Finding a conclusion for your college essay is one of the most challenging parts of writing it.
Once you have written the introduction and the body paragraphs of the essay, you might feel like you’ve said everything you intended to say. You might wonder what else is left.
There is risk in not concluding your essay well.
Your conclusion is likely the last thing an admissions officer is going to read.
It’s your final handshake with the reader.
It’s your exit through the door. The impression you leave in the final sentences of your essay will remain with your reader.
A great conclusion can be more powerful than anything featured on your transcript because it can set you apart from everyone else.
Here are tips for what to avoid, and what to do, in order to write the best conclusion for your college essay.
TIP 1: Avoid a Summary
Admissions officers read thousands of college essays every year that end with a summarizing statement. Applicants will say what they learned or discuss the moment they realized something very important.
Avoid the following phrases:
- This was the moment when I realized…
- The point of this essay is…
- The most important thing is…
- I learned…
On the surface, your impulse to say “this was the moment I realized…” makes sense.
You want to show your reader that you are a person who understands your own experience. But when you summarize an important moment, it loses value and power.
- Formulaic statements like these convince few readers, even if the message is honest.
- Respect your reader’s intelligence, and let her draw her own conclusions.
If your writing is clear and direct, the reader will understand the depth of your personal statement without having to be told.
- In storytelling, writing, and moviemaking, lessons that are evident but not directly stated are more powerful than lessons that are over-the-top and found too conveniently.
Don’t underestimate the intelligence of admissions officers.
They are smart people. Chances are that they’ll understand the lessons from a story that is told well.
Write your story effectively by letting the conclusion begin and end naturally — don’t force a summarizing statement into your writing.
TIP 2: Avoid Stock Phrases
Like a summary, stock phrases are formulas that writers use when they can’t think of what else to say.
Some common transitional and concluding phrases are:
- In conclusion
- In summary
- To end
- To conclude
- In short
- In essence
If it’s your last paragraph, your reader can already see that it’s the conclusion. Sophisticated personal writing will always avoid these phrases. You’re writing a college essay, not a professional memo.
Stock phrases demonstrate a lack of creativity.
For those of you who are not creative, don’t worry. If you’re not pursuing a creative writing major in college, you won’t run into more assignments like the college essay.
So, what should you do if you can’t help but write a stock phrase?
- Write the entire conclusion with the stock phrase.
- When you’re done, go to the stock phrase and delete the entire sentence.
- Then, begin the paragraph with the remaining introductory sentence.
- Begin rewriting and editing from there.
TIP 3: Avoid Concluding Quotes. The Conclusion Should Focus On You.
Your college essay is about you, no matter what.
When you quote from other sources, you take away from your own voice.
Usually, we choose quotes from famous or historical figures because they link our personal experiences to something more universal.
Other writers use quotes because they think it makes them appear more interesting or educated.
There’s nothing wrong with using a quote in your essay. But if you end with someone else’s words, you leave your reader thinking about that person, not about you.
- Consider this ending: “When I think about my experience, I always remember Ben Franklin’s wise words: by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
When a reader is finished with this essay, she may be thinking about how clever or profound Ben Franklin is. But that reader is no longer thinking about you.
This is especially important if you’re reaching the word limit. Quotes take up valuable space in the conclusion.
For this reason, ending with anything but your own words is a bad idea.
Now that you know what not to do, let’s consider what works in college essay conclusions.
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TIP 4: Revisit Your Introduction
You may have spent a long time crafting your introduction. The impression you give, from your first few sentences, can grab your reader.
It’s a good idea to take the same approach to your conclusion.
- Many introductions begin with a story or an anecdote to illustrate the larger point made in the essay. If this has been your strategy, revisit that story.
Your subject can be anything. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing about the first time you flew on a plane or the best piece of advice your grandmother gave you.
Revisiting the scene of your introduction brings harmony and coherence to your ideas.
Let’s look at an example.
Here is an introduction that begins: “As the plane accelerated on the runway, I gripped my seat for dear life. Anything could go wrong. It was my first time flying and I had no idea how I’d make it out alive.”
This student has set up a central conflict in the introduction: fear of flying, and having no other option but to face that fear. Importantly, this writer puts his reader directly on the plane too. Because the scene begins with action, it can end that way too.
Here is a conclusion that revisits the scene in the introduction:
“As the plane deployed its wheels and touched down on the runway, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d made it. As I walked down the narrow cabin aisle, I nodded to the flight attendant. ‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘I couldn’t have done it without you.’ I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked through the door.”
This essay revisits the introduction in order to resolve the conflict it sets up. The landing plane creates a parallel with the opening, when it was taking off.
More importantly, this author resolves the internal conflict. She is now confident and relieved.
Her conclusion also hints at a deeper theme: knowing when to ask for help and rely on others.
Notice that this student doesn’t explicitly say what she learned, or what the lesson of her essay is.
But any college admissions officer, looking at this conclusion, will understand what has changed from beginning to end.
TIP 5: Understand Your Theme
Knowing what your college essay is about can greatly improve your conclusion. Common themes of personal statements include:
- Overcoming a fear
- Facing a challenge successfully
- Growing from a setback
- Finding strength in a hardship
- Learning something new
- Making a meaningful connection
Understanding the theme of your essay can help you write an excellent conclusion.
Many successful essays work backward from information presented in the statements above.
They begin with the fear and end with how they overcame it. Or they begin with the hardship and end with how they found strength.
TIP 6: End on a Positive Note
Even if you don’t have a conflict in your college essay, it’s always a good idea to end positively.
Remember that your essay needs to show that you would be a valuable asset to a college community.
Try this: imagine yourself at the place you’re applying to, and ask these questions:
- What will my first year at college look like?
- How can I make a positive impact through my involvement in the community?
- What challenges might I face and how can I overcome them?
- How does my theme, story, or personal anecdote relate to my future?
- How will I continue to grow as a person in college?
Your answers to these questions can help you figure out how to find the right ending.
Many college essays discuss a past event for the writer, so it makes sense to conclude by looking toward the future.
Conclusion: Your College Essay Conclusion
Writing your college essay is not easy, and finding the best way to end it is even harder. Start by knowing what to avoid.
Even if you fall into those traps on the first draft, make sure they are corrected by the time you’re ready to submit your essay. Next, focus on the solutions.
While there is no single right answer to finding the best conclusion, there are certainly better and proven options.
Your final words to a reader of your college essay should leave a great impression, so make them memorable.