What's Up with the New University of California Personal Insight Questions?

The University of California has introduced eight personal insight questions as part of its application process/review. These questions are designed to elicit responses from students that align with one or more of the comprehensive review criteria that the UC uses to determine admissions.

Here are the eight personal insight 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.
  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. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

Of the eight questions, students must select and respond to only four, so choose the four that you want to write about. Ideally, the questions you choose will allow you to put your best foot forward and let your personality shine through.

Each response has a max limit of 350 words, but there is no minimum. So, if you get your point across in fewer than 350 words, that is completely okay.

It is also important to note that you may not use the additional comments section to answer another one of the questions beyond the four you select. Many of the questions have two parts, so it is vital that you answer both parts (notably, numbers 1, 3, 5, and 6). However, all of the questions have equal value. And get this, writing style and grammar are not part of the review, but you should still (and always) aim to write responses free of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.

Fortunately, your responses are considered in light of your application, so they will not be read in a vacuum. The whole point is to contextualize your high school experiences and accomplishments in order to enlighten the admissions reader as to why you would be a valuable addition to the UC community. 

Admissions readers are looking to see what they can learn about you, essentially conducting fact-finding missions. Stick to the facts and think, “Will a stranger understand me from this context?” Since UC admission review is a cumulative process, you want to convey as much information as possible to the readers. Treat your personal insight responses as your interview, and using your own unique voice, communicate the information that paints you in the best light possible.

So, what exactly are the UCs looking for?

  • Direct responses to the questions – get straight to the point and elaborate, no flowery/metaphorical language
  • Greater authenticity – maximize the student voice (I, my); use your everyday vocabulary
  • Total clarity – Who are you and what is the context of your accomplishments during your 4 years of high school?
  • No guessing – Any relevant information that reflects individual circumstances and adds depth to the application (they can’t assume anything you haven’t told them)

Remember, this is your application, and if you don’t shine the spotlight on yourself, no one else will. The best person to authentically tell your stories is YOU!

Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite of Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."