Imagine your college application landing in the lap of the admissions committee at your dream school. It’s the end of a long day, and the eyes that gaze upon your application have already scanned through dozens before yours. They glimpse at your transcripts and test scores. They skim through a recommendation. You’re confident you’ve done everything in your power to guarantee you get accepted, but how do you ensure that a tired admissions committee is interested and enthusiastic about your application when it arrives before them at 4:55 PM on a Friday?
Your college essay is your chance to set yourself apart from the hundreds of applicants who will likely be submitting academic portfolios similar to yours. It should provide insight into who you are as a person, conveying your unique personality and reflecting what really makes you tick. To make sure that the admissions committee does more than just skim through yours, you’ll need an opening that grabs their attention. You’re going to need a great hook.
A hook is an engaging introduction to your college essay that captivates the reader and inspires him or her to keep reading. Put simply, it makes your audience hungry for more.
To learn how to craft the hook for your college essay and create an opening that leaves your readers wanting more, read on for our top college essay-opening hooks.
Choosing a Topic
Of course, before you can write your hook, you’ll need to know what you’re writing your essay about in the first place. While some students might know their topic right off the bat, others will need more time to reflect. In our post, How to Come Up With an Idea for a Personal Statement, we outline a few different strategies for developing your outline. If you’re still stuck, check out our post Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises to get your creative juices flowing.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that your personal statement doesn’t have to be about some incredible, earth-shattering experience. Some students get caught up in trying to detail their most impressive achievements or are tempted to exaggerate when they describe the adversity they have faced, but these pressures are actually unwarranted.
Instead of writing about something extreme, many students have had success writing about more mundane topics. Think you don’t have anything interesting to write about? Think again. One Yale admit wrote about her love for Papa John’s pizza, earning herself not only a place in the class of 2021, but also a handwritten note from the impressed admissions committee. If you need some more inspiration, check out our post, What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
Ultimately, the best essays are the ones that reflect an interesting, funny, insightful, or inspiring aspect of your personality in a way that engages the audience.
Developing Your Hook
You’re going to need to start strong if you want to really grab the attention of the admissions committee. When it comes to college essays, first impressions are everything. In fact, there’s no guarantee that anyone is going to read more than your first sentence if you bore them to tears within a few words. But you can grab your reader’s attention right away if you craft an effective and engaging hook.
Many times, you won’t get a feel for how to best implement a hook until you have fully developed the rest of your essay. At the very least, you should have a detailed outline of your essay before writing your hook. Some students even find that it’s easiest to write a hook last, after writing the body of the personal statement.
For example, let’s take a closer look at a hypothetical essay. Let’s say that after some careful consideration, Jane Doe has decided to write her personal essay about her experience running canine obedience classes. She isn’t quite sure how to start her essay, so she’s practicing with some proven essay hooks. If you’re ready to develop your own hook, check out our six favorite college essay hook strategies and how they work for Jane below!
1. Set the Scene
One strong way to get your essay moving and to draw your reader in is to open in the middle of an important scene, diving in with descriptive details and dialogue. Make the reader feel like he or she is watching a movie from your life and has just tuned in at a critical scene.
Then, once you close the scene, go back and explain its significance or give the reader the background necessary to fully understand its relevance.
I jumped back as the dog lunged for my leg, teeth bared and snarling. “It’s okay, Smokey, it’s okay,” I soothed as I tried to maneuver closer to the post where I had tied his leash. In the back of my head, I heard my brother’s taunts swirling around.
“A dog trainer?” he had scoffed. “What kind of person would hire you as a dog trainer?!”
I pushed the thoughts away and grasped the leash, pulling it tightly to my side as Smokey, surprised by my sudden confidence, fell into stride beside me.
2. Open with an Example
If you’re describing how you developed a certain skill or a quirky achievement, consider opening with a specific example. Then, much like the scene setting above, you can go back and describe its relevance later in the essay.
When Smokey arrived for his first day of obedience training, he was scared of leashes, cats, and pick up trucks. Even the slightest loud noise would cause him to bolt, scampering for the closest hiding spot. He was skittish and wild-eyed, and his owner Maria was at the end of her rope.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to keep him much longer if we can’t work this out,” she confided in me. But Maria had nothing to worry about. I was ready for Smokey.
3. Open with an Anecdote
Detailing a relevant anecdote also provides good context for your essay and can give the reader an idea of what you are up against if you’re overcoming an obstacle or rising to a challenge.
On the day that I told my mother I wanted to start my own canine obedience school, she smiled and muttered something beneath her breath about the irony of my youthful disobedience and my newfound passion for enforcing rules. What she didn’t know then was that it was not in spite of, but rather because of, my tendency to push the boundaries that I was confident in my ability to succeed.
4. Ask a Question
Asking a question at the beginning of your essay can activate your reader’s critical thinking and get them hungry for the answer that you won’t offer until later. Try to come up with a question that is broad enough that they won’t know the answer right away, but specific enough that it isn’t a generic hook that could work on just any college essay.
How do you respond when you’re faced with a very real physical threat to your safety, yet you literally can’t afford to back down? This is the question I faced on my very first day as a dog trainer.
Writing a strong hook is the best way to guarantee that your college essay will be reviewed in its entirety and will be an engaging and exciting read for its audience. Taking the time to craft a well-founded and intriguing hook is a smart investment for any college applicant. To learn more about planning your personal statement or writing the best hook possible, consider CollegeVine’s Essay Editing service, which provides personalized help for every step, from brainstorming to final draft.
For more about the college essay, check out these important CollegeVine posts:
5 Ways to Tell if You Have a Good Personal Statement Topic
What Is The Appropriate Tone for a College Essay?
Application Ethics: The Importance of Writing Your Own Personal Essay
Whom Should I Ask for Help with My College Essay?
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
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Did you know admission officers might read around50 essays per day during the application season?
A college application essay is not about your grades and scores, but your personality and who you are beyond school activities. You need to breathe life into it. Drawing attention to your writing, as well as making officers read it, should be your #1 priority.
And this is why essay hooks exist.
They are the first 1-2 sentences of your introduction, aimed at grabbing a reader’s interest. To stand out from the crowd of other applicants,begin your essay with a captivating opening line.
But how do you do that? How do you make your essay stand out among the other 49?
Make your essay sound beautiful from the jump. Similes or metaphors in the introduction would signal that you are a great author whose works are interesting to read. Certainly, any stylistic devices you use should be relevant andnon-plagiarized/paraphrased.
America’s elephant in the room is the high rate of poverty.
This hook doesn’t fit all academic papers, but don’t be afraid of implementing it in your personal application essay. A humorous start grabs a reader’s interest, but it doesn’t mean your entire work should be comedic.
It was Christmas of 1995 when my parents taught me a valuable lesson: always expect the unexpected.
Give Interesting Facts
Such hooks surprise readers with something they might not have known. Provide a definition or fact related to the topic or arguments you are going to discuss in your essay, and that will make people want to keep on reading and learn more.
Ancient Egyptians used heavy eye makeup to keep evil spirits at bay.
Rhetorical or not, questions attract interest better than anything: they make people think, wonder and continue reading your essay with the hope to find answers. That is why, if you decide to use a question as a hook, make sure to come up with the one engaging critical thinking rather than simple yes-or-no answers.
What would you do if you could play God for a day? That’s exactly what I tried to answer.
Reveal Common Misconceptions
Your essay should provide admission officers with new information. A perfect hook would be taking a common fact and demonstrating its false in relation to you. Needless to say, they will be willing to continue reading your essay to find out the details.
While most fitness enthusiasts would tell that it’s fine to drink 1.5-2 liters of water daily, I know they are wrong. Six is my minimum.
Start with Quotations
You can use two types of quotes here:literary citations and quotes from famous people or influencers in the field. A literary quote would be a perfect hook for your application essay, while quoting influencers helps to support an argument you represent in your paper. But make sure the quote is relevant to the topic.
When Hillary Clinton said “We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society,” she inspired me to start volunteering my time to help others.
Some teachers consider this type of essay hooks too cliche and overused. They discourage essays started or finished with words of influencers, not students themselves. So, if you decide to use such hook, find a rare yet relevant quote. Don’t copy-paste the first available saying from a motivational quote website.
Numbers and facts are powerful essay hooks because they demonstrate your awareness on the subject. When reading facts from the jump of your paper, the audience assumes that the entire essay will be well-researched and fact-based. Statistics give tone and set the style to the whole document.
70% of all jobs found today were got through different networking strategies.
Sure, a lip-smacking opening doesn’t make your application essay a masterpiece at once. It grabs attention and creates the first impression about your writing, it makes admission officers decide whether your essay is going to be interesting to read, and it highlights your voice as well as personality.
But to nail down a success, make sure your essay is personal, structured, well-written, and proofread. Check if it includes specific details and examples highlighting who you are, don’t make it sound too formal, and avoid vague language to not make officers get bored while reading it.
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