UC Personal Insight Questions How-To Guide, Part II: Talk About Yourself

This is the second half of a two-part UC Personal Insight Questions How-To Guide. See Part I for an annotated example of “show, don’t tell.”

If you have read my freshman or transfer guideline for the UC Personal Insight Questions, you should have a good idea of the dos and don’ts when composing your response. This blog post will provide an annotated example of “talk about yourself.”

An example of NOT talking about yourself:

Most people think of rock climbing as a solitary sport. The mention of rock climbing may conjure up an image of Alex Honnold alone on a big wall in Yosemite. What people don’t realize is that climbing is the ultimate team sport. Your life literally hangs in the balance of your climbing partner. Life and death separated by a single rope and your partner. [The primary problem with this paragraph is the third-person perspective and the discussion about climbing in generic terms, as opposed to discussing climbing from a personal perspective.]

An example of talking about yourself:

I free climb, which means I climb with a rope that is handled by my partner to ensure my safety. [Always assume the reader knows absolutely nothing about your activity, so provide whatever minimum information necessary to give context to what you will discuss.] In my opinion, that makes climbing the ultimate team sport. My ability to effectively communicate with my partner can mean the difference between a successful day of climbing and getting stuck on a wall (helicopter rescue is not as glamorous as local news makes it out to be) or, worse, injury [the actual worst case scenario is death, but mentioning it here does not serve any purpose other than to shock the reader, which is gratuitous and therefore unnecessary]. Before we set out on a day of climbing, my partner and I discuss our climbing plan in detail, going over signals (trying to yell across 80′ of distance on the side of a cliff during high wind is an exercise in futility), contingency plans for known dangers (such as loose rock), and what to do if we lose the ability to communicate (in case of injury). We clearly define our expectations in terms of our climbing ability and tolerance for risks (my partner is allergic to bee stings, so we have to abandon the climb if we encounter a hive). The meticulous planning, the thorough understanding of what to expect, and what to do when we encounter the unexpected, are what give us the confidence that we can climb safely and really enjoy ourselves. [The paragraph is written from a first-person perspective, which already makes it more personal. I talked about climbing as a team sport and what that means to me from a practical standpoint (implementation) and why that is important to me (so we can be safe and have fun). Obviously, what I’m talking about here has nothing to do with going to college. But what you discuss in your Personal Insight Questions should be about why you want to go to college (honestly, EVERYTHING you say in your UC Application should be about why you want to go to college because that is THE underlying question you must answer even if it is not explicitly stated in the UC Application or Personal Insight Questions).]

Further explanation:

To effectively talk about yourself, remember to write from your personal perspective (not “one should aspire to make a difference” but “I aspire to make a difference”) and discuss what you have done, what you thought of what you did, what was great or not great about what you did, what you learned about yourself through what you did, and why the reader should care about what you did.

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