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College Essay Hook Examples

You sit on your bed, at your desk and in the library wondering where to begin your college admissions essay. It’s not like there’s a Google map showing you how to go from here to there. How do you dig through seventeen years of experiences and select the one that shares your voice, your vision, your passion?

Was it when you sat behind Grandpa’s dented old Buick the day you got your license, or the time you figured out how to rig your book to the shower door without getting it soggy so you could finish the last chapter of Fat Angie before bed? Or are those not what they are looking for?

Panic sets in. You take another look down memory lane. You haven’t climbed Kilimanjaro, landed in the Guinness Book of World Records, or won a championship in anything. You realize nothing big has happened to you. So, what are you going to write that an admissions officer wants to read?

Unstick from that blank screen, sit back and read these tips. I promise, your life is filled with wonderful stories to share.

5 Tips to Write a College Essay that Hooks Your Reader

Tip 1: Narrow Your Lens

Think small. Forget the time you tossed the buzzer-beater to win the championship basketball game. Write about a unique sliver in time. Slow down your story and share the moment you felt the synchronicity of your crew team as your oar skimmed the water, the time you watched your first model rocket launch from the backyard swing set with your big brother or the morning you sat in the rain, on purpose. It’s the small moments that can make big statements about who you really are.

Tip 2: Start with a First-Person Story

Try starting your essay with a story written in first-person narrative. Bring your reader into your story. Share the details and emotions of that moment. Talk about the clouds in the sky as your rocket flew past the tops of the pines and wound around the edge of the forest. Write like you’re directing a scene and the story is the main character.

Tip 3: Use your Senses

Nothing grabs a reader like details. Use your senses to tell the tale. What did the moment feel like? Look like? Sound like? Taste like? Let your senses be your guide. Think about the panic that rolled down your back and up your spine when you realized that you had buried your little brother’s favorite toy trucks somewhere on Mayflower Beach, but had no idea where.

Tip 4: Add Adjectives

Dig deep and describe your moment. Is Grandpa’s old car littered with gum wrappers? Does it smell like Old Spice? Do your legs stick to the seat from those peanut butter sandwiches he always eats? Again, you connect with your reader when you are able to convey the wonderful details of your story.

Tip 5: Emotionally Connect

Share your story in a thoughtful, honest and meaningful way. Any time you speak authentically from your heart, readers engage. People respect and connect to honest emotion.

Before you write, really think about the sentiment of the moment. Were you lonely in a gym filled with kids? Did standing at the podium feel like an itchy sweater on a hot afternoon in Boston? Allow yourself to convey the sentiments that will let the reader understand something about you that is not evident from your transcript or your activities resume.

Think of your essay as the heart of your application. Be honest and true to yourself. Now open your computer, you are ready to write.

Examples of Awesome Personal Statements

Article Type: Tasty Bits

Write your own awesome personal statement with our COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY LAB, which will guide you through the process, providing tips and even more examples along the way.

Before you start, check out our own sample essays—or scroll down for the Best of the Web. Whether you're an athlete, a minority, or no one special (or, uh, probably some combination), we've got you covered.

No One Special



Emotional Hardship

Physical Hardship

International Student

Special Skills

Non-Traditional Age

Some are surprising and some are clever, but they're all good examples of a "hook," not the kind with the pointy mustache but something that writers use to grab their reader's attention and make them want to keep reading.

Grab Them with the First Line
Stanford Magazine compiled the following list of great opening lines written by hopeful Stanford applicants.

Essays That Worked
Connecticut College posts a list of college essays “that worked.”

More Essays that Worked
Hamilton College provides access to some of their favorite application essays.

Other Resources for College Essay Writing

Writing the Personal Statement
The Purdue Online Writing lab offers a guide to writing all kinds of personal statements.

UC Berkeley Has a Say
Check out the University of California at Berkeley’s guide to writing the personal statement.

Application Tips: Tackling the Personal Essay
Abc.com provides some good tips on approaching the personal essay.

10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay
The famous U.S. News & World Report offers some writing advice.

The Elements of Style
Flip through this famous guide to writing by William Strunk, Jr. that many students and teachers use. Read the 1918 version for free online.

Get Your Writing On
Some great handbooks on writing by writing guru Andrea Lunsford.

A Guide to Grammar and Writing
A cool interactive guide to grammar.

Grammar Resources
The University of Chicago’s guide to grammar.

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