The personal statement is a crucial component of your law school applications. This essay, along with the optional essays, is an invaluable opportunity for you to share the personal experiences that go beyond your resume, GPA and LSAT score.
Law school admissions committees seek a student body with diverse interests, passions and histories and what you write in your personal statement could distinguish you and help you reinforce that you are the best possible candidate for admission.
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After a decade of working with prospective law students at Stratus Prep, I have come to appreciate that one of the most challenging parts of writing a personal statement is selecting a topic or series of interrelated topics.
Once you have identified a subject that demonstrates your unique attributes, it is essential to get your story down on paper or on screen and begin editing. This often feels like a much more manageable task than the Herculean, nerve-racking decision of determining what to write about.
So how do you choose from an abundance of rich life experiences and distinctive attributes? At Stratus Prep, I ask all my clients to fill out an extensive 10-page brainstorming questionnaire and then we discuss in depth their personal, academic and – if relevant – professional lives to identify the best examples of their uniqueness, values and passions.
Below are some guidelines that I review with all my clients.
1. Avoid summarizing your resume: The admissions committee already knows the bullet points included in your resume.
Go beyond the basics and think about experiences in your personal, academic and professional life to share with them that help give context to your accomplishments.
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2. Do not simply write what you think a school wants to hear: If you write what you believe will "get you in," it will likely come across as inauthentic. In addition, readers will have heard those topics repeatedly, since other students will almost certainly act on the same misconception.
Instead of brainstorming topics that you believe admissions committees want to hear about, take the time to reacquaint yourself with the challenges you have overcome, your proudest accomplishments and the experiences that have fundamentally changed your perspective. These typically make for the most personal and compelling essays.
For example, I worked with a student who wanted to study banking law and regulation. After thoroughly brainstorming essay ideas, she decided to write about her experience losing her family's home to foreclosure during the recession.
3. Differentiate yourself from similar applicants: Two popular, generic topics that prospective students often choose are study abroad or their experience with the legal system. You may feel that one of these experiences truly best reveals your unique qualities.
One story likely to stand out that of is a student with whom I worked who studied Talmudic law in Israel. He wrote about how this experience shaped his perspective on the relationship between law and morality.
Keep in mind, however, that a personal statement about one of these more common experiences may be a topic about which the admissions committee has already read many times. This may make you less noticeable among those in the applicant pool who share the same general characteristics.
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4. Go beyond simply your passion for the law or a particular law school: If an admissions staff member is reviewing your law school application, they already know you are likely passionate about the law and their law school.
You want to go beyond reiterating your interest in the legal field. Instead, expand on your other interests, activities and experiences to demonstrate the distinct perspective you will bring to campus.
Be sure to spend sufficient time brainstorming and outlining your essays – in my decade of admissions experience, these two steps, more than any others, have proven to be the key to essay-writing success. Consider asking for input from teachers, family or friends, as they may have insight into which of the stories from which you are choosing sound the most authentic and compelling.