How to Start a Personal Statement: Crafting a Compelling Introduction

Starting personal statements
May 6, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

If you’re wondering how to start a personal statement, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will go over everything you need to know. 

Your personal statement is your opportunity to shine in the competitive world of college applications, and it all begins with a captivating introduction. Crafting an engaging opening is essential to grab the admissions committee's attention and leave a lasting impression. 

In this guide, we'll explore the art of starting a personal statement, providing you with valuable tips and examples to help you create a compelling introduction that sets the stage for your unique story.

How Important Is the Opening in a Personal Statement

The opening of a personal statement is a crucial element in the college application process. It serves as your initial opportunity to capture the attention of the admissions committee. It can be likened to the "hook" that draws the reader into your narrative.

While a strong opening for your personal statement is vital, the rest of it should be equally well-crafted, engaging, and meaningful. Every part of your statement, from start to finish, should work together to create a compelling story that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

two male students working on essays together

Defining the Purpose of a Personal Statement Introduction

The introduction of a personal statement serves several key purposes:

  • Engages the Reader: It is designed to engage the reader's interest from the outset, whether through a compelling story, a thought-provoking question, or a powerful statement. It functions as the opening act that sets the stage for the entire narrative.
  • Hints at the Theme: The introduction often provides a glimpse of the central theme or message you aim to convey throughout your personal statement. It serves as an initial preview of what's to come.
  • Reveals Your Identity: It offers a brief insight into your identity as an applicant, going beyond mere achievements to reveal your personality, values, or passions.
  • Creates Curiosity: A well-crafted introduction sparks curiosity, motivating the reader to explore further and discover why you're a standout candidate.
  • Demonstrates Your Writing Skills: Additionally, it serves as a showcase for your writing abilities, demonstrating your capacity to communicate effectively.

In essence, the introduction acts as a gateway into your personal statement, inviting the admissions committee to delve deeper into your experiences, values, and aspirations as they read through your narrative.

Selecting the Right Approach

Choosing the approach for your personal statement's introduction is key. It's a decision that sets the tone for the entire narrative. While there are various approaches to consider, the key is to choose the one that aligns best with the unique story you aim to convey in your personal statement.

Crafting an Anecdotal Introduction

Starting your personal statement with a personal anecdote is like opening a door to your life, and welcoming the reader in. Anecdotes provide a glimpse into a specific moment or experience that left a mark. 

This approach makes your narrative relatable and forges an instant connection with the reader. It lets you convey your emotions, personal growth, and lessons clearly and engagingly.

Using a Thought-Provoking Question

A well-crafted question can pique the reader's interest and encourage them to explore your story further. It can also hint at the main message you want to convey in your personal statement.

Starting with a Relevant Quote

Including a quote from a respected figure or author in your intro for your personal statement can add depth and authority. It's like tapping into the wisdom of those who have paved the way before you. 

A thoughtfully selected quote encapsulates the core message of your personal statement and has the potential to resonate with the reader. It acts as a bridge, connecting your personal narrative to a broader world of knowledge and insight.

Employing an Intriguing Statistic or Fact

If your personal statement is about a particular topic, you can start with an eye-catching statistic or fact. 

Showing strong evidence right at the beginning helps to grab the reader's attention and set the stage for your story. Just make sure your introduction fits well with the rest of your personal statement.

female student writing essay on paper in front of computer

How Can I Determine Which Approach Is Most Suitable for My Personal Statement?

Determining the most suitable approach for your college application personal statement depends on several factors, ensuring you present the most authentic and compelling version of yourself to admissions officers. Here's how to decide:

  • Reflect on Your College Journey: Think about your high school experiences, academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, and any personal challenges you've faced. Consider what aspects of your journey you want the admissions committee to know.
  • Understand the Admissions Committee: Get to know the audience that will be reviewing your application – the admissions officers. Research the college's values, mission, and what they seek in prospective students.
  • Review Successful Examples: Study successful personal statements from students who gained admission to your target colleges. Analyze their introductions to see which approach resonates with you and aligns with your own story.
  • Assess Your Writing Style: Reflect on your natural writing style. Are you a storyteller, a thinker who asks thought-provoking questions, or someone who effectively uses quotes or statistics to make a point?
  • Match Approach to Your Message: Ensure that the chosen introduction approach matches the central message or theme you want to convey. It should set the stage for the story you aim to tell about your journey, goals, and aspirations.
  • Seek Feedback: Share your draft introduction with teachers, mentors, or peers who are familiar with college application processes. They can offer insights on which approach best showcases your strengths and uniqueness.
  • Edit and Refine: Don't hesitate to revise your introduction multiple times. Experiment with different approaches until you find the one that captures your essence and engages the admissions committee.
  • Reach out for Help: Don't hesitate to reach out for help. Quad Education offers personalized personal statement support that can help you craft an introduction that truly stands out.

Remember, the goal is to select an approach that authentically represents you, resonates with the college's values, and captivates the admissions committee's attention. Your personal voice and narrative should shine through in your chosen approach.

How Long Should the Introduction of a Personal Statement Be?

The length of the introduction in your personal statement should align with the word limit guidelines provided by the specific application platform you are using. Here are the recommended word limits for some common application portals:

  • Common Application: The Common Application typically allows for a personal statement ranging from 250 to 650 words. For the introduction, aim for brevity, usually consisting of two or three sentences.
  • Coalition Application: The Coalition Application recommends a personal statement of 500 to 650 words. Similarly, for the introduction, keep it concise, typically two or three sentences.
  • QuestBridge Application: The QuestBridge Application typically has a word limit of 650 words. In this case, you can include a slightly longer introduction, but it's still important to maintain a concise and engaging opening, often consisting of two to three sentences.

Remember that the goal of your introduction is to grab the reader's attention and set the stage for the rest of your personal statement, so keeping it focused and impactful is key. 

female student typing on computer

Dos and Don'ts of Personal Statement Openings

Let's explore the essential dos and don'ts when it comes to crafting the opening of your personal statement. These guidelines will help you understand how to begin a personal statement that stands out from the crowd. 


  • Understand the Essay Prompt: Make sure you have a good grasp on the essay prompt to address it effectively, as it guides the direction of your personal statement and demonstrates your ability to follow instructions.
  • Start Strong: Begin with a compelling hook that immediately grabs the reader's attention in your opening sentence for your personal statement. You want to make a memorable first impression.
  • Express Passion: Showcase your genuine enthusiasm for your chosen field of study or topic. Let your excitement shine through in your opening lines.
  • Stay True to Yourself: Be authentic and let your unique voice come through. Admissions officers appreciate honesty and authenticity.
  • Set the Tone: The best way to start a personal statement is to use it to set the tone for the rest of your personal statement. Whether it's reflective, emotional, or informative, make it clear from the start.
  • Show Motivation: Share what motivates and inspires you in your chosen path or major. Explain why you are passionate about it and what drives your interest.


  • Avoid Clichés: Stay away from overused phrases or clichés in your opening. Aim to stand out and be original.
  • Don't Start with a Quote Without Context: If you use a quote, ensure it's relevant to your story, and provide context for why you've chosen it.
  • Steer Clear of Over-Formality: While your writing should be polished, don't make your opening overly formal or academic. Keep it engaging and relatable.
  • Avoid Jargon: Refrain from using technical or field-specific jargon that the admissions officers may not understand. Keep your language accessible.
  • Don't Begin with Apologies: Resist the temptation to start with apologies or self-deprecating statements. Focus on your strengths, aspirations, and what makes you stand out from the crowd instead.

Remember, your opening should entice the reader, offer a glimpse of your unique qualities, and build interest in your personal statement. It's your chance to make a strong first impression.

Examples of Personal Statement Starters That Worked

Let's dive into examples of personal statement starters that have proven to be effective in capturing the attention of admissions committees. These real-life openings can serve as inspiration for your own introduction.

Statement Example 1

“We stood in a circle on stage, introducing ourselves with our names and experience. The other students had lengthy lists, shows I hadn’t even heard of. Barely audible, I mumbled “I was [THE LEAD PROTAGONIST] in [A PLAY] five years ago.” I expected a laugh, this new kid who thought he could compete. Instead, a voice spoke up: “No way, I remember that show! Remember how we put the kids in their spots before curtains?” It was [FRIEND’S NAME] from elementary school, who had been opposite me as [THE ANTAGONIST].”

Statement Example 2

“I’m not good at making friends. In fact, if there was an award for the person who’s been the most unlucky with friends, it would go to me. I was shy when I was a little kid and that was only amplified when I moved across from [STATE] to [STATE], and then back to [ANOTHER CITY IN HOME STATE]. The constant move put me in six different schools, ranging from private to public to charter. During that time period, I rotated between three different homeschools. 
When it came to making friends, I would latch onto anyone who would take me. A bad habit yes, but it was the only way I knew how to make friends. Unfortunately, the ones who I latched onto the most were the ones who bullied me both verbally and physically.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I just stopped trying to make friends.
During my second semester of [CLASS] was when I first met an individual named [NAME]. I showed him a video of some adult getting stuck on a kid slide, and he thought I was weird. After that incident, he didn’t talk to me much after that, until a week later when I caught him walking his dog. I called out to him and we had a little conversation before going our separate ways. After that, we hung out more and more. The pandemic certainly brought us together as we lived close and it was convenient.
One afternoon, we were talking about how he was having motivational issues at school. He didn’t care anymore and just wanted to be done with it. He was debating whether or not he was dropping out of high school and I was trying to calm him down. I was trying to get him to see all sides before making a decision. Towards the end, after we’d talked through it all, we were both crying which was weird. Neither of us ever cried, especially not in front of others. I hadn't cried in front of someone who wasn’t family since I was six. It was one of the many things we had in common.
At the end of the call he said, “I love you [NAME], you're my best friend.” 
At that moment I just felt so happy it was honestly one of the kindest things I’d ever been told. It’s so weird because that’s something that people just say to one another right? It was the first time I heard that from someone outside of my family.
I’ll always love [NAME] for giving me that standard of what a friend should and could be. It wasn’t until I heard it from him that I understood the impact it could have on a person not hearing it. It’s such a gift to hear the appreciation one has for you.
It had been so long since I had a good friend, that when he told me about his appreciation for me, I just couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy to have a true friend who I could call my best friend.
Now, I don’t let people go below what I like to call the [NAME] standard’. If I feel like someone is not treating me or my friends fairly, I don’t entertain their company.
What [NAME] did wasn’t anything extravagant. He didn’t give his kidney and he didn’t race down the 101 to save me from some terrible tragedy. However, the appreciation that [NAME] showed for me and how he vocalized who I was to him, meant all the difference to me.
Now, I always let my friends know that I appreciate them and that I am thankful to have them in my life. This gift has helped me with choosing better friends who I love and appreciate. Thanks to Ben, he’s shown me how great life is when you're not alone.”

Statement Example 3

“In the summer of [YEAR], my sister was graduating college. My family and I drove to [CITY] to give our unconditional love and support and to celebrate. We ate dinner at a beautiful restaurant together and shared an amazing cake the day before. Unfortunately, it became the most tumultuous time in my life.

The 8 hour drive back was brutal on my workaholic dad; he neglected his health to keep a bright future for me and my sister. A few days after coming home, my dad went to the doctor with aggravating chest pain.

Soon after, the doctor dropped the news: my dad suffered a heart attack. I was [AGE], the youngest in my family, and refused to believe that my dad’s life could be cut short. Around this time, I was irresponsible and jaded; uncomfortable being empathetic, and always wishing problems to go away.

The news weighed heavily on my shoulders. As I studied my dad’s condition, I soon realized and understood the great lengths he had worked to provide me a better future. Ultimately, I knew I had to change to be better for myself and for my dad.

Post procedures, my dad returned home. Consequently, I was more empathetic, open to being vulnerable, and affectionate towards family which I had previously been too afraid to express. I would regularly hug my family members, didn’t hesitate to speak up if I was feeling scared or frustrated, listened to my dad more attentively, and I smiled more. Over the summer, I took care of my dad: I paid attention to his sodium intake, made sure he drank enough water, started doing his laundry, and slept in his room in case anything happened. There was nothing else that mattered more to me.

I’m proud to say I can be vulnerable and act on my insecurities. I became an amicable, self-aware, and social person gaining respect and friendship amongst teachers and peers. Throughout college, I make sure to spend time with my family by cooking dinner for them once a week, sending them silly texts of cute animals, or just giving them a call. My transition to becoming more open has ultimately led to my career path as an [JOB TITLE] - creating better lives for marginalized communities. Understanding what other people go through and being susceptible will allow me to properly achieve my goals and assist those in need.

It’s [YEAR], and my dad is in the best shape of his life. I show my gratitude by accompanying him during his checkups and scolding him for trying to eat poorly.”

Now that you know how to start a personal statement, examples can provide valuable insight. Use these examples as inspiration to write your own personal statement intros. 

male student typing on computer


Understanding how to start a personal statement is crucial to making a strong first impression. Keep reading to learn more about how to go about it. 

1. Is It Acceptable to Use Humor or Unconventional Methods Personal Statement Intro?

Yes, you can include humor or unconventional approaches in your personal statement introduction, but make sure to use them thoughtfully. If you decide to add humor, ensure it's appropriate and aligns with the overall tone of your essay. 

Similarly, unconventional methods should add to your narrative rather than take away from it. Always keep in mind the context and the preferences of the college or university you're applying to.

2. How Do I Capture the Reader's Attention in the First Few Lines of My Personal Statement?

To grab the reader's attention right away, consider starting with a captivating anecdote, a thought-provoking question, a relevant quote, or an intriguing statistic or fact. These techniques can spark the reader's curiosity and encourage them to dive deeper into your personal statement.

3. What Are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Personal Statement?

Some common blunders when starting a personal statement include:

  • Using overused clichés or melodramatic statements that lack originality.
  • Including irrelevant details that don't contribute to your narrative.
  • Creating an excessively long or vague introduction that fails to engage the reader effectively.
  • Focusing solely on personal experiences without connecting them to your chosen field of study or the values of the college or university.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, your personal statement's opening is crucial in your college application, but it shouldn't overshadow the rest of your narrative. Choose an approach that suits your story, stay within word limits, and make a strong but concise first impression. 

Your goal is to engage the reader while being authentic and avoiding common mistakes. Now that you know how to start a personal statement, you can make your mark on the admissions committee. Good luck with your college applications!

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