Have a language expert improve your writing
Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- College essay
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.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
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.
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
Testa, M. (2023, August 14). How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction | Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/introduction-college-essay/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, college essay format & structure | example outlines, how to end a college admissions essay | 4 winning strategies, what do colleges look for in an essay | examples & tips.
- 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!
Want more free tips? Subscribe to our channels for more free and useful content!
Like our blog? Write for us ! >>
Have a question ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions, get started now.
Talk to one of our admissions experts
FREE Training Webinar:
How to make your college applications stand out, (and avoid the top 5 mistakes that get most rejected).
Time Sensitive. Limited Spots Available:
We guarantee you'll get into your dream college or university or you don't pay.
Swipe up to see a great offer!
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.
Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.
Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly
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.
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.
Get personalized advice!
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.
Learn how we can help you with college and career guidance! Check out our YouTube channel!
Click Here to Schedule a Free Consult!
College Application Boot Camp
Stay on track and ease your anxiety with our second-to-none college application assistance.
- Ethics & Honesty
- Join Our Team
Get Free Profile Evaluation
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!
Access 190+ sample college essays here
Get A Free Consultation
You may also like.
How to Get Into Bowdoin: Acceptance, Requirements, + Tips
What Is The Fulbright Scholarship? Your Guide
- Admission Essay
- Statement of Purpose Editing
- Personal Statement Editing
- Recommendation Letter
- Motivation Letter
- Cover Letter
- Supplemental Essay
- Letter of Continued Interest
- Scholarship Essay
- Role Model Essay
- Our Editors
- College Admission Essay Examples
- College Cover Letter Examples
- College Personal Statement Examples
- Graduate Personal Statement Examples
- Graduate Statement of Purpose Examples
- MBA Essay Examples
- MBA Personal Statement Examples
- MBA Resume Examples
- MBA Recommendation Letter Examples
- Medical School Personal Statement Examples
- Medical School Recommendation Letter Examples
- Pricing Plans
- Public Health
- Research Paper
- Thesis Editing
- Academic Editing
- Motivation letter
- Letter of Recommendation
- Personal Statement
- Statement of Purpose
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.
Need help? Check out EssayEdge editing services:
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.
June 2, 2022 How To Start a Scholarship Essay: Catch Reader’s Attention Fast
May 16, 2022 My Role Model Essay: A Few Ways to Elaborate on The Subject
May 3, 2022 How To Start a Personal Statement? | Writing Tips and Samples
April 25, 2023 5 Colleges that Will Provide Students with a Great Return on Investment
March 1, 2023 Questions to Ask In a College Interview
January 30, 2023 How to Write a Hook For a College Essay + [Examples]
©2023 Student Media LLC. All rights reserved.
EssayEdge: Essay Editing & Proofreading Service.
Our mission is to prepare you for academic and career success.
- Log In
- Sign Up
- Forgot password
Unable to log in? Please clear your browser's cache and then refresh this page and try again
Reset password Please enter your email address to request a password reset.
Check your email We’ve just sent a password reset link to your email.
This information is used to create your account
The Best Unique and Creative College Essay Introductions
“ In this blog post, we will tell you how to write the best college essay introduction…” We’re diving right in with a what-not-to-do. College essays are always challenging. That’s why most of our blog is about the ins and outs of essay writing and it’s what most of our clients come to us for help with, too. You’re sitting there on your laptop, blank screen, with absolutely no idea where to start. Should you go corny? Saucy? Informative? What if it sounds bad? What if it makes me look dumb? Take a breath. Let’s figure it out together.
There are a lot of ways to start out your college essay. Now, are a lot of them bad? Yes. All the time we see kids with weak introductions, either they’re cliched and hackneyed, or they’re bland and boring, or they just don’t accurately represent what we’re about to read. But through our strategies, we can help you create an eye-catching opening that gives admissions counselors a reason to keep reading.
Strategy One: Surprise
Something we love seeing students do in essays is break form. Take this intro from one of our sample essays :
As you know, my 17th birthday is in 6 days. I have finally decided what I want as a present: a baby hedgehog.”
This essay had it all. Humor. Heart. Form-breaking. Personality. Creativity! And you can see how from this intro alone how fun it was to read and how it got admissions officers hooked. Now, this isn’t the only way to start off with something off-kilter – if your essay is about the time you went fishing for the first time, you could open with “I just learned I’m prone to seasickness,” and launch into a grand tale about your first catch. Basically, if it’s something that would make your friends text you, “lol what?” then it’s probably a good start. There are so so so many ways to use this strategy, so lean into the unexpected parts of what you’re telling the audience.
Strategy Two: Set the Stage
Long time lurkers of the blog know we LOVE detail. We love it so much. Beautiful detail is one of our favorite parts of any essay, because it brings the reader deep into the world you’re building for them. This is one of the really powerful ways to start your essay too, because it immediately gives someone a glimpse into your world. Take this opener from an essay about a student’s daily commute :
“The Brighton Beach train station stands above a maze of old brick apartment buildings and a gray polluted ocean.”
Immediately we’ve been transported to the Brighton Beach train station. We have an image of their surroundings, we’re being clued into a bit about what the essay is all about, and mood and tone have been established. We can almost see it in our mind, or can draw a parallel to a place we’ve been before.
Strategy Three: Procrastinate
Okay, so this one is less of a tip on an actual intro, but a tip on how to write it. If you’re stuck on your introduction, simply skip it and get straight to the meat of the essay. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to write an introduction once you have your draft mostly in place, because sometimes writing is an adventure! And you may not know exactly where you want to end up. We had a student write about cooking their favorite dish with their family, but was getting stuck on the perfect intro. Once we stepped away from that part of the essay, wrote the rest of it, they were able to write a more creative and eye-catching intro than “This is my favorite thing to cook,” and instead started by instructing the reader on how to find the perfect ingredients, which in turn demonstrated their precision and attention to detail.
Remember that there are a lot of ways to write a college essay intro that aren’t covered here. You can have fun with it! Don’t feel like you need to write something deep and compelling if that’s just not your personality. This is one of the most stressful parts of the process for a lot of students, so if you have to write something fun and lighthearted to keep yourself from exploding, do it. It’s more fun for you to write and more fun for colleges to read. If you’re still feeling a little lost on how to write a great introduction for your college essays, TKG has a team of counselors that are ready to help you.
Reach out to us today if you need one-on-one assistance with your essays.
Don't have an Account?
- International Student
- Essay Writing Center
- Sample Essays
Sample College Admission Essays
Applying to college can be very exciting, but also require a lot of dedication, research, and hard work. One key piece of your application that should be given plenty of time and attention is the college admission essay. Before you write your first draft read our sample essays to get a few tips on writing your perfect admission essay.
This section contains five examples of good college essays.
College Essay Sample One
College essay sample two, college essay sample three, college essay sample four, college essay sample five.
State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.
In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.
This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.
At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.
Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.
Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.
In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.
In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.
The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.
I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.
The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.
In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.
In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.
As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.
This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.
My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.
My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.
My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.
Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.
From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.
My handwriting didn’t become jittery until the third round. The number of competitors in the Midwest Spelling Bee had dropped from 100 to the thirty-some who remained after two waves of preliminaries, a group I was awed to be in. The third round would likely be the last one carried out with pencil and paper. A sole word stood between me and the oral competition to follow. My nerves soared at the thought that a mere handful of syllables from the pronouncer’s mouth would offer me a chance to compete in the apex of orthography: the regional bee finals. Yet, when I heard the word “Wagner,” the degree of my confusion was only rivaled by that of my disappointment upon elimination.
My approach to academic success in middle school consisted of rote memorization and stodgy study habits. Fortunately for my sanity and social life, I have since discovered that learning derived from experience can introduce an invaluable layer of reality to otherwise useless knowledge. My hinge moment came near the end of eighth grade when I was stumped by “Wagner” and its ensuing definition: “a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas.” To my credit, the phonetic vocalization of Wagner is something like “BAHG-nur,” with the ever ambiguous bee/vee sound. But, an error is an error, and my misspelling of the word earned me a disheartening dismissal from the Midwest Spelling Bee. I immediately resolved to learn about the man whose name was responsible for cheapening my years of poring over vocabulary lists and etymology guides. Upon learning that Richard Wagner was one of the most prolific opera composers in history, I had to investigate. Along my inquisitive quest, I encountered two newfound passions: opera music and the pursuit of stimulating information.
I am an unabashed classical music aficionado. My enthusiasm came gradually over years of imposed piano lessons that eventually became voluntary as my interest in the activity piqued. I came to sense the profound communion with notes on a page arising from tinkering out the same rhythms and melodies that were manuscripts by musical geniuses centuries ago. However, because I could not perform it, I never thought to explore opera. Without my keen interest in Wagner, I may have never encountered the awe-inspiring blend of visual and musical mastery that constitutes his interpretation of the genre. Opera swiftly captured my eye and ear for insightful art. For instance, in his landmark opera, Tristan und Isolde, Wagner unleashed a then-revolutionary tonal system which paved the way for twentieth century classical music. As I unearthed the beauty of opera, my awareness of all the remarkable, groundbreaking themes of Wagner’s productions became embodied by the word “Wagner.” In this striking moment, I could not help but feel the value of connecting my learning to purposeful interaction.
Fueled by my frustration with the outcome of the bee, I searched for the source of my failure. In uncovering the works of Wagner, I gleaned a sense of the vast droves of information that can lie behind a seemingly simple word. I suddenly became aware of my incapacity to seek out the surprising insights that the world might have been waiting to reveal. Thanks to a reevaluation triggered by a failure, I garnered a new appreciation for experiential learning. Since my underwhelming performance nearly four years ago, I have become well versed in the mysterious, gritty art of inquiry. Rather than perceiving my environment to be a sterile list of terms with a neat pronunciation guide to boot, I am now eager to take in the uncommon wisdoms of everything from the innovative operatic tropes of Wagner to the fickle nature of bees—both the pollinating insects and their manmade homonyms.
The exclusiveness portrayed in Mean Girls led me to expect that high school would consist of like-minded cliques. Rather, in high school I found that a single commonality can unite a seemingly random sampling of people. Through marching band, this idea was embodied in a desire to perform music. UChicago’s community is similarly bonded by a serious passion for learning which satisfies my desire to become a thoughtful citizen of tomorrow.
The hierarchy of authority in marching band is one I have come to love, and not only because I achieved the top student position in it as a drum major. In that role, I watched younger members hone their skills in an effort to contribute to the collective performance. The value of a uniform training followed by opportunities to lead is exemplified by the ambitious and talented student leaders produced. At UChicago, The Core serves a comparable purpose in preparing students for exhaustive academic exploration. I am enticed by the intensive inquiry and groundbreaking research that students partake in. Yet, I appreciate the benefit of undergoing the rigorous Core first. UChicago emphasizes experiential learning, even in the College, which appeals to my desire to collaborate with other brilliant learners. When I visited campus, two specific encounters struck me. Initially, the Institute of Politics attracted me with its hands-on approach to policy issues through programs like Student Civic Engagement projects. Even more alluring was the Politics & Policy class I sat in on. Following a lecture on bureaucracy that may have droned over the heads of less inspired students, I was surrounded by a hubbub of engaged thinkers convening through discussion. UChicago’s intellectual atmosphere is animated by the common thirst for knowledge that characterizes every student.
Through marching band, I discovered a passion for influencing others. My dream is that by drawing from UChicago’s empowering community, my drive will transfer to pertinent global issues like human rights in the Middle East. UChicago is my ideal learning environment, for as Wayne Booth stated while he was Dean of the College, UChicago empowers tomorrow’s intellectual leaders to “see through the guff.” During high school, I have grown from an uncertain ninth grader into the capable leader I am today, leaving me optimistic for how I may develop in the next four years.
A travel through my room reveals almost everything about me. The walls are splashed with two tones of eye-burning pink, fairies dance across the vibrant wallpaper sprinkled with sparkles, a white-washed dresser covered in knick-knacks, and an overflowing toy box fit perfectly in this Technicolor dream room.
In one corner of my room, a paint-by-numbers portrait that my grandfather created in a World War II hospital silently tells its story. My grandfather, an Italian barber, raised six children in Bayonne, NJ with my grandmother. My grandparents worked hard to deliver the most American of promises – that your kids will have a better standard of living than you. In that regard, my mother, who put herself through college to become an engineer, made good, affording to give me my own room, a luxury she never knew.
The next corner of my room contains a nondescript desk and laptop, the same as anyone’s room. Who would guess that this desk is also the launching pad of myYearbook.com, a 1.6 million member social networking site that I created? Layers of spec sheets, Post-Its, and emails form a sea of productivity that I find comforting. Scribbled telephone numbers and names remind me of deals I did and didn’t do, reporters who did and didn’t write on me, and technology worries I never stop trying to resolve. Half-drunk coke cans tell the tale of a dozen all-nighters, and someone who is at her most creative at night.
The desk is not all business though. My calculus and economics texts bookend my laptop, and a bouquet of dead flowers from my boyfriend rest in peace on my shelf, revealing a morbid sentimentality. Although the flowers have long died and the water completely evaporated, the card and its words “Jeg synes a du er fantastik og du er det beste ting i mit verden,” are the only reason the flowers never made it to the garbage. In Danish, the sentence translates to, “I think you are fantastic, and you are the best thing in my world.” Ever since I started dating him, I have been learning more and more about his Danish culture, and I plan to go to Denmark twice this year.
The third corner holds my well-worn, folded-up gymnastics floor beam and barely used grips. Unlike many gymnasts though, I prefer not to wear the grips on bars because they make it harder to feel the bar. I started gymnastics when I was five, and since then my hands have earned their calluses, and I am proud of them. You won’t find me moisturizing my hands except to keep them from splitting on the bars.
In the last corner hangs a painting I bought while organizing an online Tsunami Aid Art Project. It was my first significant project online and helped give me a sense of the power of the Internet to connect people. As part of the artist community WetCanvas.com, myself and two other members organized a tsunami-related art project with all proceeds donated to charity. We raised $10,000 in funds, and had about 100 pieces of work donated from artists in nine countries.
Sadly, I know this will not always be my room. The pink fairies will give way to adult- sized possessions and responsibilities. The knick-knacks will break, and the sanctuary of my childhood will soon seem so childish. But, for now, I will embrace the pink, the fairies, and the simplicity of life in my mom’s house. I will look forward to the possibilities of creating another space, as uniquely my own as this one, and as uniquely a part of my past as this room will always be.
Get the international student newsletter.
How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide
Mark Twain once said, “I like a good story well told. That’s the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”
At College Essay Guy, we too like good stories well told.
The problem is that sometimes students have really good stories … that just aren’t well told.
They have the seed of an idea and the makings of a great story, but the essay formatting or structure is all over the place.
Which can lead a college admissions reader to see you as disorganized. And your essay doesn’t make as much of an impact as it could.
So, if you’re here, you’re probably wondering:
Is there any kind of required format for a college essay? How do I structure my essay?
And maybe what’s the difference?
Good news: That’s what this post answers.
First, let’s go over a few basic questions students often have when trying to figure out how to format their essay.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- College essay format guidelines
- How to brainstorm and structure a college essay topic
- Recommended brainstorming examples
- Example college essay: The “Burying Grandma” essay
College Essay Format Guidelines
Should I title my college essay?
You don’t need one. In the vast majority of cases, students we work with don’t use titles. The handful of times they have, they’ve done so because the title allows for a subtle play on words or reframing of the essay as a whole. So don’t feel any pressure to include one—they’re purely optional.
Should I indent or us paragraph breaks in my college essay?
Either. Just be consistent. The exception here is if you’re pasting into a box that screws up your formatting—for example, if, when you copy your essay into the box, your indentations are removed, go with paragraph breaks. (And when you get to college, be sure to check what style guide you should be following: Chicago, APA, MLA, etc., can all take different approaches to formatting, and different fields have different standards.)
How many paragraphs should a college essay be?
Personal statements are not English essays. They don’t need to be 5 paragraphs with a clear, argumentative thesis in the beginning and a conclusion that sums everything up. So feel free to break from that. How many paragraphs are appropriate for a college essay? Within reason, it’s up to you. We’ve seen some great personal statements that use 4 paragraphs, and some that use 8 or more (especially if you have dialogue—yes, dialogue is OK too!).
How long should my college essay be?
The good news is that colleges and the application systems they use will usually give you specific word count maximums. The most popular college application systems, like the Common Application and Coalition Application, will give you a maximum of 650 words for your main personal statement, and typically less than that for school-specific supplemental essays . Other systems will usually specify the maximum word count—the UC PIQs are 350 max, for example. If they don’t specify this clearly in the application systems or on their website (and be sure to do some research), you can email them to ask! They don’t bite.
So should you use all that space? We generally recommend it. You likely have lots to share about your life, so we think that not using all the space they offer to tell your story might be a missed opportunity. While you don’t have to use every last word, aim to use most of the words they give you. But don’t just fill the space if what you’re sharing doesn’t add to the overall story you’re telling.
There are also some applications or supplementals with recommended word counts or lengths. For example, Georgetown says things like “approx. 1 page,” and UChicago doesn’t have a limit, but recommends aiming for 650ish for the extended essay, and 250-500 for the “Why us?”
You can generally apply UChicago’s recommendations to other schools that don’t give you a limit: If it’s a “Why Major” supplement, 650 is probably plenty, and for other supplements, 250-500 is a good target to shoot for. If you go over those, that can be fine, just be sure you’re earning that word count (as in, not rambling or being overly verbose). Your readers are humans. If you send them a tome, their attention could drift.
Regarding things like italics and bold
Keep in mind that if you’re pasting text into a box, it may wipe out your formatting. So if you were hoping to rely on italics or bold for some kind of emphasis, double check if you’ll be able to. (And in general, try to use sentence structure and phrasing to create that kind of emphasis anyway, rather than relying on bold or italics—doing so will make you a better writer.)
Regarding font type, size, and color
Keep it simple and standard. Regarding font type, things like Times New Roman or Georgia (what this is written in) won’t fail you. Just avoid things like Comic Sans or other informal/casual fonts.
Size? 11- or 12-point is fine.
Going with something else with the above could be a risk, possibly a big one, for fairly little gain. Things like a wacky font or text color could easily feel gimmicky to a reader.
To stand out with your writing, take some risks in what you write about and the connections and insights you make.
If you’re attaching a doc (rather than pasting)
If you are attaching a document rather than pasting into a text box, all the above still applies. Again, we’d recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins.
Basically, show them you’re ready to write in college by using the formatting you’ll normally use in college.
Is there a college essay template I can use?
Depends on what you’re asking for. If, by “template,” you’re referring to formatting … see above.
But if you mean a structural template ... not exactly. There is no one college essay template to follow. And that’s a good thing.
That said, we’ve found that there are two basic structural approaches to writing college essays that can work for every single prompt we’ve seen. (Except for lists. Because … they’re lists.)
Below we’ll cover those two essay structures we love, but you’ll see how flexible these are—they can lead to vastly different essays. You can also check out a few sample essays to get a sense of structure and format (though we’d recommend doing some brainstorming and outlining to think of possible topics before you look at too many samples, since they can poison the well for some people).
Let’s dig in.
STEP 1: HOW TO BRAINSTORM AN AMAZING ESSAY TOPIC
We’ll talk about structure and topic together. Why? Because one informs the other.
(And to clarify: When we say, “topic,” we mean the theme or focus of your essay that you use to show who you are and what you value. The “topic” of your college essay is always ultimately you.)
We think there are two basic structural approaches that can work for any college essay. Not that these are the only two options—rather, that these can work for any and every prompt you’ll have to write for.
Which structural approach you use depends on your answer to this question (and its addendum): Do you feel like you’ve faced significant challenges in your life … or not so much? (And do you want to write about them?)
If yes (to both), you’ll most likely want to use Narrative Structure . If no (to either), you’ll probably want to try Montage Structure .
So … what are those structures? And how do they influence your topic?
Narrative Structure is classic storytelling structure. You’ve seen this thousands of times—assuming you read, and watch movies and TV, and tell stories with friends and family. If you don’t do any of these things, this might be new. Otherwise, you already know this. You may just not know you know it. Narrative revolves around a character or characters (for a college essay, that’s you) working to overcome certain challenges, learning and growing, and gaining insight. For a college essay using Narrative Structure, you’ll focus the word count roughly equally on a) Challenges You Faced, b) What You Did About Them, and c) What You Learned (caveat that those sections can be somewhat interwoven, especially b and c). Paragraphs and events are connected causally.
You’ve also seen montages before. But again, you may not know you know. So: A montage is a series of thematically connected things, frequently images. You’ve likely seen montages in dozens and dozens of films before—in romantic comedies, the “here’s the couple meeting and dating and falling in love” montage; in action movies, the classic “training” montage. A few images tell a larger story. In a college essay, you could build a montage by using a thematic thread to write about five different pairs of pants that connect to different sides of who you are and what you value. Or different but connected things that you love and know a lot about (like animals, or games). Or entries in your Happiness Spreadsheet .
How does structure play into a great topic?
We believe a montage essay (i.e., an essay NOT about challenges) is more likely to stand out if the topic or theme of the essay is:
X. Elastic (i.e., something you can connect to variety of examples, moments, or values) Y. Uncommon (i.e., something other students probably aren’t writing about)
We believe that a narrative essay is more likely to stand out if it contains:
X. Difficult or compelling challenges Y. Insight
These aren’t binary—rather, each exists on a spectrum.
“Elastic” will vary from person to person. I might be able to connect mountain climbing to family, history, literature, science, social justice, environmentalism, growth, insight … and someone else might not connect it to much of anything. Maybe trees?
“Uncommon” —every year, thousands of students write about mission trips, sports, or music. It’s not that you can’t write about these things, but it’s a lot harder to stand out.
“Difficult or compelling challenges” can be put on a spectrum, with things like getting a bad grade or not making a sports team on the weaker end, and things like escaping war or living homeless for three years on the stronger side. While you can possibly write a strong essay about a weaker challenge, it’s really hard to do so.
“Insight” is the answer to the question “so what?” A great insight is likely to surprise the reader a bit, while a so-so insight likely won’t. (Insight is something you’ll develop in an essay through the writing process, rather than something you’ll generally know ahead of time for a topic, but it’s useful to understand that some topics are probably easier to pull insights from than others.)
To clarify, you can still write a great montage with a very common topic, or a narrative that offers so-so insights. But the degree of difficulty goes up. Probably way up.
With that in mind, how do you brainstorm possible topics that are on the easier-to-stand-out-with side of the spectrum?
Spend about 10 minutes (minimum) on each of these exercises.
Essence Objects Exercise
21 Details Exercise
Everything I Want Colleges To Know About Me Exercise
Feelings and Needs Exercise
If you feel like you already have your topic, and you just want to know how to make it better…
Still do those exercises.
Maybe what you have is the best topic for you. And if you are incredibly super sure, you can skip ahead. But if you’re not sure this topic helps you communicate your deepest stories, spend a little time on the exercises above. As a bonus, even if you end up going with what you already had (though please be wary of the sunk cost fallacy ), all that brainstorming will be useful when you write your supplemental essays .
The Feelings and Needs Exercise in particular is great for brainstorming Narrative Structure, connecting story events in a causal way (X led to Y led to Z). The Essence Objects, 21 Details, Everything I Want Colleges to Know exercises can lead to interesting thematic threads for Montage Structure (P, Q, and R are all connected because, for example, they’re all qualities of a great endodontist). But all of them are useful for both structural approaches. Essence objects can help a narrative come to life. One paragraph in a montage could focus on a challenge and how you overcame it.
The Values Exercise is a cornerstone of both—regardless of whether you use narrative or montage, we should get a sense of some of your core values through your essays.
How (and why) to outline your college essay to use a good structure
While not every professional writer knows exactly how a story will end when they start writing, they also have months (or years) to craft it, and they may throw major chunks or whole drafts away. You probably don’t want to throw away major chunks or whole drafts. So you should outline.
Use the brainstorming exercises from earlier to decide on your most powerful topics and what structure (narrative or montage) will help you best tell your story.
For a narrative, use the Feelings and Needs Exercise, and build clear bullet points for the Challenges + Effects, What I Did About It, and What I Learned. Those become your outline.
Yeah, that simple.
For a montage, outline 4-7 ways your thread connects to different values through different experiences, and if you can think of them, different lessons and insights (though these you might have to develop later, during the writing process). For example, how auto repair connects to family, literature, curiosity, adventure, and personal growth (through different details and experiences).
Here are some good example outlines:
Narrative outline (developed from the Feelings and Needs Exercise)
Domestic abuse (physical and verbal)
Controlling father/lack of freedom
Prevented from pursuing opportunities
Cut off from world/family
Lack of sense of freedom/independence
What I Did About It:
Pursued my dreams
Traveled to Egypt, London, and Paris alone
Explored new places and cultures
Developed self-confidence, independence, and courage
Grew as a leader
What I Learned:
Inspired to help others a lot more
Learned about oppression, and how to challenge oppressive norms
Became closer with mother, somewhat healed relationship with father
Need to feel free
And here’s the essay that became: “ Easter ”
Values: Family, tradition, literature
Ex: “Tailgate Special,” discussions w/family, reading Nancy Drew
Perception, connection to family
Chinese sword dance
Values: Culture/heritage, meticulousness, dedication, creativity
Ex: Notebook, formations/choreography
Nuances of culture, power of connection
Values: Science/chemistry, curiosity
Synthesizing plat nanoparticles
Joy of discovery, redefining expectations
Values: Exploration, personal growth
Knitting, physics, politics, etc.
Importance of exploring beyond what I know/am used to, taking risks
And here’s the essay that became: “ Home ”
When to scrap what you have and start over
Ultimately, you can’t know for sure if a topic will work until you try a draft or two. And maybe it’ll be great. But keep that sunk cost fallacy in mind, and be open to trying other things.
If you’re down the rabbit hole with a personal statement topic and just aren’t sure about it, the first step you should take is to ask for feedback. Find a partner who can help you examine it without the attachment to all the emotion (anxiety, worry, or fear) you might have built up around it.
Have them help you walk through The Great College Essay Test to make sure your essay is doing its job. If it isn’t yet, does it seem like this topic has the potential to? Or would other topics allow you to more fully show a college who you are and what you bring to the table?
Because that’s your goal. Format and structure are just tools to get you there.
Down the Road
Before we analyze some sample essays, bookmark this page, so that once you’ve gone through several drafts of your own essay, come back and take The Great College Essay Test to make sure your essay is doing its job. The job of the essay, simply put, is to demonstrate to a college that you’ll make valuable contributions in college and beyond. We believe these four qualities are essential to a great essay:
Core values (showing who you are through what you value)
Vulnerability (helps a reader feel connected to you)
Insight (aka “so what” moments)
Craft (clear structure, refined language, intentional choices)
To test what values are coming through, read your essay aloud to someone who knows you and ask:
Which values are clearly coming through the essay?
Which values are kind of there but could be coming through more clearly?
Which values could be coming through and were opportunities missed?
To know if you’re being vulnerable in your essay, ask:
Now that you’ve heard my story, do you feel closer to me?
What did you learn about me that you didn’t already know?
To search for “so what” moments of insight, review the claims you’re making in your essay. Are you reflecting on what these moments and experiences taught you? How have they changed you? Are you making common or (hopefully) uncommon connections? The uncommon connections are often made up of insights that are unusual or unexpected. (For more on how to test for this, click The Great College Essay Test link above.)
Craft comes through the sense that each paragraph, each sentence, each word is a carefully considered choice. That the author has spent time revising and refining. That the essay is interesting and succinct. How do you test this? For each paragraph, each sentence, each word, ask: Do I need this? (Huge caveat: Please avoid neurotic perfectionism here. We’re just asking you to be intentional with your language.)
Still feeling you haven’t found your topic? Here’s a list of 100 Brave and Interesting Questions . Read these and try freewriting on a few. See where they lead.
Finally, here’s an ...
Example College Essay Format Analysis: The “Burying Grandma” Essay
To see how the Narrative Essay structure works, check out the essay below, which was written for the Common App "Topic of your choice" prompt. You might try reading it here first before reading the paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown below.
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.
The author begins by setting up the Challenges + Effects (you’ve maybe heard of this referred to in narrative as the Inciting Incident). This moment also sets up some of her needs: growth and emotional closure, to deal with it and let go/move on. Notice the way objects like the shovel help bring an essay to life, and can be used for symbolic meaning. That object will also come back later.
When my parents finally revealed to me that my grandmother had been battling liver cancer, I was twelve and I was angry--mostly with myself. They had wanted to protect me--only six years old at the time--from the complex and morose concept of death. However, when the end inevitably arrived, I wasn’t trying to comprehend what dying was; I was trying to understand how I had been able to abandon my sick grandmother in favor of playing with friends and watching TV. Hurt that my parents had deceived me and resentful of my own oblivion, I committed myself to preventing such blindness from resurfacing.
In the second paragraph, she flashes back to give us some context of what things were like leading up to these challenges (i.e., the Status Quo), which helps us understand her world. It also helps us to better understand the impact of her grandmother’s death and raises a question: How will she prevent such blindness from resurfacing?
I became desperately devoted to my education because I saw knowledge as the key to freeing myself from the chains of ignorance. While learning about cancer in school I promised myself that I would memorize every fact and absorb every detail in textbooks and online medical journals. And as I began to consider my future, I realized that what I learned in school would allow me to silence that which had silenced my grandmother. However, I was focused not with learning itself, but with good grades and high test scores. I started to believe that academic perfection would be the only way to redeem myself in her eyes--to make up for what I had not done as a granddaughter.
In the third paragraph, she starts shifting into the What I Did About It aspect, and takes off at a hundred miles an hour … but not quite in the right direction yet. What does that mean? She pursues things that, while useful and important in their own right, won’t actually help her resolve her conflict. This is important in narrative—while it can be difficult, or maybe even scary, to share ways we did things wrong, that generally makes for a stronger story. Think of it this way: You aren’t really interested in watching a movie in which a character faces a challenge, knows what to do the whole time, so does it, the end. We want to see how people learn and change and grow.
Here, the author “Raises the Stakes” because we as readers sense intuitively (and she is giving us hints) that this is not the way to get over her grandmother’s death.
However, a simple walk on a hiking trail behind my house made me open my own eyes to the truth. Over the years, everything--even honoring my grandmother--had become second to school and grades. As my shoes humbly tapped against the Earth, the towering trees blackened by the forest fire a few years ago, the faintly colorful pebbles embedded in the sidewalk, and the wispy white clouds hanging in the sky reminded me of my small though nonetheless significant part in a larger whole that is humankind and this Earth. Before I could resolve my guilt, I had to broaden my perspective of the world as well as my responsibilities to my fellow humans.
There’s some nice evocative detail in here that helps draw us into her world and experience.
Structurally, there are elements of What I Did About It and What I Learned in here (again, they will often be somewhat interwoven). This paragraph gives us the Turning Point/Moment of Truth. She begins to understand how she was wrong. She realizes she needs perspective. But how? See next paragraph ...
Volunteering at a cancer treatment center has helped me discover my path. When I see patients trapped in not only the hospital but also a moment in time by their diseases, I talk to them. For six hours a day, three times a week, Ivana is surrounded by IV stands, empty walls, and busy nurses that quietly yet constantly remind her of her breast cancer. Her face is pale and tired, yet kind--not unlike my grandmother’s. I need only to smile and say hello to see her brighten up as life returns to her face. Upon our first meeting, she opened up about her two sons, her hometown, and her knitting group--no mention of her disease. Without even standing up, the three of us—Ivana, me, and my grandmother--had taken a walk together.
In the second-to-last paragraph, we see how she takes further action, and some of what she learns from her experiences: Volunteering at the local hospital helps her see her larger place in the world.
Cancer, as powerful and invincible as it may seem, is a mere fraction of a person’s life. It’s easy to forget when one’s mind and body are so weak and vulnerable. I want to be there as an oncologist to remind them to take a walk once in a while, to remember that there’s so much more to life than a disease. While I physically treat their cancer, I want to lend patients emotional support and mental strength to escape the interruption and continue living. Through my work, I can accept the shovel without burying my grandmother’s memory.
The final paragraph uses what we call the “bookend” technique by bringing us back to the beginning, but with a change—she’s a different, slightly wiser person than she was. This helps us put a frame around her growth.
… A good story well told . That’s your goal.
Hopefully, you now have a better sense of how to make that happen.
For more resources, check out our College Application Hub .