The personal statement is one of the most important parts of the law school application process. It touches on aspects of an applicant’s character that the other more quantitative measures cannot show. The short writing excerpt, ranging anywhere from two to four pages long, showcases your ability to craft a story clearly and concisely. It shows the admissions committee who you are, a true glimpse into your life story that your LSAT score and GPA don't demonstrate. It’s more than just another paper – it’s a chance to humanize yourself to the adcom and unveil the person behind the application.
Both quantitative and qualitative measures are analyzed when an applicant applies for law school. The personal statement serves as a more qualitative measure, targeting character rather than qualifications. These two to three pages are your chance to show why you belong at the university.
What Makes a Great Personal Statement
While what makes a great personal statement depends, in part, on the applicant's background and strengths, there are a few similarities among successful ones.
- Put the PERSONAL in the personal statement. This may be a given, but this part of the application is meant to show your character. It shouldn’t be autobiographical but it also shouldn’t be overly formal to the point that you lose character.
Be specific and focus on what makes you unique. Remember, you’re competing with other very qualified candidates for these prestigious schools. There are likely very few things on your resume that they won’t also have. But, you are the only you applying. If your personal statement doesn’t reflect who you are, or could be written by an anonymous writer, it’s time to revise.
- Answer the question, “Why law school?” Show a genuine and demonstrated interest in law in general, and how that particular program will help you get there. Show your drive, ambition, and motivations for going to law school. What sparked your interest in law school? Why did you select this career path? What does this school offer that others don’t? Highlighting some of these reasons within your personal statement shows that you’ve done your homework about this school in particular.
- Find a common theme across your entire application and use the personal statement to drive it home. A directionless meander through your life story is not going to be persuasive and will often result in platitude. Find what makes you different and highlight it. Tell the story no one else can tell.
Sticking to a theme will make your application, and personal statement, much more cohesive. To start brainstorming potential themes, make a list of all the major decisions of your life then go through each one and ask yourself, "Why did I make this decision? What did I value? What did I want?" You should see some consistencies appear across your life.
How to Write Your Personal Statement
Choose the Right Topic
Oftentimes, law schools will provide prospective candidates with a prompt. Prompts tend to focus the essay around a more specific topic and provide a sense of uniformity in the applications, making it easier for the admissions committee to make a decision about an applicant. If the law school you’re applying to gives a prompt, it is best that you follow it!
However, that isn’t always the case. If your dream school doesn’t provide a specific prompt to address in your personal statement, give yourself time to think before you start writing! Your essay needs to feel cohesive, specific, and targeted, even without a prompt. One of the novice mistakes applicants make in writing their personal statement is simply not giving themselves enough time for the writing process. Writing a good personal statement, with or without a prompt, takes time.
What you write about in your personal statement is seen by the admissions committee as a reflection of what you value. Finding ways to highlight what you hold dear is key to writing a good essay. Be natural, specific, and genuine with your readers. Although it’s tempting to portray yourself as a perfect, cookie-cutter candidate, or create a dramatic, superhero-like story in your personal statement, the most compelling essays tend to feel more like a conversation with your audience.
A story or anecdote can often be an effective start but choose the story with immense caution. Build trust with your audience. Use storytelling to show, not tell your audience who you are. Remember, not every attorney is going to have a traumatic reason for studying law, but every lawyer has a reason they do what they do. Why law? Why you?
If there’s a particular area of law that interests you, talk about it. This is not a chance to talk about what you already know, but what you don’t. How is law school going to help you fill in your knowledge gaps? Your personal statement should demonstrate that you have a rooted interest in law, but should also demonstrate that you have room to learn. After all – you will be attending law school, you haven’t earned your JD yet. Be sure to demonstrate a sense of humility in your essay.
It may seem like a daunting task to come up with the perfect personal statement for law school, especially when the parameters are broad. One of the most difficult parts is deciding what to write about, a lot can hinge on the topic.
The central question to any law school application is, “Why law?” From your experience in the field to the things that sparked your interest, to the reason you’re pursuing it now, the adcom should be able to clearly see how and why you've ended up applying to law school. Think about the things that have molded you into the person you are today and who you want to be in the future.
It’s important, especially in law, to be able to draw similarities between your life and deeper, core values. Consider the questions below and write down your answers. You should begin to see some key aspects that stand out. These will guide the topic and help you think of specific instances and stories that support it.
- What do you bring to the table?
- How are you different from your potential classmates?
- What motivates you?
- What energizes you?
- What matters to you?
- What have been the most pivotal moments of your life?
- What books/movies made an impact on you and why?
- What are you most proud of?
At this stage, an admissions coach can especially come in handy - someone who can talk through your background and provide an objective, third-person perspective on your path so far.
Edit and Review
Law school admissions committees are looking for candidates who are able to write clearly and concisely, as the profession requires. Your statement shouldn’t share your entire life story, but it should give the committee a good idea of who you are. Here are a couple of things to do and keep in mind when you're going through the review process of your drafts.
- Get feedback: At different stages of your personal statement, have a couple of people review your work, ideally someone with a background in writing. They should reflect on these questions, which will help guide the feedback they offer:
- Does your personal statement accurately reflect who you are?
- Does it demonstrate why you want to attend law school?
- Does it feel lengthy or overwhelming?
- What parts feel necessary?
- What parts feel extraneous?
- What does it say about what you value?
- Give yourself time: Whenever possible, don't rush the personal statement process, from reflecting on your topic/theme, actually writing drafts, or revising. A quick, half-hearted attempt at writing a personal statement is going to do more harm to your application than not submitting one at all. The key to a well-written essay is often iteration. Your final personal statement should not be the second or third draft that you write. Going through many drafts will help you identify what's working and what's not.
- Just get started: If you're at this stage of the application and are feeling stuck, sit down with a piece of paper and brain dump. Don't think about what you're writing. It doesn't matter if it makes sense, is part of the broader theme, or is impactful in any way. Look it over and see if there are any parts that stood out to you as true to who you are and where you want to go. Many applicants find that just getting started is often the hardest part.
Personal Statement Tips and Strategies
We've covered what a good personal statement looks like and how to get started. Now, we'll dive into some general tactics and things to think about during this part of the application.
Read your essay out loud - Once you've finished a close-to-final draft, go outside, stand up, and read your personal statement to yourself. This is important for several reasons. First, it's a lot easier to catch spelling and grammatical errors this way. Second, you'll be able to see more clearly what parts are working and what are not. Lastly, you'll get an idea of what it sounds like to the admissions committee.
Tailor your statement to the school - Different law programs value different things and look for different characteristics in applicants. Talk to alumni, professors, current students, and other affiliates to get an idea of what they are at your target schools, and use your personal statement to organically weave in some of the things they're looking for. If there's anything specific that you like about a school, you can also include it in the statement itself if there is a natural way to do so.
Skip the overly academic rhetoric - A lot of law school applicants come from humanities backgrounds and have a tendency to wax on past the point of necessity or use the academic verbiage they're used to from school. Keep the personal statement straight and to the point. Imagine the adcom member who's reading your essay is on the twentieth one of the day. Write to that person.
Where Can I Get Started?
Getting into law school is no easy task. It’s hard to capture your character, ambition, values, and everything that makes you who you are in just a couple of pages. However, this task is one fitting of the profession and a vital part of the admissions process, as it shows the admissions committee who you truly are. It is perhaps for this reason, above all others, that the personal statement is just as important to admissions committees as any extracurricular activities, test scores, or previous experience.
As you put together your law school application, here are a few other articles you may find helpful:
- Everything You Need to Know About LSAC and the CAS Report for Law School
- How to Get Into a T14 Law School
- Acceptance Rates and Class Profiles of the T14 Law School
- How Many Law Schools Should You Apply To?
- The Top 10 Environmental Law Schools in the US
- JD Application Deadlines of the T14 and Other Top Law Schools
Once you're ready to put together your application, book time with a Leland law school admissions coach. Personalized support from an expert who's been through the process themselves will help you maximize your chances of admission to a top program.
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