|How long is the personal statement?
The personal statement is usually limited to 500 words or two double-spaced pages. Check each school’s requirements carefully.What is the topic of the personal statement?
Most schools provide broad instructions, stating that you should “write a statement about yourself” or “in two pages or less, tell us something about yourself.” A small number of schools (such as Yale) require two statements and ask more specific questions. Additionally, if you are applying for special scholarships or awards, you may be required to submit additional essays on specific topics. How do I come up with a topic for my personal statement?
How do I make my personal statement stand out?
- Free writing - pick out a personal characteristic and take 20 minutes to write about it.
- Journaling- keep a daily journal. It not only helps to determine a topic, but it also aids in forcing you to practice your writing.
- Chronological Method- what is your earliest memory? Now, write down every significant memory since then.
- Accomplishments- make a list of accomplishments, big or small.
- Personal characteristics- make a list of your personal characteristics or skills.
- Ask family and friends- part of the difficulty in coming up with a topic is that you are probably uncomfortable with writing about yourself. Family and friends usually have no problems spouting off your accomplishments.
- Read the law school application- some law schools are explicit on what they prefer you write about. Always follow the directions on each application carefully. For the most part, your personal statement can be on a topic of your choosing. Consider what the law schools already know about you from the rest of your application (transcripts, LSAT score, letters of recommendation, and resume) and tell them something more.
What are law schools looking for?
- Create an interesting first paragraph and/or summarize well.
- Choose a theme.
- Avoid gimmicks such as poetry, recipes, etc.
- Personalize your essay by not just relating what you did but why you did it and what impact the experience had on you.
- Explain how you broadened your horizons.
- Discuss your accomplishments in terms of the obstacles you overcame.
- Tell the admissions committee what you want them to know about you. Your essay may be creative and unique and should reflect your values and priorities.
- Individualize your personal statement by giving specific reasons for applying to that school, but do not just use the information found in their catalog.
- You want to always explain, not make excuses for, discrepancies or problems in your academic or personal record, but reserve this for an optional statement. Keep your personal statement positive.
- Follow the application directions precisely.
- Do not wait until the last minute to write your personal statement.
- Proofread again and again and again.
- You should ask a professor or the pre-law advisor to critique your personal statement.
- The personal statement should be “personal.” The personal statement is your opportunity to help law schools develop a better picture of who you are. You can highlight aspects of yourself which may not be apparent in any other place in your application. Do not, however, write a theoretical or academic essay on a particular topic (e.g., on the meaning of fairness and justice, on the history of legal thought, on the development of international law). Instead, tell a story about yourself. Use the personal statement to demonstrate to law schools what motivates you as a person.
- Develop a theme for your statement. What is the quality, trait or background experience that you are trying to convey to the admissions committee? Political engagement? Determination? Compassion for others? Hardworking nature? Ability to overcome adversity? The life lesson that set you on this path to law school? How your race/ethnicity/culture has shaped you? These are some of the most popular themes for law school applications, and they are good ones. Choose one of these, or another, as the backbone of your personal statement. Do not feel that you have to convince the committee that you want to go to law school – the presence of your application in their stack is ample evidence of that desire. Do, however make the explicit connection between your theme and your reason(s) for applying.
- Show don’t tell. This basic principle of good writing is the most important one to follow in drafting your personal statement. Do not make conclusory statements about yourself like, “I’ve always been very hardworking” or “I have the ambition to excel” or “I really want to help people.” Rather, show the reader an example of your hardworking nature – tell the story of how you single-handedly reorganized the stock room into an efficient operation at your otherwise boring summer job. Relate your experiences tutoring underprivileged junior high students. Describe what it was like training for the big game, meet, or event. Don’t write, “I became committed to working in health care law when my grandmother was in the hospital.” Instead, describe your family’s experiences during that time.
- Prepare to write several drafts. Your personal statement is a crucial element of your law school application. It is worth spending a lot of time drafting, honing and polishing.
- The personal statement should be easy to read and well written. Do not try to impress the readers with an abstruse essay. Instead, write a clear, concise, and well-organized essay. To the extent possible, use declarative sentences in active voice. Edit the statement. The law schools are using this statement to gauge whether or not you are a good writer, so errors will harm your chance for admission. Use regular font and margins.
- Get feedback on early drafts. Don’t wait until your personal statement is polished and almost ready to submit before you show it to anyone else. Ask friends, family members, professors or the Pre-Law Advisor to review an early draft to make sure you’re on the right track.
- Answer the question(s) asked. Each school asks a slightly different question or series of questions for their personal statement. Make sure you are answering the question asked. This may mean making some fairly serious edits to your basic statement for each school.
- Pay attention to grammar and spelling. One purpose of the personal statement is to gauge your writing skills. Bad grammar or misspellings will leap out at the attentive reader and merit an immediate, disdainful circle with a red pen. This is another good reason to prepare multiple drafts and to have others review your work.
- Make it legible. Do not get clever with your margins, font or line-spacing. Use a basic, readable font in a normal size (12 is usually best). Your readers will be expecting one-inch margins and double-spaced lines. If you are going over the two-page limit, then you need to edit your work, not make your font smaller. Small fonts irritate people over 40.
- Proofread! Look not just for the typos and spelling errors, but also for that bane of personal statements everywhere: the forgotten mention of School A in the statement for School B. This particular error can occur very easily if you are using and editing a boilerplate statement, and it very definitely irks admissions officers.
- The personal statement should not be a list of your accomplishments and activities. The law schools will have your resume and transcript. Moreover, our House Letter will address your academic accomplishments. Law schools use the personal statement to learn more about who you are as an individual – what motivates you, what you will add to the law school class and the legal profession.
- The personal statement should be original. Although you may want to directly answer the question “why I want to go to law school,” remember that the individuals reading your personal statement have read hundreds of essays which answer this question. Your statement can certainly address how your background and experiences have led you to apply to law school, but don’t merely list reasons why you want to be a lawyer.
- Avoid making broad generalizations in your personal statement and instead provide personal anecdotes or examples. Instead of making broad statements (like “I want to use the law to make a difference in people’s lives”), provide the reader specific information about how your background and experiences have shaped your attitudes and values. In short, “show, don’t tell.”
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