The Worst Law School Personal Statement Openings—Ever
December 11, 2014
The law school personal statement is important—probably the most important qualitative factor in your application. Our phenomenal guests on the 180 Live—admissions deans from the very best schools in the country—often point to the personal statement as their entry into a prospective student’s application. It is not a throwaway.
That means there is an awful lot of pressure on you to get it right, and it all starts with a great opening. Don’t worry, we will give you some helpful tips to get your law school personal statement started on exactly the right foot, but for now, let’s look at what happens when things go wrong.
Admit it: there’s something perversely enjoyable—if not downright entertaining—about reading awful critical reviews. Critics are often inspired to great rhetorical heights when trashing a terrible movie, play or even restaurant.
Since they were born to be critiqued, law school personal statements definitely apply! There may exist an occasional unofficial award ritual during the annual convention of pre-law advisors, admissions consultants, and law school admissions managers. Nominations are offered for the “worst-of-the-worst” openings among the thousands of law school personal statements read during that admissions cycle. Here’s a selected sample. Enjoy:
- I have never been fond of dogs; I find their habits repulsive, their odor offensive, and I shudder to think of one living in my home. And yet, one day…
- A few snickered. Some shook their heads in obvious disapproval. The most generous attributed it to a fever that would soon pass. But…
- When taken chronologically, anyone’s life may seem to be a series of loosely connected events. Each follows the other, sometimes neatly, sometimes not, but…
- The final brush strokes in the portrait of [name], applicant for admission to the X School of Law have been completed, and I would very much appreciate your bringing them to the attention of the Committee on Admissions.
- The ball falls through the net as the buzzer sounds. [Applicant’s name] gives Cornell the victory with a last second shot. Unfortunately this never happened, but even now the dream remains.
- I am gay. There. I said it. One year ago, I would never have…
- “It is true,” the witness begins, “that my undergraduate GPA is low, but I submit to you that success, past and future, are not measured by grades alone. Mental toughness, leadership, demonstrated hard work intellectual vision should also count for something, and do, if I read my NYU Law School prospectus correctly.” Murmurs of “typical English major bluster” waft from the jury’s bench, but the witness continues…
Whew! To help you avoid disasters like these, let’s point out some guidelines to starting your personal statement.
1. Start honestly; it doesn’t have to begin with a bang. = Now, I love drama as much as the next person, but your personal statement is not an episode of How To Get Away With Murder (although maybe your law school experience will be!). It’s better to just start honestly, as opposed to manufacturing some kind of suspense. Remember the audience you are writing for and how experienced they are in reading these statements. They can quickly sniff out when something rings false So less Real Housewives, more real-in-general is the name of the game for your law school personal statement opening.
2. Begin with you instead of going too general. There is a definite subset of law school applicants who love to start their personal statements with a maxim, truism, or vague and general description of a feeling or a idea. In general (see what I did there?), this is less effective than just talking about your experience. After all, these admissions officials aren’t considering letting the entire human race into their law school; they are looking at one individual—you—and the personal statement is the most direct view they’ll get in the law school application.
3. No need to get cute. I understand the pull of doing something cutesy or clever or tricky—this blog is littered with puns I probably should have reconsidered. But there’s a reason that this is a blog and not a law school application. Gimmicky law school statements don’t actually read creatively; they read as a lack of confidence. Why do you need a faux-cross examination to tell us about yourself? Instead, go back to the very first point: be honest. Stay away from the gimmicky stuff; it’s done too often, and it’s also frequently done poorly. Just give those law school admissions committees the straight scoop on you.
That is, after all, what the law school personal statement is all about, and if you master it, you’ll be a step ahead of your competition. When in doubt, take heart, and reread those personal statement openings above.
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