I have come to realize that the UCs have great intentions but are sometimes terrible at articulating clearly what those intentions aim to accomplish. In a way, I have become a self-appointed interpreter for them!
This realization came when another consultant got in touch with me to ask what I thought of the UCs saying that grammar and spelling mistakes in the Personal Insight Questions don’t count against the students when the UCs make admission decisions. I think that consultant, as well as irked English teachers everywhere, may have misunderstood the remark as “grammar and spelling mistakes are acceptable.” Well, allow me to translate: I don’t think that’s what the UCs intended to convey, even if that may be how the message came across.
What I told that consultant is that not taking grammar and spelling mistakes into consideration is aligned with how the UCs conduct the admission evaluation: everything is either neutral or value-added. Since students are never penalized for anything (no “docking points”), grammar and spelling mistakes would just be neutral. This is the same reason that the UCs describe bad Personal Insight Questions as “missed opportunities” (bad Personal Insight Questions aren’t bad, they just don’t add any value to the application). I also think that the UCs emphasize they don’t consider grammar and spelling mistakes in order to shift student attention away from what they think as unimportant (minor technicalities like run-on sentences) and toward what they think to be very important (good content for the Personal Insight Questions).
With all of that said, I am by no means advocating that you throw good grammar and correct spelling out the window. When writing your Personal Insight Questions, keep the following in mind:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Yes, you should proofread. No, you should not spend three days agonizing over whether a particular sentence needed to start with a definite article (“the”) or an indefinite article (“a”); THAT, of all things, is NOT going to be the tiebreaker for whether you are admitted.
- Focus on substance. Because that is what matters. Perfect grammar gets you nowhere if you have no substance.
- Forget everything you know about what a “good college essay” should have. UCs don’t appreciate hooks, flowery prose, descriptive narrative, creative writing, or abstract ponderings. The UC Personal Insight Questions are practical pieces of writing that should articulate how your past accomplishments ensure your potential for future success (in terms of tone, think “manifesto” and aim to be more lighthearted or just less tedious).
- Your Personal Insight Questions have to be READABLE. Even though you are not penalized for grammar and spelling mistakes, your Personal Insight Questions have to, at a minimum, convey your ideas clearly. If your writing is so awful that the application readers cannot understand the points you are making, you are in trouble!
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