As the days get shorter, some of you may be thinking about your senior year. But, as newbie seniors you should be thinking about your college applications, and one of the hardest parts of that application is your college application essay or the personal statement.
When starting college admissions essays, many applicants sit at their desks or in front of their computer screens for hours before typing a single word. The reason?—that darn first sentence.
The first sentence is critical for grabbing the reader’s attention, and writing a great opening to an admissions essay is extremely challenging. How do you get over this hurdle?
One solution is stepping right over the hurdle and starting your essay in the middle. Think about the story you’re trying to tell or the message you want to convey, and just start writing. By starting to write from the middle of your essay, you can figure out what the essence of your message will be and capture it directly, or once you have told your story you might be able to pick a particular moment in your story and start with that. Having a flow will help you create an opening line that can capture a reader’s attention and help a reader springboard into what you are writing about.
Another solution for you when you find yourself staring at a blank computer screen and can’t get that personal essay on its way is to look at some first sentences of college essays that have been successful. There are online resources that let you read successful admissions essays. For example, Acceptional.com provides over 1,000 personal statements from students who have been accepted at the top 25 schools. (They actual get paid when their essays are read.) You could read the openings of essays that helped someone get accepted at a college of their choice to get a feel for what you need to do at the beginning of your college essay.
Here’s a list of 5 admissions essay openings that are among the most compelling in Acceptional’s database. These first sentences do a great job of engaging the reader right away and urging the reader to continue reading.
1. I think, and I say this very tentatively for fear of being proven drastically wrong, that I have found my feet.
2. Gasping for air as the swift ocean currents pulled me deeper into their clutches, my lungs found only stinging water.
3. Britney Spears would say I eat too many lollipops.
4. I was stuck in a trash bin, frantically trying to get out with just my skinny arms, long legs, and my head sticking out.
5. BAM! I was startled awake by a— No. I’m just kidding; my story doesn’t begin with a bam or a bang or even a boom.
What makes these opening sentences work? Well, first they are interesting and grab attention. Second they are not your typical thesis statement that announces; rather, as in example # 2, the writing throws the reader right into a suspenseful, life-or-death situation. Third they make the reader want to continue to read. In example #4, it’s impossible not to wonder: “What is this author doing stuck in a trash bin??”
These are just two suggestions for helping you to improve your college application essay with a good opening sentence. There is no such thing as a boring personal story as long as you put your own spin on it from the beginning to grab the reader’s attention.
written by Rory O’Connor, a guest blogger