“But wait,” I hear you say, “I thought you were not supposed to put a thesis in your personal statement.”
Actually, I said don’t just repeat or restate your thesis. If you don’t state the main point of your essay in your body paragraphs, you might decide to include it at the end.
There are two ways you can do this, and we’ll discuss them one by one:
Variation A: The “Put Your Thesis at the End” Approach
Putting your thesis at the beginning can sometimes lead to a personal statement that feels a bit too much like one of those essays in which an author builds an argument and supports it with evidence. And although it could be argued that you’re building an “argument” in your personal statement—an argument demonstrating that you’ll bring a lot of value to a college campus—this method isn’t quite the same. We’ve found that by explicitly naming their thesis at the start, then supporting it with bits of evidence, some students create a slightly less interesting story simply because the ending often isn’t all that surprising.
One way to avoid this is by delaying the thesis ‘til the end.
In the “” essay, for example, the author describes a few positive experiences he’s had with Boy Scouts. But he waits until the very end to share an insight that ties all the experiences together.
Heads-up: The next thing we’re about to share won’t really make sense unless you read the “Hiking” essay.
What We Like about This Ending/Why It Works
What’s neat about this personal statement is that the author touches on a few different values/sides of himself in the body paragraphs … but it’s not until the final paragraph that he claims these different sides of himself as identities. Check out that final line again: “When I’m hiking, I’m not merely a hiker; I’m a historian, a conservationist, and a teacher all in one” (bold emphasis mine).
This ending works because, earlier in the essay, the author describes (i.e., shows us) these parts of himself through specific examples and details, then he names them (i.e., tells us) explicitly at the end of the essay. Note that if the author instead had decided to open his essay with that line, it kinda’ would’ve spoiled the ending of the movie (or, in this case, essay). The reader might’ve thought something like, “Okay, cool, guess I don’t really need to read the rest—thanks for saving me some time.” Ending with this sentence, however, creates a sense of both inevitability (since the final line pulls together the essences of the separate paragraphs, and surprise (because we didn’t think to name these different sides of him in quite this way—as identities he claims/roles he plays).
Note: To make this surprising, it was important for the author to not name these identities along the way, instead saving them for the end.
Variation B: The “Put Your Thesis at the End” Approach
Here’s an example from a student who chose to put not just one sentence in her conclusion, but her entire intro paragraph:
“My home is a dynamic and eclectic entity. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers, and intellectuals. While I may not always live within a 5 mile radius of a Bojangle’s or in close proximity to Lab 304, learning to become a more perceptive daughter and sister, to share the beauty of my heritage, and to take risks and redefine scientific and personal expectations will continue to impact my sense of home.”
What We Like about This Ending/Why It Works
Like the author of the “Hiking” essay above, this student does a nice job of pulling together the examples by zooming back to a wider frame of reference (but doing so with specific phrasing and language). Note that the author could have opened her essay with this paragraph, but doing so would have yielded a much more predictable (read: boring) essay.
Instead, she shows images and experiences in the body paragraphs so we get to “watch the movie” of her life before she tells us what they mean to her.
Note: In order to make this work, the author had to make sure the central topic of the essay (in this case, “home”) was super clear. She does this by repeating the word “home” at the ends of the first, second, and fourth paragraph, and in the middle of the third paragraph (she chose not to mention the word in the same place each time just to offer some variety). So if you try this one, make sure the topic/theme of your essay is clear.