How to Start a Common App Essay?

July 30, 2022
By AdmissionSight

How to Start a Common App Essay?

It’s exciting, but at the same time, it makes your nerves tingle. Your opening lines for the essay portion of the Common Application. So, many of you will probably be wondering, “how to start a common app essay?”

The beginning of your Common Application essay is considered to be one of the most important parts of the entire assignment. Your introduction needs to concentrate on three main points: drawing the attention of the reader; emphasizing who you are as an individual, and stating the subject matter that you will be discussing.

Each application season, admissions officers read thousands of essays, but they may only spend five minutes going through a student’s entire application package. This indicates that it is absolutely necessary to have an essay that is well-structured and has an intriguing introduction, when you are writing and revising your essay, be on the lookout for ways to make the introduction more interesting to the reader.

Students talking in the stairs.

There is one cardinal rule to follow when writing an excellent introduction, and that is to avoid giving too much information away. After reading just the first sentence of your essay, the audience member should not be able to deduce the overall path that the paper will take. The reader’s attention is grabbed, questions are posed, and they are motivated to keep reading until the story is over by an opening that is surprising or striking.

If you can convince the admissions officer to read your essay a little more carefully than the essay of another applicant, you will give yourself a greater opportunity to demonstrate that you are capable of providing the qualities that the college seeks in a candidate.

What exactly is this Common Application?

You may be familiar with the Common Application, also known as the Common App for short. The Common Application is a single application that is shared by over 900 different colleges and universities, including all of the Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities like Stanford, Caltech, and the University of Chicago.

You only need to enter information such as your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more into the Common Application once, and it will be shared with all of the schools that use it. You’ll also run into something called “The Common App Essay” there, which is another name for your personal statement, which is the topic that this guide will concentrate on.

Male student typing in a table with his classmates.

The work that you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you well in every other component of the process, including applying to schools that do not use the Common App and writing the secondary and supplemental essays that often accompany both types of applications.

Even though not every school uses the Common App—many state or public schools often have their own systems—the work that you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you well in every other component of the process.

Why is it Important to Write a Good Common App Essay or any other College Application?

Many educational institutions adhere to the “holistic admissions” model, which means they do not necessarily have an ACT or SAT cutoff score, nor do they require a certain number of AP/IB/Honors courses. You may have heard the term “holistic admissions” thrown around; if so, you should know that this model is used. Instead, they are concentrating on getting to know the applicants as people.

Young man typing an essay in his laptop.

Admissions officers are people—people who would be horribly bored if their job consisted of nothing but counting up your AP, SAT, and ACT scores. Numbers, statistics, and cutoffs are all part of the job, but admissions officers are people.

You won’t be able to get into the school of your dreams not only with outstanding grades and scores on standardized tests but also with a compelling essay about yourself.

Why? Your personal statement stands out as the ‘qualitative’ component of your application that gets the most attention. It gives the student—that is, you!—behind your statistics and demographics a face and a personality. It is the manner in which you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and as a prospective member of the campus community.

Because more and more people apply to colleges each year, admissions officers are aware that they have a greater pool of talented and driven applicants from which to choose. They need to be able to visualize you as a walking, talking human being in addition to seeing your skills and accomplishments on paper. This gives them the opportunity to imagine what it would be like to work with you.

When it comes to determining who gets into college, both students and their parents have a lot of questions about the importance of essays. The weight that is given to college admissions essays, which are typically written over the course of a few weeks or, more ideally, a few months, varies from institution to institution. Still, most professionals agree that they are responsible for anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the final decision.

That is to say, your four years of schoolwork, AP, IB, ACT, and SAT exams, community service, volunteering, and so on only account for 70 to 90 percent of the overall evaluation. The purpose of providing you with these estimates is not to frighten you, but rather to stress how important it is for you to devote at least as much time to writing your college essays as you did to any other activity during your time in high school.

Why is the Introduction Essential in a College Essay?

Why is the introduction essential in a college essay? On how to start a common app essay the introduction to your college essay is the first thing that admissions officers will read, and as a result, it is the opportunity you have the most to capitalize on to stand out. The admissions officers will continue to read if you have written a compelling introduction, giving you the opportunity to convey the information you feel is essential for them to understand.

Young woman using a laptop while working on a laptop.

The Common Application Essay Prompts for the Years 2022–2023

The Common Application essay prompts are in the form of simple questions meant to stimulate thoughts. The Telling Your Story resource that we provide demonstrates to students how much leeway they have in terms of the content that they can write when the appropriate time comes. These are the seven essay prompts for the 2022–2023 Common Application that is used as guides on how to start a common app essay and these prompts are all exactly the same given 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.

Best Ways for Writing a Compelling Introduction

How to start a common app essay? Always start with a surprise!

A sense of intrigue is frequently present in a powerful introduction. Take into consideration the opening statement that follows.


“I’ve never been good at breathing”.

This opener is completely unexpected and even bizarre; what could possibly be the student’s point? How is it possible for you to have poor breathing? This is how to start a Common App essay.

The student continues on to describe her experience with asthma and how it has impacted her life in the following paragraphs. Although it’s not an odd subject to discuss, the way it’s presented is definitely intriguing. This sentence will keep the admissions officer reading, which will give the student more time to keep their attention and argue her point.

This introduction stands out among a sea of essays that begin with clichéd introductions such as “One life-changing experience for me was…” or “I overcame an obstacle when…” This introduction is unique. The student could have begun their presentation with either of those more generalized introductions, but the results would not have been as favorable.

This kind of introduction serves as a genuine “hook” because it is extremely effective at capturing the reader’s attention and because the reader needs to keep reading in order to understand.

Begin with a Picture that is Clear and Concise.

In the event that your subject matter does not lend itself to such a surprising introduction, another option is, to begin with, a vivid and detailed description.

The subject of many essays is a specific experience, and describing an event from that experience in sufficient detail can pique the reader’s interest. You could concentrate on minute particulars of what you could see and feel, or you could plunge the reader headfirst into the middle of the story by starting with dialogue or events that are happening.

Bad example

“I learned the true meaning of pressure during my first gymnastics competition when I was 7 years old. After months of hard work, it all came down to the final moments of my balance beam routine”.

Best example

“I wiped the sweat from my head and tried to catch my breath. I was nearly there—just one more back tuck and a strong dismount and I’d have nailed a perfect routine”.

Some students will choose to write about themselves in a more general sense and will center their piece on a metaphor or an object of some kind. If this is the kind of essay you want to write, you can describe the subject in vivid detail so that the reader is encouraged to visualize what you are talking about.

Bad example

“My favorite Spotify playlist says a lot about me”.

Best example

“After hours sitting in my room staring at the screen, I’d completed it: my sonic alter ego. Pushing back against the worn blue office chair in my bedroom, I sighed contentedly, knowing that I had successfully spawned the Spotify playlist that was my spiritual twin”.

Avoid clichés

Essay introductions that are clichéd express ideas that are either stereotypical or that are generally considered to be conventional wisdom. Ideas such as “My family made me who I am today” or “I accomplished my goals through hard work and determination” may honestly reflect your life experience; however, they are not particularly original or insightful in any way.

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

Introductions to essays that lack originality are not only simple to forget, but also fail to demonstrate a high level of creative thinking. Because the purpose of a college essay is to provide insight into the personality and background of an applicant, a general introduction that is intended to fit all applicants can give admissions officers the impression that they are dealing with a typical and unremarkable applicant.

Bad example

“I have always made the best of bad situations”.

Best example

“Last November, I accidentally became a firefighter. In a rehearsal for a school play when a lighting fixture malfunctioned and the set caught fire, I helped extinguish it”.

When opening an essay with a quote, you run the risk of falling into the trap of using a tired old cliché. There are some situations in which the use of a quote might be appropriate. For instance, you might want to quote an insightful piece of guidance or recommendation that you received from an important person in your life. Quotes, however, are not required for the majority of essays, and including them may give the impression that your essay lacks originality.

Bad example

“It’s not the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away.” As I look at the balance beam beneath my feet, I feel breathless from the excitement of my gymnastics competition”.

Best example

“As I looked at the balance beam beneath my feet, my coach’s words echoed in my mind: “Visualize what you want.”

In addition, there are a few other dos and don’ts for the introduction of your essay that are worth taking into consideration:

  • To remain honest and grounded in reality rather than embellishing your claims. It is about the journey that you take for yourself. This does not imply that your accomplishments have to be more impressive than those of every other student. Do not give the impression that you are the leading scorer on your basketball team if you are not. Instead, you should concentrate on the reasons why you are on the team as well as the special skills you bring to the table.
  • Do not reveal the subject matter that you intend to write about. As an illustration, you shouldn’t say something like “I’m going to be writing about my science club.” The reader will understand this from the very first words you say. Use your imagination and get right into telling your story by beginning with something like, “My recent, puzzling science club experiment on recycling food waste, had an unexpected twist in the tail.”
  • You should proofread and reread your introduction at least twice to check for errors in spelling and grammar, and you should also ask members of your family or friends to second-check it for you. Tutors in charge of admissions will notice anything out of the ordinary, and you don’t want to give them a reason that’s too simple to reject your application.
  • Do not begin your introduction by restating the essay prompt that you have selected. This raises your word count without contributing anything of value, and you’ve already checked the box to indicate which prompt you’ll be writing about, so there’s no point in doing so.
  • When describing your feelings and behaviors, try to use as many active words as possible because, once again, this will make the introduction to your essay feel more personal. It is much more effective at evoking a sense of accomplishment to say “gained an award” than it is to say “got an award,” just as saying “elated that my neighbor loved my fence painting” is more effective than saying “My neighbor told me he liked my fence painting.”

Keep in mind that your introduction is the first opportunity you have to show how original and distinctive you are as a person. You should dive right in and let your imaginative side run wild. Avoiding giving too much information away at the beginning of your college essay is essential to its success.

Make an effort to kick things off with a shocking statement or image that prompts the reader to wonder about something and compels them to find out more. As soon as you have a draft of your introduction that you are reasonably happy with, you should make every effort to move on to the primary body of the essay.

Looking for help with the college admissions process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey from search and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation, and final school selection. At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process, including our athletic recruitment program.

AdmissionSight will assist you throughout the entirety of the college admissions process to increase your chances of gaining entry into your dream school.


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