Below you will find links to examples from various colleges and experts, as well as advice on how to craft your college essay.
10 Opening Lines From Stanford Admission Essays
A blank essay is a bad essay. As someone who has graded essays many many times, an essay grader can almost always tell how creative and interesting an essay is after just a few lines. Remember that these people reading essays are reading up to 50 or more in one day. They are tired. They are annoyed with cliches and bad grammar. They are tired of reading bad essays. Be the gem that stands out as they sift through these millions of essays. Read below to see how these Princeton students caught their reader's attention with their opening line.
- I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
- When I was in the eighth grade, I couldn't read.
- While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
- I have old hands.
- I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle, but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
- I almost didn't live through September 11th, 2001.
- The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
- I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was three years old.
- I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders, and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
- I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.
Top College Officials Share Notes on Great Application Essays (2017):
Twelve College Essay Examples that Worked in 2018:
Infographic: What Makes A Strong College Essay (2015):
Tufts University - Examples of Strong Personal Essays:
5 Tips for Writing Your College Essay from Southern Methodist University:
New York Times' Blog (2012):
Essays That Worked and A Few That Didn't:
Essays That Stand Out (2013):
For one of the best college essay writing websites, view:
College Essay Tips from the University of Michigan
The biggest tip is to read and answer the question asked. You'd be amazed at how many essays we receive that don't relate at all to the question we were asking!
1. There is no "right" answer. Don't think you know what we want to hear. Whatever you have to say about the topic is of interest to us.
2. Be authentic. We want to hear your voice in your response – the experiences, opinions, and values that have shaped you. Feel free to write what you are passionate about so we can get to know you.
3. Be proactive! Each year, we talk to students who have everything ready but their essays. If they could just get them finished, their application would be complete. Get started on your essays soon, and don't spend months agonizing them. We don't read through them with a red pen in hand!
4. Avoid re-writing your accomplishments in paragraph form. You've already given us that information in your application.
5. Re-use essays (or portions of essays) when possible, especially when applying to a lot of schools. However, make sure to re-read before hitting the submit button or mailing them in! The worst possible way to finish your essay is to say," And I just can't wait to be a Spartan!" This happens. Seriously.
6. Use mature professional writing skills. Avoid contractions, slang, and "you." If you have any questions, talk to your English teacher.
7. Avoid funny fonts, big margins, large font sizes, etc... We were once in school too, and we know all the tricks of the trade for making things appear longer than they really are! Work with a standard font (such as Times) and a standard size (such as 12).
8. Explain any abbreviations. Sure, we know the obvious ones (N.H.S., anyone?), but talking about the B.O.B. award that you won for participating in the F.D.R. may not make sense to someone who doesn't go to your high school.
9. If making an argument, back it up with consistent facts. Have an opinion about global warming? Affirmative action? Think that capital punishment is evil? Why? Your argument should be supported by facts, not the opinions of others.
10. Use spell-check and proofread your essay. Please have at least two people read your essay to check for major errors. Bonus if you use people who don't have a vested interest in your college education.
11. Plagiarism is academic fraud and will cause your application to be thrown out of consideration. You know those great websites that will write your essays for you? We know about them too. Aah, the power of Google...
12. Pick one topic and stay with it. You don't have a lot of room to discuss a variety of different topics, so strive for depth on one subject versus breadth.
13. Make sure your essay can stand alone. Avoid saying something along the lines of, "As I stated earlier in my application..." Please re-write the topic at the top of the essay so we can quickly identify what you're writing about. You get a gold star for putting your name and 8-digit U of M ID number on top of the essay pages as well.
14. Be careful with humor. It can be tough to pull off in writing and remember – you don't necessarily know your audience. Your essay will be read by a number of different people from a wide array of ages and backgrounds.
15. Tell us what is unique about you. Why would you stand out among our 20,000+ applicants? Is there something different about your personal experiences? Your response should provide us with an opportunity to get to know you on a more personal level, beyond your G.P.A., test scores, and curriculum.
16. Use recent examples. It's always best to focus on issues that occurred while you were in high school since we're only reviewing your high school performance when determining if you'll be admitted. If something happened when you were younger, that has significantly affected you, talk about it, but then put the focus on how this event has affected you in recent years.
17. Watch your tone. There's a big difference in focusing your essay on "U of M needs me as a student because..."
versus "please please please admit me!"
18. Don't make excuses. If you've had a poor or inconsistent grade performance due to unusual or stressful circumstances, feel free to share that information with us; it can be useful. Don't strain credibility by making up false excuses. Be honest – we'll respect that.
19. Be truthful, but make sure you're comfortable with your potential audience. Students often feel compelled to share extremely personal and even traumatic experiences in their responses – health issues, death of a family member, abuse, etc. We will absolutely keep your information confidential; however, if you decide to reveal something deeply personal, be aware that a number of people will potentially be reading your essay.
20. Tell us why we're great. Talk about campus programs you've attended. Tell us why you're a great fit. Remember that athletics can be a reason, but should not be the only reason you want to come to!
Essay fright? Skip clichéd topics, be creative by Lee Biere, an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, NC
Lots of high school seniors find themselves sitting across from an empty computer screen, wondering just how to write a memorable application essay. Most fail. That's because they are writing either what they think a college admissions representative wants to read or they don't understand the objective of the essay.
Common cliché topics that students choose to write about: DON'T DO THIS.
Sports Victory– how our team won the big game in the last few seconds because of my commitment, drive, and focus.
Miss America– how performing community service has taught me the importance of helping others and achieving world peace.
Grandma – how she overcame so many obstacles.
The 3 D's – how I endured the hardship of divorce, drugs, or death. Sense of Entitlement – how my travel and numerous enrichment experiences have broadened my horizons. Value of Life – how the death of a pet inspired introspection.
The Resume – how my entire life from preschool until today has prepared me for life at your college campus.
A laundry list of character traits – how my commitment, leadership, eagerness, determination, and discipline make me a great applicant. *Rather than setting students apart in a positive way, these "been-there-done-that" topics end up, in a worst-case scenario, damaging the application or, in the best case, not helping very much at all.
Here are some essay rules that should help get the creative juices flowing:
Brainstorm with family and friends – ask them, "what makes me different from my friends and siblings?"
Think of a story – a funny, quirky conversation, a special gift you received.
Keep the scale manageable – don't try to tell your life's story, better to focus instead on a simple moment in time.
Grab them with your lead – after reading your introductory sentence, you want someone to think, "Wow, this is going to be an interesting essay. I'd like to meet this student."
Be concise – keep the essay moving and vary the sentence structure to avoid monotony.
Use humor, but only if it works for your topic, and it speaks to your personality.
Let the readers get to know you, what makes you tick. Reveal the inner you, and you'll be certain that no one else has written the same essay.
Proof your work. Bad grammar and mechanics can hurt you. Write a draft. Let it sit for a day or two, revisit and edit and then pass it along to someone who knows you well who you feel is a strong writer. Incorporate his or her comments and redraft the essay. Proof again.