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.
First, I will discuss three common mistakes you want to avoid in your conclusion, then I will provide a formula to follow for writing a successful conclusion.
Do Not State That It Is Your Conclusion
A common mistake that applicants make in writing the conclusion to their personal statements is to start the conclusion with the words “In conclusion,” “To conclude,” “In summary,” “To summarize” or something similar. This happens when the candidate doesn’t have a clear idea of how to start the conclusion. Or at least that is what it communicates to the program director or admissions committee member reading your personal statement.
At no point in your personal statement do you want to communicate to the program director or admissions committee member the idea that you do not have a clear intention for writing what you have written in your personal statement. This is certainly the case in starting your personal statement, and it is no different in the conclusion. Instead, trust that when your personal statement is well conceived with a clear focus and direction from start to finish, the program director or admissions committee member, when arriving at your conclusion, will know it is your conclusion.
Avoid Introducing an Entirely New Concept
The purpose of your personal statement is to progress the understanding so far achieved in your personal statement. It is not the place to suddenly introduce a new idea, unless that new idea is a clear extension of what you have already established in your personal statement.
For example, if you have nowhere in your personal statement discussed your love for dogs, avoid suddenly writing in your conclusion that you love dogs.
Another example would be that if none of what you have written your personal statement has to do with having a passion for academics or the academic side of the field you are applying for, then do not suddenly talk about your love for research or your desire for a career focused on academics. If such a shift has taken place for you in your career path, then it is something that should be established prior to your conclusion. You could then develop that understanding further in your conclusion.
Avoid Being Generic or Vague: Be Specific
One of the keys to writing a successful personal statement is to be specific. This means being specific in the words you use (e.g., avoiding the word, “thing”) and also in the details you write. It means not simply vaguely summarizing what you have presented in the personal statement, and it means not making claims (e.g., that you are diligent, reliable, etc.) in the conclusion that are not established previously in the personal statement. Every statement you make in your conclusion, as in the introduction and body of your personal statement, should be specifically relevant to you.
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, feel free to change the order depending on what would work best for your 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, you medium-term goal may be to apply for a cardiology fellowship following the completion of an internal medicine residency.
Long-term goals are then ones you seek to accomplish in the long term with your 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. The point of discussing them in the conclusion to your personal statement is to help demonstrate your intentionality in applying to the program.
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 will want or need to accomplish during your time in the program. They could be knowledge you want to gain, research you want to perform, experiences you want to have, etc. When doing so, be as specific as possible. These are your short-term goals.
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 may be to complete elective rotations in cardiology to gain as much cardiology experience as possible.
Another example is that 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. Are there particular courses that are relevant? Are there particular faculty who are leaders in the particular area you want to pursue? Are there research projects or extracurricular activities you would hope to get involved in that are particularly relevant to you?
A law school known for its mock trial program would be a great example of this kind of characteristic. 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 hospital you are applying to hosts a clinic that serves such a population. If you are applying to multiple programs, make sure you describe characteristics that are common among those programs, but also being as specific as possible when doing so.
Part 4: Wrap It up
With these three parts included in your conclusion, the only step left is to write a sentence that wraps it all up. This sentence could be a part of one of these three parts, or it could be separate. Whatever it is, be sure it is to the point and does not keep going after delivering that point. The last thing a program director or admissions committee member wants to see is a personal statement that doesn’t know where to end.