Engaging Ways To Open Your College App Essay

Flickr user d_jan

Summer is here and rising seniors have college applications on their mind. The Common Application essays have not changed from last application cycle. Therefore, students can get a head start and use their summer to write their personal statement.

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” is meant to share 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’s beginning is personal, funny and very relatable. The opening paragraph is engaging, and “hooks” the reader into wanting to finish reading the story. Isabella 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 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.

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Kristen Moon

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