A quotation can be an excellent way to start off any essay. It can also be an utter disaster. This is what makes it a risky proposition. If it’s truly unique and gets the reader to pause a moment and go “Holy crap, what an amazing quote,” you might have just struck gold. If on the other hand the quotation is a bit too familiar, perhaps a bit too obvious, etc, you might get a “Really?” and you’ve just done the exact opposite of starting out well.
Some characteristics of a good quote:
1) Obscure, Part 1 – The author him/herself is a complete unknown, and the quote sparkles. Neat. Shows us that you read stuff, or just know cool obscure stuff.
2) Obscure, Part 2 – The author is famous, but the QUOTE is incredibly uncommon. Shows some depth, some “extra” knowledge. Makes a good impression.
3) Doesn’t just state the obvious. We see it a million times. A quote that is so frickin obvious, we’ve learned nothing by hearing it from someone ELSE. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Really? You’re gonna quote someone for THAT? Step it up. Make sure the quote resounds with… complexity. Or, just the opposite. Takes a complex matter and simplifies it in a cool way. But for god’s sake, avoid a quote that you can capture just as easily yourself.
4) Not always a famous person. Sometimes the quote can come from a friend, or a parent, or a teacher, or heck… yourself. Sometimes a quote can push a story along in a more compelling way than simple exposition.
Only use a quote extremely sparingly. Maybe once in an entire application. And if you have something killer, go for it. Otherwise, remember that you have very few words to play with. Why waste them on someone else?