Application Essays: For Openers (Part I)

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: September 22, 2015

On the other hand…

What did I just do?

If you’re a little perplexed but still reading, I did exactly what I wanted to do, which was to get your attention and induce you to read on.

So, what? Well, if your job is to read tons of boring and usually bad writing, most of which sounds like endless repetitions of the same sets of “B movie” scripts, a piece of writing that catches your attention early on is like a glimpse of an oasis is to a man who’s dying of thirst while crawling through a desert: Even if he’s pretty sure that it’s a mirage, it’s nice while it lasts, and he’s certain to move in that direction.

Now consider the application essay reader – that bleary-eyed, late night/early A.M. wader through hip-deep stacks of students’ submissions. Enticing him or her not just to read an essay but to want to read an essay – to be for him or her that oasis and to induce him or her to move in your direction – should be the applicant’s first objective.

Here’s Eva Ostrum, former Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University (from an interview in 50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays):

The essays that grab me give me some kind of hook in the beginning to reel me in.

And this is from an unnamed admission officer who was working at one of the most prestigious, but also unnamed, colleges in the US:

“So sometimes you don’t read the whole essay?” I asked.

“No comment,” he replied, changing the subject. 

That’s from the An Interview with an Admissions Officer section that forms part of the opening to the book Essays That Worked for College Applications, and as you might well guess, it wouldn’t be a good thing if one of the app essays he doesn’t finish reading is yours — and that’s often the result of an uninspired opening.

So how does one go about grabbing an app essay reader attention almost immediately? Well, there are several techniques to use. In subsequent parts of this series, we’ll discuss those techniques and give you specific examples of how those techniques been used in effective openings. We’ll also be discussing “risk” as it relates to app essays in general and app essay openings, in particular, and we’ll be providing you with delicious smattering of other really effective essay openers.

Here’s a teaser sampling of the latter:

I have old hands.

I remember when I was meeting every Tuesday and Thursday with Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, and my speech therapist.

I bawled my eyes out those first two nights. I was far from home, alone, and afraid – a timid introvert who was certain he didn’t belong there.

Last Thursday was my father’s birthday. I was standing on the sideline at my soccer game, shivering in the cold October drizzle, when suddenly I remembered. He would have been 53.

It all started when I cut off my thumb.

Topics: Test-Prep


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