5 Tips for Writing a Stronger Law School Personal Statement
5 Tips for Writing a Stronger Law School Personal Statement
It’s not the same as your college admissions essay...
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
Your personal statement can make or break your law school application. Write a better personal statement with these important tips.
You may feel like you’ve done this before: You wrote a great personal statement that got you into college, so your law school personal statement will be a breeze. Right?
Unless you got specific feedback on your personal statement, you have no idea what worked and what didn’t. Maybe your personal statement was your weakest part of your application but you got into college with stellar test scores or extracurricular activities.
Law school personal statements require you to up your writing game. A good chunk of an attorney’s career is spent writing, so your grammar and style must be impeccable. Furthermore, the applicant pool will be full of high GPA perfectionists who have impressive resumes, so you need to make your application stand out.
Below are five tips to help you write a personal statement that will increase your chances of law school acceptance.
Tip #1: Minimize the “legalese”
The law school admissions reviewers have probably guessed that you want to be a lawyer. You don’t need to dazzle them with legal jargon and a passionate story about how To Kill a Mockingbird changed your life.Aside from perhaps a paragraph at the end of your statement, only discuss the legal profession if you truly believe you have a unique and compelling story to tell. If you choose to do a personal statement regarding the practice of law, you don’t need to sound like an attorney right off the bat. Use standard (but still grammatically correct) language.
Tip #2: Write about what makes you you
Under most circumstances, being unique is a good thing. Think about your life and consider what events or challenges truly molded you into the person you are today. Perhaps it was a family member, friend or teacher. Maybe you experienced or witnessed something profound. Chances are, those memories are what will turn into great personal statements. The memory doesn’t have to be sad, though many personal statements choose that emotion. However you feel when you think about that memory is how you should try to get your reader to feel. Just be careful to focus on a specific event or person and not your life story.
Tip #3: Be as captivating as possible
You have to realize that law school admissions council members read hundreds of personal statements, at a minimum. Even the most enthusiastic reader can get tired of reading essays after a while. Though your story may be unique and interesting, your writing style can affect how much of an impact your personal statement makes. Here are a few pointers to write a more engaging personal statement:
Create a bold and interesting intro. Instead of waiting until the middle of your statement to have the most impact or a big “reveal,” let your reader have an inkling as to what’s coming.
Have a conclusion that will also leave an impact. All too often, the conclusion is a dull summary stating “and that’s why I want to be a lawyer.” Instead, have your last few sentences be just as interesting as the rest of your statement.
Write in a short, direct style. You’re not trying to write like Charles Dickens in your personal statement. Overuse of details and SAT words will lose your audience rather than impress them. If you try to write your statement as a speech rather than an essay, you can minimize the fluff and write about what matters.
Ask for several opinions. Having family members, friends and mentors read your essay is an important editing step. Not only can they detect typos, but they can also be honest as to whether or not your statement is interesting and clearly worded. Just as several admissions reviewers will be reading your statement, get a few opinions so you can target a bigger audience.
Tip #4: Don’t oversell yourself
You may have an accomplishment that you’re proud of. There’s nothing wrong with that! If that’s the topic you choose to write about, just be cautious as to how you do so. Admissions council members can smell an over-inflated ego a mile away. Similarly, coming across as genuine rather than pompous will earn the reader’s favor. Your personal statement is a chance for a law school to see the real you—not for you to use the personal statement as an advertising campaign. Let your resume, GPA and LSAT score speak for themselves, while your personal statement is where your personality and character should shine through.
By the same token, many applicants use the personal statement to “right a wrong.” In other words, their personal statement will explain bad grades or try to justify a character offense such as a DUI, citation, etc. Your personal statement isn’t the forum for this. Instead, use your personal statement as the opportunity to highlight your strengths. Many law schools will allow an addendum to your application, and this is where you can try to salvage a detrimental aspect of your application.
Tip #5: Remember your audience.
Far too often, law school applicants try to use a “one size fits all” personal statement. Surely every law school will appreciate the telling of your life-changing charity work, right? Not necessarily.
Many law schools ask a specific question for their personal statement. If your piece only touches on the question or avoids it altogether, your personal statement will seem incomplete or disingenuous. Not to mention that the practice of law relies heavily on attention to detail. If you just send a broad or generic personal statement to law schools, you probably will do more harm than good.
Similarly, many law schools try to have a platform or unique aspect of their legal training or pro bono work. Not all the law schools promote this heavily, so check their mission statement, social media, press releases, etc. Staying genuine is still key, so don’t just pander to the admissions council. If you can emphasize why the school is a great fit for you or what about the school appeals to you the most, try to do so seamlessly. And before your application is tossed straight to the rejection pile, be sure you use the correct name of the school in your application!