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5 Tips to Write an Excellent UCF Application Essay


The University of Central Florida, commonly known as UCF, is one of the largest colleges in the United States. Over 60,000 students are enrolled at UCF, but that doesn't mean it's super easy to get in—UCF has an acceptance rate of 36 percent, meaning they accept less than half of students who apply.

To set yourself apart from the crowd, you'll want to write a stellar UCF application essay. Don't think that the fact that these essays are optional means they're not important; they're an additional opportunity to show why you'll be a great addition to the student body!

In this guide, we'll cover all the details of the UCF essay prompts, including how to answer them, what UCF is looking for, and a step-by-step guide to make your essay as strong as it can be.

Feature Image: Kelly Daacon/Wikimedia Commons


body_choice-4All roads lead to choosing to write the UCF application essay.


What Should You Know About the UCF Application Essay?

Unlike many schools, only freshman students can use the Common Application to apply to UCF. Otherwise, students must use UCF's own application, which is also available to freshman students.

However, there are some differences between the two. UCF's website includes a recommendation, but not a requirement, for a supplemental essay based on two of four prompts, outlined below. However, the instructions for the essay include the phrase, "an essay assists the Admissions Committee in knowing you as an individual, independent of test scores and other objective data," so while they may not actually be required, you should write them as if they are.

The Common Application includes two questions that do not appear on the UCF application, and reports from students suggest that UCF sends a follow-up email with instructions for how to complete the supplemental essays. The essays on the Common Application are flagged as optional, but, as with the UCF application, you should answer them as if they're required to be on the safe side.


body_thinkIf staring wistfully out the window helps your writing process, do it!


What Are the UCF Application Essay Prompts?

Though the UCF essays aren't technically required according to the college's website, it's strongly suggested that you complete them. They're an opportunity to flesh out your application with a more complete picture of yourself, which is valuable to both UCF and you.

UCF has four essay prompts to choose from and instructs students to respond to two. According to previous applicants, UCF accepts those responses in one combined essay or in two separate statements.

The responses, whether in one single essay or in two essays, should total no more than 500 words or 7,000 characters combined. Be sure that your essay or essays fall below both the word and character count.

UCF has four essay prompts for you to choose from, though you only need to answer two of the prompts. The questions can either be answered in one essay or two, depending on which you prefer.


UCF Essay Prompt 1: The Obstacle Prompt

If there has been some obstacle or bump in the road in your academic or personal life, please explain the circumstances.

With this prompt, UCF is giving you an opportunity to explain any parts of your application that may not be as impressive as you'd like them to be. Many students aren't able to commit to extracurriculars as deeply as they'd like because of financial problems or because they need to work or otherwise help out their family. Other times, students may not be able to keep their grades up as well as they'd like due to family illness or other obstacles that can make staying on top of homework difficult.

Circumstances like these are out of your control but can cause hiccups in your education, which might not look good to colleges. This prompt gives you space to explain that, giving UCF a better picture of who you are as a student.

So if you've encountered any hardship that's had an impact on your education, it's smart to take advantage of this essay question and explain it. If your grades dipped in junior year because you had to pick up an after-school job to help your parents out, let UCF know! Not only does that explain changes to your grades, but it also demonstrates responsibility. If you can explain your GPA based on outside circumstances, take advantage of the opportunity and do so.

Be honest about challenges you've faced, and accept responsibility for things that you could have done better. Your answer to this question should demonstrate anything you've learned from the experience and how you've grown rather than just shifting blame to outside circumstances. Don't stop at writing about what happened—continue on to answer what you did about it.

However, be sure that what you write about is an actual hardship. Being bored with your classes or being more invested in something else, such as an extracurricular activity, doesn't qualify—this question is asking for obstacles outside of your control.


UCF Essay Prompt 2: The Family History Prompt

How has your family history, culture or environment influenced who you are?

This is a fairly standard background essay, which asks you to think about your upbringing and how that's shaped the person you've become. Because UCF has a fairly short word limit, be sure to pick one particular element and home in on it rather than spending time painting a complete portrait of your family history.

Information like this helps a college like UCF better understand what you'll be bringing to the student body. Our upbringings often give us unique perspectives and abilities, which contribute to a thriving campus culture. In a school of over 50,000 students, it might feel like there's nothing particularly unique about you, but there is—this essay prompt helps you discuss it.

Don't get too hung up on picking something dramatic to set your family or culture apart from everybody else's. If you grew up in a family that really loves fishing and it's made you a more patient, hands-on person, write about that! On the other hand, if you grew up as part of a traveling circus and that's made you long for a place to put down roots, write about that!

The most important thing with this question is to be honest, thoughtful, and specific. Pick something that really matters to you, and think deeply on what it means.

Provided you are honest, thoughtful, and specific, there aren't a lot of topics you should avoid on this one, though always be aware that, if you choose to write about something potentially inflammatory, the admissions office may not feel the same way about things that you do. Your audience is made up of strangers, so choose something you're comfortable sharing with people who don't know you and deciding whether or not you'll get into college based in part on what you write.


UCF Essay Prompt 3: The "Why UCF?" Prompt

Why did you choose to apply to UCF?

"Why This School?" essays are common in college applications because they require you to think beyond a school's reputation and get specific about why you want to go there.
Colleges want to know that your interest goes beyond ticking another box on your college list—you should have a reason to attend beyond that you think you can get in!

To answer this question, try to get specific. What is it about UCF that appeals to you? You can look through their mission statement, course catalog, and clubs to find things that appeal to you, or refer to experiences at a campus visit or college fair. Connect your interest in UCF to something concrete.

For example, UCF has part of its mission statement dedicated to creativity, which should "enrich the human experience." Why does that matter to you? When you attend UCF, how do you hope to use creativity to enrich the human experience, too? If you can, make connections to real-life classes or clubs that you want to belong to, such as the Cypress Dome Society or Elements of Hip Hop. What interests do you have? What are your goals? How will these clubs help connect you to your student body?

The most important things to avoid in this essay response are the things everybody else is already saying—that UCF has a good reputation and that it has a nice campus. Assume that both of those things go without saying. What else does UCF have to offer?


UCF Essay Prompt 4: The Characteristics Prompt

What qualities or unique characteristics do you possess that will allow you to contribute to the UCF community?

This prompt is the flip side of the "Why This College?" prompt—instead of asking why you want to attend UCF, UCF is asking why they should want you.

Think beyond everything UCF already knows about you, like your grades and test scores. Assume that every student applying has exactly the same grades and scores as you do, and then decide what it is about you that's different. What else do you have to offer?

Choose something you haven't discussed already, and be sure that you embrace that UCF is asking for what makes you unique. UCF wants to know about you as an individual, which could be anything from how you have the patience to make the perfect tamale to how your time leading a guild in World of Warcraft taught you about leading by example and connecting with people. UCF has lots of people with good GPAs and test scores—does it have enough tamale makers and guild leaders? Aim to fill the unique gaps only you can fill!

Attending college isn't just about attending classes, getting good grades, and moving on with a degree to show it. You'll be part of a thriving campus culture, and UCF wants to know that you'll be participating and enriching it.

Beyond not focusing on things UCF already knows, always be sure that you're presenting your best self. The people reading your essays are strangers, and may not get your sense of humor if you try to be tongue-in-cheek in this section. Be honest and thoughtful in a way that others will understand, especially because this essay will likely be their first impression of you.


body_notebook-4A good notebook isn't required for writing your UCF essays, but it sure does feel nice.


What Are the UCF Common Application Essay Prompts?

If you're applying to UCF using the Common Application, the requirements are a little different. The Common Application includes two additional questions that do not appear on the UCF application, which are flagged as optional. Still, there's no reason not to answer them—the word counts are short, they provide extra context for your application, and they're valuable questions for both you and UCF to reflect on.

According to students who've applied to UCF, after finishing the Common Application, UCF will follow up with you with additional requirements, including responding to the additional essay prompts covered above.

Though these essays are optional, it's still a good idea to answer them. Be sure that you don't answer the same prompt twice, as one of the Common Application prompts is almost the same as the one in the UCF application. You only have 250 words each, so be brief and clear rather than spending a lot of time painting a vivid picture.


UCF Common App Essay Prompt 1: The "Why UCF?" Prompt

Why are you interested in UCF?

As in the UCF application essay prompts, this question is asking why you want to attend UCF. Think beyond widely applicable answers like citing their reputation, campus, or weather—assume the admissions office already knows all that. Why UCF over any other good, beautiful, warm-weather school? What specifically draws you there?

UCF wants to know that you're committed to attending not just as somebody who wants a good name on their diploma, but as somebody who's dedicated to UCF's mission and programs. Showing that UCF, not just their credibility or campus, matters to you is a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants.

To do this, you need to get specific. Drill deep into what makes you want to attend UCF, and connect it to specifics. Campus visits are a great way to make these specific connections, but if you can't visit, you can also comb through the course catalog, club list, or mission statement. Show UCF that you don't just see yourself proudly holding a diploma with their seal—show them you see yourself learning, growing, and participating in campus culture along the way.


UCF Common App Essay Prompt 2: The Major Prompt

Discuss your reasons for pursuing the academic program (major) selected above.

Like the first question, this prompt wants to know more about you as an individual student. Think about what draws you to your major beyond prestige or salary. What should UCF know about you and your connection to your program beyond your GPA and extracurriculars?

Questions like this show your dedication, which can be an important factor in admissions. Schools want to know that you're committed to your studies, and an essay that shows a deeper connection to your field is more likely to impress them. Take some time to craft a response that's insightful and honest—this essay will show UCF that you're truly passionate about what you study.

You don't have a lot of space to answer this question—just 250 words—so be sure to focus on one specific thing rather than being comprehensive. Did trying and failing to grow strawberries lead you down the path to becoming a botanist? Did you decide to put your reputation for bossiness as a kid to work as a business major?

Due to the short word count, you're going to want to be brief. Don't pick a topic that's too big, and stay away from using answers that other people might use. It's great if you want to be a doctor because you want to help people, but why a doctor as opposed to a social worker? Your essay should clearly demonstrate why the field you've chosen is the perfect one for you.


body_relax-3Believe it or not, relaxation is part of a good essay.


Key Tips for the UCF Essay

No matter what school you're applying to, there are some strategies you can always follow to be sure that you have a good, strong essay. Follow these steps as you're writing your UCF essay and you'll have a much easier time wrangling your thoughts and shaping them into something that'll impress the admissions office!


#1: Brainstorm

It'd be nice if you could just sit down and write a perfect draft on your first try, but that's not how most of us work. Instead, start with a little brainstorming. Set a five-minute timer and give yourself free rein to come up with as many possible answers to the prompts as possible, even if the answers are silly or weird or absolutely not in a million years going to work. Don't worry about it! Get everything you can think of down on paper now so you're not trying to herd your thoughts back into shape later on.


#2: Write a Draft

The benefit of getting all your ideas down on paper is that now you can pick and choose the ones that sound the best without getting midway through an essay before deciding the topic isn't working for you.

Cross out the choices that aren't strong enough to support a whole essay, even one as short as UCF's, to get those out of the way. Spend a little more time brainstorming some different points to hit on with the remaining topics and pick the one that feels strongest.

Using your brief outline, flesh the topic out into a full essay. Don't worry about getting it perfect the first time—that's what editing is for!


#3: Edit

Editing is tough; it means re-reading your work and dealing with all the flaws that creep in. But editing is what separates the good essays from the bad. Take a day or so away from your essay before diving back in to read it with fresher eyes, and try not to get frustrated as you go.

Read your work aloud to help you find sentences that are too long or lacking in punctuation. Cut out extra words—those "really"s and "very"s aren't doing any work for you—and rephrase to get as much of the essay into passive voice as you can. Read it aloud again, give it another pass, and keep going until you feel like your work is in as good of shape as you can possibly get it.


#4: Get Feedback

Now that you've put in some time in editing, it's time for the next scary step: showing your work to others. Choose a few people who you trust to give you honest, useful feedback—people who know what a good essay looks like, not just people who are going to tell you it's great—and ask them to take a look at it. Leave them with a copy to make notes on so that you can refer to them later.

When you read their feedback, don't take it too hard. Everything they have to say is a suggestion, and it's ultimately up to you whether you want to use it or not. Your essay should always, always, always be your work; don't rephrase things exactly as a teacher or counselor suggests if it isn't how you would say it.

Besides, readers aren't always right about the best way to fix errors. If the people reading your essay are confused about something, take that seriously! But don't feel like their suggestion to fix it is inherently the best way, especially if it contradicts your meaning. It's okay to disagree—it is your essay, after all.


#5: Revise and Submit

Take another break from your essay. Always try to edit with fresh eyes, if you can—trying to make changes when you've already spent a lot of time editing can either mean you miss mistakes or that you get so frustrated you give up. Spend some time away, working on an essay for a different school or doing something else entirely before you come back to it.

Now that you've had a break, take all that feedback you received and use it to spin your essay into gold. Smooth out places where readers were confused, and clean up any lingering grammar errors. Read it for clarity and flow, and tidy everything up.

When you've reached a point where you're satisfied, take one last break. Give yourself a little time away from it, then read it one more time. Are you happy with it? Great! It's time to submit! Send it off to UCF and anxiously wait for your acceptance letter to arrive.




What's Next?

As you're applying to UCF, it's good to be aware of their admission requirements. This guide will walk you through the average GPA and test scores at UCF to help you maximize your chances of getting in!

College essays should always be targeted to the school you're applying to, but there are some essay-writing strategies that work no matter what school you're applying to.

If you're applying to college, it's a good idea to be aware of how to apply for financial aid. Make a plan and stick to it to ensure you get the maximum money available to you!



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Melissa Brinks
About the Author

Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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