Your first sentence of your essay decides if you have a future…
That is, if your college essay has a future in the eyes of your reader. There, got your attention. See?
First impressions matter. Your college essay is no exception. And your first line of your personal statement is your first impression, so here’s how to make it good and have the adcom begging (well, maybe not begging, but ready) for more.
You wouldn’t go for a job interview with tomato sauce rubbed across your face, go on a first date in a stained shirt, show up for the first day of school with a busted notebook from last year. Don’t start your essay without thoughtful craft– you want it to entice.
In fact, make that first line work for you so you have the best chance at getting the prize– that is, the adcom’s attention.
Figure out the techniques
Here’s Stanford University’s sample first lines from admitted students. If you take a few minutes to study each first line, you’ll see that A) there is a range of winners and B) there is no formula and C) each line has a reason it’s successful. We’ll look at a few different ones to give you a primer on why they work.
First Lines of college essays we love
“I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.” First, clever, and why not, do you have an obligation to be you? Second, the reader is given a fact, but no explanation for it: perhaps the writer likes the freedom to swap out identities in low-stakes situation; perhaps the applicant hates his or her first name; perhaps something traumatizing happened with a Starbucks employee — point is, we have just enough information to be intrigued, but not enough to be satisfied.
Simple sentence, but big opening.
“When I was in eighth grade I couldn’t read.” Again, simple fact, but begs the biggest question: Why? (Especially, perhaps, because we know this student was submitted to Stanford at least partially on the strength of the essay).
“On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.” Come again? It’s hot, and you’re in winter gear, and on a bike? And in Hollywood, which is a pretty loaded name to drop?
“Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Bhimanagar slum dwelling in Bangalore, I ran my fingers across a fresh cut on my forehead.” Blood always gets out attention– in this case, we know the writer may have been in a rough place at the wrong time. OR our expectations could be thwarted– maybe the writer tripped over a shoelace and took a spill?
Try writing a few different first lines according to this logic– set up expectations you can subvert, leave room for a twist, include contrasts, give a simple clue but not a resolution– and see which one works best for you. Also– enjoy it, enjoy it a lot. The more you play, the more your creativity kicks into gear, the better you feel about it all. Then share your killer openings with us on our Facebook page so the world can steal from you more efficiently.
Not sure if your opening has got what it takes? Just ask us. We love fresh starts and stain-free clothing (which because of our baby we currently don’t own, but you get it).