Published on October 4, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on July 22, 2022 by Kirsten Courault.

    Admissions officers read thousands of essays each application season, and they may devote as little as five minutes to reviewing a student’s entire application. That means it’s critical to have a well-structured essay with a compelling introduction. As you write and revise your essay , look for opportunities to make your introduction more engaging.

    There’s one golden rule for a great introduction: don’t give too much away. Your reader shouldn’t be able to guess the entire trajectory of the essay after reading the first sentence. A striking or unexpected opening captures the reader’s attention, raises questions, and makes them want to keep reading to the end .

    If you get the admissions officer to read your essay a little more closely than another applicant’s, you give yourself more opportunity to show off how you can provide what the college is looking for in a candidate.

    Start with a surprise

    A great introduction often has an element of mystery. Consider the following opening statement.

    Example hook I’ve never been good at breathing.

    This opener is unexpected, even bizarre—what could this student be getting at? How can you be bad at breathing?

    The student goes on to describe her experience with asthma and how it has affected her life. It’s not a strange topic, but the introduction is certainly intriguing. This sentence keeps the admissions officer reading, giving the student more of an opportunity to keep their attention and make her point.

    In a sea of essays with standard openings such as “One life-changing experience for me was …” or “I overcame an obstacle when …,” this introduction stands out. The student could have used either of those more generic introductions, but neither would have been as successful.

    This type of introduction is a true “hook”—it’s highly attention-grabbing, and the reader has to keep reading to understand.

    Start with a vivid, specific image

    If your topic doesn’t lend itself to such a surprising opener, you can also start with a vivid, specific description.

    Many essays focus on a particular experience, and describing one moment from that experience can draw the reader in. You could focus on small details of what you could see and feel, or drop the reader right into the middle of the story with dialogue or action.

    Bad example I learned the true meaning of pressure during my first gymnastics competition when I was 7 years old. After months of hard work, it all came down to the final moments of my balance beam routine. Good example I wiped the sweat from my head and tried to catch my breath. I was nearly there—just one more back tuck and a strong dismount and I’d have nailed a perfect routine.

    Some students choose to write more broadly about themselves and use some sort of object or metaphor as the focus. If that’s the type of essay you’d like to write, you can describe that object in vivid detail, encouraging the reader to imagine it.

    Bad example My favorite Spotify playlist says a lot about me. Good example After hours sitting in my room staring at the screen, I’d completed it: my sonic alter ego. Pushing back against the worn blue office chair in my bedroom, I sighed contentedly, knowing that I had successfully spawned the Spotify playlist that was my spiritual twin.

    Avoid clichés

    Cliché essay introductions express ideas that are stereotypical or generally thought of as conventional wisdom. Ideas like “My family made me who I am today” or “I accomplished my goals through hard work and determination” may genuinely reflect your life experience, but they aren’t unique or particularly insightful.

    Unoriginal essay introductions are easily forgotten and don’t demonstrate a high level of creative thinking. A college essay is intended to give insight into the personality and background of an applicant, so a standard, one-size-fits-all introduction may lead admissions officers to think they are dealing with a standard, unremarkable applicant.

    Bad example I have always made the best of bad situations. Good example Last November, I accidentally became a firefighter. In a rehearsal for a school play when a lighting fixture malfunctioned and the set caught fire, I helped extinguish it.

    Quotes can often fall into the category of cliché essay openers. There are some circumstances in which using a quote might make sense—for example, you could quote an important piece of advice or insight from someone important in your life. But for most essays, quotes aren’t necessary, and they may make your essay seem uninspired.

    Bad example “It’s not the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away.” As I look at the balance beam beneath my feet, I feel breathless from the excitement of my gymnastics competition. Good example As I looked at the balance beam beneath my feet, my coach’s words echoed in my mind: “Visualize what you want.”

    Frequently asked questions about college application essays

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    How do you start an introduction to a college essay?
    An effective college essay introduction should “wow” admissions officers. It should be creative, intriguing, and unique. Make sure you start with a strong “hook” or “grabber.” It's a good idea to follow this first sentence with a vivid anecdote, which you will then connect to the overall topic of your essay. more
    How do you start a powerful essay?
    Intriguing ways to start an essay
    1. Share a shocking or amusing fact.
    2. Ask a question.
    3. Dramatize a scene.
    4. Kick it off with a quote.
    5. State your thesis directly.
    6. Pick the right tone for your essay.
    7. When you're stuck, work backwards.
    How do you start an interview essay?
    Write an introduction that sets the tone for the essay and includes your thesis statement.
    1. Begin with an interesting fact or description about the person you interviewed.
    2. Explain why you chose the interviewee by transitioning into a sentence that explains to the reader why she should care about your subject.
    How do you start a cultural identity essay?
    Best Tips For Writing Cultural Identity Essay
    1. Choose focus. Think, “What is my cultural identity?” Treat topic selection thoughtfully because everything is going to depend on it.
    2. Brainstorm.
    3. Make an outline before completing essay.
    4. Describe.
    5. Use linking words.
    6. Stay personal.
    7. Proofread essay.
    How do you start an ethics essay?
    The introductory paragraph of your ethics paper should contain a brief synopsis of the topic and some background information that will logically lead to the argument. Besides, in the introduction, you also should outline the supporting examples you will give and state your thesis. more
    How do we start an essay?
    Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
    1. An opening hook to catch the reader's attention.
    2. Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
    3. A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
    How do you start a essay sentence?
    Begin the first paragraph of your essay with a topic sentence that expresses the main point of your essay, the thesis statement, a kind of mini-outline for the essay; it tells the reader what the essay is about. more
    How do I start an essay sentence?
    Below is a list of possible sentence starters, transitional and other words that may be useful. This essay discusses … … is explored … … is defined … The definition of … will be given … is briefly outlined … … is explored … more
    How do you start a essay statement?
    Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader's curiosity. The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you're writing about and why it's interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact. more
    How do you start an essay introduction?
    1. Step 1: Hook your reader. Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook.
    2. Step 2: Give background information.
    3. Step 3: Present your thesis statement.
    4. Step 4: Map your essay's structure.
    5. Step 5: Check and revise.
    How do I start writing an essay?
    Begin with what you are ready to write—a plan, a few sentences or bullet points. Start with the body and work paragraph by paragraph. Write the introduction and conclusion after the body. Once you know what your essay is about, then write the introduction and conclusion. more


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