Transfer Counseling Center

Personal Insight Essay

This page is designed to assist UC applicants with the Personal Insight questions.  Here you will find links to various online guidelines as well as tips on how to write a winning personal insight essay.


Comprehensive Review: The University of California has a strong commitment to admitting and enrolling a student body that is both highly qualified and diverse.

Writing a Winning Personal Insight Essay:

To assist you in writing a winning Personal Insight Essay we have added a link to the Guide to Writing A UC Personal Insight essay, by UC, Berkeley as well as a link to the University of California Personal Insight Essay Page.

Presenting Yourself on the UC Application- (Includes the Personal Insight Essay)

Direct Links to Handouts for UC Personal Insight Essay:NEW!

- UC Page: How to Apply: Personal Insight Essay - UC Irvine Upward Bound Power Point - UC Santa Barbara Power Point - UCD-Mike Dang on YouTube

Tips on how to write a winning Personal Insight Essay: Applicants should respond to all three short-answer questions below using a total of 1,000 words.

- Two of your answers must be limited to approximately 200 words each. A third question should be given an extended answer of at least 600 words. You may choose which question to answer at more length. (A rationale is provided with each question to help you understand what the University is looking for in your response.)

- Stay within the 1,000-word-count guidelines as closely as you can. It is acceptable if you run a little over or under on an individual question (for example, 205 or 199 words is fine on your 200-word responses).



1) Academic Preparation


The University seeks to enroll students who take initiative in pursuing their education (for example, developing a special interest in science, language or the performing arts; or becoming involved in special programs, including summer enrichment programs, research or academic development programs such as EAOP, MESA, PUENTE, COSMOS or other similar programs). This question seeks to understand a student’s motivation and dedication to learning.

Transfer applicants only:

What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.

2) Potential to Contribute


UC welcomes the contributions each student brings to the campus learning community. This question seeks to determine an applicant’s academic or creative interests and potential to contribute to the vitality of the University.

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Additional Suggestions for Writing The University of California Personal Insight Essay*

1. Write to the prompt. There are three different prompts to address. Too many personal insight essay responses wander away from those prompts, so stay focused.

2. Write your own essay. A format copied from other successful essays is easy for Admission readers to spot and is usually met by a negative first impression from the reader.

3. Write in your own voice. Using "I" is perfectly acceptable. This personal insight essay is taking the place of an interview, and the reader is trying to find out who the student is.

4. Do not mistake a list for an essay. This is the biggest problem seen in essays. Some students feel the need to list all their accomplishments in the personal insight essay, even if they have listed the information on the application.

5. Read the essay aloud to yourself first, then to someone with a critical ear. Parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses are not usually the best to give helpful criticism. Teachers, counselors and students currently at the institution you want to attend can be helpful. Listen to their criticism with a critical ear yourself. It’s okay to make recommended changes, but don’t lose the soul of the essay.

6. Don’t try to be wildly funny.

7. Avoid clichés and trite statements, such as "I want to be a doctor so I can help people." Or "Going to college was a struggle for me.". Your desire to "help people”"can be described in terms of a personal experience where you helped people. Your "struggle" can be described by the balancing act you had between work, family obligations and/or health issues. Show, don’t tell. Explain, don’t whine.

8. Proofread and edit. Treat this as a "personal manifesto" you would be proud to have published in The New York Times.

*Reprinted with permission from The Nannini Guide: Navigating Your Way to Successful Transfer to the University of California