As you read the following suggestions for how to start a college essay, notice that I don’t describe what should be in your introductory paragraph. Instead, I suggest four best practices for writing your first paragraph.
Use the opening sentence to grab the reader’s attention and begin the essay.
Your introductory sentence sets the tone for the rest of the essay. It says, “This is the story I want to tell you about myself.” And it needs to grab the reader’s attention. If you think about it, the opening sentence you use can be a snapshot of your life, or it can be a broad overview of the past.
Many students, especially students who have not worked in research, end up with paragraphs filled with facts and dates and figures and irrelevant facts about the student. Even some well-crafted essays do not read well if you just list out everything that has happened to you, and then read a comment that a friend or relative gave you about it. However, most essays that seem to have issues are where you start with a sentence like, “I had…”, where the opening sentence is irrelevant to the rest of the essay. As I said above, just start with a compelling sentence.
An excellent opening sentence to a college essay is: “I was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award in my first year of teaching.” While this is a complete sentence, it does not grab the reader’s attention. It is a sentence that has a very general meaning, but it doesn’t grab the reader’s attention. It is likely to make him yawn or fall asleep. (I am not saying to change it to something that grabs the reader’s attention, just keep in mind that this sentence does not grab the reader’s attention.)
By contrast, a paragraph that starts with: “I was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award in my first year of teaching,” will draw the reader into your essay. This paragraph will engage the reader’s attention and make him think about your teaching award. It will leave him thinking about it long after he has read the rest of your essay.
Introduce the person.
Describe the writer of your essay. While you don’t have to state who you are, you do have to introduce yourself in some way.
There are several ways to write about someone. You could start your opening paragraph by explaining who you are.
You could mention something that makes you unique. If you are an athlete, mention that. If you are creative, mention it. If you are ambitious, mention that. If you have a certain interest, mention it. If you have a certain ability, mention it. If you have a certain level of confidence, mention it. (If you have a lot of confidence, then you could talk about it a little more than you need to.)
You could give a short description of who you are. If you are a non-traditional student, a student who is more career-oriented or a student who is a different ethnicity, tell the reader a little bit about you.
You could introduce the audience. You could introduce the reader who is reading your essay. Or you could explain the reader to the reader. Or you could describe the audience for whom you are writing the essay. Either way, write about the audience for whom you are writing the essay.
You could ask a question. This can be a rhetorical question or a rhetorical question that is answered in the essay. For example, you could ask, “Why have you chosen the topic of family dysfunction for your senior thesis?” (You could also ask, “Why have you chosen the topic of a water polo team for your final project?”)
Don’t be repetitive but build a narrative.
Once you have started with a few sentences, it is time to develop a narrative in your essay. Don’t be repetitive, but if you want to, remember to add some emotion to your story.
Give the reader an emotional attachment to your story
After you have introduced yourself, it is time to include a series of quotes.
There is a different way to write quotes, but it is essential to use quotes in your essay. They help you form a narrative. They add emotion to the story. And they tell a better story than you could have told by yourself.
One way to write quotes is to use quotes that you made up. (You could also get quotes from news organizations.) If you made up a quote, you should say so, and if it is original and relevant to your essay, you can include it. But if it isn’t, you don’t have to include it.
The introduction need to be written with a sense of curiosity. This is the kind of curiosity that makes you want to read more about a certain topic.
A true curiosity can be achieved by the use of the following strategies:
Identify yourself or make the reader believe that the reader has known you for some time.
Gather quotes to build curiosity. For example, you could include quotes from groups that you have experienced bullying from. Or you could include quotes from students who think your teaching award is a disgrace.
Spark the reader’s curiosity. You might start your introduction with a quote from a journalist. Or you could ask the reader to guess the quote you have chosen. Or you could try to find a story that is relevant to the essay.
Bring up a question. This question can serve as an incentive to the reader to read more.
Share a Problem
You might have already done a lot of thinking about how you want to address a problem.
But it is essential that you let the reader know, before you have written the introduction, that there is a problem. By including this in your introduction, you make the reader curious to read your essay.
If your essay is about family dysfunction, it would be most likely that you have a dysfunctional family. It is essential that you identify this fact.
Using this information as a starting point, you can explain to the reader who you are and why you have chosen to write your college essay about family dysfunction. You can show the reader that this is a problem that affects many families and that it may not have occurred to them.
How to Write a College Essay Outline
I hope this information will help you writing a simple but catchy introduction. But the key is to do it well. Don’t take the introduction lightly. If you skip it, you will not go very far in the writing of your essay.
Don’t make the mistake of leaving your essay’s introduction until the very end. You have an audience waiting for you. Do not disappoint them.
Good luck with your essay.