Create a Compelling Personal Statement
Your statement communicates information the admissions officers cannot find anywhere else in the application. Repeating the resume wastes space. DEPTH rather than breadth is the key to a great essay. Think of the personal statement as an interview. Why should they choose you? How can they better understand you as a person? The essay helps the law school figure out who you are, what skills you have, and how professional you are as a person.
Before Beginning Consider:
- Tell YOUR Story in an Authentic and Sincere Voice. Tell them who you are. Tell them what you think rather than what you think they want to hear. Don’t ever copy sample essays – law deans read the same internet sites.
- Don’t write an essay about saving the world or overcoming an insurmountable obstacle (unless you have an extraordinary case). Law admissions officers report that 60% of student essays discuss horrific accidents or illnesses. Law schools don’t need such stories – just a better idea of who you are. If you write about saving the world but your resume indicates experience and interest in business, this will not ring true to law schools. Write about social justice or a commitment to civil rights but make sure your experiences (coursework, internships, jobs, and volunteer work) provide evidence in the resume. When writing about obstacles, show you’ve overcome them and are prepared for the challenges ahead. If you are explaining a problem (a gap in education, a period in which your grades were low, an illness) handle it succinctly and emphasize how this issue has been resolved. The majority of your essay should be positive and directed towards what makes you an excellent candidate. Don’t raise questions or doubts. Demonstrate your qualifications; you are ready for law school.
- Be personal not confessional A personal statement helps the admissions officers understand you as a person – rather than a GPA or a LSAT score. We often confuse what is personal with what is private or intimate. Anything personal should be linked with the main theme and/or your desire to study law. This is NOT a confession.
- Be remembered but don’t be weird Don’t use gimmicks or emoticons or write about shocking events or extreme situations. You want to be remembered – but the essay must connect to your decision to pursue a legal education.
- Be Careful Talking about the Law or the Law School Don’t speak about the law as if you “know” based on one or two classes or an internship. Your statement should be tailored to the law school but not about that law school. They do NOT want material from their websites. They want to know you are serious about the study of law, prepared for the challenges of law school, and interested in THEIR program. If there is something particular about a law school (e.g. a prosecution program, a joint health ethics degree) that interests you, you can reference this but it must be linked to the overall theme in the essay. Don’t tell the law schools what you might do in 10 years.
- How to develop an idea for an essay? Don’t read “samples.” It is hard to get that voice out of your head or inadvertently copy. Take a piece of paper and write reasons for going to law school or why I will succeed in law school in the middle. Draw seven lines with seven reasons. For the next 7 days, free-write for 30 minutes a day (one reason each day). Look at the 7 and order them (your favorite on top).
- What do I with these ideas? When you have your WORD document with 7 ideas, send the essay and a list of your target schools and LSAT score to Dr. Liebell with a request for an appointment. Together you will decide which idea(s) make a compelling statement. You may also be able to use one of the paragraphs for a diversity or supplementary essay.
- Proofread and Edit Make sure the name of the law school is correct. Do NOT rely upon autocorrect. There are admissions officers that red line each error. They look down on these mistakes (e.g. I am looking for a city school – but the school is rural or I am enthusiastic about Notre Dame but the application is to Catholic University). This should be the best essay – in terms of content and prose – you have ever written. Language should be polished: each sentence the best it can be. Read the essay aloud and listen to how it sounds. The editing should take hours, not a few minutes. Do not plagiarize or have someone extensively edit. Your personal statement will be compared with the timed LSAT writing section. If the writing doesn’t match, admissions deans will be suspicious.
- The final essay. Once you have chosen a topic, you will write your essay. This draft should be edited for grammar, spelling, and organization. You should have already have read it aloud and then edited the content. Make an appointment with Dr. Liebell. Send him the essay with the appointment request. He will provide comments and suggestions.