how to start of my college essay

How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Getting ready to start your college essay? Your essay is very important to your application — especially if you’re applying to selective colleges.

Become a stronger writer by reviewing your peers’ essays and get your essay reviewed as well for free.

We have regular livestreams during which we walk you through how to write your college essay and review essays live.

College Essay Basics

Just getting started on college essays? This section will guide you through how you should think about your college essays before you start.

  • Why do essays matter in the college application process?
  • What is a college application theme and how do you come up with one?
  • How to format and structure your college essay

Before you move to the next section, make sure you understand:

How a college essay fits into your application

What a strong essay does for your chances

How to create an application theme

Learn the Types of College Essays

Next, let’s make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You’ll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types. Understanding the types will help you better answer the prompt and structure your essay.

  • How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
  • Personal Statement Essay Examples
  • How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity Essay
  • Extracurricular Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay
  • Diversity Essay Examples
  • Tips for Writing a Standout Community Service Essay
  • How to Write the “Why This Major” Essay
  • How to Write a “Why This Major” Essay if You’re Undecided
  • How to write the “Why This College” Essay
  • How to Research a College to Write the “Why This College” Essay
  • Why This College Essay Examples
  • How to Write The Overcoming Challenges Essay
  • Overcoming Challenges Essay Examples

Identify how each prompt fits into an essay type

What each type of essay is really asking of you

How to write each essay effectively

The Common App essay

Almost every student will write a Common App essay, which is why it’s important you get this right.

  • How to Write the Common App Essay
  • Successful Common App Essay Examples
  • 5 Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays
  • 11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

How to choose which Common App prompts to answer

How to write a successful Common App essay

What to avoid to stand out to admissions officers

Supplemental Essay Guides

Many schools, especially competitive ones, will ask you to write one or more supplemental essays. This allows a school to learn more about you and how you might fit into their culture.

These essays are extremely important in standing out. We’ve written guides for all the top schools. Follow the link below to find your school and read last year’s essay guides to give you a sense of the essay prompts. We’ll update these in August when schools release their prompts.

See last year’s supplemental essay guides to get a sense of the prompts for your schools.

Essay brainstorming and composition

Now that you’re starting to write your essay, let’s dive into the writing process. Below you’ll find our top articles on the craft of writing an amazing college essay.

  • Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises
  • Creating the First Draft of Your College Application Essay
  • How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay
  • What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
  • 8 Do’s and Don’t for Crafting Your College Essay
  • Stuck on Your College Essay? 8 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

Understand how to write a great hook for your essay

Complete the first drafts of your essay

Editing and polishing your essay

Have a first draft ready? See our top editing tips below. Also, you may want to submit your essay to our free Essay Peer Review to get quick feedback and join a community of other students working on their essays.

  • 11 Tips for Proofreading and Editing Your College Essay
  • Getting Help with Your College Essay
  • 5 DIY Tips for Editing Your College Essay
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Essential Grammar Rules for Your College Apps
  • College Essay Checklist: Are You Ready to Submit?

Proofread and edited your essay.

Had someone else look through your essay — we recommend submitting it for a peer review.

Make sure your essay meets all requirements — consider signing up for a free account to view our per-prompt checklists to help you understand when you’re really ready to submit.

Advanced College Essay Techniques

Let’s take it one step further and see how we can make your college essay really stand out! We recommend reading through these posts when you have a draft to work with.

  • 10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays
  • How to Use Literary Devices to Enhance Your Essay
  • How to Develop a Personalized Metaphor for Your College Applications

How to Start a College Essay – 12 Techniques and Tips

August 1, 2023

how to start of my college essay

Your college tours are scheduled, you’re knee-deep in SAT/ACT prep , application deadlines are quickly approaching, and then it happens: writer’s block hits you hard. You’re stumped, wondering how to start a college essay. It’s all too easy to overthink it when acceptances are on the line. But don’t fret! We’ve got you covered with 12 tips and techniques, plus answers to common questions like: Can I start my essay with a quote? Should I try to sound as smart as possible? Is it okay to use humor?

Keep reading for all you need to know about how to start a college essay:

  • Common Mistakes to Avoid

How to Start a College Essay: The Content

How to start a college essay: the style.

  • More Resources

How to Start a College Essay: Common Mistakes to Avoid

Since admissions readers are looking to be surprised and engaged right away, it’s safest to avoid these overused techniques.

1) Pulling out the dictionary

Chances are, your reader already knows the definition of the word you’re tempted to copy and paste from Merriam-Webster . Unless you’re starting with a word in a non-English language or a word that 98% of the population truly does not know, there’s no need to turn to the dictionary. Assume your reader is a smart person who is already in the know.

2) Choosing clichés

Clichés are boring in writing because they’re, well…cliché. Before you tell an admissions reader that all that glitters isn’t gold or there’s a silver lining to every cloud, remember that their job involves reading hundreds if not thousands of college essays. The way to impress them is to stand out as someone with unique insights, opinions, or creativity. Not sure if the phrase you’re using is trite or overused? Look it up online and see if there is an overabundance of results.

How to Start a College Essay (Continued) 

3) beginning broadly.

Since the dawn of time, students have been starting essays too broadly. Your college admissions essays are about you, your experiences, your values, and your goals. So, starting with general statements like “Different cultures have different traditions and values” or “We have to be the change we want to see in the world” don’t center you as the topic of your essay. If you’re writing your essay about, say, your Polynesian identity and your love of Hula dance or the summer you spent making vats of soup for a food kitchen, jump right into sharing a vivid memory from those experiences instead.

4) Leading with a quote

“Can I start my college essay with a quote?” is one of the most common questions we get. The problem with starting with a quote is the same as starting too broadly: you don’t center yourself as the topic of your essay. Since college essays are short, the quote itself and the many sentences it will take to transition to the rest of your content will eat up precious word count. Unless it’s a deep-cut quote that’s highly particular to you and your niche interests, quotes anywhere in your essay can come across as cliché.

A stand-out college admissions essay will grab your reader’s attention and immediately give them a sense of who you are, what you value, and what’s unique about you. Trying to decide how to start a college essay? First, take a look at our guide to the Common App Prompts . Then, use one of these five techniques to brainstorm content:

1) Share a challenge you’ve overcome

Since college is all about growth and learning, one tried and true strategy is describing a challenge you’ve overcome that you’ve learned a lot from. Example:

For my first three months of middle school choir, I was nothing more than a ventriloquist’s dummy, mouthing words with no sound coming out. I was terrified to use my voice. Then, one fateful morning, Mrs. Garcia asked me to solo in front of the whole class.

A strong essay about a challenge you’ve overcome will explain who you were before, how you overcame the challenge, and who you are now. Taking this approach allows you to demonstrate that you’re able to rise to meet challenges, learn through difficulty, and apply yourself even when you’re uncomfortable. A word of warning though: avoid writing about very common challenges like pushing yourself to beat your cross-country time, studying for the SAT/ACT or other big tests, or transitioning from middle to high school. Since so many students share these experiences as common ground, these topics will make it hard to stand out from the crowd.

Want even more tips on writing about a challenge you’ve overcome? Check out our full guide to the Overcoming Challenges prompt.

2) Show your funny side

Yes, humor works well in college essays! Poking fun at one of your quirks or (inconsequential) shortcomings can be a great way to reveal your personality. Example:

Every day, I begged. At bedtime, at breakfast, for my birthday, for Christmas—I begged for a skateboard. Mom said it was too dangerous, Dad thought they were too noisy, but still I dreamed of cruising the neighborhood and learning to ollie in our driveway. My 14th birthday was the day my begging finally ended. It was also the day I learned I have absolutely no sense of balance.

Opening with a humorous story paints a vivid picture of you right away, but where you take it from there matters. You probably wouldn’t want to write a whole essay about breaking your tailbone and this isn’t the right forum for a stand-up routine. But you could take an opening like this in a variety of directions that reveal more meaningful truths about you. For example, after this opener, this writer could go on to:

  • Talk about other new skills they tried that they were able to land better than an ollie.
  • Describe how they learned about balance in other avenues of their life.

3) Clear up a misconception about you

Although college essays are brief, you’ll want to squeeze in as much depth and breadth as you can. Starting by addressing an assumption or stereotype you’ve faced can be an efficient and engaging way to move past the superficial. Example:

Blonde. Four foot eight. Size five feet. Strangers and well-meaning friends sometimes offer me a booster seat or ask if I need help carrying heavy things. Little do they know I can deadlift 135 pounds. My first teen powerlifting competition is coming up this spring.

Clearing up a misconception allows you to surprise your admissions reader and share something meaningful about yourself in one stroke. When using this strategy, think about all the different layers of your identity. What assumptions do others make of you and what might casual acquaintances or strangers be surprised to learn? A word of warning: steer clear of being too critical of others. Although stereotypes and assumptions are difficult to bear, for this essay, you’ll want to focus on you —your accomplishments, skills, and passions—instead of others.

4) Invite us in

Are Shabbat dinners with your whole extended family the highlight of your week? Do you feel most alive when you’re at your keyboard composing a new song or when you’re at a Robotics Club meeting, throwing out wild design ideas with your team? When you invite us in, you’re letting your reader in on the places you’re most at home, most excited, or most yourself. Example:

When I was seven years old, my grandma sat me down at her sewing table and taught me how to sew back on the button that had popped off my sweater. I can still feel her hands on mine, showing me where to place the needle. It was the first of what became weekly lessons on backstitching, basting, hemming pants, and embroidery. I didn’t know it then, but it was the first day of my journey into fashion design.

To brainstorm for this technique, list experiences that have helped shape your values, goals, and interests. Think of things you do every week but also once-in-a-lifetime events. You’ll want to begin this essay by choosing one meaningful experience to share in the beginning of your essay. Use vivid details that help a reader imagine the experience for themselves and then explain why this experience matters to you.

5) Nerd out about a problem you’ve solved

If you’ve hit the library stacks to find the answer to a burning question, stayed after class to ask your teacher for more homework, worked with a student club to improve a campus issue, or concocted your own science experiment, this might be the essay tactic for you. Example:

As a volunteer at my local pet rescue, I surprised myself by becoming a crusader for birds. Dogs and cats were adopted all the time, but the parrots, cockatiels, and parakeets sat in their cages for ages, chattering away and waiting for their forever homes. I realized it was an issue of awareness: no one knew our shelter rescued birds. Thirty YouTube tutorials and one online digital marketing class later, I had developed a ten-step social media strategy.

A great way to share your unique interests, this technique lets you showcase the curiosity and eagerness to learn you’ll be bringing with you to college. To brainstorm for this essay, think of times when you’ve worked solo or with a team to discover something new or solve a tricky problem. As you write about this experience, describe the initial problem, any difficulties you encountered, and the strategies you used to find a solution.

We’ve covered essay content, but you may still be wondering how to start a college essay that grabs your reader’s attention. Here are three key style tips that will help breathe life into your writing:

1) Share a story

As you can probably tell from the examples above, we recommend starting your essay off with an engaging story. Before you tell a reader that you’re an introvert who also loves performing in musical theater, you’ll want to tell the tale of the first time you braved the spotlight. Before you explain that you plan to major in political science, describe the town hall meeting you attended in the 7 th grade that started it all.

2) Use vivid descriptions

When we read, we’re most engaged when we feel like we can clearly imagine the scene. To draw a reader in, use the same storytelling strategies that fiction writers use: sensory descriptions, concrete details, and passing time.

  • Sensory descriptions: Describe the smell of your mother’s biryani cooking on the stove, the temperature of the air at the start of your first half marathon. Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Engage as many of the five senses as you can.
  • Concrete details: Concrete details are particular descriptions of places, people, and objects. If you’re describing a service trip to Honduras, describe the buildings, streets, and food you ate so your reader can imagine it.
  • Passing time: Making time pass means ensuring you have a clear sense of the beginning, middle, and end of your story. To keep things clear, put your details in linear order and make sure to include temporal transitional phrases like “When I was six years old,” “Later, in high school,” and “Now, as I reflect back.”

3) Use your own voice

When you’re wondering how to start your college essay, it can be tempting to write in the same style you use for academic essays. But the college essay is a personal essay, not an essay for school. For this style of writing, you’ll want to be clear, thoughtful, and grammatically correct, but you’ll also want to be personable, engaging, and, most importantly, yourself. With that in mind, skip the SAT vocabulary words and opt for a more conversational tone instead.

How to Start a College Essay: More Resources

Looking to learn even more about how to start a college essay? If you’re ready to get started on your supplemental essays, check out our walk-through of the Why This College essay and explore our blog posts discussing the supplemental essay prompts for 50+ schools . You may also wish to read our piece on How to End a College Essay .

  • College Essay

' src=

Christina Wood

Christina Wood holds a BA in Literature & Writing from UC San Diego, an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and is currently a Doctoral Candidate in English at the University of Georgia, where she teaches creative writing and first-year composition courses. Christina has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous publications, including The Paris Review , McSweeney’s , Granta , Virginia Quarterly Review , The Sewanee Review , Mississippi Review , and Puerto del Sol , among others. Her story “The Astronaut” won the 2018 Shirley Jackson Award for short fiction and received a “Distinguished Stories” mention in the 2019 Best American Short Stories anthology.

  • 2-Year Colleges
  • Application Strategies
  • Big Picture
  • Career & Personality Assessment
  • College Search/Knowledge
  • College Success
  • Costs & Financial Aid
  • Dental School Admissions
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Graduate School Admissions
  • High School Success
  • High Schools
  • Law School Admissions
  • Medical School Admissions
  • Navigating the Admissions Process
  • Online Learning
  • Private High School Spotlight
  • Summer Program Spotlight
  • Summer Programs
  • Test Prep Provider Spotlight

College Transitions Sidebar Block Image

“Innovative and invaluable…use this book as your college lifeline.”

— Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Nationally Recognized College Expert

College Planning in Your Inbox

Join our information-packed monthly newsletter.

Sign Up Now

7-Week SSP & 2-Week Pre-College Program are still accepting applications until April 10, or earlier if all course waitlists are full. 4-Week SSP Application is closed.

Celebrating 150 years of Harvard Summer School. Learn about our history.

12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students

Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students.

About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?

There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University is dedicated to bringing rigorous academics and innovative teaching capabilities to those seeking to improve their lives through education. We make Harvard education accessible to lifelong learners from high school to retirement.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education Logo

how to start of my college essay

How To Start A College Essay: 10 Strategies That Worked

Student writing on laptop

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/17/23

Looking for tips on starting a college essay? Read on to learn the best ways to start an essay with examples. 

College application essays can be some of the most intimidating parts of the college admissions process. You may even find yourself wondering how to start an essay for college. But don’t panic. This is your chance to show your personality amid a sea of other applicants. 

More than all of your other application materials, your essay should be unique and personal. It is about you and is your chance to show who you are to colleges beyond the numbers. You will have your grades and educational background, but the essay is your chance to give admissions officers a taste of the personality behind them. 

No matter the topic , most successful essays tell a personal story about the applicant and why they would be a good candidate for admittance. Whether you’re writing a transfer essay , a personal statement, or an essay for a scholarship , you’ll need to learn the basics of successful essay writing. 

Knowing how to start a college essay will make your whole experience much easier. Our guide will cover the purpose of your college essays, how to start an essay, and best practices for crafting winning essays. 

Girl on computer

10 Effective Ways to Start a College Essay

There are many different ways that you can begin your college essay. Choosing something unexpected may help you stand out from other applicants! Here are some interesting ways to start essays that will help you grab the reader’s attention right away.

1. The Striking Description

Starting with a vivid description can be an excellent opener to seize your reader’s attention:

Example: “ Brown, crumpled leaves were heaped in the corners of the small, cold room. As I walked in, the smell of woodsmoke filled the air .”

This example of a bold opening instantly creates an image in the mind . The reader can easily begin to see themselves in the setting as the writer engages their senses — both sight with “brown, crumpled, small” and smell with “woodsmoke.” 

This creates an interesting sensory experience for your reader and helps grab their attention right from the beginning of your essay. If you’re just learning how to begin an essay, this is a great opener to try your hand at. 

You can try to create very unusual or disturbing imagery to really grab your reader’s attention, but be careful. Remember that reading the college essay is a subjective experience. If you disgust or upset your admissions officer, they might be less likely to accept you.

2. The Mystery 

question marks

Begin by setting up questions your essay will answer . This “mystery” method ignites the reader’s sense of curiosity, which will motivate them to keep reading.

Example: “ The knife was on the countertop. It shouldn’t have been there .”

This example leaves the reader full of questions. “Whose knife?”, “Why shouldn’t it be there?” These are questions the essay will answer later on. It can be confusing and intriguing – they don’t know what’s going on and want to read on to understand. 

This method can be very effective for opening your college essay. It creates mystery and poses questions — just make sure you answer each of those questions throughout the essay. Your goal is to intrigue the reader, not leave them feeling puzzled!

Take this example from a real-life, successful college application essay:

“ I live alone — I always have since elementary school. ” ( Kevin Zevallos , Connecticut College)

This gives an unusual detail that immediately poses questions — why would a child be living alone? It compels the reader to keep reading to find out more.

3. Direct Address 

You can start your essay with a direct question to your reader to stand out from other essays the admissions committee will read:

Example: “Does every life matter? Do you think so?”

This example poses a divisive philosophical question and then turns it directly on the reader, seemingly putting pressure on them to answer. This can be a risky maneuver but is also very effective. Breaking the fourth wall can be quite shocking! 

Acknowledging your situation as a writer for your college essay  — ”when I began this essay…” — is closely related to this method, but you should use it cautiously. If overdone, it can easily become banal. However, if you think you have a way to use it for a killer opener, it can have excellent results.

4. The Anecdote 

Using an anecdote or a short personal story can be an endearing way to begin your college essay. With this method, the writer shares an experience or an anecdote that highlights their strengths or unique perspective.

Example: “When I was five, I had a toy cat I dragged everywhere. We were inseparable! I begged my mom until I was 10 to get our first real cat, Luna, and my obsession with animal care began.”

The purpose of using an anecdote is to introduce yourself and your core traits immediately. This example is excellent because the writer uses a personal story to lead into their interest in animal care, which in this case is relevant to their choice of degree. 

5. The Funny One

If appropriate, you can start your essay with a humorous anecdote or a witty comment to set the tone for your essay. Only use this method if it’s true to your personality, as it’s easy for humor not to come across in an essay.

Example: “Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two­ year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon­ sugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree.”

This example comes from Brittany Stinson’s famous Costco college essay that got her into five Ivy League schools. Using a funny story in your college essay is a risk and should only be undertaken by strong writers with a good sense of humor. When done right, adding humor to your essay can equal a home run. 

male student smiling while holding papers

6. The Thoughtful Quote

Famous quotes are out, but that doesn’t mean all quotes are off the table. One impactful way to start your paper is to begin with a quote that plays a significant role in your story.  

This could be a quote from any “main character” in your essay, such as a friend, family member, or teacher, that was said at a pivotal moment in your journey.

Example: “‘You’re not that important, nobody’s thinking about you. In a good way - you know? You can wear whatever you want.’ 

My best friend Sadie looked at me with a smile as I threw on my fourth outfit option. Maybe she was joking, but those words follow me to this day. Getting caught up in the opinions of others is silly, everyone’s got their own things to worry about! This mindset would later allow me to pursue my passion, and start my business. 

In this example, the quote chosen comes from a personal story and represents an important shift in the writer's state of mind. To really drive the message home, recalling the quote and the end of the essay would help to create a memorable piece of work. 

While famous quotes are often repetitive and forgettable - using a unique one from a personal story is an excellent way to stand out.

7. The Multilingual One

speech bubbles

If you’re speaking about your upbringing or culture, one way to immediately intrigue the reader and nod to the main themes of your essay is to write in your native tongue for the opening sentence. This could also work if the main theme of your essay involves you learning a language.

Example: “Je t'aime, mon petit chou!” My mom called to me as I got ready for my first day of English school.

In the above example, the reader uses their first language to immediately tell the reader about themselves. Make sure to only use this method if speaking multiple languages ties into the key theme of your story.

8. The Three Pillars

This method can be applied to any of the above strategies. The very first line is only a part of your essay opening. When crafting your intro, rely on three things:

  • An initial hook
  • A description of your essay’s content and what story are you going to tell
  • A pivot, where you show how you allude to the challenge of your paper

Example: “When I was 9, I had an obsession. Every day I would run outside and collect as many leaves and plants as I could to press, dry, and organise them. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised this simple hobby would be indicative of a diagnosis: autism.”

Your pivot will usually take the form of a thesis statement, where you set out the point you will make with your essay. This doesn’t necessarily mean you spoil the whole thing; you are just setting up the thing you’re going to say later. 

From your opening paragraph, your reader should be engaged, aware of the story or content you are going to describe, and aware of the broad point you will try to make with your essay in relation to the prompt question.

9. The Date, Time, and Place

January month on calendar

Simple, yet effective. Sometimes, the best way to start an essay is to begin by setting the scene in the most bare-bones way possible: by listing the date, time, and place that your story begins. You can even throw in another fact so long as it lends itself to your story.

Example: “June 26th, 2010 

Swan Creek, Michigan

Population: 2,406

Population feels like: 5”

In this example, the writer sets us up to understand that they are from a small town and that the essay will discuss something significant that happened on this date in that place. It immediately makes the reader curious about what you’ll say! Just make sure that if you use this intro, your event is shocking enough to warrant it.

10. Start Halfway Through

Before we look at some real-life examples of successful college application essays , a last piece of advice is to not start writing your essay at the beginning. Starting your essay halfway through your story can be confusing yet impactful if done correctly. Then, you can include the beginning of your story in paragraph 2.

Example: “Ow!” my principal yelped, the entire weight of my project collapsing over him. I was mortified, and in deep trouble.”

Clearly with this intro, something needs to be set up for the opening paragraph to make sense. What “project”? Why is it falling? These are the questions your reader will want to know and that you can answer in your essay.

woman working on computer

10 College Essay Introduction Examples That Worked

Let’s take a look at some good opening sentences for college essays that worked! These examples of how you can begin your essay are from our essay database and actually got people into college using the methods above. 

Example Intro #1

“ My father said I didn’t cry when I was born. Instead, I popped out of the womb with a furrowed brow, looking up at him almost accusatorially, as if to say “Who are you? What am I doing here? While I can’t speak to the biological accuracy of his story — How did I survive, then? How did I bring air into my lungs? — it’s certainly true that I feel like I came preprogrammed with the compulsion to ask questions .” - Marina, Harvard

Why this intro worked: First, its initial line gives us an unusual, personal factoid about this person that immediately poses questions about the person — why didn’t they cry? What does this suggest about them? — that draws in the reader. 

Secondly, it’s pretty funny. The image of a frowning baby instantly puts your reader in a good mood, making it likely the reader will enjoy reading the essay and feel a connection to you. 

Then, the essay ends with a little hint of its meaning with the “compulsion to ask questions.” This is a fantastic move, going straight from the hilarity of an image as a baby to how it relates to the aspects of the applicant that are relevant to their college admission. 

Example Intro #2

In this next example of a Princeton University application , the applicant creates a provoking twist to draw in the reader:

“ People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is…uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable. ”

Why this intro worked: This is an extremely effective opening. Its vague opening line immediately creates mystery and poses questions, drawing in the reader. Then, the benign questions are a setup for the vitriolic “you terrorist,” making it yet more shocking and upsetting. 

We mentioned before how you might want to avoid this, but here is an example of where it works. The applicant sets up their argument on uncomfortable truths using clever writing techniques and their real-world experiences. 

students writing on paper

Example Intro #3

In this successful Harvard essay example intro, the writer recalls a challenging time dealing with heavy subject matter. 

“On my parents’ 22nd wedding anniversary, we received the dreaded call. My grandfather, my father’s father, had succumbed to Covid-19. He died alone due to Covid restrictions. He and my grandmother had flown from [STATE] to [CITY] so that my grandmother could have a hip replacement at [HOSPITAL NAME]. He contracted Covid while in [CITY]  and, in a tragic twist of events, he ended up dying in that very same hospital. When a loved one passes away, they are torn away from us, leaving a tear in our lives where they once were. In Judaism, we tear our clothes in mourning to symbolize our pain and sorrow. Sadly, the tears in our family fabric happened long before my grandfather died from Covid.”

Why this intro worked: This opening is straight to the point and effective due to its honesty. In admissions essays, don’t be scared to talk about difficult subjects. We’ve all experienced grief, loss, and trauma in our own ways, so choosing a story about this can help the reader learn a lot about you and how you manage to cope. 

Example Intro #4

Here’s another intro example from a Harvard student’s essay.

“The grand piano beckons me as I climb the stage to perform. Trained fingers avidly seek the first keys. My heart beats staccato, my breath syncopates with excitement. No time to stall, I attack the first note…”

Why this intro worked: In this essay, the writer chooses to open with descriptive language. The way they paint the scene is captivating and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat, waiting to find out what comes next. Sometimes, a short intro can be the most effective; don’t worry about including all the details right off the bat.

Example Intro #5

Here’s an intro example from a successful “Why Us?” essay for Columbia. 

“Watching Spider-Man fighting bad guys in New York made me want to do the same. I can be a superhero through my work as an architect, by designing spaces that improve communities and the well-being of others. Opportunities to research the connection between systemic issues and architecture compels me to Columbia.”

Why this intro worked: This intro is memorable because of the simple childhood movie reference and the unique way the student views his passion for architecture. Referencing a favorite film, can help the reader easily connect to your application. Just be careful that whatever you reference makes sense within your essay. 

Example Intro #6

Take a look at this sample intro to an extracurricular essay for Stanford: 

“Music is my life as much as my life is music. I can see what both are in their simplest manner during that moment of a symphony orchestra when all the instruments are listening to how the trumpet plays a note, and the piano answers each time. Someone plays, someone else answers, all throughout the song. It’s a conversation, in which they acknowledge each other's presence, thus giving each other life.”

Why this intro worked : The student’s passion for music is bursting through their words in this intro! It’s clear that they care deeply about music throughtheir use a unique metaphor: a conversation. This is a creative choice and serves to set this essay apart. 

sheet music

Example Intro #7

Here’s an example from a Dartmouth essay: 

“POP! POP! POP! I’m reminded of a childhood vacation in Aruba with kids around me tossing firecrackers, but the hand pushing me firmly from behind told me these weren’t firecrackers. The authoritative voice of one of our [CONFERENCE NAME] members telling us to “Run!” confirmed that these were gunshots and that we were in imminent danger in the heart of [CITY].”

Why this intro worked : This essay opens with an action-packed scene, drawing the reader in immediately. The fast pace encourages you to keep reading and promises a compelling story to come. This is a writing technique known as in medias res (Latin for “in the midst”), and is an effective opening strategy for your college essay!

Example Intro #8

Here’s another intro example from an essay written for MIT: 

“Right foot back, along with your weight, then put your weight back on your left leg, throwing yourself slowly forward and bringing back your right foot. Repeat with the left foot. That’s the first basic salsa movement I learned from some lessons taken with my mother when we accompanied my sister to her therapy in [CITY].”

Why this intro worked : This is a great example of a mystery opening. The reader is intrigued by the movement descriptions but doesn’t fully understand what it means until the writer mentions salsa dancing. It’s creative and attention-grabbing!

Example Intro #9

This intro example was written when applying to the UPenn Wharton School: 

“The book I’d swept off my father’s desk in middle school was my first glimpse into business as Wharton professor Barbara Kahn’s The Shopping Revolution appeared before me. An avid shopper myself, middle school me was sold.”

Why this intro worked : In addition to providing a great image and a subtle sense of humor, this opening is great because it ties into the school without being obvious, with a quick mention of a Wharton professor, making the student’s passion for UPenn clear.

book shelves in library

Example Intro #10

Check out this sample introduction from a Princeton applicant: 

“It began with a tree. At age 7, I was digging up soil to help plant trees at [NAME OF ORGANIZATION]. It was blazing hot outside in the brutal [CITY] sun, yet somehow my heart was burning hotter - I had never felt a rush so fiery, so warm, so… euphoric. And I knew: this was the start of something new.”

Why this intro worked : This intro’s intriguing first sentence invites questions from the reader and then dives right into a passionate description by the author. The setup here masterfully sparks the reader’s imagination as to where this essay could be going! 

College Essay Introductions to Avoid

Let’s discuss what you shouldn't include in the start of your essay. First, remain authentic. Avoid using famous quotes or anything that didn’t directly come from your experience. 

Second, look to the great writer George Orwell. He had some excellent advice on making writing unique that you can implement in your college application. 

With everything you write, ask yourself these questions : 

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

These are all fantastic questions to ask yourself. If you can interrogate your drafts using this advice, you are sure to improve your college essay’s quality. If you don’t think that will be enough to guide you, Orwell also provided six “rules” — they are more guidelines than rules — that can provide more rigid advice: 

  • “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Obviously, some of these rules can sound pretty outdated — who says barbarous anymore? — but don’t let that distract you from the solid advice. Orwell’s questions and rules basically break down to this: Of everything you write, ask what you are trying to achieve and why you are making each choice. 

You want your writing to precisely express, as much as it can, your own thoughts and opinions, rather than trying to seem clever with big words or coasting by using worn-out phrases.  

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about crafting a stellar college essay introduction.

1. Why Does the Start of My College Essay Matter?

Admissions officers process tens of thousands of applications every year, so you need to stand out, and the best place to do that is by seizing your reader’s attention at the very beginning. 

2. What Should be the First Thing You Write in a College Essay?

The first thing you include in your college essay depends on the topic. However, no matter what topic your essay is about, you should be able to grab the reader’s attention right away and set up the story of your paper. The “who, what, when and where,” should be clear within the first 5 sentences. 

3. How Can I Start A College Essay About Me?

Our personal statement (or other essays discussing your personal life) should start by introducing key factors of who you are that are relevant to the essay. Remember, college essays are the place for colleges to get to know you! 

Just make sure not to include too much irrelevant background information and focus on the story of how you became interested in the college/degree you are applying for.

4. How Do I Begin A Narrative Essay? 

There are various ways to begin a narrative essay. You might choose to begin with vivid description, a bit of punchy dialogue, or in medias res with some attention-grabbing action.

Final Thoughts

There’s a whole lot of information included here that can be pretty overwhelming. And while this may not have alleviated your tensions, it should teach you how to start a college essay. 

The most important thing is this: If you can authentically talk about yourself, you’ve already made the best contribution to your college essay possible. Colleges are interested in who you are and not so much in your ability to learn writing techniques online. 

That said, if you’re looking for ways to express yourself and stand out among other applicants, the tips listed here can help. Good luck!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

First name, vector icon of a person

Get A Free Consultation

You may also like.

How to Get College Scholarships as an Out-of-State Student

How to Get College Scholarships as an Out-of-State Student

How to Write the NYU Supplemental Essays

How to Write the NYU Supplemental Essays

how to start of my college essay

Transizion

The Admissions Strategist

How to start a college essay: 8 killer tips.

College admissions essays are a vital part of your application.

They give the admissions committee a more personal understanding of you, and they can tip an admissions decision in your favor.

As with any piece of writing, it’s important to consider your audience when writing a college essay.

  • In this case, the audience is an admissions officer who will likely read hundreds of essays , all addressing similar prompts, during the admissions cycle.

He may have read dozens of essays in the last few hours. As he turns to your application, he wants to read a well-written, engaging essay.

  • How can you make this person feel excited about reading your essay?
  • How can you immediately set yourself apart from dozens or hundreds of other applicants?
  • How can you make the admissions officer want to really pay attention and read closely?

1. Keep it brief .

On college essays, students are generally  limited to 500-700 words .

  • That’s certainly not many words for such an important piece of writing, so it’s necessary for you to keep the essay introduction brief.

You need to get to the “meat” of the essay as quickly as possible.

  • So while the college essay introduction is important, it shouldn’t take up the majority of your limited word count.

In the introduction, you do not need to summarize or preview everything that will be discussed in the essay.

  • Instead, the college essay introduction should give a short, engaging glimpse into the rest of the piece.

When writing the first draft of your essay, it’s OK to go over the word count by 200-300 words.

  • When cutting down the essay, start by refining the introduction. Since you likely started the essay by writing the introduction, there’s a good chance you included too much unnecessary background detail.
  • When you reread the essay after a short break, you’ll realize how much of your introduction isn’t necessary.

As a benchmark, you don’t want the introduction to comprise more than 30% of the word count of the entire college essay.

Even then, we recommend keeping the introduction to around 20% of the essay.

2. Start with an attention grabber .

The very first sentence of your essay should be the  “hook” or “grabber.”  This sentence “hooks” readers or “grabs” their attention, making them want to read more.

This first sentence should provide rich details, engage a reader’s curiosity, or otherwise stand out from the rest.

Here are some sample grabbers from winning college essays:

I have old hands. (Stanford) If my life were a play, there would be two sets, two acts, and two sets of characters. (MIT) Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage. (Stanford) There is a hefty blue book in my bookcase that is older than any other book in my house. (MIT) When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read. (Stanford) As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen. (Stanford) I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks. (Stanford) I’ve been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old. (Stanford)

The first sentence can also be a question, but only if it’s particularly insightful or interesting, like this one:

While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe? (Stanford)

Don’t each of these sentences make you want to read more? That’s the impact of a well-written grabber.

Some of these sentences offer vivid details (the hefty blue book, the noxious chemicals, the old hands).

  • Others engage our curiosity (How do you surf a lake? Is it true that a Stanford applicant couldn’t read in eighth grade? What is a hidden pocket of the universe?).

The rest simply stand out.

  • For example, “I am forever bound to the hyphen,” is a thought-provoking and interesting statement. “I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks,” is a unique way to begin a college essay.

Where is she going with this?

You may also notice that, for the most part, these sentences are short.

This isn’t a necessity, but a short, intriguing opening sentence can be especially powerful.

Find a similarly unique or thought-provoking first sentence.

From the first few words, the admissions officer will be fully engaged in reading your essay.

Get personalized advice!

3. vividly describe an anecdote related to your essay’s main point..

After the initial grabber (or sometimes as part of the initial grabber), it’s a good idea to include a vivid anecdote .

Like the grabber, a detailed anecdote can keep your reader engaged and wanting to know more.

It can also effectively introduce the experience or topic you’ll be discussing.

Here’s an excerpt from another winning college essay (written by Shaan Merchant for Tufts University):

“Biogeochemical. It’s a word, I promise!” There are shrieks and shouts in protest and support. Unacceptable insults are thrown, degrees and qualifications are questioned, I think even a piece of my grandmother’s famously flakey parantha whizzes past my ear. Everyone is too lazy to take out a dictionary (or even their phones) to look it up, so we just hash it out.

This highly detailed description of a family game of Bananagrams (a version of Scrabble) provides an excellent introduction to Merchant’s essay about his love of words.

Merchant could have started his essay with a dull sentence like, “I have loved words since I was a child.” Instead, he selected a colorful, entertaining anecdote that introduced this point far more creatively.

He also started with an intriguing grabber: “Biogeochemical.

  • It’s a word, I promise!” Immediately, readers are pulled into the essay and wondering what inspired this opening piece of dialogue.

Brainstorm an anecdote that can introduce the main point of your essay (like a game of Bananagrams introduced Merchant’s love of words).

  • If your essay is about an experience, you can open it by narrating a significant moment that was part of that experience.

To make the anecdote vivid, you should include specific details that paint a picture in the reader’s mind.

These images can describe any of the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, or touch.

  • In our sample excerpt, for instance, Merchant mentions “shrieks and shouts” and “[his] grandmother’s famously flakey parantha” (flatbread). Later in his college admissions essay introduction, Merchant also references “small, glossy, plastic tiles” thrown into a pile.

In another winning college essay, a student vividly described the condition of his mother’s feet in relation to her hard work and sacrifice on his behalf.

The bottom line is this:

Come up with an anecdote that illustrates your essay’s point or the experience you’re describing.

Make sure you also include plenty of specific, descriptive adjectives. The admissions officer will be thankful for your refreshingly creative college essay introduction.

4. Connect the descriptive anecdote to the overall point of your essay.

A descriptive anecdote is creative, engaging, and a fun way to introduce the essay topic.

But it’s not very effective unless you explain how this anecdote is connected to the rest of the essay.

In this sentence, you can:

  • Explain the importance of the experience or moment being described
  • Explain how this moment is connected to a larger event or experience
  • Explain what personal qualities or traits this anecdote illustrates
  • Explain how the anecdote is connected to the overall point you will be making in the essay

In Merchant’s intro, he goes on to describe the game of Banagrams a bit more, including the fact that his dad won the game with “Rambo,” which Merchant contended was not a word.

After this entertaining and vivid description, Merchant writes, “Words and communicating have always been of tremendous importance in my life.”

With this brief sentence, Merchant explains what personal qualities are illustrated by his anecdote, as well as telling readers what the rest of the essay will be about.

After you write an anecdote, make sure you also provide 1-2 sentences explaining the significance of the anecdote and connecting it to the main topic of your essay.

In addition to making the essay topic clear to the reader, this type of sentence highlights excellent thinking skills.

5. Avoid stale, overused introductory techniques.

The goal here is to write a college essay introduction that is not like the other hundreds or even thousands of introductions the admissions officer has read.

This means it’s important to avoid boring, predictable introductory techniques.

  • For example, you don’t want to say, “Many experiences have shaped my journey to college,” or, “The obstacles I’ve experienced have made me who I am.”
  • These sentences are weak and vague, and they’re also likely written by many college applicants every year.

You also want to avoid the formulaic essay writing you may have learned in elementary or middle school.

  • Do not write, “In this essay, I will tell you about…” or feel the need to list each of the main points you’ll cover.
  • For example, it’s not necessary to write, “My volunteer work with blood drives, nursing homes, and mentoring programs has greatly influenced me.”

The college admissions essay should be more creative than a traditional essay written for English class.

For this reason, it’s better to ditch overused, formulaic introductions for something more unique.

6. Don’t try to use impressive vocabulary words.

In the sample introduction written by Shaan Merchant, he incorporated impressive words like “biogeochemical,” “parantha,” and later, “donnybrook.”

However, this complex word usage was intended to illustrate Merchant’s point about his lifelong love of words.

In most cases, however, it is best if you don’t try too hard to use multi-syllable vocabulary words intended to impress admissions officers.

  • Usually, this will make the introduction sound unnatural. It won’t sound like  your authentic voice , which is what admissions officers want to read.

Additionally, most admissions officers can recognize when an applicant is being genuine vs. when an applicant is simply trying to impress.

  • Worse, some applicants may try to use complicated vocabulary and end up using it incorrectly.

It’s great for you to include a few more advanced words, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Otherwise, the introduction will sound  stiff, forced, and unnatural .

The introduction should introduce not only the topic of the essay, but also your unique and authentic voice.

7. Write your college essay introduction last.

This may sound crazy, but it’s usually a good idea to write the introduction last.

First, construct the body of your essay.

  • What are the main points you want to make?
  • How have the experiences, people, or events described shaped or impacted your life?
  • What do these experiences, events, or people tell admissions officers about you?

Once this information is complete, writing the perfect accompanying introduction is a simpler process.

  • When you know exactly what you want to write in your essay, it’s easier to come up with a relevant anecdote.
  • It’s also easier to generate a powerful, engaging grabber.

The introduction comes first in the essay, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it first.

If the introduction seems a little tricky, or if you get stuck with writer’s block, write the rest of the essay first.

Later, it’ll be far easier to come back to the introduction and think up a brilliant, relevant grabber and anecdote.

8. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

This is true of the college essay in general, but it’s especially important for the introduction.

The college essay introduction is the very first impression the college admissions officer will get of you.

Spelling and grammar mistakes  in the introduction are the equivalent of arriving late to a job interview wearing ripped jeans.

It’s not a good first impression. Even if what comes next is great, the negative first impression is hard to forget.

Make sure your introduction is completely free of errors in grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, word usage, etc.

  • Read over it multiple times, and have others check it multiple times as well.

Have a friend or relative with excellent grammar skills look over the essay, or ask your English teacher if he or she would take a look.

No matter how many times you and others have proofread the essay, check for errors one more time before sending it off.

Don’t ruin what could be a great essay with typos or mistakes in the very first paragraph.

Here are a few tips to ensure your college essay is mistake-free:

  • Use Grammarly . This is a web extension that catches basic mistakes while you’re writing. Think of it as an upgraded spell check.
  • Have a friend or teacher review the essay.
  • Highlight the absolutely necessary sentences in your introduction. Which sentences create the meaning and essence of the introduction? Which sentences, once omitted, do not alter the meaning and effectiveness of the introduction?

Recap: How to Write a College Essay Introduction

An effective college essay introduction should “wow” admissions officers. It should be creative, intriguing, and unique.

Make sure you start with a strong “hook” or “grabber.” It’s a good idea to follow this first sentence with a vivid anecdote, which you will then connect to the overall topic of your essay. This is often easier to do if you go back and write the introduction last.

Avoid overused introductory techniques, spelling and grammar errors, and forced vocabulary.

If you follow these tips, the admissions officer will be interested in what you have to say from the very start.

Learn how we can help you with college and career guidance! Check out our YouTube channel!

Click Here to Schedule a Free Consult!

how to start of my college essay

Stay on track and ease your anxiety with our second-to-none college application assistance.

mit supplemental essays how to write

  • Ethics & Honesty
  • Privacy Policy
  • Join Our Team

(732) 339-3835

[email protected]

how to start of my college essay

how to start of my college essay

  • SUGGESTED TOPICS
  • The Magazine
  • Newsletters
  • Managing Yourself
  • Managing Teams
  • Work-life Balance
  • The Big Idea
  • Data & Visuals
  • Reading Lists
  • Case Selections
  • HBR Learning
  • Topic Feeds
  • Account Settings
  • Email Preferences

How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

how to start of my college essay

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

Ascend logo

Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

Partner Center

Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

student in library on laptop

How to Write an Effective Essay

Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

Related Articles

  • High School
  • College Search
  • College Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • College Life

How to Write a Killer Opening to Your College Essay

how to start of my college essay

Whether you’re still brainstorming topics for your college essay or personal statement, or completing your final draft, you know your essay needs to stand out from the crowd. You know you need to “get creative,” but it is so hard to know what a college wants to see.

While the school you are applying to also has access to your list of activities and transcript, your essay is their only chance to get to know your personality. Your personality and life experiences matter to your future college because they are a good indicator of whether you would be a good fit on their campus. Colleges ask for a “personal” statement for a reason.

The introduction paragraph of your essay sets the tone for the rest of the essay. So while the topic of your essay or personal statement needs to show depth and provide insight into the person behind the application, the introduction lays the blueprints for the reader on what to expect. So, get creative (we’ll explain what that really means!), skip the cheese, and write from the heart.

Make Creativity the Key

Your opening line should show creativity, but without being cheesy. Something like: “Laughter, much like time, can heal most wounds…” or, “The stage lights flooded my senses, blocking out my vision and the laughter of the crowd before me…” instantly makes the reader want to read further and see where this essay will take you. The reader immediately has questions. Is the author sick? Will the rest of the essay be funny or sad? This particular essay was written by a pre-med hopeful who enjoyed writing stand-up comedy on the side. Her essay shared information about her future career plans, while also inviting admissions professionals to catch a glimpse of her personal life outside the classroom, allowing them to feel like they know her well after reading her essay. If this same student had begun her essay with, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” to indicate her unique interests, the tone would be set with a trite, less authentic opening.

Create an Air of Mystery

Have you ever been so invested in a book that you secretly read the last page? It’s human nature to be attracted to a bit of drama. Riveting, mysterious opening lines keep the reader alert throughout the rest of your essay, as they try to anticipate the curve balls your essay may throw. Don’t be afraid to leave readers hanging for a moment with your first scene, as long as you provide the answers in a timely manner. Here are some examples:

“My hands shook as I realized my mistake.” This essay describes a student who makes a mistake in a laboratory that leads him to a new discovery. By beginning with this story, he is able to talk about his internship in a science lab, as well as end the essay with his experience having his discovery published in a medical journal, hitting two major points on his resume.

“The texture of yarn beneath my fingers reminded me of childhood stuffed animals.” This essay tells the story of a girl teaching herself to knit to connect with her grandmother, and eventually begins crocheting hats, scarves and toys for homeless and foster children. Readers are invited to know the author personally, in addition to expanding on one of her resume entries.

Paint a Picture

Every article containing advice about the Personal Statement agrees: Don’t tell your reader what you did, show them. Paint a picture for them. After an attention-grabbing opening line that leaves the reader wondering what comes next, the rest of your introduction needs to tell a story.

For example: “I turned to the young boy, pausing as his eyes brimmed with tears of frustration, before explaining my new plan of action to help him understand,” is much better than: “The summer before senior year, I tutored an elementary student in math and learned a lot about myself.”

The more detail you add, the more invested the reader will become. Remember, the college is admitting YOU, not just your resume.

Act Natural

A great beginning exercise is to make an outline with the essay prompts, whether these are the Common Application essay choices or the prompts found on the college’s admissions page. Try to answer each essay prompt with three essay topics. Start writing, and see which one flows the best and resonates with your creativity. With the right topic, the opening line will sound natural and the rest of the essay will flow easily.

If you are truly struggling with the voice or organization of your essay, try reading sample essays. While you are reading these essays, write down opening lines and sentences you feel are truly effective or clever. With a page of these inspiring sentences in front of you, try to rewrite your essay using these techniques and try a variety of opening lines.

Take the Bird’s Eye View

Take it from someone (me!) who sat in one of those admissions seats: It is truly essential that your essay be memorable, beginning with the opening line.

I remember the lengthy days of reading admissions files, often reviewing dozens of essays each day. Most of them sounded like copies of one another. Others I still remember to this day, despite reading at least a dozen essays before them that day. Read your opening line and full essay through the eyes of a potential admissions official who has read 20 essays before yours. Does your essay still stand out? Would it catch your attention at the end of a long day of reading essays?

If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re headed in the right direction.

' src=

Author: Michaela Schieffer

Michaela Schieffer is a former admissions counselor and now independent college counselor, guiding students through their college applications and essays through MoonPrep.com . Moon Prep's specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.

More Articles By Niche

The FAFSA has undergone several changes this year, causing unexpected delays for both students and colleges.

Here are my seven tips to the early high schooler in preparing for a strong college application.

We spoke with staff and faculty at Interlochen Arts Academy and Interlochen Arts Camp to get their best tips on overcoming perfectionism, developing confidence, and showcasing your artistic gifts. 

  • Share full article

Advertisement

Supported by

Guest Essay

How the SAT Changed My Life

An illustration of a man lying underneath a giant SAT prep book. The book makes a tent over him. He is smiling.

By Emi Nietfeld

Ms. Nietfeld is the author of the memoir “Acceptance.”

This month, the University of Texas, Austin, joined the wave of selective schools reversing Covid-era test-optional admissions policies, once again requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Many colleges have embraced the test-optional rule under the assumption that it bolsters equity and diversity, since higher scores are correlated with privilege. But it turns out that these policies harmed the teenagers they were supposed to help. Many low-income and minority applicants withheld scores that could have gotten them in, wrongly assuming that their scores were too low, according to an analysis by Dartmouth. More top universities are sure to join the reversal. This is a good thing.

I was one of the disadvantaged youths who are often failed by test-optional policies, striving to get into college while in foster care and homeless. We hear a lot about the efforts of these elite schools to attract diverse student bodies and about debates around the best way to assemble a class. What these conversations overlook is the hope these tests offer students who are in difficult situations.

For many of us, standardized tests provided our one shot to prove our potential, despite the obstacles in our lives or the untidy pasts we had. We found solace in the objectivity of a hard number and a process that — unlike many things in our lives — we could control. I will always feel tenderness toward the Scantron sheets that unlocked higher education and a better life.

Growing up, I fantasized about escaping the chaos of my family for the peace of a grassy quad. Both my parents had mental health issues. My adolescence was its own mess. Over two years I took a dozen psychiatric drugs while attending four different high school programs. At 14, I was sent to a locked facility where my education consisted of work sheets and reading aloud in an on-site classroom. In a life skills class, we learned how to get our G.E.D.s. My college dreams began to seem like delusions.

Then one afternoon a staff member handed me a library copy of “Barron’s Guide to the ACT .” I leafed through the onionskin pages and felt a thunderclap of possibility. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without permission, let alone take Advanced Placement Latin or play water polo or do something else that would impress elite colleges. But I could teach myself the years of math I’d missed while switching schools and improve my life in this one specific way.

After nine months in the institution, I entered foster care. I started my sophomore year at yet another high school, only to have my foster parents shuffle my course load at midyear, when they decided Advanced Placement classes were bad for me. In part because of academic instability like this, only 3 percent to 4 percent of former foster youth get a four-year college degree.

Later I bounced between friends’ sofas and the back seat of my rusty Corolla, using my new-to-me SAT prep book as a pillow. I had no idea when I’d next shower, but I could crack open practice problems and dip into a meditative trance. For those moments, everything was still, the terror of my daily life softened by the fantasy that my efforts might land me in a dorm room of my own, with endless hot water and an extra-long twin bed.

Standardized tests allowed me to look forward, even as every other part of college applications focused on the past. The song and dance of personal statements required me to demonstrate all the obstacles I’d overcome while I was still in the middle of them. When shilling my trauma left me gutted and raw, researching answer elimination strategies was a balm. I could focus on equations and readings, like the scholar I wanted to be, rather than the desperate teenager that I was.

Test-optional policies would have confounded me, but in the 2009-10 admissions cycle, I had to submit my scores; my fellow hopefuls and I were all in this together, slogging through multiple-choice questions until our backs ached and our eyes crossed.

The hope these exams instilled in me wasn’t abstract: It manifested in hundreds of glossy brochures. After I took the PSAT in my junior year, universities that had received my score flooded me with letters urging me to apply. For once, I felt wanted. These marketing materials informed me that the top universities offered generous financial aid that would allow me to attend free. I set my sights higher, despite my guidance counselor’s lack of faith.

When I took the actual SAT, I was ashamed of my score. Had submitting it been optional, I most likely wouldn’t have done it, because I suspected my score was lower than the prep-school applicants I was up against (exactly what Dartmouth found in the analysis that led it to reinstate testing requirements). When you grow up the way I did, it’s difficult to believe that you are ever good enough.

When I got into Harvard, it felt like a miracle splitting my life into a before and after. My exam preparation paid off on campus — it was the only reason I knew geometry or grammar — and it motivated me to tackle new, difficult topics. I majored in computer science, having never written a line of code. Though a career as a software engineer seemed far-fetched, I used my SAT study strategies to prepare for technical interviews (in which you’re given one or more problems to solve) that landed me the stable, lucrative Google job that catapulted me out of financial insecurity.

I’m not the only one who feels affection for these tests. At Harvard, I met other students who saw these exams as the one door they could unlock that opened into a new future. I was lucky that the tests offered me hope all along, that I could cling to the promise that one day I could bubble in a test form and find myself transported into a better life — the one I lead today.

Emi Nietfeld is the author of the memoir “ Acceptance .” Previously, she was a software engineer at Google and Facebook.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .

how to start of my college essay

My Davidson | A Student Blog Photo Essay: English Scholars Go to AWP Conference

a compilation of images from a conference featuring young men and women

In February, Abbott Scholars in Davidson College’s English Department had the opportunity to attend the AWP (Association of Writers & Writer Programs) Conference in Kansas City. Check out their photos and reflections. 

About the Authors

Isabel smith '24: poetry & book fairs.

The Abbott Scholars Program allows students to spend a year crafting either a scholarly or creative thesis on a topic of their choice, working alongside a director, a reader, and the other scholars. You get an extended period of time to produce strong writing, opportunities to talk with visiting authors, and the ability to request funding for related research and travel.

a group of young men and women standing and smiling

Abbott Scholars

One travel opportunity is the chance to attend the Association of Writers & Writer Programs (AWP) conference, which seven of us went to in February of this year. This year, the conference was in Kansas City, and it lasted three days: Thursday to Saturday. Each of us individually picked what panels to go to each day. I am writing a poetry thesis, so the first talk I attended was “Sound and Color: Poets and Visual Artists in Exquisite Exchange.” The presentation was my favorite of all of them because of how illuminating and beautiful it was. Each poet had partnered with a visual artist, and they shared the process of working in tandem to create together, displaying photographs, blurbs of text exchanges, paintings, and finally, the finished poetry. Due to this experience, I decided to incorporate visual art into my own practice, and I have since begun working on finding available art as well as creating some myself. Additionally, my mother is a painter and my father is a poet, so I was very excited to share what I had learned with the both of them.

Throughout the few days, I attended panels on drafting tips and tricks (featuring Davidson Professors Parker and Shavers), sharing elegies, queer post-religious poetry, and trans poetics, all of which were a pleasure and incredibly helpful. Another important aspect of the conference was the bookfair. It was a labyrinth, spanning an entire floor of the huge conference center. Besides fun and silly booths — like one labeled “Poetic Help”  — the bookfair featured presses, literature reviews, and MFA programs, so I got the chance to talk to experts in the field of writing and publishing. They also tended to give out free books, excitingly, so I got quite the haul, all of which I can’t wait to read. At night, the seven of us — Tavie Kittredge, Michael Chapin, Nate Bagonza, Mason Davis, Taylor Dykes, Abby Morris, and myself — would explore the city, including events put on by AWPers. We went out to dinner together and attended the keynote, a poetry reading at a cat cafe, and a Rock & Roll-themed reading. It was amazing to bond with my peers and explore a new city. Thanks to the funding of the Abbott Scholars Program, I know much more about how to pursue a future in writing.

a collection of books on a black carpet

Michael Chapin ’24: Surrounded by Passionate Writers

The seven of us traveling together really solidified the bonds we’ve been building over the past semester and allowed us to spend time together outside of our thesis work, whether that was over Thai or ramen for dinner or just taking the time to explore the city. 

a sign reading "welcome to the AWP24 Conference & Bookfair!"

Getting to spend that time at AWP was incredibly special because, for me at least, it was the first time being surrounded by people deeply connected and committed to writing in all its forms. We attended events ranging from poetry readings at cat cafés to queer narrative presentations in speakeasy bars. 

My personal highlight of the conference was listening to Jericho Brown deliver the keynote speech in which he called on us to challenge the world as we know it — to challenge book bans and our perception of the world as impossible to change. Brown asked why we can’t imagine a better world while acknowledging that a better world is not created without a fight. A quote from the speech that has stuck with me in the weeks since was his question: “If the fight is against fascism, who do we need to be if we lose that fight?” And then, who do we need to be to win?

a plate of barbecue in Kansas City

Trying a taste of Kansas City barbecue!

two young people walk a city street

Exploring the streets of Kansas City.

Mason Davis '24: The Impact of AWP

The best part of the conference? Talking to authors, talking to MFA directors, talking to independent publishers … Being honest about what I wanted to know and not feeling awkward about lacking experience was so valuable. 

The best single moment I had was cornering Susan Choi and telling her how much I loved  Trust Exercise . She seemed so delighted that I loved the book, which warmed my heart. AWP carried an infectious feeling of immense creative potential that has stuck with me vividly.

a group of young men and women take a selfie

Now that I’ve seen a piece of the literary world, I want to be a part of it. I loved talking about books and the book-world all day. It felt a bit like the Davidson College campus except that  everyone wants to do creative writing. That was a dream for me. I felt sad coming back to reality ... Sitting side-by-side with people who have just done a fantastic reading, or highly regarded editors, or publishers etc. etc. made me feel like my goals are imminently possible. There is so, so much writing out there and so many people making it work, somehow. If they can do it, so can I. 

I'd also been skeptical about MFA programs (how will I afford it? is it even necessary?), but meeting all those MFA students and directors has convinced me that I'd be doing myself a serious disservice by not applying to programs in the next 1-5 years, depending on where life takes me. Not to get ahead of myself.

I want to express my gratitude to the Abbott family (and personally Susan, who was so wonderful to share a dinner with) for the opportunity to, in a sense, role-play as a 'real' writer for an extended weekend and get to try on those shoes. I liked how they fit. I can only speak with certainty for myself, but I know I felt (re)invigorated in becoming a person of letters.

Keep Exploring

Learn more about English at Davidson College

Learn more about the Abbott Scholars Program

  • March 26, 2024
  • My Davidson
  • CBSSports.com
  • Fanatics Sportsbook
  • CBS Sports Home
  • NCAA Tournament
  • W. Tournament
  • Champions League
  • Motor Sports
  • High School
  • Horse Racing 

mens-brackets-180x100.jpg

Men's Brackets

womens-brackets-180x100.jpg

Women's Brackets

Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy football, football pick'em, college pick'em, fantasy basketball, fantasy hockey, franchise games, 24/7 sports news network.

cbs-sports-hq-watch-dropdown.jpg

  • CBS Sports Golazo Network
  • March Madness Live
  • PGA Tour on CBS
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League
  • Italian Serie A
  • Watch CBS Sports Network
  • TV Shows & Listings

The Early Edge

201120-early-edge-logo-square.jpg

A Daily SportsLine Betting Podcast

With the First Pick

wtfp-logo-01.png

NFL Draft is coming up!

  • Podcasts Home
  • Eye On College Basketball
  • The First Cut Golf
  • NFL Pick Six
  • Cover 3 College Football
  • Fantasy Football Today
  • Morning Kombat
  • My Teams Organize / See All Teams Help Account Settings Log Out

2024 NCAA Tournament bracket predictions: March Madness expert picks, favorites to win, Elite Eight, upsets

Our experts have filled out their brackets, so check who they predict will be cutting down the nets.

expert-brackets-no-logos.png

The field for the 2024 NCAA Tournament began with 68 teams, but we are quickly shrinking down to the Final Four. We were already down to eight with the penultimate weekend of March Madness. After two frenzied days of action across the country for Sweet 16 play, eight teams over the next two days will be cut in half to four as the road to the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, is paved.

By now your bracket – like most of everyone else's – is somewhere between broken and outright busted, and that's OK. Our experts below grinded tape all season and watched hundreds of games throughout the year, and you know what? We haven't been perfect, either.

We'll give ourselves some flowers, though, because most of us have our champion picks still intact and several other teams in the hunt. That's probably more than a lot of people can say. So if your bracket is done and you're just looking to wager some cheddar with picks as the tourney grinds down, use our picks below as a guide to help get you to the finish line.

OK, let's dive into the good stuff: The brackets. ...  

2024 NCAA Tournament bracket predictions

Click each bracket to enlarge.

Gary Parrish

Watching UConn become the first back-to-back national champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007 would be a blast. And let the record show that the Huskies are the betting-market favorites. So I realize picking against them might prove dumb. But, that acknowledged, I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing most of this season and put my faith in the Boilermakers. Wouldn't that be a great story -- Purdue winning the 2024 NCAA Tournament after losing to a No. 16 seed in the opening round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament? Zach Edey holding the championship trophy as a two-time national player of the year? Matt Painter shedding his label as the best coach yet to make a Final Four by becoming the first coach to take Purdue to the final weekend of the season since 1980? It's all such good stuff. Just getting to the Final Four will be challenging considering Tennessee, Creighton and Kansas are also in the Midwest Region. But I'm still taking the Boilermakers to make it to Arizona. And then, once they get there, I think they'll win two more games and cut nets on the second Monday in April.

Matt Norlander

A locomotive screaming down the tracks. The 31-3 reigning national champions enter this NCAA Tournament as the strongest team with the best chance to repeat of any squad since Florida in 2007. Dan Hurley's Huskies are led by All-American guard Tristen Newton (15.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.0 apg), who holds the school record for triple-doubles. In the middle is 7-foot-2 "Cling Kong," Donvan Clingan, a menace of a defender and the type of player you can't simulate in practice. The Huskies boast the nation's most efficient offense (126.6 adjusted points per 100 possessions, via KenPom.com) and overwhelm teams in a variety of ways. Sophomore Alex Karaban (39.5%) and senior Cam Spencer (44.4%) are both outstanding 3-point shooters. The Huskies have been beaten by Kansas, Seton Hall and Creighton, but all of those were road games, and there are no more road games left this season. UConn will try to become the fourth No. 1 overall seed to win the national title, joining 2007 Florida, 2012 Kentucky and 2013 Louisville.

The antagonistic side of me initially picked Purdue over UConn in the title game. But I sat and thought about it and couldn't make any reasonable case to pick any team other than UConn as champion. Of course, that doesn't guarantee the Huskies win it all and become the first repeat champs since Florida in 2007. There's a lot that can happen in the next few weeks. But they have the electric offense, the guard depth, the size down low, the shooting [takes breath] .. the passing and the pizzazz of a team that's best in the country and knows it. Every top team in this field has a high level at which they can play but no one has a top gear like UConn.

Get every pick, every play, every upset and fill out your bracket with our help! Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will make and break your bracket, and see who will cut down the nets , all from the model that nailed a whopping 20 first-round upsets by double-digit seeds.

Purdue is set for redemption after an embarrassing 2023 loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. This time around, the Boilermakers are a much better 3-point shooting team and have a more favorable path than No. 1 overall seed UConn. The Huskies were the most dominant team leading up to the Big Dance the East Region bracket is filled with peril.

palm-2024.jpg

This is not the Purdue you have seen the last few years. Braden Smith has made a big jump from last season to this one. Fletcher Loyer is better. Lance Jones gives Purdue defense, shooting and another ball handler. And Zach Edey is better too. This is a team on a mission. This is the year they accomplish it.

Dennis Dodd

What is there not to like? The Heels won the ACC regular season. They beat Tennessee and swept Duke. RJ Davis is an elite guard and ACC Player of the Year. Hubert Davis has settled in after going to the national championship game in his first season and missing the tournament in his second. This is his best team. There will be/and always is pressure to win it all. 

Armando Bacot is not as dominating as previous. Harrison Ingram (Stanford) and Cormac Ryan (Notre Dame) have been big additions in the portal. The West Region is friendly, assuming here that Alabama and Michigan State don't get in the way before the regional in L.A. An interesting regional final against Arizona looms. In the end, sometimes you go with chalk. UNC has been to the most Final Fours (21) and No. 1 seeds (18) all-time. It is tied with Kentucky for the most tournament wins ever (131). This is what the Heels do.

Chip Patterson

The selection committee set up plenty of stumbling blocks for the reigning champs, placing what I believe to be the best No. 1 seed, the best No. 2 seed (Iowa State), the best No. 3 seed (Illinois) and the best No. 4 seed (Auburn) in the Huskies bracket. And if accomplishing a historic feat like the first back-to-back title runs since 2007 is going to require that kind of epic journey, UConn has every skill and tool needed to make it back to the top of the mountain. UConn can win in all different ways, overwhelming teams with their offense in high-scoring track meets or out-executing the opponent in low-possession grinders, and it has a handful of key contributors who could each step up as needed during a title run.

Cameron Salerno

Defense wins championships. That is part of the reason why I'm picking Houston to win it all. The Cougars have the top-ranked scoring defense in the country and terrific guard play on offense to complement it. Jamal Shead is arguably the best point guard in the nation, and J'wan Roberts is an X-Factor on both ends of the floor. Houston's path to the Final Four is favorable. The Cougars weren't able to reach the Final Four in their home state last spring, but this will be the year they run the table and win their first national championship in program history.

Our Latest College Basketball Stories

ncaate8.jpg

Print your 2024 NCAA Tournament bracket

David cobb • 2 min read.

texas-womens-basketball-team-celebrate.jpg

Texas vs. NC State: How to watch, preview

Isabel gonzalez • 2 min read.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-NC State vs Marquette

Storylines, streaming info for Elite Eight games on Sun

Chip patterson • 5 min read.

kyle-filipowski-duke-usatsi.jpg

College basketball picks: Elite Eight games on Sunday

Kyle boone • 2 min read.

generic-nba-basketball.jpg

Purdue vs. Tennessee odds, Elite Eight picks, best bets

Cbs sports staff • 3 min read.

usatsi-20244677-1.jpg

2024 NCAA Tournament: How to watch live, TV tip times

Matt norlander • 2 min read, share video.

how to start of my college essay

Expert brackets: Predictions for NCAA Tournament 2024

how to start of my college essay

Expert picks: Sunday's Elite Eight games

how to start of my college essay

Storylines for Duke-NC State

how to start of my college essay

Final Four lookahead: UConn faces Alabama

how to start of my college essay

ACC can't lose when Duke faces NC State in Elite Eight

how to start of my college essay

UConn on verge of all-time dominant run

how to start of my college essay

Reserve freshman is Alabama's latest hero

how to start of my college essay

Transfer portal: Ranking top players on the move

how to start of my college essay

Coaching tracker: Latest on who's hired, fired

how to start of my college essay

IMAGES

  1. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    how to start of my college essay

  2. 24 Greatest College Essay Examples

    how to start of my college essay

  3. College Essay Examples

    how to start of my college essay

  4. 30+ College Essay Examples

    how to start of my college essay

  5. Awesome How To Start A College Essay ~ Thatsnotus

    how to start of my college essay

  6. 🐈 Creative ways to start a college essay. Creative Essay Writing Guide

    how to start of my college essay

VIDEO

  1. I wrote my college essay on saltburn…

  2. My College Essay In English || 10 lines on My College || 10 lines about My College

COMMENTS

  1. How To Start a College Essay: 9 Effective Techniques

    For many, getting started is the hardest part of anything. And that's understandable. First, because it turns whatever you're doing into a reality, which raises the stakes. Second, because where you start can easily dictate the quality of where you end up. College essays have their own special brand of DTDT.

  2. How to Start a College Essay to Hook Your Reader

    Set a time for one minute and write down whatever comes to mind for that specific topic. This will help get the juices flowing and push you over that initial bit of writer's block that's so common when it comes time to write a college essay. Repeat this exercise if you're feeling stuck at any point during the essay writing process.

  3. How to Start a College Essay Perfectly

    The Bottom Line: How to Start a College Essay. The college essay introduction should hook your reader and make her want to know more and read more. Good personal statement introductions will contain the following features: A killer first line. A detailed description of an experience from your life.

  4. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Next, let's make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You'll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types.

  5. How to Write an Essay Introduction

    Table of contents. Step 1: Hook your reader. Step 2: Give background information. Step 3: Present your thesis statement. Step 4: Map your essay's structure. Step 5: Check and revise. More examples of essay introductions. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.

  6. How to Start a College Essay

    1) Share a story. As you can probably tell from the examples above, we recommend starting your essay off with an engaging story. Before you tell a reader that you're an introvert who also loves performing in musical theater, you'll want to tell the tale of the first time you braved the spotlight.

  7. How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction

    Good example. I wiped the sweat from my head and tried to catch my breath. I was nearly there—just one more back tuck and a strong dismount and I'd have nailed a perfect routine. Some students choose to write more broadly about themselves and use some sort of object or metaphor as the focus.

  8. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  9. How to Write a College Essay

    Making an all-state team → outstanding achievement. Making an all-state team → counting the cost of saying "no" to other interests. Making a friend out of an enemy → finding common ground, forgiveness. Making a friend out of an enemy → confront toxic thinking and behavior in yourself.

  10. 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

    Don't Repeat. If you've mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don't repeat it again in your essay. Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

  11. How to Start a College Essay

    4. The Anecdote. Using an anecdote or a short personal story can be an endearing way to begin your college essay. With this method, the writer shares an experience or an anecdote that highlights their strengths or unique perspective. Example: "When I was five, I had a toy cat I dragged everywhere.

  12. How to Start a College Essay: Your Guide

    You can also choose to start your essay with a quote. As with the other hooks, your quote should be related to the topics that you will discuss in your essay. For example, it could be a quote about the field of study you want to pursue, resilience, the importance of diversity, etc.

  13. How to Write the Best College Application Essay

    It can give admissions officers a sense of who you are and showcase your writing ability. Here are some things that admissions officers look for in a personal essay for college. 1. Open Strong. Knowing how to start a college essay can create a strong opening paragraph that immediately captures the reader's interest.

  14. How to Start a College Essay: 8 Killer Tips!

    2. Start with an attention grabber. The very first sentence of your essay should be the "hook" or "grabber.". This sentence "hooks" readers or "grabs" their attention, making them want to read more. This first sentence should provide rich details, engage a reader's curiosity, or otherwise stand out from the rest.

  15. College Essay Guide With Steps

    Step 1. Review the essay prompt (s) Take 15 or 20 minutes to simply look at the essay prompts. The Common Application and Coalition Application release their prompts during the spring prior to senior year. If you're applying to colleges that require an essay but don't accept the Common App or Coalition App, check the website of the colleges ...

  16. How to start a college essay

    Free-write. Before beginning your actual essay, take a stab at a few short free-writes that nobody will ever see. After selecting your topic, try writing anywhere from 100-250 words on two or more of the following prompts: Write a first-person description of the most important moment related to your chosen topic.

  17. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Here are some tips to get you started. Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don't have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to ...

  18. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    Essay writing process. The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay.. For example, if you've been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you'll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay, on the ...

  19. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor. 1. Start Early. Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school.

  20. How to Open Your College Essay or Personal Statement

    Try to answer each essay prompt with three essay topics. Start writing, and see which one flows the best and resonates with your creativity. With the right topic, the opening line will sound natural and the rest of the essay will flow easily. If you are truly struggling with the voice or organization of your essay, try reading sample essays.

  21. Opinion

    My college dreams began to seem like delusions. Then one afternoon a staff member handed me a library copy of "Barron's Guide to the ACT ." I leafed through the onionskin pages and felt a ...

  22. Photo Essay: English Scholars Go to AWP Conference

    It felt a bit like the Davidson College campus except that everyone wants to do creative writing. That was a dream for me. I felt sad coming back to reality ... Sitting side-by-side with people who have just done a fantastic reading, or highly regarded editors, or publishers etc. etc. made me feel like my goals are imminently possible.

  23. 2024-25 FAFSA Student Aid Index Update and Timeline (Updated March 14

    The Department will continue to assist our external partners through webinars, resources, and updates on the Knowledge Center.We also welcome our partners to continue to submit questions related to the 2024-25 FAFSA launch using the Contact Customer Support form in FSA's Partner Connect Help Center. To submit a question, please enter your name, email address, topic, and question.

  24. How to Make Your College Essay Stand Out

    Keep the comparison simple. Use a few other literary devices such as imagery or anecdotes to enrich your extended metaphor. Avoid making cliché comparisons. Don't exaggerate or make an unrealistic comparison. In the example below, a student uses the extended metaphor of a museum to explore the theme of identity.

  25. 2024 March Madness TV schedule: How to watch NCAA Tournament, Elite

    From the Selection Show all the way until the playing of "One Shining Moment" after a champion is crowned, CBS Sports and TNT Sports will be bringing you the magic.

  26. How to watch Purdue vs. Gonzaga basketball game

    Purdue is a solid 5.5-point favorite against Gonzaga, according to the latest college basketball odds. The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the ...

  27. 2024 NCAA Tournament bracket predictions: March Madness expert picks

    Purdue is set for redemption after an embarrassing 2023 loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. This time around, the Boilermakers are a much better 3-point shooting team and ...