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?
Check Out These Related Posts!
by Sophie Herron of Story to College
Last Friday we worked on how to identify your Pivot, the key moment or climax of your college essay, as the first step to make sure your essay meets the three requirements of the form: that your college essay needs to be short and energetic, and reveal your character.
Today, we’re going to jump right into the next step of revising your essay: The End. We’ll look at the most important dos and don’ts, and 5 techniques you can use in your own essay.
We’re working on the end today because:
1. It’s harder to get right than the beginning. Sorry. It just is.
2. Having a good, clear ending helps you write & revise the rest of your story.
3. It’s the last thing an admissions officer will read, so it’s especially important.
All right, enough chatter. On to the good stuff.
The Most Important Do and Don’t of College Essay Endings
DO: End in the action.
End right after your pivot, or key moment. I constantly tell students to end earlier–end right next to your success! (Whatever “success” means, in your particular essay.) Think of the “fade-to-black” in a movie–you want us to end on the high, glowy feeling. End with the robot’s arm lifting, or your call home to celebrate, or your grandma thanking you. Then stop. Leave your reader wanting more! Keep the admissions officer thinking about you.
In fact, that’s why we call successful endings Glows here at Story To College, because that’s exactly how you want your admissions officer to feel. Glowy. Impressed. Moved. Inspired. Don’t ruin the moment.End earlier.
Here’s your challenge: don’t ever say the point of your essay. Cut every single “that’s when I realized” and “I learned” and “the most important thing was…” Every single one. They’re boring, unconvincing, and doing you no favors.
When you tell the reader what to feel, or think, you stop telling a story. And then the reader stops connecting with you. And then they stop caring. Don’t let this happen. Don’t summarize.
But if you don’t–how do you end?
5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay
Did someone tell you good job, or thank you, or congratulate you? Did you finally speak up, or get something done? Put it in dialogue. It’s a powerful way to end. In fact, it’s an easy revision of those “I learned…” sentences earlier. So you learned to never give up?
“Hey mom,” I said into my phone. “Yeah, I’m not coming home right away–I’ve got practice.”
BOOM. Look at that.
Here’s a simple example:
I pushed open the door, and stepped inside.
Even without context, you can tell this student took a risk and committed to something. It’s all in the actions.
Maybe you want to end in a mood, or by creating a wider view of things, or by focusing in on a certain important object.
The whole robot shuddered as it creaked to life and rolled across the concrete floor. It’s silver arm gently grasped the upturned box, and then, lifted it.
There’s some combination here with action, but that’s perfectly fine.
4. Go full circle.
Did you talk to someone at the beginning? You might end by talking to them again. Or if you described a certain object, you might mention it again. There are lots of ways to end where you began, and it’s often a really satisfying technique.
5. Directly address the college.
Tell them what you’re going to do there, or what you’re excited about. I did this, actually in mine–something like:
And that’s why I’m so excited about the Core Curriculum: I’m going to study everything.
This technique breaks the “don’t tell them what your essay is about” rule–but only a little. Be sure to still sound like yourself, and to be very confident in your plans.
That’s all! Be sure to check out “Success Stories” (again, here) if you haven’t yet for more examples of each of these techniques.
Next, we’ll look at beginnings!
In the meantime, check out these great resources:
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Sophie Herron taught high school English in Houston, Texas, at KIPP Houston High School through Teach For America. Since then, she received her MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Fellow, instructor of Creative Writing, and Managing Editor of Washington Square Review, the graduate literary journal. She continues to teach as an instructor at Story To College and as a teaching artist with the Community-Word Project. She is a poet and podcaster.