6 Useful Strategies For Starting Your College Essay To Hook Your Readers

January 4, 2022

Have you ever faced writer’s block? Do you have lots of ideas going in your head,  or maybe you have no ideas?

Without any doubt, starting a college essay is the hardest part of the application process. Once you start, your 50% of work is done, then it’s easy to get in the flow and keep writing, but that initial obstacle is challenging to overcome. We’ve created a list of advice to help you get over that obstacle and make your essay the best it can be.

What is the Objective of the College Essay Introduction?

The introduction of the college essay should instantly hook the reader. It would help if you gave admissions officers a great reason to get hooked on your story and inspire them to continue reading your essay. The hook is similar to a good movie or TV show; if people are hooked to the introduction, they continue and finish the whole film.

Remember that admissions officers can only spend a couple of minutes per essay, so if they are bored as soon as they start reading your essay, they may clock out for the rest of the essay.

The main objective of the college essay should aim to show a part of your personality that hasn’t been covered by your GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars. 

That is why the introduction is the essential part of the essay. It’s like a first glance for the rest of your essay, showcasing your voice and personality.

3 Effective Tips To Start Your Essay

1- Brainstorm Topics

Dedicate 3-4 hours in your schedule and brainstorm some sound topic ideas for your essay. Your topic should be meaningful to you while also depicting a part of you that isn’t obvious in other aspects of your application. 

The essay is a huge opportunity to show admissions officers your “true self.” Do not overthink or worry about starting with the introduction if you have a good topic in mind. From time to time the foremost essay openings are developed last, once you completely grasp the flow of your story.

2- Do a Freewrite

Write without judging yourself for a certain period. Do a free-write session when you generate a topic while brainstorming.

Write down anything that comes to your mind for that specific topic. This will help your brain’s neurons start connecting and clear your writer’s block, which is very common when starting your college essay. 

You can repeat this exercise if you’re feeling stuck at any point while writing your essay. Freewriting is like a warm-up exercise for your brain; it pumps your creative writing brain while seeing which topics are flowing more naturally.

3- Create an Outline

Once you’ve selected your topic, write an outline for your whole essay. It’s easier to organize all your thoughts, the body part of the essay, and then write the introduction. 

This way, you’ll have a clear direction of where you want your essay to go, and you can make sure that your introduction leads directly into the rest of the essay. Admissions officers look at the quality of your content. For college-level writing, students should be aware about how to structure an essay logically. Your outline will be judged favorably on the quality of your writing skills.

Now, let’s have a look at

6 Useful Strategies for Starting Your College Essay

1. The Scriptwriter

“No! Make it stop! Get me out!” My 5-year-old self waved my arms frantically in front of my face in the darkened movie theater.

Beginning your essay with dialogue immediately takes the reader into the story. In the other part of the essay, the author presents a class that introduces people to insects as a type of food. Normally, one would start with the course proposal. Yet, the writer’s inclusion of this flashback weaves in a personal narrative, that displays her true self.

Have a look at the full essay

“No! Make it stop! Get me out!” My 5-year-old self waved my arms frantically in front of my face in the darkened movie theater. Swarms of beetles scurried across the screen, their tiny forms flying straight at me. Their stark coloration patterns and blown-up eyes dominated my field of vision, their antennae whiskering toward my vulnerable being. To the understanding of my fellow movie-watchers frustrated at this outburst, this was my first 4-D movie experience, a memory ingrained into my being so potently that I still flinch at the sight of a harmless roach scuttling along my family’s patio floor outside. And don’t get me started on the time I woke up to a cricket sleeping on my arm. Oh man, those shrieks are still buried in the back of my mind. 

 We are familiar with meat and vegetables as sources of our nutrition, but it seems that such a concept does not apply to the class of animals that make up 80% of the world’s total animal population. But with the rise of greater concern for where our food comes from, many sustainability enthusiasts have turned to these pests as a nutrition source. Not only are they high in protein, but they’re everywhere. It’s time for me to face my fears and the inevitable truth: bug farming is on the horizon. 

 For my Paideia “It’s a Bug’s Life,” these little critters take center stage in an integrated lecture/hands-on seminar style focused on growing awareness for food sustainability and learning to cook savory bug-riddled meals. Recipes from Chef Hugo Ortega’s Mescal Worm Tacos (Houston, Texas) to Chef Cesar Moreno’s Grasshopper Almond Flour Cake (New York City, New York) will be dissected and recreated in an attempt to understand the insect harvesting process and proper (and sanitary!) methods of preparation. I hope that this class ultimately aids in breaking the Western stigma against the consumption of our fellow fuzzy creatures (which is already practiced in more than half of the world by population), as well as provide a platform for exploring sustainable food sourcing and consumption practices. 

 Gone are the days where I flinch at the flutter of an insect’s wings. Bon appetit! Your cuisine des petites bêtes (see: dish of little beasts) has been served”. 

2. The Shocker 

“A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks, and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears. The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas”.

In this essay, the intricate imagery only serves to deepen the shock factor. While many people might be aware of the “humanitarian crisis at the southern border,” reading about it. 

Have a look at the full essay

“A chaotic sense of sickness and filth unfolds in an overcrowded border station in McAllen, Texas. Through soundproof windows, migrants motion that they have not showered in weeks and children wear clothes caked in mucus and tears. The humanitarian crisis at the southern border exists not only in photographs published by mainstream media, but miles from my home in South Texas.

 As a daughter of immigrants, I have heard countless stories of migrants being turned away by a country they desperately seek to love. After seeing the abhorrent conditions migrants face upon arriving in the U.S., I began volunteering with Loaves and Fishes, an organization that shelters and provides necessities to undocumented immigrants. This year, my experiences collecting donations and working at pop-up soup kitchens have made me realize that the communities in South Texas promote true American values of freedom and opportunity. The U.S. government, however, must do better.

 During my university career, I aspire to learn how our immigration system can be positively reformed by considering the politics and economics that shape policy-making. Particularly, classes such as Institutional Design and Institutional Change will prepare me to effect change in existing institutions by analyzing various methods to bolster the economy. 

Additionally, I hope to join the Yale Refugee Project that volunteers at the southern border and prepares asylum cases for court. With the numerous opportunities offered by YRP, I will be part of a generation of activists and lawmakers that builds a more empathetic immigration system”.

3. The Vivid Imaginer

“The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus”. 

This fiction stuff takes the reader wherever you want to take them. By placing them in these surroundings with you, you allow the reader to deeply understand your thoughts and emotions in such a situation. Also, this method displays the author’s perception of the world, a personal touch that is the baseline of all college essays.

Have a look at the full essay

“The air is crisp and cool, nipping at my ears as I walk under a curtain of darkness that drapes over the sky, starless. It is a Friday night in downtown Corpus Christi, a rare moment of peace in my home city filled with the laughter of strangers and colorful lights of street vendors. But I cannot focus. 

 My feet stride quickly down the sidewalk, my hand grasps on to the pepper spray my parents gifted me for my sixteenth birthday. My eyes ignore the surrounding city life, focusing instead on a pair of tall figures walking in my direction. I mentally ask myself if they turned with me on the last street corner. I do not remember, so I pick up the pace again. All the while, my mind runs over stories of young women being assaulted, kidnapped, and raped on the street. I remember my mother’s voice reminding me to keep my chin up, back straight, eyes and ears alert. 

At a young age, I learned that harassment is a part of daily life for women. I fell victim to period-shaming when I was thirteen, received my first catcall when I was fourteen, and was nonconsensually grabbed by a man soliciting on the street when I was fifteen. For women, assault does not just happen to us— its gory details leave an imprint in our lives, infecting the way we perceive the world. And while movements such as the Women’s March and #MeToo have given victims of sexual violence a voice, harassment still manifests itself in the lives of millions of women across the nation. Symbolic gestures are important in spreading awareness but, upon learning that a surprising number of men are oblivious to the frequent harassment that women experience, I now realize that addressing this complex issue requires a deeper level of activism within our local communities. 

 Frustrated with incessant cases of harassment against women, I understood at sixteen years old that change necessitates action. During my junior year, I became an intern with a judge whose campaign for office focused on a need for domestic violence reform. This experience enabled me to engage in constructive dialogue with middle and high school students on how to prevent domestic violence. As I listened to young men uneasily admit their ignorance and young women bravely share their experiences in an effort to spread awareness, I learned that breaking down systems of inequity requires changing an entire culture. I once believed that the problem of harassment would dissipate after politicians and celebrities denounce inappropriate behavior to their global audience. But today, I see that effecting large-scale change comes from the “small” lessons we teach at home and in schools. Concerning women’s empowerment, the effects of Hollywood activism do not trickle down enough. Activism must also trickle up and it depends on our willingness to fight complacency. 

 Finding the solution to the long-lasting problem of violence against women is a work-in-progress, but it is a process that is persistently moving. In my life, for every uncomfortable conversation that I bridge, I make the world a bit more sensitive to the unspoken struggle that it is to be a woman. I am no longer passively waiting for others to let me live in a world where I can stand alone under the expanse of darkness on a city street, utterly alone and at peace. I, too, deserve the night sky”.

4. The Instant Plunger

“The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke of a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch”.

Throwing readers into the middle of a story (also known as in medias res) is a strong hook because it grabs the attention by putting the reader straight into the action. The expressive imagery in the first sentence also helps to plunge the reader, creating a hook, it also shows (instead of telling) how the writer became interested in criminology. With this strategy, it is important to “zoom out,” so to speak so that the essay remains personal to you. 

Have a look at the full essay

“The flickering LED lights began to form into a face of a man when I focused my eyes. The man spoke a ruthless serial killer of the decade who had been arrested in 2004, and my parents shivered at his reaccounting of the case. I curiously tuned in, wondering who he was to speak of such crimes with concrete composure and knowledge. Later, he introduced himself as a profiler named Pyo Chang Won, and I watched the rest of the program by myself without realizing that my parents had left the couch.

After watching the program, I recited the foreign word until it was no longer unfamiliar—”profiler”. I stayed up all-night searching the meaning; my eyes sparkled with the dim light of the monitor as I read the tales of Pyo Chang Won and his Sherlock-like stories. From predicting the future of criminals and knowing the precise vicinity of a killer on the loose, he had saved countless lives; living in communities riddled with crimes in my youth then and even now, I dreamed of working against crimes. However, the traditional path of a lawyer or a police officer only reinforced the three-step cycle of arrest, trial, and jail which continued with no fundamental changes for years; I wanted to work with the psyche of criminals beyond courts and wondered about the inner workings of the mind. 

 Such admiration and interest led me to invest my time in psychology. Combined with working with the likes of the Victim Witness Agency, I decided to pursue psychology as my major for my undergraduate education. Later on, I want to specialize my research and education on behavioral/forensic psychology and eventually branch out to my childhood dream of becoming a criminal profiler”. 

5. The Philosopher 

“Saved in the Notes app on my phone are three questions: What can I know? What must I do? What may I hope for? First asked by Immanuel Kant, these questions guide my pursuit of knowledge and organization of critical thought, both skills that are necessary to move our country and society forward in the right direction.”

When you ask philosophical and metaphysical questions, readers will think of you as someone with deep purpose and ideas while also guiding the focus of your essay. In a way, it grants the reader a roadmap; they know that these philosophical questions give the theme for the remaining essay. The more debatable the questions, the more solid hook you can create. 

Answering these philosophical questions is not as important as making sure that the arguments they produce show your morals and beliefs.

Have a look at the full essay

“Saved in the Notes app on my phone are three questions: What can I know? What must I do? What may I hope for? First asked by Immanuel Kant, these questions guide my pursuit of knowledge and organization of critical thought, both skills that are necessary to move our country and society forward in the right direction. As I am deeply passionate about political reform, I believe that a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics education will provide me the opportunity to understand the systemic problems in our country and devise effective solutions. 

 What can I know? Over the past years, I have been primed to memorize and regurgitate information. But to me, learning is not just about filling my mind with information; I crave an understanding of how to think critically about the things I know. I am particularly excited about taking the Political Philosophy and Ethical Theory courses at Pomona to ask the “Why does this matter?” question for information I learn. A multidisciplinary education will enable me to gain new knowledge and use it productively. 

 What must I do? I plan to pursue a career in the field of law, representing underprivileged members of society such as undocumented immigrants. Therefore, I believe that action beyond words is most important to giving people the justice they deserve. An education at Pomona would allow me to learn from professors such as Professor John Seery, who has had hands-on political experience working in Washington D.C. and serving as a city commissioner. Through the staff at Pomona, I will learn to use my knowledge as a vehicle for political activism. 

 What may I hope for? I am motivated to learn how to examine challenges holistically and help create a better America. Attending Pomona will be the first step to achieving this goal.”

6. The Storyteller

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering.

Beginning your essay with an anecdote is a solid way to form a meaningful connection with the essay itself. It also shows the reader that the which you have chosen to write about has been a part of your life for a long time, admissions officers want to make sure that you are faithfully interested in something. This personal essay shows that you are. 

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.

 Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.

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