The beginning of your college essay is challenging in a totally different way than the conclusion, or even the middle of the essay is. The role of the introduction is to draw the reader in. We like to use the introduction to jolt your admissions reader awake.
Think about it: you’re an admissions reader. You’ve been trying to quickly make your way through the stack of 102 application essays that you need to finish by 5pm. You just put down the 9th essay in a row about a “life-changing” community service trip and you can’t decide if you want to roll your eyes or go get another cup of coffee. You pick up one more to read before that coffee becomes a reality, and all of a sudden you experience a different category of adrenaline—an absolutely captivating opening sentence.
“I am completely blind and live to fill the void it creates.”
Say what? You pore over the rest of the essay and absolutely eat it up. It’s interesting, compelling, unique, funny. A lot of the admissions reader’s attitude about your essay is affected by the opening sentence and introduction. Because your essay is a story, think of the introduction as the beginning of your story. We believe that the best essays start right in the middle of some action (in medias res).
Read through some of our favorite personal statements ever here, and take note of the introductions. More than the introductions, the opening sentences. It wakes the reader up, it draws them in, and it highlights something truly interesting and unique. Don’t stress if you think that your essay isn’t THAT interesting—it can be. It is. It’s all about how you frame it. For example, we had a student last year write about his height. He is tall and that’s what he wrote about. Not a trip he took, not his extracurricular activities, not a totally transformative conversation. He’s tall, and it has affected how he experiences the world. He wrote about it (he got into his top choice).
As with every essay, make sure that you are showing and not telling. Your introduction is just the beginning, but it’s the first part that people read so we always make sure that our students are weaving their narrative within the first sentence by revealing a crucial, intriguing, and quippy fact about the story. The key to writing a great introduction is to not try to fit too much into the first paragraph--you’re setting up the story. Think about when you’re telling a story out loud. Great storytellers provide just the right amount of context in their introduction to the story. They draw you in with a few facts and thoughts. Then they expand on the story from there.
We always make sure that our students perfect the introduction and conclusion near the end of the writing process, because it’s hard to tell what excerpts to pull out and the note that you want to end on before you’ve really hashed out the entire story—you can’t have bookends without books. That said, you have to start telling the story from the beginning, so there’s no other place to start than the introduction. Write your first draft out and edit it later.
If you need a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes on your essay, please call us. We do this for a living. We’ve helped countless students write their essays, and we have some pretty impressive stats to report as a result of our work.