The conclusion is a very important part of your essay. Although it is sometimes treated as a roundup of all of the bits that didn’t fit into the paper earlier, it deserves better treatment than that! It's the last thing the reader will see, so it tends to stick in the reader's memory. It's also a great place to remind the reader exactly why your topic is important. A conclusion is more than just "the last paragraph"—it's a working part of the paper. This is the place to push your reader to think about the consequences of your topic for the wider world or for the reader's own life!
A good conclusion should do a few things:
- Restate your thesis
- Synthesize or summarize your major points
- Make the context of your argument clear
Restating Your Thesis
You've already spent time and energy crafting a solid thesis statement for your introduction, and if you've done your job right, your whole paper focuses on that thesis statement. That's why it's so important to address the thesis in your conclusion! Many writers choose to begin the conclusion by restating the thesis, but you can put your thesis into the conclusion anywhere—the first sentence of the paragraph, the last sentence, or in between. Here are a few tips for rephrasing your thesis:
- Remind the reader that you've proven this thesis over the course of your paper. For example, if you're arguing that your readers should get their pets from animal shelters rather than pet stores, you might say, "If you were considering that puppy in the pet-shop window, remember that your purchase will support 'puppy mills' instead of rescuing a needy dog, and consider selecting your new friend at your local animal shelter." This example gives the reader not only the thesis of the paper, but a reminder of the most powerful point in the argument!
- Revise the thesis statement so that it reflects the relationship you've developed with the reader during the paper. For example, if you've written a paper that targets parents of young children, you can find a way to phrase your thesis to capitalize on that—maybe by beginning your thesis statement with, "As a parent of a young child…"
- Don’t repeat your thesis word for word—make sure that your new statement is an independent, fresh sentence!
Summary or Synthesis
This section of the conclusion might come before the thesis statement or after it. Your conclusion should remind the reader of what your paper actually says! The best conclusion will include a synthesis, not just a summary—instead of a mere list of your major points, the best conclusion will draw those points together and relate them to one another so that your reader can apply the information given in the essay. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
- Give a list of the major arguments for your thesis (usually, these are the topic sentences of the parts of your essay).
- Explain how these parts are connected. For example, in the animal-shelter essay, you might point out that adopting a shelter dog helps more animals because your adoption fee supports the shelter, which makes your choice more socially responsible.
One of the most important functions of the conclusion is to provide context for your argument. Your reader may finish your essay without a problem and understand your argument without understanding why that argument is important. Your introduction might point out the reason your topic matters, but your conclusion should also tackle this questions. Here are some strategies for making your reader see why the topic is important:
- Tell the reader what you want him or her to do. Is your essay a call to action? If so, remind the reader of what he/she should do. If not, remember that asking the reader to think a certain way is an action in itself. (In the above examples, the essay asks the reader to adopt a shelter dog—a specific action.)
- Explain why this topic is timely or important. For example, the animal-shelter essay might end with a statistic about the number of pets in shelters waiting for adoption.
- Remind the readers of why the topic matters to them personally. For example, it doesn’t matter much if you believe in the mission of animal shelters, if you're not planning to get a dog; however, once you're looking for a dog, it is much more important. The conclusion of this essay might say, "Since you’re in the market for a dog, you have a major decision to make: where to get one." This will remind the reader that the argument is personally important!
Conclusions. Whether it’s the end of a movie, the end of a music video, or the end of your genius and spectacular college essay, they’re pretty important. Imagine cutting the last five minutes out of your favorite movie. Not the credits, but the last five minutes of the actual movie. You’d lose action, resolution, and so much more. We’ve said a lot about what you should (and shouldn’t) talk about in your essays and supplements, but here we’re going to talk about one of the most important pieces of the written components of your applications. You guessed it, the conclusions.
We’ll address what you need to focus on in the common app essay and the supplement essays individually, but first, let’s lay out some ground rules.
This is the #1 rule and if the only thing that you take away from this post is this, we will be satisfied. DO NOT write “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in closing,” “in summary,” or anything else even remotely close to that. It sounds stiff, it sounds academic, and it makes you sound like you don’t have the writing skills to weave together a cohesive conclusion that transitions naturally from the preceding paragraph. We know you have those skills, you know you have the skills, so don’t make yourself look like you don’t have the skills.
Things you should do in a conclusion are:
- Circle back to the main idea or thesis of the piece
- Synthesize your major points.
*Note that we are telling you to synthesize, not to summarize. We’ll go into this more deeply further on, but don’t parrot yourself, it’s boring.
Common Application Essay
The Common App essay is the only place that you are guaranteed space for creativity. Some individual supplements have creative-minded questions, but many are more structured. If the colleges you are applying to don’t have supplements, the Common App essay is even more important, since it’s your last chance to show who you are to the people reviewing your application.
It’s easy to focus on the introduction to an essay because it’s what people read first, but the introduction and the conclusion actually hold equal weight. Think of it like this, the introduction is one side of a bridge. It pushes you onto the span and the body of the piece carries you over the river, but without a strong conclusion, you’re stuck 99% of the way to the other side without a way to make landfall. Essays without a strong conclusion can feel incomplete. Build a strong foundation for the other side of the span, though, and the reader is able to seamlessly go from introduction, through the body, to the end of the essay. While the introduction is what lifts the reader out of their own life and into the piece, the conclusion is what sets them down on the ground on the other side.
Because the conclusion is so important, we recommend that students using the traditional essay form should dedicate a paragraph to it. If you’re doing something funky, this might look different for you, but if you’re writing a normal essay, a paragraph is generally enough to bring everything together without rushing.
Make sure not to introduce any major new ideas, but don’t just copy what you’ve said already. Use the conclusion as an opportunity to build the thematic elements of your essay, and to elicit emotion from the reader. Simple language is really good for this. Try to make your last sentence short. Maybe try out using only one-syllable words if you’re really in for a challenge!
Supplements tend to be more formal than the Common App essay. They often ask students to weigh in on specific ideas or answer detailed questions, as opposed to the Common App’s more free-form guidelines. Because of this, the way you should approach the conclusion varies as well.
The end of a supplement is your last chance to make your point. You may not have a lot of space but set aside at least a short sentence to bring everything together. If you have more than 250 words to work with, commit at least two sentences to the conclusion.
Now to the summarize versus synthesize part of the conclusion equation.
In many supplements, you are asked to make an argument for why something is important, why something matters or, in the case of “why us?” question, how you will take advantage of being at a given school. At the end of these supplements, it is really imperative that you bring your points together, but you shouldn’t be summarizing them. The last few sentences aren’t the place to reiterate your arguments verbatim. That would be a waste of space. Synthesize instead. Take your points and braid them into a sentence or two that brings them all together.
For example, if you wrote about how you would major in music, be part of the orchestra, and support the theater department productions, you shouldn’t write: “I am excited to major in music, join the orchestra, and support the theater while I am a student.” Instead, you should be writing something along the lines of: “I am excited to bring together my passion for music and my academic interest in music composition in ways that will support other students who are also passionate about the arts.”
We know that this stuff can be a little tricky. If writing were easy it wouldn’t be a useful way for colleges to weed people out. But putting a little extra time into your conclusions can make a huge difference in how an admissions officer feels after reading your work. Every essay and supplement are different, so these are guidelines, not rules. If you’re breaking them in an interesting way, we’d love to hear from you!
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