How to End a College Application Essay

Finalizing your personal statement—the most common document applicants think of when they think about the college essay—is arguably the most painstaking phase of the entire writing process. As you tweak and polish, you find yourself agonizing over details or second-guessing phrases, sometimes for hours on end. 

Because even after writing countless drafts, your common app essay probably won’t feel completely perfect.

And it’s not going to be perfect. It’s 650 words long: it’s impossible to fully sum up every quality that defines you in such a small space. So you’re going to need to focus your essay on specific traits and messages you can bring to life. It can be compelling to capture even just one deeply held conviction, principle, or characteristic meaningfully. 

In order to do that, you’ll probably need to make some hard decisions about which parts of your story to keep and which to cut. And this is easier said than done. 

But as Stephen King has said: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

This article dives deep into how to make these final polishes to your college essay so that you feel confident that you are ready to submit your best application story—one that admissions officers will remember. Read on to learn all about challenges you’ll face, goals to keep in mind, and specific tips on how to end your college application essay.

Challenges with college essay conclusions

In final edits, you must strive to keep only what’s most important: the content that is really working for the specific purpose of your essay. You may become attached to some of your ideas or anecdotes as you write, and this makes it even harder to take the birds-eye view of your work when revising. But cutting unnecessary details is vital.

Trim the Fat

This is the first challenge of finalizing a college essay: trimming the fat. Figuring out which words to cut, and which to keep. Making the hard decisions to scrap some details in favor of others. 

In order to do this, you’ll need to take a step back from the essay. Ideally, you should give yourself several days between finishing your draft and going back to look over its conclusion. Getting this high-level perspective on your own story takes time, but later in this article we share concrete suggestions on how to do exactly that.

When considering this challenge, however, it is often helpful to bear in mind that the essay is written for a real person to read. The Admissions Officers at your dream college are looking to empathize with you. In order to do that, your message needs to be clear and cohesive, not all-encompassing. And this can only be accomplished through intent: knowing what content is most important, and what can be done away with.

Navigating Feedback

Another challenge you are going to face is that so many people may want to give you their opinion on your personal statement. Parents may all of a sudden remember that they wanted to look at it. Even cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, teachers, friends, and others may give opinions.

And they’re probably going to have conflicting ideas. Because in the end, a college application essay is, to some extent, subjective. When you aim to communicate something honest and authentic about yourself, people are going to feel different ways about it. They will have their own conclusions and biases because of your personal relationship with them. They may unknowingly try to get you to show the person they think you are, rather than the person you believe yourself to be. 

Such contradictions are confusing. They may distress or overwhelm you. So be especially careful about who you show your personal statement to in these final stages. It’s best if this is just one guide or mentor you’ve worked with throughout the drafting process. And bear in mind that in the end, it is your opinion that matters most. You are going to have to decide that it’s done. Not that it’s perfect, but that it’s done.

Don’t Compare

The last big challenge you are likely to face is the dangerous inclination to compare your own common app essay to those of others, to ask classmates about their topics for their personal statements, or even to read through their essays.

This can even lead you to search for “sample college essay” online. You may find essays from other students who were accepted to your dream college and have done an entire analysis of their own application. And though these essays may serve as great inspiration and models before you begin writing, this level of comparison is going to hurt you rather than help you once you get to the stage of ending the essay. Resist looking at anybody else’s essay when your essay is the only one to focus on.

Goals to aim for when finalizing your common app personal statement

Though you’ll be focused only on your own college application essay, there are some helpful general goals you should keep in mind so that you are able to step back and review it from another person’s point of view.

There are a few vital things that a personal statement should do for your application. In some ways, you can think of this essay as your way to make a less formal impression on the admissions officer, as if you were introducing yourself at a party. You want to be the person who they speak to for just five minutes, but who they remember vividly. To do that, your college application essay will need to accomplish several goals.

The first challenge of finalizing a college essay? Trimming the fat. Figure out which words to cut, and which to keep.

Goal #1

The first of these goals is to arrive at a deeper level of substance. This is often the challenge that most intimidates students. You might think you need to arrive at some grand, philosophical insight into the world.

But that’s unrealistic, for most of us. Instead, think about this goal in a relative sense. Compared to the rest of your college essay, your conclusion should add something new. Ideally, this substance would be thought-provoking: a connection to something else in your life or a crystalized indication of why this is so meaningful to you. Or it may simply be just a principle stated directly and elegantly, which captures the lesson you’ve taken from the story you’re sharing.

This doesn’t mean that your conclusion must be grand and expansive. In fact, the bigger your ideas get, the more likely you are to end up writing something that is vague or cliche. The deeper level of substance has to be specific to your story. Your immediate lived experience. It can range from the mundane to the abstract: as long as it builds meaningfully upon the reflection you’ve developed earlier in the essay, it can give the reader something to ponder.

Goal #2

And that connects to the second goal of finalizing the personal statement: to be clear and memorable. This also primarily concerns the essay’s conclusion, because that is almost always the last part to fully come together.

Yes, you are going to be building in nuance and subtlety in these final edits: that’s important, as it helps you to refine and differentiate your message. Yet, though you want to put sincere effort into these details, so the admissions officers can tell you really worked hard on this college essay, you also can’t afford to be convoluted.

Thus, it’s best if you clearly define your final takeaway: that belief, connection, or principle you are stating. This message has to be tangible and immediate in order to be memorable. If it’s too hard to figure out what exactly the main point is at the end, you’re going to be in trouble!

Goal #3

The last vital goal of the Personal Statement is less explicit: your college essay should give an indication about what this whole story means about not only your present self, but your growth in the future.

Whether you’re writing an emotional story, an intellectual curiosity story, a social story, or a story about none of these things, you must remember the perspective that you are still just a teenager. You have a lot of your life in front of you, and colleges really need to see that you are looking to grow further beyond this point: that this person who you are today is not the person you will be forever. That you are intent on developing and challenging yourself in new ways moving forward.

This indication about the future is not something that needs to be clear and straightforward. It’s something that should be a part of your thinking when you go back over the essay, ideally with one other person who has been involved in the process with you. Is it clear to them how your lessons from the essay will inform your future? If not, or you seem perfectly content with who you already are, then you have good reason to reflect on what you really want beyond college.

Tips on writing a strong college essay conclusion

Alright: you’ve understood your challenges and set your goals. You’re in the very last stages of editing. Here are the concrete things that you should be doing when you are revising your personal statement through to the final paragraph.

Tip #1

The first thing to do is to cut out absolutely any platitudes or pithy phrases. Platitudes are general statements that have been made countless times before and will be made countless times again. These include any statements about “people” in general, or huge ideas about what “art” is, or what “society” is like. If you use these types of sentences, then you no longer seem to have original ideas. The habit can lead you to make sweeping, general assertions that make the entire essay seem less personal.

And you absolutely need to avoid that like the plague. Because the main point here is to communicate your perspective. So cut out those platitudes, and similarly, do away with any glib or pithy phrases.

The conclusion is not the place for witticisms or jokes. They might be woven in earlier in the essay, if it’s important to you to highlight your humor—you’ll have opportunities to do that. But trying to infuse the conclusion of your college essay with laughter is almost always the wrong way to go. You need to show that you are capable of earnestness: of stating something substantial about yourself. Misplaced humor can subvert this and is best avoided.

Ask a trusted counselor, consultant, or mentor to provide feedback on your essay.

Tip #2

Do a live editing session with a trusted counselor, consultant, or mentor, and read your entire college application essay aloud during this time.

Does the college essay really sound like you, or perhaps, a slightly more poised and polished version of you? That’s okay, but it should still sound authentic. It should still have your voice, replete with quirks or phrasing habits.

The second strong way to double check the essay’s authenticity is to imagine the essay up on a wall, in a huge library of other essays. Could your best friend in the world, without knowing anything other than the story in the essay itself, pick this off the wall? Would they immediately recognize that this was your story and no one else’s? If you can confidently answer yes to these questions, then you can trust that your essay is genuine.

Tip #3

Finally, do one important check to tie together the entire essay: make a Mission Statement for your story.

What goes in the blank spaces?

The first should be filled with the character traits you want to capture or the behaviors you are proudest of. The second space should make note of the person you want to become or the impact you want to have in the future.

When writing out this sentence, be as precise as possible. Don’t use vague, generic traits like “kind” or “helpful”—focus on specific personal qualities that define you. Perhaps you are resourceful, or bold, or compassionate, or gritty, or resilient, or intensely curious. Don’t be afraid to connect these traits to your actions. If you are enthusiastic, perhaps you are skilled at motivating others toward a unified goal. If you are compassionate, perhaps you make people feel comfortable sharing their vulnerability.

Likewise, when considering your future self, you want to show a sincere vision for your personal growth. It shouldn’t be all about making money, increasing status, or building a high-profile career. It should be a reflection of your self-awareness. What are the parts of yourself that you are not yet satisfied with? How can you build yourself toward them? If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, look to your inspirations—the people you look up to. Notice how they behave and what they can do that you admire.

Many successful essays begin with a compelling Mission Statement that help the author to shape a memorable college application essay. Let’s examine a few examples:

Note that the structure of each of these sentences is simple, but the student in each sentence has changed the Mission Statement slightly to reflect what makes them special. So once you’ve gathered the traits, actions, behaviors and decisions that you feel define you, don’t be afraid to get creative.

Writing a Mission Statement you believe in will help you when you go back to read your college application essay aloud. It should give you clarity on whether you are really communicating your message—and only this message—as compellingly as I can.If you notice that you are trying to pull in too many other random details, reel your story back to its Mission Statement. 

We hope these tips have given you clarity on how to end your college application essay. If you follow these steps through to the last paragraph, we are confident you will arrive at a common app personal statement you are truly proud of.

Found these tips useful? Simplify your college application experience with expert college admissions consulting. Collaborate with our skilled College Consultants to craft compelling applications.