Conclusions – Three General Tips to Wrap Things Up

The conclusion is the second most important part of your essay, after the introduction. Just as the introduction had the primary purpose of drawing the reader in, the conclusion’s foremost function should be to leave the reader with a lasting impression. This section will offer guidelines on how to maximize the impact of that impression. These guidelines can be grouped into three categories, each of which encompasses a lesson of what not to do.

Every essay needs to have at least a concluding sentence, so the ending doesn’t feel abrupt. But shorter answers won’t have room for a full conclusion. In those cases, you should still keep the following principles in mind, but the reader will understand that you don’t have room to expand as much as you’d like.

Synthesize, Don’t Summarize

The chief difference between these two tactics is that the former deals with themes while the latter deals with facts/experiences, though there is some overlap. You do not need to recap the essay paragraph-by-paragraph. You do not need to remind the reader of the experiences you discussed (except as individual experiences might be tied to certain themes you want to synthesize).

You do want to reiterate key themes, but preferably not in a way that merely repeats them. Ideally, the process of synthesizing them will add a fresh perspective. Try to tie themes together and demonstrate how they complement each other. Of course, you should stay away here as always from trite and clichéd generalizations.

In a very succinct conclusion, this applicant ties together several ideas that he has developed over the course of the essay. Most important is the way he articulates his plans to combine his MBA education with the insight he possesses into the international market. The essay has explored his objectives and background independently, and although the connection between them may be implicit throughout, bringing them together in the conclusion helps to drive the point home.

If in the process of synthesizing you can invoke your introduction, that will add a strong sense of closure. There are a number of different ways this could be accomplished. You might complete a story you started in the introduction, or as the above applicant does, you might show how something has changed in your present since the timeframe of the introduction.

Expand on Broader Significance—Within Reason

One way to ensure that your last paragraph has something fresh to say is to tie your ideas to some broader implications, whether about yourself or your field. But don’t get carried away: some applicants think they have to make reference to saving the world or derive some grand philosophical truths from their experiences. Stay grounded and focused on your personal details.

This applicant strengthens the impact of his essay by describing the broader significance of his work. Interestingly, that significance actually has two levels: his influence on public policy, and his sense of fulfillment in giving back to the community in which he grew up. The fact that the latter point is just as, if not more, powerful than the first demonstrates that you need not reach beyond the personal to find meaning.

Don’t Add Entirely New Information, Except to Look Ahead

When we use the word “fresh” here, we’re thinking mainly of perspectives and ideas. You should avoid adding entirely new information about your experiences. In shorter essays, you might have to pack details in everywhere, but in general, if it’s an important experience, it should come earlier.

That said, speaking of goals in your conclusion is a strong way to end. Even if you’ve begun this discussion earlier in the essay, you can use the conclusion to get more specific or to discuss the immediate future. Applicants will often use the last paragraph to write about the schools to which they’re applying and specific programs in which they are interested. The delineation of goals complements the process of synthesizing themes, because you can tie your themes together in the context of where you will go next.

This applicant writes about a role model. Of course, goals are not an essential part of such an essay, but he has specific points to make that tie in to his preceding discussion. Mentioning specific classes does not seem like distracting new information, but rather a logical conclusion given that the rest of the essay—a discussion of past experiences—is building up to make a statement about the present and future.

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