Rejected and Waitlisted Freshmen – What’s Missing in Their UC Personal Insight Questions

While this year’s freshman admissions results were particularly brutal because of the huge increase in applications, I didn’t see anything that was really surprising in the applications of the students who came to me for help (compared to previous years). All of the UC Applications I reviewed still had one thing in common: they lacked the information successful Personal Insight Questions should have. The same information that I have preached non-stop on my website, blog, newsletter, and through my services for years:

  • Why does the student want to go to college? I am flabbergasted, year after year, by how many students fail to address this in their UC Application.
  • How has the student proven his or her ability to succeed in college, beyond coursework and grades? Everyone has excellent grades; students are not going to be able to distinguish themselves with the quantitative factors alone.
  • How does the student plan to leverage a UC education to achieve his or her future goals? Students need to have a plan about their future (even if the plan involves exploring and figuring out their major in college) and explain the steps they will take (and the role UCs will play in their plan) to achieve that future.
  • What experiences, skills, and/or abilities does the student bring that will have a positive impact on the campus/student community? This has to be a mutually beneficial relationship; students need to bring something to the table.

For the parents, think of applying to the UCs like applying for a job (student = job applicant; major = position; company = UCs; UC Application = resume; Personal Insight Questions = interview). The Personal Insight Questions essentially serve as behavioral interview questions, where students need to describe examples of how they have achieved academic success in the past and project how they intend to achieve academic success in the future. Just as an example, if I were to apply to NASA to become a rocket scientist, it wouldn’t make sense for me to talk about my experience as a UC admissions expert, because that is not appropriate. Instead, I would talk about why I want to be a rocket scientist at NASA, what qualifications I have that will make me successful in that role, my goals as a rocket scientist and with NASA, and what I can bring to the role and the organization. If I don’t have the qualifications to become a rocket scientist (i.e., an engineering role), then I probably should not apply for the rocket scientist position (and find something else at NASA that is more appropriate for my skillset and aspirations).

Just a quick note about the LA Times article with explanations from UCs about the decisions: the explanations are general and not absolute. There are plenty of students who took four years of one subject and didn’t get admitted to a major related to that subject and there are plenty of students who didn’t take four years of one subject and got admitted to a major related to that subject (an exception would be for STEM majors, which may actually be what the UCs were referencing). Admission evaluation is complex and explanations for the outcome tend to be overly simple (because no one has the patience to read a really complicated explanation; to give you an idea, on average, it takes me somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour to assess how competitive a student is for admission based on various factors and then another hour to 90 minutes to explain that, plus the campus-specific admission quirks, to the parents and student over a call).

Still confused? Search “personal insight questions” on my website to pull up all of the relevant information you need.

Need personal guidance? My UC Application Service will open in late July for students applying this November.

Have students who can use some help orienting their efforts? Consider signing up for my Admission Preparation Service.


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