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How to Write the Academic Subject UC Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



The sixth University of California personal insight question (PIQ) asks students to respond to the following prompt: 


Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 words)


In this article, we will discuss choosing your academic subject, structuring your essay, and strategies to avoid common pitfalls. 


For more information on University of California’s other supplemental essays and writing dos and don’ts, check out our posts on how to write University of California essays and on great University of California essay examples


Choose Your Academic Subject Strategically


Think Beyond the “Headline Subject”


The first step when approaching this essay is to choose an academic subject to write about. Instead of choosing a more general “headline subject,” like physics, history or calculus, try to dig deeper and select a more nuanced, specific topic within a discipline.


Doing this allows you to show off that you are genuinely passionate about the subject you choose, and that you truly know it. This will help you stand out among the students who chose more general, common academic subject essays.


For example, if economics is the headline subject that you are interested in, you could explore sub-disciplines like econometrics, which is a mixture of economics and statistics, or monetary policy, which focuses on how the federal reserve affects the economy. To go even deeper, you could write about a hyper-specific concept like Okun’s Law, which explains the relationship between unemployment and economic growth.


Connect It to Your Intended Major


As you consider topics, keep in mind that the academic subject you choose should align with your intended major. 


While the topic does not have to be exactly the same as your intended major, it should connect in some way. For example, if you are applying as an engineering major, writing about a science or math subject will be beneficial to your application.


This essay is a great opportunity to elaborate on your intellectual interests and passions, and by doing so you help the admissions committee understand the type of person and student you are. 


How to Structure Your Essay


Discuss Why You Find the Subject Interesting


After you choose your academic subject, the next step is to determine the structure of your essay. It is important to discuss why you find that subject appealing and interesting, and the steps you have taken to learn more about it.


Let’s continue using economics as an example. If you decide to write about Okun’s Law, you could write a story about how you became interested in learning more about it. Maybe your excitement about Okun’s Law took you down a road of discovery where you found some economics blogs that you really liked, which in turn crystallized your passion for economics and ultimately led to your habit of reading economic news for an hour each day.


An essay like that is much stronger than a simple response, such as, “I like economics, and I’ve studied it by looking at blogs.” While both essays have the same ultimate endpoint and share that you have independently studied economics through blogs, the example above approaches this prompt in a much more interesting and memorable way. 


Think Outside the Classroom


Often, the best essays for this prompt tend to focus on things that students do outside the classroom, as opposed to inside the classroom. 


While the prompt states that you can write about either, essays about exploring academic topics inside the classroom are most common. Choosing to write about how you have pursued your academic interest outside of the classroom can help your essay stand out and keep readers engaged. It also highlights how you take the initiative to learn more about, and be involved with, your academic passions outside of the classroom. Admissions officers are always looking for students with the drive and desire to learn new things, so this is a great opportunity for you to showcase this side of yourself.


Keep It Interesting


Because this prompt is so academically focused, students can sometimes end up writing essays that are too academic or dry by focusing on the concepts too heavily or relying on complex jargon. 


While it is helpful to include details that demonstrate your knowledge of a subject and keep your reader engaged, it is most important to focus on why you enjoy the subject and how it impacts your personality or mindset.


Focus on the Process Over Accomplishments


A common pitfall with this essay prompt is for students to talk mostly about their accomplishments related to a particular academic subject, like getting a strong grade in a class or winning an academic competition. 


While this information can be useful, it highlights an outcome rather than showing the reader what you actually did to develop your expertise in that subject. 


Instead, it is better to focus on the process by which you pursue the subject, learn more about it, and explore your passion and your interests. 


Notice Overlaps With Other Essays


This PIQ prompt shares some similarities with other college essays, including Common App Prompt #6, which reads “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”


While these two essays are similar, they are not exactly the same. If you choose to reuse part or all of a Common App Prompt #6 essay for PIQ #6, make sure to adjust it accordingly so that your essay still authentically responds to the prompt.