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How To Start a College Essay (with examples)

by Rebecca Acree, on Sep 1, 2020 8:15:00 AM

The first sentence of anything you write is crucial, and that’s especially true of college admissions essays! The goal of your essay is to make the reader interested enough in your personal story to want to admit you, so your opening sentence needs to pack a punch. 

You may be tempted to begin with a quote by some famous philosopher or an overarching statement about the meaning of life, but trust us: don’t. Millions of other essays begin that way! How will you make yours stand out? 

Hint: it’s a little something we like to call a “Magnet.” Read on to learn more about how to start a college essay! 

Tell your story to complete college essays with Story2! Try for free!

Using Magnets to start a college essay 

The best way to begin a college essay is with a detailed, descriptive moment of action from your real life — this pulls readers into your lived experience and gets them invested in the outcome of your story. But how should you kick off that moment of action?

That’s where the Magnet comes in. At Story2, we call the opening line of a personal statement the Magnet because it draws your reader into your unique perspective. Strong Magnets put the reader right in the action, set the scene for your moment, and make them want to know “what comes next?” 

That may sound like a tall order, but the good news is that there are many different ways to create a successful Magnet. Let’s dive into some examples to see how Magnets work in practice! 

Magnet #1: Setting the Place

This type of magnet engages readers immediately by setting the scene. It’s the bare-bones “who, what, where, when” of your story, but its simplicity is what makes it so powerful! 

Magnetic: “It was only 6 in the morning in the Mojave Desert, and it was already over 100 degrees.” 

Not-so-magnetic: “Last summer I visited the Mojave Desert.” 

Magnet #2: Diving Deeper 

Another powerful way to begin your essay is to rethink a concept, philosophy, or universal truth in a way that prompts your readers to ask questions and want to know more. Unlike an overused quote or cliche, this type of Magnet offers your personal take and a fresh spin. 

Magnetic: “I never understood how hard manual labor could be until I arrived at Stonybrook Farm one sweltering summer morning.”

Not-so-magnetic: “It’s often said that hard work builds character.” 

Magnet #3: Ending at the Beginning 

This type of Magnet is a bit of a spoiler alert — it lets readers know where your story will conclude, but does so in a way that sparks interest and intrigue. This raises the stakes by showing readers that something exciting will happen in your story. Then, it’s up to them to figure out why it happens. 

Magnetic: “‘Congratulations, Nathan,’” the President of the United States said as he shook my hand.”

Not-so-magnetic: “Last year, I won the Presidential Award for Educational Excellence.” 

Want to learn more about using Magnets in a college essay, or to continue working on the rest of your essay? Sign up for your free Story2 account today!

Topics:college admissions

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