A favorite college essay tip

I’ve looked at plenty of college essays over the years and the vast majority of them have been b-o-r-i-n-g.

The mediocre essays that I’ve seen have usually been guilty of one or more of these no-no’s:

1. They lacked details.

2. They didn’t convey the student’s voice.

3. They covered too much territory. (Writing about something that lasted seconds, crumpled paper 1minutes or a day in a teen’s life is much better than trying to jam a student’s entire life into a 500-word essay!)

4. They read like the dull expository essays that high school English teachers force students to write. Formal English papers are deadly and relying on English teachers, who may be poor writers themselves, for instructions on how to write a winning college essay is often asking for trouble.

A Favorite College Essay Tip

Summer is an excellent time to get started writing college essays. I’ll be talking more about college essays as the 2015-2016 admission season kicks into gear, but today I want to share one of my favorite tips:

Don’t bore the admission readers with a dull opening line!

During admission season, admission reps often have to read dozens of essays a day. It’s inevitable that the essays will blur together, which is an excellent reason why applicants need to make theirs stand apart.

Applicants will win brownie points if they start their essays with an opening sentence that grabs the reader’s attention.

Need examples? If so, you should read an old article in the Stanford Magazine that includes opening college essay lines that the university’s admission reps particularly liked.

Opening Lines from Stanford University Admission Essays

Here are some of the Stanford admission officers’ favorite opening lines from the school’s 2012 graduating class:

  • I have old hands.
  • The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
  • I’ve been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
  • On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.
  • As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.
  • Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.
  • I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  • When I was in eighth grade I couldn’t read.
  • Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Bhimanagar slum dwelling in Bangalore, I ran my fingers across a fresh cut on my forehead.
  • Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.

Here’s where you can read the entire Stanford Magazine article on college essay opening lines.

Where To Get Great College Essay Advice

essay hell

Before getting started on a college essay, I’d strongly urge teenagers to head over to Essay Hell, which is a tremendous source of advice and tips on how to craft amazing college essays.

At Essay Hell, you’ll find tons of free advice on the site’s blog, as well as invaluable ebooks and an online writing bootcamp.

Read more:

Can a Guinea Pig Be in a College Essay?

A Lovely College Essay Example

Learn More…

I’ve opened up registration for my latest online course – The College Cost Lab – that will explain how parents can aaa collegecut the cost of college.

Enroll early and you’ll get my new guide, The Ultimate List of the Nation’s Most Generous Colleges. – Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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One Response to A favorite college essay tip

  1. Shirag Shemmassian July 31, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Hi Lynn,

    I kept nodding as I read through your list of no-no’s, and especially liked the third one. It’s so refreshing to see students get deeper about a single event or story rather than try to cram everything and ironically convey so little!

    And thanks for sharing those opening lines; they were all attention grabbing. A recent favorite of mine is, “As someone who spent his first 15 years wearing XXL shirts and being compared to a teddy bear, my love life was non-existent.”

    I’ll definitely be sharing these with my students 🙂


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