I saw my classmates scribbling calculations, flipping pages, and bubbling answers. Within fifty minutes, everyone had finished; I had barely completed my first problem.
As I perused my school’s course catalog, an upperclassman whispered, ”Junior year is hard enough. Don’t take AP Chemistry.” Considered one of the most demanding classes offered at my high school, AP Chemistry was notorious for rigorous exams and tedious labs. I was a year younger than my classmates, so I knew this class would be difficult. However, I’ve never been intimidated by hard work, so I confidently enrolled. In the weeks leading up to the test, I felt prepared; I had done endless practice problems, and I was acing my quizzes.
So that morning, as I sat staring at the Herculean task before me, panic set in and my confidence waned. When my test was returned, my heart sank: I had failed. Shock turned to disappointment, anger, and finally, to a determination to stay positive and do whatever it took to succeed. I’d never avoided a challenge before; this wasn’t going to be the first time.
For the rest of the year, Sal Khan, Ms. Jones, and the TAs became my new best friends. I spent hours on Khan Academy, completed every problem in the textbook, attended office hours, and begged my parents to take me to school early for tutorials. I was the first student in the classroom and the last to leave. By year’s end, I had achieved what had seemed insurmountable: an A each quarter, a passing score on my AP exam, and a scholarship offer for a prestigious summer program to study chemistry for college credit at the University of Utah.
This experience reinforced my belief that drive, perseverance, and grit are key to achieving success. As I enter college and encounter new challenges both in and out of the classroom, I am determined to tackle them in much the same way as that AP Chemistry class.
UC PIQ 4 Example 2
In my experience, High School Musical and Mean Girls are spot-on when it comes to teen conversations; during my first three years of high school, most of the discussions my friends and I had revolved around who was dating whom, criticism of the atrocious basketball coach, and spoilers of the latest Stranger Things season. While I still enjoyed these chats, as my entrepreneurial fervor grew, I found myself feeling disjointed from my peers and looking for a community that would nurture my startup fever. When she noticed my budding interest, the head of a local incubator invited me to apply for their accelerator program. I initially felt unsure, but I gave it a shot, and as time went on, I felt as if I were transported to Ancient Athens during every Monday session.
As a program meant to help individuals jumpstart and accelerate their businesses, the incubator prompted participants to think Socratically. We questioned and debated every preconceived notion regarding startups: how to conduct proper market research, when and why to shut down, and even whether a humanitarian venture could also be a profitable one. Our oratories were not dull, 10-minute long PowerPoints followed by the occasional golf clap; they were action-packed, 60-second elevator pitches accompanied by a barrage of inquiries and suggestions about statistical logos and story-telling pathos. Through numerous congregations within the polis, I gave a fellow participant the conviction to pursue his business of educating students on the college recruiting process, emphasizing how all of my friends loved athletics and wanted to go D1. In return, he helped me see that the biggest problem with teens wasn’t always finding opportunities; it was being ready and professional enough to capture them.
Despite channeling Alexander the Great’s cutthroat competitiveness at the beginning, our group personified Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates in the end, as we considered each other’s ventures and employed our own ethos to help one another. We didn’t all have to be our own Homers — our Iliad and Odyssey were the cumulative success of all of our companies, forged by the collaborative intertwining of our stories.
UC PIQ 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?
This essay is similar to the “educational barrier” option above. However, this PIQ gives you a bit more freedom to discuss any challenge, even if it’s not directly related to education.
Remember, you’ll still need to explain how this challenge impacted you academically.
- Start by describing a problem or challenge. Again, don’t dwell on negativity or point fingers; simply convey what happened.
- Then, describe how you solved this problem.
- This shouldn’t be a story about how someone else solved a problem for you.
- Instead, you should be demonstrating your creativity, persistence, and resiliency. What specific steps did you take to overcome your problem?
Go for a bit of suspense. Sure, the admissions officer knows you’ll succeed in the end (otherwise you probably wouldn’t be telling this story).
But you can add a bit of tension by including details about how you initially struggled to solve the problem or faced additional setbacks along the way.
And of course, don’t forget to reflect.
- How did this experience affect different aspects of your life, including school?
- What did you learn from overcoming this challenge?
- Did you change anything about how you think, view the world, interact with others, or approach difficulties?
UC PIQ 5 Example
My mother peaked through the window with worried eyes. I could hear her in the adjacent room, talking to the educational therapist she sent me to after my fourth-grade teacher reported I was having trouble keeping up in class. I felt quarantined. Soon after, the therapist explained I had a deficiency in my cognitive development, comprehension, and thinking.
It took me longer to think than the majority of kids in my class, and I had difficulties describing things I was picturing. When I would leave class early to see a specialized tutor, I was assailed by classmates who constantly questioned where I would go. Certain weeks, I even lied about having an appointment in order to hide in the bathroom stalls, where I would be at peace reading comic books. When teachers offered me more time to finish tests, I would refuse because I thought accepting preferential treatment would mean I’d be accepting that I was different. My disability was a weight dragging me down.
To unshackle this weight, I put in overtime to hone my academic skills. Through this perseverance, I developed a strong work ethic and genuine drive for success in challenging academic situations. For a law project during my sophomore year, I was required to present a Nature vs. Nurture argument in front of a judge, jury, and attorneys to defend an individual. This challenge required me to perform extensive research on psychology and criminal backgrounds, despite my obvious lack of expertise in the field. Standing in front of the prosecuting attorney and keeping my poise, I recalled an oft-forgotten piece of evidence that I had found only due to my practiced diligence. I proved my case and won because I’ve had to regularly practice twice as hard to remember key details.
What used to be a necessity to survive academically became a feature of my identity that has heightened my tenacity. For a long time, I refused to accept that I had a learning disability. Today, I view every challenge as an opportunity to better myself and rectify my weaknesses.
UC PIQ 6
Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
UC asks you to consider the following:
- 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, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.
- Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or 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?
This PIQ is another that requires an enthusiastic, passionate response.
You don’t have to write about the academic subject at which you excel the most.
- You can write about the subject you enjoy the most, one that interests and inspires you. (Of course, you should still have some accomplishments to describe, even if they’re personal accomplishments instead of major awards.)
- If you have a definite career path and major in mind, this is a great opportunity to talk about how you developed that interest. You should also outline specific activities or tasks you do both in and out of school to further this interest.
- Even if you don’t have a career path or major in mind, this essay can showcase that you’re a curious and passionate learner who enjoys the pursuit of knowledge. Is there a subject or topic you explore even in your downtime? Perhaps you read articles or books, watch videos, or design projects related to this topic?
To answer the last part of this PIQ, you’ll need to do your research.
- What classes, clubs, internships, or research opportunities does UC offer in your area of interest?
- What can you do at UC (that you can’t do everywhere else) to continue exploring your favorite subject?
Here, you can showcase both your interest in UC and how you would contribute as a student.
Keep in mind that all the UC campuses you’ve applied to will read your essays, so try to choose opportunities that apply to UC in general.
If you’re only applying to 2-3 schools, you may choose to briefly mention one or two opportunities you’d enjoy at each.
UC PIQ 6 Example
Machine learning: a buzzword that has permeated the fields of engineering and business in the last decade. Truth be told, I was initially hesitant about its practicality — considering my Chromebook would take almost 20 minutes to load one Google Doc, teaching a computer to think seemed like quite a drastic step. Finally, at my internship at the National Cancer Institute, I had a chance to build my first neural network and see what all the fuss was about. After hurriedly perusing through repositories, copying down the shortest code example I could find, and hitting run, I watched a succinct 60 lines of code classify handwritten digits with a stellar 90% accuracy rate. Since then, I’ve spent hours training networks, whether it be to detect carcinoma or sarcoma on a meager set of 400 images or to generate fake X-rays that could trick a radiologist. Every time I hit run, I am in awe — not only because I’m watching lines of code become intelligent, but also because the concept of networks generating fake images appeared just five years ago. Maybe the ways in which we see this technology driving the world’s future are a bit too crazy; at the same time, maybe they’re not crazy enough.
From the first “Hello World!” to recent work with artificial intelligence, I have developed an insatiable appetite for turning lines of code into computer programs with real-world applications. However, will machines eventually take the place of programmers and workers entirely? Can machine learning solve all of the world’s problems — technical and humanitarian? If not, what problems are impractical to expect machines to solve? As the field offers up as many questions as it does answers, I am interested in studying both computer science and business, which would allow me to decipher both machine learning’s inner workings and its economic ramifications on the world at large.
UC PIQ 6 Example 2
My home is a marketplace of polyglots. You won’t hear much English, but you’ll regularly catch French, Arabic, Italian, and German volleyed across the dinner table. Thus, my love for my favorite subject was born out of necessity. When my brother and I needed to coordinate clandestine plans, we communicated in the one language my parents didn’t know: Spanish.
When I was first learning Spanish, I was overwhelmed by all the different tenses and endless lists of vocabulary. I grew to resent the language until I began studying different Spanish-speaking regions in AP Spanish. There, I came to the realization that mastering this language would help me uncover the world I wanted to travel.
That summer, I went on a study tour to Guatemala as a member of Hillsdale Effect, which provides business education for women. When I visited Semillas de Esperanza y Amor (“Seeds of Love and Hope”), I asked a little girl about her ambitions. Since I had learned of the dire economic status of families in the country, I expected an answer along the lines of: “After I drop out of primary school, I will help my parents on their fruit plantations.” To my joyous surprise, she explained how she wanted to study at the country’s only public university to become a doctor and come back to help her community. She was breaking socioeconomic stereotypes while proving my assumptions wrong.
As I spoke with other kids, I felt like I had been speaking Spanish forever. All the hours staying up late and stressing about quizzes have helped me hear the spectacular dreams of students. Spanish not only showed me that determination pays off, but that language is a tool to unlock the vast diversity of the world. Consequently, it is now my goal to learn as many languages as I possibly can.
Growing up in a household with different languages has shaped my identity, so expanding my compendium of different languages with Spanish was a logical next step. By learning Spanish, I have developed greater international awareness and a compassion toward people of all origins.
UC PIQ 7
What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
As you respond to this PIQ, UC wants you 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?
Community and your ability to contribute are important in college, and here’s your chance to discuss both.
You may want to start by defining what community means to you.
- What is your community and why?
- What role do you play in this community? Use specific details to convey how meaningful this community is to your life.
- Next, think of a problem you’ve solved within this community or an aspect of the community that you’ve improved upon. Provide some context on what the community was like before you affected some sort of change.
- Then, describe the steps you took. How did you notice that something needed to be done? What was your thought process as you decided exactly how to act? What did you do, and what were the results?
This essay should convey the love you have for your “community” and what actions you’ve taken to improve it in a specific, meaningful way.
UC PIQ 7 Example
Park City is a utopia for outdoor enthusiasts who swarm our charming ski town every winter, drawn to the myriad of entertainment options and some of the best snow on earth. Behind the veil of the affluent lifestyle, however, the statistics tell a different story. Sexual assault and domestic violence rates in Utah are higher than the national average. One in three Utah women experience sexual assault within their lifetime, and Park City is not immune.
My eyes were drawn to the purple paper on the wall each time I walked into the bathroom at Park City High School. It was cut into tickets bearing the number of the Peace House, Summit County’s domestic violence shelter. I felt a large pit in my stomach as the number of tickets slowly disappeared over the course of several weeks.
I am fortunate to have never been a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence. Surrounded by strong female role models throughout my life, I understand the importance and necessity of women supporting women. Hearing heartbreaking stories from my friends and witnessing silent cries for help in the high school bathroom reinforced my belief that as a community, we are only as strong as our most vulnerable members. I decided to join the Peace House team as an intern my junior year.
My involvement at the Peace House has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I take pride in promoting our mission to educate, empower, and shelter victims of domestic violence by marketing annual fundraising events like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, creating content for Peace House’s social media accounts, blogging, and organizing prevention and awareness programs. Through the fundraising efforts of our Peace House team and the generosity of private philanthropic donors, we raised eleven million dollars to open a new facility with increased transitional housing and emergency shelters to help even more victims. Though the work I do is mostly behind the scenes, by bringing domestic violence out of the shadows and into the light, I have made my community a better place.
UC PIQ 7 Example 2
During my sophomore year, I started to notice a common thread tying my school’s student body together. Whether I was eating in the school cafeteria or watching a football game, everyone seemed to be talking about how difficult it was to find opportunities that matched their personal needs. My friends who came from more financially secure backgrounds wanted internships that would allow them to dabble in new fields. Others needed jobs to ease the financial burdens of their families. I knew that there were numerous vacant positions in my area. During the late afternoon strolls my father and I took in Downtown Frederick, we often encountered “Help Wanted” signs plastered on the doors of businesses and nonprofits; however, with most job sites catering to professionals, it seemed as though the opportunities for connection between students and these organizations were far and few between.
Since I knew that nearly all students had access to smartphones and Chromebooks, I set out to build Vita EDO (Equity, Diversity, and Opportunity), an app that would allow students to easily browse and apply to local opportunities by submitting an online resume and would allow employers to post jobs and hire students. Despite having minimal business expertise — most of which came from Techcrunch articles and NPR podcasts — I dove headfirst into the startup process: I invited two of my friends to help with research and digital design while I engineered the web and mobile platform from the ground up. I networked and built strong relationships with fellow entrepreneurs and navigated the social labyrinths of talking to students, business owners, and investors. I even battled in pitch competitions, raising seed money in the process.
A year after becoming a limited liability corporation, Vita EDO has become an integral part of the Frederick community, helping connect hundreds of students to employers and jobs. Of course, I am always thinking up ways to improve our company for our current users and broaden our customer base. However, seeing how lines of code created new possibilities and democratized opportunity in my community is a feeling unlike any other.
UC PIQ 7 Example 3
As I walked center-stage, I could sense 600 pairs of eyes glaring at me. My insurmountable fear of public speaking began to intensify and my legs started to tremble. I switched the microphone on and uttered, “Hello, everyone. Welcome to our annual Penny Wars Rally!”
Penny Wars is a two-week event that I have helped organize over the past four years. It is a school-wide competition whose proceeds fund microloans for women-owned businesses in Guatemala. When I was a sophomore on the then-nascent Penny Wars Rally Committee, I performed discrete tasks, such as creating powerpoints, building props for rally games, and holding silent roles in the skits. During my junior year, I was the key presenter.
As a senior, I led the presentation’s script writers, undertook a role as key speaker, and served on the steering committee, whose purpose is to plan and lead our events. Most recently, I volunteered to research, plan, and host an Oxfam hunger banquet, where our club members participated in a simulation that gave insight into the inequalities in access to resources for Guatemalan women.
Thanks to our team’s hard work, we broke our school fundraising record, earning over $8,000 in two weeks for the businesswomen of Guatemala. In addition to funding microloans, our proceeds went to fund education for business-minded Guatemalan women who lack the opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship in their communities.
Just as important as fundraising is spreading awareness to my peers. It was rewarding, and thrilling, to hear positive feedback from teachers and students, both of whom learned about the hardships of businesswomen in developing countries. Furthermore, this year’s Penny Wars Rally motivated nine students to join our club and educate their classmates on the issues we work on.
The success of our rallies has motivated me to work harder for the club and create new school-wide fundraisers, such as a supplies drive that would benefit Guatemalan schoolchildren. Penny Wars has inspired me to keep on pushing to help break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala, while continuing to involve my peers in this team effort.
UC PIQ 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?
For this prompt, UC expects you 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.
This prompt basically gives you the opportunity to write about an experience that you haven’t had the chance to share yet.
Most experiences could fit into the other seven PIQs.
But if there’s something extraordinary or unique you’ve experienced, something that makes you “stand out as a strong candidate,” then you can mention it here.
- Explain what happened, why it happened, your role in what happened, and how you grew from or were impacted by this experience.
- How has this experience affected the contribution you’ll make at UC or the viewpoint you’ll bring to campus? Remember to use specific details as you make your points.
UC PIQ 8 Example
The rich aromas of saffron and turmeric waft from the kitchen as my Gammy patiently stirs her famous khoresht. I can taste the crispiness of the tah-dig and the mouth-watering chicken stew simmering on the stove. The house buzzes with family and friends. Persian music fills the air; the melodic sounds of Farsi, Swiss-German, and English blend seamlessly as my family laughs and catches up. Uncle Behzad dances the “paparazzi dance”, and Ommi teaches me how to make buttery mille-feuille. As we sit down for our bi-monthly dinner, I am proud that my Swiss father and Iranian mother have created an environment where opposing cultures live in harmony. We embrace our differences: love is unconditional, and there are no arbitrary cultural or national boundaries. The door to our home is always open, and we’re happy to share food, stories, and love with all who visit.
While I have grown up in Western society, being immersed in my parents’ cultures has made me interested in and appreciative of people from all cultural backgrounds. I am proud to embody the core values of both my cultures. Though Iranians are often misinterpreted and misrepresented, the Iranians I know are hard-working, passionate, inviting and inclusive. Swiss culture is quieter and more reserved. My Swiss family has taught me to be rational, reflective, and fair-minded. Despite their differences, both cultures share the core values of authenticity, compassion, and love.
Having immigrant parents from diverse backgrounds has made me acutely aware of the strengths that diversity offers. I am drawn to the UC schools because they are a melting pot of cultures, and I am particularly intrigued by UCLA’s newly-launched Kindness Institute. I look forward to learning about how the Institute empowers people to build more humane societies, to bridge their differences, and to treat each other with empathy and respect. I believe I am a strong candidate for admission to UC schools, as I would use my cultural background and curiosity about others to promote diversity, dismantle stereotypes, and increase awareness around issues of social justice.
What About “Additional Comments?”
After you complete your PIQs, you’ll see a section titled “Additional Comments.” This section is completely optional.
UC emphasizes that this section is not meant to be used as a continuation of your PIQ responses.
Instead, this section should only be used if you need to:
- Clarify important details in your application (honors, awards, activities).
- Share information about unusual circumstances or a nontraditional school environment.
- Describe anything else that you have not had the opportunity to discuss anywhere else in the application. (UC capitalizes HAVE NOT, indicating that this should be something that absolutely hasn’t come up elsewhere.)
This section has a 550-word limit, but it really shouldn’t be utilized unless you have something vital to say that you couldn’t fit in anywhere else.
Conclusion: Writing the UC Personal Insight Questions
As you apply to UC, you’ll be asked to answer four Personal Insight Questions (PIQs), with a word limit of 350 words each.
You’re given eight questions to choose from, and all questions receive equal consideration.
Here’s a simple strategy to follow:
- Read the PIQs, then carefully read them again.
- Start brainstorming how you could respond to each question, possibly by creating bulleted lists. If there are some questions you know aren’t the right choice for you, you can feel free to leave those out.
- Look over your brainstorms and decide which are the strongest. Make sure you choose four essay topics that don’t overlap, each offering a different piece of your personality “puzzle.”
- Write your essays. Remember to tell a story (with specific details) and then reflect on it, particularly how your experiences have shaped or impacted you.
- Proofread, edit, and receive feedback from friends and family members. As you revise, be sure to maintain your unique voice.
- Finally, submit and relax.
Following these tips can help you write your way to a UC acceptance letter!