College Admission Essay Conclusions

So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.

The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.

To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
  • Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
  • Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
  • Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.

Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:

  • Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
  • Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."

Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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 craig.essaysolutions@gmail.com or 818-340-1276.

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