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  • Bentham Team

Make sure your UC PIQs stand out

The UC system takes fewer than 1 in 5 applicants, and for schools like Berkeley, and UCLA, it’s more like 1 in 20, so how do you make your PIQs stand out? It isn’t enough to answer the question; you have to dazzle them.



Show four different aspects of yourself

The UC system application used to require one essay, similar to the Common Application, but they changed to four. Why four? Why did they call them personal insight questions? They changed to four shorter essays because they wanted to see if applicants had a combination of qualities that distinguish interesting and high performing students. They did you the favor of showing you which qualities they look for:

  • Leadership (Prompt 1)

  • Creativity (Prompt 2)

  • Special skills/talents (Prompt 3)

  • Educational opportunities or overcoming educational barriers (Prompt 4)

  • Overcoming challenges and how it affects academic performance (Prompt 5)

  • Academic vigor (Prompt 6)

  • Community service/contribution (Prompt 7)

  • Qualities they haven’t even imagined (Prompt 8)

Many of these qualities are similar to the qualities the common application prompts ask for, but don’t make the mistake of trying to fit your common app essay into four, or three, or even two of these PIQs. You are going to need to write about four different aspects of yourself. Because the readers of these essays are looking for these qualities, DO NOT stray from the prompt, or try to squeeze other aspects of yourself into your PIQ response. If you have decided to talk about competitive dance to show your creativity, do not talk about how you learned teamwork or perseverance or grit. Spend 350 words describing how your creativity is expressed through the activity you describe. Are you despairing because you aren’t creative? Select any activity you are engaged in and think about how creative it is. If you play football, write about the creativity it takes to get through a line of defenders or bring the ball into the end zone. If you golf, write about the creativity it takes to get your ball out of a bad lie. Charm the reader by describing the creative excuse notes you forged in high school.


Use specific, vivid examples to illustrate your accomplishments

Challenge yourself to write about one example for 350 words. To use the golf example, describe a particular instance when you got yourself out of a bad lie, using figurative language and describing things in detail. It’s painful for a reader to read an essay that only tells and doesn’t show. You don’t want the reader to skim over the surface of your life. You want to bring the reader in.


As you can see, writing a single PIQ response demands almost as much imagination, skill, hard work, and multiple revisions as the Common Application essay does. If your PIQ responses aren’t bringing the reader into a vivid and interesting personal experience, dedicate the next seven days to making it happen. It’s only 350 words. You can do it.


End by emphasizing the quality, skill, lesson, knowledge set, or talent your anecdote illustrates

At the end of each PIQ response, be sure you have given the readers what they are searching for with this PIQ- an example of leadership, creativity, skill or talent, perseverance, academic motivation, or community service that will show the admissions office how you will add something very specific to the mix when they are building a UC class.


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