How to Answer UC Application PIQs Like an Aggie | UC Davis

The crowd of Aggies, wearing UC Davis merchandise, cheers on their team during the Homecoming football game between UC Davis and Northern Arizona in the glow of the sunset.
Gregory Urquiaga/ UC Davis

Quick Summary

  • META DESCRIPTION: The best way to show college admissions committees who you are is to answer college essay prompts and personal insight questions authentically. Use these tips.

Applying to college can be scary, hectic and confusing. There are so many essays to write, edit, review, and so many different tips and tricks to handle it all. You might feel overwhelmed by all of this sometimes contradictory information. We know we did. That's why we have assembled some Aggie-approved college essay tips to help you stand out from the crowd!

Figure Out Your “Why?”

When writing your essays and choosing what programs you apply to, it is important to have a clear idea as to why you chose that school/major/academic program. If you are applying to a school with a mechanical engineering major, think about why you are interested in it. Is it because you enjoy tinkering and innovating? Maybe you think that you can positively impact the world through this career path, or you have a family member in that field that you look up to. Knowing why you are interested or what you want to achieve is an excellent starting point for conveying strengths that might not be reflected in your extracurriculars and grades. This gives you clarity and purpose, which can really shine through to the admissions committee. In no way do they expect you to have a life plan, but rather a sense of purpose and a spark of excitement.

Pick the Right PIQs for You

While all PIQs are weighted equally, some prompts might fit you better than others. If volunteer work is important to you, choose the prompt that best fits that pursuit. As an applicant who had a lower GPA than others, I found it useful to write about how I overcame obstacles in my education and how I was passionate about pursuing academic research. You need to find the PIQ prompts that showcase your passions and personality best.

Discuss How You Have Improved

As much as we all want to create a version of ourselves that is, has been, and will always be perfect, we have all made mistakes or struggled. This is not something to be ashamed of, and it is not something that you need to conceal from the admissions committee. 

Talking about how you have overcome a struggle can show a lot about who you are and how you have grown. You can explain the obstacles, how they impacted you, how you overcame them, and what you learned from the experience. Remember to explain the obstacle briefly and spend the majority of your word limit on how you have grown from the situation. Schools want to see who you are, so don’t be afraid to show how you have become the person you are today!

Showcase Your Personality

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to approach college applications. Don’t feel like you have to change yourself or answer certain prompts that are less applicable to you because you feel it will impress the admissions office. All UC PIQ prompts are evaluated in the same way! Let your favorite interests shape your responses. If you spent a large portion of your time in fan club meetings or hiking, use those experiences to give personality to your statement! You are an interesting and complex person, full of stories and nuances the admissions committee wants to learn about. 

This can be difficult for many people, so one tip is to write in a way that is similar to how you speak (But avoid slang, curse words, or unexplained acronyms!). Doing so can help you feel comfortable during the writing process, and can help show some individuality. One easy way to check that you are writing in your own voice is to read your PIQs aloud in front of some people close to you to find out if it sounds like your voice. 

Focus on You

When discussing your life experiences, it can be easy to include anecdotes about the people closest to you or to talk about how they have influenced you. This is in no way a bad thing, but it is important to keep the focus on yourself, and avoid writing an essay that makes you a side character. For example, if you wanted to write about your relationship with your mother and growing up with a single mom, you need to ensure that you discuss how you felt and how she influenced who you are today. Do not spend too much time trying to explain who this person is to your audience. Some college applications have a strict word count, so it is more important to focus on influences and impacts on you.

Seek Another Perspective

When writing your college application essays, do not be afraid to ask for a teacher or counselor who knows you well to review your essays. You might be surprised by how many mistakes you may have missed or by how many suggestions they can provide. Your academic advisors and mentors are there to support you, and most are delighted that you value their advice enough to ask for their help. Take a leap of faith and ask them for a bit of their time to review your PIQs; it may be one of the best decisions you make towards the success of your college application.


Most importantly, be sure to take care of yourself during this college application season. Your well-being is of the utmost importance, so make sure to hang out with friends and family or take a break and watch a movie or hit the gym. It is hard to write essays and showcase who you are when your brain is plagued with stress and sleep deprivation. You will get into the school that is just right for you. You just have to get through the college application process first.

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