If you searched “Essays that start with a quote,” in addition to finding a number of college application essay books, you’ll also find web pages explaining how clichéd and terrible these essays are. If you were cynical, you might draw the conclusion that this essay is a trap. An optimist might argue that Princeton is trying to breathe life into a venerable style of essay. My view is, it depends on what you do with it. Anything which is treated witlessly can become a cliché.
The idea is that the opening quote should be integrated into or lead naturally into the opening paragraph and so flow on through the rest of the essay. It might be best to look at a few examples of folks who know how to work a quote into an essay–you might try reading some Montaigne, or for a modern idiom, you could try this link, to Paul Theroux’s , and read pages 3-6, which don’t begin with a quote, but he soon uses multiple quotes. This three-page section of the book has been excerpted as an essay and gives a good example of thought and action as Theroux looks at himself in relation to others engaged in the same activity.
I also suggest that you visit the New York Review of Books, which always has an article which discusses a series of new or recent titles and puts them in perspective. Have a look at my posts on writing about books, , and you may find some useful passages for your purposes in this quote essay–be aware that the NYRB articles are meant largely to discuss books but many wander far afield in ways that may give you ideas on writing an essay tying your own life to what you have found in a book.
If I may quote from Wilson’s essay, this section, by establishing what Wilson saw as the purpose of the university, also reinforces what the university still sees as its purpose:
Writing an Essay About a Quote | the college app jungle
Since your essay here is supposed to be about a personal experience which defined your values, you might think you were inoculated against the Miss America essay I discuss in the link above, but it’s a truth commonly acknowledged that it’s hard to write about yourself without looking self-absorbed. I give more advice on this here as I discuss how essays on a variety of recent world and social justice issues come off as too self-referential: By the way, I note for the record how modest Princeton is as it quotes its own profs, both the quick and the dead.
First let me digress yet again, to Michel de Montaigne, the guy who developed the essay as a literary form and who also initiated many of his essays with a quote which conveyed an idea that he would develop throughout the essay. He quoted from classical authors frequently, both to frame his own arguments and to bolster them. Therefore, I send you now to , where I also provide a second link to a good article about his life and essays, though I hasten to add that he was sometimes better in theory than in practice–his disappearance to the countryside during an episode of the plague has been questioned by more than a few–but his essays are great and we should, I think, use caution in judging others.
Now to the central problem of this prompt: starting with a quote can be hackneyed and the quote intro can also be used thoughtlessly or clumsily–for example, by jumping from the quote to a more-or-less unrelated idea in such a way that the quote is really an excuse to start an essay more than a true starting point. And don’t force the book and your experience together. You can write a great essay which references your life to knowledge found in a book, but it is vital that the quote–and the book–relate somehow to your experience in an honest way. See my discussions of which may help you with the thought process, though rather than finding a way to link a book to a book, you look for a single book to relate to your life. Be sure that the quote you used is not taken out of context, and that you deal with the essay or book as a whole.
How To Write A Good Application Essay Quote
@Jeff, thanks for the comment. It sounds like maybe you’re reacting to this post from a different context than it was written? Our site is all about essays for admission to top MBA programs. In all our years of doing this (which are many) we have seen many people TRY to start an essay with a quote – and we have honestly never seen it executed well. It’s even more difficult in this current era of super-abbreviated essays (most essays are 500 words and some must be much shorter).