Stanford College Essay First Lines Of Famous Books

Imagine this view every day on your way to class at Stanford University. A dream come true?

It’s college admissions season and high school seniors all over the country are struggling to perfectly capture the essence of who they are in fewer than 1,001 characters, no easy task for anyone, let alone an overworked high school student.

Parents and university-hopefuls frequently tell us that they are unsure of what to write in their personal statements. While the standard advice is easy to give (Find something interesting and unique about you, and tell it in a compelling way), it is often painfully difficult to follow through on. Easier said than done, for sure.

We’ve all heard English teachers say that the introduction can be the most important part of an essay, as it focuses the reader, sets expectations, and grabs the reader’s attention. We often search for a hook, one that is at once unique and free of gimmicks. It is a tricky balancing act, and is certainly culturally influenced as well. Worse, we writers often lack the objectivity to effectively assess our our own writing (especially when we’ve labored over a single paragraph for hours or days), so we may not be able to tell whether our writing works or conveys the message we want.

Not helping matters at all is the conflicting advice we receive from the dozen or so English teachers we’ve had over the years. One teacher marks off for using second-person (e.g., You may not know how lucky you are until you’ve lost everything you once had), favoring the more stilted third-person (One may not know how lucky she is until she’s lost everything she once had). Another teacher may encourage you to eschew formality and find an “authentic” voice. Complicating matters is the fact that College Board has officially okayed the use of first-person (e.g., “I”) in the SAT essay, which for many students represents the definitive answer to the question of what is or is not acceptable in writing. (Folks, for the record, there are different levels of formality and myriad different styles of writing. There is truly no right or wrong in essays. My best advice to you, if you have any doubt at all, is to first learn what your particular teacher or test wants, and conform to those expectations or guidelines.)

So, what are the admissions committees looking for in writing? If you ask any of them, they will invariably tell you just to be yourself, to let your true voice come out. But… What does that mean? I could write a chapter on this topic, but for now I’ll just say that I think that that advice isn’t as helpful as it sounds. (What would happen if you were just being yourself and wrote I hecka want to go to Stanford! I mean, who wouldn’t? Dude, it’s an awesome school! You ever see those posers wearing Stanford hoodies, but you just know they didn’t go there? Yeah! I could wear a Stanford hoodie honestly, and then all my relatives would shut up about me never succeeding at anything. In yo face! )

Well, here’s some great news. Stanford published 22 opening lines of essays they liked, the writers of which were offered a place in the graduating class of 2012. Here are eight of those 22, chosen for their variety and uniqueness:

  1. On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.
  2. While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
  3. Cancer tried to defeat me, and it failed.
  4. Flying over enemy territory, I took in Beirut’s beautiful skyline and wondered if under different circumstances I would have hopped on a bus and come here for my vacation. Instead, I saw the city from the window of a helicopter, in military uniform, my face camouflaged, on my way to a special operation deep behind enemy lines.
  5. I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  6. I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever crossed my mind.
  7. As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.
  8. Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

Be sure to take a look at the rest of the opening sentences, as they offer a rare and invaluable peek inside the admissions office.

I hope those opening lines will give you some ideas of what to write and of what the admissions committees like. Remember, they are human, just like you. If you, your friends, or your family like something you’ve written, there’s a good chance others will too. And good luck with your admissions!


Cambridge, MA has more than just one powerhouse university. Not too far from Harvard is also Massachusetts Institute Technology, which is more commonly referred to as MIT. For those dreaming for a career science and engineering, MIT is bound to be on the top of the list. But with an acceptance rate of just 7.8% for the most recent Class of 2020, how can you one of the lucky few with the winning ticket? Take a look at the following essay intros from MIT students on AdmitSee:


Class of 2020

If my life were a play, there would be two sets, two acts, and two sets of characters. Like many first-generation Americans, I was born in the US to immigrant parents who spoke a foreign language, cooked foreign foods, and lived a foreign lifestyle in a crime-ridden community on the “wrong side” of the SEPTA tracks. But, unlike my neighbors, I was shipped away. Keep reading. 



Class of 2019

Numerous elementary and middle students my age were looking forward for the school day to conclude with the final bell. I, however, did not represent the typical student as I dreaded the end of the school day. While my classmates welcomed the afternoon by playing outside and enjoying the day, I would arrive home only to aid my family in our restaurant. Read on. 


Class of 2020

The blare of the buzzer reverberates throughout my living quarters at 05:00 every morning.

Today’s uniform: faded red sweater and my favorite pair of knock-off vans. “Time to head out,” but before I leave, I check to see if my guardian is awake to continue the morning procedure. At 06:01 exactly, I start my 2 hour and 14 minutes commute to school. View full profile. 


Class of 2018

I recite ancient Chinese poems, but adore Jane Austen. I devour spicy chicken feet, but drool for ballpark franks. I dream in Chinese, but think in English. 10 years ago, my family moved to China from the US, and bridging these two cultures has  become part of my identity. Every morning, I take the bus to an American school next to a fishing village in the outskirts of Shanghai. As I step off the bus, uniformed guards greet me with a bright-eyed “Goo-da morning!” To the school, they are local employees who ensure the safety of our community. But to me, they are optimistic students, motivated learners, and the highlight of my week. Keep reading. 


Class of 2019

There is a hefty blue book in my bookcase that is older than any other book in the house. Across its spine are emblazoned the words My First Encyclopedia. For others this book might have served as a passing interest or an occasional point of reference; for me, it was the quiet, unremarked, yet vastly monumental introduction into a life shaped by the tenets of science. Read full essay. 

Applying to college?

View the app files and essays of accepted students.


Are you looking to apply to MIT? Make sure to search through profiles of students accepted to see essays, stats, and advice. See how they got in, and how you can too!

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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