If you have a question, email me for a chance to be featured next month. This week, I address questions about how to choose a personal statement topic and how older applicants can use their personal statement to stand out in their applications.
[Consider these six personal statement do's and don'ts.]
Dear Shawn: I am very interested in getting into law school in the fall of 2014. I will finish my master's in criminal justice in March 2014. However, I am having trouble focusing on what to write for my personal statement.
I have written one once before, but I do not believe it is the best one to use in order to apply to law schools. Do you have any advice about what to write about in one's personal statement? -Looking for Inspiration
Dear Looking for Inspiration: Many law school applicants struggle to find the best topic for their law school personal statement. My first suggestion is to brainstorm several potential topics, rather than picking one and going for it, so that you do not have to rewrite your personal statement later in the application process.
I cannot tell you what to write about since I do not know your background. However, the two most important qualities that your personal statement must have are authenticity and uniqueness. This essay needs to reflect who you are and stand out from other submissions in order to maximize your chances of admission.
For example, not all law school applicants also have a master's in criminal justice, so you may wish to reveal what you have learned, how it has affirmed your passion for the law and why you need a J.D. to further your knowledge and skills.
It may help you during your brainstorming process to know that I have observed the more specific, particular essays to be more successful than personal statements about impressive experiences like travel, which is written about by tons of applicants. If you do wish to write about your master's, you should choose a particular experience or interaction that you had and show how it reflects who you are. -Shawn
[Avoid making these five law school application mistakes.]
Dear Shawn: Since I am a little older than most law school applicants, I wonder if you have specific advice for those who are 30 years or older and have multiple years of professional experience. Here are some details about my profile:
I am in my mid-thirties with a 3.5 GPA, five years of military service and seven years of oil field work and an LSAT score in the high 140s. I plan to remain in Louisiana and would prefer to attend LSU's Paul Hebert Law Center as they have the highest first-time bar passage rate in the state.
I have always wanted to become an attorney, and I wish to be a simple civil servant. I have no desire to work at a big firm, or work private practice. I find the greatest honor and privilege in today's society is to serve others. -Ready to Serve
Dear Ready to Serve: People attend law school from all walks of life, so this question will certainly be relevant to many readers.
The application process itself is not different based on age. You will fill out the same application as recent college graduates, and your GPA and LSAT score will be just as important as it is for younger applicants.
I have spoken with many older applicants who believe that since it has been years since they attended college, the GPA will not weigh as heavily. That is not the case.
Your essays are an opportunity to showcase your experience and dedication. The real-world knowledge that you have will make you stand out from younger applicants in a positive way.
[Find out how a current career translates to law school.]
In your personal statement, you may wish to discuss your military experience, work life or long-time dream of becoming a civil servant. You may wish to write about where that dream originated and what impact you plan to make on your community.
Another difference for older applicants is your recommenders. College students often seek recommendations from professors, but this may not be feasible for those who have been out of school for five or 10 years, unless you have maintained these relationships. Instead, plan to seek recommenders who supervised you at work or during your military service.
Just like with recent college graduates, you should select recommenders who know you well and you are certain will have copious positive things to say about you. -Shawn