Great Introductions: College Admissions Essay Help
Imagine a stack of 700 essays. Then imagine that it's your job to read and evaluate each one—in addition to your other professional duties. You can expect an admissions officer to spend about four minutes per essay, and that's if the first paragraph a) doesn't give away the content of the entire essay; b) isn't so poorly written that it's a tip-off that the student may not be ready for college-level writing; or c) isn't boring. While many in admissions read each and every essay from the first word to the last, others don't. That's why it's critical that your introduction be designed to entice. There are a number of effective ways to hook your reader from the opening sentences. Here are some great ways to create a hook:
- Get emotional. Your reader will relate to your subject if you engage their emotions and cause them to make a connection with you and your writing. Think about beginning your essay by discussing the way you felt about something, rather than first describing or otherwise revealing that something.
- Be intriguing. Your introduction needs to relate to the rest of your essay, but it can be a small detail that makes the admissions officers wonder what you are up to. Writing about how your music teacher has influenced you? You might begin by describing how his playing the cello makes you feel in a few detailed sentences. Don't mention that he is your teacher, or that he has helped shaped your love of music—yet. The reader will wonder who the mystery teacher is, and want to read more to find out.
- Give an anecdote. A very short slice of life story that doesn't clue the reader in to where you are headed can be a great hook. Write about the last seconds of a basketball game, checking out your last customer of the day, or your brilliant but disorganized teacher's lecture on Emerson. Admissions officers will have to keep reading to discover what you are writing about.
- Ask a question. Have you ever heard of a basketball coach reading poetry to her team? Why would I want to give up mypoolside summer as a life guard to work in a rundown, unairconditioned school? Take your subject, and ask yourself what is unusual or in need of an explanation. Turn it into a question that doesn't have an obvious answer.
- Cite an unusual fact. Telling your reader something he or she doesn't know, and wouldn't guess, can compel him or her to read on. If you're writing about a travel experience, hunt down some statistics that might seem startling, like: The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that during the month I was traveling, over 255,000 pieces of luggage were lost. Did your church youth group volunteer with migrant farm workers picking oranges? A few minutes of research can help you begin your essay: Florida's Valencia orange forecast for April was 86 million boxes.
Introductions That Hook Readers
I will never forget the moment I landed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As the plane descended, I was awed by the dynamic geography and the juxtaposition of the sea, the mountains, and the city's skyline. I absorbed the landscape further and my eyes focused on the favelas mounted on the hillsides.
Why it works:
This introduction takes the reader to an exotic location, describes the landscape, and sets the scene. She tells you the moment is unforgettable, and brings you along with her. More importantly, she does not reveal anything about her subject. You have to read on to find out what her essay is about.
My thoughts were scattered. I couldn't concentrate on the directions I was being given, and my anxiety about taking the test only increased as I realized I needed to be paying attention. The more I told myself to relax, the worse it got. Palms sweating, heart beating wildly, I somehow got my gear on and jumped into the pool.
Why it works:
Who hasn't felt anxiety before a test? Using emotion as a hook works here not only because anyone can relate to those feelings, but also because the reader has no idea what kind of test is being taken. The mention of the pool gives some information without revealing the entire subject.
Tom Wessels slaps his felt hat over his bushy hair, and starts striding away with the confident gait of a hiker. The gritty March snow stings our eyes as We scramble to keep up with him, this master of the woods, wise mam of the hills. His book, Reading the Forested Landscape, has been our bible at the fountain School, an eternal reference to the woods. Few people get to meet the authors of books they read, so we speak to him with special reference.
Why it works:
The reader gets to meet Tom Wessels in a well-written description of both the author and the setting in which the writer meets him. There is no indication where the essay is headed—it could be about Mr. Wessels as an influence, or about his book. In fact, it is really about the writer's love of the natural world, and how it was enhanced by her studies at the Mountain School, and Reading the Forested Landscape.
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