UC PIQs Guide

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

My recommendation for how to use this post:

  • Use the first half of this post to help choose your PIQs.

  • Use the second half for more info about the PIQs you chose.

  • See my Action Essay and Mulan 3-Part Growth posts for more on how to write these essays.

Basic Info:

  • You need to pick 4 out of 8 topics

  • The word limit is 350—a lot less than Common App!

  • The UCs encourage you to use “your own unique voice.”

  • Check out my “Two You”s post for more on how to create a unique voice!

  • The answer to the prompt's question needs to be clear from your essay

  • For example: “What is your greatest skill?” If we can’t figure out the 1-2 word answer to this question by the end of the essay, you’ve messed up!

Some prompts are equivalent:

  • 1 & 7: leadership + teamwork (interpersonal; see Give & Take)

  • 2, 3, 6: skills + passions (personal or interpersonal)

  • 4 & 5: challenge (personal or interpersonal)

  • 8: free choice

Topic Tips:

  • Try to stick to things that happened during high school

  • (unless something from before high school was extremely important)

  • If you do the same topic twice (like music), do one essay about personal growth and one about an interpersonal experience

  • Don't do all four about the same topic!

  • Don't do all three "skills + passions" essays

  • 8 isn't necessarily good unless you have a strong idea. UCs are asking questions 1–7 because they care about that info!

  • Choosing an "impressive" topic is less important than choosing one you care about

Feel free to skip ahead to the essays you're doing!

1. Leadership

Objective: show through cause and effect how your action had a positive impact on a group.


The order for steps 2 and 3 depends on what makes more sense for your essay: was your action specifically meant to address an obstacle, or did an obstacle occur during your action?


Step 1: tell us the group’s goal/problem and your role in the group

Step 2 or 3: show what you specifically did (your action)

Step 2 or 3: explain the obstacle(s) you and/or your group encountered

Step 4: demonstrate how your action positively contributed to the goal/problem

2. Creativity

Objective: Don't just make this a static "I love [X]" essay! It needs to be dynamic: a story that shows growth/change. That means:


1) answer the question. 2) Use the Mulan 3-Part Growth.


Step 1: tell us your specific type of creativity

Step 2: provide a specific, key example

Step 3: using your example to prove how this creativity positively impacts

your life OR is related to your major/career

3. Greatest Talent/Skill

Objectives: 1) answer the question. 2) Use the Mulan 3-Part Growth.


Step 1: tell us your greatest talent/skill

Step 2: "Before"

Step 3: "Process"

Step 4: "After"

Step 5: explain the specific significance of this growth/change


4. Educational opportunity/barrier

Objective: show a cause and effect (opportunity/barrier = cause, impact on your life = effect)


Step 1: tell us the specific educational opportunity/barrier

Step 2: explain the process of using this opportunity or overcoming this barrier

Step 3: demonstrate the specific impact this had on your life

5. Challenge

Objective: show a cause and effect (challenge = cause, impact on your life = effect)

This is very similar to #4!


Step 1: tell us the specific educational opportunity/barrier

Step 2: explain the process of using this opportunity or overcoming this barrier

Step 3: demonstrate the specific impact this had on your life

6. Pursuit of academic interest

Objective: show a cause and effect (pursuit = cause, impact on your life = effect)

Although this is an "interest" essay, the structure is very similar to the “educational opportunity” of #4!


Step 1: tell us the specific academic subject

Step 2: tell us the goal or opportunity related to this subject

Step 3: explain the process involved with this goal/opportunity

Step 4: demonstrate the specific impact this process had on your life. This can be related to your choice of major or career goals, but it doesn’t have to be.


7. Improve Community

Objective: show using cause and effect how your action had a positive impact on the community (group)

This is very similar to #1!


Step 1: tell us the community’s goal/problem (most likely a problem for this essay)

Step 2 or 3: show what you did

Step 2 or 3: explain the obstacle(s) you encountered

Step 4: demonstrate how your action positively contributed to the community


8. Free Choice Tips

  • Consider emphasizing one of the Give & Take skills.

  • Make sure the essay features growth or change and isn't just "I love [X]!" or "My dream is to [X]!"

  • Interpersonal essays are usually stronger because we learn about how you interact with others.

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