The first paragraph or so of an essay is usually the most important part of the whole essay to get "just right". Not only is it an opportunity to grab the reader's attention, but also a chance to set the agenda for the rest of the essay in terms of tone and content. Strictly speaking, there is no single "right" way to begin an essay — just as it's possible to write essays about countless subjects, so too is it possible to begin an essay in countless ways. However, most good beginnings to essays share certain qualities which, if taken into account, can greatly improve essay intros that may otherwise be lacking. See Step 1 below to get started.
re: «Over these last several weeks of summer vacation, Nicole has been working, and working some more, on her common application essay. She’s gone back and forth between two ideas, trying to perfect both, hoping that the one she ultimately chooses will best reflect who she is.»
If Nicole can give herself “permission” to spot the deeper, unexpected, but always “there” connection between her two “separate” essays, she’ll see that she can meld them into one self-defining piece of writing of inestimable power and supremely serenity-eliciting satisfaction. You too, for that matter, with your own writing.
What are colleges looking for? People who don’t care what they’re looking for. That’s what the amazing process of writing a college essay is really all about.