How to Start A College Essay: 5 Introductions That Worked

When it comes to writing your college application essay, sometimes getting started is the hardest part.

Whether it’s starting your Common Application essay, or a supplement for your dream school, an effective introduction pulls the reader in and captures their interest. When it comes to college admission boards, who read through hundreds of application essays every year, standing out is all the more important.

While there’s no perfect way to start a college essay that will work for everyone, one of the best ways to get inspired is to read through applications that got the results you’re looking for. Here are 5 examples of very different approaches students took to starting their college application essays-all of which were accepted to top 10 schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton.

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
“Hey kids, here’s twenty bucks. If any of y’all have the guts to ask that there bride to dance, it’s yours,” offered a bearded man in a cowboy hat. He wore a slick black suit and shiny purple tie. His words made me feel like he was giving me a fantastic opportunity, but his smile was that of a used car salesman’s. The four of us kids stared at the man, and then three of them stared at me. I was staring at the bride.
See the Full Harvard Application Essay »

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
It was Veteran’s Day, and my kindergarten class was listing family members who had served in the military. I raised my hand, waving it intensely, intent on sharing mine. Regardless of the lack of honesty in my statement, I went for it. “My grandpa was in the army.” I needed an explanation for his absence, so my imagination filled the void where truth didn’t exist. He was now a soldier, a hero. Still, my statement was untrue.
See the Full Stanford Application Essay »

Prompt: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
I step through the silence towards the metal doors, bathed in the fluorescent glow that accompanies me to my destination. The air gets colder. I stare at my breath, now a cloud, and move through the stale, unflattering light onto the platform. The pure white dome beckons to me–silent, promising–and I step inside. Admiring the giant in the room–a solitary, intimidating block of metal and glass–I know it is my friend. Life floods in, and as the roof splits in half, my lonely, dignified giant swivels on its mount, letting me peer into its eyepiece. Smiling at the sparse walls of the William and Mary observatory, I feel myself shift from observer to researcher-the transformation I live for.
See the Full Stanford Application Essay »

Prompt: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
In northern Wisconsin there is a small cabin, built years ago by my great-grandfather. The cabin rests on the shore of Bass Lake, named such despite the fact that no bass have ever actually made their home there. My father swam in Bass Lake decades ago, watched the grown-ups play cards at night, played touch football with his brothers in the yard. Today the cabin is collectively owned by the Bonsall family, including my dad, and no doubt he will one day pass along that ownership to me, and I will receive my own stake in the family heritage. When I was younger, the entire Bonsall clan would assemble at the cabin each summer, just as they always had. During those summers I swam in Bass Lake, caught my first fish in its waters, sat on the iron swing by the lake and gazed into the flames of the campfire, listening partly to the conversation between my relatives, partly to the chirping of the crickets in the woods. I heard the sound of spring rain pattering against the tent on wet summer nights, and the call of the loons on the lake on dry ones. I have rarely felt so content as on those nights at the cabin.
See the Full Harvard Application Essay »

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
“Ka-ching!” Success! This was not a real cash register but the sound of a notification from the Etsy app on my phone. I eagerly read the screen. “One new order.” Someone bought something I created! A childish glee coursed through me as I opened the Etsy app.
This adventure began two years ago when I clicked the “Publish” button on my new Etsy shop. (Etsy.com, a virtual marketplace, accommodates everyone from budding entrepreneurs to experienced sellers.) Soon came the first order, and I was hooked. At first, my shop in the cloud sold art prints built of simply two components: ink and cardstock. But with increasing confidence, I experimented with new styles, concepts, and materials. My shop expanded to offer a selection of products including wedding invitations, iPhone cases, and business-logo designs.
See the Full Princeton Application Essay »

Each of these successful college essays pulls the reader in and emphasizes the personal story of the applicant behind it. When crafting the perfect start to your college essay, keep these examples in mind and tailor your essay to the strengths you want to convey to the admissions team reading your application.

If you’re looking for more help on your college essay, check out our other free essays or these books from Amazon.

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