How to end a college essay

The ending of your college essay should leave your reader with a sense of closure and a strong final impression.

The conclusion is often harder to write than the college essay introduction, and you may need to rework it when revising your essay, but there are some strategies to ensure that you don’t ruin a good essay with a mediocre conclusion.

Endings to avoid

A bad conclusion can bring your whole essay down, so make sure to avoid these common mistakes.

  • Summarizing

Unlike an academic essay, an admissions essay shouldn’t restate your points. Avoid ending with a summary; there’s no need to repeat what you’ve already written.

Phrases like “in conclusion,” “overall,” or “to sum it up” signal that you have nothing to add to what you’ve already written, so an admissions officer may stop reading.

  • Stating the obvious

Instead of stating the obvious, let your work speak for itself and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. If your essay details various times that you worked tirelessly to go above and beyond, don’t finish it by stating “I’m hardworking.” Admissions officers are smart enough to figure that out on their own.

You should also avoid talking about how you hope to be accepted. Admissions officers know you want to be accepted—that’s why you applied! It’s okay to connect what you discuss in the essay to your potential future career or college experience, but don’t beg for admission. Stay focused on your essay’s core topic.

Option 1: Return to the beginning

Many successful essays follow a “sandwich,” or full-circle, structure, meaning that they start with some image or idea, veer away from it in the middle, and then return to it at the end.

This structure is clean, self-contained, and satisfying for readers, so it’s a great choice if it works with the topic you’ve chosen.

In the “sandwich” essay outlined below, a student discusses his passion for musical theater. Instead of simply stating that interest, his essay starts with a funny anecdote about a minor fire that erupted on set. At the end, it returns to this anecdote, creating a sense of closure.

Example: “Sandwich” essay
  • Intro: I may be the world’s worst firefighter.
  • Flashback to working on the school musical
  • Demonstrate my passion for theatre
  • Detail the story of the theater set catching fire
  • Show how I made the most of the situation
  • Conclusion:I proved my value as a director, an actor, and a writer that week一even if I was a terrible firefighter.

Option 2: Look forward

Many successful essays end by looking forward to the future. These endings are generally hopeful and positive—always great qualities in an admissions essay—and often connect the student to the college or their academic goals.

Although these endings can be highly effective, it can be challenging to keep them from sounding cliché. Keep your ending specific to you, and don’t default to generalities, which can make your essay seem bland and unoriginal.

Below are a good and a bad example of how you could write a “looking forward” ending for the musical theater “firefighter” essay.

  • Bad example: Cliché
  • Good example: Original
I have found my calling on the stage of the theater and the stage of life. Musical theater will always be part of my life一even if firefighting won’t.

Option 3: Reveal your main point

Sometimes, holding back your main point can be a good strategy. If your essay recounts several experiences, you could save your main message for the conclusion, only explaining what ties all the stories together at the very end.

When done well, this ending leaves the reader thinking about the main point you want them to take from your essay. It’s also a memorable structure that can stand out.

However, if you choose this approach, it can be challenging to keep the essay interesting enough that the reader pays attention throughout.

In the essay outlined below, a student gives us snapshots of her experience of gymnastics at different stages in her life. In the conclusion, she ties the stories together and shares the insight that they taught her about different aspects of her character and values.

Example: Saving the main point for the conclusion
  • Intro: An image of me at a gymnastics meet at age 7
    • Passionate, excited
  • Gym meet age 11
    • Sister born that day—began to consider people beyond myself
    • Realizing that no matter how much I love gymnastics, there are more important things
  • Gym meet age 15
    • I’d been working especially hard to qualify for that level
    • It came after many setbacks and failures
    • I had to give up time with friends, first homecoming dance of high school, and other activities, and I considered quitting
  • Conclusion: I’m still all of those selves: the passionate 7-year-old, the caring 11-year-old, and the determined 15-year-old. Gymnastics has been a constant throughout my life, but beyond the balance beam, it has also shown me how to change and grow.

Option 4: End on an action

Ending on an action can be a strong way to wrap up your essay. That might mean including a literal action, dialogue, or continuation of the story.

These endings leave the reader wanting more rather than wishing the essay had ended sooner. They’re interesting and can help you avoid boring your reader.

Here’s an example of how this ending could work for the gymnastics essay.

Example: Ending on an action
I had practiced aerial cartwheels on my lawn, on a trampoline, and while practicing my routine on this very same balance beam. But now, the eyes of thousands of spectators were on me as I prepared to propel myself through the air with no support except my own courage. I took a deep breath, raised my hands in the air, and jumped.

Frequently asked questions about college application essays

How should I end my college admissions essay?

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay:

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

What should I avoid in a college essay conclusion?

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

How do I structure a college application essay?

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay, but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

What should I check for when revising my college admissions essay?

When revising your college essay, first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style, and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Is this article helpful?
Meredith Testa

Meredith has helped high school students gain admission to their dream schools for the past 7 years. She is based in New York and enjoys teaching dance in her spare time.

1 comment

Meredith Testa
Meredith Testa (Scribbr Team)
October 16, 2021 at 3:28 PM

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