Ways to Start a College Application Essay

October 5, 2012

Getting your essay off the launch pad can be one of the most difficult obstacles standing between you and an essay that makes the admissions officer’s jaw drop. Today’s blog will examine some ways for you to get your essay off to a fast start and leave your nerves in the dust.

The examples below are from Real College Essays that Work by Edward B. Fiske. The numbers relate to the number of the essay in this book.  Refer to the book for the complete essay.

In Media Res (In the middle of the action)

16. The rusted ball rests in my hand.  My sandals shift in the gravel.  My right arm lies loosely at my side, swinging gently. I’m crouched near the ground, concentrating on a little wooden ball ten yards away.

3. Now I was at the front of the classroom, using what little artistic coordination I had to draw a great big figure on the board:  Yes, those had to be eyes, an L-shaped nose, wrinkled eyebrows, a gaping “O” for a mouth.

9. “E2V2” was my own creation and I would drive it in BattleBotsIQ 2003, a national robotics competition.  I felt my body tense for the battle against the spinbot, Chromedome.

12.“We have to get to this turtle!” Mike yelled through the roaring wind and fierce rain that was pummeling our faces, when suddenly the ATV hit a bump and started pulling wildly to the left.  Luckily, Mike yanked the steering wheel and slammed on the brake, regaining control of the vehicle. “Everybody okay? Where’s Kyle?” he asked.

18. It’s past late on a Thursday; I’m driving past concrete bridges under the fluorescent glow of streetlights, the German brick of Cincinnati blending into the blue-black alleyways.  During these trips home when all that faces me are boarded up buildings and barren sidewalks, I feel like a fool.  I have a paper to write, a math test tomorrow that I haven’t studied for, and yet I dragged myself across town to a squat, dumpy building that smells vaguely of cheese to talk to the world a little bit.  [The writer ends up talking about her passion for being a DJ, note that she doesn’t take herself too seriously by making fun of herself.]

Comment about what you generally think or do

5. Call me eccentric, but I’ve always thought that libraries are some of the noisiest places on earth.  The patrons may be polite and scholarly as they go about their business, but the books themselves make quite a racket.

23. When I first came to St. Andrew’s-Sewanee, I had pretty much led a common life for a child in my area.  Athletically, I played baseball, basketball, and soccer.

21. Every Sunday morning until the weather drops below freeing and my parents do not let me use the hose, I wash my car. This may seem like an ordinary job to some, but to me washing a car requires a distinctive technique.

2. If I could have an entire year to do anything I pleased, I would spend it indulging in every book that years of required reading have prevented.

4. I can say with certainty that there is nothing that has more of a positive effect on my life than Latin.

13. Most people think that clay is clay, that mud is mud. Well, as a matter of fact, this is simply not so.

21. It was a thrill to land my dream job this summer as an intern with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with everything associated with transportation.


1. “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”  –Charles V.

I don’t speak German.  Horseless, and with two cats that understand only Russian, I never feel the need.

11. My coach always tells me that there is some reason why we, as debaters, can take four weeks out of our summer vacation, away from our friends and families, to enclose ourselves in lecture halls and cramped dorm rooms to learn the depths and intricacies of debate.

17. My mom is already telling me that I will have to clean out my room and throw away most of what fills my desk drawers… The one thing I will never throw away, though, is my letters.


15. Don’t you just hate those days where you find the perfect outfit, but don’t have the right pair of shoes to complete the look?  For me, deciding what shoes to sport depends upon which facet of my personality I wish to reveal or activity I’m about to partake in.  Each day I face a dilemma—do I show the flashy, fun side or the conservative, chic side.

73. Do you ever have those dreams where you’ve arrived at school and suddenly realize you’ve forgotten to wear pants? Well, for most high school seniors that dream becomes a reality, at least figuratively.