A graduate school admissions essay introduction needs to strike a balance between grabbing attention, and remaining structurally sound and properly written. The main goal is not to sell copies of your manuscript. Rather, it is to tell the school who you are and why you should be accepted to their program. As such, an effective introduction will draw the reader in, while also showing you can write well.
Sound like a challenge? Follow the below advice on how to start a personal statement, and you may be able to put your best foot forward.
How to Start a Personal Statement; the Right Way
Writing the introduction to an essay about yourself may seem daunting at first, but the pre-writing stage can make it a little easier. Before you begin writing, complete these basic steps to prepare for introducing yourself in an essay.
- Research the school you are applying to carefully
A wealth of information is available online. Most schools share what they expect from applicants. Knowing this can help you to structure your essay. You could also talk to alumni or school faculty, and ask for advice about what that school looks for.
- Understand your audience and the purpose of your essay
A graduate admissions committee is generally made up of professors in the program in question. It also sometimes includes current students. What the committee is looking for may vary based on your field of study and the school. Overall, your essays are your opportunity to set yourself apart from your fellow applicants. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what might interest them.
- Know the question being asked
The importance of this cannot be overstated. You may want to use your essay to express your unique attributes and talents. But always remember that you are doing so within the framework of the questions on the application.
Selecting Your Personal Essay Introduction Approach
Deciding how to start a personal statement may be one of the most important steps in the writing process. The contents of your introduction should be
informed by what you want to say in the rest of your essay. So, think about your overall message when deciding what strategy you want to use. Some examples of what you could touch on in your essay introduction are listed below, as well as ways you could work them into the introductory paragraph.
Why do you want to go to graduate school?
Some writers may prefer to focus their essay introduction paragraph on their motivation for studying. If this is your case, then consider writing about some of these topics.
- Early Exposure to Your Field
Were you motivated to pursue graduate education in your field because of your prior experiences with it? Maybe you had an inspirational instructor, or an exciting internship opportunity. One option for your introduction is to tell this story.
Admissions committees generally like to see that students know what they want to do with their education. Whether you want to work in academia or in the field, show them your dedication through specific details about your goals and why they’re important to you.
- Research Interests
Some schools may ask for a statement of purpose describing your specific research interests. If that’s the case, it may be a good idea to take an academic tone and approach, focusing on how you want to study your topic of choice and why.
- Particular School or Program
Another approach could be to start by talking about why you want to attend that program in particular. After all, you had reasons for deciding to apply there instead of elsewhere. Discussing this might not only show your passion for that school community and dedication to study. It could also show that you’ve done your research about the school.
Why are you qualified for this program?
Depending on your preference—or on the school’s essay prompt—it might be a good strategy to write your personal essay introduction focusing on your qualifications for the program. You may want to mention examples from each of the categories below.
- Research Experience
Research might be a foundation to your time in graduate school. If you have prior experience with it, you might want to demonstrate that. You could either talk about one important project, or provide a broader overview. Whichever you choose, remember to show your enthusiasm for the subject and to focus on your growth or success.
- Field Experience
Depending on what your program focuses on, field experience could be as important as research. Try describing a challenge or project that you faced. You could talk about how you met that challenge, and the perspective you gained through your experience.
- Unrelated Work Experience
Some important skills may cross over between seemingly unrelated fields and be applicable to your program. If you have a strong background in a different area, you could discuss that in your essay. Remember to tie it back to your current objectives as much as possible.
- Extracurricular Activities
The same idea applies here as with unrelated work experience. Use your hobbies to demonstrate specific qualities that could help you in your graduate work. When considering this question, avoid regurgitating facts listed elsewhere in the application. Details of your active roles are vital.
Why are you exceptional?
Sometimes it’s your background, personal qualities, and life experiences that set you apart from the pack. One strategy on is to use your essay introduction (or even the essay as a whole) to demonstrate this. Admissions officers often make an effort to assemble a diverse class, so it’s important to highlight what makes you different. Your goal in this case should be to identify how your unique background will allow you to contribute to the academic community.
Here are some examples of what you might talk about.
- Your ethnic, religious, or cultural identity, and how those experiences have shaped you as a person and support your academic goals.
- Particular hardships you have overcome, which have given you a unique perspective and helped you grow.
- Important personal or life experiences that helped you become the person you are today, or inspired you to pursue study in your field.
Whatever approach you choose, start your personal statement by introducing yourself and show the school why you belong there. By telling a story that is personal, you can communicate something that could only have been written by you. In all of this, it is important to not focus only on the past. Tie everything into the future. Clearly communicate your goals as a participant in the program and what you hope to do with your education after graduate school.
Choosing a Personal Essay Introduction Style
When considering how to start a personal statement, the way you write your personal essay introduction will be informed by the type of essay you’ve elected to write. After all, the purpose is to introduce the reader to the rest of your content and the point you’re trying to make with it. Here are a few writing styles you might use.
- Academic Style:
If you’re writing an academic or scholarly essay, or something similar, you may wish to use a more formal, academic tone. In this case, you would provide context for your main argument, and a clear, concise thesis statement.
- Narrative Essay
Some essays may be narrative in themselves. In that case, you may have a great deal of freedom in how to begin your story. You could also use a shorter narrative to introduce an essay written in another style, like a scholarly or argumentative essay.
- Compare and Contrast
If you’re writing your essay in a compare and contrast style, make sure to use your introduction to set the reader up for that structure. Make your argument clear through a concise thesis statement, and introduce the reader to the things or ideas you’ll be comparing.
One tip to keep in mind: you don’t necessarily have to do this first! Some writers prefer to do the introduction last, so they can write it with a clear picture of what they need to lead into and how. Use whichever strategy works best for you.
How to Write a Good Essay Introduction
Now that you know how to start a personal statement, it's time to start writing! While you’re working on your introduction paragraph, keep a few simple things in mind.
- Be brief and to the point
Your intro should start your essay off with a bang. Grab their attention, explain what your essay will be about, and then get into the essay. Don't
- make them check their watches before they've hit the second paragraph.
- Be creative
An admissions essay is not a term paper. If you want to take a creative approach, one idea is to use your introduction to tell a story. Then, later paragraphs can contextualize that story and show how it relates to your overall message.
- Don't summarize
Your introduction is more than just a summary of what follows. It helps the reader engage, while painting the reader a clear picture of the point you’re trying to make.
Writing an effective introduction for an essay may be a small part of your broader graduate school application process. But it’s an important one. After all, an effective essay introduction helps your reader connect. And knowing how to start a personal statement helps create a great essay and helps your application stand out. Take the time to think about your strategy, and write thoughtfully, and you could submit an essay you’re proud of.
Writing a good introduction can feel as intimidating as introducing yourself to a pack of rabid wolves, but never fear! Soon you will be sitting down to teatime with aforementioned wolves, inquiring after each other’s elderly aunts.
The introduction is where you set the tone for the rest of your personal statement. You want to start things off right. That may go without saying, but what people don’t think about is that boring your reader initially can be very difficult to recover from. Even if your essay gets better as it goes along, the reader will take time to recover from their first impression of it.
In This Guide:
Where to Start
5 Rules to Write By
- Avoid Cliches
- Use Active Voice
- Use Strong Verbs
- Paint an Image
- Keep the Story in the Intro
Where to Start
Here are two easy, surefire ways to begin your introduction:
- A story about yourself.
- A story about someone else who affected you.
After all a personal statement is, at its core, a story about you and the people and things that are related to you. If you feel weird about starting your statement with a story about yourself (Easy Introduction Idea #1), you could begin your statement by writing about someone who profoundly affected your life, like a grandparent or childhood hero (Easy Introduction Idea #2). There are other ways to start a personal statement: a broad issue or problem that is relevant to your course of study, a quotation, a joke. Those can be more difficult to attempt, however, because unlike a story, they don’t automatically show relevance. A story is about you; a personal statement is about you. You could argue that even the weirdest story shows your development as a human being.
5 Rules to Write By
1. Avoid Cliches
In the Bulwer-Lytton contest, thousands of applicants submit enteries of sentences based on the most famous literary cliches of all time: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Cliches are generally not a good idea. They lend an inauthentic and tired air to whatever it is you’re writing. If you can say part of a phrase or sentence aloud to someone else and they can finish it without much thought, it’s a cliche. For example, “To be or not to be…” We all know the answer to that one. However, Cliches can have their uses. You may find that using a cliche gives you a launching pad for your statement, but you should either put a really good twist on it, or ditch it later.
2. Use Active Voice
Beginning with active voice is a sure way to engage your reader. Consider the two sentences:
1. I poured the coffee down the drain for the sewer people.
2. The coffee was poured down the drain for the sewer people.
The first sentence gives the reader more information. In the second sentence, the reader is left wondering who poured the coffee down the drain, and the emphasis of the sentence is placed on the action (the coffee was poured) rather than the person engaging in the action (I). That’s not to say writing sentences is passive is wrong. It can be very useful, especially when relaying information in which the subject of the sentence is not clear, but save it for later.
3. Use Strong Verbs (but appropriate verbs)
Picking the right verbs is an artform. You want verbs that catch the readers attention, but not completely obscure verbs that he or she will have to look up. You also want verbs that will give you the most bang for your buck. For example, if you say that someone is “sitting,” that could mean anything. If you say they are “crouching” or “lounging,” that tells the reader much more about the situation or the scene.
1. After Rhonda debellated the race, she palpebrated at George.
2. After Rhonda ran the race, she looked at George.
3. After Rhonda conquered the race, she winked at George.
Sentence #1 uses distracting verbs. If the reader doesn’t know what they mean, they are going to be frustrated. If the reader does know what they mean, they will wonder why you used such odd words.
Sentence #2 is O.K. Nothing wrong with it, but not much that grabs me either.
Sentence #3 uses the strong verb “conquered”. It tells me what sort of emotion Rhonda is feeling. I don’t have to say she “felt victorious” in another sentence because the verb implies that. “Winked” is the same. I have more information about Rhonda and George’s relationship and how Rhonda was feeling after the race.
4. Paint an Image
Thinking about the story you are trying to tell as a picture. If you were trying to describe a picture to someone, you wouldn’t just call it “pretty.” You would talk about the colors, the medium, the subject. Picking concrete details and describing how things looked, felt, or even smelt can help engage your reader and make them feel invested in the outcome of your story. A thesaurus is a great resource for this, but if you don’t even know where to begin, check out this table of descriptive words. Looking at a big word list like this may also help you with your statement at large by jogging loose an important (and useful) memory that could be turned into a story.
If Raja the elephant can do it, so can you!
5. Keep the Story in the Introduction
Even though you may be starting off with a story, don’t get carried away and continue a storybook-type narration throughout the rest of your statement. Remember to establish some factual information about yourself and your credentials.
If you can tie in the story at the end too, great! That usually makes your statement seem even more polished, like your bone china teapot your new wolf friends now are admiring.
This article is an excerpt from the edityour.net Ultimate Guide to Writing Personal Statements.
Writing a Personal Statement?
Ben Frederick M.D.
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