How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay
Your essay is one of the best tools available for standing out in a crowded field of college applicants (many with academic portfolios similar to yours) when applying to your dream school. A college essay is your opportunity to show admissions committees the person behind the grades, test scores, and resume. To ensure your college essay receives the full attention of admissions committees, you need to lure them in with a great hook—that is, a compelling opening that makes your audience hungry for more.
Developing Your Hook
You need a strong start to capture the attention of the admission committees. When it comes to college essays, first impressions are everything. In fact, there’s no guarantee that anyone is going to read more than your first sentence if you bore them to tears within a few words, which is why it’s essential to craft an effective and engaging hook.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for composing an attention-grabbing hook. A well-crafted hook can be anything from an image to an anecdote to an interesting fact while factors like writing style, essay structure, and prompt can all influence what makes for a good hook. That said, memorable hooks share a number of attributes, most notably they draw readers in, connect with the topic you’re writing about, and leave a lasting impression, often in a creative or unexpected way.
For example, let’s construct a hypothetical essay. Let’s say that after some careful consideration, Jane Doe has decided to write her personal essay about her experience running canine obedience classes. She isn’t quite sure how to start her essay, so she’s practicing with some proven essay hooks. If you’re ready to develop your own hook, check out four of our favorite college essay hook strategies and how they work for Jane below!
College Essay Hook Examples
There are a number of proven strategies that Jane can use to craft a compelling hook. A few tried-and-true hooks include:
1. Open with an Anecdote
People love stories, so it makes sense that telling one is a great way to attract readers. Detailing a relevant anecdote provides context for your essay and can give the reader an idea of what you are up against if you’re overcoming an obstacle or rising to a challenge.
On the day that I told my mother I wanted to start my own canine obedience school, she smiled and muttered something under her breath about the irony of my youthful disobedience and my newfound passion for enforcing rules. What she didn’t know then was that it was not in spite of, but rather because of, my tendency to push the boundaries that I was confident in my ability to succeed.
2. Set the Scene
One fantastic way to get your essay moving and to draw your readers in is to plunge them into the middle of an important scene. Provide readers with descriptive details and dialogue to make them feel like they’re watching a movie from your life and have just tuned in at a critical moment.
I jumped back as the dog lunged for my leg, teeth bared and snarling. “It’s okay, Smokey, it’s okay,” I soothed as I tried to maneuver closer to the post where I had tied his leash. In the back of my head, I heard my brother’s taunts swirling around.
“A dog trainer?” he had scoffed. “What kind of person would hire you as a dog trainer?!”
I pushed the thoughts away and grasped the leash, pulling it tightly to my side as Smokey, surprised by my sudden confidence, fell into stride beside me.
3. Ask a Question
Asking a question at the beginning of your essay can activate your reader’s critical thinking and get them hungry for the answer that you won’t offer until later. Try to come up with a question that’s broad enough that they won’t know the answer right away, but specific enough that it isn’t a generic hook that could work on just any college essay.
How do you respond when you’re faced with a very real physical threat to your safety, yet you literally can’t afford to back down? This is the question I faced on my very first day as a dog trainer.
4. Use a Metaphor or Simile
A metaphor or simile can pull readers in by helping them make connections between seemingly unrelated topics or by encouraging them to think about topics from a different point of view.
Running canine obedience classes is a lot like navigating high school. It’s a dog-eat-dog world with a lot to learn, many personalities to manage, peril around every corner, and everyone anxious to graduate.
5 Tips and Examples for Crafting a Great Hook
Selecting the right hook is a great first step for writing a winning college essay, but the execution is also important.
1. Narrow Down Your Scope
Sometimes the best way to tackle big projects like writing an attention-grabbing hook or captivating college essay is to think small. Narrow down on a specific incident or even a moment that leads into your topic.
It’s my first time teaching a canine obedience class. I’m surrounded by strangers and the dogs are barking so loud I can’t hear myself think, but I have a gnawing feeling that I’m losing control. I put my fingers to my lips and let out the loudest whistle I’m capable of. Suddenly there was silence.
2. Use Adjectives
Adjectives are used to add a description and make your writing clearer and more specific. In other words, they’re the details that make your writing stand out and suck readers in. Jane didn’t simply reward the dog for sitting, she…
It was a battle of wills between me and the eight-month-old Australian Shepherd—defiance was in his sparkling blue eyes, but so was desire for the bit of hot dog hiding in my hand. Reluctantly he sat, earning his treat while I claimed my alpha status.
3. Use Emotion
Use emotion to connect and entice your reader. Emotions make readers feel, pulling them into your essay, and are memorable. You can use them for everything from sharing a fact about yourself to putting the reader in your shoes.
When I was young, I would have been extremely lonely if not for my dog Trevor. I struggled to make friends and Trevor provided companionship, helped me overcome my shyness (he was a great icebreaker), and is responsible for shaping who I am today. When Trevor passed away in high school, I set out to train canine obedience and help dogs become the best versions of themselves—just like what Trevor did for me.
4. Short and Sweet
Admissions committees have a lot of essays to read, so the quicker you get to the point and capture their attention, the better.
Mere moments into my dream job, someone had already peed on the floor and another had bitten a person. Welcome to the life of a dog trainer.
5. Just Start Writing
Sometimes the hook of your college essay isn’t clear. Rather than getting hung up, start developing your essay and see if it adds clarity as to how to best implement a hook. Some students even find that it’s easiest to write a hook last, after writing the body of the personal statement.
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay Hook
Wondering if you created an effective hook? It’s difficult to evaluate your own writing, especially a line or two you read and reworked numerous times. CollegeVine can help. Through our free Peer Essay Review tool, you can get a free review of your hook, and overall essay, from another student. Then you can pay it forward and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!