End With a Bang!
You can hook your reader with the introduction to your personal statement and wow them with magical words in your personal statement, but if you don’t write a strong conclusion to your personal statement, you’ll leave program directors and admissions committees with a whimper, rather than a bang.
And more often than not, it is the feeling they get from your personal statement, rather than the content itself, that determines how they view you as a candidate.
3 Key Goals and a Formula for Success
First, I will discuss three key goals you will want to accomplish in your conclusion, then I will provide a formula to follow for writing a successful conclusion.
The advice I share with you here stems from my 10+ years of guiding candidates in writing outstanding personal statements, who with our personal statement services have achieved a 97.4% match rate for medical residency, and a 100% acceptance rate for all other programs and schools.
Goal #1: Avoid Stating That It Is Your Conclusion
The first goal when writing the conclusion to your personal statement is a simple one. It is to avoid starting the conclusion with the words “In conclusion,” “To conclude,” “In summary,” “To summarize” or something similar.
If you start the conclusion by stating it is the conclusion, you can inadvertently produce an undesired effect in the eyes of the program director or admissions committee member. To some, it will indicate a lack of maturity in the writing, while to others a lack of self-confidence.
Still to others, it will indicate the candidate lacks a clear vision of what to accomplish in the conclusion.
Instead, embrace your conclusion with the same clearness of focus and direction you have used from the start of your personal statement, and trust that when you do so, the program director or admissions committee member will know when they reach your conclusion.
Goal #2: Avoid Introducing an Entirely New Concept
The purpose of your conclusion is to advance the understanding so far achieved in your personal statement. Introducing a new idea should be avoided, unless that new idea is a clear extension of what you have already established in your personal statement.
For example, if you haven't discussed your love of teaching anywhere in your personal statement, avoid suddenly writing in your conclusion that you love teaching and wish it to be a feature of your future career.
As another example, if you have not discussed in the body of your personal statement a passion for the academic side of the field you are applying for, then avoid declaring your desire for a career devoted to academics.
Suddenly stating a new, unsupported idea in your conclusion will come across as disingenuous, as if you are simply checking items off a list or trying to tell the program director or admissions committee what you believe they want to hear. Neither impression would go over well.
If such a shift, however, has taken place for you recently, then establish that prior to your conclusion, ideally in the penultimate paragraph. Then you will have the foundation for developing that understanding further in your conclusion.
In some cases (e.g., older candidates or candidates who otherwise have multiple significant items to discuss in the personal statement), it will be necessary to discuss a recent or ongoing experience in the conclusion rather than in the penultimate paragraph.
In these cases, the new idea must be sufficiently developed and nonetheless be an extension of what has preceded it in the personal statement. It must also dovetail seamlessly with the other goals to be accomplished in the conclusion in such a way as to keep the word count from running too high.
For most candidates, the conclusion is the weakest component of the personal statement, which is regrettable, since the conclusion is where many program directors and admission committees start reading a personal statement.
Goal #3: Be Specific in the Details
One of the keys to writing a successful personal statement is to be specific. This means being specific both in the words you use (e.g., avoiding the word, “thing”) and in the details you write.
Many candidates make the mistake of stating in the conclusion their goals for what they wish to accomplish in the program in categorical terms. They make statements like wishing to "increase their knowledge" or "gain exposure in a variety of settings."
No matter how much the candidate may genuinely believe these statements, they are not interesting. What would make them interesting is being specific.
For example, what specific knowledge do you wish to gain? What specific settings do you want to be exposed to?
Formula for a Successful Conclusion to Your Personal Statement
The formula presented here is one that goes through a logical progression. However, there is not just one way to go through this progression.
While the elements work together to achieve a successful conclusion to your personal statement, personal statement experts like the ones at DLA Editors & Proofers may adjust the order to achieve a much better conclusion for your particular personal statement.
Part 1: Your Medium- and Long-Term Goals
First, state your medium- and long-term goals. Medium-term goals are ones you seek to accomplish within 2 to 3 or maybe 5 years following your completion of the program you are applying for.
For example, your medium-term goal may be to apply for a cardiology fellowship following the completion of an internal medicine residency.
Your long-term goals are the ones you seek to accomplish in the course of your career. It is your vision for your future career. They are where you see yourself in 10, 15 or 20 years down the road.
For example, you may wish to go into private practice while devoting 10% of your time supporting a local charity.
Your medium- and long-term goals certainly may change as you progress through the program. That is okay; you don't have to have them exactly right in your personal statement or think that you have to stick to them just because you've mentioned them.
The point of discussing your medium- and long-term goals in your personal statement is to demonstrate that you have a clear vision for the path that you are on and that you are applying to the program with intentionality as the key next step in your career.
Part 2: Your Short-Term Goals
After establishing your medium- and long-term goals, think backward from them. Think about what steps you will need to take to accomplish them, and therefore what you desire to accomplish during your time in the program.
Short-term goals could be a specific knowledge you want to gain, a specific technique you want to master, specific research you want to perform, a specific experience you wish to achieve, etc.
For example, if your medium-term goal is to apply for a cardiology fellowship, and you’re currently applying for an internal medicine residency, then one of your short-term goals would be to complete elective rotations in cardiology.
As another example, if you are applying for law school, and your long-term goal is to practice in an area with litigation as a key component, then one of your short-term goals may be to participate in mock trial.
Part 3: Relevant Characteristics of the Program(s)
With your short-, medium- and long-term goals established, think of the specific characteristics of the program that would help you specifically achieve them.
For example, are there specific technologies, techniques, courses or electives that are unique or available at the program and relevant to your particular path?
Are there particular faculty whose leadership in the field is particularly relevant to your path?
What about particular research areas or projects or extracurricular opportunities?
A law school known for its mock trial program would be a great example of this kind of characteristic for someone wanting a career in litigation.
Another would be if you are applying for a family medicine residency with the goal of providing primary care to a predominantly Vietnamese immigrant population, and the program you are applying to rotates its residents through a clinic that serves such a population.
Another would be if you had personal ties (e.g., family or friends) to a particular area.
If you are applying to multiple programs, make sure you describe characteristics that are common among those programs, while also being as specific as possible when doing so.
Subdividing the list of programs you're applying to by characteristic or characteristics and create a separate version of your personal statement tailored to each subgroup.
Deciding which characteristics to focus on and how to word them in such a way as not to come across the same as everyone else applying for the program are both items a personal statement professional should be able to help you with.
Part 4: Wrap It up
Once you have accomplished all the above in your conclusion, the last step is to wrap it up.
This could be a single, stand-alone sentence, or whichever of the above parts is last could be written to achieve this.
Select whichever works best for your personal statement, and whichever approach you use, make sure it gets to the point and does not keep going.
The last impression you want to give to a program director or admissions committee is of someone who doesn't know when to stop talking.
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published April 9, 2018, and last updated for accuracy and completeness May 19, 2022.