Ask any applicant, “What is the hardest part of the law school application,” and she will likely respond: “the personal statement.” No sane person enjoys trying to describe everything important about herself in a single essay, or really, in any format. Good writing – and editing- is always painful, and when you are the topic, that pain is at least doubled. But write the statement you must, and it is anything but a throwaway exercise. This is your chance to shine, so take advantage of it!
What It Isn’t
Before we talk about what a personal statement is, let’s address what it is not. Your personal statement is not a litany of your accolades and accomplishments. Your activities, honors and achievements will speak for themselves on other parts of your application, such as on your resume and activities list. Likewise, your personal statement is not an excuse for or explanation of past failures such as low grades in college or low LSAT scores. Should you have such to address, you may do it in an addendum to your application.
What It Is
So, what is the purpose of your personal statement? It is to show the admissions committee your character and personality. In particular, it is a place to tell your story in a way that highlights your unique perspective. That perspective might include a very specific plan for post-graduation, or it might reflect certain values you hold that will guide you in your career choices. There is no one way to approach the statement or its content, because each applicant is different. But here are some questions to consider that can help guide you toward finding a topic for your statement:
- What lessons have I learned in college/professional life about myself/my place in the world? How do those lessons link up to my decision to apply to law school?
- What have I accomplished academically and otherwise, especially in leadership roles?
- What do I wish to contribute to the world professionally
- How do I plan to do that?
How Do I Do That?
These questions are a springboard for you to examine your personal goals and past learning. They are by no means the only or last questions you should ask yourself. As you hone in on who you are and how to express that, you will be prepared to tackle the objective of the personal statement, which is to show personal growth and leadership and articulate to an admissions committee why you are well suited for admission into its law school class.
There are several common topics around which a statement may center. These may include:
- The tough decision
- A passion
- Inflection points in your life
- Overcoming adversity
- An intellectual desire
The key to making your statement stand out from the crowd is not the subject matter but how well it demonstrates who you are and where you are going. I sat on an admissions panel recently where one of the panelists said that if he reads ten statements and then meets ten applicants at a cocktail party, he should know who wrote each statement without having to ask. Yes!
Tell a Good Story
A final word of advice, and one you will hear often is: “show; don’t tell.” And this is good advice. Don’t say that you have grown from an experience or achieved something without showing how you did that. A personal statement is an exercise in nonfiction storytelling. Tell your story through memorable examples, and you will be well on your way to a strong personal statement that makes a positive impression on the admissions committee.
Reprinted, with permission, from Varsity Tutors.