How to Start an Admissions Essay

The moment has arrived—the opportunity to craft an admission essay that could open the doors to your dream college or program. This pivotal piece of writing is your chance to step into the spotlight, to share your unique story, passions, and aspirations with the admissions committee. It’s your chance to make a compelling case for why you are the perfect fit for the institution of your choice. But where do you begin? How do you captivate the reader’s attention from the very first sentence? Welcome to our comprehensive guide on “How to Start an Admission Essay.”

Title graphic for a blog post on how to start an admissions essay

In this post, we will give you some top tips on the art of crafting an admission essay that not only starts strong but leaves a lasting impression.

We’ll walk you through each crucial step in the admission essay writing process, from choosing a topic for your admission essay and selecting a theme to drafting a captivating opening paragraph and fine-tuning your prose to perfection. Whether you’re applying to a prestigious university, a competitive program, or any institution that requires an admission essay, the principles you’ll find here are universally applicable.

If you have a specific prompt to respond to, take a look at our guide to the common app admissions essay prompts.

Why the Start of Your Admission Essay is So Important

It’s a common scenario: A busy admissions officer, surrounded by stacks of application essays, sifting through one after another in search of the next exceptional candidate. Each essay begins with the promise of a unique story, a fresh perspective, and a new potential addition to their institution. However, as the officer delves into these essays, it doesn’t take long for most to blur into a sea of sameness.

This scenario underscores why the start of your admission essay is of paramount importance. It’s the moment of truth, the split second when your essay either grabs the reader’s attention or gets lost in the crowd. The opening paragraphs of your essay serve several crucial functions, each of which significantly influences the course of your application:

1. First Impressions Matter: Just as in any social interaction, first impressions are formed quickly and are often long-lasting. Your admission essay’s introduction is your first handshake with the admissions committee. It’s your chance to make an immediate positive impression that sets the tone for the rest of your essay.

2. Capturing Attention: Admissions officers have limited time to review countless applications. Your essay’s opening must captivate their interest, compelling them to continue reading. A compelling start can mean the difference between your essay being thoroughly evaluated or skimmed over.

3. Showcasing Personality: Your introduction provides a glimpse of your personality, your voice, and your unique perspective. It’s an opportunity to convey your enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity, helping you stand out as a real, three-dimensional individual rather than just a set of statistics.

4. Setting Expectations: The introduction serves as a roadmap for your essay. It hints at what’s to come, establishing the reader’s expectations for the themes, ideas, and experiences they will encounter in the subsequent sections.

5. Differentiating Yourself: In a competitive field of applicants, an engaging opening sets you apart. It tells the admissions committee that you’ve put thought and effort into crafting a compelling narrative, demonstrating your commitment to the institution.

6. Generating Curiosity: A well-crafted introduction piques the reader’s curiosity. It encourages them to seek answers to questions posed in your opening, ensuring they read further to discover more about you.

In a world of standardized test scores and GPAs, the opening of your admission essay is your opportunity to breathe life into your application. It’s your chance to convey the essence of who you are, what you value, and why you are the ideal candidate for the educational institution you’re applying to. While the rest of your essay plays an essential role in this process, remember that the first impression you make is often the most lasting. Crafting an engaging and unique introduction can be the key to unlocking the doors to your academic future.

For expert assistance crafting a compelling admissions essay, check out our college application essay editing services.

Methods of Grabbing the Readers Attention in Your Admissions Essay

How to start an admissions essay: Ten effective methods

The opening of your admissions essay is akin to the opening act of a captivating performance. It’s your moment to shine, to seize the reader’s attention, and to draw them into your narrative. To achieve this, you can employ several effective methods that will make your essay stand out from the rest:

1. Start with an Anecdote: Begin your essay with a personal anecdote or a short, engaging story that relates to your journey, experiences, or aspirations. Anecdotes have a way of humanizing your narrative and creating an instant connection with the reader. It provides a glimpse into your world and immediately captures interest.

“As I sat in the cramped hospital waiting room, the echoes of whispered hopes and silent prayers filled the air. It was in that very room where my perspective on life took a profound turn.”

2. Pose a Thought-Provoking Question: Opening with a well-crafted question can invite the reader to reflect and engage with your essay. Make sure the question is relevant to the theme of your essay and encourages the reader to ponder the topic further. This approach can make your essay more interactive and thought-provoking.

“What does it mean to truly understand the human condition? This question has driven my academic journey and led me to the doors of your esteemed institution.”

3. Use a Quotation: A carefully chosen quote from a notable figure, a book, or a famous speech can be an effective hook. It can add depth to your essay’s themes and demonstrate your intellectual engagement. Ensure the quote is directly related to the content of your essay.

“Albert Einstein once said, ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ Throughout my academic journey, I’ve come to understand the profound truth in these words. When faced with challenges, I’ve discovered that they are not roadblocks but rather gateways to personal growth and new horizons. One particular challenge, which I’ll delve into in this essay, became the catalyst for my pursuit of knowledge and my desire to make a meaningful impact.”

4. Paint a Vivid Picture: Descriptive language and imagery can create a strong sensory impression. Paint a scene or set the stage by using evocative words that transport the reader into the moment. By engaging their senses, you can make your essay come alive.

“Picture a misty morning on the coastline, the sound of crashing waves and the salty breeze in the air. This was the backdrop to a moment of clarity that changed the course of my life.”

5. Share a Bold Statement: Make a bold and intriguing statement that challenges conventional wisdom or highlights a unique perspective. It should be thought-provoking and leave the reader eager to explore your argument further.

“Conventional wisdom may tell us to play it safe, but sometimes, it’s in embracing risk that we discover our true potential. I stand before you as a testament to that.”

6. Reveal a Personal Dilemma: Sharing a personal dilemma or inner conflict can be a powerful way to engage the reader’s empathy and curiosity. It demonstrates vulnerability and the human side of your story.

“Standing at the crossroads of my academic journey, I faced a dilemma: to follow a well-trodden path or to forge my own. It was a choice that tested my resolve and values.”

7. Showcase Your Passion: If you are deeply passionate about the subject you’re discussing in your essay, let that enthusiasm shine through in your opening. Passion is contagious and can instantly draw the reader in.

“From the first time I held a microscope in my hands, I knew my life’s purpose was to unravel the mysteries of the microscopic world. Today, I’m eager to share that passion with you.”

8. Use Humor (With Caution): A well-placed touch of humor can break the ice and make your essay memorable. However, use humor sparingly and ensure it’s appropriate for the context and tone of your essay.

“I must confess, my journey to this moment has involved more coffee cups, late-night library sessions, and a few hair-pulling moments than I care to admit. But isn’t that the essence of the college experience?”

9. Create Mystery: Introduce an element of mystery or intrigue in your opening. Hint at a problem or challenge you faced without immediately revealing the resolution. This can keep the reader curious and engaged.

“As I gazed at the ancient map on my desk, its faded ink concealed secrets that would soon become my obsession. Little did I know, it held the key to unlocking a world of adventure and discovery.”

10. Share a Personal Revelation: Begin with a personal revelation or insight that you’ve gained from your experiences. It can create an emotional connection with the reader and set the stage for your essay’s exploration.

“Through the cacophony of my teenage years, I stumbled upon a profound realization: the power of words to heal and unite. It’s a lesson that has guided my path ever since.”

Examples of Poor Starts to an Admissions Essay

  1. The Dictionary Definition: Starting with a dictionary definition of a key term, such as “Determination means…” is generally unengaging. It lacks originality and doesn’t provide any personal insight or connection to the applicant.
  2. The General Statement: Beginning with a generic statement like “I am writing this essay to gain admission to your prestigious institution” is uninteresting and lacks a hook. It’s stating the obvious and doesn’t immediately engage the reader.
  3. The Quotation (Without Context): Opening with a quote that’s not tied to your personal experiences or aspirations can be cliché and lack relevance. Without context, it may leave the reader wondering why it was included.
  4. The Overused Cliché: Starting with well-worn clichés like “Webster’s Dictionary defines success as…” or “Ever since I was a child, I have always wanted to be a…” can make your essay appear formulaic and uninspired.
  5. The Apology: Beginning with an apology for your essay’s potential shortcomings, like “I apologize if this essay is not up to your standards,” sets a negative tone and lacks confidence in your own abilities.
  6. The Filler Statement: Starting with filler statements like “In today’s fast-paced world…” or “We live in a globalized society” can be considered as wasted space. It’s important to engage the reader from the very beginning.
  7. The Personal History Timeline: Starting with a chronological recount of your life from birth to present can be overwhelming and off-putting. The admissions committee is more interested in specific experiences or qualities than your entire life story.
  8. The Resume Recap: Listing academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and awards right at the beginning can come across as self-promotional and lacks depth. It doesn’t provide insight into your character or motivations.
  9. The Self-Deprecating Humor: Using self-deprecating humor that undermines your own qualifications or abilities, like “I’m just an ordinary student with nothing extraordinary to offer,” can detract from your application’s strength and confidence.
  10. The Heavy Philosophical Discourse: Launching into a lengthy philosophical or abstract discussion unrelated to your personal experiences can be overwhelming and may alienate the reader, who is more interested in your individual story.

In summary, a poor start to an admissions essay is one that fails to engage the reader, lacks personal connection, and may include clichés, general statements, or negative self-assessment. The opening of your essay should be compelling and offer a glimpse into your unique experiences, aspirations, or character.