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How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction | Examples
Published on October 4, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on August 14, 2023 by Kirsten Courault.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays each application season, and they may devote as little as five minutes to reviewing a student’s entire application. That means it’s critical to have a well-structured essay with a compelling introduction. As you write and revise your essay , look for opportunities to make your introduction more engaging.
There’s one golden rule for a great introduction: don’t give too much away . Your reader shouldn’t be able to guess the entire trajectory of the essay after reading the first sentence. A striking or unexpected opening captures the reader’s attention, raises questions, and makes them want to keep reading to the end .
Table of contents
Start with a surprise, start with a vivid, specific image, avoid clichés, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.
A great introduction often has an element of mystery. Consider the following opening statement.
This opener is unexpected, even bizarre—what could this student be getting at? How can you be bad at breathing?
The student goes on to describe her experience with asthma and how it has affected her life. It’s not a strange topic, but the introduction is certainly intriguing. This sentence keeps the admissions officer reading, giving the student more of an opportunity to keep their attention and make her point.
In a sea of essays with standard openings such as “One life-changing experience for me was …” or “I overcame an obstacle when …,” this introduction stands out. The student could have used either of those more generic introductions, but neither would have been as successful.
This type of introduction is a true “hook”—it’s highly attention-grabbing, and the reader has to keep reading to understand.
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If your topic doesn’t lend itself to such a surprising opener, you can also start with a vivid, specific description.
Many essays focus on a particular experience, and describing one moment from that experience can draw the reader in. You could focus on small details of what you could see and feel, or drop the reader right into the middle of the story with dialogue or action.
Some students choose to write more broadly about themselves and use some sort of object or metaphor as the focus. If that’s the type of essay you’d like to write, you can describe that object in vivid detail, encouraging the reader to imagine it.
Cliché essay introductions express ideas that are stereotypical or generally thought of as conventional wisdom. Ideas like “My family made me who I am today” or “I accomplished my goals through hard work and determination” may genuinely reflect your life experience, but they aren’t unique or particularly insightful.
Unoriginal essay introductions are easily forgotten and don’t demonstrate a high level of creative thinking. A college essay is intended to give insight into the personality and background of an applicant, so a standard, one-size-fits-all introduction may lead admissions officers to think they are dealing with a standard, unremarkable applicant.
Quotes can often fall into the category of cliché essay openers. There are some circumstances in which using a quote might make sense—for example, you could quote an important piece of advice or insight from someone important in your life. But for most essays, quotes aren’t necessary, and they may make your essay seem uninspired.
If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Writing process
- Transition words
- Passive voice
- How to end an email
- Ms, mrs, miss
- How to start an email
- I hope this email finds you well
- Hope you are doing well
Parts of speech
- Personal pronouns
The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.
The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.
Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.
In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.
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How To Write a College Essay, With Examples
Whether you’re prepared or not, there comes a time when every student is faced with writing their first college essay. Even if you’re a natural writer, writing a college essay is still a daunting task. Here’s a method for tackling the process and a few examples to inspire you.
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Preparing to write your college essay
The old saying goes, “Those who fail to prepare prepare to fail.” Why spend time and energy cleaning up a mess when you can avoid making one in the first place?
- Make sure you understand the assignment. There’s no shame in asking your professor to clarify. Your success depends on understanding what she wants Here are some ways to ask for clarification .
- Research and create a basic outline as you go. Roll research and the initial outlining process into one simple step. As you research, create an info dump—a bullet-pointed list of the topics you want to cover. Add links to articles and citations as you go so you can refer to them easily.
- Figure out what you want to say. What’s the main argument or idea you’ll express? You need to know before you begin. In order to make a point, you have to have one.
- Create a classic, canonical outline. Once you have a clearer vision for your central idea or argument, it’s time to organize your info-dump. Prune out anything irrelevant and organize your outline into the classic structure .
Drafting your essay
By the end of the research and planning process, you’ll feel energized and ready to write about all this interesting stuff your research (or your brainstorming process , if your essay requirement is more personal) has uncovered. Use that energy to write a draft.
Here’s a tip: Don’t spend a lot of time drafting your intro up front. Often, the article itself informs the introduction, and you won’t know what your intro should say until your essay is finished.
The parts of a college essay
Your intro tells your reader what to expect from your essay. Think of it as a brief roadmap that begins with an intriguing opening line, includes a quick summary of the topic and ideas you’ll present, and concludes with a thesis statement.
It’s important to draw your reader in from the very first sentence. Take a look at some of these opening lines from college entrance essays submitted to Stanford University .
While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.
I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
Summary of your topic, ideas, or argument
Your opening paragraph should introduce the subject matter and the points you intend to make. They should give some background to support the thesis statement you’ll make at the end of the introduction.
The debate over athletes’ use of performance-enhancing substances is getting more complicated as biotechnologies such as gene therapy become a reality. The availability of these new methods of boosting performance will force us to decide what we value most in sports—displays of physical excellence developed through hard work or victory at all costs. For centuries, spectators and athletes have cherished the tradition of fairness in sports.
— Argumentative Essay Examples, Skyline College
Your thesis statement comes at the end of your introduction. Here’s the thesis statement from the Skyline College example above. It states the main point of the essay, which the author intends to make a case for.
While sports competition is, of course, largely about winning, it is also about the means by which a player or team wins. Athletes who use any type of biotechnology give themselves an unfair advantage and disrupt the sense of fair play, and they should be banned from competition.
The introduction states what’s at stake, and the body presents the evidence. In the case of an argumentative essay, the evidence might be research. In a more personal essay, it might be made up of the author’s own experiences.
Write the body in a logical order. Some essays work well chronologically, where the events are presented in the same sequence that they happened in time. Argumentative essays are often emphatic, where the least important points are presented first and build up to the most important.
If your essay includes research, don’t be shy about including substantial statements, just make sure they’re properly cited. Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker to help you find any citations you may have missed and properly attribute them. (Trust us—your professor will check for plagiarism and find it if you don’t!)
In your conclusion , you wrap everything up in a neat package. Restate your thesis in a clear way without repeating it word for word. Leave your reader with a takeaway or something to think about. Here’s the conclusion of the Skyline College essay sample.
Unless we are willing to organize separate sporting events and leagues—an Olympics, say, for athletes who have opted for a boost from the test tube and another for athletes who have chosen to keep their bodies natural—we should ask from our athletes that they dazzle us less with extraordinary performance and more with the fruits of their hard work.
How To Start a College Essay: 9 Effective Techniques
This post was co-written by me (Ethan) and Luci Jones (Brown University, CO ‘23).
How to start a college essay TABLE OF CONTENTS
The full hemingway, the mini hemingway, the philosophical question, the confession, the trailer thesis, the fascinating concept, the random personal fun fact, the shocking image.
In anything you do, there’s a special, pivotal moment.
I don’t mean the moment when inspiration strikes or the last brushstroke is painted or the audience oohs and ahs over the final product. The point in time we’re talking about here is the Moment When You Do The Darn Thing (DTDT for short). It’s when you get off the couch, stop binging Netflix , and take action. It’s when you put pencil to paper, fingers to keyboard, or *insert whatever other analogy feels applicable here.*
For many, getting started is the hardest part of anything. And that’s understandable. First, because it turns whatever you’re doing into a reality, which raises the stakes. Second, because where you start can easily dictate the quality of where you end up.
College essays have their own special brand of DTDT. Knowing how to begin a college essay is daunting. It can be hard to write an engaging, authentic opener. But without an interesting hook, you risk getting lost in a vast sea of applications. To this end, we’ve put together some techniques about how to start a college essay to make your DTDT moment a little smoother and a little less stressful.
I say “probably” because I’m about to share a few overused techniques that I don’t recommend. Having said that, it is possible to pull them off—they’re just really hard to do well.
The Overly Grand Ambiguous Statement: From a distance, it might seem nice to talk about why all of humankind has felt some type of way for as long as history has existed. (Examples: “Many great thinkers have existed in our nation’s history” or “The key to a successful endeavor is perseverance.”) But these kinds of overly generalized or impersonal grand statements get lost easily in the crowd because they don’t tell the reader much about you. And without a connection to you, there’s not much reason for them to continue reading.
Going Meta: As cool as it may seem to demonstrate to your audience that you are aware of how you’re writing your essay in the moment you’re writing it, it’s less cool to college admissions officers who read meta stuff like that all the time. There are other, more subtle ways to demonstrate self-awareness in your intro rather than to open your essay with some variation of, “I stare at the blank screen...” or, worse, “When I was asked to write this personal statement, at first I wasn’t sure how to begin.” Note that the meta essay can sometimes work (you’ll see a couple examples below), but has a higher degree of difficulty.
The Quote: While quoting famous people who have said something cool in the past may seem like an appealing way to start your essay, remember that colleges want to hear YOUR thoughts. Don’t use the words of another person to stand in for your own opinions or insights. You have cool things to say. It may just take a little while to discover what those things are.
The Too-Obvious Thesis That Spoils the Ending of the Movie (i.e. Your Essay): What if Avengers: Infinity War had opened with a voiceover from the director saying, “This is a film about how Thanos collects all the infinity stones and destroys half the population.” (Aaaaaand this is your too-late spoiler alert. Sorry. But don’t worry, they go back in time and undo it in Endgame . Oh, also spoiler.) That would’ve sucked. That’s what it feels like, though, if you start your essay with something like, “I want to be a veterinarian because I care about animals and the environment.” I read a sentence like that and I go, “Cool, thanks, now I can save myself the three minutes it would’ve taken to read the essay. Thank you, next.” While you may want to have that sentence in mind so you know what you’re trying to get across (this is called a logline), just don’t give away the whole thing. Instead, start your essay with something to pique our interest. How? We’re about to share 9 ways.
Want to read a few more college essay tips? Check out this huge list from admissions experts.
9 WAYS TO START A COLLEGE ESSAY:
An image-based description that focuses on a particular moment and doesn’t explain much—at least not right away. This technique lets dialogue, actions, or details speak for themselves.
(Note that there are many other authors that do this — it’s part of great writing — but my little brother suggested Hemingway and I kinda’ liked the sound of it.)
Every Saturday morning, I’d awaken to the smell of crushed garlic and piquant pepper. I would stumble into the kitchen to find my grandma squatting over a large silver bowl, mixing fat lips of fresh cabbages with garlic, salt, and red pepper.
Why It Works: In this intro, the author paints a very visceral picture of waking up in the morning to the smell of her grandmother’s traditional Korean cooking. Through the careful word choice (“piquant pepper,” “fat lips of fresh cabbages,” etc.), we get a sense that something important is happening, even if we don’t know what it is yet. But this one can be difficult to pull off if you don’t help the reader understand why you’ve described what you’ve described. Read the rest of the essay here .
Which brings us to...
An image-based description, perhaps 1-3 sentences in length, that focuses on a particular moment and then follows up with a sentence that explains, comments on, or somehow provides context for what is being described.
Take a look at how this can happen by just adding one sentence to the example above (see bolded line below):
Every Saturday morning, I’d awaken to the smell of crushed garlic and piquant pepper. I would stumble into the kitchen to find my grandma squatting over a large silver bowl, mixing fat lips of fresh cabbages with garlic, salt, and red pepper. That was how the delectable Korean dish, kimchi, was born every weekend at my home.
Why it Works: This single sentence hints at some of the author’s core values—culture, ritual, family—without giving too much away about where the essay is headed. Like any good intro, this one creates more questions that answers. (Read the rest of the essay here .)
They covered the precious mahogany coffin with a brown amalgam of rocks, decomposed organisms, and weeds. It was my turn to take the shovel, but I felt too ashamed to dutifully send her off when I had not properly said goodbye. I refused to throw dirt on her. I refused to let go of my grandmother, to accept a death I had not seen coming, to believe that an illness could not only interrupt, but steal a beloved life.
Why It Works: The author drops us right into the middle of something we know nothing about, yet it invites us to care. How? The specifics. The details she notices and the resistance she’s feeling help to put us in her shoes. This means we don’t just feel sympathy, we feel empathy . And that empathetic connection heightens the stakes for us by raising questions: How did her grandmother die? Why can’t the author let her go? Why is she angry? (Spoiler: It turns out she’s more angry at herself than anyone else. Read the rest of the essay here .)
The author begins with information that creates certain expectations about them before taking us in a surprising direction.
Growing up, my world was basketball. My summers were spent between the two solid black lines. My skin was consistently tan in splotches and ridden with random scratches. My wardrobe consisted mainly of track shorts, Nike shoes, and tournament t-shirts. Gatorade and Fun Dip were my pre-game snacks. The cacophony of rowdy crowds, ref whistles, squeaky shoes, and scoreboard buzzers was a familiar sound. I was the team captain of almost every team I played on—familiar with the Xs and Os of plays, commander of the court, and the coach’s right hand girl. But that was only me on the surface. Deep down I was an East-Asian influenced bibliophile and a Young Adult fiction writer.
Why It Works: We’re introduced to the author as a basketball superstar, the queen of the court, a sports fanatic—and at this point the reader may even be making assumptions about this author’s identity based on her initial description of herself. However, in one sentence, the writer takes us in a completely unexpected direction. This plays with audience expectations and demonstrates that she has a good degree of self awareness about the layers of her identity. After having our expectations thrown for a loop, we can’t help but wonder more about who exactly this person is (and if you want to know like I did, read the rest of this essay here ).
I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile. But I am not any of these things. I am not a test score, nor a debater, nor a writer. I am an anti-nihilist punk rock philosopher. And I became so when I realized three things:
Why It Works: He basically tears up his (impressive) resume in the first few sentences and says, “That’s not me! Here’s the real me…” and as a result we wonder, “How does one become an anti-nihilist punk rock philosopher? And what are the three things??” (Read the rest here .)
Ask a question that you won’t (and probably can’t) answer in your essay. This gives you a chance to show how your brilliant brain works, plus keeps us hooked as you explore possible answers/solutions.
Does every life matter? Because it seems like certain lives matter more than others, especially when it comes to money.
Why it Works: It raises a complex, interesting question and poses a controversial idea: that we treat some lives as though they matter more than others. We wonder: “Is that true? Could it be? Say more…” Heads-up: This one can veer into the “Overly Grand Ambiguous Statement” opening if you’re not careful. Click here to read the rest of the essay mentioned above, which by the way took him a long time to refine—as this approach is not easy to pull off.
Begin by admitting something you might be judged (or judge yourself) for.
I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays. (Read the rest here .)
Why it Works: Shows vulnerability, but also in many cases intrigues us to learn more.
Here is a secret that no one in my family knows: I shot my brother when I was six. Luckily, it was a BB gun. But to this day, my older brother Jonathan does not know who shot him. And I have finally promised myself to confess this eleven year old secret to him after I write this essay.
Why It Works: This is a super vulnerable to admit and raises all sorts of questions for us: Why did he shoot his brother? Why hasn’t he confessed it to him? What will his brother say once he tells him? (Fun fact: This essay actually breaks the “don’t start with a quote” rule. Here’s the rest if you wanna’ read it.)
A contextualizing 1-2-sentences (often at the end of the first paragraph) to ground the essay by giving us a sneak peek at what’s to come in the essay—but that do NOT give away the ending.
Example (I’ve marked it in bold below at the end of the first paragraph):
Six years ago, a scrawny twelve year old kid took his first steps into Home Depot: the epitome of manliness. As he marched through the wood section, his eyes scrolled past the options. Red Oak? No, too ubiquitous. Pine? No, too banal. Mahogany? Perfect, it would nicely complement his walls. As days went on, the final product was almost ready. 91 degree angles had been perfected to 90. Drawer slides had been lubricated ten times over. Finally, the masterpiece was finished, and the little boy couldn’t help but smile. A scrawny 12-year-old kid had become a scrawny 12-year-old man. This desk I sit at has not only seen me through the last six years, but its story and the story of the objects I keep on it provide a foundation for my future pursuits.
Why It Works: As we read the first few sentences of this paragraph we might wonder, “Where is this going?” But this sentence sets us at ease and—again, without giving too much away—gives us a sense of what’s to come. We know that we’re going to learn about the author and his future through the objects on his desk. Great! It also signals to the reader “Don’t worry, you’re in good hands. I’m still aware of the task at hand.”
Begin with a concept that’s unusual, paradoxical, and/or marked a turning point in your thinking. This is often followed up with context explaining where the concept came from and why the author is considering it.
Crayfish can turn their red blood cells into precursor neuronal cells, I read in shock. The scientific paper, published in Cell 2014, outlined the process where crayfish could regenerate lost eyestalks or olfactory (smell and odor) nerves with their blood – they could see and smell again! It seemed unfair from an evolutionary standpoint. Humans, who were so much larger than a 7-ounce crayfish, couldn’t use their abundant blood to fix their brain damage.
Why It Works: This opening signals to the reader that the author is: a) someone who has read quite a bit, b) curious, and c) knows, as I like to say, “some stuff about some stuff.” In this case, she knows some science stuff.
Do you know some stuff about some stuff? If so, a little geeky language can help signal this to the reader. Don’t overdo it, though, or it can seem showy.
FYI: I see this more often at the start of great essays than personal statements, as this can often lead to an essay that’s more heady/intellectual and less vulnerable/personal. A variation on this that’s a bit more personal is the...
Begin with a strange fact about yourself to grab our attention. Then go on to say why it’s meaningful. Example:
I subscribe to what the New York Times dubs “the most welcomed piece of daily e-mail in cyberspace.” Cat pictures? Kardashian updates? Nope: A Word A Day.
(Read the rest here .)
Why It Works: It pulls us in by making us think, “Oh, that’s cool!” and then wondering, “Okay, where is this going?”
Grab our attention with an incredibly specific and arresting image or sentence. Then tell us why it matters.
Smeared blood, shredded feathers. Clearly, the bird was dead. But wait, the slight fluctuation of its chest, the slow blinking of its shiny black eyes. No, it was alive.
Why It Works: This style subtly highlights the writing talent of the author without drawing attention away from the content of the story. In this example, the staccatoed sentence fragments convey a sense of halting anxiety and also mimic the movement of the bird’s chest as it struggles to breathe. All sorts of questions come up: What happened to the bird? What will the author do? (Read the rest of the essay here .)
February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain.
(Read the rest of the essay here .)
Bowing down to the porcelain god, I emptied the contents of my stomach. Foaming at the mouth, I was ready to pass out. My body couldn’t stop shaking as I gasped for air, and the room started spinning. (Read the rest of the essay here .)
There are, of course, many more kinds of openings—and I’ll add to this post as I discover new ones.
We get it, writing a standout introduction is easier said than done. Hopefully though, after seeing some examples of dynamic and thoughtful intros that used our techniques, you’re inspired to brainstorm some of your own . You’ve got this. DTDT has never looked so good.
Have a great college essay opening or a new type of opening you’d like to suggest? Share it in the comments below!
This post was co-written by me (Ethan) and Luci Jones (Brown University, CO ‘23). Luci took my How to Write a Personal Statement course last year. The essay that she produced was so good and her writing was so beautiful, I’ve asked her to help me co-write this blog post with me, create a few techniques for writing a great introduction, and analyze why they work so well.
WANT HELP writing YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT? CHECK OUT A FREE TRIAL OF MY STEP-BY-STEP VIDEO COURSE HERE
Watch the lessons on your own or via the live option.
- College Application
College Essay Introduction Examples
Reading some college essay introduction examples is a great place to start if you’re struggling to begin writing your college essay. The college essay is a significant hurdle for many college applicants but reading sample college essays can help inspire your writing. Knowing how to write a killer introduction, though, is the first step, as the introduction of your essay can make or break your entire essay. In this blog, we’ll learn why the college essay introduction is so important, how to structure it and a step-by-step guide on how to write a killer essay introduction. We’ve also included some college essay introduction examples to guide you!
>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<
Article Contents 7 min read
Why the college essay introduction is so important.
Your college essay can be vital to your admission to your top school, and the introduction of your college essay can make it or break it. The introduction of your college admissions essay, or common app essay , is often overlooked, but it is a crucial part of the overall essay. Why? Because your introduction is quite literally the first opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions committee, and you need to make an impression. Getting into college requires more than high grades and good test scores nowadays. You need a well-rounded and impressive application. And to do this you need to know how to write a college essay . To write an essay that stands out from the crowd and makes you a memorable candidate for admission, you’ll need to know how to write an excellent college essay introduction.
The introduction of your college essay is so crucial because it is what first grabs your reader’s attention. Like any good piece of writing, if you don’t snag your reader’s interest in the first sentence, they won’t be inclined to read the rest of your essay. And you need them to be interested and engaged so you can make your point. A college essay counts for a significant portion of your overall candidacy as a college applicant. It can even be your secret to how to get into college with a low GPA . But writing essays is not easy, and introductions can be especially tricky for students to write. This is why plenty of college applicants hire college essay advisors to help them write their common app essays or supplemental college essays .
If you plan to apply to any of the schools which use the common app essay, you’ll be somewhat familiar with the required short essay format and structure. Your college essay will be around 250-650 words maximum, so your introduction needs to be fairly concise. It’s best to keep your introduction just a few sentences long, so you’ll need to be very wise with your words and make the most of each one. You may also want to add a title to your essay. This is not a requirement and should only be included if you think the title adds something significant. Otherwise, leave it out.
Here’s a list of what to include in your college essay introduction:
A college essay needs to have good flow, and this starts in the introduction. This means your \u201chook\u201d sentence needs to connect to the rest of your introduction, and then needs to connect seamlessly to your body paragraphs. Your writing should follow a clear path from your hook to your conclusion. One way to keep good flow is to use a strong transition sentence, but another way is to guide your reader. The second sentence, after your hook, shouldn\u2019t be unrelated or step away from your point, it should lead your reader to the reason why you are writing this essay. ","label":"Good flow","title":"Good flow"}]' code='tab1' template='BlogArticle'>
Before any writing can begin, we’ll need to start the brainstorming process. This is essentially gathering and writing down the key experiences, significant moments and important lessons you have learned throughout your life. Everyone’s experiences are unique, and the ideas you write down may vary depending on your situation. If you’re a non-traditional college applicant, you might write about the gap year you took after high school, or why you’re going back to college after years of working in your field. International students might write about their decision to study overseas or their experience with culture shock. First time college applicants may draw on their experiences with summer programs for high school students or the work experiences they’ve included in their high school resume .
Your choice of essay topic or the personal experiences you choose to highlight in your essay may also be influenced by the essay prompt or essay question, if the school provides one. If this is the case, you can reflect on which prompt or question resonates most with you or choose to write more than one essay if more than one prompt resonates. For schools that do not provide a question or essay prompt, you can reflect on your future career goals, personal goals or the reasons why you are applying to college.
Whatever your situation or your story, gather all of the personal experiences you can think of and jot them down. Brainstorming is an important process, but they key is to write down absolutely every idea you can think of to start.
Some personal experiences you might draw from for your brainstorming session could be:
- What sparked your interest in applying to college
- What life experiences sparked your interest in a particular field of study
- What made you interested in a career in this field of study
- What activities did you partake in growing up that grew your interest in this field
- What activities did you pursue during high school that grew your interest in this field
- What solidified your decision to apply to college
Your college essay is at heart a narrative that either answers the essay question or answers the question “why are you applying to this school?” Your essay should take the reader through each stage of your decision, but your introduction’s primary role is to grab the reader’s interest and set the stage. And just like an excellent stage play seizes the audience’s attention from the moment the lights turn on the stage, your essay needs to do the same. Be the narrator of your narrative and share with the audience what will be learned about you from reading your essay.
Want more tips for writing a college essay? Watch this video!
Here’s a quick guide to brainstorming and writing your college essay introduction
Once your essay is fully outlined, or even drafted, you might write your introduction last. This way you already know what your essay is about and just need to introduce it to the reader. "}]'>
Once you’ve drafted your introduction, give it a read. Does the hook sentence grab you? Try reading it aloud and see how it flows into the body of your essay. If it doesn’t pique your own interest, it won’t hold your reader’s! Ask a friend, family member, college advisor or acquaintance to read it and give you feedback on your intro. Try a few different versions of your hook sentence or refine your transition sentence. Make sure your introduction is as strong as can be.
For our college essay introduction examples, we’ve used a few of the common app essay prompts you might see on your application. We’ve included sample introductions for essays from students of various different life experiences and situations to help you!
Prompt: 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?
My love affair with painting started late in life. After 25 years of working as a science teacher, I never expected my hunt for a pre-retirement hobby to turn into a shift in career path. Painting has become a daily solace for me, and my involvement in my local arts community has opened up career opportunities I never dreamed of. And it has sparked a fascination with the arts and what it can add to my life. This fascination first started when I accepted an invitation from a friend to see her work on display at a local Art Walk.
Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
I thought I would spend my gap year after high school laying on a beach and getting tan. Instead, I experienced a profound transformation within myself as I immersed myself in a new culture and a new people. A month after my graduation, I was on a plane on my way to Thailand, nothing on my mind except sun and sad. A year after, Thailand sent me home with an entirely new perspective and appreciation for life. When I left home, I was still unsure what I wanted from my life and whether I would apply for college. My wavering feelings were solidified after working with an amazing not-for-profit in some of Thailand’s remote villages, which also lead to the most impactful friendship of my life.
Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
What I remember most from the night my entire life collapsed was the brightness of the stadium lights overhead. Not the chaos of the crowd or the faces staring down at me, talking over me. I was deaf to all that. The lights were so blinding, so distracting. And I kept thinking, over and over, ‘don’t take me out of the game’. Thoughts that would be strangely prophetic later, in the hospital, when they told me I wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the season, or maybe ever again. My entire life, my expected future, flew off a cliff. In those coming months, I would learn what it really means to start over, to pick yourself back up and keep playing the game.
To write a killer opening to your college essay, focus on the very first sentence, your “hook”. It should be unique, interesting and “hook” the reader’s attention. It’s the “big idea” or main lesson learned from your college essay. Play around with the sentence length and structure to see what works and try reading the introduction aloud to hear how it sounds to your ear.
Try not to start your college essay introduction with a cliché or a quote. Cliches have been read thousands of times by admissions officers, and they want to see something unique and interesting, not the same old things. And using a quote to start your essay isn’t a good idea, since it is meant to be written in your own words, not someone else’s.
Writing a good hook takes some work. Try to think of how you would summarize your essay or the personal experience you are highlighting. What was the key lesson you learned? What is at the centre of your motivations? Try writing this topic sentence a few different ways and read it aloud to see how it sounds.
The introduction of your essay needs to grab your reader’s attention right away. If it doesn’t, the admissions committee won’t want to read the rest of your essay and you’ll have lost them already. As the college essay counts for a significant part of your overall application, the introduction is crucial for your success.
It’s best not to do this, even if the quote is inspirational for you. College admission committees want to hear what you have to say, not someone else.
You can include a title if you choose, but it’s best to leave it out unless the title adds something important to your overall essay.
The introduction of a college essay needs to include a “hook” sentence, a transition sentence, an introduction of your essay content and good flow.
It’s advisable to keep your college essay introduction short and concise. It should make up about 10% of your essay’s word count, so in some cases this is quite short!
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The Admissions Strategist
How to start a college essay: 8 killer tips.
College admissions essays are a vital part of your application.
They give the admissions committee a more personal understanding of you, and they can tip an admissions decision in your favor.
As with any piece of writing, it’s important to consider your audience when writing a college essay.
- In this case, the audience is an admissions officer who will likely read hundreds of essays , all addressing similar prompts, during the admissions cycle.
He may have read dozens of essays in the last few hours. As he turns to your application, he wants to read a well-written, engaging essay.
- How can you make this person feel excited about reading your essay?
- How can you immediately set yourself apart from dozens or hundreds of other applicants?
- How can you make the admissions officer want to really pay attention and read closely?
1. Keep it brief .
On college essays, students are generally limited to 500-700 words .
- That’s certainly not many words for such an important piece of writing, so it’s necessary for you to keep the essay introduction brief.
You need to get to the “meat” of the essay as quickly as possible.
- So while the college essay introduction is important, it shouldn’t take up the majority of your limited word count.
In the introduction, you do not need to summarize or preview everything that will be discussed in the essay.
- Instead, the college essay introduction should give a short, engaging glimpse into the rest of the piece.
When writing the first draft of your essay, it’s OK to go over the word count by 200-300 words.
- When cutting down the essay, start by refining the introduction. Since you likely started the essay by writing the introduction, there’s a good chance you included too much unnecessary background detail.
- When you reread the essay after a short break, you’ll realize how much of your introduction isn’t necessary.
As a benchmark, you don’t want the introduction to comprise more than 30% of the word count of the entire college essay.
Even then, we recommend keeping the introduction to around 20% of the essay.
2. Start with an attention grabber .
The very first sentence of your essay should be the “hook” or “grabber.” This sentence “hooks” readers or “grabs” their attention, making them want to read more.
This first sentence should provide rich details, engage a reader’s curiosity, or otherwise stand out from the rest.
Here are some sample grabbers from winning college essays:
I have old hands. (Stanford) If my life were a play, there would be two sets, two acts, and two sets of characters. (MIT) Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage. (Stanford) There is a hefty blue book in my bookcase that is older than any other book in my house. (MIT) When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read. (Stanford) As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen. (Stanford) I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks. (Stanford) I’ve been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old. (Stanford)
The first sentence can also be a question, but only if it’s particularly insightful or interesting, like this one:
While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe? (Stanford)
Don’t each of these sentences make you want to read more? That’s the impact of a well-written grabber.
Some of these sentences offer vivid details (the hefty blue book, the noxious chemicals, the old hands).
- Others engage our curiosity (How do you surf a lake? Is it true that a Stanford applicant couldn’t read in eighth grade? What is a hidden pocket of the universe?).
The rest simply stand out.
- For example, “I am forever bound to the hyphen,” is a thought-provoking and interesting statement. “I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks,” is a unique way to begin a college essay.
Where is she going with this?
You may also notice that, for the most part, these sentences are short.
This isn’t a necessity, but a short, intriguing opening sentence can be especially powerful.
Find a similarly unique or thought-provoking first sentence.
From the first few words, the admissions officer will be fully engaged in reading your essay.
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3. vividly describe an anecdote related to your essay’s main point..
After the initial grabber (or sometimes as part of the initial grabber), it’s a good idea to include a vivid anecdote .
Like the grabber, a detailed anecdote can keep your reader engaged and wanting to know more.
It can also effectively introduce the experience or topic you’ll be discussing.
Here’s an excerpt from another winning college essay (written by Shaan Merchant for Tufts University):
“Biogeochemical. It’s a word, I promise!” There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother’s famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out.
This highly detailed description of a family game of Bananagrams (a version of Scrabble) provides an excellent introduction to Merchant’s essay about his love of words.
Merchant could have started his essay with a dull sentence like, “I have loved words since I was a child.” Instead, he selected a colorful, entertaining anecdote that introduced this point far more creatively.
He also started with an intriguing grabber: “Biogeochemical.
- It’s a word, I promise!” Immediately, readers are pulled into the essay and wondering what inspired this opening piece of dialogue.
Brainstorm an anecdote that can introduce the main point of your essay (like a game of Bananagrams introduced Merchant’s love of words).
- If your essay is about an experience, you can open it by narrating a significant moment that was part of that experience.
To make the anecdote vivid, you should include specific details that paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
These images can describe any of the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, or touch.
- In our sample excerpt, for instance, Merchant mentions “shrieks and shouts” and “[his] grandmother’s famously flakey parantha” (flatbread). Later in his college admissions essay introduction, Merchant also references “small, glossy, plastic tiles” thrown into a pile.
In another winning college essay, a student vividly described the condition of his mother’s feet in relation to her hard work and sacrifice on his behalf.
The bottom line is this:
Come up with an anecdote that illustrates your essay’s point or the experience you’re describing.
Make sure you also include plenty of specific, descriptive adjectives. The admissions officer will be thankful for your refreshingly creative college essay introduction.
4. Connect the descriptive anecdote to the overall point of your essay.
A descriptive anecdote is creative, engaging, and a fun way to introduce the essay topic.
But it’s not very effective unless you explain how this anecdote is connected to the rest of the essay.
In this sentence, you can:
- Explain the importance of the experience or moment being described
- Explain how this moment is connected to a larger event or experience
- Explain what personal qualities or traits this anecdote illustrates
- Explain how the anecdote is connected to the overall point you will be making in the essay
In Merchant’s intro, he goes on to describe the game of Banagrams a bit more, including the fact that his dad won the game with “Rambo,” which Merchant contended was not a word.
After this entertaining and vivid description, Merchant writes, “Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life.”
With this brief sentence, Merchant explains what personal qualities are illustrated by his anecdote, as well as telling readers what the rest of the essay will be about.
After you write an anecdote, make sure you also provide 1-2 sentences explaining the significance of the anecdote and connecting it to the main topic of your essay.
In addition to making the essay topic clear to the reader, this type of sentence highlights excellent thinking skills.
5. Avoid stale, overused introductory techniques.
The goal here is to write a college essay introduction that is not like the other hundreds or even thousands of introductions the admissions officer has read.
This means it’s important to avoid boring, predictable introductory techniques.
- For example, you don’t want to say, “Many experiences have shaped my journey to college,” or, “The obstacles I’ve experienced have made me who I am.”
- These sentences are weak and vague, and they’re also likely written by many college applicants every year.
You also want to avoid the formulaic essay writing you may have learned in elementary or middle school.
- Do not write, “In this essay, I will tell you about…” or feel the need to list each of the main points you’ll cover.
- For example, it’s not necessary to write, “My volunteer work with blood drives, nursing homes, and mentoring programs has greatly influenced me.”
The college admissions essay should be more creative than a traditional essay written for English class.
For this reason, it’s better to ditch overused, formulaic introductions for something more unique.
6. Don’t try to use impressive vocabulary words.
In the sample introduction written by Shaan Merchant, he incorporated impressive words like “biogeochemical,” “parantha,” and later, “donnybrook.”
However, this complex word usage was intended to illustrate Merchant’s point about his lifelong love of words.
In most cases, however, it is best if you don’t try too hard to use multi-syllable vocabulary words intended to impress admissions officers.
- Usually, this will make the introduction sound unnatural. It won’t sound like your authentic voice , which is what admissions officers want to read.
Additionally, most admissions officers can recognize when an applicant is being genuine vs. when an applicant is simply trying to impress.
- Worse, some applicants may try to use complicated vocabulary and end up using it incorrectly.
It’s great for you to include a few more advanced words, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Otherwise, the introduction will sound stiff, forced, and unnatural .
The introduction should introduce not only the topic of the essay, but also your unique and authentic voice.
7. Write your college essay introduction last.
This may sound crazy, but it’s usually a good idea to write the introduction last.
First, construct the body of your essay.
- What are the main points you want to make?
- How have the experiences, people, or events described shaped or impacted your life?
- What do these experiences, events, or people tell admissions officers about you?
Once this information is complete, writing the perfect accompanying introduction is a simpler process.
- When you know exactly what you want to write in your essay, it’s easier to come up with a relevant anecdote.
- It’s also easier to generate a powerful, engaging grabber.
The introduction comes first in the essay, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it first.
If the introduction seems a little tricky, or if you get stuck with writer’s block, write the rest of the essay first.
Later, it’ll be far easier to come back to the introduction and think up a brilliant, relevant grabber and anecdote.
8. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
This is true of the college essay in general, but it’s especially important for the introduction.
The college essay introduction is the very first impression the college admissions officer will get of you.
Spelling and grammar mistakes in the introduction are the equivalent of arriving late to a job interview wearing ripped jeans.
It’s not a good first impression. Even if what comes next is great, the negative first impression is hard to forget.
Make sure your introduction is completely free of errors in grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, word usage, etc.
- Read over it multiple times, and have others check it multiple times as well.
Have a friend or relative with excellent grammar skills look over the essay, or ask your English teacher if he or she would take a look.
No matter how many times you and others have proofread the essay, check for errors one more time before sending it off.
Don’t ruin what could be a great essay with typos or mistakes in the very first paragraph.
Here are a few tips to ensure your college essay is mistake-free:
- Use Grammarly . This is a web extension that catches basic mistakes while you’re writing. Think of it as an upgraded spell check.
- Have a friend or teacher review the essay.
- Highlight the absolutely necessary sentences in your introduction. Which sentences create the meaning and essence of the introduction? Which sentences, once omitted, do not alter the meaning and effectiveness of the introduction?
Recap: How to Write a College Essay Introduction
An effective college essay introduction should “wow” admissions officers. It should be creative, intriguing, and unique.
Make sure you start with a strong “hook” or “grabber.” It’s a good idea to follow this first sentence with a vivid anecdote, which you will then connect to the overall topic of your essay. This is often easier to do if you go back and write the introduction last.
Avoid overused introductory techniques, spelling and grammar errors, and forced vocabulary.
If you follow these tips, the admissions officer will be interested in what you have to say from the very start.
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How to start a college essay: 10 strategies that worked.
Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University
Looking for tips on starting a college essay? Read on to learn the best ways to start an essay with examples.
College application essays can be some of the most intimidating parts of the college admissions process. You may even find yourself wondering how to start an essay for college. But don’t panic. This is your chance to show your personality amid a sea of other applicants.
More than all of your other application materials, your essay should be unique and personal. It is about you and is your chance to show who you are to colleges beyond the numbers. You will have your grades and educational background, but the essay is your chance to give admissions officers a taste of the personality behind them.
No matter the topic , most successful essays tell a personal story about the applicant and why they would be a good candidate for admittance. Whether you’re writing a transfer essay , a personal statement, or an essay for a scholarship , you’ll need to learn the basics of successful essay writing.
Knowing how to start a college essay will make your whole experience much easier. Our guide will cover the purpose of your college essays, how to start an essay, and best practices for crafting winning essays.
10 Effective Ways to Start a College Essay
There are many different ways that you can begin your college essay. Choosing something unexpected may help you stand out from other applicants! Here are some interesting ways to start essays that will help you grab the reader’s attention right away.
1. The Striking Description
Starting with a vivid description can be an excellent opener to seize your reader’s attention:
Example: “ Brown, crumpled leaves were heaped in the corners of the small, cold room. As I walked in, the smell of woodsmoke filled the air .”
This example of a bold opening instantly creates an image in the mind . The reader can easily begin to see themselves in the setting as the writer engages their senses — both sight with “brown, crumpled, small” and smell with “woodsmoke.”
This creates an interesting sensory experience for your reader and helps grab their attention right from the beginning of your essay. If you’re just learning how to begin an essay, this is a great opener to try your hand at.
You can try to create very unusual or disturbing imagery to really grab your reader’s attention, but be careful. Remember that reading the college essay is a subjective experience. If you disgust or upset your admissions officer, they might be less likely to accept you.
2. The Mystery
Begin by setting up questions your essay will answer . This “mystery” method ignites the reader’s sense of curiosity, which will motivate them to keep reading.
Example: “ The knife was on the countertop. It shouldn’t have been there .”
This example leaves the reader full of questions. “Whose knife?”, “Why shouldn’t it be there?” These are questions the essay will answer later on. It can be confusing and intriguing – they don’t know what’s going on and want to read on to understand.
This method can be very effective for opening your college essay. It creates mystery and poses questions — just make sure you answer each of those questions throughout the essay. Your goal is to intrigue the reader, not leave them feeling puzzled!
Take this example from a real-life, successful college application essay:
“ I live alone — I always have since elementary school. ” ( Kevin Zevallos , Connecticut College)
This gives an unusual detail that immediately poses questions — why would a child be living alone? It compels the reader to keep reading to find out more.
3. Direct Address
You can start your essay with a direct question to your reader to stand out from other essays the admissions committee will read:
Example: “Does every life matter? Do you think so?”
This example poses a divisive philosophical question and then turns it directly on the reader, seemingly putting pressure on them to answer. This can be a risky maneuver but is also very effective. Breaking the fourth wall can be quite shocking!
Acknowledging your situation as a writer for your college essay — ”when I began this essay…” — is closely related to this method, but you should use it cautiously. If overdone, it can easily become banal. However, if you think you have a way to use it for a killer opener, it can have excellent results.
4. The Anecdote
Using an anecdote or a short personal story can be an endearing way to begin your college essay. With this method, the writer shares an experience or an anecdote that highlights their strengths or unique perspective.
Example: “When I was five, I had a toy cat I dragged everywhere. We were inseparable! I begged my mom until I was 10 to get our first real cat, Luna, and my obsession with animal care began.”
The purpose of using an anecdote is to introduce yourself and your core traits immediately. This example is excellent because the writer uses a personal story to lead into their interest in animal care, which in this case is relevant to their choice of degree.
5. The Funny One
If appropriate, you can start your essay with a humorous anecdote or a witty comment to set the tone for your essay. Only use this method if it’s true to your personality, as it’s easy for humor not to come across in an essay.
Example: “Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon sugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree.”
This example comes from Brittany Stinson’s famous Costco college essay that got her into five Ivy League schools. Using a funny story in your college essay is a risk and should only be undertaken by strong writers with a good sense of humor. When done right, adding humor to your essay can equal a home run.
6. The Thoughtful Quote
Famous quotes are out, but that doesn’t mean all quotes are off the table. One impactful way to start your paper is to begin with a quote that plays a significant role in your story.
This could be a quote from any “main character” in your essay, such as a friend, family member, or teacher, that was said at a pivotal moment in your journey.
Example: “‘You’re not that important, nobody’s thinking about you. In a good way - you know? You can wear whatever you want.’
My best friend Sadie looked at me with a smile as I threw on my fourth outfit option. Maybe she was joking, but those words follow me to this day. Getting caught up in the opinions of others is silly, everyone’s got their own things to worry about! This mindset would later allow me to pursue my passion, and start my business.
In this example, the quote chosen comes from a personal story and represents an important shift in the writer's state of mind. To really drive the message home, recalling the quote and the end of the essay would help to create a memorable piece of work.
While famous quotes are often repetitive and forgettable - using a unique one from a personal story is an excellent way to stand out.
7. The Multilingual One
If you’re speaking about your upbringing or culture, one way to immediately intrigue the reader and nod to the main themes of your essay is to write in your native tongue for the opening sentence. This could also work if the main theme of your essay involves you learning a language.
Example: “Je t'aime, mon petit chou!” My mom called to me as I got ready for my first day of English school.
In the above example, the reader uses their first language to immediately tell the reader about themselves. Make sure to only use this method if speaking multiple languages ties into the key theme of your story.
8. The Three Pillars
This method can be applied to any of the above strategies. The very first line is only a part of your essay opening. When crafting your intro, rely on three things:
- An initial hook
- A description of your essay’s content and what story are you going to tell
- A pivot, where you show how you allude to the challenge of your paper
Example: “When I was 9, I had an obsession. Every day I would run outside and collect as many leaves and plants as I could to press, dry, and organise them. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised this simple hobby would be indicative of a diagnosis: autism.”
Your pivot will usually take the form of a thesis statement, where you set out the point you will make with your essay. This doesn’t necessarily mean you spoil the whole thing; you are just setting up the thing you’re going to say later.
From your opening paragraph, your reader should be engaged, aware of the story or content you are going to describe, and aware of the broad point you will try to make with your essay in relation to the prompt question.
9. The Date, Time, and Place
Simple, yet effective. Sometimes, the best way to start an essay is to begin by setting the scene in the most bare-bones way possible: by listing the date, time, and place that your story begins. You can even throw in another fact so long as it lends itself to your story.
Example: “June 26th, 2010
Swan Creek, Michigan
Population feels like: 5”
In this example, the writer sets us up to understand that they are from a small town and that the essay will discuss something significant that happened on this date in that place. It immediately makes the reader curious about what you’ll say! Just make sure that if you use this intro, your event is shocking enough to warrant it.
10. Start Halfway Through
Before we look at some real-life examples of successful college application essays , a last piece of advice is to not start writing your essay at the beginning. Starting your essay halfway through your story can be confusing yet impactful if done correctly. Then, you can include the beginning of your story in paragraph 2.
Example: “Ow!” my principal yelped, the entire weight of my project collapsing over him. I was mortified, and in deep trouble.”
Clearly with this intro, something needs to be set up for the opening paragraph to make sense. What “project”? Why is it falling? These are the questions your reader will want to know and that you can answer in your essay.
10 College Essay Introduction Examples That Worked
Let’s take a look at some good opening sentences for college essays that worked! These examples of how you can begin your essay are from our essay database and actually got people into college using the methods above.
Example Intro #1
“ My father said I didn’t cry when I was born. Instead, I popped out of the womb with a furrowed brow, looking up at him almost accusatorially, as if to say “Who are you? What am I doing here? While I can’t speak to the biological accuracy of his story — How did I survive, then? How did I bring air into my lungs? — it’s certainly true that I feel like I came preprogrammed with the compulsion to ask questions .” - Marina, Harvard
Why this intro worked: First, its initial line gives us an unusual, personal factoid about this person that immediately poses questions about the person — why didn’t they cry? What does this suggest about them? — that draws in the reader.
Secondly, it’s pretty funny. The image of a frowning baby instantly puts your reader in a good mood, making it likely the reader will enjoy reading the essay and feel a connection to you.
Then, the essay ends with a little hint of its meaning with the “compulsion to ask questions.” This is a fantastic move, going straight from the hilarity of an image as a baby to how it relates to the aspects of the applicant that are relevant to their college admission.
Example Intro #2
In this next example of a Princeton University application , the applicant creates a provoking twist to draw in the reader:
“ People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is…uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable. ”
Why this intro worked: This is an extremely effective opening. Its vague opening line immediately creates mystery and poses questions, drawing in the reader. Then, the benign questions are a setup for the vitriolic “you terrorist,” making it yet more shocking and upsetting.
We mentioned before how you might want to avoid this, but here is an example of where it works. The applicant sets up their argument on uncomfortable truths using clever writing techniques and their real-world experiences.
Example Intro #3
In this successful Harvard essay example intro, the writer recalls a challenging time dealing with heavy subject matter.
“On my parents’ 22nd wedding anniversary, we received the dreaded call. My grandfather, my father’s father, had succumbed to Covid-19. He died alone due to Covid restrictions. He and my grandmother had flown from [STATE] to [CITY] so that my grandmother could have a hip replacement at [HOSPITAL NAME]. He contracted Covid while in [CITY] and, in a tragic twist of events, he ended up dying in that very same hospital. When a loved one passes away, they are torn away from us, leaving a tear in our lives where they once were. In Judaism, we tear our clothes in mourning to symbolize our pain and sorrow. Sadly, the tears in our family fabric happened long before my grandfather died from Covid.”
Why this intro worked: This opening is straight to the point and effective due to its honesty. In admissions essays, don’t be scared to talk about difficult subjects. We’ve all experienced grief, loss, and trauma in our own ways, so choosing a story about this can help the reader learn a lot about you and how you manage to cope.
Example Intro #4
Here’s another intro example from a Harvard student’s essay.
“The grand piano beckons me as I climb the stage to perform. Trained fingers avidly seek the first keys. My heart beats staccato, my breath syncopates with excitement. No time to stall, I attack the first note…”
Why this intro worked: In this essay, the writer chooses to open with descriptive language. The way they paint the scene is captivating and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat, waiting to find out what comes next. Sometimes, a short intro can be the most effective; don’t worry about including all the details right off the bat.
Example Intro #5
Here’s an intro example from a successful “Why Us?” essay for Columbia.
“Watching Spider-Man fighting bad guys in New York made me want to do the same. I can be a superhero through my work as an architect, by designing spaces that improve communities and the well-being of others. Opportunities to research the connection between systemic issues and architecture compels me to Columbia.”
Why this intro worked: This intro is memorable because of the simple childhood movie reference and the unique way the student views his passion for architecture. Referencing a favorite film, can help the reader easily connect to your application. Just be careful that whatever you reference makes sense within your essay.
Example Intro #6
Take a look at this sample intro to an extracurricular essay for Stanford:
“Music is my life as much as my life is music. I can see what both are in their simplest manner during that moment of a symphony orchestra when all the instruments are listening to how the trumpet plays a note, and the piano answers each time. Someone plays, someone else answers, all throughout the song. It’s a conversation, in which they acknowledge each other's presence, thus giving each other life.”
Why this intro worked : The student’s passion for music is bursting through their words in this intro! It’s clear that they care deeply about music throughtheir use a unique metaphor: a conversation. This is a creative choice and serves to set this essay apart.
Example Intro #7
Here’s an example from a Dartmouth essay:
“POP! POP! POP! I’m reminded of a childhood vacation in Aruba with kids around me tossing firecrackers, but the hand pushing me firmly from behind told me these weren’t firecrackers. The authoritative voice of one of our [CONFERENCE NAME] members telling us to “Run!” confirmed that these were gunshots and that we were in imminent danger in the heart of [CITY].”
Why this intro worked : This essay opens with an action-packed scene, drawing the reader in immediately. The fast pace encourages you to keep reading and promises a compelling story to come. This is a writing technique known as in medias res (Latin for “in the midst”), and is an effective opening strategy for your college essay!
Example Intro #8
Here’s another intro example from an essay written for MIT:
“Right foot back, along with your weight, then put your weight back on your left leg, throwing yourself slowly forward and bringing back your right foot. Repeat with the left foot. That’s the first basic salsa movement I learned from some lessons taken with my mother when we accompanied my sister to her therapy in [CITY].”
Why this intro worked : This is a great example of a mystery opening. The reader is intrigued by the movement descriptions but doesn’t fully understand what it means until the writer mentions salsa dancing. It’s creative and attention-grabbing!
Example Intro #9
This intro example was written when applying to the UPenn Wharton School:
“The book I’d swept off my father’s desk in middle school was my first glimpse into business as Wharton professor Barbara Kahn’s The Shopping Revolution appeared before me. An avid shopper myself, middle school me was sold.”
Why this intro worked : In addition to providing a great image and a subtle sense of humor, this opening is great because it ties into the school without being obvious, with a quick mention of a Wharton professor, making the student’s passion for UPenn clear.
Example Intro #10
Check out this sample introduction from a Princeton applicant:
“It began with a tree. At age 7, I was digging up soil to help plant trees at [NAME OF ORGANIZATION]. It was blazing hot outside in the brutal [CITY] sun, yet somehow my heart was burning hotter - I had never felt a rush so fiery, so warm, so… euphoric. And I knew: this was the start of something new.”
Why this intro worked : This intro’s intriguing first sentence invites questions from the reader and then dives right into a passionate description by the author. The setup here masterfully sparks the reader’s imagination as to where this essay could be going!
College Essay Introductions to Avoid
Let’s discuss what you shouldn't include in the start of your essay. First, remain authentic. Avoid using famous quotes or anything that didn’t directly come from your experience.
Second, look to the great writer George Orwell. He had some excellent advice on making writing unique that you can implement in your college application.
With everything you write, ask yourself these questions :
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
These are all fantastic questions to ask yourself. If you can interrogate your drafts using this advice, you are sure to improve your college essay’s quality. If you don’t think that will be enough to guide you, Orwell also provided six “rules” — they are more guidelines than rules — that can provide more rigid advice:
- “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Obviously, some of these rules can sound pretty outdated — who says barbarous anymore? — but don’t let that distract you from the solid advice. Orwell’s questions and rules basically break down to this: Of everything you write, ask what you are trying to achieve and why you are making each choice.
You want your writing to precisely express, as much as it can, your own thoughts and opinions, rather than trying to seem clever with big words or coasting by using worn-out phrases.
Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about crafting a stellar college essay introduction.
1. Why Does the Start of My College Essay Matter?
Admissions officers process tens of thousands of applications every year, so you need to stand out, and the best place to do that is by seizing your reader’s attention at the very beginning.
2. What Should be the First Thing You Write in a College Essay?
The first thing you include in your college essay depends on the topic. However, no matter what topic your essay is about, you should be able to grab the reader’s attention right away and set up the story of your paper. The “who, what, when and where,” should be clear within the first 5 sentences.
3. How Can I Start A College Essay About Me?
Our personal statement (or other essays discussing your personal life) should start by introducing key factors of who you are that are relevant to the essay. Remember, college essays are the place for colleges to get to know you!
Just make sure not to include too much irrelevant background information and focus on the story of how you became interested in the college/degree you are applying for.
4. How Do I Begin A Narrative Essay?
There are various ways to begin a narrative essay. You might choose to begin with vivid description, a bit of punchy dialogue, or in medias res with some attention-grabbing action.
There’s a whole lot of information included here that can be pretty overwhelming. And while this may not have alleviated your tensions, it should teach you how to start a college essay.
The most important thing is this: If you can authentically talk about yourself, you’ve already made the best contribution to your college essay possible. Colleges are interested in who you are and not so much in your ability to learn writing techniques online.
That said, if you’re looking for ways to express yourself and stand out among other applicants, the tips listed here can help. Good luck!
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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
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Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
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How To Craft an Introduction Paragraph for Your College Essay?
EssayEdge > Blog > How To Craft an Introduction Paragraph for Your College Essay?
Writing the beginning of your essay may be the most challenging part of the writing process. Right here, you may come up with the problem of how to start a college essay.
When you sit down to write your college essay or college personal statement , don’t dismiss the introduction. In fact, it’s probably the most important part of your essay, because it draws in the reader. Ideally, this should begin right from the attention-grabbing opening sentence.
Many people make the mistake of writing an introductory paragraph that explains what they are going to talk about in the rest of the essay. Such a paragraph might include something such as the following: “My journey toward college has been shaped by a variety of experiences, including academic studies, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities.” The reader knows that you are going to talk about these things and is most likely muttering to himself, “Get to the point.”
A general rule to follow is this: Move your most compelling experience to the forefront, and structure your essay around it.
Table of Contents:
How to start off a college essay
Starting any process is really hard. Moreover, when it may impact your future. If you still don’t know how to start off your essay, our preparation tips may help you.
- Step 1: Just startYes, it sounds elementary. In fact, it is as simple as you can imagine. Take a piece of paper and start writing down the flow of your thoughts. Later it must transform into a definitive text.
- Step 2: Get ready to spend timeYour time is undoubtedly precious, so be ready to allocate a few hours for the essay, not hanging out with your friends.
- Step 3: Choose the topic related to youIf the educational institution doesn’t require a particular topic, the choice is yours. Be ready to write about something that essentially impacts your life. In this case, being general and common isn’t cool.
- Step 4: Take brakesDon’t try to write the whole essay at once. Take a break for a few weeks to think about making up your notes into the text and how to start your college essayto make it an awesome one.
- Step 5: Ask for helpThe process of writing an essay is exhausting and tough. If you are not sure about the data you want to include, you can ask for help. There is nothing wrong with asking your friends or parents to have a small talk about admission writing. Also, you can refer to college essay editing to be secure about what you have written.
College essay introduction
After generalizing received information about college essays, you can finally have thought about how to start college essay.
Your introduction is the first step on the way to success. It makes the first and primary impression on the reader. It must be a straight text without overall points. The introduction must include the thesis – the general idea of the whole text. Its purpose is to tell the person who will read the essay a clear idea of the text below. In particular, it is one sentence that covers the main point of the writing. The best appropriate volume for your college essay introduction is about five sentences. It is enough to begin and make the general first impression.
Strategies on how to start a college essay
Start from structuring your introduction and crafting a meaningful thesis statement. Think about what your readers need to know about you, and in what sequence. Here are some approaches you can take for your college essay introduction:
Strategy 1: Don’t Waste Time
You don’t need to restate the essay prompt. If you open with something like, “I want to go to college to learn and achieve my goals,” this will just waste the reader’s time. Don’t start your essay with something generic and unnecessary.
Consider this applicant’s introduction:
“ I can’t tell you in which peer group I’d fit best because I’m a social chameleon and am comfortable in most; I will instead describe my own social situation and the various cliques I drift in and out of. ”
This applicant writes what starts out as a potentially engaging introduction, but the paragraph immediately loses the reader’s interest by telling him what the applicant is going to write about.Now consider the applicant’s second paragraph:
“ My high school’s student body is from a part of town that is much more diverse than the rest of the city, and the city as a whole is more diverse than most of the state. The location of my school, only a few blocks from the University of Oregon, is greatly responsible for the social atmosphere. Whereas the other high schools in town draw mainly from middle-class white suburban families, mine sits in the division between the poor west university neighborhood and the affluent east university one. East university is hilly and forested with quiet residential streets and peaceful, large houses. A few blocks west, using the university as the divider, the houses become small and seedy. On the west side of my school, there are many dirty apartments; crime is high and social status is low. ”
Here, the writer engages the reader by providing a vivid description of the locale of his home and school. He probably felt he needed the introductory paragraph so the reader would not be confused by his second paragraph. However, by adding such a short and bland introduction, he has decreased the effectiveness of his personal statement. It is sometimes unnecessary to establish context right away. Let your story flow, engaging the reader and gradually relating setting and context.
Strategy 2: The advice to jump right in also applies to anecdotes. One effective way to grab the reader’s attention is to describe the action of your story.
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The above introduction does a much better job of engaging the reader. Dialogue can be a very effective way to win over the reader’s attention. This applicant lets the reader know the setting—his French class—even though he never explicitly states the location of the story. He paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind while incorporating the element of mystery, as the reader wonders what further action will occur, as well as what the point of this anecdote will ultimately be.
Strategy 3: Stand Out
If there is something unique about yourself that is also relevant to your essay, then, by all means, start with that! You’re up against hundreds, if not thousands, of other applicants, so whatever makes you stand out from the crowd is going to work in your favor.
This applicant starts with:
“ When I was four years old I decided to challenge conventional notions of the human limit by flying through a glass window. The impetus was Superman, whose exploits on television had induced my experiment. Nine stitches and thirteen years later, while I no longer attempt to be stronger than steel or faster than a speeding bullet, I still find myself testing my limits, mental and physical. ”
This applicant takes a similar approach:
“ I am an addict. I tell people I could stop anytime, but deep inside, I know I am lying. I need to listen to music, to write music, to play music every day. I can’t go a whole day without, at the very least, humming or whistling the tunes that crowd my head. I sing myself hoarse each morning in the shower, and playing the trumpet leaves a red mouthpiece-shaped badge of courage on my lips all day. I suspect that if someone were to look at my blood under a microscope, they would see, between the platelets and t-cells, little black musical notes coursing through my body. ”
Both writers have succeeded in grabbing our attention and revealing something unique about their personalities, which they will go on to explain in further detail.
Strategy 4: A Concrete Image
Starting with a concrete image helps the reader to grasp your point more immediately. For example, this applicant begins to describe her favorite places to think:
“ While eating Cheerios, my eyes wandered from the yellow giant cardboard box to the white plastered ceiling, with shades of dawn in muted colors, and back to my bowl of cereal. ”
This is probably not a particular episode since the applicant frequently uses the kitchen table as a thoughtful refuge. Yet she offers a vivid description with concrete details, and so we can picture her sitting at her kitchen table, letting her mind drift into pensive thought.
Strategy 5: An Element of Mystery
There are many ways to engage your reader, but the elements of mystery and surprise are perhaps the most effective. With admissions officers pouring over as many as fifty essays in a day, they begin to scan applicant statements, stopping to read only those that are written extremely well and are out of the ordinary. There is perhaps no better way to get your readers to finish reading your personal statement than to make them guess what you are writing about through the element of mystery.
“ I had a mental image of them standing there, wearing ragged clothes, hot and depressed, looking upon us as intruders in their world. They would sneer at our audacity. We would invade their territory only to take pictures and observe them like tourists. ”
Though the applicant provides precise details that help form a concrete picture in the mind of the reader, he makes sure to keep from relating other vital information that will establish context until the second paragraph:
“We climbed out of the van and faced eleven men assembled in the shade. My mental image was confirmed. My class, consisting of twelve primarily white, middle-class students, felt out of place. Our Politics of Food curriculum at Governor’s School, a summer environmental program, included an interview with migrant workers. We were at a farmworker labor camp in southern New Jersey, but judging from the rural landscape, it may as well have been Iowa. I felt like a trespasser.”
Strategy 6: Share a Problem
Share a problem you have faced, and then explain how you tackled it. This applicant relates how an issue of international prominence became personalized for him and his family:
“I have often wondered whether the United States has an obligation to get involved in the internal conflicts of other countries. When does the power to intervene become an obligation to act? I gained some insight into this dilemma when a small part of the Bosnian war spilled into my home last year.”
You do not need to limit yourself to far-reaching global issues. You could state a general problem common to the lives of most people and then go on to personalize it for yourself, relating how it affects you and what you are doing or will do to address it. There are many possibilities here, but what unites them is the element of drama, and you should use that to your advantage in creating a strong introduction.
How to start college essay examples: a piece of inspiration for you
After having a lot of information about writing the essays, you may think that you need a successful essay example to understand how it works. It may help you to understand the structure of the text better. Also, you can find inspiration while reading. It is even possible that a college admission essay example can influence your opinion on some points of life.
Moreover, reading successful essays can make up a pattern in your mind. Therefore, you will understand the writing model in advance. So, while writing, you won’t have to spend time searching for additional information on how to write your essay.
If you wonder where you can read about how to start a college essay example, here is the answer. You can find it in different blogs and articles. Admitted students have the pleasure to share their successful application stories. Sometimes they do it in a funny way. Though you will spend time not only having fun but also gaining knowledge and useful insights.
For more details on how to start a college essay, you can refer to EssayEdge blog.
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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .