Essay introduction analysis
Tell us about your experiences as a New American. Whether as an immigrant yourself, or as a child of immigrants, how have your experiences as a New American informed and shaped who you are and your accomplishments?
Feel free to discuss how individual people (such as family or teachers), institutions, aspects of law, culture, society or American governance made an impact on your life as an immigrant or child of immigrants. The program is especially interested in understanding and contextualizing your accomplishments, be they personal, professional, or academic.
Essay prompt impressions
This prompt seems almost as vague to me now as it did when I applied back in Fall 2009. My experiences as a New American? How they shaped who I am?
Once I took a step back, I realized that the vagueness of the prompt—and this is true of almost every college and scholarship essay prompt—presented a great opportunity. I could effectively write any essay and somehow link it to being a New American.
Before I show you my essay's introduction, let's take a look at an example of how most applicants would approach the prompt above:
Typical opening paragraph
Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by mental health difficulties. This curiosity likely developed from my own experiences with Tourette Syndrome. Around the age of 9, I exhibited facial and bodily tics that concerned my parents. These tics also made me the laughing stock of my classmates, which ultimately made me embarrassed.
This opening is very straightforward and provides information without the reader having to envision anything. It barely appeals to emotions, and it seems very robotic. Let’s compare that to what I actually wrote.
My opening paragraph
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was quite the troublemaker. My parents often recall how I used to wreak havoc in and out of the house, hiding or misplacing important bills and cookware and playing in the dirt. However, their concern peaked when I was eight years old and unable to control my facial and bodily tics. Soon thereafter, I became the target of ridicule from classmates, who would stare and laugh at me while imitating my tics. My ability to stay focused in the classroom was greatly impaired, as my struggle was not limited to the impulse to tic but also to a lack of understanding about my disorder. Even my father contended that I was exhibiting signs of “mental retardation.”
Do you think committee members would be interested in an applicant who calls himself a troublemaker in the first sentence?
Probably! A bold sentence breaks up the monotony from the many essays committee members read in one sitting.
Your child will get bonus points just for ridding them of boredom. Committee members will also be eager to find out how your child was a troublemaker.
The second sentence provides some humor with hyperbole (imagine little me "wreaking havoc") and quickly juxtaposes one form of "problem" behaviors (e.g., hiding important bills) with truly concerning symptoms of Tourette Syndrome.
I could have started the essay by writing about "receiving a Tourette Syndrome diagnosis at a young age" and how that was difficult for my parents and me. Instead, I created images in the readers' minds of my youthful misbehavior, exhibiting tics and being laughed at. These real world examples appealed to the readers' emotions instead of making them yawn.
The first paragraph also kept the focus on me. Students very often start essays talking about others because they find it difficult to talk about themselves. Remember that the reader wants to know about your child. Your child will have opportunities to focus on others elsewhere in their essays and throughout their application.
Typical second paragraph
Despite the challenges my family and I faced, I decided then that I would channel my experiences with the disorder to positively influence the world. I had no specific plan at the time and was too busy focusing on how to fit in and achieve good grades.
The first sentence of this paragraph does a decent job transitioning from the previous one. However, rather than developing thoughts, building imagery, or demonstrating any qualities, the paragraph reads like a list. Contrast this with…
My second paragraph
I clearly remember the day my mother and I finally visited a pediatric neurologist when I was 11 years old. Within minutes, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS). At the time, my parents did not fully understand the effects this uncommon disability would have on our lives. Despite my youth, I somehow knew TS would significantly shape my world and future goals.
Again, I depicted a scene of my mother and me at the doctor's office receiving news about Tourette Syndrome and my reflections. This beats saying "I was eventually diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
My parents had a difficult time accepting the diagnosis, but I was relieved to know that I had a diagnosable medical condition." That would have just "told" the reader what happened, rather than painting a picture and creating a cliffhanger.
Typical third paragraph
My goals of fitting in and achieving good grades reflect the ideals my parents impressed upon my brother and me. Specifically, having fled war-torn Lebanon in 1977, they sought a more stable life in the United States. They believed we could achieve this through education. My hard work resulted in admission to UCLA as a premed student, putting me on track to fulfill my parents’ wishes.
I’ll keep this short because you’re probably starting to see the trend here.
All of these typically-written examples give the reader everything upfront.
Is this how captivating books are written?
Imagine if the Hunger Games trilogy were written like this: “The rich people in the capital oppressed everyone in the outside districts. This led to resentment and eventually to Civil War. Despite the Capital’s best efforts to overpower the masses, the rebellion proved to be successful. The End.”
Would the trilogy sell more than 65 million copies in the US alone?
My third paragraph
My parents fled Lebanon in 1977 and settled outside St. Louis, Missouri. After the harrowing experience of witnessing his mother’s death during a grenade attack on their home during the Lebanese Civil War, my father decided that the country was unsafe to start a family. Unfortunately, life in the United States was not without its difficulties. Features like my parents’ dark, thick hair, characteristic of many Armenians, made them targets for racial slurs and prejudices. For these reasons, my parents hoped that my brother and I would benefit from living relatively structured, stress-free lives. Having internalized my parents’ wishes, I attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a pre-med student.
Here, I begin to develop my story about my family background, how it influenced my parents' hopes for my brother and me in the United States, and one way in which it impacted my academic career.
This paragraph very specifically addresses the part of the prompt about "how individual people (such as family or teachers), institutions, aspects of law, culture, society or American governance made an impact on [my] life as an immigrant or child of immigrants."
The rest of my essay goes on to describe various academic and community experiences that steered me towards psychology, as well as serving underrepresented individuals.
The analyzed paragraphs provide concrete examples of how your child can write a compelling college essay by developing a story to demonstrate their positive qualities rather than listing attributes and achievements.
Many of my students feel that they don't have a good story to share or that they're not unique or special in any way.
The way I see it, every single person in this world is different from me, has experienced different things, and has interpreted these experiences in different ways.
Given how unique your child is, writing an interesting college essay has far less to do with what they've specifically experienced or accomplished. Rather, it has everything to do with how your child presents themselves.
In other words, your child is interesting, and they can write an interesting college essay.
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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.”
There are several other do’s and don’ts for your essay introduction worth considering:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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, using our Common App Structure, Format, Essay Examples and our Tips & Advice sections for guidance.