How to End Your College Essay: 5 Strategies
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- What is the Purpose of Your College Essay Conclusion?
- Cliche College Endings to Avoid
- Strategies for Ending Your College Essay
- How To Make Sure Your Writing Is Effective
Finishing up your college essay is a daunting task. You want to tie everything together, but you’re nervous about being redundant. You want to be clear, but you don’t want to be didactic. You want to tell your story, but you are afraid of sounding too self-centered.
To get over some of these nerves, you may want to dive into conclusion writing with a specific strategy (strategies that have worked time and time again!). Read along to hear about 5 effective strategies for wrapping up a college essay.
What is the Purpose of Your College Essay Conclusion?
The primary purpose of your college essay conclusion is to compel the admissions counselor to reflect on the narrative that you wrote about and see its importance. It is the final impression that they will have of you and your writing (which is often even more important than a first impression!), so you want to leave them satisfied and you want your argument unambiguous.
The ending of a college essay is also often the place where students take their essays to the next level. Through a variety of creative strategies, you have the opportunity to provide unique insight regarding the narrative you described and help readers to understand what you were getting at with your story. Your conclusion should help readers to connect your story to you. Be sure to apply a forward-thinking approach to the ending of your essay, telling the reader how your anecdote or story has an impact.
Cliche College Endings to Avoid
The main issues with summary endings are that 1) if your essay is well-written, your summary will be redundant and 2) your summarizing phrase will divert a reader’s focus away from the thoughts, emotions, and images that you are working with so hard to evoke in them.
The purpose of a compelling essay will always be self-evident. If your essay ends with a summary, you should attempt to rewrite your conclusion, but you may also want to reevaluate your essay as a whole. Make sure that you are saying what you are trying to say without explicitly stating your purpose or identifying a “moral of the story.”
Some generally unconvincing (and thus, superfluous) summarizing statements include:
- I learned…
- That was when I realized that…
- The most important lesson I learned…
- The catch point was when…
- My aha moment was…
When you use these phrases, you sabotage your argument by interrupting your argument. You will lose the attention of your reader. Additionally, by summarizing, you assume that your reader is not intelligent when in reality your reader will be able to draw their own conclusions if your writing convincingly promotes your message.
When you ensure that your essay speaks for itself and avoid these summarizing statements, you will open your essay up for more creative, unique, and engaging endings!
Using Trite Transitions
Stock phrases are unnecessary and overused in college essay conclusions. Colleges are looking for students who can write well and articulate their thoughts creatively. Quite frankly, when an admissions officer (who has extensive experience writing at the college level) reads a trite transition, they will likely be irritated and that irritation will not work in your favor during the admissions process.
Trite transitions include:
- “In conclusion”
- “To conclude”
- “In summary”
- “To sum up”
- “In essence”
- “All in all”
- “All things considered”
- “In the end”
If you’re struggling to write your conclusion without the crutch of one of these transitions, you may consider moving forward with your transition, then going back after you have finished your first draft and deleting the transition and the sentence that follows it. Often, the sentence after your transition will also be redundant and unnecessary, and the second sentence of your conclusion will suffice on its own.
Mentioning Your Hopes of Acceptance
The admissions committee knows that the intention of your essay is to help you get accepted into the college or university that they are representing. This means that you should not mention your hopes of being accepted. You have a limited number of words for your essays, so don’t use them to state the obvious! Mentioning your acceptance can also come off as naive or lacking creativity.
Strategies for Ending Your College Essay
There are many effective ways to conclude a college essay, and different ways work for different applicants and different topics. Knowing the theme of your essay will be immensely valuable when figuring out how to wrap things up.
Student essay themes often include:
- Making the most of a hardship (during the hardship)
- Growing from adversity (after the fact)
- Overcoming a fear
- Figuring out one’s values
- Learning an important lesson
- Building a valuable relationship/connection
Students often find that their theme lends itself to a particular essay-ending strategy. For example, a student exploring the theme of growing from adversity may benefit from the “Image of the Future” technique as they can preview the effects of their growth. A student exploring the theme of figuring out one’s values might use the “Reflection” technique to name their values and explore their implications.
Here are 5 of CollegeVine’s strategies for ending your college essay:
The Full Circle strategy (also called bookending) involves seamlessly connecting your conclusion to your introduction. This can involve reintroducing a word, phrase, person, or object from the start of your essay.
Bookending makes your essay feel complete, unified and settled. By reminding the admissions committee where your essay started, you remind them of the journey they went on while reading your essay and of everything they learned about you. When executed successfully, bookending feels unforced and will leave readers satisfied with all that you articulated.
Prompt #2 Example #2 on our Common App Examples is a great example of a Full Circle ending. The narrative begins with the simple word “Fire!” then the student explores their insecurity due to not being able to start a fire on a camping trip. Ultimately, the narrative resolves itself as the narrator describes how interests can change and how their former love of all things outdoors had transitioned into a love of all things writing. The narrator ends with “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.”
Image of the Future
The primary purpose of a college essay is to convince admissions officers that you should be admitted to their college or university. To do this, you may want to show how you would be a valuable addition to a college or university. The “Image of the Future” strategy involves concluding your essay with an image of how the lesson you learned, the growth you experienced, or the fear you conquered will help you later on.
Some examples of this strategy could include:
- If your essay focuses on the importance that mock trial had in forming your identity in high school, you could describe a future situation and show how the values you gained from mock trial apply there.
- If you write about gaining interpersonal skills through a complicated relationship, you could describe a hypothetical situation where your interpersonal skills are tested more severely and you still come out on top.
- If you focus on your former insecurity when making new friends, you can explore a hypothetical situation where you actively facilitate a friendship for someone nervous in a social situation.
- If you write about how classical music changed the way you viewed the world, you could create an image of you performing classical music much later in life and still recognizing its important (and evolving) role in your identity formation.
These examples, and this strategy more generally, give readers a sense of potential and opportunity. They have a romantic feel as they invite readers to see the connection between a past hardship or adversity and future success or growth. They also often involve an explorative, enlivened, and promising tone.
This ending strategy is particularly compelling for essays about significant hardships and challenges because readers get a before-and-after of the student (and thus, see their growth clearly). Admissions officers will see a chance to help someone realize their full potential, which can prove very appealing.
I used the “Image of the Future” strategy when wrapping up my Common App essay:
“I envision myself sitting in my dorm room in a few years. I begin scribbling numbers on a sheet of paper. Fatigue consumes me, yet thoughts continue to race through my mind—thoughts that need to be acted upon. What if I go to bed and the next thing I was going to study is on the test tomorrow? What if staying up another hour gains me a better grade? I run a cost-benefit analysis of sleep versus grades. But then, the idea that happiness is more important than perfection wanders in the back of my mind—an idea from my eighteenth summer spent in Punalu’u. And what do I do? I choose happiness.”
If you are struggling to weave personal information about yourself into your essay, you may want to use your conclusion as a time to reflect on your experiences. When using this strategy, be careful not to resort to summarizing! Summarizing is restating your previous ideas or drawing obvious conclusions for your reader. Reflecting takes summarizing a step further by exploring the personal implications of your narrative.
Throughout your essay, you will describe different subjects and themes. A reflective ending is a place to explore how those subjects and themes inform your beliefs and values. Ending with an exploration of yourself and your identity will show admissions officers that you value self-reflection (and can effectively do it!). They also subtly tell admissions officers why you would be beneficial at their institution.
You may not want to use a reflective ending if you are a writer who reflects consistently throughout your writing. Doing so could leave you with a repetitive essay. Only use the Reflection strategy if you have not discussed your beliefs and values earlier in your essay.
Example from Prompt #5 Example #1 on our Common App Essays:
My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.
Same, but Different
This strategy is similar to the Full Circle strategy but goes a bit deeper. Rather than simply tying your story up by repeating a symbol, image, or phrase, your goal is to cause readers to reflect on a change that occurred throughout your essay and to create a wider view of your narrative.
The “Same, but Different” strategy can be applied to objects, settings, and even people and can be achieved through dialogue, description, or reflection. Some examples include:
- After focusing on how your perseverance led to improvements in your complex relationship with your father, you could end your essay with dialogue that shows the progress that has occurred in your relationship.
- If your essay describes how you underappreciated your former pet, it could be effective to end your essay with a description of a new opportunity with a pet and your intentions to do things differently.
- Following a discussion of your anxiety about a research article you are having to write, you could conclude with yourself at the same desk, approaching the same task, but with a different attitude.
This technique finds its basis in the idea that your reader will view the image differently than they previously had because of your writing.
Example from Prompt #4 Example #1 on our Common App Examples:
“Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.”
Different, but the Same
While the “Same, but Different” strategy focuses on what has changed, the “Different, but the Same” strategy focuses on what has stayed the same and emphasizes that this too is important.
This strategy is valuable if, instead of focusing on hardship, your essay focuses on a fundamental aspect of your personality that has historically helped you. This type of ending can also be helpful when describing the importance of your fundamental values.
Examples of essay endings that highlight a consistent element of a narrative include:
- Using an image of your father cooking after work to describe how, while your location has changed through a cross-country move, you still find comfort in the fact that you are surrounded by a family who loves you.
- After a narrative where a student makes a difficult decision to attend a new camp after 5 summers at an old camp, providing an image of the same joy around a campfire.
Like with the “Full Circle” strategy, you may want to include specific words, phrases, or ideas from your introduction in this ending to tie things up. That being said, this strategy also should involve growth and understanding. Since they began reading your essay, readers should have gained a clearer understanding of the importance of the previously stated value, belief, character trait, an important object, important person, etc.
The ultimate goal of this ending is to have admissions officers excited for you—excited that you learned to use your already great traits or that you were able to further explore something you have always appreciated or valued.
Example from Prompt #3 Example #1 on our Common App Examples:
“I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.”
How To Make Sure Your Writing Is Effective
An excellent conclusion involves more than just good content. You must effectively pair your content with an appropriate tone. Experts at the Harvard Writing Center describe how concluding essays with sentences composed of mainly one-syllable words can create understated drama. They also say that parallel sentence structure can lead to a sense of balance at the end of your essay. If you want to shift your tone with your conclusion, you may also want to consider changing the rhythm of your final sentences.
While nuanced tips and tricks are helpful when writing, it’s often not that simple. Feedback is ultimately any writer’s best source of improvement! To get your college essay edited for free, use our Peer Review Essay Tool. With this tool, other students can tell you if your conclusion is effective and help you improve your essay so that you can have the best chances of admission.