如何处理重要的PIQs(Personal insight questions)
Applying to the University of California: Lessons Learned from UC Admissions
This article will expand the understanding of the UC’s 13 factors for admission while also highlighting the important aspects to writing and responding to the UC personal insight questions.
Although there are nine University of California campuses (UCSF does not take undergraduate students), each one is distinct from others. Looking at ranking, students and parents likely hope for UC Berkeley and UCLA. Looking at campus size, those who want a smaller campus where students have more access to faculty, the choice may likely be UC Merced, which boasts a small campus of about 8000 students. And looking at physically impressive campuses, students may choose UC Santa Cruz. Though the campuses are different, the application for undergraduate students remains focused on the 13 factors. Let’s discuss what they are and how to address each.
The 13 Factors for Admission
Grades: this is expected as it would be for any college; the better your GPA, the higher your chances are of getting into the more competitive UCs.
Performance in classes (and number of classes) beyond the basic courses high schoolers are expected to take. For example, UC applicants are expected to take two years of high school (World History and US History) and if a student takes a third History course, this would be looked at as ‘beyond’ the minimum requirement.
Performance in AP, IB, Honors or College Level courses. Like all other colleges, the UCs are looking for students who choose to challenge themselves.
Rank at the end of your junior year. They are looking for the top 9% ranking within your high school.
Quality of your senior year program. This has to do with an admissions officer looking at your courses and things such as whether or not you are taking challenging courses, or just taking the ‘easier’ courses to inflate your GPA.
Quality of performance relative to opportunities at your school. In this case, they are looking within a student’s context. If the school offers thousands of activities for students to engage in but a student only does one club, does that mean they have taken advantage of the school’s opportunities? It is important to note that admissions are looking at how students take advantage of all the opportunities at their school.
Outstanding performance in one or more subject areas.
Outstanding work or projects in one or more subject areas. Students need to demonstrate more beyond just classwork.
Improvement in academic performance. Students need to show an ‘upward trend’ in the grades they receive, despite courses getting more challenging as they get older.
Special talents/interests. This is the part that requires longer to develop than one semester–what makes a student stand out and how have they developed this over time?
Special projects within the school curriculum. Again, what initiative has the student taken to apply their work outside the classroom?
Academic accomplishments despite challenges faced. Things like refugee status, first generation students, disabilities all factor into the equation. A student who has, against all odds, done well for themselves will be viewed differently given their resiliency
Location of secondary school and residence. The UCs are mandated to accept the large majority of California residents into their incoming class.
Note that each campus weighs the factors differently when it comes to admission and students should look carefully at how each school reviews its applicant and weighs their application components.
How to Approach the Important PIQs
Attending a weeklong conference with UC admissions officers, it is clear that they are overworked but love their jobs. Unlike institutions that accept the Common Application, the UCs admissions staff are looking, very quickly, to get to know the student via shorter ‘soundbytes’. The questions they ask students to complete are only 350 words long and the specific guidance, which I heard over and over, was “write the essays as if we are talking to you”. They are not looking for an essay you would submit for your English class, nor an essay that you would submit for any class. Instead, students are asked to imagine they are sitting in front of the admissions officer and simply answer the question as if they were in conversation together. They do not call them essays and clearly reiterate these are “Personal Insight Questions” to get to know the student. Florid language which we use when we write creatively, therefore, should not be a part of the UC PIQ responses because 17-18 year olds typically do not speak in this way.
Basic Tips from UC Admissions Staff
-Treat the PIQs as “interview on paper”–what do you want to tell admissions?
-Do NOT copy/paste the Common App question – these responses are supposed to be answered differently from the Common App essay
-Think of this as interview, focusing on CONTENT not style
-Use “I” statements
-Do not use quotes, song lyrics….the PIQs are about your words
-Do not use literary or descriptive language because this is not a creative writing assignment
And most importantly when you write this, really think: “how would I just answer this question aloud?”