How to Start a Common App Essay

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student using a laptop.

How to Start a Common App Essay

How does one start a Common App essay? Crafting an engaging introduction for your Common App essay is crucial. It sets the tone for your entire submission and can intrigue the admissions officer to read further. To achieve this, understand your story, choose a unique angle, and present it in a way that encapsulates your personality, experiences, and aspirations.

Your essay’s beginning should be captivating, and it should also provide a glimpse into the broader theme you intend to explore.

Starting a Common App essay involves more than grabbing the reader’s attention. It’s about building a narrative bridge from the first line that connects the reader to the heart of your story. The goal is to create a compelling introduction that not only reflects your individuality but also resonates with the reader’s curiosity, making them want to know more about you.

This guide offers practical tips and techniques to craft a Common App essay that is distinctly yours, all while meeting the application’s requirements and expectations.

How Do You Start a Common App Essay?

The beginning of your Common Application essay is one of the most critical parts of the entire piece. Your introduction should focus on three main aspects: capturing the reader’s attention, showcasing who you are as an individual, and introducing the topic you’ll discuss.

Each application season, admissions officers sift through thousands of essays. However, they might only spend five minutes reviewing a student’s entire application. This fact underscores the importance of crafting a well-structured essay with a captivating introduction. As you write and revise your piece, continually seek ways to make the beginning more appealing.

Students talking in the stairs.

One cardinal rule in penning an outstanding introduction is to avoid revealing too much too soon. After reading just the first sentence, the reader shouldn’t be able to predict the entire trajectory of your essay. A compelling opening surprises the audience poses questions, and encourages them to read on until the end.

Suppose you can persuade the admissions officer to delve into your essay more deeply than another applicant’s. In that case, you can better showcase the qualities the college values in its candidates.

What Exactly is the Common App?

You may be familiar with the Common Application, often referred to as the Common App. It’s a single application used by over 900 different colleges and universities, encompassing all of the Ivy League schools as well as prestigious institutions like Stanford, Caltech, and the University of Chicago.

With the Common App, you enter details like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more just once, and this information is then shared with all participating schools. Within this application, you’ll encounter the “Common App Essay” – essentially your personal statement. This guide will focus primarily on this essay.

Male student typing in a table with his classmates.

The effort you invest in your Common App Essay benefits you throughout the entire application process, even when applying to schools that don’t use the Common App or when crafting secondary and supplemental essays that are common with many applications.

While not every institution uses the Common App (many state or public schools have their own systems), the work you put into your Common App Essay will undoubtedly aid you in all other facets of the application journey.

Why is it Important to Write a Good Common App Essay?

Many educational institutions adopt the “holistic admissions” model. This means they don’t solely rely on ACT or SAT cutoff scores or demand a specific number of AP/IB/Honors courses. If you’ve heard the term “holistic admissions,” it’s this model they’re referring to. Instead of just focusing on scores and grades, they prioritize understanding applicants as individuals. Remember, admissions officers are people, not robots. While numbers, statistics, and cutoffs are integral to their job, it’s about more than just tallying your AP, SAT, and ACT scores.

Young man typing an essay in his laptop.

Outstanding grades and test scores alone won’t guarantee your admission into your dream school. A compelling essay about yourself is essential. Why? Your personal statement represents the ‘qualitative’ component of your application that garners significant attention. It personifies the student behind the statistics and demographics—that’s you! It allows you to interact with the admissions committee, presenting yourself as a potential member of their campus community.

With increasing numbers of students applying to colleges every year, admissions officers recognize the vast pool of talented and dedicated applicants available to them. Beyond just your accomplishments on paper, they need to visualize you as a tangible, real individual. They must be able to envisage interacting with you.

Many students and parents have questions regarding the importance of essays in college admissions. The emphasis on college admissions essays, which ideally are written over a few months, varies across institutions. Yet, most experts concur that these essays influence 10 to 30 percent of the final decision.

This means that your cumulative schoolwork, AP, IB, ACT, and SAT exams, community service, and other endeavors account for only 70 to 90 percent of the evaluation. The reason for providing these statistics isn’t to intimidate, but to underline the paramount importance of dedicating ample time to your college essays, comparable to any other significant high school activity.

Why is the Introduction Essential in a College Essay?

When beginning a Common App essay, it’s vital to recognize the significance of the introduction. This is the first section that admissions officers will read, providing your foremost opportunity to distinguish yourself. A compelling introduction encourages the admissions officers to continue reading, allowing you to present essential information about yourself.

Young woman using a laptop while working on a laptop.

The Common Application Essay Prompts for 2022–2023

The prompts for the Common Application essay are framed as straightforward questions designed to spur introspection. Our ‘Telling Your Story’ resource illustrates the extent of freedom students have regarding content selection. Here are the seven essay prompts for the 2022–2023 Common Application, which guide students in starting their essays. Notably, these prompts remain unchanged from the previous year:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

What is the Best Way for Writing a Compelling Introduction?

How does one start a common app essay? Well, always start with a surprise! Writing a compelling introduction for the Common App essay is crucial, as it sets the tone for the rest of the piece and grabs the attention of the admissions officer right from the start. Here are some strategies and steps to craft an engaging introduction:

Begin with an Anecdote

Use a personal story or experience that is relevant to the topic of your essay. This not only grabs the reader’s attention but also creates an emotional connection, making your introduction memorable.

Use a Striking Quote

If there’s a quotation that encapsulates the essence of your essay or mirrors your experiences or beliefs, it can serve as a powerful start. Ensure it aligns with the theme of your essay and isn’t overly used.

Pose a Thought-Provoking Question

This encourages the reader to think and become invested in your essay. The objective is to intrigue them enough to seek an answer as they continue reading.

State a Bold Claim or Fact

Presenting a surprising fact or making a bold statement can pique curiosity. It signals confidence and compels the reader to engage further to understand the context or evidence behind such a claim.

Use Vivid Imagery

Descriptive language can paint a vivid picture and place the reader in the moment. By visualizing your narrative, the reader becomes more immersed.

Young woman typing in his laptop while sitting in the sofa.

Establish Context

Clearly indicate the theme or topic you’ll be discussing. This gives the reader a roadmap of what to expect, ensuring clarity from the outset.

Convey Authenticity

The introduction is your first impression. Make sure it reflects your voice and stays true to who you are. Avoid trying to sound like someone you’re not.

Maintain Brevity

While your introduction should be compelling, it should also be concise. It’s a teaser for what’s to come, so avoid overloading it with details.

End with a Hook

The final sentence of your introduction should naturally lead the reader into the main body of your essay. Whether it’s a question, a cliffhanger, or an intriguing statement, make sure it propels the reader forward.

Revise and Refine

Your first draft of the introduction might not be perfect, and that’s okay. Write, then revisit and revise it multiple times. Seek feedback from teachers, peers, or mentors to refine it further.

Remember that the main objective of the introduction is to captivate the admissions officer and make them want to read more. It should provide a snapshot of who you are and hint at what’s to come, while also establishing a connection with the reader. Crafting a compelling introduction requires time, reflection, and multiple revisions, but the effort is worth it to make a strong first impression.

Looking for assistance with the college admissions process? At AdmissionSight, we guide students and families throughout the entire college planning journey—from search and essay assistance to interview preparation, financial aid consultation, and final school selection. With over 10 years of experience, we’ve expertly navigated students through the competitive admissions process, including our specialized athletic recruitment program.

Let AdmissionSight help enhance your chances of gaining admission to your dream school.


College Admissions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.