Engaging Ways to Open Your Personal Statement

You need to write an engaging personal statement to stand out to colleges. The most important component of this is a strong opening. Let's explore how to do it!

Summer is here, and rising seniors have college applications on their minds. The Common Application essays have not changed from last application cycle. Therefore, students can get a head start and use their summer to write their personal statement. Keep in mind, an admission officer may read essays for countless hours every day during college application season, so your essay needs to be memorable. Here are some tips on writing an engaging personal statement focused on the most important component of your essay: a strong opening statement.

Three elements of a strong opening

There are three key approaches you can take to a strong opening: the why, the surprise, or the confession. These approaches will work better or worse depending on the content of your overall essay, so give some real thoughts as to which one lends best to your ideas and the prompt.  

  • The Why: This opener often presents a narrative to the reader that isn’t obvious in its connection to the essay prompt and overall purpose. The reader will be left wanting to know what happens next and how it connects to you as a person.
  • The Surprise: Sometimes a shocking statement works; your reader will pay rapt attention. For example: “I grew up a killer,” followed by a story about deciding to become a vegetarian. You can use a figurative, alarming statement to grab your readers’ interest.
  • The Confession: By revealing something personal about yourself, you establish trust with the reader. They become your confidant. This is an effective way to pull a fact from your résumé and then elaborate on it personally. For example: Lesley is ranked #1 in her high school and is valedictorian. Confession: She is dyslexic and has had to work diligently to overcome this learning obstacle.

Related: College Application Essays: What Really Works!

Show your personality

Your personal statement or application essay is meant to share more about yourself with the admission officers. They already know your academic history from your transcripts—you don’t need to repeat it. What the officers will not glean from your transcripts or standardized test scores is your personality. Your essay is your opportunity to illustrate yourself. Share a compelling memory or an anecdote from your life. This is your chance to connect with your reader. This is the opening paragraph of a strong essay that engages the reader:

“My small body and head of curly hair trotted over to the refrigerator in search of some butter for my bread. I shifted some cans of half-opened Goya beans and the remnant of a brick of dulce de leche that had seen better days. After much shuffling, I spotted the big brown container of margarine. Carefully placing the tub on the kitchen table and readying for my “feast,” I opened the container. To my dismay, it was filled with arroz con pollo. My eyes tightened and my stomach made Chewbacca noises. Maybe I could mash the dulce de leche on top of the bread.”

The student who wrote this essay began with something personal, funny, and relatable. The opening paragraph is engaging and “hooks” the reader to want to finish the story and find out how this story relates to the writer developing as a person. This is a perfect example of using an anecdote to open your college essay as it throws the reader right into the middle of the story. Find ways to express your personality, rather than just writing statements on a page that will make you sound impressive.

Related: How to Tell Your Story in Your College Application Essay

Your admission essay is a critical part of your application; this is the school’s first impression of the real you. While test scores and extracurriculars are great, the essay is the place where you get to use your authentic voice to show schools what you want to showcase about yourself. It completes the picture of your identity and shows the officers why you would be an asset to their community. Put your time into the whole essay, but you should really give extra thought to your opener to grab your reader’s attention and leave a lasting impression. Good luck!

Find more application essay help in our College Admission—Application Essay Clinic section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Kristen Moon

Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of MoonPrep.com. Moon Prep provides one-on-one tutoring services catered to university admission. They guide students through the entire application process, including completing applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, student résumés, scholarships, and financial aid. Their specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Mimi

Mimi

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has provided me with tips that were for college students, but as a high school junior, they were still very useful. Not only that, it also gave me an idea of what to expect when it comes to going to college or already being in college. I want to say thank you to CollegeXpress, and I hope you continue the wonderful tips until I hopefully get into college and throughout my college journey.

Christina

Christina

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find Allegheny College with the super-user-friendly search tool for both schools and scholarships. Using CollegeXpress, I was able to search for programs I was interested in studying and find colleges that offered those programs. Also, once you search for the college, CollegeXpress can get you connected!

Tariq Adam Khatib

Tariq Adam Khatib

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me a lot. I am a Tanzania boy who finished my high school studies in Tanzania. I never knew I could get an opportunity to get a scholarship to study abroad. I am happy that now I know how to find the school to study abroad through CollegeXpress.

Jeannie Borin, MEd

Jeannie Borin, MEd

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.

Alexandra Adriano

Alexandra Adriano

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2016

I've used CollegeXpress quite a bit as a senior, particularly for colleges and scholarships, so it's been a very big asset in that respect! I would recommend it to anyone looking to pursue a college education, especially seniors! This scholarship will help me achieve my goals in ways I couldn't have before, and I know that there are opportunities like that for everyone on the website and in the magazines!

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Pacific University

Forest Grove, OR

Vermont State University

Randolph Center, VT

SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Utica and Albany, NY