UC PIQs Guide

Updated: Oct 4

NOTE: This post is about picking UC PIQs. Guides for writing essays:

This guide is in two halves: an overview of the UC PIQs + objectives and an outline for each one.

 

Part 1: Overview

Basic Info

  • 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.”

  • See Two Yous and Register for more info.

  • 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)

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

  • 4 & 5: challenge (personal or interpersonal)

  • 8: free choice (personal or interpersonal)

Ideal Topics Breakdown

  • 1 interpersonal essay about leadership

  • 1 interpersonal essay about collaboration

  • 1 meaningful engagement essay about an academic interest

  • 1 meaningful engagement essay about an extracurricular

You may not have good case studies for all the topics in my ideal breakdown. In that case, choose quality case studies over filling out these topic categories.


A single leadership or collaboration essays could also involve an academic or extracurricular interest. If you have one essay accomplish two goals, that gives you the freedom to have one of your essays be on a quirkier topic (if you want).


Reinforce or Diversity?

Let's say your transcript and resume already show a strong background in chemistry. Should you write about chemistry in any of your essays?


Probably at least one. The essays and the rest of your application will be considered together, so you don't need to remind us that you like chemistry. But it does make sense to talk about if it's one of your passions.


Students ask me about this all the time. I think there's value to reinforcing an interest shown in other parts of your application AND showing a side of yourself that we don't see in the rest of the application.


See my blog post on meaningful engagement for more info on "how much" you should emphasize a passion.


Misc. Topic Tips:

  • Stick to events within the past 2–3 years

  • If you do the same topic twice (like music), do one essay about meaningful engagement and one about an interpersonal skill

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

  • Don't do all four about the same topic

  • 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 that reveals personal

 

Part 2: Specific PIQs

1. Leadership

Objectives:

  • show through cause and effect how you had a positive impact on a group

  • imply personal growth in a leadership or collaboration skill

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your goal or problem, role, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did, interactions with others, and obstacles

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies personal growth in the thematic trait

2. Creativity

Objectives:

  • Show meaningful engagement.

  • Show personal growth in a thematic trait.

  • Don't make this a static "I love [X]" essay! You need to change in some way.

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your interest, goal or problem, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did and obstacles

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies meaningful engagement + personal growth

3. Greatest Talent/Skill

Objectives:

  • Show meaningful engagement with an extracurricular

  • Show personal growth

  • Don't just make this a static "I love [X]" essay!

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your interest, goal or problem, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did and obstacles

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies meaningful engagement + personal growth


4. Educational opportunity/barrier

Objectives:

  • Show an interpersonal skill OR meaningful engagement with an academic field

  • Show personal growth in the category you chose in the previous bullet point

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your interest, goal or problem, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did + obstacles + interactions with others (if relevant)

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies personal growth

5. Challenge

Objectives:

  • Show an interpersonal skill OR meaningful engagement with an academic field

  • Show personal growth in the category you chose in the previous bullet point

  • NOTE: The "affect" this had on your academic achievement needs to be positive (because it's the key lesson you learned regarding your thematic trait)

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your interest, goal or problem, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did + obstacles + interactions with others (if relevant)

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies your personal growth

6. Pursuit of academic interest

Objectives:

  • Show an interpersonal skill and/or meaningful engagement with an academic field

  • Show personal growth in the category you chose in the previous bullet point

  • Don't make this a static "I love [X]" essay! You need to change in some way.

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your interest, goal or problem, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did + obstacles + interactions with others (if relevant)

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies personal growth


7. Improve Community

Objectives:

  • show through cause and effect how you had a positive impact on a group

  • imply personal growth in a leadership or collaboration skill

Outline:

Intro (25% of essay): introduce your goal or problem, role, and thematic trait

Process (60% of essay): show what you did, interactions with others, and obstacles

Conclusion: (15% of essay): your success implies personal growth in the thematic trait


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.