How to Conclude Your College Admissions Essays
Here’s an excerpt from my ebook guide on how to write a college application essay using a narrative, storytelling style. I pulled this from my chapter on writing conclusions. Some students find ending their essays a snap, others get a bit lost at the end and veer off track. What you want in your conclusion is to give your reader a sense of completion, and leave on a broad, forward-thinking note.
(These tips will make the most sense if you followed my loose formula for writing a personal essay, where you start with an anecdote to show your reader what you are talking about, and then go on to explain its significance in the rest of the essay. You can get a sense of this formula by reading my Jumpstart Guide post. If you want a step-by-step guide to this process, buy my instant ebook Escape Essay Hell! for about ten dollars either here or over at Amazon.)
THE FOLLOWING IS EXCERPTED FROM CHAPTER NINE OF ESCAPE ESSAY HELL! (plus some):
Like all conclusions, you are basically wrapping up your story, summing up your main point(s) and ending on a broad, upbeat note. You can mix it up however you want, but here are some surefire ways to making it a memorable wrap:
Bring Your Essay Full Circle
Find a way to link back to that original anecdote you started with (in this example, the writer wrote about how his short stature didn’t keep him from pursuing the high jump. He started his essay with an anecdote about him jumping at a high-pressure meet.). Bring the reader up to date to the present. For instance, with the high jumper, here’s how he could let us know where he is with that sport now: “I’m not sure if I will continue high jumping in college, and it’s not a sport you can pick up and play anywhere.
So there’s a chance I may never catapult myself over a pole again in the near future. But I will never forget that moment of exhilaration as I cleared that bar during our big meet. Everyone raced up and gave me high fives and big hugs. What I will always remember is that feeling of rising above all the opinions of other people who thought I was just another short guy. …”
Here are some other examples of linking back to the introduction or beginning anecdote. Notice how each one brings the reader up to date with what and how you are doing in regards to the story, moment or experience you shared in your essay.
Most of your essay was telling about something that happened in the past, and now in your conclusion you have brought them into the present by linking to your beginning–which poises you to mention your future aspirations in the last sentence or two:
- If you started by describing a time you got stuck in a tree because of a tangled rope, bring that experience up to date in the conclusion: “I haven’t climbed many trees lately, but I still love practicing tying knots. And recently, my knots have helped me solve more problems than create them…”
- If you started by describing a poignant moment with someone you lost or who was battling illness, you could bring the reader up to speed by talking about how you are doing now: “I still think about my dad more times than I can count during the day, and I miss him with all my heart, but that raw, aching grief is starting to calm down a bit….
- If you started with an anecdote (mini-story) about a time a fellow water polo player avoided you, apparently because your enormous size made him assume you were a mean guy, link back to that moment and tell us how things are going for you today: “When I walk into a room full of strangers, I will always spot that kid who looks at me with a hint of fear. And that might never change. I will always tower over most of my friends, and I actually enjoy trying to make others comfortable. But I’m a big guy, and I have learned how to also be a big person…”
In your conclusion, you can also re-state your main point in a fresh way, and touch on your core quality and what you learned if possible: “At this point, I almost believe that if I’m determined enough, I just might grow another inch or two.” (Humor never hurts in these essays; it often shows you don’t take yourself too seriously.)
End by touching on how you intend to use the life lesson from your essay in your future plans, to meet goals or dreams. Look ahead. Share your big ideas: “If nothing else, I’m eager to find out exactly how high I can go with my dream of finding a career in the world of chemistry or engineering.
HOT TIP: It’s always a good idea to try to end with a little “kicker” sentence—if it works and doesn’t sound too corny. Don’t be afraid to be idealistic and declare your dreams or goals. Or you can try a play on words. If you aren’t sure your “kicker” works or not, have a friend or parent give you some feedback. “One thing for sure, I know I won’t come up short.” Hmmm. Does that work or is it too corny?
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Lesson Five: Introductions and Conclusons
The conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon them your qualifications. Endings are the last experience an admissions officer has with your essay, so you need to make those words and thoughts count. You should not feel obligated to tie everything up into a neat bow. The essay can conclude with some ambiguity, if appropriate, as long as it offers insights. The aim is for the admissions officer to leave your essay thinking, “That was a satisfying read.” Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you develop your conclusion.
Expand upon the broader implications of your discussion. This could include the following strategies:
Consider linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of balance by reiterating introductory phrases.
Redefine a term used previously in your body paragraphs.
End with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument. Do not TRY to do this, as this approach is overdone. This should come naturally.
Frame your discussion within a larger context or show that your topic has widespread appeal.
Tie the conclusion back to your introduction. A nice conclusion makes use of the creativity you used in your introduction. If you used an anecdote in your intro, use the conclusion to finish telling that story.
Try to end on a positive note. You may want to restate your goals in terms of how they will be fulfilled at the institution to which you are applying.
Summarize. Since the essay is rather short to begin with, the reader should not need to be reminded of what you wrote 300 words beforehand. You do not need to wrap up your essay in a nice little package. It should be an ending, not a summary.
Use stock phrases. Phrases such as, “in conclusion,” “in summary,” “to conclude,” belong only in dry, scientific writing. Don’t use them.
Try to Explain the Unexplainable. Your essay need not be so tidy that you can answer why people die or why starvation exists -- you are not writing a sitcom -- but it should forge some attempt at closure.
Before you move on to Lesson Six: Editing and Revising, you should take a break. Let your draft sit for a day or two. You need to distance yourself from the piece so you can gain objectivity. If there is anything more difficult than trying to edit your own work, it is trying to edit your own work right after you have written it. Once you have let your work sit for a while, you will be better able to tackle the final steps of editing and revising.
Move on to Lesson Six: Editing and Revising