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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The old show business expression goes, “Always leave them wanting more.” In writing your college application essay, the rule should be, “Always leave them wanting you.”
One way you can accomplish this is by ending your essay strongly and memorably. Here are six methods that can help you do that.
1. “The Buzz Lightyear”
Remember Buzz’ trademark line, “To infinity and beyond?” That’s where you will take the reader with this technique. Whatever subjects or themes you’ve been exploring in the essay, expand them into the future. If you’ve described your involvement in community service, use the final paragraph to discuss how you’ve been inspired to continue volunteering in college and beyond. If your essay was about your love of classical music, state your intentions to learn even more about it as you get older. In this way, you help establish yourself as a person who intends to be constantly learning and growing, which can only have a positive impact on your acceptance.
2. “The Echo”
This technique takes a phrase, a theme, an object, a person from the beginning of your essay and brings it back at the end. Using it will give your essay a feeling of unity and completion, leaving the Admissions Officer both satisfied and impressed. As an example, say you’ve started your essay with a bit of dialogue between you and your dad. Employing “The Echo,” you would then close the essay with another snippet of dialogue, ideally reflecting the major theme of the essay. If you began with the image of yourself boarding a camp bus for your first summer away from your parents, you might end it with the image of you boarding another bus, the one taking you off to college. However you use it, this technique is great way to show that you know how to bring a concept full circle.
3. “The Head of the Class”
Simple, direct, but always effective, this closing technique summarizes what you have learned through the events you’ve been describing in the essay. If you helped serve Thanksgiving dinners at a local homeless shelter, this is where you would state what you learned through the experience. To keep this approach from being too simplistic, try to offer examples – showing, not telling – of how these lessons have played out in your life.
4. “The What If”
It can be interesting to close your essay by wondering what would have happened to you – what kind of person you would have been, what values you might have had – had the events of the essay never occurred. This can illustrate your capacity for “big picture” thinking – seeing things from more than one perspective – as well as an appreciation for the benefits you’ve enjoyed from the way things actually occurred.
5. “The Ribbon and Bows”
Ending your essay by neatly tying up all the different themes, story lines and characters that you’ve introduced will give the reader a satisfying sense of completion, as well as a strong feeling of confidence in your writing skills. Leave no questions unanswered, complete all anecdotes, and most importantly, keep the tone upbeat.
6. “The Reveal”
With this technique, you disclose a significant piece of information, or a part of yourself, that you haven’t revealed in the body of the essay. In an essay about your inspiring first coach, it might go something like, “Coach Jane passed away last year and now, every time I get a new pair of tennis shoes, I write her initials on the inside. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think it helps me play better.” This approach can help tie together earlier parts of the essay and also be very dramatic, which is always a positive.
In writing the college application essay, the concluding paragraph could be your last chance to make an impression on the reader, and positively influence your acceptance to the school. So use these techniques to assure that your final words are also your most memorable.
For more personal help with the college admissions essay, please contact Craig Heller directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-340-1276.