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Luckily, crafting the perfect beginning for your admissions essay is just like many other writing skills — something you can get better at with practice, and by learning from examples. What Is the College Essay Introduction For? Before we talk about how to start a college essay, let's discuss the role of the introduction. Just as your college essay is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions office of your target college, so your essay's beginning is your chance to introduce your writing to the reader. Why Do Colleges Want Personal Statements? In general, college essays make it easier to get to know the parts of you that aren't in your transcript — your personality, your outlook on life, and your background experiences.
You are not writing for yourself here, but instead for a very specific kind of reader. Your essay's job is to entertain and impress this person, and to make you memorable rather than blending into the sea of other personal statements.
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Like all attempts at charm, you must be slightly bold and out of the ordinary, but stay well away from crossing the line into offensiveness or bad taste. The personal statement introduction is the wriggly worm that baits the hook to catch your reader. How do you go about crafting an introduction that successfully hooks your reader? Teenagers hard at work on their college applications. How to Structure a Personal Statement Introduction To see how the introduction fits into an essay, let's look at the big structural picture first and then zoom in.
Don't stop just yet! You are not writing for yourself here, but instead for a very specific kind of reader. How long should the beginning be? If string theory is really true, then the entire world is made up of strings, and I cannot tie a single one. Without imagery, writing would be dull and uninteresting.
Then you pivot to an explanation of why this story is a great illustration of one of your core qualities, values, or beliefs. Usually, the story comes in the first half of the essay, and the insightful explanation comes second — but of course, all rules were made to be broken, and some great essays flip this more traditional order. Just what are the ingredients of a great personal statement introduction? A vivid, detailed story that illustrates your eventual insight.
An insightful pivot towards the greater point you are making in your essay. You've got your reader's attention when you see its furry ears extended… No, wait. You've got your squirrel's attention.
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So my suggestion is to work in reverse order! If you are having trouble coming up with a topic, we have a guide on brainstorming college essay ideas. In the next sections of this article, I'll talk about how to work backwards on the introduction itself, moving from bigger to smaller elements: Don't get too excited about working in reverse — not all activities are safe to do backwards. Once you've figured out your topic and zeroed in on the experience you want to highlight in the beginning of your essay, here are 2 great approaches to making it into a story: Talking it out, storyteller style while recording yourself.
Imagine that you're sitting with a group of people at a campfire, or stuck on a long airplane flight next to someone you want to befriend. Now, tell that story. What details do you need to give them to put them in the story with you? What background information they need in order to understand the stakes or importance of the story? Record yourself telling your story to a friend and then chatting about it.
What do they need clarified? Do they want to know more? Are you being funny as you talk? Trying to shock, surprise, or astound your audience? The way you most naturally tell the story is probably also the way you should write it. After you have done this storyteller exercise, write down the salient points of what you learned. What is the story your essay will tell? What tone will you try to work with? Sketch out a detailed outline so that you can start filling in the pieces as we work through how to write the introductory sections.
The first kind of sentence builds expectations and excites curiosity. The second kind of sentence stimulates the imagination and creates a connection with the author. In both cases, you hit your goal of greater reader engagement. Wolf, my fourth-grade band teacher, as he lifted the heavy tuba and put it into my arms. It also does a little play on words: I live alone — I always have since elementary school. Kevin Zevallos '16 for Connecticut College This opener definitely makes us want to know more.
Why was he alone? Where were the protective grown-ups that surround most kids? How on earth could a little kid of years old survive on his own? Are they old looking? How has having these hands affected the author? There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Who is it that wanted to go for a walk? Why was that person being prevented from going? First Sentence Idea 3: Each noun and adjective is chosen for its ability to convey yet another detail.
Maybe it's because I live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where Brett Favre draws more of a crowd on Sunday than any religious service, cheese is a staple food, it's sub-zero during global warming, current "fashions" come three years after they've hit it big with the rest of the world, and where all children by the age of ten can use a gauge like it's their job. Riley Smith '12 for Hamilton College This sentence manages to hit every stereotype about Wisconsin held by outsiders — football, cheese, polar winters, backwardness, and guns — and this piling on both gives us a good sense of place and creates enough hyperbole to be funny.
High, high above the North Pole, on the first day oftwo professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of miles per hour. First Sentence Idea 4: Counterintuitive Statement To avoid falling into generalities with this one, make sure you're really creating an argument or debate with your counterintuitive sentence. If string theory is really true, then the entire world is made up of strings, and I cannot tie a single one. This sentence raises expectations that the rest of the essay will continue playing with linked, but this web page typically connected concepts.
All children, except one, grow up. Barrie, Peter Pan In 6 words, this sentence upends everything we think we know about what happens to human beings. First Sentence Idea 5: Is this person about to declare herself to be totally selfish and uncaring about the less fortunate?
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We want to know the story that would lead someone to this kind of conclusion. Why is the Colonel being executed? How does he go from ice-discoverer to military commander of some sort to someone condemned to capital punishment? First Sentence Idea 6: Direct Question to the Reader To work well, your question should be especially specific, come out of left field, or pose a surprising hypothetical.
How does an agnostic Jew living in the Diaspora connect to Israel? There is a lot of meat to this question, setting up a philosophically interesting, politically important, and personally meaningful essay. While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
First Sentence Idea 7: Your lesson learned should slightly surprising, not necessarily intuitive, and something that someone else could disagree with. Perhaps it wasn't wise to chew and swallow a handful of sand the day I was given my first sandbox, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In both cases, you hit your goal of greater reader engagement. Over a month before this, while all our energies were j in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of source century. Once you've figured out your topic and zeroed in on the experience you want to highlight in the beginning of your essay, here are 2 great approaches to making it into a story: Decide on a format and style - You will probably be told to use either MLA Modern Language Association or APA Amercian Psychological Association standard writing style.
The reader wants to know more. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Did he draw the right conclusion here? And how did he come to this realization? And let your first sentences soar like the Wright Brothers' first airplane!
Typically, the pivot sentence will come at the end of your introductory section, about halfway through the essay. Oh, and incidentally — I say sentence, but this section could be more than one sentence though ideally no longer than So how do you make the turn? This is called signposting, and it's a great way to keep readers updated on where they are in the flow of the essay and your argument. Here are three ways to do this, with real life examples from college essays published by colleges.
Expand the Time Frame In this pivot, you gestures out from the one specific experience you describe to the for-all-time realization that you had during it. Examples of higher english was the lock on the door. I actually succeeded in springing it. Stephen '19 for Johns Hopkins University This is a pretty great pivot, neatly connecting the story Stephen's been telling about having to break into a car on a volunteering trip and his general reliance on his own resourcefulness and ability to roll with whatever life throws at him.
It's a double bonus that he accomplishes the pivot with a play on the word "click," which here means both the literal clicking of the car door latch and the figurative clicking that his brain does. But in that moment I realized that the self-deprecating jokes were there for a reason.
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When attempting to climb the mountain of comedic success, I didn't just fall and then continue on my journey, but I fell so many times that I befriended the ground and realized that the middle of the metaphorical mountain made for a better campsite. Not because I had let my failures get the best of me, but because I had learned to make the best of my failures. Rachel Schwartzbaum '19 for Connecticut College This pivot similarly focuses on a "that moment" of illuminated clarity. In this case, it broadens Rachel's experience of stage fright before her standup comedy sets to the way she has more generally not allowed failures to stop her forward progress and has instead been able to use them as learning experiences.
It's great that she is able to not only describe her humor as "self-deprecating" but also demonstrate what she means with that great "befriended the ground" line. I found that I had been naive in my assumption that most people knew as much about wildlife as I did, and that they shared my respect for animals. Maloney '07 for Hamilton College This is another classically constructed pivot example, as J.
Here, the widening of scope happens at once, as we go from a highly specific "first educational assignment" to the much more general realization that "much" could be accomplished through these kinds of programs. My goal is to make all the ideas in my mind fit together like the gears of a Swiss watch. Whether it's learning a new concept in linear algebra, talking to someone about a programming problem, or simply zoning out while I read, there is always some part of my day that pushes me towards this place of cohesion: Aubrey Anderson '19 for Tufts University After cataloging and detailing the many interesting thoughts that flow through her brain in a specific hour, Aubrey uses the pivot to explain that this is what every waking hour is like for her "on a daily basis.
Our return brought so much back for me. Dad haggling with the jewelry sellers, his minute examination of pots at a trading post, the affection he had for chilies. I was scared that my love for the place would be tainted by his death, diminished without him there as my guide. That fear was part of what kept my mother and me away for so long. Once there, though, I was relieved to realize that Albuquerque still brings me closer to my father. Check this out though he is no longer there to "guide," the author's love for the place itself remains.
Extract and Underline a Trait or Value In this type of pivot, you use the experience you've been describing to demonstrate its importance in developing or zooming in on one key attribute. Some ways to think about making this transition are: I would never have invested so much time learning about the molecular structure or chemical balance of plants if not for taking care of him. Without having to "take care of him," she "would never have invested so much time learning" about the plant biology.
By leaving me free to make mistakes and chase wild dreams, my father was always able to help ground me back in reality. Olivia Check this out '16 for Connecticut College In Olivia's essay about her father's role in her life, the pivot explains his importance by explaining that he has deeply impacted her values. Sample Intro 1 A blue seventh place athletic ribbon hangs from my mantel.
Usually, they have essy specific purpose beyond this. Laying the Roadmap for Your Essay 1 Start with an attention-grabbing sentence. Barrie, Peter Pan In 6 words, this sentence upends everything we think we know about what happens to human beings. How has having these hands affected the author? In journalism, there is usually a great effort made to focus on the pure facts of the story, rather than the writer's opinion, so the introductory passages of a journalistic essay tends to be somewhat descriptive, rather than argumentative or persuasive. Your teachers, of course, will trudge on. If the attention grabber was only a sentence or two, add one or two more sentences that will lead the reader from your opening to your thesis statement. First Sentence Idea 4:
Every day, as I walk into my living room, the award mockingly congratulates me as I smile. Ironically, the blue seventh place ribbon resembles the first place ribbon in color; so, if I just cover up the tip of the seven, I may convince myself that I championed the fourth heat. But, I never dare to wipe away the memory of my seventh place swim; I need that daily reminder of my imperfection. I need that seventh place. Two years ago, I joined the no-cut swim team. That winter, my coach unexpectedly assigned me to swim the freestyle. After stressing for hours about swimming 20 laps in a competition, I mounted the blocks, took my mark, and swam.
Around lap 14, I looked around at the other lanes and did not see anyone. However, as I finally completed my race and lifted my arms up in victory to the eager applause of the fans, I looked up at the score board. I had finished my race in last place. In fact, I left the pool two minutes after the second-to-last competitor, who now stood with her friends, wearing all her clothes. It dangles information just out of reach, so the reader wants to know more: Why does this definitively non-winning ribbon hang in such a prominent place of pride?
Lots and lots of detail. In the intro, we get physical actions: We basically get a sports commentary play-by-play here. Even though we already know the conclusion — Meghan came in 7th — she still builds suspense by narrating the race from her point of view as she was swimming it. She is nervous for a while, and then she starts the race. This essay uses the time expansion method of pivoting: The rest of the essay explores what it means for Meghan to constantly see this reminder of failure and to transform it into a sense of acceptance for her imperfections.
Notice also that in this essay, the pivot comes before the main story, helping us "hear" the narrative in the way that she wants us to. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary or even their phones to look it up, so we just hash it out. And then, I am crowned the victor, a true success in the Merchant household. Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life: Words are moving and changing; they have influence and substance. We are immediately thrust into the middle of the action, into an exciting part of an argument about whether "biogeochemical" is really a word.
We are also immediately challenged. Is this a word? Have I ever heard it before? Does a scientific neologism count as a word? Showing rather than telling. Since the whole essay is going to be about words, it makes sense for Shaan to demonstrate his comfort with all different kinds of language: This essay uses the value-extraction style of pivot: Piling on examples to avoid vagueness. But the essay stops short of giving so many examples that the reader drowns. I would say that examples is a good range, as long as they are all different kinds of the same thing.
Several keys offer a good chance of unlocking a door; a giant pile of keys is its own unsolvable maze. Personal statement introductions are made up of: Then work on your first sentence and your pivot. The first sentence should either be short, punchy, and carry some ambiguity or questions or be a detailed and beautiful description setting an easily pictured scene.
The pivot should answer the question: