First Lines: Great Ways to Start a Personal Essay

Regatta in indian ocean, sailboat and catamaran. Helicopter view

If I had my druthers (now when was the last time you heard that word?), I’d spend the summer sitting on a covered porch watching the parade of sail boats in the Long Island Sound. They may just be a line of student sailors in small sail boats but, oh, what a pretty picture they make.

But I can only spare a few minutes to watch the sails because summer, especially August, is a busy time. Rising seniors are back and forth, in and out, brainstorming essay ideas, visiting colleges, registering and filling out applications and embarking on what for some is the daunting task of writing the personal essay.
Yes, it is a different approach to writing than what students do in high school, but what a wonderful opportunity to think hard about who you are and what you want colleges to know about you.

A number of years ago, Stanford actually published first sentences from the Class of 2013 that its admissions staff really liked. I saved the list. Here are some of the ones that intrigued me from that list, which was pretty long. It will give you an idea as to how to start an essay to grab a reader’s interest:

Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Bhimanagar slum dwelling in Bangalore, I ran my fingers across a fresh cut on my forehead.

When I was 8 years old, I shocked my family and a local archaeologist by discovering artifacts dating back almost 3,500 years.

When I was in eighth grade I couldn’t read.

I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy—instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.

Good Grief! You never would have guessed that an unassuming meek lovable loser like Charlie Brown would have an influence on anyone; but indeed he has.

Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.

I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response.

As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.

I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.

On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.

I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.