Your College Application Essay - Six Ways to Write a Powerful Opening

Admissions Officers at most universities read thousands of application essays each year, many of them responding to the same prompt. That’s why, to set your essay apart, it is critical that your essay grabs the reader’s attention, right from the beginning.

Here are six ways you can do that.

1. Pose a question that the reader wants answered.

This does not mean you have to write an actual question, although there are times when that would be appropriate. But however you do it, it is absolutely imperative to get the reader wondering, "How is this going to turn out?" or "What does she mean by that?"

To accomplish this goal, start your essay with a provocative statement that implies there is more to be learned about the topic, and that reading the essay is going to deliver that information. If the prompt is about a memorable experience, for example, you could write, "As I stepped onto the raft, I had no idea I’d soon be fighting for my life." In this way, your essay immediately gets the reader asking, "What exactly happened on that rafting trip?" This establishes a forward momentum, right at the top, that will then sweep the reader along, through everything that follows.

5. Use Humor

College application essays should be enjoyable to read. If you have a feel for being funny, don’t be afraid to open your essay with a clever line or turn of phrase. Be tasteful, of course, and if you do use humor, make sure it’s original and effective.

6. Keep working

Use the guidelines above to keep on refining and improving your work until you find the perfect way to begin your essay. Be experimental, daring. Don’t be satisfied until you’re certain that the opening of your essay will get the reader thinking, "Well, that’s one I haven’t heard before. Can’t wait to read the rest of this essay."

Related video: Guide to the 2017-2018 Common App Essays: Questioning a Belief or Idea (Prompt 3)


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