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  • Writer's pictureLisa Perkins

Introducing Yourself To Colleges: The Essay

Did you know that college admissions staff spend about 5-7 minutes reviewing the entirety of your application? That isn’t much time, considering you/your student have worked for 3-5 years to build the experiences held within those pages. What’s more, reviewers only spend 1-3 minutes reading the personal narrative, even though it carries between 10-25% of the admissions weight in many cases!

Often, we will speak to students in the top 10% who feel their auto-admit status is sufficient. What we want those students to consider is whether or not their resume and application are well-rounded enough to ensure admittance into the program of their choice within those institutions. And what about scholarships? Or, what if you’re outside of the top 10%, hoping to enter a predominant state school? Have you considered the effect of service and extra-curricular gaps in your application? In each of these scenarios, the essay can be your escort to those bigger goals. So, how do you ensure your essay really pops?

At Avant Garde - College Prep Services, we are passionate about helping each student identify, plan, and craft the narrative that best highlights their abilities, qualities, and passions. Starting with a series of writing activities, we walk students from the “hook” to the conclusion, planning each paragraph and phrase to paint a picture of the person behind the scores and grades. We don’t believe there is any one style that suits every student. Instead, we find great joy in identifying the style suited for the individual’s narrative. Today, we’d like to discuss how we implement non-traditional, but time-tested, approaches to craft powerful introductory paragraphs. Read below to see examples of a few successful essay introductions from our recent students (shared with permission):

Goals/Academic & Career-Development

Maybe your student has spent years working toward athletic or academic goals, and has developed their identity through such efforts. Drawing parallels between activities/jobs/sports and future goals can be a powerful way to showcase grit, determination, focus, and perseverance.

“ ‘Take your mark.’ Upon hearing those words, adrenaline surges through my body and my mind prepares for battle. I slowly bend down to my starting position as memories of twelve years of daily 5am practices, late-night studies, not hanging out with friends, and overcoming injuries flash through my mind. These moments fuel my muscles, reminding me I am ready. One by one, I carefully wrap my fingers around the wet serrated rubber of the block, close my eyes, and anxiously listen for the buzzer to dive in.” - Class of 2022

“Whether in coffee brewing or industrial design, it is best to avoid accidents. As a barista, I’m prepared to come home stained by various shades of coffee. I was not, however, prepared to come home dressed in the tiny shards of an Edison Light Bulb’s carcass. While the staff froze, I implemented the engineering process, asking management for advice, researching possible effects on our equipment, and ultimately creating a plan to solve the problem while improving the lighting setup to avoid future crashes. That day was the longest shift I ever worked, but it helped me appreciate the intricate parallels between my love for coffee brewing and my passion for engineering.” - Class of 2022

Personality Traits/World Changers

Belonging to activities is wonderful, but sometimes a student has passions beyond those traditional opportunities. Finding creative ways to explore those characteristics that make them successful across life’s various arenas can create an impactful essay.

‘Quiet down Luke!’ is a phrase I heard so often that it could have been my full name. My voice has always been loud - so loud that in middle school my teachers assigned me to a “red, yellow, green” behavior card system. Up until then, I spoke freely, without concern, at any volume that felt natural. The red card, the teachers’ response to me-the-disturbance, immediately silenced more than my voice. While I didn’t really know how to constructively use it, I always believed I was given this bombastic voice for a greater purpose.” - Class of 2022

“Sometimes, the hero’s journey is not one of monsters, hellscapes, or solving big problems. Perhaps a hero merely has to venture into a 100 degree parking lot in Texas in August to slay dragons and reap rewards. In my life, I look for calls to adventure and service in small instances. After all, the biggest blessing can be the smallest act of kindness.”- Class of 2022

Personal Journey/Identity

Now, more than ever, students are experiencing turmoil and upheaval in their lives that can greatly impact their academic success. Regardless of GPA or class rank, each student has brilliance and ambition that any college would be fortunate to have on their campuses. A strong essay can identify and explain those gaps and struggles, setting the student apart from their admission peers.

“If you view a ‘closed beach’ sign as a suggestion, you better have the guts to withstand the Atlantic’s spin cycle. Being amidst the most chaotic and dire of circumstances allows for a clear understanding of ultimate desire. Finding calm amidst chaos has been a recurring theme for me throughout my life. Whether it is diving into the deep end of the pool, catching the wave of a lifetime, or plunging into the unknown depths of the Pacific, I continue to find light within darkness on my journey.” - Class of 2022

“My name is [redacted]. I don’t know where I am from. In Portuguese, to say you’ve just returned from a location, you use the word “vim,” but to acknowledge a homeland, you’d use the word “de”. Biologically, I am both “de” Sweden and Brazil. Though I have lived in both countries, I feel neither is home. I feel the same about America, though I lived here until early elementary school, and visited each summer. I can only tell you where I am “vim” - Dubai, most recently. Looking back, I was naive to ever have thought that Dubai could have been my home, my “de”. It was just another “vim” on my journey to self.” - Class of 2022

Family Connection

Beyond academic and extracurricular life, our students often carry with them beautiful family histories and connections that have made them the person they are today. These stories will often showcase their drive, passions, and personalities in ways that no other story can.

“The strong smell of garlic in the Indian tea and the sound of David Yeomans talking on KXAN was my Sunday morning alarm. All week, I looked forward to this day, so I would quickly get ready to join my Dad for a few hours of work at his store. During our morning car rides, the streets were empty, and I eagerly listened to my dad’s instructions for the day. Once we reached the store, my Dad would begin each work day by reciting a quick prayer for both of us, thanking God for this new day and the many blessings our family received. It was after this that I would start with his simple requests of me where he taught me some of life’s best lessons.” - Class of 2022

“Fishing has been a tradition in our family for generations. My grandfather and father both fished from the streams of their village. It was primarily as a source of protein for their family meals, but they also did so as a form of entertainment in what was a tough place to live. As my father moved from China to the US, he continued fishing and extended our family tradition by teaching me at a young age. I still fish today, and although I use this activity primarily as a form of entertainment, it has also taught me many lessons that have shaped my time as a high school student.” - Class of 2022

Interesting Anecdotes

Still, some students, regardless of their levels of academic success or community engagement, feel disconnected and mired in the “middle of the road” of marketability. Identifying those bits of “fascination” can be a vehicle for sharing personal characteristics and human connections.

“With the pandemic wreaking havoc on most activities, my mom and I found ourselves trekking through the wilderness of Target when we needed adventure. As the old saying goes, “You don’t tell Target what you need; Target tells YOU”. On that particular summer day, Target was exactly right: I needed vinyl records in my life. I was already interested in vinyl, but was still unsure whether I should make the leap yet. As I turned the corner to the record section, I saw The Weeknd peering into my soul, his album cover requiring that I make my move. I was obsessed with this album when it came out, listening to it daily on the bus ride from school. At the time, I was unsure of this vinyl journey, and where it would take me, but Target and the Weeknd had spoken.” - Class of 2022

Whoever you are, and wherever you’re applying, finding that perfect story, that magical hook, and that impactful introduction can be a foot in the door of otherwise closed opportunities. No student can be completely highlighted by numbers on an application. Make the most of that 3 minute read by allowing the essay coaches at Avant Garde - College Prep Services to walk you through our fun, intentional, and proven writing exercises. We are offering two Application and Essay Workshops this summer, as well as ample availability for private instruction. Having the essay complete by late summer/early fall allows you to focus on senior academics, extra-curricular activities, and community involvement.

So tell us: what’s your story? Call today, 979-450-7151, or visit our website,, to schedule your consultation or reserve your spot in our workshops!

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