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Write an Academic Personal Essay – with a Hook!

Application essays offer an invaluable chance for you to present yourself to colleges—and they are the one piece of your application over which you have total control. Regardless of your grades, scores, or extracurriculars, essays give you the flexibility to show who you are and what you care about. An original, thoughtful, genuine essay can delight and impress admissions officers. In an applicant pool full of students with great — but identical — grades and test scores, the essay could even be the one element that sets you apart from your fellow applicants.

College essays are an unusual genre: they are intensely personal, but have specific purpose and a specific audience. Your goal is to express who you are, but in a way that tells colleges that you are a good fit for them intellectually, emotionally, ethically, and otherwise. The essay must also convey your ability to write and think clearly.

The Common Application Personal Essay is the most important essay you will write. College is about academics, so make this essay about your scholarly focus and offer the reader a sense of what you’re going to bring to the classroom. If you write about how you like to help save sea turtles or read all of Jane Austen, that’s fine and it speaks well of you. But a conversation about merely liking turtles or being obsessed with Jane Austen can only go so far. No one cares if you’re in love with Mr. Darcy—Mr. Darcy isn’t reading your application. But if you bolster your essay with descriptions of the research you’ve done on ocean pollution or on the ways that Jane Austen’s work affected notions of romance and social graces in her time and in our own, then you’ve presented something that can spur curiosity and interest from an admissions officer.

Also, spend some time working on your opening line – it matters! You want a hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

BAD HOOKS:

  • I had no idea how poor people in Africa were until saw them when I went on safari in Kenya last summer.
  • College holds vast potentialities for the optimization of my intellect and ability to succeed in the personal financial arena.
  • I was up late last night trying to figure out what to write for my college essay when the idea finally hit me!
  • Like Proust and his madeline, I remember the day I found my passion for molecular biology.
  • I didn’t think I’d ever make the squash team.


GOOD HOOKS:

  • I am my own favorite fictional character.
  • Every October, the dry winds arrive, the sky clears, and at night the hills above my house cut a black profile against the stars.
  • I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn.
  • Every afternoon my bike ride from school to work takes me past the remains of the steel mill, which shut down two years before I was born.
  • Anyone who says you can’t iron shirts and read a book at the same time hasn’t tried hard enough at either.

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