How to end your college application essay (with examples!)

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays That Worked

We’ve all been there: you’ve just about finished creating a brilliant, gripping piece of writing. All that’s left is to wrap it up with the perfect ending…but how do you give your essay the kind of ending that sticks with the reader, that wraps everything up neatly?

With college application essays, the stakes are even higher: the right ending can ensure you stand out from the thousands of other applicants and wow admissions officers. 

At PrepMaven, we’ve helped thousands of students do just that: create compelling, memorable admissions essays that land them acceptances at top-tier universities. 

In this post, we’ll specifically break down how to put those finishing touches on your Common App essay (or any other personal essay), providing examples so you can see exactly how each technique works. 

You can also feel free to hit the button below to download a free collection of 30 successful essays that worked, many of which provide great examples of these very strategies. 

Jump to section:
Necessary elements of a college essay ending
Connect to your narrative
Look ahead to college
3 specific ways to end your college essay (with examples!)
  The full-circle callback
  The return with a difference
  The statement of purpose
Next Steps

Necessary elements of a college essay ending

In this section of the post, we’ll cover the beats that every college essay ending should hit to be maximally successful. Later, we’ll show you specific tricks for ending the essay–structures that you can easily integrate into your own writing. If you’d like to jump there, click here: specific ways to end your college essay.

Regardless of which specific technique you use to wrap up your essay, though, it should still help you accomplish the key things we list below. The fact is, college admissions counselors are really looking for pretty specific things in these essays. 

Whatever the structure, tone, or style of your admissions essay, you should be sure that the conclusion does all of the following:

  1. Reflect
  2. Connect to your narrative
  3. Look ahead to college


If you’ve read our other posts on how to structure your application essay or how to start it, you probably already know a big part of your personal statement should involve a story. 

But it can’t be just a story: just as important is an element of reflection, which is best developed at the conclusion of your essay. 

What do we mean by reflection? Simply put, you need to think through the story you’ve laid out throughout the entire essay and articulate what it says about you, why it matters. In essence, the reflection is your answer to the question, “So what?”

For example, if you write an essay about giving up professional dance, your reflection might be about how that choice led you to view dance differently, perhaps as something that you can value independently regardless of whether you pursue it as a career. You might then expand that reflection to other elements of your life: did that changed viewpoint also apply to how you view academics, the arts, or other extracurriculars? 

Or say you wrote an essay about overcoming an obstacle to your education. Your reflection might then touch on how this process shaped your thinking, altered how you view challenges, or led you to develop a particular approach to academics and schoolwork. 

The key here is that you really show us the process of you thinking through the important changes/lessons/etc. at play in your essay. It’s not enough to just say, “This is important because X.” Admissions committees want to see you actually think through this. Real realizations don’t usually happen in an instant: you should question and consider, laying your thoughts out on paper. 

Rhetorical questions are often a great way to do this, as is narrating the thought process you underwent while overcoming the obstacle, learning the lesson, or whatever your story might be. 

A suggestion we often give our students is to read over the story you’ve written, and ask yourself what it means to you, what lessons you can take from it. As you ask and answer those questions, put those onto the page and work through them in writing. You can always clean it up and make it more presentable later. 

Below, we’ve selected the conclusion from Essay 2 in our collection of  30 Essays that Worked. In that essay, the writer spends most of the intro and body discussing their love for hot sauce and all things spicy, as well as how they’ve pursued that passion. Take a look at how they end their essay:

I’m not sure what it is about spiciness that intrigues me. Maybe my fungiform papillae are mapped out in a geography uniquely designed to appreciate bold seasonings. Maybe these taste buds are especially receptive to the intricacies of the savors and zests that they observe. Or maybe it’s simply my burning sense of curiosity. My desire to challenge myself, to stimulate my mind, to experience the fullness of life in all of its varieties and flavors.

In that example, the student doesn’t just tell us “the lesson.” Instead, we get to see them actively working through what the story they’ve told means and why it matters by offering potential ways it’s shaped them. Notice that it’s perfectly okay for the student not to have one clear “answer;” it actually works even better, in this case, that the student is wondering, thinking, still figuring things out. 

That’s reflection, and every good college application essay does it in one form or another. 

Connect to your narrative

Who, on paper, are you? We know–it’s a brutal question to try to answer. That’s what these essays are all about, though, and these college essay conclusions are the perfect place to tie everything together. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you should try to cram elements of your resume or transcript into the end of your essay–please don’t! When we say the conclusion should “connect to your narrative,” we mean that you should write it while bearing in mind the other aspects of your application the admissions committee will be looking at. 

So, the conclusion of your college essay should work to connect the story and reflection you’ve developed with the broader picture of you as a college applicant. In a way, this goes hand in hand with reflection: you want your conclusion to tie all these threads together, explaining why this all matters in the context of college applications. 

You might, as in the above “hot sauce” essay example, allude to an element of your personality/mentality that your personal statement exemplifies. In that example, we can clearly see the writer showing off some scientific knowledge (“fungiform papillae”) while also highlighting their “curiosity” and desire to challenge themselves. 

This helps the reader see what this whole story is meant to tell us about the applicant, connecting to who they are and what they’re looking for. 

Or, you might connect this reflection to your academic goals. Or else you could connect elements of your story and reflection to some passion evident in the rest of your application. Often, the best essays involve a mix of all of these connections, but there’s no “right” or “wrong” connection to make, so long as it develops convincingly from the story you’ve told. 

There are numerous ways to go here, and it doesn’t have to be super heavy-handed or to take up much real estate. Simply bear in mind that these essays gain an additional sense of balance when they resonate with other elements of your broader high school narrative. 

Look ahead to college

Though it’s true these college essays are, in part, ways to demonstrate your writing skills and ability to respond concisely to a complicated essay prompt, their primary purpose is to show a college admissions counselor why you’re a good fit for their college. 

So, a strong college essay ending should draw strong connections to your future as (hopefully) a college student. As with the previous point, this is one that you don’t need to go over the top with! Don’t take away from your story by suddenly telling us how smart you are and what great grades you’ll get. 

Instead, you might want to suggest how the experiences you write about have prepared you for college–or, even better, how they’ve shaped what you hope to get out of the next four years. 

Generally, this is a small and subtle part of your conclusion: it might be a sentence, or it might even be the kind of thing that you imply without stating directly. The idea is that a college admissions officer reading your essay will walk away with some idea of why you’d be a good fit for college in general. 

In the example we quoted above, the essay does this fairly subtly: by describing their desire to challenge themselves and stimulate their mind, the writer is clearly alluding to the exact kinds of things college is for, even if they don’t come right out and say it. 

A successful college conclusion will contain all three of these elements. You can find thirty fantastic examples of such conclusions in the sample college essays below.

Read on for 3 specific techniques to end your college admissions essay. 

3 Specific ways to end your college essay (with examples!)

Each of the essay endings we cover below is designed to help your essay develop a sense of closure while simultaneously accomplishing all of those tricky things it needs to do to wow admissions officers. 

While all of these endings have been proven to work countless times, how you incorporate them and which you choose matters–a lot!

Because every student’s essay is (or at least should be) unique, we recommend getting a trusted advisor to offer guidance on how to wrap up your essay. You can get paired up with one of our expert tutors quickly by contacting us here

Now, for the techniques. 

The full-circle callback

This is probably the most classic ending structure for college essays, and with good reasons. The premise is simple: your essay’s conclusion will return to the image, story, or idea that your essay began with. 

Take a look at the below example, which includes just the first and last paragraphs of Essay 12 from our collection of 30 essays that worked. In this essay, the writer uses a discussion of food to explore their integration into American society as a Russian immigrant. 

“So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.” –Franz Kafka


So, Kafka, I hope that next time a memorable quote comes to mind, you think before you speak. Because when peanut butter cleaves to the roof of my mouth, I think about what it means “to cleave:” both to adhere closely to and to divide, as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural weakness. And I think about my dual identity, how the Russian side and American side simultaneously force each other apart and bring each other together. I think about my past, feeling a little ashamed, and about my present and future, asking how I can create harmony between these two sides of me. That, Kafka, does not sound like solved questions to me.

This student started with a quote from Kafka (a risky move, but check out our post on “How to start your college essay” to see why it was a good choice in this case). After spending the majority of the essay exploring how American and Russian foods can serve as a shorthand for their relationship to their Russian-American identity, this author ends with a final paragraph that returns to the Kafka quote and continues to work through it. 

Why does it work?

In part, people just love a full-circle ending, the idea that something ends up back where it began. 

Specifically, this ending helps the student tick off all three of our boxes for what a conclusion must do: 

  1. They reflect (by thinking further about the quote and even the specific word “cleave”)
  2. They connect to their narrative (by bringing it back to their own identity)
  3. They look ahead (by highlighting their desire to create harmony in the future)

Check, check, check–plus, they come up with a clever enough one-liner at the end, slamming poor Kafka for a perhaps hyperbolic quote. 

The Return with a difference

This one is quite similar to the full-circle callback, but shouldn’t be confused with it. With this ending technique, you do indeed return to whatever you began your personal statement with. The emphasis, however, is on some significant change or perspective shift. The below example, once again taken from Essay 18 in our collection of 30 college essays that worked, makes what we mean more clear: 

I first encountered Naruto Uzumaki when I was seven and was immediately captivated by his story. An orphan navigating the world alone, without guidance or love, Naruto was misunderstood and often despised, deemed a threat by his village. Although my loving and supportive family was intact, I sympathized with Naruto. Even more, I appreciated his grit and audacity, thrilled by the way he managed to rewrite his own narrative, forging a new path and transforming himself into a hero.   


Today, I am the protagonist of my own story. Hard work, baby steps, large leaps, occasional setbacks, countless revisions and refinements- all are essential to my journey of discovery. Ranging from unraveling the mystery of dark gravity, to writing a handful of papers that scrape a few flakes off the mountain of the unknown, my narrative is evolving; I am a work in progress and a champion of insight, advancement, and positive change. 

This essay starts by describing the appeal of Naruto’s story to the writer. When the writer concludes by saying that “I am the protagonist of my own story,” it’s clearly a reference to that initial introduction. 

The focus, however, is on the difference or shift: the author is no longer primarily captivated by Naruto’s story; instead, they’re excited to be carving out their own. It’s a return, but with a (big) difference, and that difference is precisely what allows this conclusion to succeed in hitting each of those key elements: 

  1. It reflects (highlighting the theme of discovery and the hard work that it took to get to this point)
  2. It connects to the broader narrative (making reference to this student’s interests in science and research)
  3. It looks ahead to college (emphasizing the continued growth this student looks forward to)

It isn’t a coincidence that essays using the four techniques we’re outlining here succeed so well in capturing the key elements of an application essay conclusion. While these techniques can’t guarantee success, they certainly set you up for it: the structure of each of these methods makes it much easier to give college admissions counselors exactly what they’re looking for. 

The Direct Appeal

Compared to the previous techniques, this one is a lot more direct. It involves finishing your essay by directly addressing how the story you’ve been telling has shaped your future desires, often by articulating some goal you plan to accomplish or by highlighting the importance of college. 

You might think of it as leaning much more heavily on the “look forward to college” element of the conclusion. This ending technique can be risky, and really depends on how effectively you’ve been able to convey your story up to this point. 

Whereas the other ending techniques we’ve mentioned can, in general, only help the overall quality of your essay, this one can backfire. It tends to work best for essays that highlight some particular struggle you’ve overcome, or some injustice you plan to address. 

Take a look at an excerpt from Essay 29, which discusses the writer’s experiences as lower-income student attending an expensive private school, for a good use of the direct appeal: 30 college essays that worked

    Today, the drug-ravaged apartments of Southern Trace are transformed. Gentrified shortly after we moved, they boast a different crowd—Lisa and Linda have since been priced out of their homes and evicted. Heroin-addicts are replaced by “prettier” middle-class families; police rarely need visit their homes. Though dysfunctional, my childhood neighborhood was a community—people wrought with problems but filled with compassion, with beauty. But where was their voice when developers began to renovate? Who was there to listen? This community is an intrinsic part of me: I want to be their voice. And, with my understanding of the socioeconomic palette, maybe I can provide the canvas to blend the world of my childhood with the privileged society of Cincinnati Hills.  

Although this essay actually combines a few of our ending techniques (returning to something discussed in the introduction), it’s a great example of when a direct appeal works. This student shows a nuanced understanding of a complex socioeconomic issue that hits close to home. Their “pitch” at the end of this essay is simple: “I want to be their voice.” 

In this particular essay, the direct appeal works because it feels honest, like it comes from a real place (though you’ll have to read the entire essay to really see that). In terms of our 3 criteria, it easily fits the bill: 

  1. It reflects on this student’s “dysfunctional” neighborhood and how those issues shaped the student’s viewpoint. 
  2. It connects to their broader narrative, both by highlighting their own identity and their “understanding of the socioeconomic palate.”
  3. It looks ahead to college, clearly articulating how the student’s long term goal–fighting for economically marginal communities–is an outcome of this story and a motivation for them to attend college. 

This is a perfect example of the direct appeal in action. In another, weaker essay, however, simply saying something like “I want to be their voice” might not work at all. If the actual story were weaker, if the student’s background were less carefully explained, it might have simply come off as preachy or presumptuous. 

Next Steps

The techniques we’ve outlined here will take you far. But, as always when the stakes are this high, we really recommend getting a professional opinion on your college essays. Our college essay tutors aren’t just fantastic writers: they’re expert editors who can ensure that you don’t miss anything in your own essays. Get paired with one quickly by reaching out to us here

In the meantime, click the link below and check out our collection of 30 sample essays, which include the full text of all the examples used above. 



Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.