How to Perfect your Law School Personal Statement

How to Perfect your Law School Personal Statement

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.

 

  • 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.

The Best Personal Statement I Ever Read

Terrible personal statements are about a dime a dozen. As a result, law school admissions officers see too darned many of them. That’s just one of the reasons why a good personal statement can help your application to stand out, and a great one can sometimes turn what would have otherwise been a certain rejection into an offer of admission. As you might imagine, the great statements tend to stick in a reader’s memory for a long time.

One Kaplan Graduate Admissions Consultant vividly remembers the best law school personal statements they ever read–a personal statement that got the writer acceptance letters to several top law schools. Here’s how they described the personal statement:

The essay told an epic tale about a student who struggled to achieve passing grades – moving on and off of academic probation, and through a myriad of stops, shifts, and re-starts, from one college to another – for the better part of a decade following his graduation from high school. For a time, it appeared that he was destined to be a college drop-out. To make matters worse, as the student floundered academically, he bounced around from one retail job to another. Then, one day, he took a position as a grassroots worker on a local political campaign. He quickly realized that he had found something that he loved to do, but just as importantly, he was very good at it. His life soon changed in dramatic ways. He almost immediately became a star local operative for a major political party, and in a very short time period worked his way up and into state-wide and national campaigns. His confidence ultimately inspired his academic career. He transferred any grades that he could (i.e., not the bad ones) to a new university, changed his major to political science, and revamped his study habits. For his final two years of college credit (which were required to attain a degree from the institution to which he had transferred), he aced nearly every course that he took and set his sights on a career in law.

As compelling as the above storyline is, it is important to always keep in mind that an outstanding story counts for little without an effective organizational structure and proper literary execution. Toward that end, the applicant in this case sought to engage the reader by presenting a scene in the opening paragraph which depicted one of the happiest moments of his life – his triumphant college graduation. It was as he moved toward the end of the first paragraph and into the second that he added the engaging twist which showed that his academic success story was far from the norm: it had been ten years (and many failures) in the making. Most importantly, the applicant did not harp on the lengthy, negative period in his life that I described above. Rather, he took a straightforward and succinct approach in recounting the great challenges that had stymied him for so many years. From there, it was off to the heart of the essay – how the applicant overcame his struggle and succeeded, ultimately setting a clear and direct course for law school along the way.

Finally, in the concluding paragraph of the essay, the applicant brought the reader full circle – back to the opening story. There he was, still standing at graduation, but instead of thinking simply about his past and how he had made it to this point, he was now looking toward the future and thinking about how he was fully prepared to conquer the challenges that lay ahead in law school and beyond.

I will never forget the excitement that this applicant felt when he received three acceptance letters from top law schools over three consecutive days. One of these letters came with a handwritten note from a law school dean who praised him for doing such an outstanding job on the personal statement. I should mention that this applicant ultimately ended up declining each of those three offers in favor of an offer from one of the most renowned and oldest law schools in the United States. While these successful results certainly help to keep this applicant’s memory in my mind, it is the personal statement that he wrote which most stirs my recollection.

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve advised on thousands of application essays over the years and been a part of success stories that are far too numerous to mention, but this was one of my most special cases because it showed not only how an applicant can overcome years of struggle, but also how in two double-spaced pages, he can demonstrate his success in a powerful way.

Every once in a while, somewhere out there, a law school applicant does something in the application process that can be described as a real game changer. The personal statement that this particular applicant wrote would probably best be described as a life changer.