By V.W. Barber
A law school personal statement is successful when the writing is successful. You have two pages or less to present to the admissions board a fabulous, honest, and interesting first impression so that you will stand out among thousands and thousands of other applicants. No pressure. Like a court case, the best way to handle this is to take it apart and rebuild it piece by piece.
This is the easy part so it’s best to start here. Correct structure will provide a framework upon which you will be able to hang a strong discussion. This structure should include an introductory paragraph that creates a visual image for the reader immediately. Each of the paragraphs in the body of the essay should have a main thought driving them in such a way that one paragraph naturally progresses to the next. You should also have a conclusion in which you don’t summarize what you have just said but draw conclusions about what you have just related so that the reader takes from your law school personal statement the meaning that you intended.
Once you’ve got the framework down, you need to decide on a style. Your style is how you relate your story. The tone, the order you place the events, long or short sentences, simple versus complex, etc. Be sure you’ve got the following things in mind as you begin to write.
- Avoid complicated explanations and heavy amounts of back story or flashbacks in your law school personal statement.
- Don’t interrupt yourself in the middle of an anecdote about your first trip to the beach to explain how your grandmother came to this country 40 years ago as a stowaway.
- Keep the story simple and the point of the story clear. You are telling this particularly story because this was the moment that changed you in a major way. You are not telling six different stories at the same time just because it’s entertaining.
- Don’t be pretentious or obscure. You won’t impress them by referencing things they’ve never heard of or writing as if the mere fact that you are considering their little school should have them begging you to attend on a full scholarship.
Your life is a unique series of events, some of which may be similar to other people of your age, gender, and nationality but none of which are identical. Your family, your personality, your location, the way you were raised, your culture, your religion – all of these add up to equal your identity. As long as you are honest and don’t make up attributes or entire stories that didn’t happen to you, anything you choose to write about will resonate. If you choose to write about a role model or courageous family member who you love, be sure that when the admissions committee finishes reading your law school personal statement, they are left with an image of you and not your grandma.
Consider your life. What moment most leaps out at you as the most vivid and memorable, the moment that changed the course of your life or the essence of who you were? When did you realize that you were no longer a child? When did you know that law was your calling? Choose an event that played a big part in who you are today (an aspect you are proud of) and tell it the admissions committee. You may decide that ‘Why I Want to Be a Lawyer’ is too generic, but certainly an anecdote on when you learned about integrity, honesty, or strength through adversity will relate the same message while offering the admissions committee an intimate introduction into who you are by reading your law school personal statement.
Make it interesting! Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of college students are applying to law schools this year. Many thousands more are re-applying after re-taking the LSATs or gaining more experience. Many of them will have better grades than you do, attended a more prestigious undergraduate university, or even have Masters degrees or spent a few years volunteering in war torn countries. You won’t be able to out pizzazz that kind of application without a stunning law school personal statement.
Use details. Create visual images that move and people who will live in the minds of the admissions committee long after they’ve finished reading your law school personal statement. Over the top? So is the number of applications they will be reading. Don’t be afraid to knock their socks off. Get personal; reveal yourself. Let them into your most personal relationships, your inner secrets, your greatest aspirations – provided that they are noble. If you don’t look good, they won’t look good, and if they won’t look good by accepting you, you won’t get accepted. Create the most positive impression of yourself possible and you will simultaneously be presenting the positive light your future achievements will cast on their university.
Things to Remember
- Be confident
- Use details
- Deeply explore one story instead of trying to explain a handful.
- Don’t discuss anything that can be found on your application (ex. GPA, major)
- Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar.
- Avoid anything which smacks of a high school ‘theme’.
- When you’re finished, leave it alone for awhile and then come back to it.
- Let a friend read your law school personal statement to see if what you intended is what comes across.
- If you’re in doubt as to which particular anecdote is most interesting or memorable, write a few different versions and give them to people you trust. They will let you know what works best.
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