Attention-Grabbing Openings: How to Make an Impact with The First Essay Sentence

To all College-Bound Juniors and Seniors:

Your college essay is your best opportunity to make a strong impression…so make it count! At the height of the season, many college admissions officers often read 30-40 applications a day.  Depending on the number of supplements, that can mean almost 100 essays each day!   Your essays are windows to the true you.  They can show colleges what drives you, what has led to your growth to date and how you might contribute to the development of your future classmates and community members.  Many essays are simply bad.  Filled with cliché “insights,” riddled with grammatical errors, and lackluster word choices, most essays fail to take advantage of the opportunity to present a compelling picture of who you are and what unique things you will contribute to your campus and to your classmates.   

So, how do you create a show-stopping college essay? Let’s begin with the first sentence. The first sentence in any essay should draw your reader in. It can be humorous, dramatic, or provocative. It should say, “Hey, pay attention to me. You want to read me because I have something very interesting to say.” When working with my clients on their essays, writing that first sentence is usually the biggest struggle. What kind of opening sentence will grant you admission into your target schools?

Examples of weak opening sentences:

  • My biggest failure is …..
  • My confirmation/Bar Mitzvah/Quinceañera marked my transition from child to adult.

YAWN!  Please, please refrain from restating the question in the opening sentence of your essay.  Your reader’s eyes are likely to quickly glaze over while he or she scans the rest of your essay searching for something that may qualify as interesting.  If they don’t find it quickly, they will move on to the next application.  Instead, you want your admissions officer to READ your essay.  You want her to be ENTHRALLED with your essay.  You want her to SHARE your essay with the other admissions officers.

Examples of strong opening sentences:

  • When I was 10 years old, I ran away to join the circus.

Wow! What an unexpected first sentence. Why did the student go to the circus? How did they manage to run off to the circus? What did they do? What did they learn? See…this sentence makes you curious.

  • Kidnapping is an art.

This one definitely grabs attention.  In fact, this student ended up attending an Ivy League school.  When he arrived on campus for orientation, his admissions officer made a bee-line for him and exclaimed: “I’m never getting into a car with you!”   That was a year after he submitted his application. Talk about being memorable!  You can read the entire essay in The Complete Candidate: A Comprehensive System for Solving the College Admissions Puzzle.   

As you think about your own essay, how will you create interest?  How will you get your admissions officer to remember you after reading hundreds of essays?  More importantly, how will you make sure that, when it comes time to go to admissions committee, your admissions officer will not only remember you but will fight for your place in the incoming class?  How will you be memorable? 

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