Miriya Huie
May 20, 2024
min read

What are the UC Essay Prompts?

Written by
Miriya Huie
University of California San Diego

Welcome, all aspiring UC students! Whether you’re a Californian questing after high-quality public education or an out-of-stater whose eye was caught by sunny locales, the UC application is something you’ll have to tackle if you want to gain admission to any of the nine University of California campuses.

The UC campuses include UC Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and San Diego. The UCs have their own application, which runs through its website, has its due date, and of course, gives its essay prompts.

The UC’s essay prompts are called Personal Insight Questions. There are 8 prompts, and applying students have to answer 4 of them.

Figuring out which prompts to answer and how to answer them is often the most difficult part of any UC application. With the UCs going test-blind since the pandemic, the essays feel more important than ever.

Don’t worry, though! Once we break down the questions, you’ll see that they’re not as foreign as they may appear.

Breaking Downn the UC PIQs

While Common App essay prompts tend to focus on the thoughts and feelings of the applying student, UC essay prompts tend to ask the student about the external things that have impacted their lives. Don’t let this fool you – they’re still looking to hear about you and why you’re the best applicant for their school.

Given that you have to choose half of the eight prompts, it can be a bit difficult to figure out which ones suit your story best. The best way to handle this is to break them down into three categories: community, academic, and personal.

Community essays focus on how you contribute to a group that you’re a part of, whether it be a Girl Scout troop, your workplace environment, or even your family.  Prompts 1 and 7 are the best fit for this type of essay, but based on your experiences, you may find success using 3, 4, 5, or 6 as well.

Academic essays focus on school subjects you’re passionate about and frequently tie into the major you’re applying to. This can be about school programs or an academic subject you’ve explored off campus. Prompts 4 and 6 are designed for this type of essay, but 3 and 5 can be good choices as well.

Personal essays look at who you, specifically, are. They want to hear about your lovingly made scrapbook or your affinity for packing items into the car trunk perfectly. Whatever it is, it should be something undeniably about you. Prompts 2 and 3 work well for this kind of essay, though this is a great place to use 8, which is the wildcard prompt.

I recommend figuring out which of the three categories is your strongest area. Then, write two from your strongest category and one from each of your weaker categories. It’ll help give a complete picture of who you are while still giving you a chance to highlight your strongest points.

Craft amazing PIQs. Work with a College Contact mentor from your favorite UC.


Things to Consider When Writing Your PIQs for UC Applications

Think about the various roles you’ve played and the things you’ve accomplished in your life. What makes you unique and separates you from the other people in your class? Figure out what about you might surprise the person on the other side of the essay.

From there, the only thing you can really do is write. Your voice is what needs to shine through most, so more than anything else, make sure you’re being yourself.

That being said, if you’re looking for help figuring out what exactly to say, College Contact can help! I’m currently attending UC San Diego as a writing major and have spent a lot of time working through the UC application. I’d love to help you, so if you’re still feeling a little lost, you can always book a meeting to discuss the application process further.

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