You have written your introduction, you have pumped out a few killer body paragraphs, and now your work is done, right? WRONG. Do not underestimate the importance of a strong conclusion. The conclusion of your graduate school admissions essay will be the last thing that the admissions officer reads, so you want to make sure to leave a strong final impression.
By now, you have probably seen all over our site that we recommend that your essay include 40 percent narrative and 60 percent introspection. Think of the narrative as the portion of your essay addressing the “what?”, and the introspection as the section addressing the “so what?” The conclusion then, attempts to answer the BIG “so what?” It should convey to the reader a clear reason why your paper’s argument is significant.
There are elements that a conclusion must include, and some additional elements that a conclusion may include. Do not settle for merely including the necessary elements; you want your essay to stand out.
Your conclusion must include a rehashing of your thesis. Rehashing your thesis does not mean repeating your thesis. Find a different way of stating your topic and your perspective on that topic. The conclusion should also include a brief summary of your points. You do not have to mention each individual supporting argument, but make sure that you at least generally explain the contents of your essay.
Most importantly, you want your conclusion to tie back to your initial arguments. In the beginning you introduced your ideas, after which you spent the rest of the essay proving your argument. In the conclusion, you want to remind your reader of what the purpose of proving your argument was to begin with.
Strengthening your Conclusion
Here we have four recommended options for strengthening your conclusion in order of effectiveness. You do not have to limit yourself to using only one of these. You can, for instance, use the Past, Present, Future approach and still ask a provocative question.
1. Past, present, future.
If your essay includes a long running narrative, this is an excellent feature to include in your conclusion.
In the introduction you speak in the present tense. In the body, you relate to a story from the past. Now, in the conclusion, you may want to end on an upbeat note by concluding with your aspirations for the future.
Take a look at the following example:
When I was younger I had always looked up to my older brother; he could have done no wrong. Now, as our relationship has developed I have seen all aspects of his personality and recognize that he too has his flaws. Yet his important qualities—respect, courage, and determination—I still admire and try to emulate. I am certain that one day I too will be someone’s role model, and I will strive to exhibit my best qualities to be just as great an influence.
The blue portion of the above text is a reference to the beginning of the running narrative the author uses in his essay. The green has summarized the points that were made throughout the essay. Finally, the portion in black denotes the author’s intentions for the future.
2. Suggest consequences.
This is a similar approach to the previous one, but it can be applied to all types of essays. In this feature, you suggest the consequences of your points to your future at a given university and in your career. If taking 9+ hours of ballet classes has turned you into a diligent person, how will being diligent make you a great college student? If you can juggle many activities, maybe this means that you will be very involved at the university that you attend. Ultimately, all college application essays should suggest the same consequence: that you would be a positive and worthwhile addition to their university.
Take a look at the following example:
Lacrosse has always been an important component of my life, and has contributed to my passion for physical fitness. Although it is a heavy-time commitment, I believe it was a fundamental and invaluable part of my undergraduate career. The physical and mental training, teamwork, and diligence I have learned from playing D1 lacrosse have all had an extraordinary impact on my attitude and determination. While in pursuit of a Masters in Physical Therapy I am now confident that I have the ability overcome any obstacle in my path.
3. Ask a provocative question.
If the reader is left thinking about your writing later in the day (in a positive way), then you have nailed your essay! Asking a provocative question at the end of your essay can be an effective way to lodge yourself in an admissions officer’s memory.
The danger with this approach comes from the risk of asking a question that would demand a separate, new essay to answer it. Make sure your question is relevant to your topic.
Take a look at this good example:
I have always been captivated by the variety of cultures and the range of human living conditions in the world. My extensive travels, my interest in current events, and my knowledge of four languages have inspired my interest in international human rights. Yet how can one have an impact on the world, without first learning its constituents? For this reason I am in eager pursuit of an education in international social work—a goal that I am confident I can realize through the public policy program.
By this approach, you want to indicate how your argument relates to the grander scheme of things. How can your realizations about yourself apply and be beneficial to society? If you just narrated a story about the loss of your grandmother, for example, what does the process of losing a loved one generally teach people about going through difficult periods in their lives?
Check out this example:
Empathy is an extraordinary and infectious quality. Although it does not come naturally, it only requires some attention and a little bit of practice. After I made a conscious effort to be empathetic, I found that it had a profound effect on my day-to-day life. If every person could take on such an attitude, they would find themselves in a much better work and home environment.
There is nothing better than ending your entire essay with a strong quip, remark, or witticism (a zinger!). Of course, even a zinger has to tie in with one of the methods outlined above, but it is also important to pay particular attention to your closing sentence when taking this approach; your zinger must resonate with the rest of your conclusion.
Typically, a great note to end on is directly mentioning the university to which you are applying. In doing so, you indicate that your qualities, achievements, and background make you a perfect fit for the specific school to which you are applying.
As with all of the important and impactful sentences in your essay—keep your zinger short and sweet.
- Begin by rehashing your thesis (not word for word). Keep this clear and to the point.
- Next, summarize main points or important arguments that were in the body (2-3 sentences).
- End with a zinger. Make your last sentence resonate with the reader while keeping it short and sweet.
- Revisit your thesis.
- Summarize your main points.
- Add something more than the bare minimum. Too many graduate school admission essays have weak conclusions. Your conclusion is an opportunity to stand out.
- Spend time on your conclusion—it will not be overlooked.
- End on a strong note. Make sure that your final sentence leaves a strong impression.
- Rewrite the thesis with no significant changes.
- Introduce a new idea in the conclusion. You want to wrap up all loose ends.
- Attempt to make up for an unfinished argument—do not write your conclusion until you have written all that you have to say.
- Concentrate too much on a minor point in your essay. The summary should only include critical information for your argument.
- Do not claim that you are not an expert or that you are not sure about something. Confidence is key.