Tutorial 2: How to Start a College Application Essay

Create a Title for Your Essay 
When planning on how to start
a college application essay, unless
you’re answering a question (such

as “Why do you wish to attend
this university?”), it would be
helpful if you could choose a
title for your college essay.
Though not totally necessary,
a flashy title often helps.

In fact, sometimes coming up with an imaginative or creative title is all you need to begin your essay, because it could help establish a story and provide you with direction. If you can’t decide on a title, don’t worry. It might come to you afterwards. The important thing is to begin writing.

Laying Down the Foundation

Does your mind feel as blank as your sheet of paper right now? It’s okay. Even Hemingway had trouble getting started at times. It’s perfectly normal. How to start a college essay is a challenging task. We tend to turn into zombies just as we’re about to begin writing. What you need to do is loosen up. Begin jotting down whatever comes to mind on 2 or 3 separate sheets of paper. Don’t worry about tying anything together yet. Just as with the production of a movie, where the shots are rarely filmed in sequence, this is the production part of your essay where you’re simply jotting down random thoughts and observations. You’re getting your creative juices flowing and generating ideas. From these ideas you’ll slowly begin gathering enough material to start the first draft of your masterpiece. If you’re having trouble working up to this stage, do this: open list of adjectives and identify some of those words that describe you best. Once you decide on a word, reflect back on any experience, problem, achievement or a topic that you might like to share. For instance, suppose the word innovative describes you well. Reflect back on possible topics where this particular quality of yours (being an innovative person) became evident. Maybe it got you out of a jam, or maybe you were able to help a friend in time of need. The possibilities are endless!

questionWhat Tone Should I Use in My Application Essay

Your essay can be emotional, serious, entertaining, funny, creative or even philosophical. Any type will work, as long as it’s written in an honest tone and helps reveal your personality.  

  1. Your tone should be friendly, confident and assertive. You’re proud of your achievements and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging them. But don’t overdo it with self – compliments. Be careful not to turn your essay into commercial promoting all your wonderful accomplishments. You should balance your pride with humility, self-evaluation and a generous spirit. Remember, nobody likes a bragger.
  2. Avoid any sort of whining because nobody likes a whiner either. Don’t try to explain your low test scores by claiming you’ve been victimized by an unjust system and a cruel world. It will get you nowhere.
  3. Use an informal and conversational tone for your essay, but not as informal as colloquial speech. (You know, don’t like tell us you like to go to Starbucks because it’s like your favorite thing.)
  4. Avoid using slang or popular buzz words (unless they’re used as part of a dialogue).
  5. Do not write it in a formal tone as if it were a research paper. 

 

Should I Use Humor in My College Essay

sticky-note2Oh, so you’re a funny guy, huh? If you have a lively sense of humor and can’t help incorporating it into your writing, it’s okay. A touch of humor is fine, as long as it’s not overdone. But be extra careful, an essay filled with bad puns or off-color jokes won’t make it past the first sentence. If you use humor you’ve got to make sure that it’s not only light and entertaining, but that it’s helping you get your point across and saying something important about your experience. Below is an example of someone who didn’t understand the difference between being funny and being dismissive.

The college asked for A Personal Satisfying Experience. This was his response: "After struggling for what seems like an eternity with this question, I still can’t come up with a personally satisfying answer. So, knowing how stressed out you all are this time of year, I’ve decided to spare you from yet another tedious application essay. I’ll simply tell you that I would love to attend your college, and I know that once you get to know me you’ll love to have me. Have fun with the rest of your essays!" Trying to be cute only earned this applicant a not-so-funny rejection letter.  

Workshop: College Essay Mistakes  

Before we begin working on our opening paragraph, let’s review some of the common mistakes many students make when planning on how to start a college application essay and developing their story.  Any one of these below could represent a potential landmine for your essay, so we are going to learn how to avoid them. 

  1. Wordiness
  2. Vagueness
  3. Overuse of "I"
  4. Digressing ineffectively
  5. Using clichés
  6. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs
  7. Using the passive voice
  8. Lack of focus

 

arrow-red Example 1 - Wordiness

Your essay should not be bland so that it’s downright boring, but it should not be too wordy either. Take a look at the paragraph below. It’s an example of a wordy paragraph. It’s full of unnecessary words that are distracting and getting in the way of forward progress. See if you can spot what’s wrong:

There was no chance on earth that I could have ever imagined myself one day skating so well and confidently in our local neighborhood ice skating rink. The first time I ever went to the rink with my older brother and cousins, and they talked me into skating, I was ten years old and petrified. I remember distinctively feeling like the world was spinning around me, and I watched most of it while on my buttock on the rink floor. But now I must say that skating gives me an exhilarating feeling of rush and relaxation all at the same time,

Now try eliminating the superfluous words from the snippet above and we’ll meet you on the next page with the answers.

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