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.

Table of Contents

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!

College Essay Example & Analysis – New York University

College Essay Example & Analysis – New York University

Who doesn’t love New York City? This is a personal statement example by Lyle*, who was accepted to NYU.

*Lyle is not a student of Winning Ivy Prep

NYU Common App Essay Example

While resting comfortably in my air-conditioned bedroom one hot summer night, I received a phone call from my mom. She asked me softly, “Lyle, can you come down and clean up the restaurant?”

Slightly annoyed, I put on my sandals and proceeded downstairs. Mixing the hot water with cleaning detergents, I was ready to clean up the restaurant floor. Usually the process was painstakingly slow: I had to first empty a bucket full of dirty water, only to fill it up again with boiling water. But that night I made quick work and finished in five minutes. My mom, unsatisfied, snatched the mop from me and began to demonstrate the “proper way” to clean the floor. She demanded a redo. I complied, but she showed no signs of approval. As much as I wanted to erupt that night, I had good reasons to stay calm.

Growing up in rural China, my mom concerned herself not with what she would wear to school every day, but rather how she could provide for her family. While many of her classmates immediately joined the work force upon completing high school, my mom had other aspirations. She wanted to be a doctor. But when her college rejections arrived, my mother, despite being one of the strongest individuals I know, broke down. My grandparents urged her to pursue another year of education. She refused. Instead, she took up a modestly paying job as a teacher in order to lessen the financial burden on the family. Today, more than twenty years have passed, yet the walls of my parents’ bedroom still do not bear a framed college degree with the name “Tang Xiao Geng” on it.

In contrast, when I visit my friends, I see the names of elite institutions adorning the living room walls. I am conscious that these framed diplomas are testaments to the hard work and accomplishments of my friends’ parents and siblings. Nevertheless, the sight of them was an irritating reminder of the disparity between our households. I was not the upper middle class kid on Park Avenue. Truth be told, I am just some kid from Brooklyn.

Instead of diplomas and accolades, my parents’ room emits a smell from the restaurant uniforms they wear seven days a week, all year round. It’s funny how I never see my mom in makeup, expensive jeans, lavish dresses, or even just casual, everyday clothing that I often see other moms wearing. Yet, one must possess something extraordinary to be able to stand in front of a cash register for 19 years and do so with pride and determination.

On certain nights, I would come home sweaty, dressed in a gold button blazer and colored pants, unmistakable evidence of socializing. In contrast, my mom appears physically and emotionally worn-out from work. But, she still asks me about my day. Consumed by guilt, I find it hard to answer her.

Moments such as those challenge my criteria of what constitutes true success. My mother, despite never going to college, still managed to make a difference in my life. Tomorrow, she will put on her uniform with just as much dignity as a businesswoman would her power suit. What is her secret? She wholeheartedly believes that her son’s future is worth the investment. The outcome of my education will be vindication of that belief.

In hindsight, I’m astounded at the ease with which I can compose all my views of this amazing woman on a piece of paper, but lack the nerve to express my gratitude in conversations. Perhaps, actions will indeed speak louder than words. When I graduate on June 1st, I know she will buy a dress to honor the special occasion. When I toil through my college thesis, I know she will still be mopping the restaurant floor at 11:00 PM. When I finally hang up my diploma in my bedroom, I know she will be smiling.

Source: NYTimes

Analysis & Comments

In this essay, the author made me feel:

  • Warm. It’s a beautifully written tribute to Lyle’s mother, it makes me almost want to call my mom and say some thank you’s.

In this essay, the author exhibits these personality traits:

  • Compassion
  • Clarity of thought and organization

College Essay Strengths:

Lyle picked a topic that is a universal heartstring-puller: moms. We get a glimpse into Lyle’s family and upbringing in this essay, and we see very clearly his gratitude towards his mom and the sacrifices she has given to propel Lyle’s life.

College Essay Weaknesses:

This essay is very well-written – there’s no doubt about that. However, for a college application personal statement, it falls a bit short. Here’s why: The essay focuses a little too much on Lyle’s mom than about Lyle himself. Sure, he gives us some background about his upbringing and culture, but we still don’t know much about Lyle.

What on earth is Lyle passionate about? He talks about how getting a college diploma would make his mother proud, but… is that his motivation for going to college? I doubt it is, but it’s unclear.

Lyle missed a crucial opportunity to showcase who HE is (not his mother) to the admissions committee. He really could’ve sprinkled in more tidbits about himself and his interests in the essay that still would’ve preserved the message of gratitude towards his mother.

We picked this essay example to highlight the importance of telling a story that is all about YOU in your college personal statement. We’ve read tons of beautifully written essays, but it’s a BIG problem if students don’t tie the story back to a message they want the admissions committee to know about them.  

This is your application. This is your chance to showcase your personality to the admissions committee. Don’t miss it!

Check out the link below for more Common App essay examples

Get more college essay examples for Stanford, UPenn, Columbia, NYU… You name it!

Image Attribution: Flickr

Helpful Common Application links:
Common App Requirements Grid
Common App Essay Questions
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! 

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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!