Engaging Ways To Open Your College App Essay

The new year has begun and rising seniors have their college admissions essays on their minds. It’s important to start thinking about your application early so you’re not panicking when the time comes to write it.

Fortunately, the current Common App essay prompts have not changed from the last application cycle, which is great news for juniors! Therefore, students can get a head start and use their summer to look at the Common Application essay prompts and begin writing their personal essays. But before you get started on the college application process, consider some of this advice to ensure your college app essay stands out. Students, it’s hard knowing how to start off a college application essay about yourself, but that’s why College Raptor is here!

Brainstorm about your college application essay

Flickr user Tom Woodward

Make Your Statement Stand Out

Keep in mind, an admissions officer may read essays for countless hours every day during admissions season—therefore your essay needs to be memorable. Here are some tips on writing an engaging personal statement. The most important component of this is a strong opening.

The Importance of a Good Essay

Your essay or “personal statement” shares more about yourself with the admissions officers. They already know your academic history from your transcripts—you do not need to repeat it. What the officers will not glean from your transcripts and standardized test scores is your personality. Your essay is your opportunity to illustrate yourself. Share a compelling memory, an anecdote from your life. This is your chance to connect with your reader.

This is the opening paragraph of Isabella’s essay:

My small body and head of curly hair trotted over to the refrigerator in search of some butter for my bread. I shifted some cans of half-opened Goya beans and the remnant of a brick of dulce de leche that had seen better days. After much shuffling, I spotted the big brown container of margarine. Carefully placing the tub on the kitchen table and readying for my “feast,” I opened the container. To my dismay, it was filled with arroz con pollo. My eyes tightened and my stomach made Chewbacca noises. Maybe I could mash the dulce de leche on top of the bread.

Isabella starts off her college app essay with something personal, funny and very relatable. The opening paragraph is engaging, and “hooks” the reader into wanting to finish reading the story. Isabella also throws the reader right in the middle of her story. This is a perfect example of using an anecdote to open your essay.

How to Create a Strong “Hook”

Three elements of a strong opening:

The Why: Isabella’s opening is a great example of this. The reader wants to know what happens next; how will she solve the problem?

The Surprise: Sometimes a shocking statement works; your reader will pay rapt attention. An example of this is: “I grew up a killer,” then followed by a story about deciding to become vegetarian. You can use a figurative, alarming statement to grab your readers’ interest.

The Confession: By revealing something personal about yourself, you establish trust with the reader. They become your confidant. This is an effective way to pull a fact from your resume and then elaborate on it personally. An example: Lesley is ranked #1 in her high school and is valedictorian. Confession: She is dyslexic and has had to work diligently to overcome this learning obstacle.

Your essay is a critical part of your application; this is also the school’s first impression of the real You. It completes the picture of your identity and shows the officers why you would be an asset to their community.

Now, let’s talk about how NOT to open your essay for your college app. 

Your Academics and Transcripts

The college admissions committee has already seen your transcripts so don’t waste your time or theirs by repeating it in your college application essay, especially in the opener. 

Profanity and Inappropriate Topics

This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to keep professionalism throughout your essay. Though it may be personal, swearing and using inappropriate topics to engage the reader may not go as well as some may think. 

Plead Your Case

It may be tempting to give the admissions committee something they want to hear by heavily exaggerating your essay, but staying true to yourself is important. Of course, you want to show your interest in the school but putting others down or desperately trying to make yourself look right is not going to work. 

If you’re still not sure which colleges you want to apply to, use College Raptor to discover personalized college matches, cost estimates, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid for schools around the US–for FREE! You can find career advice and even free scholarships available that are personalized to you!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join thousands of students and parents learning about finding the right college, admissions secrets, scholarships, financial aid, and more.