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UC Application New Essays: “Personal Insight Questions”

On March 24, the University of California (UC) announced a drastic change to the essay section of the UC application. Effective immediately, freshman applicants will have the freedom to choose four questions to answer out of a possible eight. Each short-answer can be as long as 350 words.  So in simple terms the maximum word count has gone from 1000 words to 1400 words.

Although the UC has decided to rename the prompts, “Personal Insight Questions,” the reality is that students will now be required to write four admissions essays. On the one hand, the diversity of questions will hopefully make it easier for students to identify topics that they connect with. On the other hand, teenagers often struggle when given too many choices. And in our experience, the thought process, time and energy behind writing one 500 word essay is no different than writing one 350 word essay.

Our immediate and general reaction to the changes is that they are an improvement over the previous essays. The prompts for the previous essays were written in a way that targeted a specific segment of the applicant pool. The wording of those prompts was also rather confusing and often led to unoriginal responses.  The challenges that come with these changes are likely to impact students who struggle with writing or start the UC application late in the admissions season. We also worry that calling them “questions” vs. “essays” will leave some students assuming that they don’t have to take them as seriously as a proper personal statement/essay.

Below are the new prompts:

  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?

The beauty in these new topics is that students finally have a choice in what they want to convey to the University of California. This will undoubtedly cause some students to panic, wondering if what they think is important is what the admissions officers want to read. The most important thing students can do is to spend some time this summer reflecting on their experiences and what these experiences reveal about them. This will lead them to identifying the four prompts that best suit their life experiences. Essays should always be approached as opportunities to highlight those things that are not readily evident on the rest of the application. This is where voice becomes so important and the UCs have taken one valuable step in letting that voice shine through.

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What Are Insight Students & Parents saying?
  • It was the best experience ever! Purvi is so friendly and she really knows her stuff. She helped me to edit my personal statements for UCs.

  • My counselor paid attention to every detail & she made me feel more relaxed & confident. The result was good, I got into UC Berkeley!

  • Purvi’s expertise & guidance  helped our daughter get accepted to schools of her choice, one actually offered a full scholarship!

  • We had a wonderful experience. Purvi helped our son structure his thoughts that helped him write stellar college application essays.   

  • My daughter’s Insight counselor was extremely helpful not only in devising the overall College Plan for her but also helped in educating us – the parents – on the process.

  • We were extremely happy throughout the process – got much more than what we invested in Insight counseling.

  • For my college application process, I enrolled in Virtual Insight Counseling from Texas. I spoke with my counselor regularly and without any trouble; I was obtaining the best college coaching I could have possibly asked for. Not only did Insight assist me in transforming my essays but also assisted me in finding the college which fit me best.

  • From their knowledge of all the colleges and resources, professionalism and the hands on coaching, Insight Education has raised the bar for any college admissions counseling company.

  • Were it not for them, I don’t think that I would have chosen a school that matches my needs and goals.

  • Insight counselors truly care about students not only during their time at Insight but further along the road.

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