Five Ways to Start a College Essay

Posted October 3rd, 2014 at 3:24 pm (UTC-4)
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We’ve all been there. It’s midnight and your paper is due in 8 hours. You are staring at a blank Word document. You have no idea what to write. If only you could write SOMETHING. In frustration, you bury your head on your desk.

The first paragraph of a college essay, or any essay, is usually the most challenging. It’s also the most important because it will guide the structure and set the tone of the entire essay. In a traditional essay, the first paragraph often contains the thesis statement. This statement is one-sentence summary of the paper’s main argument (more on that in future blogs.)

Let’s imagine that your teacher or professor assigned this topic for a five-page essay:

“The SAT is an unfair test for international students and should no longer be required for admission. Do you agree or disagree?”


Here are five approaches to help you with writing on this topic:


Masters of Sex, Atmosphere#1. Tell a Story – Nadia had dreamed of going to Harvard from the time she entered kindergarten. “It was my mother’s dream for me,” she said. Every Saturday, she spent 10 hours at a “cram school” studying for the SAT while her friends went to the mall and watched movies…


Andy Del Gallo#2. Use a Memorable Quote – “All the SAT measures is how well you take the SAT. It does not reveal how smart a person you are,” wrote blogger Amanda Chan. Chan is one of a growing number of SAT critics who argue that the college admission test is culturally biased. . .


Merriam Webster's Word of the Year#3. Define a Word – Most people know that the SAT is an important test used for college admission in the United States. But most people don’t know that “SAT” was originally an acronym for “Scholastic Aptitude Test”. But what exactly is “scholastic aptitude” and how can it be measured?…


Nik Wallenda#4. Present an Amazing Fact – Of the 1.6 million students who took the SAT in 2013, only 43 percent of test-takers met the SAT’s definition for being prepared for college. It is natural to blame teachers and test takers for not studying hard enough. But perhaps the test itself is flawed…


B082050D-93E6-426F-938B-34F13CC94257_#5. Present a Problem – Every year the dreams of millions of international students are shattered over their performance on a single test—the dreaded SAT. Years of hard work are reduced to a single test on a single day. Is the SAT the best way to for universities to choose the best students?


Try brainstorming these five ways to start your essay. It’s no guarantee of success. But if you’re lucky, one of the approaches will get the ideas flowing. If the ideas still aren’t coming, read your class materials again with the five approaches in mind. Sooner or later, an idea will take shape.

Now it’s your turn. Try writing an opening paragraph using one of the five approaches and I will respond with feedback.  I look forward to reading your responses!

Have a great day!


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Confessions of an English Learner is a place for you to practice your writing and share the joys and pains of learning the language. We will post a weekly prompt, to give you a chance to practice your writing and to comment on others’ writing.


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