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.
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.
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 you might show how something has changed in your present since the timeframe of the introduction.
This applicant uses the essay to relate personal characteristics through a child's toy: Lego building blocks. He does not involve any overstatement on how Legos have dramatically changed his life. Instead, he uses his unique theme to showcase how he has become a mature young man—and strong college applicant
"Legos may not have changed the world the way the airplane and the computer have, but for one little boy, they accomplished what no incredible piece of technology could do. They released an unstoppable flow of imagination and curiosity that has shaped the boy into a creative, energetic, and confident young man."
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. However, do not 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 as this applicant does:
"I cautiously placed my necklace around my neck as I once again boarded a plane to leave for Jonquiere, Quebec. For the following six weeks, I studied in a country where few people knew of the Jewish religion, and where those who looked at my necklace noticed it only for its beauty. Classmates in my courses knew of Judaism solely through stereotypes from television. For many, I was the first Jew they had met. I spoke less of my faith as a Jew, yet noticed its impact on me more. My necklace was my identity. I pulled it from underneath my shirt and placed it on the outside of my clothing, not caring if the diamond side faced forward."
We have used the word "fresh" several times here, and we are 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 is an important experience, it should come earlier.
That said, speaking of goals in your conclusion is a strong way to end. Some essays will be chiefly about the writers' qualifications and intentions, but they will not touch on specific goals until all of that has been established. The delineation of goals can be like a process of synthesizing, because you are trying to tie your themes together in the context of where you will go next.
This applicant closes by emphasizing how important music is in his life and by relating that he wants to share his gift with others. The essay has been building toward such a conclusion, so it is fitting:
"I hope to continue performing and studying music after high school. One of my band members met Sean Lennon last week while in the Village and said that Sean was very interested in hearing the demo we are wrapping up sometime in late November. Just the opportunity to present my music to a larger audience makes me realize how deeply I want to share the positive experience music has been in my life. Every time I make a new film, DJ a radio show, or record music with my band, I hope to promulgate music that will inspire other people to listen closely to the music that surrounds and impacts their lives."
You may also want to make reference to the specific schools to which you are applying (some questions will ask why you want to attend). This information can come earlier, but it is not unacceptable to bring it up in the conclusion.