Get matched with vetted scholarships and enter our
Please select whichever best describes you for the upcoming 2024 - 2025 academic year.
I’m a high school student I’m a college or graduate student
100% Free. No Spam.
    Start typing in the text field above
    Advertiser disclosure

    Student-centric advice and objective recommendations

    Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.

    Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.

    How to Start Your College Admissions Essay

    By Varonika Ware

    Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

    Full Bio

    Learn about our editorial policies

    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

    Full Bio

    Learn about our editorial policies

    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

    Full Bio

    Learn about our editorial policies

    Updated: March 26th, 2024
    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.

    Also see: Can you use the same essay for multiple colleges? 

    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

    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 and how to end an admissions essay. Learn how to best respond to the “why this college” prompt (example essay included!) as well. Before you start writing  supplemental essays, check out our guide for some tips. Happy writing, and best of luck on your college journey!  Make sure that you apply for all the scholarships you qualify for while you are eligible! 

    Start your scholarship search
    • Vetted scholarships custom-matched to your profile
    • Access exclusive scholarships only available to Scholarships360 members
    Get Started

    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.

    What is the best opening for a college essay?

    Again, it depends. The goal is to draw the reader in (or “hook them” as it is known), so  your essay topic should be taken into consideration. A personal anecdote, a startling question, or a vivid description are all popular ways to engage the reader. The best opening is the one that creates interest without being cliche!

    3 reasons to join scholarships360

    • Automatic entry to our $10,000 No-Essay Scholarship
    • Personalized matching to thousands of vetted scholarships
    • Quick apply for scholarships exclusive to our platform

    By the way...Scholarships360 is 100% free!

    Join For Free