College Essay Writing Tips for UA Applicants

College Essay Writing Tips for UA Applicants

Freshman and transfer applicants to UA will be required to write short responses to questions in the application. These tips will help you prepare your best pieces of writing.

The Big Picture

A great application essay will present a vivid, personal, and compelling view of you to the admission staff. It will help you stand out from other applicants whose grades, activities, and awards are comparable to yours. The application essay can influence not only admission decisions but also scholarship awards, so the time you invest in it could literally pay off.

The first step is to decide what to write about. No matter what the essay prompt, remember that your first priority is to give your reader insight into the character traits, personal values, or future goals that will bring you to the college campus. You can begin to plan for your college essays before you start to fill out your application forms. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Make a single point that illustrates who you are.

Your application will list your classes, grades, activities and awards. The essay should round out this information in a more personal way by showing how an experience has shaped you and why it matters. In your response, you should concentrate on one main idea and maintain that focus from beginning to end. Depth rather than breadth is your goal here.

Too general: “During my junior year, I was voted MVP of my basketball team, served on the student council, maintained a 3.4 GPA, traveled to Mexico…” etc. Your application already reflects these basic facts.

Instead: “Traveling to Chihuahua, Mexico taught me to appreciate my U.S. high school experiences in a new way.”

The proof is in the details.

Once you have a main idea in mind, prepare to elaborate with details that prove your point. You’ll want to lead the reader to agree with your main point by using vivid and specific facts, quotations, examples, and/or sensory details to illustrate it.

Too general: “I like to be surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests.”

Instead: “As a volunteer at our community center, I sang the theme song from Casablanca with a former baseball coach who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart, discussed the war in Iraq with a middle-aged woman whose son is a soldier, and learned more than I ever wanted to know about another woman’s cactus garden.”

The Nitty Gritty

When you have a draft of your essay that you feel is sufficiently focused and detailed, you’ll want to reread it and edit it with these principles in mind:

Variety is the spice for your essay.

Variety in your sentences plays an important part in keeping your reader interested in your writing. Try reading your essay aloud to notice if your sentences sound repetitive.

Repetitive: “I am the first person in my family born in this country. I am also the first person who will go to college. I want to be a role model for my younger brothers and my cousins.”

Instead: “As the first in my family to be born in this country and pursue higher education, I want to be a role model for my younger brothers and cousins.”

Pump up your word choice.

It may be tempting to use a thesaurus to make your essay sound more sophisticated. If you do, you run the risk of misusing unfamiliar words and you also might interfere with the personal voice that makes your essay interesting to read. When you find wording you’d like to improve, first search your mental thesaurus to spice up your essay with synonyms that are part of your own vocabulary.

Before thesaurus: “Although I did a lot of activities in high school, my hard work got me through it.”

With thesaurus: “Although I participated in a plethora of activities in high school, my assiduous efforts enabled me to succeed.”

With your own vocabulary: “Although I juggled many activities in high school, my persistence helped me to succeed.”

Be concise.

You have a limited amount of space to indicate who you are. Eliminating unnecessary words frees up space to take your reader deeper into your experience.

Too wordy: “Over the years it was pointed out to me by parents, friends, and teachers- and I have even noticed this about myself, as well- that I was not the neatest person in the world.” (37 words)

Instead: “I was sloppy and everyone knew it.” (7 words)


Your readers are not English teachers, but they are college-educated people who value learning and want to see that same value in the students they admit to college. Errors in spelling and grammar may indicate carelessness or lack of attention to details. Use your computer’s spell check, but also read your own work carefully to catch typos like these:

“After I graduate form high school, I plan to work for a non-profit organization.”

“From that day on, Daniel was my best fried.”

Based on tips from the College Board ( and The University of Arizona.