Over and over in our chapters up to this point, we’ve stated explicitly that your personal statement must convey qualities that reveal your character to the admissions reader. It’s not coincidental that the closing sentences of your personal statement essay should also leave the reader with a final burnished image. In the best case, you tie together your narrative with mature reflection. Therein lies the impact of your writing.
This is the moment where you may sit back with your draft and ask yourself why you’ve chosen your specific topic. What’s motivating you? Where does an experience leave you now? From your answers, you can sketch your final paragraph. Don’t avoid ambivalence; life doesn’t provide easy answers, so be willing to close your essay on a reflective note that shows you have an eye on the future – with all its questions and possibilities. Let’s consider some examples.
One student wrote about a first-ever drive across several state lines in the course of a single day. He concludes his essay this way:
And so on a Sunday morning I found myself embarking on a journey; on a Sunday afternoon I found myself arriving. It was a Kerouac affair in many ways, and while I wasn’t on the road in the same free-spirited sense that he was, I looked ahead and knew, as Robert Frost wrote, that there are miles to go before I sleep, and above all, that I will always try to keep moving.
By evoking a “beat generation” writer and a renowned poet, both of whom had incisive ways of describing journeys, this student underscores his own unending voyage.
In the following excerpt, the student uses the final paragraph to describe a dose of realism. Despite (or perhaps because of) his understanding of what the years immediately ahead hold for him through education, he’s not deflated by the prospect of not following a current dream. So, reality and dream converge within the confines of his bedroom/studio:
The path I was choosing was taking me to college, not to a record deal in L.A. Within the contours of this realization, I recognized the conclusion of my childhood. Up on the horizon, I caught the first glimpse of my adult life. Still, even now, when the mood is right and no one is home, I sling my axe over my shoulder and crank the amplifier up to 11. With the lights low, I strike the sexiest of poses and gaze a dead stare into the mirror. I let the first chord ring. Despite everything, I am Bryan, Rock Star.
Remember how detail can enrich an essay? Life’s intricacies are worthy of written expression; they surround us in every moment, down to the smallest mote of dust. One student decided to reflect on her grandmother’s cat that ate a beautiful hummingbird. Everything happened on a small timescale, in a small dimension. But the event was worthy of the student’s reflection this way:
Reflecting on this encounter, which seemed horrifying at the time, I awakened to a purpose of life: to take advantage of the time that is given me and utilize it to the best of my abilities. I began to more avidly pursue my long-term goals with the understanding that I may never see them achieved, but that simply striving to achieve them could be as rewarding as actually accomplishing them. That hummingbird helped me to resolve, even as a young girl, that no matter what happens tomorrow, my dreams and goals give purpose to my life today.
We trust that you see in this sample how “everyday” events can spark serious thinking. In this case, the specific incident blossomed into a personal view of the broad possibilities of “tomorrow.”
Self-reflection. Not the glossy, ready-for-anything language of a teenager trying to impress a reader with nothing but young optimism, but rather careful weighing of that place between light and dark, between hope and a little despair. We recall a student who wrote about a wilderness therapy program that changed his life. The moment itself could have been a banal one – lighting a campfire “from scratch” – for the very first time. She summed it up this way in her personal statement for the Common Application:
My feelings at this moment could not be articulated by words alone. It was the feeling of that first bike ride without the training wheels; that feeling you get when you finish organizing your room and you take a step back and marvel at that uncanny event; the way I felt when I was a kid building Lego sets, showing my masterpieces to all my friends. I had finally completed something! And that was just the beginning. College will be the next step to complete.
The images of the bike ride and Lego bricks certainly resonate. The student asserts in her final words that college will be another kind of completion.
Not every close relies on seriousness alone. Take the following example in which an engineering hopeful not only sums up his love of Rubik’s invention and problem-solving, but invites the reader to twist the plastic:
I contend that it’s with imagination - thinking about infinity and solving Rubik’s Cubes - that I further my passion and obsession with problems. I don’t just solve problems; I search for the next ones, the intractable, the impossible. Cultivating my love of problems is how I solve problems. Sure, I can crack Ernö’s code in a few seconds, but his glowing, multicolored influence will remain with me for a lifetime. Here. You try.
Nice invitation. Rubik and his intractable cube lead us, somehow, to Rodin’s famous bronze of the “Thinker” that sits in a Paris museum garden. Look how the image is incorporated into these closing words:
Through debate, I learned the particular power of doubt; it produced that awareness with which I now approach the world. What seems like a right answer may not necessarily be so – rather just a shade of gray. I’ve never been fond of the label ‘critical thinker,’ because at heart I consider it a strange redundancy; yet, for lack of a better word, that phrase describes my metamorphosis. Imagine, if you will, Rodin’s masterpiece come alive, crouched over, waging a war of ideas between his ears.
The reflection includes a “shade of gray.” This student conveys an understanding of those in-between places in life.
The impact of your words will be underscored via colors, smells, touch – even taste. These all can have a place in your personal statement and bring insightful closure to your thoughts. Never fear being personal, because that’s where your impact lies.
In a follow-up blog, we’ll turn our attention to the supplemental essays that many colleges require. One of the more common prompts is especially challenging and used by quite a few institutions. Tune in to find out more!
Need help with your final paragraph? For personalized help with this or any other aspect of your college application essay, you can take advantage of our $99 special by contacting the Score At The Top Learning Center nearest you.