How To Write A College Application Essay Intro

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Essay introduction analysis

Essay prompt

Tell us about your experiences as a New American. Whether as an immigrant yourself, or as a child of immigrants, how have your experiences as a New American informed and shaped who you are and your accomplishments?

Feel free to discuss how individual people (such as family or teachers), institutions, aspects of law, culture, society or American governance made an impact on your life as an immigrant or child of immigrants. The program is especially interested in understanding and contextualizing your accomplishments, be they personal, professional, or academic.

Essay prompt impressions

This prompt seems almost as vague to me now as it did when I applied back in Fall 2009. My experiences as a New American? How they shaped who I am?

Once I took a step back, I realized that the vagueness of the prompt—and this is true of almost every college and scholarship essay prompt—presented a great opportunity. I could effectively write any essay and somehow link it to being a New American.

Before I show you my essay's introduction, let's take a look at an example of how most applicants would approach the prompt above:

Typical opening paragraph

Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by mental health difficulties. This curiosity likely developed from my own experiences with Tourette Syndrome. Around the age of 9, I exhibited facial and bodily tics that concerned my parents. These tics also made me the laughing stock of my classmates, which ultimately made me embarrassed.

Analysis

This opening is very straightforward and provides information without the reader having to envision anything. It barely appeals to emotions, and it seems very robotic. Let’s compare that to what I actually wrote.

My opening paragraph

Growing up in Los Angeles, I was quite the troublemaker. My parents often recall how I used to wreak havoc in and out of the house, hiding or misplacing important bills and cookware and playing in the dirt.  However, their concern peaked when I was eight years old and unable to control my facial and bodily tics.  Soon thereafter, I became the target of ridicule from classmates, who would stare and laugh at me while imitating my tics. My ability to stay focused in the classroom was greatly impaired, as my struggle was not limited to the impulse to tic but also to a lack of understanding about my disorder. Even my father contended that I was exhibiting signs of “mental retardation.”

Analysis

Do you think committee members would be interested in an applicant who calls himself a troublemaker in the first sentence?

Probably! A bold sentence breaks up the monotony from the many essays committee members read in one sitting.

Your child will get bonus points just for ridding them of boredom. Committee members will also be eager to find out how your child was a troublemaker.

The second sentence provides some humor with hyperbole (imagine little me "wreaking havoc") and quickly juxtaposes one form of "problem" behaviors (e.g., hiding important bills) with truly concerning symptoms of Tourette Syndrome.

I could have started the essay by writing about "receiving a Tourette Syndrome diagnosis at a young age" and how that was difficult for my parents and me. Instead, I created images in the readers' minds of my youthful misbehavior, exhibiting tics and being laughed at. These real world examples appealed to the readers' emotions instead of making them yawn.

The first paragraph also kept the focus on me. Students very often start essays talking about others because they find it difficult to talk about themselves. Remember that the reader wants to know about your child. Your child will have opportunities to focus on others elsewhere in their essays and throughout their application.

Typical second paragraph

Despite the challenges my family and I faced, I decided then that I would channel my experiences with the disorder to positively influence the world. I had no specific plan at the time and was too busy focusing on how to fit in and achieve good grades.

Analysis

The first sentence of this paragraph does a decent job transitioning from the previous one. However, rather than developing thoughts, building imagery, or demonstrating any qualities, the paragraph reads like a list. Contrast this with…

My second paragraph

I clearly remember the day my mother and I finally visited a pediatric neurologist when I was 11 years old.  Within minutes, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS).  At the time, my parents did not fully understand the effects this uncommon disability would have on our lives. Despite my youth, I somehow knew TS would significantly shape my world and future goals.

Analysis

Again, I depicted a scene of my mother and me at the doctor's office receiving news about Tourette Syndrome and my reflections. This beats saying "I was eventually diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

My parents had a difficult time accepting the diagnosis, but I was relieved to know that I had a diagnosable medical condition." That would have just "told" the reader what happened, rather than painting a picture and creating a cliffhanger.

Typical third paragraph

My goals of fitting in and achieving good grades reflect the ideals my parents impressed upon my brother and me. Specifically, having fled war-torn Lebanon in 1977, they sought a more stable life in the United States. They believed we could achieve this through education. My hard work resulted in admission to UCLA as a premed student, putting me on track to fulfill my parents’ wishes.

Analysis

I’ll keep this short because you’re probably starting to see the trend here.

All of these typically-written examples give the reader everything upfront.

Is this how captivating books are written?

Imagine if the Hunger Games trilogy were written like this: “The rich people in the capital oppressed everyone in the outside districts. This led to resentment and eventually to Civil War. Despite the Capital’s best efforts to overpower the masses, the rebellion proved to be successful. The End.”

Would the trilogy sell more than 65 million copies in the US alone?

My third paragraph

My parents fled Lebanon in 1977 and settled outside St. Louis, Missouri. After the harrowing experience of witnessing his mother’s death during a grenade attack on their home during the Lebanese Civil War, my father decided that the country was unsafe to start a family. Unfortunately, life in the United States was not without its difficulties. Features like my parents’ dark, thick hair, characteristic of many Armenians, made them targets for racial slurs and prejudices. For these reasons, my parents hoped that my brother and I would benefit from living relatively structured, stress-free lives. Having internalized my parents’ wishes, I attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a pre-med student. 

Analysis

Here, I begin to develop my story about my family background, how it influenced my parents' hopes for my brother and me in the United States, and one way in which it impacted my academic career.

This paragraph very specifically addresses the part of the prompt about "how individual people (such as family or teachers), institutions, aspects of law, culture, society or American governance made an impact on [my] life as an immigrant or child of immigrants."

The rest of my essay goes on to describe various academic and community experiences that steered me towards psychology, as well as serving underrepresented individuals.

Final thoughts

The analyzed paragraphs provide concrete examples of how your child can write a compelling college essay by developing a story to demonstrate their positive qualities rather than listing attributes and achievements.

Many of my students feel that they don't have a good story to share or that they're not unique or special in any way.

The way I see it, every single person in this world is different from me, has experienced different things, and has interpreted these experiences in different ways.

Given how unique your child is, writing an interesting college essay has far less to do with what they've specifically experienced or accomplished. Rather, it has everything to do with how your child presents themselves.

In other words, your child is interesting, and they can write an interesting college essay.

My requests

If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends, family members, and child's school.

Finally, please contact me if I can ever support you or give a free presentation—in person or online—at your school or organization.

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How do you take a generic application essay prompt and turn it into a personal statement that brings tears of joy to admission counselors' eyes? Well, you can start by following the steps in the example below! And don't forget to check out our complete guide: How to Write the College Application Essay!

Step One: The Prompt

Ease yourself into the process. Take time to understand the question being asked.

At XYZ University, we believe in the power of diversity across all fields of study, beyond racial and ethnic quotas. Based on your background and personal experiences, describe a situation where you fostered diversity. 

Step Two: Brainstorming

Get your creative juices flowing by brainstorming all the possible ideas you can think of to address your essay question.

Possible Topics for XYZ University Application Essay:
- Habitat for Humanity volunteering experience
- Love of science as a girl with microscope story. Make it funny?
- Week at marine biology summer camp in Maine
- Person who taught me about diversity: Teacher? Fictional character?
- How the TV show “Lost” changed my perception of diversity (and reality)

Step Three: The Outline

Map out what you’re going to write by making an outline.

I. Intro: Childhood science experiment scene
    a. Dialogue with mom
    b. MUST GRAB ATTENTION

II. Love of science, exploration, and experiments
    a. Beauty of micro world, fascination

III. High school
    a. Classes, uncovering love of other subjects
    b. Lack of other girls in classes and clubs

IV. College search
    a. Dive into college studies
    b. Campus visit and trip to lab
    c. Student-faculty research?

V. Conclusion
    a. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields and women in the future
    b. Tie back into being a little girl

Step Four: The Essay

Once you are satisfied with your essay in outline format, begin writing!

My mother entered my bedroom and immediately scrunched up her face in disgust. “Oh my Lord. What is that smell?”
    I froze, panicked. I had been discovered.
    Twelve-year-old me was sitting at my desk when she came in. Before me was a small, red, plastic microscope, surrounded by glass slides and “organic” samples. One such sample just happened to be a chicken liver (or maybe it was a kidney) I plucked out of the giblet packet when Mom was making dinner . . . a week before.
    I had been keeping the sample in a Petri dish with my other scientific materials on my desk, shaving off a few thin slices every day to examine using my microscope—the best Christmas present I ever received. (It definitely beat all the Barbie dolls my grandma kept sending to compensate for what she called a “boy’s toy.”)  
    “What is that?” Mom demanded. “Is that meat? Is that raw meat?” With the microscope in front of me, my mother immediately understood what was going on, but as pleased as she was with my passion for science, there were some things she would not tolerate—or so I thought.
    I braced myself for the punishment and the tragic loss of an excellent tissue sample. But when my mother told me I could continue my research until my materials were gone (it was a small liver, after all), I was overjoyed. I would’ve hugged her, but I had work to do.  
    That microscope was my battery-powered window to a fascinating world no one else could see. Who could’ve imagined that the maple leaves scattered on our driveway held a patchwork of perfect green? Or that the microscope’s light could illuminate such a complex collection of purple and pink cells in a (admittedly, pretty gross) piece of chicken liver? Ten times the magnifying power of my naked eye was just okay, but once I cranked the scope up to 200x, each individual cell suddenly gained definition, its own shape and size in a sea of thousands.  
    I would stay up hours past my bedtime with my eye pressed to the eyepiece, keeping detailed records and sketches of everything I found in a notebook. My parents eventually bought me a more powerful scope in high school; this one plugged into the wall.
    As my days filled up with after-school jobs, extracurricular meetings, and choral rehearsals, I missed exploring the minutiae of the world around me. I relished every class period spent in biology and organic chemistry. When I encountered elective science courses with more focus, my interest grew, even as my classmates dwindled—especially those with two X chromosomes. Whenever I considered joining a science club, I felt isolated. Every time, without fail, I was the only girl. And, with time, I would lose my nerve and stop showing up to meetings.  
    During a campus visit last year, I visited one of XYZ University’s undergraduate labs. The sight of all the equipment sent a rush of excitement through me like that Christmas morning I opened my first microscope. Today, I imagine spending hours in the lab (probably way past my bedtime) and seeing my name published in a research journal, perhaps alongside an XYZ University faculty member. Unlike high school, I’m now hoping to enter a place where even if we’re still outnumbered, women will be important, contributing members of the program.     
    I know I’m one of the lucky ones to enter the application process knowing what I want to study, and I finally do not feel disadvantaged as a member of a female minority. Instead, I’m excited and rather proud to represent women in a STEM field. Our numbers are growing, and my future classmates and I will lead the next generation of scientists. I hope we inspire other little girls with their own secret science experiments. Then again, maybe those girls won’t feel compelled to hide them.

P.S. We have tons more college application essay help here, including lots of real-world example essays!

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