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Master the Five-Paragraph Essay
The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.
Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.
Components of a Good Essay
The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.
Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.
Keys to Introductory Paragraphs
Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.
What Makes a Thesis Statement
The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.
Content of Supporting Paragraphs
Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.
The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.
Concluding Paragraph Tips
Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.
Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.
A Note on Compare and Contrast
Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.
Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?
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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.
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College Essay Introduction Examples in
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!
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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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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. 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 off an essay, and best practices for crafting winning essays.
10 Effective Ways to Start a College Essay
There are many ways to go about beginning an essay, and 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.
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. “Who’s 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 manoeuvre 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 introducing 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 to not 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 writing 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 Half-Way 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 half-way through your story can be confusing, yet impactful if done in the right way. Then, you can include the beginning of your story in paragraph 2.
Example: “Ow!” my principle 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.
5 College Essay Introduction Examples That Worked
Let’s take a look at some good opening sentences for college essays that worked! These examples from our essay database and example essay article 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 .”
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, at its end , the essay gives 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 Columbia” essay.
“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 in the simple childhood movie reference and the unique way the student views his passion for architecture. Referencing a favorite film, as simple as it is, can help the reader make an easy connection to your application. Just be careful that whatever you choose to reference makes sense within your essay.
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” — the 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. Now, let’s take a look at some college essay introduction examples.
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.
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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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 Start a College Essay to Hook Your Reader
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What is the purpose of the college essay introduction, tips for getting started on your essay, 6 effective techniques for starting your college essay.
- Cliche College Essay Introduction to Avoid
Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free
Have you sat down to write your essay and just hit a wall of writer’s block? Do you have too many ideas running around your head, or maybe no ideas at all?
Starting a college essay is potentially the hardest part of the application process. Once you start, it’s easy to keep writing, but that initial hurdle is just so difficult to overcome. We’ve put together a list of tips to help you jump that wall and make your essay the best it can be.
The introduction to a college essay should immediately hook the reader. You want to give admissions officers a reason to stay interested in your story and encourage them to continue reading your essay with an open mind. Remember that admissions officers are only able to spend a couple minutes per essay, so if you bore them or turn them off from the start, they may clock out for the rest of the essay.
As a whole, the college essay should aim to portray a part of your personality that hasn’t been covered by your GPA, extracurriculars, and test scores. This makes the introduction a crucial part of the essay. Think of it as the first glimpse, an intriguing lead on, into the read rest of your essay which also showcases your voice and personality.
Take the time to sit down and brainstorm some good topic ideas for your essay. You want your topic to be meaningful to you, while also displaying a part of you that isn’t apparent in other aspects of your application. The essay is an opportunity to show admissions officers the “real you.” If you have a topic in mind, do not feel pressured to start with the introduction. Sometimes the best essay openings are developed last, once you fully grasp the flow of your story.
Do a Freewrite
Give yourself permission to write without judgment for an allotted period of time. For each topic you generated in your brainstorm session, do a free-write session. Set a time for one minute and write down whatever comes to mind for that specific topic. This will help get the juices flowing and push you over that initial bit of writer’s block that’s so common when it comes time to write a college essay. Repeat this exercise if you’re feeling stuck at any point during the essay writing process. Freewriting is a great way to warm up your creative writing brain whilst seeing which topics are flowing more naturally onto the page.
Create an Outline
Once you’ve chosen your topic, write an outline for your whole essay. It’s easier to organize all your thoughts, write the body, and then go back to write the introduction. That way, you already know the direction you want your essay to go because you’ve actually written it out, and you can ensure that your introduction leads directly into the rest of the essay. Admissions officers are looking for the quality of your writing alongside the content of your essay. To be prepared for college-level writing, students should understand how to logically structure an essay. By creating an outline, you are setting yourself up to be judged favorably on the quality of your writing skills.
1. The Scriptwriter
“No! Make it stop! Get me out!” My 5-year-old self waved my arms frantically in front of my face in the darkened movie theater.
Starting your essay with dialogue instantly transports the reader into the story, while also introducing your personal voice. In the rest of the essay, the author proposes a class that introduces people to insects as a type of food. Typically, one would begin directly with the course proposal. However, the author’s inclusion of this flashback weaves in a personal narrative, further displaying her true self.
Read the full essay.
2. The Shocker
A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks, and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears. The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas.
This essay opener is also a good example of “The Vivid Imaginer.” In this case, the detailed imagery only serves to heighten the shock factor. While people may be aware of the “humanitarian crisis at the southern border,” reading about it in such stark terms is bound to capture the reader’s attention. Through this hook, the reader learns a bit about the author’s home life; an aspect of the student that may not be detailed elsewhere in their application. The rest of the essay goes on to talk about the author’s passion for aiding refugees, and this initial paragraph immediately establishes the author’s personal connection to the refugee crisis.
3. The Vivid Imaginer
The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus.
Starting off with a bit of well-written imagery transports the reader to wherever you want to take them. By putting them in this context with you, you allow the reader to closely understand your thoughts and emotions in this situation. Additionally, this method showcases the author’s individual way of looking at the world, a personal touch that is the baseline of all college essays.
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4. The Instant Plunger
The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke of a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.
Plunging readers into the middle of a story (also known as in medias res ) is an effective hook because it captures attention by placing the reader directly into the action. The descriptive imagery in the first sentence also helps to immerse the reader, creating a satisfying hook while also showing (instead of telling) how the author became interested in criminology. With this technique, it is important to “zoom out,” so to speak, in such a way that the essay remains personal to you.
5. The Philosopher
Saved in the Notes app on my phone are three questions: What can I know? What must I do? What may I hope for? First asked by Immanuel Kant, these questions guide my pursuit of knowledge and organization of critical thought, both skills that are necessary to move our country and society forward in the right direction.
Posing philosophical questions helps present you as someone with deep ideas while also guiding the focus of your essay. In a way, it presents the reader with a roadmap; they know that these questions provide the theme for the rest of the essay. The more controversial the questions, the more gripping a hook you can create.
Providing an answer to these questions is not necessarily as important as making sure that the discussions they provoke really showcase you and your own values and beliefs.
6. The Storyteller
One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering.
Beginning with an anecdote is a strong way to establish a meaningful connection with the content itself. It also shows that the topic you write about has been a part of your life for a significant amount of time, and something that college admissions officers look for in activities is follow-through; they want to make sure that you are truly interested in something. A personal story such as the one above shows off just that.
Cliche College Essay Introductions to Avoid
It’s best to avoid introductory sentences that don’t seem to really say anything at all, such as “Science plays a large role in today’s society,” or “X has existed since the beginning of time.” Statements like these, in addition to being extremely common, don’t demonstrate anything about you, the author. Without a personal connection to you right away, it’s easy for the admissions officer to write off the essay before getting past the first sentence.
Quoting Someone Famous
While having a quotation by a famous author, celebrity, or someone else you admire may seem like a good way to allow the reader to get to know you, these kinds of introductions are actually incredibly overused. You also risk making your essay all about the quotation and the famous person who said it; admissions officers want to get to know you, your beliefs, and your values, not someone who isn’t applying to their school. There are some cases where you may actually be asked to write about a quotation, and that’s fine, but you should avoid starting your essay with someone else’s words outside of this case. It is fine, however, to start with dialogue to plunge your readers into a specific moment.
Talking About Writing an Essay
This method is also very commonplace and is thus best avoided. It’s better to show, not tell, and all this method allows you to do is tell the reader how you were feeling at the time of writing the essay. If you do feel compelled to go this way, make sure to include vivid imagery and focus on grounding the essay in the five senses, which can help elevate your introduction and separate it from the many other meta essays.
Phrases like “Ever since I was young…” or “I’ve always wanted…” also lend more to telling rather than showing. If you want to talk about your childhood or past feelings in your essay, try using one of the techniques listed earlier (such as the Instant Plunger or the Vivid Imaginer) to elevate your writing.
CollegeVine has a peer essay review page where peers can tell you if your introduction was enough to hook them. Getting feedback from someone who hasn’t read your essay before, and thus doesn’t have any context which may bias them to be more forgiving to your introduction, is helpful because it mimics the same environment in which an admissions officer will be reading your essay.
Writing a college essay is hard, but with these tips hopefully starting it will be a little easier!
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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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About the Author
Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
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