University of California – Admissions
How to apply
Personal insight questions
The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.
Think of it as your interview with the admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.
While this section of the application is just one part we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.
University of California – Admissions
How to apply
Here are some tips and techniques to help you get started.
Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.
Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.
Use “I” statements.
Talk about yourself so that we can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments and potential for success on a UC campus. Use “I” and “my” statements in your responses.
Proofread and edit.
Although you will not be evaluated on grammar, spelling or sentence structure, you should proofread your work and make sure your writing is clear. Grammatical and spelling errors can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.
Your answers should reflect your own ideas and be written by you alone, but others — family, teachers and friends — can offer valuable suggestions. Ask advice of whomever you like, but do not plagiarize from sources in print or online and do not use anyone’s published words but your own.
Copy and paste.
Once you are satisfied with your answers, save them in plain text (ASCII) and paste them into the space provided in the application. Proofread once more to make sure no odd characters or line breaks have appeared.
This is one of many pieces of information we consider in reviewing your application. Your responses can only add value to the application. An admission decision will not be based on this section alone.
Additional instructions for active military, veterans and dependents
Because UC is interested in knowing about your or a family member’s military service, you may wish to use this section to communicate the following:
- Describe how your military service has been instrumental in developing your educational plans.
- Indicate if you’re affiliated with the military, such as the spouse or dependent of someone who is on active duty or a current participant in an ROTC-type program.
What about the “Additional comments” section?
After you complete the personal insight questions, you will see another section called “Additional Comments.” This is an optional section and should not be used as a continuation of your responses to the personal questions. Instead, you should use this section to:
- Provide additional clarification on important details in your application, such as honors, awards, activities.
- Share information regarding a nontraditional school environment or unusual circumstances.
- Describe anything else that you HAVE NOT had the opportunity to include elsewhere in your application.
Personal Insight Questions
The following are tips to help applicants find appropriate topics, styles, and tones for their answers to the personal insight questions. Please also see the University of California’s instructions.
In your application—including your answers to the personal insight questions—we are looking for evidence of your intellectual curiosity and your interest in personal development. UCLA is a dynamic and exciting place—due largely to our creative, ambitious, and diverse student body. We anticipate that the applicants we admit will contribute to the intellectual vitality, cultural life, and diversity of UCLA.
Your Answers to the Personal Insight Questions
- These questions are about getting to know you better, so be open, reflective, find your individual voice and express it.
- Freshman Applicants: You will have 8 questions to choose from, you must respond to any 4 of the 8 questions. The questions you choose to answer are entirely up to you.
- Transfer Applicants: There is one required question you must answer; then you answer 3 out of 7 additional questions. Which 3 of the 7 you choose to answer are entirely up to you.
- All applicants: We recommend you select questions that are most relevant to your experience and best reflect your individual circumstances.
- All questions will be given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
- Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
Tips for Success
Give yourself time to think about your topics, and carefully consider the rationale behind each question.
Be clear. Be focused. Be organized.
Make sure your answers to the personal insight questions follow a logical structure. Try to think about how it may seem to an audience who doesn’t know you. Input from people you trust—teachers, friends, relatives—can help you get different perspectives on how your answers to the questions affect those who are reading them.
Be careful with humor and clichés.
What might seem funny or bitingly ironic to you might not seem that way to someone who doesn’t know you. Remember that these questions are an opportunity for you to give us a complete picture of yourself. Don’t allow clichés to speak for you.
Don’t manufacture hardship.
Your answer to a personal insight question isn’t effective simply because it chronicles difficult circumstances. Rather, an effective answer to any question gives us a clear sense of your personal qualities and how you have used and developed them in response to your opportunities and challenges.
Use specific examples to illustrate your ideas.
Most students will answer some of these questions discussing initiative. A much smaller number will show us initiative with concrete examples of demonstrated motivation and leadership. But examples are only one part of the equation: we need you to prove to us with written examples that you have a sense of who you are, where you are going, and how you are going to use your education and your experiences to accomplish your goals. Although some events have long-term or even lifetime ramifications, it is usually better to focus on recent events because they shed more light on who you are right now.
Finally, give yourself plenty of time for revisions.
Read your writing to others, and revise for clarity in content and in style. Pay attention to rules of correct grammar and punctuation, and don’t forget to spell check.
We hope these tips will help you get organized and will inspire you. Your accomplishments, your opinions…you are important! Your answers to these questions are the best tool you have to show us the individual gifts you have to offer to the UCLA community.
Please visit the University of California site for more help with your personal insight questions, including the text of the questions you will be asked to answer.
Special Instructions for Veterans
The University is interested in knowing about your military service. Therefore, you may wish to use the personal insight questions to communicate the following.
- Describe how your military service has been instrumental in developing your educational plans.
- Indicate if you are entitled to educational benefits as a result of your own military service to the service connected death or disability of a parent or spouse.
- Indicate if you are affiliated with the military such as, but not limited to, the spouse or dependent of someone who is on active duty or a current participant in an ROTC-type program.
The UC Personal Insight Guides are also available in Spanish.
2017 UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #1:
Make one anecdote the star of your UC essay
These UC essays are tricky now, because you only have 350 words to convey your message per essay. That means this: Don’t do too much in one short essay. In other words, don’t try to write about 3 different topics in one essay so that you can “fit” all you want to say. It’s always better to go for DEPTH per essay rather than BREADTH.
Let me repeat that again: Depth > Breadth.
Breadth is something you can easily tackle in your overall application because you literally have 4 UC essays to showcase breadth of experience. Depth is the piece that everyone lacks, so if you can hit this out of the ballpark, you’re golden.
In order to delve deeply into a subject, you only have space for one anecdote — one experience — as the main star of your UC Personal Insight essay. Here are basic steps:
- Showcase your anecdote by first setting up the scene of the story.
- Showcase the conflict or obstacle that you encountered.
- Showcase your role in solving the conflict.
- Analyze how you grew and what you learned from this experience.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #2:
Showcase your growth through the story
You absolutely must write about how you grew and what you learned from an experience/anecdote. This is honestly perhaps one of the more important UC Personal Insight tips I have for you. Why? Well, the answer is twofold.
Firstly, admissions officers *love* to read about how you’ve grown from an event. An applicant’s ability to have a growth mindset — that is, a student who can recognize learnings from an event and grow intellectually and personally — is an extremely important trait to bring to college. Thus, admissions officers are on the lookout (especially via the UC personal insight essays) to pinpoint applicants that can bring this mindset to the UCs.
Secondly, writing about growth from an event is usually very difficult. So, not many students actually do this. Most UC essays I read fall short in this analysis department, so if you can go the extra mile and knock this out of the ballpark, you’re golden!
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #3:
Showcase intellectual curiosity
Many of the UC personal insight essay examples I’ve shown you do a fantastic job showcasing intellectual curiosity. I advise this because admissions officers always look for students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity (basically, it means love of learning) in the UC application and UC Personal Insight essays.
Now, it doesn’t work if you simply use the phrase, “intellectual curiosity” in your essay and call it a day. You have to show that you love to learn about XYZ. Here’s another UC Personal Insight Essay Example that is dripping with intellectual curiosity. Clearly, the student loves to learn about a topic specific to him.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #4:
Show aspects of who you are not immediately apparent in your UC application
You don’t have a lot of space in the UC application to write about all your accomplishments, interests, and dreams for the past 4 years. The UC Personal Insight Questions is your only opportunity to literally “speak” to the admissions committee about attributes about you that isn’t immediately clear in your overall application.
So, use at least one of your UC Personal Insight Essays to showcase a personal aspect of who you are — something that isn’t highlighted in your activities list, if possible. In other words, tell them a personal story or a personal interest. Do you have a unique hobby? A story about moving and changing schools? Anything interesting will work! Also, here’s a hint: A fantastic UC Personal Insight Question to use for this type of essay is prompt #8.
Take a look at this UC Personal Insight Essay Example . This student does a fantastic job showcasing a lightbulb moment she had while doing yoga! If she didn’t write about this event, the admissions officer for UC Berkeley or UCLA would never have known this unique aspect of who she is!
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #5:
Your UC essay should NOT be a wall of text
Take a look at the image above. What do you think looks more pleasing and interesting to read, especially to a tired admissions officer?
Need I say more? Wall of text = not fun to read.
So, here’s a tip: break up your UC essay into several different paragraphs. Use dialogue if your anecdote warrants it, and allow that dialogue to take up one line of space.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #6:
Use colons, dashes, sentence variations in your UC essay
This is a pretty great hack to elevate your UC essay (as long as you’re grammatically correct): Vary your sentence structure every so often by using dashes, semicolons, colons, dialogue, and rhetorical questions, just to name a few. Obviously, don’t overdo these to the point that it gets distracting, but doing so gives an illusion that you’re a better writer than you actually are
This is a quick and dirty essay tip to employ that many of my students do. If you take a look at this UC Personal Insight leadership essay example , this student makes use dashes effectively.
If you’re unsure about the grammatical rules of these devices, take a look at a resource like this one .
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #7:
Your UC essay should not contain redundant sentences and words
This is a huuuuuuge UC essay tip. 100% of my students have had issues with sentence and word redundancies at some point, so I’m willing to bet you’ll encounter this as well. Aggressively cutting words is absolutely critical to reach the word count of 350 words. Keep in mind: you’re limited on word count, so each sentence and word must add value to your story…if it doesn’t add anything, then get rid of it!
Here’s an easy way to check for redundancies: Avoid using the same word in the same sentence. Actually, avoid using the same word more than twice in the same paragraph!
I’ll give you an example from a rough draft of a previous student of mine…this is what the student wrote and I’ve emphasized the redundant words:
“ I know I need to come up with something to help Jason remember, and with something he understands. Suddenly, I have it… Jason’s eyes light up with understanding, and I can’t help but smile with pride with how my on-the-spot creativity helped Jason learn something he before struggled to grasp.”
Yes, even the word, “I” can be taken out. I’d correct this excerpt like this:
“I need to come up with something to help Jason remember and understand. Suddenly, I have it…his eyes light up with understanding, and I can’t help but smile with pride by how my on-the-spot creativity helped Jason learn a concept he before struggled to grasp.”
To be honest, I’d edit this short excerpt even more because it can be written in a much better way. But, for now, at least the redundancy is slightly better and we’ve deleted 4 words
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #8:
Don’t undermine yourself or sound negative in your UC essays
This seems pretty obvious, but always have a positive spin on anything you write. Honestly, this is sort of a personality issue more than anything, but sounding even remotely negative is rarely a good thing in these UC Personal Insight Questions.
Here’s an example from a rough draft of a student of mine that we had to correct:
“For an advocacy group that existed to protect homeowners, it definitely could’ve done with a better piece of real estate. When Laura first showed me the cubicle I’d be working out of, I thought it was a practical joke. That said, I had no reason to grumble…”
You know what I mean by slightly negative? It’s not overt, per se, but this sort of writing style reflects you in a negative light, so don’t do it!
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #9:
Avoid vague language
This is a big one. Many students write in such vague ways that it can be ridiculously frustrating for a reader. One trigger word that shows this vagueness in language is the word, “different.” Here, I’ll literally give you an example from a very rough draft of a previous student’s.
“I felt intrigued that I was unaware of these different aspects of music and that I was unaware of how I can intertwine different topics to improve piano playing to the point that theory was just as important as the physical part of piano.”
Ugh. When I read something like this, it’s like, “What DIFFERENT aspects of music are you talking about?!” In the context of this essay topic, this was an important learning for the student, but she didn’t explicitly tell us. If I were to rewrite this, I’d write something like this (of course, I’m just making things up):
“I was intrigued that there were many aspects of classical music that I was unaware of; elements like notations and dynamic markings are crucial to mastering the piano and playing with purpose. The theory of why certain notes are flat or sharp–the underpinnings of musical theory– communicate the intended message of the composers, and may be even more important than simply “just playing” the piano.”
See? So much less vagueness. Try it.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #10:
Work on transitions between paragraphs and sentences
Lack of transitions and choppy sentence structures are relatively common in college application essays. Once you’re on your second or third draft, do this:
- Scrutinize each and every single sentence. Does the first sentence flow into the next sentence seamlessly, or does it feel choppy and/or disconnected?
- Now, step back and look at the transitions between paragraphs. Does the NEXT paragraph pick up where the last paragraph ended? Make sure that the flow — the transitions — are there.
Check this link out if you need inspiration for transition words/phrases .
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #11:
Err on the side of informal voice for your UC essays (and Common App essays, for that matter)
Formal writing (the kind that you might be used to in analyzing Jane Eyre for English class) is great for school. But, the UC personal insight essays are NOT school essays. They are basically stories about YOU. And, you have these tired admissions officers with droopy eyelids reading your UC essays, so you definitely don’t want to make their jobs more difficult and boring.
That’s why informal voice is important — don’t be informal to the point of sounding sloppy, but contractions are ok to use. Don’t overdose on flowery language, either. Be straightforward enough in your writing and don’t be convoluted in your words because it sounds more “intelligent” or more aligned with an English paper. If I had to characterize the kind of clothes that your UC personal insight question should be wearing (if it were a male), I’d say this: Either khaki or dark blue, designer jeans with a nice button up shirt :).
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #12:
Explicitly answer the UC essay prompt in question
I know — this seems pretty obvious, but some students don’t even do this, so it’s worth mentioning.
Here’s a quick and easy tip: Reuse the words in the prompt so that it’s extra clear you’re answering the prompt. In other words, if the prompt is this:
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.
Use words like “creative” and “original” in your essays (especially towards the end) to drill it into the reader’s heads that you’re 100% fully and explicitly answering the prompt.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #13:
Think twice before answer UC essay prompt #5
This is prompt 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 can be a tricky essay prompt to write, especially because it asks you how an obstacle has affected your academics. Now, if you do have a life event or something that has hindered or influenced your academics in any way, you have two options: You can write about it here OR you can write about it in the additional comments section of the UC application.
There are actually two additional comments sections — one has a cap of 550 words and the other has a cap of 550 characters. Obviously, that’s more than enough space to write about the personal hardships if you feel like it needs to be mentioned. That way, you have 4 full UC essays focused on things other than your hardship and gives you more opportunity to show who you are to the admissions officers!
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #14:
Vary the introductions per UC essay
Here’s another super useful UC essay tip: Vary the intros per essay. Think about it this way: You’ll be writing 4 different essays, and at least two of them should begin in a different way to capture the attention of the droopy-eyed, tired admissions reader.
For instance, if two of your essays begin with imagery as an intro, then start another essay with dialogue, for instance.
UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #15:
Ensure that each UC essay story is distinct and not redundant
Here’s the final UC essay tip — showcase different data points about yourself per essay. In other words, your 4 essays should combine to give a holistic view of who you are as an applicant; don’t squander an opportunity to showcase yourself by being redundant in your data points.
Ask yourself this: what four distinct data points do I want to show the admissions officers about who I am?
UC Essay Prompt 4: Educational Experiences
University of California Personal Insight Question 4:
A Chance to Showcase Your Field of Interest
(For those of you just starting the UC application for 2016-17, incoming freshman pick four essays—each under 350 words—out of eight all-new prompts, known as Personal Insight Questions. I’m writing separate posts on ideas about how to write about all eight of them.)
If you know what you want to study in college, I would seriously consider writing about UC essay prompt 4.
It’s your chance to show the University of California that you already know something about this field and were serious enough to learn about it.
They love seeing students who already have some idea of what they want to pursue in college.
If you are uncertain about your future major, you can certainly write about this prompt, too.
Personal Insight Question 4:
Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
The new University of California essay prompt 4, also known as Personal Insight Question 4, contains two different but related topics.
One asks about an educational opportunity and the other about an educational barrier.
From UC Admissions: “Feel free to speak about either an opportunity or a barrier. It’s OK if you’ve experienced one and not the other.”
Both topics want to know about an experience related to your education so far, which can be your school work, or anything related to academics.
My personal opinion is that writing about the educational barrier would produce a more interesting essay since it will have a storyline.
A “barrier” (obstacle) is a form of a problem, and when you write about a problem, things automatically get more interesting.
“A Significant Educational Opportunity” for UC Essay Prompt 4
Start by trying to recall an interesting experience related to academics where you learned something meaningful.
If this experience, and what you learned from it, ties to what you plan to study in college, or the field that interests you at this point, all the better.
It also could simply be an experience that had a meaningful impact on how you see the world.
The most important factor is what you learned from it.
The main pitfall to watch out for with this prompt is writing something super boring.
The best way to nail this prompt is to think of it in two parts.
First, describe the opportunity. Even better, try to think of something specific that happened that involved this experience to start your essay and give it interest.
You don’t want to start something like, “During junior year, I took AP chemistry and really loved it. I liked all the experiments in the lab and … ”
That’s too broad and generic. Sheer dullsville.
Instead, start with one specific experiment or challenge that you participated in, and then go into the overall course and why you liked it.
The second part of this essay needs to go on to explain what you learned from that experience, and briefly how you will use what you learned in the future.
SAMPLE OUTLINE FOR UC ESSAY PROMPT 4
- Describe the educational experience. If possible, start with something specific that happened, then go onto to explain the background of this opportunity. (A paragraph or two.)
- Explain what you learned from this experience. End by sharing how you plan to use what you learned in your future college and career goals. (A paragraph or two.)
Here are the extra suggestions that the UC admissions provided along with this part of UC essay prompt 4:
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.
This is from the freshman guide from the UC admissions to help you brainstorm UC Prompt 4:
Educational opportunities: List any programs or additional classes that have better prepared you for college:
How did you find out about these programs or classes?
How did you take what you learned and apply it to your schoolwork or other aspects of your life?
An “Educational Barrier” in UC Essay Prompt 4
Here’s how I would start to brainstorm ideas to write about an educational barrier:
Think of a time in school, or during any school-related activity, where you faced some type of problem.
Again, it’s optimal if you can write about one of your main areas of interest, although it’s not necessary.
Remember, problems come in many forms, such as a challenge, an obstacle, a mistake, a personal hang-up, flaw or phobia, a change, a set-back.
Don’t get hung up on the word “barrier.” Just replace that with “problem,” and you will be on the right track.
The reason they want you to share a time you faced an education-related problem is that you can then elaborate on how you dealt with it and what you learned.
SAMPLE OUTLINE FOR UC ESSAY PROMPT 4
- Start by describing the problem. If possible, share a specific example of the problem, and then background it. (A paragraph or two.)
- Explain how you handled it, what personal quality you used or developed in the process, and what you learned in the process. End with how you plan to use what you learned in the future. (A paragraph or two.)
Here’s the additional questions the UC admissions folks included with this UC essay prompt 4:
If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strived 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’s the additional brainstorming questions the UC admissions shared in the freshman guide for UC prompt 4:
Educational barriers: Have you faced any barriers or challenges related to school and/or your schoolwork?
How did you overcome or strive to overcome them?
List three personal characteristics or skills you had to call on to overcome this challenge:
How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?
Some Red Flags
I must warn you that I believe there are a lot of potential cliche or overdone topics that students would write about for this topic, such as times they flunked a test or got a terrible grade.
Like all topics, what counts the most is what you have to say about your experience. So focus on what you learned about yourself, others and the world—even if what happened wasn’t the most unique experience.
Writing about UC essay prompt 4 is your best chance to showcase your main academic interest, such as computer science, history, business, fashion, art, engineering, etc.
So spend time thinking about any and all past experiences you have had that related to your interest, including ones that inspired you or helped your understand it better or improve your skills at it.
Write it up and chances are it will be a strong piece for your set of four essays (Personal Insight Questions) for the UC application.
Check out these 21 Tips for UC Personal Insight Questions to help you think about how to write four essays that complement each other and together form a “personal statement” that helps set you apart from other students.
Check Out These Related Posts!
Is a Carnegie course considered a educational opportunity?
Is Carnegie course considered an educational opportunity?
Yes, I would think so. JR
Hello, does an internship count as an educational opportunity?
Yes! If you can learn from the opportunity, it can be considered educational. Good luck! Janine
Would talking about having an opportunity at education at all be considered an educational opportunity? I am from a whole different country where women are oppressed and do not have the opportunity to an education, (gender and women’s studies is my major btw) but I am afraid this isn’t specific enough?
For the educational barrier question can I write about how I’m not good at science and describe the courses I took and how I struggled to get by but also show that I didn’t give up and that I ended up taking an AP science course?
Would medical camps count as an educational opportunity? I primarily shadowed doctors, but a lot of the doctors sat down and explained a lot about anatomy and other things.
In general, I think that any experience where you learned something, especially in a deliberate fashion, could be considered educational. JR
Hi, is mathematics module considered as an educational opportunity?
Math module in my college is a series of practice exercises that allows students to re-take placement exam.
I finished the module and took a placement exam that earned me the highest possible placement in the class. ( I skipped 3 classes as a result)
Hi, I was just wondering if what I was thinking of writing about was a good idea. My freshman year I went to a National Student Leader Conference (NSLC) for Engineering at Berkeley and that’s what made me fall in love with the idea of doing that as my major. Is the fact that it was at a certain UC school too specific i.e. will it turn away other UC schools? Obviously my focus isn’t on the fact that it was at Berkeley, but I just want to make sure I’m not inadvertently making a mistake.
Is Internship an educational opportunity? Thank you.
Would being rescinded from a school before going to community college be considered an educational barrier?
Would visiting another school not in the UC system be considered an educational opportunity?
I don’t think that’s what they have in mind; unless you attended some type of internship or educational program there. Good luck. JR
Hi! Would having an intimidating math teacher and struggling in that subject be an educational barrier?
I am in the Medical Academy and we get to do experiments and learn about different careers. I also got to shadow a nutritionist at a hospital for a day through the academy. Should I talk about how the academy allowed me to shadow her, even if I don’t want to major in nutrition? (I wasn’t able to choose who I wanted to shadow)
Is moving to US from a different country to attend high school considered an educational experience?
Would attending a college-prep school be an educational opportunity?
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