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Writing The Common App Essay Introduction

It’s thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time. Your first words on your Common Application essay.

Your introduction is one of the most important parts of the Common Application essay. Your introduction needs to have a three way focus: grab the reader’s attention, highlight you as an individual and identify which topic you’re writing about.

For example a great introduction could be: “Last month I organized a street car wash for the special kids fund charity”.

This great introductory sentence links to prompt 5 about an informal event, highlights your organizational skills in leading the event and grabs the reader’s attention as they want to know why you chose that charity. It may be because you have a sibling who needs a wheelchair.

However don’t give the whole answer in the introduction as you need to create curiosity and a desire for the reader (the admissions tutor) to read more of your essay, rather than answering all their questions at once.

Another great introduction could be “For the last 2 years I’ve been learning the guitar with the aim of joining a rock band. I auditioned for a rock band last year after 12 months playing the guitar but found I still had more to learn.

This introductory sentence links to prompt 2 about the lessons we take from failure. It highlights your resilience to keep going, immediately identifies the theme and keeps the reader wanting to know more in the hope that you succeeded this year. Don’t make your introduction too generic, because it won’t identify you as an individual.

For example “When I go on holiday with my family, I like to visit museums to understand history.” Thousands of families visit museums on holiday and this isn’t a personal story.

A better alternative for a topic linked to prompt 1 could be, “When I travel to New York on holiday with my mother, I always visit The Jewish Museum to learn more about my German Jewish family’s history as immigrants.

Top tips for a great introduction

There are several other do’s and don’ts for your essay introduction worth considering:

1. Do be realistic and honest rather than exaggerating. It is about your own personal journey. This doesn’t mean your achievements have to outshine every other student. If you’re not the top scorer in your basketball team, don’t imply you are. Instead, focus on why you’re in the team and what your unique strengths are.

2. Don’t say what you’re going to be writing about. For example don’t say “I’m going to be writing about my science club.” The reader will pick this up from your first words. Instead be creative and launch straight into your story, e.g. “My recent, puzzling science club experiment on recycling food waste, had an unexpected twist in the tail.

3. Do proof check and re-read your introduction for spelling and grammar at least twice and ask family or friends to second check it for you. Admission tutors will pick up on any anomaly and you don’t want to give them an easy excuse to reject your application.

4. Don’t start with restating the essay prompt you’ve chosen. This uses up your word count while adding no value and you’ve already ticked the box to say which prompt you’re writing about.

5. Do use active words as much as you can to describe feelings and behaviors, as again this will make your essay introduction more personal. “Gained an award” creates a feeling of achievement much more than “got an award”, as does “elated that my neighbor loved my fence painting” when compared to “My neighbor told me he liked my fence painting.

Remember that your introduction is your first opportunity to show how unique and original you are. Jump right in and let your creative juices flow. Once you've got a draft of your introduction that you're reasonably happy with, try to move on to the main bulk of the essay.

Further information

For more tips and advice on putting together your common application for college, please see: