Here’s a conversation I have multiple times with multiple students every September…
Student: “But Mr. Armstrong I can’t do it. I just can’t do my college application essay.”
Student: ” Why? You want to know why! I have no idea how to begin!?!Really NO idea. I might as well drop out of high school and start scouting real estate under a bridge because that’s where I will be living the rest of my life.”
Once I’ve talk them off the ledge, discuss the dangers of bridge dwelling, I address the real problem…how to begin the essay.
I usually start with this ancedote…
Remember when you were a kid standing on the edge of a swimming pool on a golden afternoon sporting a pair of water wings debating on whether you should jump in or not. A face stricken with fear. Knees knocking with excitement.
And remember how you rose up with a full heart , flapped those water wings and jumped in?
Well if your college essay is the swimming pool then you must let go of your fear, flap those wings and jump in.
By jumping in I mean use the first few sentences to plunge your reader (and yourself) into action.
Still not sure.
Over the years I’ve read many effective essays that began simply with “As I…”
… walked to the front of the classroom unprepared to deliver my speech on polynomials…
…tried to extinguish the grease fire…
…sat down to study, a twelve hour Breaking Bad marathon had just started…”
…stared into the black eyes of the demented squirrel…
The more technical name for “jumping in” is in medias res.
In Medias Res is Latin for “in the middle of”, a technique mastered by horror writer Edgar Allan Poe.
Now I do not reccomend writing your college essay about the voices you hear or how you have an innate desire to murder a blind old man but Poe’s style-not content– makes for a compelling college essay model. Poe belived that stories should be read in one sitting. To hook his reader, Poe immediately drops them into the heart of the action. Check out The Tell Tale Heart to see what I mean.
Poe uses quick declarative sentences and intense sensory imagery to keep the reader on their toes. I suggest adopting the same strategy for your college essay. Remember you are not writing a five paragraph essay or a school report. You are writing a story–your story.
Please understand college admission officers sit in dimly lit offices listening to soft rock, reading application essays all day. Do them a favor… grab their attention. Plunge them into a story. Make them want more of you.
My advice… pinch your nose, tighten up those water wings and jump right in.
What are you waiting for?