Top 5 Mistakes: UC Personal Insight Questions


Since the UC’s announcement in March about the PIQs, I’ve had the opportunity to work with dozens of students on every PIQ. So far, here’s what I have found to be the most common mistakes:

Defining a Topic

“Math is about creative problem solving. From Algebra to Calculus, there are countless problems that require many steps and approaches.”
– in response to Prompt 2

If your essay has this, pause and find your delete button. Your reader knows what math is, as well as most other topics you’re defining. You have only 350 words to tell your story — not what a word means.


“Biology has been my favorite subject since elementary school. I always loved biology, but I didn’t realize how much I did until high school.”
– in response to Prompt 6

Scan your sentences for repeating words and phrases. Chances are you’ll find redundancy in your first drafts, which is okay, so long as you fix it.

Answering Too Directly

“DECA, my school’s business club, was my most significant challenge.”
– in response to Prompt 5

While it is required for you to answer the prompt, try starting your essays with more eloquence. Hold off on directly answering the prompt until your thesis statement, usually located at the end of your intro, or at the beginning of your conclusion when you’re summarizing your thoughts.

Forgetting the Second Part

Prompts 3, 5 and 6 consist of two questions each:

  • Prompt 3: What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  • 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?
  • Prompt 6: Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.

If you chose any of these, look over your essay and make sure it adequately addresses the second question. Students have a tendency to get so obsessed with the story part, that they forget to answer the prompt completely.

Relying on Peer Edits

Many teachers now assign the college essays for homework, and due to their lack of time for each individual student, they often have your classmates peer-review your work.

That’s like having a friend, who has never swam before, teach you how to swim. Make sure to get qualified feedback from someone with experience. Your college results count on it!


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