Perfecting Your Law School Personal Statement Opener

June 28, 2017
Kaplan Test Prep


Follow these guidelines for your law school personal statement.

Avoid making these mistakes when writing an eye-catching opener.

The law school personal statement is important—probably the most important qualitative factor in your application. Admissions deans from the best programs 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.

What not to write in your law school personal statement

Sure, reading harsh critical reviews of movies or restaurants can be entertaining in its own right, but more important for aspiring law students, criticism can always be framed constructively. Since law school personal statements are made to be scrutinized by admissions committees, it’s only fair to study examples of what to avoid so that you can get a clearer picture of what you should do in your own writing.

To help you craft an effective essay, here’s a sampling of some choice law school personal statement openers that, one way or another, miss the mark. Enjoy:

  • “The ball falls through the net as the buzzer sounds. I give Cornell the victory with a last second shot. Unfortunately this never happened, but even now the dream remains.”
  • “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…”
  • “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…”
  • “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.”
  • “‘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…

To help you avoid common mistakes like these, let’s point out some guidelines for starting your personal statement and see what exactly went wrong in these examples.

1. Start honestly and truthfully

It doesn’t have to begin with a bang. Now, we love drama as much as the next person, but your personal statement is not an episode of How To Get Away With Murder. It’s better to just start honestly as opposed to manufacturing some kind of forced 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.

In some of the examples above, the use of hyperbole and dramatic action is more distracting than it is informative. Keeping things less Real Housewives and just more real in general is the name of the game when writing your law school personal statement opening.

2. Begin with you rather than going too general

There is always a 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 we did there?), this is less effective than just talking straightforwardly 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

We understand the allure of doing something cutesy or clever or tricky. However, this is a law school application—not your blog. Gimmicky law school personal statements don’t actually read as being all that creative; rather, they convey 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 who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

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 always ask somebody else to read your essay and give you honest, constructive feedback.

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