by Sophie Herron of Story to College
Last Friday we worked on how to identify your Pivot, the key moment or climax of your college essay, as the first step to make sure your essay meets the three requirements of the form: that your college essay needs to be short and energetic, and reveal your character.
Today, we’re going to jump right into the next step of revising your essay: The End. We’ll look at the most important dos and don’ts, and 5 techniques you can use in your own essay.
We’re working on the end today because:
1. It’s harder to get right than the beginning. Sorry. It just is.
2. Having a good, clear ending helps you write & revise the rest of your story.
3. It’s the last thing an admissions officer will read, so it’s especially important.
All right, enough chatter. On to the good stuff.
The Most Important Do and Don’t of College Essay Endings
DO: End in the action.
End right after your pivot, or key moment. I constantly tell students to end earlier–end right next to your success! (Whatever “success” means, in your particular essay.) Think of the “fade-to-black” in a movie–you want us to end on the high, glowy feeling. End with the robot’s arm lifting, or your call home to celebrate, or your grandma thanking you. Then stop. Leave your reader wanting more! Keep the admissions officer thinking about you.
In fact, that’s why we call successful endings Glows here at Story To College, because that’s exactly how you want your admissions officer to feel. Glowy. Impressed. Moved. Inspired. Don’t ruin the moment.End earlier.
Here’s your challenge: don’t ever say the point of your essay. Cut every single “that’s when I realized” and “I learned” and “the most important thing was…” Every single one. They’re boring, unconvincing, and doing you no favors.
When you tell the reader what to feel, or think, you stop telling a story. And then the reader stops connecting with you. And then they stop caring. Don’t let this happen. Don’t summarize.
But if you don’t–how do you end?
5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay
Did someone tell you good job, or thank you, or congratulate you? Did you finally speak up, or get something done? Put it in dialogue. It’s a powerful way to end. In fact, it’s an easy revision of those “I learned…” sentences earlier. So you learned to never give up?
“Hey mom,” I said into my phone. “Yeah, I’m not coming home right away–I’ve got practice.”
BOOM. Look at that.
Here’s a simple example:
I pushed open the door, and stepped inside.
Even without context, you can tell this student took a risk and committed to something. It’s all in the actions.
Maybe you want to end in a mood, or by creating a wider view of things, or by focusing in on a certain important object.
The whole robot shuddered as it creaked to life and rolled across the concrete floor. It’s silver arm gently grasped the upturned box, and then, lifted it.
There’s some combination here with action, but that’s perfectly fine.
4. Go full circle.
Did you talk to someone at the beginning? You might end by talking to them again. Or if you described a certain object, you might mention it again. There are lots of ways to end where you began, and it’s often a really satisfying technique.
5. Directly address the college.
Tell them what you’re going to do there, or what you’re excited about. I did this, actually in mine–something like:
And that’s why I’m so excited about the Core Curriculum: I’m going to study everything.
This technique breaks the “don’t tell them what your essay is about” rule–but only a little. Be sure to still sound like yourself, and to be very confident in your plans.
That’s all! Be sure to check out “Success Stories” (again, here) if you haven’t yet for more examples of each of these techniques.
Next, we’ll look at beginnings!
In the meantime, check out these great resources:
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Sophie Herron taught high school English in Houston, Texas, at KIPP Houston High School through Teach For America. Since then, she received her MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Fellow, instructor of Creative Writing, and Managing Editor of Washington Square Review, the graduate literary journal. She continues to teach as an instructor at Story To College and as a teaching artist with the Community-Word Project. She is a poet and podcaster.
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Step Two: In your conclusion paragraph, try one or more of the following techniques:
Technique #1: Explore the consequences.
Address the negative consequences by asking: What happens if we don’t learn the lesson of the thesis? What has been (or what will be) the negative impact?
Address the positive consequences by asking: What can we do learn from the thesis, and what positive benefit will be gained if we do employ it?
Technique #2: Raise a counter-argument, then debunk it.
Bring up a point someone might make against your college essay. Then say why that person is wrong.
Tip #1: Make sure you’re using a counter-argument that you can debunk!
Tip #2: Be careful not to contradict or disprove your original thesis.
Technique #3: Provide a Call to Action.
Ask: What must we do as a result of this thesis/lesson?
Technique #4: Raise an Unexpected Value
Ask: What else may we learn or gain a result of this thesis/lesson?
Tip: this one works well within a "Not only... but also..." construct.
Sounding kinda’ vague? Keep reading.
Remember the key is to:
Clarify the thesis.
Answer “So what?”
Here's an example thesis and some possible directions for the conclusion:
Thesis: Children should be taught the value of other cultures and religions from a very young age.
Negative Consequences: What might happen if children aren’t taught the value of other cultures and religions?
Positive Consequences: What might happen if they are?
Counter-argument—debunked: What might someone argue as a barrier/potential downside to teaching children about the importance of other cultures’ values and religions? (Example counter-arguments: Children might lose sight of their own values/religions (or) they may be uncomfortable at first… both are easy to debunk.)
Call to Action: If we believe children should be taught about other cultures and religions from a young age, what must we do? Either individually or as a society?
Unexpected Value: What else might we (as Americans, as humans) gain from this?
For an example of how a really awesome writer did this in Time magazine, read Jeffrey Sachs’s one-page article Class System of Catastrophe.
Take note of the:
Call to Action
Check out my annotated version of this article here.
To re-cap: first clarify your thesis. Then ask:
- What are the positive/negative consequences of this?
- What's a counter-argument I can debunk?
- What's a call to action--what must we do as a result?
- What's an unexpected value--something else we'll gain if we learn or employ the lesson of the thesis?
Got it? Email me with questions.