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Last updated June 6, 2023

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The First Paragraph of Your Supplemental Essay is All that Matters

Key Takeaway

Admissions officers are short on time and attention. The first paragraph of your supplemental essays needs to pack a punch.

Supplemental essays exist for three reasons — they:

  1. Provide an opportunity to expand on a meaningful part of your resume.
  2. Help admissions officers understand your character, or who you'd be on campus.
  3. Give you a chance to stand out from a stack of other responses to a common question.

In a Common Application personal statement, the juicy reflection and payoff should (usually) be woven throughout the back half of the essay. But you don't have the luxury of space with supplemental essays. Word counts are much more tightly constrained, and admissions officers are reading dozens of answers to the same prompts every day.

That means the pressure is on to grab your reader's attention and to provide a compelling, differentiated response to the prompt. Fast.

Hence, "the first paragraph of your supplemental essay is all that matters." You need to check between 1-3 of those boxes I laid out above.

If your first paragraph gives an AO deep context about an important resume item or experience, that's good.

If it gives them a sense of who you are personally, and what matters to you, that's better.

If it does both of those things while grabbing the reader by their collars with two hands? That's the best case.

The first paragraph is where it all happens. Then comes the boring middle (details, elaborations). Then the juicy conclusion.

All three parts actually do matter, obviously. But nailing that first paragraph is both the trickiest and the most critical part of the job.

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