Most students we work with are familiar with essay introductions that look something like the below:
“Due to my diverse background and upbringing, I’m able to relate to many people because of the experiences I’ve had throughout my life.”
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats forever. I was taught this lesson by my grandfather.”
“Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you could fly?”
“Throughout history, Rosa Parks has been considered a brave leader who risked her life for the sake of our future.”
We hope we have your attention because this is NOT what you should do. These examples are actually the exact opposite of what you should be doing. This is, however, where many students begin (because it’s what they’re used to) but we must redirect.
We have nothing but respect for high school teachers: it’s an incredibly hard job and they deserve all of the praise, but the way that you’re taught to write in high school will not make for a successful college admissions essay.
Most high school students are taught the five paragraph essay model. The introductory paragraph makes a wide reaching statement (a grabber!) followed by facts to back up their claim. Then there is a thesis that you usually argue or support throughout the rest of the essay. For a college essay, the last thing you want to be is argumentative. You’re sharing a side of yourself by way of telling a story, so it shouldn’t be set up with a basis of facts and figures. You don’t have to prove anything.
The reason this way of writing won’t work is because you have only 650 words to tell your story. It doesn’t require a large setup or evidence. You have to get right into it. You’re not looking for an intense introduction, a grabber, or a jaw dropping figure.
The point is: keep it simple. The introductory paragraph is the start of your story so you need to figure out exactly what story you’re telling before you start writing. You need a setting and a location: where are you? You don’t necessarily need a ton of background information because you’ll be able to weave those throughout the story.
The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should not by any means give away the ending or lay out what you’ll be writing in the following paragraphs. Consider the following examples:
Last Tuesday night my 17 year old golden retriever escaped from our backyard after I mistakenly left the gate open. I eventually found her the next morning, but throughout the night I learned how important it is to ask others for help when you really need it.
Last Tuesday night my 17 year old golden retriever escaped from our backyard after I mistakenly left the gate open. It was dark out, and I was doing my best to hide the fact that she was lost from my younger sister, so I left my house with a flashlight and her favorite tennis ball.
The first example doesn’t work for a college essay. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you need to write a story. If you write an introduction like the first paragraph, you won’t advance the plot of the story. In other words, there’s really no need to read the rest of the essay, because you already know what it’s about.
The second example is better (but not perfect) because it flows directly into what’s to follow without any harsh breaking of form or sweeping statements.
To start, we suggest writing your essay in free form to get as many details down as possible and editing from there. It’s easy to get stuck on the introduction, so just start writing and you’ll see it come together as you zero in on the story you aim to write.
Getting the introduction down can sometimes be the hardest part. Want some help?