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:
  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.

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

Ooooh. 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:
  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:

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?