How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay
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Imagine your college application landing in the lap of the admissions committee at your dream school. It’s the end of a long day, and the eyes that gaze upon your application have already scanned through dozens before yours. They glimpse at your transcripts and test scores. They skim through a recommendation. You’re confident you’ve done everything in your power to guarantee you get accepted, but how do you ensure that a tired admissions committee is interested and enthusiastic about your application when it arrives before them at 4:55 PM on a Friday?
Your college essay is your chance to set yourself apart from the hundreds of applicants who will likely be submitting academic portfolios similar to yours. It should provide insight into who you are as a person, conveying your unique personality and reflecting what really makes you tick. To make sure that the admissions committee does more than just skim through yours, you’ll need an opening that grabs their attention. You’re going to need a great hook.
A hook is an engaging introduction to your college essay that captivates the reader and inspires him or her to keep reading. Put simply, it makes your audience hungry for more.
To learn how to craft the hook for your college essay and create an opening that leaves your readers wanting more, read on for our top college essay-opening hooks.
Choosing a Topic
Of course, before you can write your hook, you’ll need to know what you’re writing your essay about in the first place. While some students might know their topic right off the bat, others will need more time to reflect. In our post, How to Come Up With an Idea for a Personal Statement, we outline a few different strategies for developing your outline. If you’re still stuck, check out our post Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises to get your creative juices flowing.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that your personal statement doesn’t have to be about some incredible, earth-shattering experience. Some students get caught up in trying to detail their most impressive achievements or are tempted to exaggerate when they describe the adversity they have faced, but these pressures are actually unwarranted.
Instead of writing about something extreme, many students have had success writing about more mundane topics. Think you don’t have anything interesting to write about? Think again. One Yale admit wrote about her love for Papa John’s pizza, earning herself not only a place in the class of 2021, but also a handwritten note from the impressed admissions committee. If you need some more inspiration, check out our post, What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
Ultimately, the best essays are the ones that reflect an interesting, funny, insightful, or inspiring aspect of your personality in a way that engages the audience.
Developing Your Hook
You’re going to need to start strong if you want to really grab the attention of the admissions committee. 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. But you can grab your reader’s attention right away if you craft an effective and engaging hook.
Many times, you won’t get a feel for how to best implement a hook until you have fully developed the rest of your essay. At the very least, you should have a detailed outline of your essay before writing your hook. Some students even find that it’s easiest to write a hook last, after writing the body of the personal statement.
For example, let’s take a closer look at 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 our six favorite college essay hook strategies and how they work for Jane below!
1. Set the Scene
One strong way to get your essay moving and to draw your reader in is to open in the middle of an important scene, diving in with descriptive details and dialogue. Make the reader feel like he or she is watching a movie from your life and has just tuned in at a critical scene.
Then, once you close the scene, go back and explain its significance or give the reader the background necessary to fully understand its relevance.
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.
2. Open with an Example
If you’re describing how you developed a certain skill or a quirky achievement, consider opening with a specific example. Then, much like the scene setting above, you can go back and describe its relevance later in the essay.
When Smokey arrived for his first day of obedience training, he was scared of leashes, cats, and pick up trucks. Even the slightest loud noise would cause him to bolt, scampering for the closest hiding spot. He was skittish and wild-eyed, and his owner Maria was at the end of her rope.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to keep him much longer if we can’t work this out,” she confided in me. But Maria had nothing to worry about. I was ready for Smokey.
3. Open with an Anecdote
Detailing a relevant anecdote also provides good 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 beneath 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.
4. 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 is 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.
Writing a strong hook is the best way to guarantee that your college essay will be reviewed in its entirety and will be an engaging and exciting read for its audience. Taking the time to craft a well-founded and intriguing hook is a smart investment for any college applicant.
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