This lesson covers... how to approach the personal insight questions if you are NOT writing about a challenge (which is probably true for at least one of your four topics, if not all four)
By the end you should... understand how montage structure works and how you can use it in your UC application
Time 6 minutes

Here’s a solid example essay that uses the Montage structure. Read it, then let’s chat about it.        


Written using the Montage Structure for the UC Application.
Could have worked for Prompts 2, 3, 7, 8 and even 1.

Do re fa mi, re do fa mi, re do sol fa mi re mi re. Have I completely lost it? Should I be locked up in a mental hospital chained to a chair? No. Then what are these utterances coming from my mouth? Music.

I have devoted thousands of hours of my life to playing the santur, a classical Persian instrument that originated in the Middle East. Some people think I'm strange: a Persian redheaded Jewish teenager obsessed with an ancient musical instrument. But they don’t see what I see. My santur is King David’s lyre: it can soothe, enrapture, mesmerize.

The santur also allows me to connect to my culture and Persian heritage, and to visit Iran of the past, a culture rich in artistic tradition. Sometimes I imagine performing for the king in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the santur sounds echoing through the Seven Hills of Jerusalem.

Today, some Americans view Iran as a land of terrorists, but when I play the innocent of Iran, the educated, the artists, the innovators, come to life. Iran is not a country of savages; it’s Kubla Khan’s fountain, an abundant source of knowledge and creativity.

Finally, the santur represents one of my remaining links to my grandfather. In the last few years of his life, Baba Joon did not know me as his grandson. Alzheimer’s slowly took over his brain, and eventually he could not recognize me. Baba Joon grew up with the music of the santur and my father plays it in his car every day, so when I play, the music connects all three generations.

In December I’ll be releasing my first album, a collection of classical Persian pieces. Proceeds from the album will go toward Alzheimer's research, as I hope to play some small part in finding a cure for the disease. My teacher is one of only a handful of santur teachers from Iran, and I sometimes wonder if the santur will soon become extinct, like the seven thousand endangered languages which may soon be gone.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

(Length: 350 words)

Analysis: There is so much to love about this piece. Here’s what the author does well (and what you can learn from it):

1. Choose a focusing lens (i.e. something that connects everything) and make sure it’s clear. In this piece, obviously, it’s the santur, but it could be anything: a talent or skill you have, an instrument you play, or a sport.

2. Brainstorm values that connect to this thing (whatever you’ve chosen). How? Use this Values Exercise. But don’t stop there:

3. Make several uncommon connections. Here’s what I mean:

  • A boring piece of writing chooses a common topic, makes common connections, and relates those connections in common language.

  • A stand-out piece of writing chooses an UNcommon topic, makes UNcommon connections, and relates those connections through UNcommon language.  

Boring example:

Common topic: basketball  
Common connections: hard work, perseverance, teamwork
Common language: “Basketball has really influenced me and my life.”

Stand-out example:

Uncommon topic: santur
Uncommon connections: culture/heritage, social change, family
Uncommon language: “...the santur sounds echoing through the Seven Hills of Jerusalem.”

“But wait!” I hear you say. “Not everyone has an uncommon topic!” That’s true. And not everyone is a writer. IT’S OKAY. If you have to focus on one of the three elements above, focus on uncommon connections. How? Like this:

First, brainstorm the cliché version of your topic.

How? Look at this Values Exercise and ask: What values would the typical response focus on?

Then agree not to focus on those values. Instead:

Brainstorm some uncommon connections. Ask: what are some unusual values that someone else’s basketball/violin/mission trip essay might not focus on. Then:

4. Use those uncommon connections (i.e. values) as the basis for your outline, and focus on one paragraph per value (as in the Santur example above).

I’ll provide a few more examples of this in my upcoming course. Speaking of which…

Want help writing an amazing college essay? Check out my step-by-step video course HERE!



In 5 guided lessons, I'll bring you the inside scoop straight from UC admissions reps, and you'll learn all you need to know to write your answers to the UC personal insight questions.



Tons of awesome sample responses and the most effective brainstorming activities I've ever used to get you inspired.



Brainstorm, outline, and write awesome drafts of UC personal insight questions.



If you're not completely satisfied with the course, get a full refund within 30 days.