If you're wondering how to start a college essay, you've come to the right place. We've got you! Your college essays are among the most important application components you have to submit, and they can play a huge role in the admissions committee's decision. It is, therefore, crucial that you write a compelling essay if you want to stand out, and one of the most challenging aspects of that is the beginning. After all, your college essay introduction will set the tone for the rest of your essay, so you want to make sure that it is off to a great start. In this blog, we will go over some Dos and Donts for writing college essay introductions, a few strategies that'll help you stand out, and we will share some examples to help you get inspired.
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Why is the college essay introduction so important?
During the college admissions process, applicants do not get to speak directly with the admissions board. You may get to talk to them directly if you're applying to a school that conducts interviews and you're called for one, but for the most part, your college essay is your only chance to tell the admissions committee about yourself and why you are a good fit for their school. This means that the opening paragraph of your college essay is also your chance to make a first impression - and you probably already know how important first impressions are.
Furthermore, your college essay introduction should tell your reader what to expect from the rest of your essay and, in many ways, your application. Think of your college essay as a cover letter for your college application. If you were applying for a job, your work experience and academic background would be detailed on your high school resume, and your cover letter would be the personal document that explains why you are the right person for the job.
Your college application works similarly. Your college essay is supposed to provide the admissions committee with additional information about who you are and, in some cases, context. For example, let's say that you're trying to get into college with a low GPA because some extenuating circumstances affected your academic performance during high school. Your essay allows you to address that, and you can prepare the reader for this using your introductory paragraph.
For example, take a look at the example in the next tab. Let's assume that this student's grades are far from ideal. With this opening paragraph, she manages to grab the reader's attention with the first sentence while simultaneously providing some context for what the admissions board might see on their transcript.
Opening paragraph example #1
My economics teacher once told us that almost 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. I didn't understand what that meant until two years ago when I spent what was supposed to be the first day of my sophomore year watching over my sick younger sister because my mother literally couldn't afford to miss one hour of work to care for her sick child. That was not the first time I had to skip school to watch my siblings or run an important errand, but it was the last time that I did not use that time to study and catch up on my reading.
How to start a college essay: The “hook”
For your essay to be compelling, it needs to grab the reader's attention from the very beginning. In other words, the first sentence needs to be an essay "hook" that will make them want to keep on reading. The hook for your essay doesn't need to be about a specific topic, but it should stir up some emotion in the reader. For example, it can be a joke that makes them laugh or a strong statement that makes them want to read on whether they agree with you or not.
To help you come up with the "hook" for your own Supplemental or Common App essays, we put together a few examples of different types of hook sentences that you can use. The list below is not exhaustive, but it will give you a good idea of where to start. So let's review them:
The interesting question
As suggested by the name, this is a question you would pose at the beginning of your essay to engage the reader's curiosity. You can use this type of hook by asking a question you will answer in your essay or asking a question that catches the reader off-guard. Most people are naturally inquisitive, so they will want to keep reading to get the answer to your question or to find out why you asked the question in the first place. Either way, the question would have gained their interest.
Looking for more help with your essay? Check out this infographic:
Interesting question hook example:
Have you ever read your fridge's instruction manual?
The beginning of an anecdote
Whether you are writing a supplemental college essay in response to a specific prompt or a nursing school personal statement, one of the best things that you can do is include anecdotes in your essay. People tend to remember narratives, so starting your essay with a short, well-written story is a great way to stand out. Ideally, you want to tell a personal story about a formative experience or something that will help the reader know you a little bit better. Your first sentence should be intriguing, and it should make it clear that you are about to tell a story.
However, if you choose to begin your essay with a story, you must be careful about the type of story you are sharing. Remember to consider your audience. You should only tell the story if it is connected to the rest of your essay and it adds value to the overall essay. You should also pay attention to the maximum number of words you can use for your essay. For example, if you are writing a Common App essay that allows up to 650 words, then you can probably use some words to tell a story. On the other hand, if you are responding to one of the Brown supplemental essay prompts, which asks students to write 250 words or less, you might want to use a different type of hook.
Anecdote hook example:
Last year, I woke up on a gurney in the middle of an emergency room...
The fun fact or statistics
You can also start your essay by providing real information about a topic of your choice that is related to your story and your essay. This is not only informative, but it once again plays on the curious nature of human beings. You should pick an interesting fact from an accurate and reliable source. So if you choose to use this type of hook to start a college essay, make sure you've taken the time to evaluate your source and confirm that it is credible.
Fun fact/statistic hook example:
One in every 20,000 people are born with albinism every year, and I am one of them.
You can also choose to start your essay with a quote. As with the other hooks, your quote should be related to the topics that you will discuss in your essay. For example, it could be a quote about the field of study you want to pursue, resilience, the importance of diversity, etc. The key is to use a quote that relates to your story and is likely to connect with the reader as well. So, choose quotes that are powerful and memorable, but not cliché. Also, keep in mind that the admission board is reading your college essay so they can get to know you. So, you should only use the quote to introduce and guide your essay, but do not spend too much time talking about what the quote means or who the author of the quote is. Make sure that the focus of the essay is still on you!
Quote hook example:
Tupac Shakur once said: "I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world."
The joke or funny statement
Starting a college essay with something funny is not only a great way to make your essay stand out, but it also gives you a chance to let your personality shine through your sense of humor, thus humanizing your application and making a great first impression. If you do choose to start your college essay with a joke, remember that this is still an academic document, so make sure the joke is appropriate for the audience and related to your college essay.
So, if you're stumped and don't know how to start a college essay, consider googling jokes about your future major, future profession, or one of your hobbies. There are a surprising number of puns and funny statements that can help inspire you and that you can use to start your essay. That is, if they relate to your topic, of course. You can also think back to any funny experiences you've had or try to think of something funny about where you grew up, for example.
Joke/funny statement hook example:
My physics teacher once told me that engineers are people who solve a problem you didn't know you had in a way you don't understand.
Check out this video for some additional college essay tips:
How to start a college essay: Dos and Dont's
How to start a college essay: Opening paragraph example #2
“Tupac Shakur once said: "I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world." I have no doubt in my mind that his words, and those of many other artists who, like him, have used language to share their stories, struggles, and joys, have sparked the brain of many people who have changed the world in one way or another. Whether they are rapping or singing those words as Mr. Shakur did or writing poems and books like Maya Angelou and Charlotte Brontë did, words and language can be incredibly powerful, and I want to learn as much as I can about how to wield that power.”
This is a great way to start a college essay. The paragraph begins with an inspiring quote that is not extremely popular, and that can spark a number of different conversations. It would definitely make the reader curious as to where the applicant is going with their essay. By the time you get to the end of the first paragraph, you have learned that this applicant likely enjoys reading and rap music and that they intend to study something that is related to either language or literature.
1. What's so important about the introduction of college essays?
Your college essay's introductory paragraph sets the tone for the rest of your essay because it is the first thing the admissions officers will read. It's, therefore, a great opportunity to stand out and make your application memorable.
2. Can I use quotes to start my essay?
You certainly can. However, you need to do this carefully. You should avoid very popular quotes about hard work or education as that usually sounds cliché. Furthermore, your quote needs to be related to the overall topic of your essay.
3. Can I start a college essay with a fun fact?
Absolutely! Starting your essay with a fun fact about yourself, the field of study you wish to pursue, the town you live in, or any other topic that is related to your overall essay is a great way to start a college essay.
4. What should I not start a college essay with?
Do not start your essay by introducing yourself or providing autobiographical information that can be found elsewhere in your application. Remember that your college essay is supposed to provide new information about you as the person the application numbers, so use the limited number of words that you have wisely.
5. How do I start a college essay?
You should start your college essay with a "hook" or "grabber," such as a fun fact, anecdote, joke, or even quote. We recommend reviewing different College essay examples and paying close attention to the opening lines to get a better idea of what an attention-grabbing opening sentence can look like.
6. How important are college essays?
College essays are one of the most important application components that you will submit. Except for college admissions interviews - which every school does not conduct - they are your only chance to speak to the admissions board directly in your own words. So it is important to write a compelling essay that shows strong communication skills and makes a good impression.
7. What makes a strong college essay?
A strong college essay has an opening statement that grabs your attention, specific examples, a structure that is easy to follow, and no spelling or grammar mistakes. It should also tell a story and share new information about the applicant.
8. How much does a college essay cost?
Here at BeMo, we can guide you and teach you how to write a college essay, but we cannot write it for you. Now, we do need to warn you: Can you pay someone to write your college essay for you? Yes. Should you pay someone to write your college essay? No. This practice is both unethical and potentially counterproductive because if the college you applied to were to find out or find inconsistencies in your application, there would be severe consequences.
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