UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples

UC Personal Insight Questions: 15 Tips and Examples

Wondering how to successfully write UC essays? You’re in luck! In this blog post, we’ll go over UC Personal Insight Questions tips and examples that’ll take your essays to the next level. 

And what does it look like when you effectively follow these UC essay tips? Behold: our 20 UC Personal Insight Questions examples.

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #1: Make one anecdote the star of your UC essay

These UC essays are especially tricky because of the word limit: 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’s answers to the UC Personal Insight Questions lack — so if your UC essays have depth, you’ll no doubt stand out from the crowd.

So how exactly do you add depth, you may ask?

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:

  1. Showcase your anecdote by first setting up the scene of the story. 
  2. Showcase the conflict or obstacle that you encountered.
  3. Showcase your role in solving the conflict.
  4. Analyze how you grew and what you learned from this experience. 

So what does a UC essay with great depth actually look like? Checkout these UC Personal Insight Questions examples: 

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #2: Showcase growth throughout your essay

Writing about growth 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 recognize learnings from an event and grow intellectually and personally is extremely important to colleges. Thus, admissions officers are on the lookout (especially via the UC personal insight essays) to pinpoint applicants that can bring this growth 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 — your UC essays should do the same. 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: Showcase something personal not on 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 that aren’t immediately clear in your overall application. 

So, what’s my UC essay tip here?

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: Refrain from 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 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: Be concise & remove redundancies

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. Keep in mind: you’re limited on a 350 word count. 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. In fact, you should keep away from using the same word more than twice in the same paragraph!

I’ll give you an example using a UC personal insight essay excerpt from this previous student:

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 sound negative

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 UC essay 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 previous student’s very rough UC Personal Insight essay draft.

“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.”


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:

  1. Scrutinize each and every single sentence. Does the first sentence flow into the next sentence seamlessly, or does it feel choppy and/or disconnected?
  2. 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: Use Contractions

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 (and Common App essays, for that matter) are NOT school essays. They are basically stories about YOU. And, you have these tired admissions officers reading your UC essays —  you definitely don’t want to make their jobs more difficult and boring. 

That’s why informal voice is important. 

Now, don’t be casual to the point of sounding sloppy, but contractions are ok to use. However, you don’t want to overdose on flowery language, either. Be straightforward enough in your writing — don’t convolute words because it sounds more “intelligent.”

If I had to characterize the kind of clothes that your UC Personal Insight Question should be wearing, I’d say this: JCrew, not Brooks Brothers. In other words, stylish and approachable.

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #12: Explicitly answer the essay prompt

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 essay tip: Reuse the words in the prompt so that it’s extra clear you’re answering the prompt. In other words, if the UC Personal Insight Question 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 answering 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?

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. 

My UC essay tip: choose the latter. Here’s why:

There are actually two additional comments sections — one has a limit of 550 words and the other has a limit of 550 characters. That’s more than enough space to write about the personal hardships if you feel like it needs to be mentioned. That way, you’ll have 4 full UC essays focused on showing exactly who you are to the admissions officers! 

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #14: Vary introductions

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.

UC Personal Insight Essay Tip #15:Ensure that each essay is distinct 

Here’s the final UC essay tip — showcase different data points about yourself per essay. In other words, your 4 responses to the UC Personal Insight Questions 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 UC essays. 

Ask yourself this: what four distinct data points do I want to show the admissions officers about who I am? 

Capturing yourself in 4 short, 350 word essays is no easy task — but if you follow these UC essay tips, you’ll be in shape to pump out some stellar content! 

Have more questions on how to effectively answer the UC Personal Insight Questions? Ask us in the comments below!

UC Personal Insight Essay Example: Greatest Talent or Skill

UC Personal Insight Essay Example: Greatest Talent or Skill

Here’s an UC Personal Insight Essay example about your greatest talent or skill (also known as UC Essay Prompt 3). This is a UC essay prompt that many students gravitate towards, so the key is to make sure that you have your own unique angle on the essay topic! 

UC Personal Insight Essay Best Practices

The student who wrote this UC Personal Insight essay got into all the UCs he applied to, including UCLA and UC Berkeley — woohoo! Don’t worry, we got you: We only pick the best UC essay examples here at Winning Ivy Prep 💪.

Here’s a UC Essay tip: Don’t just read the UC essay examples. Analyze them. Come up with a list of 3 strengths that this student does very well. Then, paste these strengths at the top of every new UC essay draft you’re writing, so you’re consciously looking at these best practices while you work on the drafts. This is the only way to effectively learn from and model a compelling UC essay example.

UC Essay Example Prompt 3

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

UC Essay Example Prompt 3 Surfing

Submerged in the murky waters of the Pacific, I blindly reached out for my surfboard…

…and panicked. My board was nowhere to guide me, and the massive wave that had pulled me under had completely discombobulated me. Which way was up? 

When I was 8, my parents bought me a foam Costco “surfboard.” I vaguely remember actually “surfing,” but that first day on the water cemented my love for the ocean. As I grew older, surfing became a weekend ritual: Saturday mornings, my brother and I piled into Dad’s minivan, playing 70s rock on our drive to [beach]. 

I loved paddling and learning how to read the waves. Surfing was meditative, and called for a blend of intuition and technique to carve the waves.  

My sophomore year, however, school and Biology Club meetings competed for my time. My dad began traveling more, leaving my brother and me to continue our ritual. 

I now found myself impatiently bobbing atop the waves, anxious of all the schoolwork I had to complete. Ironically, I was a better surfer now, but I no longer experienced that meditative nirvana that drew me to surfing. 

During the “storm of the decade,” my brother and I were adamant to continue surfing. In that choppy ocean, we waited. 

Impatiently, I charged towards the mouth of the next wave–and wiped out. However, in my distracted mental state prior, I hadn’t secured the leash to my ankle fully, separating me from the board. PANIC!

Somehow–lungs and eyes burning–I managed to swim towards my board, 70-feet away. 

I sprawled out on the beach like a starfish, completely shaken. 

My accident reminded me what initially drew me to surfing: I loved the zen-like focus that was required once I caught a wave. Surfing taught me to be calm in the face of pressure, and to be prepared for the next wave ahead. Like surfing, college will be full of unanticipated waves and challenges that will push my boundaries. I’ll tackle each with a grounded approach, knowing each obstacle is a chance to grow and learn alongside my peers. 

Additional UC Essay Example and Resources

So, what’d you think of the UC essay example? Let us know what you’re thinking of writing about for UC Personal Insight Essay prompt 3!


High School Resume Example and Step-by-Step Guide

High School Resume Example and Step-by-Step Guide

So, it’s time to write your first high school resume for college applications. Maybe you’re inclined to Googling high school resume examples and step-by-step guides to create your own. But templates are generic–you’re not!

Remember that ultimately, a resume tells a story–the story of you. Like all well-told stories, it must be formatted thoughtfully and clearly or the narrative is lost. 

So, let’s dive straight in. 

Do Colleges Require A Resume?

Short answer: Nope!

Longer answer: Might be a good idea, depending on your situation. 

Keep in mind that some schools don’t even allow you to upload a resume, while others do. For instance, my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania allows you to upload a resume. Many Ivy League and top tier schools also have this option, from Cornell or Johns Hopkins.

Our general rule of thumb is this: 

  • If you have a ton of activities and extracurriculars that can’t be succinctly summarized in the activity list 


  • If you have competitive schools in your college list — at least one of them will give you the option to upload a resume.

…then it’s not a bad idea to have a college application resume to upload, just in case. Plus, it’ll be useful to secure summer internships and receive scholarships this way. 

Ivy League College Resume Example + Resume Template

Now, take a look at this resume example for an Ivy League-bound student. We’ll be using his example throughout this post.

Also, here’s a Google Doc that links to this student’s exact resume template that you can use for your own resume! 

By the way, these templates are modified versions of UC Berkeley’s resume templates, so, obviously, they’re quite good 😉

How To Create A Compelling High School Resume For College Applications

Resume guide

1. Clean Contact Information Section On Your College Resume

Refer to our high school resume example: Sam’s name is in bold, centered at the top of the page; his e-mail address is directly underneath. That’s it!

Your name and e-mail address are the only contact information needed. If you have a website, particularly one that showcases your personality, include that too. 

Again, the ideal high school resume is clean and simple. There is no need for a brick and mortar address or phone number. 

2. Don’t Include Coursework In The Education Section

High School student Resume sample

As you can see in our high school resume example, there are only six items in the education section and none are coursework. In this instance, coursework is clutter. 

The only items needed in the education section are the following: 

  • school name and location
  • GPA 
  • class rank 
  • class year 
  • SAT scores 

Bear in mind: you’re the narrator of your own story, so be smart about the information you include. Remember the goal of a resume is to market yourself, so paint yourself favorably. 

…in other words, if your SAT scores are lower than you’d like, leave them off! The ideal high school resume is carefully curated.

3. Relevant Experience Means Relevant To Major

Perhaps you’re a dedicated and gifted cellist. Let’s be frank, unless you’re looking to major in music theory, that does not belong in the “relevant experience” category. 

So, what do we mean by “relevant”? We mean this: relevance to major. Are you pursuing computer science and did you intern at a start-up? That’s relevant experience!

Take a look at our sample high school resume. Sam lists three internships (two political, one research.) We can surmise that his major is related to political and environmental sciences. 

Notice that dates are listed as well. In addition to being relevant, experience should be timely. That means you should only include experience attained during high school. 

Don’t go all the way back to middle school. Start with the summer before high school and proceed from there.

4. Use Active Verbs In Your High School Resume

Once you’ve compiled your list of relevant experience, create bullet points detailing your responsibilities using active verbs. Let’s check out Sam’s sample high school resume again. 

Sam’s relevant experience section includes the following active verbs that are quite strong: 

  • coordinate 
  • write 
  • assist
  • volunteer 
  • conduct 
  • learned 
  • attended 
  • leveraged 
  • enhanced

Active verbs show what you DID and showcase your contributions. They tell a vivid story of your ability to take action and illustrate what you bring to the table as a student at your dream college.

If you need inspiration for action verbs, check out this awesome action verb list from UC Berkeley Haas!

5. Activities Unrelated To Your Major Are Extracurriculars 

Once again, reference our sample resume. Sam was a swim coach, a varsity swimmer and co-Captain of the School Science Olympiad Team.

Swimming might not qualify as relevant experience, but it’s still important because well-rounded candidates are strong candidates. 

Basically, any activities unrelated to your major or field of study go in the “Extracurricular Activities/ Volunteering” section.

6. Skills Are Optional And Technical

High School Resume Example

The skills section is optional, and only to be included if appropriate.

So what are skills? Perhaps you can juggle, for example. While it’s a good party trick, don’t list that here. 

This section is for technical skills, especially if you’re interested in computer science or engineering. For example, proficiency with C++, Java, and R belong here. 

Once again, though, the skills section isn’t applicable to everyone. Remember, there is no need to pad your resume. The ideal high school resume is straightforward and honest!

So, now it’s your turn to write your high school resume. Hint: This is a great exercise to do for your activities list for your UC application and Common Application. Let us know how your resume turned out in the comments section below!

Are science fairs meaningful experiences “for college”?

Are science fairs meaningful experiences “for college”?

Are science fairs meaningful experiences “for college”?


Almost weekly, students and parents jump through the doors of my college admissions coaching office with the same question: “I wanna be pre-med! So, do I have to participate in science fairs (and win) to get into a good college? And do I have to get my research published?”

To this, I say: what would be a meaningful experience for you? 

Meaningful is a powerfully thought-provoking word that teenagers on the road to “getting into college” must consistently ask themselves. 

Let’s be blunt: As a college admissions professional, I can easily pinpoint an applicant who is clearly doing initiatives, from journal publications to science fairs, simply to beef up their resume “for college.” 

Where do I get this data point? 

Most notably: their list of activities and college application essays.  

When the time comes to actually write the college application essays, I’d ask these students: 

  • What inspired you to tackle this research problem? 
  • What’d you learn in the process of conducting this research?
  • How’d you grow — as a person and as a student of science — from these experiences?

Very rarely do students have an answer with a layer of depth. 

Depth and reflection are incredibly important. Why? Because you must convey what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown from an experience in your college application essays (if you choose to write about your research, of course).

Students who approach research, science fairs, and journal publications with the end goal of winning in mind haven’t stepped back to think about the why’s behind their actions. Why is this research meaningful to me? Why is it meaningful to others? Because, after all, research at its core is to tackle tough problems with the hopes of translating solutions into real world applications. 

I have the incredible opportunity to work with extremely motivated high school students — those who are admitted into coveted Ivy Leagues and top tier schools, from MIT to Stanford. 

And you know what? Do they all do science fairs? No. Are they all published? Nope. 

But they do have several themes in common, and I’ll give you one hint: They all take action on meaningful opportunities. They find meaningful experiences. 

So the next time you find yourself asking this question, “Do I have to do X to get into a top college?” STOP. Instead, ask yourself: “Do I find this opportunity meaningful to me? Can this be a meaningful contribution to others?”

5 Ivy-level Personal Statement Examples [Updated 2020]

5 Ivy-level Personal Statement Examples [Updated 2020]

Here, we have 5 high quality Personal Statement essay examples from my students over the years. Great Common App Personal Statements tend to give a glimpse into each student’s life, thought processes, growth, and maturity.

Another trend that you may notice with these essay examples is that they’re not entirely CAREER or ACADEMIC based. It depends on the vibe you’re going for, but the general rule of thumb is to think about these essays from the perspective of the admissions officer.

In other words, it’s NOT as simple as “showing off your personality” in personal statement. You might hear this or read this somewhere, but, seriously, don’t listen to it. Your personality will not get you into a top school (unless you’re trying to hustle your way into a party when you’re not on the guest list, then that’s different.)

Think about it rationally: An admissions officer’s JOB is to assemble a cohort of great students into his/her university. Upon reading each application, an admissions professional is thinking: “How will this student contribute to our school? What will this person bring to the table?”

So, your personal statement needs to help answer that question. 

Note: Official Common App Personal Statement Prompts are posted here.

Remember, the word count is 650 words! And, just an FYI — titles for college app essays are completely unnecessary. I just included them in this post to refer to them more easily.

Table of Contents


Treasure Hunt


Life Lessons from Crickets


Antique Enthusiast


Lessons From In-N-Out Burger


The Tortured Artist

Common App Personal Statement Example #1

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Common App Personal Statement Example #1: Treasure Hunt

Armed with a Tesoro metal detector, my father and I trekked up the 19-mile Dutchman Trail, the 6am sun peeking behind Saguaro cacti dotting the dusty desertscape. As we ascended Superstition Mountain, I flipped on the Tesoro, and waved it alongside the bedrock, expectantly waiting for a screech…the sound of metal!

During my sophomore year, [Name], a friend of my father’s, passed away, leaving behind boxes of oddities bequeathed to my father. Rummaging through the boxes, I happened upon [Name’s] Tesora–a metal detector. As an avid detecting hobbyist, [Name] had told me about the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mines, a gold mine from the 1890s rumored to be tucked within the Superstitions.

Within the boxes, I also managed to find a leather bag filled with over 10-pounds of dusty old coins, bullet cartridges, BBs–most likely items [Name] found metal detecting. Romanticizing the lifestyle of a gold prospector, I pestered my father to take me to the Superstitions.

So for nearly 2-hours, we meandered along the suffocatingly blistering trail, waiting for the Tesora to indicate treasure. BA-BA-BEEEEEP! Heart racing, I dug at the rock-hard dirt and unearthed my first treasure: a bent nail.

Few hours and several more screeches later, I uncovered more nails and rusty door hinges. By mid-afternoon with nothing to show, we trudged down the canyon. Still, my dreams of discovering the Dutchman Mine compelled me to drag my father through countless excavations; within a year, we had exhausted nearly all 12 trails of the Superstitions. Was I looking in the wrong places?

Eventually, I returned to [Name]’s leather bag. Upon closer examination, I realized this wasn’t some bag of dusty old trash–there were coins I’d never seen before. Wiping away the dirt, I found a penny from 1870 with a Native American head instead of Lincoln’s; there were several Ben Franklin half dollars ranging from 1951-1963; two 1926 buffalo nickels. Ecstatic, I researched online forums to decipher the coins’ values, and bought “The Redbook”, the bible of numismatics, to get me started.

For months, I sat in my room, gently cleaning the bag of [Name’s] coins with a moist towel, and read about the history of each coin, revealing a captivating American story.

Under my bed lie a menagerie of coins. Some, I’ve acquired through “numismatic roadshows” across Arizona; others, I’ve procured through metal-detecting every trailhead that I could find; many more, I’ve obtained through simply keeping an eye on the sidewalk and examining those pennies most people wouldn’t bother to pick up. A noteworthy item in my collection is an 1883 Morgan silver dollar minted in Philadelphia, worth about $75; however, this same exact coin can be worth over $2000 if minted in Carson City! This mintage is sought after because it was produced by silver mined at Comstock Lode, a historical mine that marked America’s first major discovery of silver!

Some pennies I’ve collected simply because the mintage year is significant. For example, I own a penny from 1912–the year the Titanic sank. Last year, I attended a coin collector’s bazaar in San Diego, and bought a 1943 penny made of steel, so the US could save copper for ammunition during World War II.

Through metal detecting, we often find items that we don’t expect–hidden gems. And now, instead of tossing them aside because it doesn’t hold intrinsic value, I revel in what it used to be. An old, rusty gear that I found on the trail? I took it home, learning that it may have been a clock gear. Bullet casings are plentiful finds, and I’ve learned to identify shotgun models from the cartridge headstamp, some cartridges almost 50-years old!

Being a numismatist has not only given me a new lens to view American history, but it has also taught me to always be on the lookout–you never know what nugget of learning (and history!) you’re going to find.

Common App Personal Statement Example #2

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Common App Personal Statement Example #2: Life Lessons From Crickets

“Welcome to the dungeon!” my mentor, [Name], quipped, as a whiff of musty cornmeal punched me in the nose. The dungeon was no wider than a broom closet, and 25-feet-long, illuminated by a naked, overhead bulb. My eyes widened as I noticed massive spiders in rows of 15-gallon tanks. Some tanks held glistening ground beetles, scuttling around their habitat of shriveled cucumbers.

“Sometimes the spiders escape, but don’t worry–they’re harmless,” [Name] said, pushing me forward. WHAT? Before I could properly respond, he made a grandiose gesture. “Ta-daaaa! Crickets!”

He carefully placed a dollop of gel into their tanks, clucking his tongue in a beloved manner most people would reserve for their dogs. Uhhh…how’d I even get here?

I scored the opportunity to conduct research at [University] through [program]. Given my interests in biology, I envisioned myself working in an innovative lab, knee-deep in cancer immunotherapy. So, when I was paired to work in Dr. [Name]’s ecological biology lab, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I wanted to make an impact on people–crickets weren’t the answer.

But as I began learning from [Name] all-things-crickets, I felt a twinge of excitement–his passion was contagious!

The more I investigated crickets, I became utterly fascinated by their complexities. I learned that only the males chirp to mate, and temperature affects chirping rates: the higher the temperature, the higher pace! Eventually, I formulated my research question: I had read studies indicating females preferred males with more frequent, higher-pitch chirps. What other factors affect frequency and pitch?

I strode back to the dungeon to consult [Name], who hinted that water intake would be an interesting variable to examine. Then, he dropped the bomb: “Figure out WHY,” he prodded, “WHY are you researching this? HOW does this help the world?”

“Come on, they’re just crickets!” I said, laughing.

[Name] shook his head. “You need a WHY to convince scientists the value behind your work,” he affirmed.

I took the bus home, confounded. Why investigate cricket water intake? Searching for answers, I turned to the overall objective of the lab, and pieced together a theme: The scientists were examining the repercussions of California’s drought on the ecosystem.

BINGO. With low water supply, male chirping patterns and therefore mating frequency would be affected, potentially leading to a decline in cricket populations! Because crickets are primary consumers, their demise would affect higher predators in the food chain, eventually impacting humans!

Wow. A cricket could have domino effects on our ecosystem!

I created an experimental set-up, and convinced Petsmart employees to begrudgingly help me catch only the male crickets with our bare hands. In individual tanks, some crickets were treated with no water, others with plentiful. A microphone recorded each cricket’s chirping for 3-days. Collecting gigabits of data, I analyzed the results, troubleshooted, and repeated the experiment. Months of work amounted to a poster I presented at [competition], winning me [placement]! Spoiler: water shortage decreases chirp rate and lowers chirp pitch, doubly decreasing the capacity for a dehydrated cricket to mate!

Crickets have taught me more than I imagined about the ecosystem, the scientific method, and about myself. Throughout my research, [Name]’s prodding taught me to constantly question, and ask, WHY. The why gave me purpose, pushing me onwards despite experimental failures. Searching the answer to the why’s gave me courage to contact another ecological biology lab for collaboration opportunities to examine eco-evolutionary dynamics–a new direction that could help predict when a population could go extinct. Clarity behind the why’s gave me confidence to push outside the lab and learn about legislation to protect our environment when I interned for Councilmember ___, an environmental legend whose office fights for legislation that incentivize businesses to utilize compostable disposable products.

You can bet that I still work at the dungeon every Fridays, helping [Name] capture rogue insects, and breeding crickets to study their offsprings.

Common App Personal Statement Example #3

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Common App Personal Statement Example #3: Antique Enthusiast

“Come over this weekend!” my friends would chant, as we waited for our rides.

I used to dread these well-intentioned invites. I’d often make excuses: Piano lessons, I’d say.

So, where DID I go, you ask? My family’s antique and art gallery.

In 8th grade, my father had some sort of mid-life crisis, and, instead of buying a Ferrari, he insisted that he fulfill his life-long dream of becoming an antique and art gallery owner. So, he literally moved us across the US, swearing that [town] was a hotbed for antiquing.

In a community filled with families whose parents had seemingly “normal” jobs, I felt ashamed to tell my friends that mine had a little mom-and-pop shop. Owning a family gallery meant that, every Saturdays, I went with my mother from 9am to 6pm to help sell the pieces, fix broken furniture, clean, and help my dad load up the delivery truck. On Sundays, I would drive 2-hours with my father to [City] to procure more antique pieces at real estate auctions, while my mother tended to the store.

And though I groaned every time my mother woke me up on Sunday mornings to get ready, I grew to enjoy these experiences. I loved plodding into the auction house, with the auctioneer’s rhythmic monotone blaring from the speakers, and examining the pieces up for bidding.

“These’ll be at least $400,” my dad would say, pointing at a pair of beautiful , 1940s-style art deco walnut nightstands. I’d carefully remove the top drawer, where the maker of the piece would be engraved on the sides.

“Ah, Kittinger. That’s a good company. Maybe they’ll go for a little more,” he’d add.

And as I sipped on my Coke, I’d observe my dad duel for the items, taking mental notes on the price point he would begin the bidding. As I became more engaged in our auction outings, I could better forecast the price point of each piece, from mid-century dining room sets to marble-top kidney-shaped desks, based on the manufacturer and overall popularity.

On Saturdays, I’d dutifully settle down at the counter next to my father, and listen to him detail the woodwork behind “bird’s-eye” dressers to the customers marveling at the pieces in our showroom. Oftentimes, I’d take it upon myself to repair furniture, such as chips on the legs of a newly acquired Queen Anne style needlepoint chair. I’d slather on some wood putty, sand it down, and carefully apply wood stain to make it match in color.

Oftentimes, I’d peruse the store and learn about the gallery pieces, including the newest painting he bought: Is that an original Martin Heade or a replica? I’d also learn about the business turmoils that embroiled Royal Copenhagen, leading to its discontinuation of its iconic china that were now worth several hundred dollars, peacefully resting in a display case in our store. Sophomore year, I observed my father taking inventory and doing accounting. Fascinated, I learned about credits and debits and eventually took over the books this year, teaching me business principles, firsthand.

Junior year, in my World Cultures class, I learned about kachina dolls that the Hopis used to bring rainfall. Upon learning that one of my father’s distributors also specialized in Native American pieces, I begged him to buy me a kachina doll. “Sure,” he said, but he made me pay him back on a layaway plan…and I learned the hard-truth about compounding interest rates.

The treasures that occupy our store all have remarkable stories, each one sparking my everlasting curiosity behind its economic history and cultural significance. Now that I’m older, I’m inspired by my father’s pursuit of following his entrepreneurship dreams and my family’s steadfast support. I was lucky to be along for the ride; as I approach the next-stage of life, though, I aspire to be in the driver’s seat, recruiting friends ride along with me.

Common App Personal Statement Example #4

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Common App Personal Statement Example #4: Lessons From In-N-Out Burger


“TAKE OVER THE CORNER!” a voice screams.“TAKE OVER THE CORNER!” a voice screams.

As the dreadful words rang in my ear, I fearfully froze. As I adopted the Corner’s subservient position, I prepared myself for confrontations and irritating, last-minute changes to “finalized” orders. After all, In-N-Out’s mantra persisted: the customer is always right. Yet, as I stood by, fumbling with my earpiece, I wondered: why was I even working here?

Then, I remembered. Because of my family’s faltering financial capabilities, I could no longer afford the $3,500 tuition for a bioengineering program. Still, I refused to relinquish this opportunity and got a job to make ends meet. It would require immense sacrifice and labor but the program would be worthwhile, enriching my academic understanding.

A ding resonates from my headset, triggering a conditioned response.
“H-h-h-i, what can I get for you?” I stammer.

I nervously await a response, but only an engine’s deafening churns echo in my ears. Roaring in mockery of my stutter, it evoked uncomfortable childhood memories—times when I struggled to socialize. Oftentimes, interacting with customers felt frightening, as they would sneer and address me with condescending tones. Though I was overwhelmed by my fears of backlash, my nightmare had just begun…

An enraged voice explodes from my headset, “ARE YOU DEAF? I want—” But, with the sound of his speeding vehicle charging to my window, his voice abruptly cuts off. Now face-to-face, the tensions between us increase:
“I’m so sorry, I had a hard time hearing you,” I sheepishly reply.
“Get this right, it’s for my kids!”

My eyes then scan the backseat of his minivan, now understanding the perplexing order was not intended as a challenge of my competence, but for his family. I cautiously take his order again, this time nodding in acknowledgement of his children’s allergies and yelling it back to the cooks. His tone gradually lightens, and his face relaxes. I courteously reach out, offering paper hats and lap mats to the entire family. A smile appears on his face, as he extends a warm “thank you” before driving off.

It was a small interaction occurring over mere minutes, yet my thoughts lingered on his attack: idiot. While he loosely blurted “idiot” in anger, I interpreted it as a personal attack. Disheartened, I wondered: how could he be so mean?

“He’s just having a bad day,” my co-worker affirms.

And, that’s when I realized: he probably was having a bad day. For the first time, a total stranger had called me an idiot; yet no matter how inept a fast food worker was, I would have never singled them out. But, this man—for no rational reason—had the anger and impatience to insult me. I didn’t know why he acted this way, but nothing could change the actions or thoughts of others. I could only control my reaction and stop taking things personally. 

Thus, I detached myself from the situation. No longer allowing harsh comments to intensify my long-held insecurities, I adopted a position that fostered empathy and accommodated distinct backgrounds. And, soon enough, I began counteracting customers’ frustrations with compassion, hoping a cordial demeanor would eventually arise. Just maybe, their attitude would lighten up through acts of kindness—the offerings of paper hats and lap mats—making their day slightly more positive.

Because of this experience, I now approach the world seeking first to understand and then to be understood. Diverse opinions compose a broad spectrum of arguments, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. And, I embrace these differences as a beautiful blend of thought rather than a separating factor. With this outlook on life, I’ll continue to build relationships with people of all cultures, political associations, and religions.  My labor cultivated not only personal growth but also opportunity. The following summer, I moved into the laboratories and lecture halls of bioengineering to learn about bioreactors, assays, and tissue engineering.

Common App Personal Statement Example #5

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Common App Personal Statement Example #5: The Tortured Artist

The darkness of [City] envelops me as I scan every tree in sight to harvest tree bark–a unique, bold material–to use in my art assignment: creating a portrait of my community. Pleasant notes of pine mingle in the air as I absentmindedly hum the tune the school marching band is playing in the background. Remaining oblivious to everything around me, I quickly fill my bag to the brim with bark.

Once home, I immediately jam music into my ears and jerk the curtains shut to drown out any distractions. I focus on producing something new–shocking. Surely, bark that I found within my neighborhood would be a strange twist on the prompt.

Unrestrained, I created a strange peeling sculpture out of birch and sycamores. While definitely an eye-catcher, I paced around the piece with uncertainty. Did this accurately depict my community?

In my frenzy of constructing artwork that would draw attention, the mission of the prompt had taken the backseat. I unplugged my ears and slid the drapes open. Slipping out the door once again, I was determined to take my neighborhood beyond face value this time.

With this new lens, my neighborhood took on a whole new light. The soothing pine scent now clashed with the gas exhaust from the reckless BMWs whizzing by; the music I once heard was replaced by the cacophony of household arguments. Meanwhile, my phone buzzed in my pocket, agitated with texts from miserable friends rambling about their problems.

As newcomer to [City], I had only seen the determined front of excellence that my community upheld, complete with performances of neighbors that sent over cherry pies. This environment was a saturated image of perfection that my family and I strove to blend into. We became like everybody else; seamlessly executing our smiles out on our manicured lawn.

Wanting to capture this image of a forced mask of idealistic standards, I shelved the bark sculpture and began envisioning a new idea for a portrait of my community. Using the inspiring potential within everyday objects, I transformed the ads of airbrushed models into a mask that I could actually wear. Those faces of models with hollow grins shared the anguished expressions of the people around me; it reflected my observations of how damaging it could be to maintain a constant likeness of perfection.

This project marked one of the turning points in my artistic and personal growth. Through years of art classes that emphasized precision in mimicry, I had taken pride in breaking out of this constricting technique by creating shocking artwork. Each new artistic endeavor came with different materials–it was a statement of originality and willingness to experiment. However, my steadfast resolve on being audacious required only superficial vision; it created a shield in which my thoughts and ideas were smuggled away from possible rejection and judgment by my peers. To actually showcase my thoughts and emotions via art required a certain vulnerability that I hadn’t dared to explore.
I realized that this barrier–this fear of vulnerability and judgment in my creations–limited the impact I wanted in my art. In a way, my neighborhood and the people around me paralleled my fears, enforcing inauthenticity.

The facades we put on to keep up with the Joneses fueled me to wear the masks–my own artwork–as part of the final display. This courage to physically be a part of the final display fueled me to continue pushing creative boundaries by using innovative mediums; it pushed me to remain vulnerable by showcasing the more undisclosed aspects of my life.

I want to utilize artwork to not only shed light on the world around me, but also to continue evolving my interaction with art to create a real impact. Much like my artistic transformation, I hope to inspire others to reveal their potential beyond their masks.