The video discusses common issues in college essays, emphasizing the importance of engaging hooks and effective conclusions. The speaker, Kevin Zen, a Yale East Asian studies graduate and co-founder of the Elevated School, highlights that more than half of essays suffer from weak openings and poor endings, significantly affecting admission chances. He suggests using conflict or mystery in hooks to grab attention and advises for conclusions to address the “so what” question and how one can contribute to the college community. Zen underscores that both tangible and intangible contributions matter and concludes by encouraging viewers to focus on their unique offerings to enhance their essays.

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This article is a summary of a YouTube video “The Best Way to Start & End a College Essay! | Tips for Common App and Supplementals 2023-2024” by ElevatEd School

Key insights

  • Importance of Strong Hooks: The opening of the essay (the hook) is crucial as admission officers spend very limited time on each application. A compelling hook can significantly increase the chances of the entire essay being read thoroughly.
  • Utilizing Conflict in Hooks: Conflict is suggested as an effective element in hooks. It naturally draws the reader’s interest. Examples provided demonstrate escalating effectiveness, emphasizing originality, real stakes, and sensory details to make the conflict engaging.
  • Mystery as an Attention-Grabber: Starting an essay with a mystery or a question that invokes curiosity is another strategy. This approach can pique interest and encourage readers to continue reading for answers.
  • Avoiding Clichés in Conclusions: Many essays fail due to clichéd or repetitive conclusions. A good conclusion should add new insights rather than just summarizing the essay.
  • Addressing “So What” and Campus Contribution: The conclusion should answer the “so what” of the essay’s story and articulate what the writer can contribute to the college community. This can be either tangible skills or intangible qualities.
  • Personalizing the Essay: The speaker emphasizes the value of reflecting personal values and experiences in the essay, making it unique and authentic.
  • Impact on College Admissions: The transcript underscores that essays addressing these aspects effectively tend to stand out in the college admissions process, significantly improving the chances of acceptance.

Timestamped Summary

  • 0:00-0:25: The speaker, Kevin Zen, discusses common problems in college essays, specifically weak hooks and poor conclusions. He emphasizes that these issues can severely impact admission chances.
  • 0:27-0:58: Kevin introduces himself as a Yale graduate and co-founder of the Elevated School, which focuses on various forms of writing education and college application assistance.
  • 1:00-1:25: The importance of hooks in college essays is highlighted, noting that admission officers spend very limited time on each application. Hooks are crucial for capturing attention quickly.
  • 1:29-2:38: Kevin discusses using conflict in hooks as an effective strategy to engage readers, providing examples of varying effectiveness and explaining why some are more powerful.
  • 2:41-2:58: Other types of conflicts (character vs. self, character vs. character, character vs. environment) are suggested for essay hooks, with examples for each.
  • 3:51-4:26: Another strategy for hooks is starting with a mystery or an intriguing question. Examples are given, and the simplicity and effectiveness of this approach are noted.
  • 4:37-4:52: The focus shifts to essay conclusions. Common issues in conclusions, such as clichés and repetition, are addressed.
  • 4:56-6:02: Kevin explains how to craft effective conclusions by addressing the “so what” question and describing what the writer can contribute to the college campus, with an example provided.
  • 6:09-6:48: The importance of illustrating personal contribution to campus in essays is emphasized, with examples of both tangible and intangible contributions.
  • 6:50-7:00: The video concludes with Kevin encouraging viewers to focus on their unique offerings in their essays


What makes a strong hook in a college essay?

A strong hook often includes elements of conflict or mystery that grab the reader’s attention. It should be original, evoke curiosity, and ideally set the tone for the rest of the essay.

Why are the hooks and conclusions of an essay so important in college admissions?

College admissions officers have limited time to review each application, so an engaging hook can ensure your essay gets the attention it deserves. Similarly, a powerful conclusion can leave a lasting impression, summarizing your story and highlighting your potential contribution to the college.

How can I avoid clichés in my essay’s conclusion?

To avoid clichés, focus on providing insights or perspectives that go beyond summarizing the essay. Address the “so what” of your story and articulate how your experiences shape what you can contribute to the college community.

Can you give examples of effective hooks in college essays?

Examples include starting with a personal conflict, posing an intriguing question, or describing a unique experience. For instance, writing about a challenging personal experience or a question that reflects a deeper theme in your essay.

What does it mean to address the ‘contribution to campus’ in my essay?

Addressing your contribution to campus means discussing how your unique skills, experiences, or perspectives will add value to the college community. This can be in terms of specific talents, leadership experiences, or personal qualities that will enrich the campus environment.


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