The Common Application personal statement worries students because it is unlike any writing most of them have done. I’m not going to try to explain all of the issues related to writing the personal statement but I did want to talk about the importance of the beginning.
What most students miss about the beginning of this essay is that it needs to be interesting. Yep, that’s it. Interesting.
Sounds easy enough. But how do you make something interesting? The good news is that there are many ways to make an essay interesting. One approach that I often suggest to students is to use an opening that creates a small mystery.
“What Bobby didn’t know was that his world was about to fall apart.”
That’s might be your opening. What has happened in that first line? Well, we don’t exactly know. We know that something bad is about to happen to Bobby. We don’t know what is going to happen or even who Bobby is. But you want to know, don’t you?
Now, I’m not telling you that this is the greatest opening of all time. But it is better than most preliminary essays that I read because most essays don’t make me want to read past the first line or two. And if I don’t want to read further, I guarantee you that the admissions reader for that college you are applying to won’t want to read more.
You might also use dialogue between you and someone else. Or something that you overhead. Or you might start in the middle of the story so that the reader is intrigued, but confused. You see movies do this all the time when they start and you have no idea what is going on. Then, they say something like, 36 hours earlier. And then fill in the story so that the intro makes sense.
The good thing about all of this is that there is no one single way to make the introduction interesting. One of my current students began his essay by talking about an event that everyone could relate to. Another talked about an event unique to her circumstance. But it was a circumstance that made the reader want to know more.
And that is what you are really trying to do with the introduction. Interest the reader so that they want to read more.
Most interesting openings are very short. One or two lines is very typical. I have even seen one word opening paragraphs that worked very well. However, to show you that there is no one right to do an opening, I have also seen fairly long paragraphs work as the opening. But, for most students, it is much harder to make a long paragraph interesting.
Now go out there and write something interesting!
Susie Watts says
Great suggestions. I agree that it is those first few lines that can either make or break the essay. Students need to remember how many essays college admissions officers actually read. They are looking for something that will make you as a college applicant stand out. The essay is a good place to show a school what makes you tick.