Summer is in full swing, and rising high school seniors have college applications on their minds. The Common Application essays have not changed from last application cycle; therefore, savvy students are using their summer breaks to get a head start on writing the personal statement. But are you staring at a blank screen and wondering where to begin? Here are some tips for choosing a topic and writing a strong essay opening.
Choosing a Personal Statement Topic
Your essay, or personal statement, is an opportunity to share additional information about yourself with admissions officers. They already know your academic history from your transcripts, so you do not need to rehash that. What the officers will not glean from your transcripts and standardized test scores, however, is your personality. Your essay is your big chance to illustrate who you really are. Seize this moment to share a compelling memory or anecdote from your life. Be yourself, and find a way to connect with your reader.
It’s All in the Opening: Writing a Great First Paragraph
Keep in mind, an admissions officer may read essays for countless hours every day during the height of admissions season – therefore your essay really needs to be memorable. One of the best ways to stand out is to have a strong opening.
But what does this really look like? This is the opening paragraph of high school senior Isabella’s essay:
My small body and head of curly hair trotted over to the refrigerator in search of some butter for my bread. I shifted some cans of half-opened Goya beans and the remnant of a brick of dulce de leche that had seen better days. After much shuffling, I spotted the big brown container of margarine. Carefully placing the tub on the kitchen table and readying for my “feast,” I opened the container. To my dismay, it was filled with arroz con pollo. My eyes tightened and my stomach made Chewbacca noises. Maybe I could mash the dulce de leche on top of the bread.
Isabella’s beginning is personal, funny and very relatable. The opening paragraph is engaging, and “hooks” the reader into wanting to finish reading the story. Isabella throws the reader right in the middle of her world. This is a perfect example of using an anecdote to open your essay.
Three Key Elements of a Strong Personal Statement Opening:
1. The Why.
Isabella’s opening is a great example of capturing the “why.” The reader wants to know what happens next; how will she solve the problem?
2. The Surprise.
Sometimes a shocking statement works; your reader will pay rapt attention. An example of this is:
I grew up a killer.
…Followed by a story about deciding to become vegetarian. You might consider using figurative, even alarming language to grab your reader’s interest.
3. The Confession.
By revealing something personal about yourself, you establish trust with the reader. They become your confidant. This is not only an interesting way to start your essay, it is also an effective way to highlight a key fact from your resume without being redundant. An example:
Lesley is ranked #1 in her high school and is valedictorian. Confession: She is dyslexic and has had to work diligently to overcome this learning obstacle.
This opening reveals more than Lesley’s academic achievement. It demonstrates her sense of humor and self-awareness, and tells the reader about an important part of her life.
Your personal statement is a critical part of your application; this is the school’s first impression of the real you! It completes the picture of your identity, and shows admissions officers why you would be an asset to their school community. Present a compelling opening to the reader, and get your essay off on the right foot.