How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#8 of 25)

Have you ever noticed that today’s popular movies almost always begin with a compelling event, whether it’s based on action or a highly emotional moment? This is a calculated technique by filmmakers to instantly engage viewers and get them to start wondering, “What’s going to happen next?” It’s a highly effective tool, just like the eighth of my twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.

#8. Open Strong

The beginning of your application essay is your chance to accomplish three critical tasks.

  1. Get the reader asking a question that can only be answered by continuing to read the essay. The question can take many forms but mostly it boils down to, “So, how did this turn out?”
  2. Hook the reader with your writing ability.
  3. Give the reader confidence that reading this essay is going to be an enjoyable, and maybe even enlightening experience.

I know that’s a lot to ask from a couple of sentences but there’s a lot at stake so why not aim high?

I have already written a blog about various ways to create a powerful opening of your essay (2012) and I encourage you to look for it in my archives. If you’re in a hurry, however, here’s the gist of it.

  1. Start your essay with a provocative statement that implies there is more to be learned about the topic. You could write, for example, “As I stepped onto the raft, I had no idea I’d soon be fighting for my life.” This establishes an immediate forward momentum that will sweep the reader along, through everything that follows.
  2. Defy expectations by putting a twist on the expected response to the essay prompt. This will catch the reader off guard, and propel him or her into the body of your essay.
  3. Create an opening statement or paragraph that is bold, original and will ultimately pay off within the body of the essay. For example, you might say, “It was like a shoot out on Main Street. And I was the bad guy.”
  4. Begin your essay with the end of a story or incident, then backtrack to the beginning.
  5. If you have a feel for being funny, don’t be afraid to open your essay with a clever line or turn of phrase. Be tasteful, of course, and if you do use humor, make sure it’s original and effective.
  6. Keep refining your work until you find the perfect way to begin your essay. Don’t settle! “Good enough” is never good enough.

For more detailed explanations of these five approaches, check out that archived blog!

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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