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How to Write the “Greatest Talent or Skill” 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 third University of California personal insight question asks students to respond to the following prompt: 


“What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? (350 words)” 


For this question, your response is limited to a maximum of 350 words. In this article, we will discuss how to avoid the most common pitfall, choosing a topic that makes your essay stand out, and structural considerations. 


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


Avoid Re-Stating Your Resume


The most common pitfall for the third University of California (UC) personal insight question (PIQ) is that students just restate their resumes rather than discussing why the activity matters and how it has impacted them. This also commonly happens in PIQ # 1, the “leadership” essay, but PIQ #3 is by far the most notorious for this mistake.


Students will often provide a list of things they did in a particular activity like they would on a resume, but, unfortunately, this can make for an incredibly boring college essay. The good news is that there are several strategies that students can use to write a strong response to this prompt that strengthens their admission prospects.


How to Choose Your Talent or Skill


One way to write a unique and engaging response to this prompt is by choosing to focus on an intangible talent or skill. 


Typically, when people think of talents, they think of things they are good at like math, debate, journalism, writing, or even something sports related like jumping – all of which are tangible hard skills. But intangible soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, can make for strong essays particularly because they are not one of the expected, common responses.


Admissions Officers frequently see essays centered around skills like science, research, or coding. In contrast, essays about intangible skills, like resolving conflict or persevering in the face of challenges, provide students the opportunity to write an unexpected and interesting response, as well as a more deeply personal essay that highlights success strategies that boost a students performance.


Highlight Your “Spike”


This essay is a great chance to highlight your “spike”, or a specific field or domain that you are passionate about and skilled in. Students with spikes are seen as the individuals who will be leaders in their fields, demonstrating and deepening their talents and interest in their spike throughout their academic career. 


When doing this, it’s important to explore why you have built that talent, or that spike, and why you’re passionate about it. What makes this essay strong is not that you have a spike, but instead, why the topic related to your spike is interesting to you and why you enjoy it.


Look for Unconventional Uses of Your Skill


Another potential way to make your essay stand out is by writing about a smaller, unconventional way that you use your skill.  


For example, if research was the talent you chose, you could write about a typical use of that skill, like doing scientific or medical research. Alternatively, you could instead write about an unconventional use of that skill, like leveraging research skills to help a family member navigate the immigration system. 


This can be especially strategic if you already have more conventional examples of that skill on your resume, as this essay can then demonstrate another side of you.


How to Structure This Essay


As you structure this essay, it can be helpful to write about one anecdote while weaving in examples of how you built up your talent over time.


Some students choose to write about multiple shorter anecdotes for this PIQ, but this structure often does not work for a 350-word essay. This is because much of the allotted space is used to establish the plot of the multiple anecdotes, leaving not enough room remaining for the most important part: personal reflection.


Using multiple anecdotes can work better for longer essays, like the Common App personal statement which has a word limit of 650 words.


Notice Overlaps With Other Essays


This particular prompt shares similarities with some other college essay prompts, most notably Common App Prompt #1, “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”


Depending on the schools you are applying to, you may find that you can successfully overlap parts of a UC PIQ #3 response with an essay for Common App Prompt #1, but keep in mind that you will not be able to write both essays identically due to the differences in the prompts and word limits.