How to Write your Essay Introduction
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
A good graduate school admissions essay introductory paragraph needs to strike a proper balance between being attention grabbing while remaining structurally sound and properly written. The main goal of a graduate admissions essay is not to sell copies of your manuscript; it is to inform a school about who you are and why you should be accepted to their particular graduate program. Thus, you need to tell an interesting story that draws the reader in, but you also want to show the reader that you can write a superior, structurally sound essay.
Yes, I know, you've done this before. You already know everything I just told you. But graduate school essays are different from college essays. Graduate school admissions essay are a new breed of college essay. A new evolution. You are now facing tougher competition. You need to step up your game.
Organize your thoughts, create an outline, and decide the format of your essay; there are a few routes you could take:
Academic Style: Take the typical academic route by beginning with an introduction stating your main thesis. Follow that with the body of the essay, listing at least three supporting arguments. Then conclude the essay by bringing it back to the beginning and transcending your original statement. This style allows you to present several small points in support of one large claim, making it useful for persuasive papers and short essays, but it may prove tedious for longer and more personal essays.
Narrative Structure: This structure is best used when your essay is telling a story about a particular moment in your life. But don't just tell it, use concrete details to illustrate it. An effective use of this style may be to start the essay out with a story and then take the typical academic route.
Compare and Contrast: The compare and contrast route is easy, direct, and varied. It is the tried and true formula. You have written countless essays in this format, like explaining the differences between a particular book and its movie counterpart, or comparing and contrasting two stories from one author, so this type of formula should come easy. Of course, with tried and true comes trite and clichÉd, so make sure your essay is unique and memorable.
For your next step
You may want to write your essay sans an introduction. That's right, many people find it easier to write the essay first, and then go back and write an intro. This way you already know the path you are taking.
Once you are ready to write your introduction
Keep a few simple points in mind: Be brief and to the point. Have at least three sentences but no more than six. You want your introduction to be just that, an introduction. It 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.
You may want to try to come up with an interesting and exciting first sentence to immediately grab the reader's attention. You can use a shocking quote like, "Billy was only four years old when he committed his first murder," or an unbelievable statistic like, "The average life expectancy of a generic bad guy in a Chuck Norris movie is four seconds," but quickly get to the point.
Don't write unnecessary words and sentences. For example: In the second paragraph I wrote, "Graduate school admissions essay are a new breed of college essay. A new evolution. You are now facing tougher competition. You need to step up your game." That is four sentences that say the same thing. I should have simply written, "A greater level of competition and expectation on the school's part requires a greater level of effort on yours."
That being said, an admissions essay is not a term paper. If you want to be creative, your introduction can tell a story, and later paragraphs can demonstrate how this story relates. You may want to write something emotional, or suspenseful, or comical: "Don't stand too close," my mother shouted in a worried tone. "Oh please," I thought to myself. "What does she know?" Apparently she knew a lot, because only six seconds later, the big blue cow exploded. The next paragraph would then explain how the traumatic explosion of the big blue cow somehow impacted your life in a way that relates to your decision to apply to that graduate program, and, more subtly, how that program would be served by someone with your unique experiences.
Don't summarize. Your intro should be a teaser for a movie that gets the audience excited. It should not be an extended trailer that gives the major plot points away. You want the reader to actually read the essay; so don't tell them everything in the intro.
This article is on introductions, not conclusions, so I'll keep this conclusion short. Make sure your introduction is attention grabbing yet well written and well structured. Don't use unnecessary words or give too much of your essay away. Wow the reader from the start, and don't let up until the very last word, kind of like this article. It was exhilarating from word one, wasn't it? I'd accept me into graduate school, wouldn't you?
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Looking for more info? Check out these articles:
Editing your Essay | What is a Personal Statement? | Choosing a Topic
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Typewriter Eraser, 1999, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen