Advertiser disclosure

How to Start Your College Admissions Essay

Now that you are in high school, it’s time to start thinking about what’s next! If you are thinking about going to college, getting your application together should be a top priority once you enter your senior year. While it might be easy to upload your high school records, you might be wondering how to start a college admissions essay. Keep reading to find out tips to start your college admissions essay!

Steps to starting your college application essay

1. Read the essay requirements

Required or optional essay?

First things first–look at the requirements of the college you’re thinking about applying to. Some colleges require an essay, while others make it optional. Either way, an essay can have a major impact on your application, so if you have a choice to send in an optional essay to a school high on your list, always do so. 

Carefully read all requirements

Make sure you carefully read all the requirements. There will be different prompts, qualifications, and word count limits depending on each school. Also, make sure to take note of other formatting requirements, such as sentence spacing and fonts. 

2. Choose your topic (if offered)

Once you’ve read and understand the essay prompt(s), it’s time to choose your topic. Students usually choose a topic through the Common App, Coalition App, or directly from their college of interest. This is the part where you decide what story you’d like the reader to take away from your application. Some prompts are more focused on an aspect of your life while others question “why” you choose that particular institution.

Also see: College supplemental essay guide database

3. Outline your essay

Outlining a road map of your essay

Outlining your essay is the key to organizing your thoughts in a thorough and intriguing way. An outline can be utilized as a guide to make sure your essay has a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

It’s ok to stray off the path a bit…

Don’t worry about sticking strictly to your outline, rather, use it as a guide for main points you want to convey. New thoughts might come to you as you write, but an outline can help maintain the flow of your essay. An outline is key to prioritizing your major ideas, especially with limited word counts. 

4. Start writing your essay!

After you’ve gotten your topic and outline down, it’s time to put pen to paper! For some students, it is challenging to “dig in” and start writing. Don’t let word counts intimidate you–in fact, for the first draft, ignore the word count. When writing, especially the first draft, just let your writing flow naturally. There will be plenty of time to go back and revise, so don’t get hung up on any one part. 

Related: How to start a scholarship essay

5. Open up in grand style

There are multiple ways for you to open up your essay. For example, you could start off with a compelling anecdote or an interesting hook. Sometimes, starting in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things”) make the perfect opening for “your story.” You can always go back and perfect your opening after the essay is written, so don’t revise the opening too much until the first draft of your essay is written. 

6. Write as your authentic self

By being open and honest, the reader will  be motivated to read your essay to the end. After all, the ultimate goal is to have the admission’s reader get to know you and offer you a spot at their school. This is your chance to come to life via your very own crafted words, give your essay the time it deserves! While we are focusing on starting your essay, this same advice applies to your entire essay, from the first word to the very last.

Related: How to write about yourself

Tip from a former writing instructor

When thinking about how to open your essay, keep the closing in mind as well. Some of the most effective and memorable essays close by referring back to the opening. After taking the reader on a personal journey with you, give them a final reminder of why it all matters in the closing. Show the reader what was learned and how you grew by wrapping back around to your engaging opening.
Maria Geiger

Scholarships360 Director of Content

Former English professor at Monmouth University, Georgian Court University, and University of the Arts

Frequently asked questions about how to start a college admissions essay

How long should my admissions essay be?

It depends. The Common App states that responses would be between 250 and 650 words. Some students apply to schools that have their own unique prompts. the school you are applying to uses their own prompts, the word count might range from 250 up to 1,000 words.

Related: How to end an admissions essay

Additional resources

You probably have additional questions about writing for the college admissions process, and Scholarships360 has answers! Read our informative resources on how long your college essays should be, as well as how to best respond to the “why this college” prompt (example essay included!). Before you start writing  supplemental essays, check out our guide for some tips. Happy writing, and best of luck on your college journey!