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Picking the UC Right Personal Insight Prompt Transcript

Choosing the right PIQ prompts can feel overwhelming, but with Amanda Merrifield's help, figuring out which prompt showcases your personality can be a breeze. This blog post is an automatically generated transcript of what Amanda and I discussed in our latest episode of mindful admissions, We are currently going through this version to ensure accuracy, however, it may take a few days before we've been able to audit the transcript to perfection.

Amanda Merrifield

Panic writing like 11:00 on the day to do is not fun.


Shawnie Leaf

Hey there. It's Shawnie from Strive to Learn. And I have another episode of Mindful Admissions, a podcast that is dedicated to bringing your family some peace and sanity in your college application process. So in today's episode, we’re talking with Amanda Merrifield, who is a UC Santa Cruz alumni herself and college admissions consultant here at Strive to Learn.


We're going to go over the very important PIQs, you know, the University of California's Personal Insight Questions. But what's really unique about this episode is Amanda is going to walk me through the questions as if I were a student. So it's kind of like a sneak peek into what a session is really like with our counselors. Ready to get started? Let's go.


Shawnie Leaf

Thank you so much for meeting with me, Amanda. Today we're going to talk about the UC PIQs, which I know are super prevalent in the minds of students today. And if they're not already hyperventilating about how close or how soon the UC application is due, and I'm sure that will be starting soon.



Should parents take Thanksgiving to talk about like, you know, the kids are like, what kind of values or should they kind of keep? I mean, it's obviously a personal way, but, you know, should they keep it segmented from Thanksgiving?


Amanda Merrifield

Gosh, it depends on how receptive you are listener to talking about that stuff on a holiday because sometimes like too many opinions kind of gets in the way of like the truth of the matter and it's because truly is your essay. And sometimes people get overwhelmed and they're like, My mom thinks I should write this, and I don't.


You know, and that's hard because it isn't your mom's essay. Of course it's yours. And but then there's also people that flounder when they're too isolated and they can't write because they just have writer's block. So I would say there is no rule about Thanksgiving or no, you know, but I would say enjoy your time with your friends, your family and your friends and yourself.


Enjoy a little break, but only if you've done it a little bit already. Yeah.


Shawnie Leaf

Got it. Thanks for that. For the teachers or parents or mentors that are listening to this, trying to help their kids are up. Someone that is going through this process. how should they phrase questions that prompt insight.


Amanda Merrifield

I think it's a careful game, but like trying to yeah. Trying to lead them or suggest can be annoying to anyone who's trying to write and how organic thoughts because it can be distracting or like you can a student might focus on no dad I don't wanna talk about that. I think. Yeah. Just helping them think through it is helpful.



Asking open ended questions like what do you want them to know about you? Oh, like, well, I noticed that you're really thoughtful and you're really passionate about statistics. What would you want to tell them about that or I I've noticed in my years of knowing you how long that is that you are really caring and that your friends are everything to you.


What do you think? You could write about that? Are there any examples? Like so not saying open ended, like not saying close. Any questions like, well, you should write about your friends. Well, what about my friend's mom? I don't know. You know, so. Yeah, so I think open ended questions that give someone to reflect out loud. And then you can do what I do and just write everything down that they say and type it out.even like a friend.


Anybody can do this. A friend or a teacher or a parent can ask questions and write down everything because you never know what kind of cool jams are going to come out when they're just talking to you. Yeah, it could be some of the most profound thoughts that they have because they're relaxed and they're just having a conversation and sort of sitting down and having to formulate it correctly on the page.



Shawnie Leaf

What is the difference between UC PIQs vs the personal statement or what are common pitfalls the students make about this process?



Amanda Merrifield

Yeah, so that's a really good question. Sometimes the essay is kind of all blurred together and you might have done maybe a rough draft or something for your English class in your junior year. And you might be thinking, Oh, like, that sounds kind of familiar, but I don't really remember this. But basically, the UC app is its own standalone thing for all of the UC campuses.


Amanda Merrifield

And the personal statement is an essay that goes out to not the UC but to other typically private schools on the common app. Broadly, the personal statement is one essay and it's like 650 words and these cuz you pick four prompts from and they're short. But basically that's kind of the biggest difference between them.



Amanda Merrifield

And then the approach is pretty much the same, the crossover that I think people sometimes get confused about is that you can write the UC PIQ and think is really, really great and actually use that and expand it into your personal statement or maybe write a personal statement that's really, really great and you condense it to match one of UC PIQ prompts.


They are really just wanting their essays prompts that are wanting to get to know you and your values and what you can bring to the university that you're applying to. So they definitely are in the same vein, even though they do have some technical differences.


Shawnie Leaf

Thank you so much, Amanda. I really appreciate the quick clarification kind of laying down the groundwork here. I don't want to take up too much of her time on all the particulars and technicalities because the University of California actually produces they're very thorough, very detailed guide of themselves. And I will link that in the show notes. But I am curious about how you approach the cues with your students, like what is your process?


Amanda Merrifield

The first thing I get them to do is think about themselves and what kind of stuff they actually have to talk about? And then I like to go into the, okay, well how are we going to frame this? What is the point of your essay? What is the point of all this? It's not just to talk about yourself and it's not just to like you have a second resume.


They've already got a resume for you. They already have your activities list. They already know what it is that you did. So you don't need to write an entire essay repeating yourself like if you were, for example, a wonderful soccer player. They already know that because they read your your activities list. This is for you to share stuff that they cannot glean from your activity list.


This is for them to get a context of who you are as a human, not just what you can do and what you have done.


Shawnie Leaf

Does it matter how many examples they bring into the work?


Amanda Merrifield

No, I don't. I mean, you're you're just not going to get your whole life story in these essays. It's just not possible because you have so many like that deep experiences. The depth of knowledge that you have about your life is going to be way bigger than can fit in a couple of essays, but what I will say is if you tend to be the kind of person that has a lot of small examples that you just really want to put in, that's fine, you can do that, but just make sure it's around one central point that's this is backing up your central point.



Amanda Merrifield

So your point is leadership. I'm a really great leader and you can think of like five examples of when you've led maybe your class or maybe a group project or your team or club or whatever. So you can think of a bunch of times that you've been a leader. That's cool. weave that into a story.


However, don't lose the central point, which is that through leadership you found compassion and you found joy. And, you know, don't forget to bring those things through. And what I would say for the students that are like, that's too hard. I think my essay is going to be to all over the place. If I bring a bunch of things into it, that's okay too.


Amanda Merrifield

You can write about one single story and show your values through that story, and I think whichever side you choose, whether it's many examples or one example, stick to the one third rule. I love the one third rule where you talk about one third of it is what the catalyst for the thing you're going to talk about. One third of it is what you did aboutthe catalyst or what what action you did.


Amanda Merrifield

And then one third is how it's going to affect you going forward.


So your examples that always stick in the middle third.


So it's what ever you're the most comfortable with bringing in. So for example, on this leadership example, if you're like when I was a freshman, I met the best leader I've ever met and that person inspired me.


That's a catalyst. And then the example is I then became the leader of the club where I met that person and I aspire to be the starter on the football team and this that's cool.


Or you can just say, and I aspire to be the leader of the club where I met that person, that person doesn't matter because it's just going to be one third of your essay and then the one, the final third is in the future, I want to be the leader of a club that I know exists on campus, or I want to be a leader of my friends and and for the power of good or whatever it might be.



So that's I hope that kind of answers your question, because it kind of fits into the bigger whole rather than the maintenance guy.


00;09;53;04 - 00;10;06;25

Shawnie Leaf

So really tying that tying your essay or your response back into kind of how it's going to impact you or impact your care. All right. Say your world or your community, but kind of how it brings relevance to why is why a school would admit you.



Amanda Merrifield

Yeah, because they want to see you in context. Yeah. No, I just I was just agreeing. Yeah. I think they want to see you in context, so that's cool that all that stuff happened. But do you have enough reflection to see yourself in the future? And what are you going to do with that? Because they're admitting you on potential.



Amanda Merrifield

They're looking at your past as indicators of what you're going to do or what you're going to be. And of course, you can always change and you can always grow, but they just want to kind of get to know you so that they can maybe anticipate that this is the type of person that does want to do more leadership.


Amanda Merrifield

Or maybe you had the worst time ever being a leader and you don't want to do that anymore because you learn from that and you're like, I wasn't I wasn't happy in the leadership role and I would much rather be doing something else. You know, that's that's also okay. But they just want to know what your reflections are.


00;10;53;29 - 00;11;13;04

Shawnie Leaf

And so, so it's totally okay to be vulnerable. Not only just have this, there is prompts like highlight your strengths or things that you achieve. Because I've always heard like the advice like, oh, go to your skills and achievements and then kind of like find ways to pepper those in to your kids. But are you saying that through there be vulnerability and the things that you struggled with in that essay?


00;11;13;16 - 00;11;32;09

Amanda Merrifield

Yeah, absolutely. I think for the kids especially, I mean, not every essays created equal, but definitely in the cues you can use your activities list or your resume as a starting point if you kind of forget what you got up to the last few years, which like fairness, like I don't always remember all the things I did. If you have forgotten, you can go back and look.


00;11;32;17 - 00;11;52;22

Amanda Merrifield

But I think it's sort of like a qualitative deep dove into those because when you see a line on a page of like dance team, they kind of are probably wondering, what was that like for you? Were you did you just immediately pick up dance with the second that you stepped foot on the stage? Or were there difficulties?


00;11;52;22 - 00;12;09;00

Amanda Merrifield

And if you did immediately pick it up because I know some people are like dance was my whole life I've never not danced. What does that mean for you? What did you make of that and what do you want to do with that talent? Or if you're like, Man, I was terrible at dance and I really worked at it and this was my my journey.


00;12;09;03 - 00;12;26;22

Amanda Merrifield

Or some people say I had a lot of trauma going on at home and dance was my outlet or dance was the thing that I was still terrible at. And but it was a reason for me to get up in the morning because I had depression. Like, these are all qualitative things that are absolutely okay to talk about in your essays because it's about you.


00;12;27;18 - 00;12;44;27

Shawnie Leaf

Are there certain prompts for certain people like sure there's should there be certain prompted students stay away from for instance like like is leadership something that students should always try to write on if they can or if they can think of things like I've heard rumors that all you see is what you want to see leadership in their students.


00;12;44;27 - 00;12;47;26

Shawnie Leaf

And so if you really can address that prompt, do you want to do so?


00;12;47;26 - 00;13;11;06

Amanda Merrifield

I think that rumors are so funny because every year it's like a different thing and I think that there isn't one prompt that's better than the others or one thing they're looking for that's more than the others. Because the you are trying to build a diverse and interesting place to to go to school. And they don't want a homogenous bunch of like leaders.


00;13;11;06 - 00;13;41;28

Amanda Merrifield

They don't want everybody, every single person to say, no, I want the spotlight like, no, I want to leave the club. Because some people, their skill set is I'm a researcher, I don't want to lead. I don't want to host the meetings. I want to go away and do the thing or my talents are somewhere else. And I think I mean, when you think about the tens of thousands of students that are attending all the seats, there's no way that they're all leaders all the time, or if they are now, they might not have been when they were seniors.


00;13;41;28 - 00;14;01;03

Amanda Merrifield

Maybe they were like, no, I'm I'm terrified of speaking in front of people, even if it's five people I know and they don't I don't think anybody wants to preclude that. But I also think, you know, the only essays that you should stay away from are the ones that you you look at it and you think, does it look like, no, no.


00;14;01;04 - 00;14;08;15

Amanda Merrifield

Saying that's okay. It doesn't have to apply to you. That's why there's a bunch of prompts and you only have to pick a few. Yeah, I like that.


00;14;08;15 - 00;14;19;23

Shawnie Leaf

I haven't thought about that way. Like, oh yeah. Everyone follows advice of like write about your leadership promises me a lot of leadership from Siri and people like, you know, Hillary has denied me fed with fed up with it.


00;14;20;25 - 00;14;43;29

Amanda Merrifield

Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, these people that are reading your essays are people, too. And they know that they know better than anyone the kind of diverse experiences that people have all over the world in their high school, high school days. And not every school provides leadership opportunities either. So they would never think, Oh, well, we're not going to admit those people.


00;14;44;07 - 00;14;48;14

Shawnie Leaf

How students choose the right prompts or how do you suggest students get started?


00;14;49;00 - 00;15;16;03

Amanda Merrifield

That's the question of the day. I think that's one of the hardest places to start. And I think this. Can you ask about Shawnee as people don't know which one to pick and so they procrastinate and then they write their essay at the last minute because they don't know where they're starting. Thing I would recommend for someone that is either started writing it or did write something and they don't like it is to copy and paste all of the prompts onto a word document and see if you can just answer the question in a sentence or two.


00;15;16;03 - 00;15;30;09

Amanda Merrifield

If you're looking at the prompt and you're like, I have nothing to say about this, then skip it. We go on to the next one. Maybe you don't have anything to say about that one either. Move on until you have something to write about and just write two sentences, which really could be the worst sentences you've ever written.


00;15;30;10 - 00;15;42;09

Amanda Merrifield

It could even be full of points. It doesn't matter. Just write something down and then you'll kind of work through the prompt until you get four essays. So for example, Shawnee, I'm going to use you as my my example student perfect.


00;15;42;09 - 00;15;46;04

Shawnie Leaf

Yes. Awesome insight preview of what it looks like in session. That's cool.


00;15;46;19 - 00;16;10;12

Amanda Merrifield

Yeah. Yeah. So, so so we're looking at these prompts right now for this purposes, for this podcast purposes, I write notes for you because also the other thing that happens is sometimes it's easier to say out loud than it is to write it down. First prompt we're looking at is describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influence others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time, and you initially were like, That's not me.


00;16;10;12 - 00;16;24;15

Amanda Merrifield

I don't have anything to say about that. And if you were my student, I would say, Hey, that's cool if you don't have anything to say about that, right off the back of that reading, that statement, we're just going to move on to the next one because I don't want you to panic and think, okay, I have to write something about this.


00;16;24;15 - 00;16;45;08

Amanda Merrifield

We're going to go with our guts here. And that usually is the best course of action. So, number two, every person has a creative side. And Johnny, I know you're very creative, so I'm already feeling good about this. It can be expressed in many ways problem solving, original and innovative thinking artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.


00;16;45;11 - 00;16;48;16

Amanda Merrifield

What do you think? Is there something that comes to mind that you're like, Okay, I've got something I can say about that.


00;16;49;08 - 00;17;10;13

Shawnie Leaf

I have been painting a lot lately. Pretty much every day I see a lot of possibility in everything. So I'm like, Oh, just I'm going to I don't like the way this chair is designed, so I'm going to redesign it and I'll try to take it apart and forget again and I'll fail at it or whatever. So there's a lot of, like I say, things that are wrong or that want better, and so I will try to solve it myself, I guess that's cool.


00;17;10;13 - 00;17;30;26

Amanda Merrifield

So you just gave me some really awesome insights to who you are as a person. That's problem solving, that's creativity, that's that. All of the things in this prompt, you were saying these problems as solutions almost and interesting things to solve and get into. So that's that's a sentence and we can come back and make it more beautiful later on.


00;17;31;05 - 00;17;42;00

Amanda Merrifield

So let's just for the purposes of this podcast, pick one more thing so that I can also help you with the narrowing process theory down. What would you say is your greatest tone or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?


00;17;42;01 - 00;17;44;10

Shawnie Leaf

I mean, I don't know if curiosity is a.


00;17;44;10 - 00;17;47;03

Amanda Merrifield

Skill, if you want it to be.


00;17;47;28 - 00;17;53;07

Shawnie Leaf

I do. If it is a skill, then I think I have a curiosity in in leaps and bounds.


00;17;53;07 - 00;18;17;01

Amanda Merrifield

And you're asking, is curiosity a skill? Well, if in your essay, if you can make a case that it's a skill, I think I have one student right now that we were talking about athleticism as a skill. It's not something you're necessarily inherently born with, but you can definitely hone it on a skill like anything else. So I think this is a super open ended question, and I think you could definitely make curiosity, your skill or your talent or whatever it is that you want to call it and write an essay about it.


00;18;17;01 - 00;18;42;27

Shawnie Leaf

I think that allows me to really dig into the new different problems or into new research areas or, you know, my friends tell me that I'm like, you know, what's your obsession for the month or the week or this day? So I'm always getting myself into things that I really have no experience in. I'm interested in learning. And so I think that kind of gives me a really interesting take on reality and problems or different, I don't know, topics because I was just like, have you honed it over time?


00;18;43;13 - 00;18;58;08

Shawnie Leaf

Sometimes it's narrative and culture that's kind of put these limiting beliefs on what we're good at, what we're not good at. And so we kind of change our interest based off of that dictation. So I'm not good at math, and so I'm not going to investigate into why this is. Or we give ourself permission to be curious about certain subjects rather than others.


00;18;58;08 - 00;19;15;02

Shawnie Leaf

And so what I've learned is like that is if I'm curious about a subject matter that I'm not good at, it's still okay to like I give myself permission that it's okay to solely follow the rabbit hole down there. And so, you know, and even though I'm not the best at that one particular subject, I can still learn a lot and I still improve in general by having just contact with that area.


00;19;15;02 - 00;19;34;24

Amanda Merrifield

And that's one of the things I actually really like about this prompt is that I think it asks all of the writers to really think about what is a skill. It is something that you work on over time and you don't have to be good at it to write about it. You can you can say, you know, my greatest skill is is math because I just worked so hard at it and I'm still not good at it.


00;19;34;24 - 00;19;46;21

Amanda Merrifield

But it's something I've really honed over time and I'm much better than I was. Am I Stephen Hawking? No, it doesn't matter. So I think that's a really, really good point, Shaunie, is that you're definitely allowed to be curious about something, even if you're not good at it.


00;19;47;04 - 00;20;10;16

Shawnie Leaf

Did you hear the difference between how I responded to the first prompt versus the second question about creativity was really dry. Like I was just like, Yeah, I paint and then took apart a chair and blah blah blah blah blah. But the second one, I mean, obviously I had not thought about it very deeply before because my answer was semi intelligible, but you could tell that the question struck a chord.


00;20;10;21 - 00;20;34;10

Shawnie Leaf

And when you're kind of narrowing down, what or which prompts should I pick? Pick the ones that really resonate with you, that they make you want to read because you have a lot to say about them, because oftentimes what these prompts are meant to do is they're meant to pick out, you know, your values. And so you want something to make you passionate about or emotional about or more than just a dry answer of A, B, and C.


00;20;34;11 - 00;20;53;02

Shawnie Leaf

Now, I don't know if I would have gotten there on my own. And so that kind of showcases the value of having someone else to talk to, to kind of validate your feelings towards this, to really help you dig deeper. There's definitely some merit in that, but you also want to see that when I was answering the prompt, I had naturally tried to communicate what I had learned and why this was important to me.


00;20;53;02 - 00;21;06;17

Shawnie Leaf

So when you're picking out the prompts, figure out which one's a emotion resonate with you. B That you can explain what you learned and like why you value it, and c I guess there is no C, but yeah, I'll just go with a B for now. Let's go back to the show.


00;21;06;24 - 00;21;24;21

Amanda Merrifield

So that's where we're going to start, because I also don't I think I truly believe that sometimes you got to let these things marinate overnight or for a week or something. You get out of them what you put into them. So the more time you think about it and the more I just consideration that you put into these outside of our sessions, the better they're going to be.


00;21;24;29 - 00;21;29;28

Amanda Merrifield

Because obviously I can't make you do anything. You have to be the one to write it, you know.


00;21;30;06 - 00;21;33;10

Shawnie Leaf

Of course you can't write the primary one.


00;21;33;28 - 00;21;52;28

Amanda Merrifield

Unfortunately not. Unfortunately, I can't write your essay for you, but I will definitely always meet you where you are in our sessions. And if it becomes clear like over time, like there's a pattern of like for some reason you walk away from the session and you just can't motivate yourself to continue. Then we can all say, I'll send you a text reminder or something.


00;21;52;28 - 00;21;57;06

Amanda Merrifield

I would do that. You're that kind of a student. That means it. I would do it.


00;21;57;09 - 00;22;01;16

Shawnie Leaf

I definitely need to. And the president needs a reminder.



Amanda Merrifield

That's okay. A lot of people are because, you know, school gets busy and like you have like your extracurriculars and you have your friends and you've got your family and whatever else you know that you're up to in the week. And this isn't always the first thing that you think to do when all that stuff is done. So yeah, sometimes my students benefit from a little text reminder midweek, like, Hey, how's it going over there?


00;22;22;16 - 00;22;37;24

Amanda Merrifield

You know? So, yeah, so that. So that's kind of my initial like if you were, if you were completely lost and you really didn't know what to do, that would be kind of the method. And, you know, a lot of times people just need that little boost. They just need a little a little push in the right direction.


00;22;37;24 - 00;22;52;10

Amanda Merrifield

And then their brain catches on fire and they're like, Actually, it's kind of fun to talk about myself, like, all these things, so don't wait till the last minute and think you can't do it. Can you get? Thanks for listening.


00;22;52;19 - 00;23;07;18

Shawnie Leaf

As we continue to produce episodes of this podcast, you can follow along on our website w w w dot striped to dot com or wherever you get your podcasts. Stay tuned for future episodes and don't forget to subscribe. We'd appreciate any support you can give, including likes, downloads, shares, and good reviews. Got something you want to learn about?


00;23;07;18 - 00;23;20;21

Shawnie Leaf

Ask us questions in the comments or DM us on Instagram. Strive to learn to get the latest updates on the college admissions world or be the first to receive exclusive offers when you subscribe to our newsletter by visiting our website. WW Dot Strive to learn bcom. Thanks for sticking around and I'll see you next time.



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