Grab our attention with an incredibly specific and arresting image or sentence. Then tell us why it matters.

Example:

Smeared blood, shredded feathers. Clearly, the bird was dead. But wait, the slight fluctuation of its chest, the slow blinking of its shiny black eyes. No, it was alive.

Why It Works: This style subtly highlights the writing talent of the author without drawing attention away from the content of the story. In this example, the staccatoed sentence fragments convey a sense of halting anxiety and also mimic the movement of the bird’s chest as it struggles to breathe. All sorts of questions come up: What happened to the bird? What will the author do? (Read the rest of the essay here.)

Another example: 

February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain. 

(Read the rest of the essay here.)

Another example: 

Bowing down to the porcelain god, I emptied the contents of my stomach. Foaming at the mouth, I was ready to pass out. My body couldn’t stop shaking as I gasped for air, and the room started spinning. (Read the rest of the essay here.)

There are, of course, many more kinds of openings–and I’ll add to this post as I discover new ones. 

We get it, writing a standout introduction is easier said than done. Hopefully though, after seeing some examples of dynamic and thoughtful intros that used our techniques, you’re inspired to brainstorm some of your own. You’ve got this. DTDT has never looked so good.

Have a great college essay opening or a new type of opening you’d like to suggest? Share it in the comments below!

This post was co-written by me (Ethan) and Luci Jones (Brown University, CO ‘23).  Luci took my How to Write a Personal Statement course last year. The essay that she produced was so good and her writing was so beautiful, I’ve asked her to help me co-write this blog post with me, create a few techniques for writing a great introduction, and analyze why they work so well.