Admissions

Essays: "You Had Me from Your Lede!"

Attention-grabbing opening sentences  Put your best efforts there!

You might be unfamiliar with the term “lede.” Let me define that for you.

“Lede” — “The introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story.”


Now let’s convert that to apply to college application essays: “The introductory sentence of an essay that is intended to entice the reader to read the full statement.”

You may have noticed that all my blog posts here have titles. They function as my lede. I try to make my titles interesting so that by just seeing them, you might be interested in reading what else I have written in my post. The same applies to application essays. A strong lede can draw your admission committee readers into your essay. Let me give you a real-life example from one of my client’s experiences.

 

Tom [not his real name] was applying to the University of Pennsylvania. He was searching for an idea in response to Penn’s famous (or infamous) “Page 217” essay question: “You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.” In discussing what he wanted to write about, I thought that he had hit upon a perfect topic. Tom told me that he was on a Little League team for four years and, in all that time, he never got into one. single. game. Not for one inning. Zero at bats. Nothing. Nada. Over all those years.

As for great essay topics, this was a Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!idea. So, I coached Tom about the value of lead sentences. Here, from my notes, are some of the variations we explored for that all-important first sentence:

– “Ferguson! Centerfield!”  Words of Coach Edminston I never heard.

– What becomes of kids who never get to play?

– What comes from a little-league career of  riding the oak?

– I did some of my best thinking in the dugout.

– Mooky Zittzelsperger didn’t know what contempt for the prosaic meant.

– I rode the oak into the cosmos.

– My contempt for the prosaic was born in a dugout.

– Little League was a metaphor for life; Coach Edminston was Fate.

– Sitting out every little league game can help you develop a passion for the extraordinary.

– Dugouts are like wombs; a life can be formed in one.

– This would have been a tribute to Coach Edminston if he hadn’t been such a jerk.

– This should be a tribute to Coach Edminston, but he was such a jerk.

– The Day Coach Edminston Saved America.

– If Einstein had played for Coach Edminston, the Nazis would have won the war.

– Being an INFJ and playing little league isn’t easy.

– I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator the other day.  I wonder what Coach Edminston’s type is?

– INFJ isn’t short for I need funny jokes.

A more complex lede:

– Dear Coach Edminston:

  This note is years overdue. Thanks for never letting me play in any games.

  Sincerely,

  Tom

  I ought to write him tonight; I owe that guy a lot.

***

After much discussion and editing, this is what Tom submitted for his Page 217:

A Shout-Out from The Dugout

“Ferguson! Centerfield!” Two words I longed to hear.

     

My four-year Little League career was characterized by long nights of tedious practice, a fierce devotion to my team, and a perfect record of never playing in a game. I pledge my eternal thanks to Coach Edminston for his consistency in ignoring me.

Why? Because that dugout came to be a kind of womb for me; my life was forming there. That time spent riding the oak provided a platform for my introspection. I came to see baseball as a metaphor for my young life. The starting nine were circumstances. Coach Edminston was Fate. That final game was my catharsis.

     

My last Little League game was not the final game of the season. It became the end of an era for me, though. My grandparents drove for five hours to see me play baseball that weekend. It was unlikely they’d ever get the chance again. Since Coach Edminston was so predictable in his oblivion of me, the task of landing on that starting lineup card flopped squarely onto me. So before the game, I gathered all my diplomatic wits and took them to visit Coach E.

     

“Coach-my-grandparents-are-here-today-from-Philadelphia-to-see-me-play-so-could-you-please-put-me-in-there-for-a-little-bit?” I bleated in one breathless query.

     

“Oh, yeah. Sure, Tom,” came the passionless assurance. I nervously assumed my oaken location to await the call.

     

It never came. I should have known. The warmth of my grandparents’ expectant smiles beaming forth from the bleachers should have buoyed me. Instead, I felt a sense of humiliating betrayal, a sort of nausea. My grandparents would say they enjoyed the game and even though I didn’t play it was okay. Grandparents are like that.

     

In the waning moments of the game, Coach Edminston aimlessly ambled past my end of the dugout where I held court each game from my wooden perch. He paused when he saw me. As our glances crossed, he mumbled a stammering recollection in his patented tone of mock concern. “Oh…yeah  Tom. Hey! We’ll get you in next time.” End of transmission.

     

My grandparents went back to Philadelphia. They showed me such love and understanding. What they didn’t know was what had taken place inside me, the resolve of revelation that came during those final innings. The upshot of a hundred games of anonymity, consigned to a dugout dungeon to ponder my plight was this: I would henceforth hold the prosaic in contempt; I would conduct a quest for the extraordinary. Coach Edminston’s judgment had set me free. I quit the team and haven’t been on the bench since.

A thought occurred to me while writing the above. A brief letter:

Dear Coach Edminston:

This note is years overdue. Thanks for never letting me play in any games.

I owe you a lot.

Sincerely,

Tom Ferguson

I’ll mail it tonight.

***

Tom was admitted to Penn, along with some other Ivy and so-called elite schools. The contribution his Shout-Out essay made to his Penn application will forever remain unknown. Tom is a physician today with a thriving practice.

He must have done some excellent thinking in that dugout. I’ve often wondered if Coach Edminston ever became Tom’s patient.

My final thought on my topic here: When you sit down to start your Common Application or other supplemental essays this year, say to yourself this paraphrase of  Tom Cruise’s memorable statement from Top Gun: “I feel the need for a great lede!”

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.