By Sean Tseng

The second hand moves far too fast.  Time slips away with every blink, and your hands hover, trembling, over the keyboard.  The bold words stare at you at the top of your near-empty page: UC Personal Insight Questions.

These are the horror stories that strike a little too close to home.  But Halloween’s over, and the time to frantically finish UC applications is here!  As the November 30 deadline approaches fast, students are struggling with one of the most daunting parts of the application.

As senior Tina Tran explains, “A challenge of the new personal insight question format is just actually being the first pool of applicants to be using it.  Since we’re the first ones to use it, we don’t really have samples to look at.”

Now that applicants must respond to four of the eight prompts provided on the UC website, some students are scrambling to figure out what colleges are looking for.  Some assume that the old samples which use the previous format are no longer any help as guides.  However, some fundamental tips still apply to this new personal statement format.  Whether you’ve finished your drafts or haven’t even started, be sure to check off these important steps:

Choose your prompts wisely.  With this new system, you get four chances to present yourself in a favorable way.  Think very carefully about the prompts you choose.  You can have several different approaches to choosing prompts.  A person with a wide variety of deep and insightful experiences may want to pick prompts that show a different side of him or her at a time, while someone who is truly passionate about one particular subject may want to choose prompts that all have a single overlap on their passion.  Whatever the reasoning may be, make sure you have a reasoning behind the four prompts you choose.

Brainstorm and decide your topics wisely.  The simplest yet most critical element of a good personal statement is an apt topic, one that not only answers the prompt, but also reveals significant character in the writer.  One good way to brainstorm is to work backwards from the prompt.  After you’ve chosen your four prompts, break each of them down until you know what each prompt essentially seeks to understand about you.  Then, brainstorm possible essay ideas that you can fit into this prompt.  You may also want to think about what angle you want to take on your particular topic.  How can you structure your essay to tell a compelling story?  What conclusions do you want your admissions officer to draw by the end of your essay?

Be specific!  A general essay adds nothing to your application.  In fact, it likely may even detract from it.  Admissions officers go through thousands of essays, and if yours isn’t specific enough for them to get a good grasp of who you are, they won’t remember you as an applicant.  Depth, not breadth!

Talk about YOU.  Too often, personal statements read like a summary of a book.  The actual significant insight might come only fleetingly in the last couple of paragraphs.  Don’t forget that this essay must show who you are.  Colleges want students with personality and character on their campus.  Don’t shortchange the personal introspection for a laundry list of what you’ve accomplished.  Talk about what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown.  Describe the impact an event had on you.

Edit, edit, edit.  After you finish your first draft, let it sit for a day or two.  Detach yourself, get your mind off the essay so that when you go back to edit it, you can see it through fresh eyes.  Read it critically.  Edit at least three times.  Check once for technical errors like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Then read through again for the content.  Make sure everything you want to say is there.  Lastly, edit for stylistic details.  Try to make your writing concise, and make sure the tone of your writing fits your topic.  As a final filter, ask people proficient in writing to read over your work.  Tell them to read it as an admissions officer might, and when they finish, ask them if they came to the conclusions you wanted them to.

At the end of the day, as long as your essay is a good representation of who you are and who you want to be, you will succeed.  Comparing your essay to someone else’s will not be helpful, as everyone will have a slightly different perspective.  Just be sure your work does justice to your own character.

One thing is for sure–if you were planning on procrastinating until the last minute, don’t.  As former admissions officer Breanne Tcheng advises, “Start NOW!  Begin writing and edit later.  Start writing well before the deadline!”  You can’t polish up your work if you have nothing on the page!



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