How to End a College Essay – With Examples

June 16, 2023

Figuring out how to end a college essay can feel like the difference between success and failure. Common scenario: You’ve done the heavy lifting of brainstorming, developing, and revising your Common App essay, but now you sit and stare at the cursor pulsing on your screen, like a stress tick in your eye. What to say that you haven’t already said? How to tie it all together without sounding tired and stressed? It is true that your conclusion serves as a sort of benchmark for the strength of your overall essay. If your conclusion feels impossible to write after several attempts, this might be a sign that you need to go back and look over the strength or purpose of your essay overall.

The good news is, your final paragraph doesn’t need to be a graveyard of redundancy, clichés and tired summary! And even better, you have options about how to end a college essay. It doesn’t have to be formulaic or look like a friend’s conclusion. Amidst a dizzying array of “do’s and “don’ts,” here is a list of three straightforward options, along with examples, for how to successfully (and relatively painlessly) end your college essay.

Option 1: Save something for the end

It might be helpful to think of your essay like this: You are a tailor cutting a garment from a beautiful piece of fabric. You have plenty of fabric to work with because you are approaching your overall essay as a process: brainstorming, writing, revision, repeat. The writing process is cyclical. You begin with an idea, which leads you to another, and before you know it, you’re approaching your original idea from a different angle. In the midst of this process, you will unearth images, memories, meaningful moments, memorable things people in your life have said, and so on. When this happens, intentionally tuck away 1-2 of these items with the idea that you can use them to craft your final paragraph. Following are some examples of students who tried to save something for the end:

Strong Example:

Shortly before her death, my grandmother gave me a string of pearls. Whenever I look at these tiny treasures from the sea, I am reminded that despite our complex relationship, we made many meaningful memories together. Each pearl reminds me of an event, or place: Her 80th birthday party; deep sea diving in Florida; impromptu singing lessons around her piano. Along with the memories, the pearls are a symbol of her finest qualities—qualities she passed on to me: tenacity, loyalty, belief in the deep goodness of humanity—and a touchable reminder that I am in part who I am because of her.

This is a strong example because the student chose a concrete image—an image that we can imagine seeing or touching—and uses it to deepen his reflection on his relationship with his grandmother. Images are memorable, so this reflection will echo longer in the reader’s mind; this is a classic example of showing AND telling.

How to End a College Essay (Continued)

Weak Example:

Travel is a great way to learn about the world and ourselves. My family would go on amazing trips together, and thinking back on those trips is a really good reminder of all the special memories I have made with them. One time we went to Columbia as a family, and it was very special to me. I tried so many different foods and met so many new people. I even got to use some of the Spanish I learned in school on this trip.  This trip really increased my passion for traveling. Having the opportunity to learn in a different setting while getting to experience new cultures is something I am really looking forward to during college.

This is a weak example because it does feel as if the student ran out of gas at the end. Notice the use of general adjectives such as amazing and special, and the fact that while a specific place is mentioned—Columbia—nothing specific is said about the country, or the family’s experience there. What foods did the student try? What, besides getting to speak Spanish, made the trip special? There are golden opportunities in this example for where the writer could have invoked one of the five senses—taste, touch, smell, site, or sound—and did not.

Option 2: Leave the reader with a thought to keep the conversation going

You can choose to end your college essay by saying something about your story or topic that you did not feel you had the opportunity to say before.  Sometimes, at the end of an essay on a difficult or complex subject, you feel unable to just “wrap things up” like a pretty Christmas present. Is something still ambiguous for you? Does something still haunt you? Did you hold something back? Tell the reader about it. If it helps, imagine that you are having a conversation with a broader audience than an admissions counselor. If it helps, imagine that your audience is a friend, teacher, or family member.

Strong Example:

The ideology behind color blindness doesn’t make you progressive, it makes you a coward. Talking about race should not be controversial. I shouldn’t be petrified to talk about racism to a group of white people. Petrified because I’ll most likely be shut down condescendingly like a parent scolding their child. I shouldn’t worry over the natural curls of my hair because it will seem ghetto and unprofessional.

Nor should I get excited when I see a movie that has at least one black person in a somewhat lead role. I should not have to read white literature, learn white history, and speak white English , but spend only one week learning about slavery. I shouldn’t have to read articles calling Edris Elba “too street” to play James Bond and Viola Davis “less classically beautiful.” So, why is it so hard to talk about racism? What about it make your spine tingle and the hairs on your skin raise?

How to End a College Essay (Continued)

This is a strong example because, wow! There is a lot of passion and specificity in this student’s reflection on race and racism. From her own curls, to literature and pop culture, this writer is not only giving her audience a piece of her mind, she is putting the ball in the reader’s court with that final question.

Also, think of it like this: What if this writer has hit upon the heart of her paper in her conclusion? What if, by “getting it all out,” she found a way to strengthen her thesis, and her overall purpose for her essay? In the lovely book on creative nonfiction called Tell it Slant, one writer describes the writing process this way: “The essayist attempts to surround a something—a subject, a mood, a problematic irritation, by coming at it from at all angles, wheeling and diving like a hawk, each seemingly digressive spiral actually taking us closer to the heart of the matter.” Trust your writing process, even if feels like you keep circling back to your starting point.

Weak Example:

Speaking up for others is important. For example, after the death of George Floyd, Americans showed their support by protesting. Professional athletes have showed their support for the Black community by taking a knee during the national anthem, and regular people spread of awareness on social media. These are all crucial steps to the end of racial injustice in America. I learned that using your voice can make enormous impacts. In the future I’d really like to show my support in protests, by taking part in them, for these injustices.

How to End a College Essay (Continued)

This is a weak example because while it does mention several specifics, such as protests after the death of George Floyd, and professional athletes “taking the knee,” there isn’t enough of a connection between these examples and the writer. The details in this paragraph could really have been written by anyone (and those are the kind of conclusions you want to avoid writing at all costs!). In the sentence, for example, where the writer says, “I learned that using your voice can make enormous impacts,” s/he misses the opportunity to personalize this learning experience. Even if s/he did not have the opportunity to protest, etc., s/he could have delved deeper into his/her reactions and emotions to the events mentioned, or event discussed what they wished they’d have done to speak up.

Option 3: Don’t try to be fancy

Are you the kind of person who prefers facts and figures over emotions and descriptions? Do you dislike talking about yourself? Do you prefer taking apart machines to playing Wordle? Then this option is for you. When ending your college essay, being clear is better than being fancy. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to write well. It just means that you can choose to focus more on being straightforward—describing a process, ending with a clear purpose for the future—than being colorful or edgy. The most important thing about the whole college essay writing process, after all, is about showing your authenticity.

Strong Example:

It took time and patience, but by observing how various students worked and how I could best help them, I became an effective and efficient Homework Coach. Because I volunteered longer than anyone else, I became the lead Homework Coach. I passed on my hard-won knowledge about developing teaching strategies to the tutors in training so they too could be successful in teaching a variety of subjects. I enjoyed my time helping others and even received a community service award from the President of the United States. Going forward, I plan to continue using my skills as a tutor to help friends and classmates with their homework.

This is a strong example because the student clearly describes a learning experience, what he took from it, and what he hopes to do with it in the future. The writer is obviously proud of his accomplishments, but does not feel the need to “dress them up” by using fancy vocabulary, clichés or empty adjectives.

Which brings me to this point: You don’t need be the daughter of a professional clown, or have ridden an alpaca ten miles to school in order to have something worthwhile to say. Hard work speaks for itself, and often, being authentically you starts with acknowledging day-to-day life lessons and everyday accomplishments.

How to End a College Essay (Continued)

Weak Example

I started working as a lifeguard at my community pool as a skinny 16-year-old. I remember my first day like it was yesterday. It was 90 degrees, and my red Nike one-piece felt like a melting popsicle as I watched others having fun and cooling off in the water. I remember that there was a mom there with a set of twin toddlers, and I nervously kept an eye on them. Being a lifeguard is all about responsibility and teamwork. My lifeguard team has an outstanding record of keeping swimmers safe. As a student majoring in business, I know that having teamwork skills will be very important, especially because I will probably have to work with a team when I begin my career as well.

This is a weak example because the writer strays from her focus of being a lifeguard, and what she learned about responsibility and teamwork. The reflective, narrative details about the heat, the swimsuit, and the mom with twins, not to mention the cliché “I remember…like it was yesterday,” detract from her overall purpose. Don’t get me wrong: using narrative details to talk about life lessons is not a wrong approach; however, focus first on clarity and your overall purpose for writing.

How to End a College Essay – Final Thoughts

Remember, when ending your college essay, you have options! Consider trying each of these 3 approaches and see which you like best. And as you think about and brainstorm your essays, check out these links, too: