A good personal statement for law school can make an application stand out from the crowd.
While LSAT score and undergraduate GPA are the primary factors for admission into law school, top programs get far more qualified applicants than they can admit. The personal statement is one way in which you can stand out from the mass of your fellow applicants. But what is the best way to construct an outstanding personal statement?
The personal statement should show reflection and introspection. It should give the admissions committee a glimpse into who you are, your motivations, and your personal history. A successful statement will give details of your life that will allow the admissions officers to understand:
- Why you would be a good candidate to attend their school.
- Why a career in law is a good fit for you.
- What you have to offer that makes you distinct from other candidates.
There are many ways to write a successful statement and achieve these goals, but here are the primary considerations you should have while writing your personal statement.
1. Tell a story
The personal statement should be a focused narrative about your life. Your goal is to tell a story, either of a particular experience or a series of interrelated experiences, that demonstrates why you would be an excellent candidate for law school, and why you are interested in pursuing the study of law.
I’d caution that the second of these two factors — demonstrating why you want to be a lawyer — need not be the focus of your essay. In many essays, it’s best addressed in a conclusion that somehow relates the story you’ve told to your interest in law.
2. Decide what you want to show about yourself
Make sure you choose a story that will demonstrate one or more characteristics that are appealing to law school admissions committees. Address such traits as your intellectual curiosity, persistence, initiative, passion, compassion, and integrity. Also consider whether there are particular skills you want to highlight, such as leadership, communication, analysis, and creative problem-solving.
3. Make a strong first impression
Your first paragraph is your first impression. I want you to imagine what it’s like to read law school application after law school application. The personal statement is where an applicant should stand out. How many of those statements do you think have opening lines that are some variation of “I first realized I wanted to be a lawyer when…”?
One of the easiest ways to make your first paragraph compelling is to jump right into the story you want to tell. Start with a particularly vivid or descriptive scene. Pull the reader into the story. Make your reader interested in what happens next, how a problem will be resolved, or how a question will be answered. A memorable beginning will make for a memorable personal statement.
4. Don’t use the personal statement to explain something bad
There is a part of the application specifically included for you to explain any unusual circumstances (e.g. really low grades one semester). You want your personal statement to focus on something positive — though that something positive can certainly be a time you overcame a major obstacle or challenge.
5. Respect word and page limits
As a general rule, schools request that your personal statement be about two pages double-spaced. Respect those limits. To do otherwise is to imply that you don’t follow directions, and that you don’t respect the time of the members of the admissions committee.
6. Don’t be redundant
Don’t waste your personal statement giving information that will be clear from other parts of your application. Your resume (and you should always submit a resume, whether the law school asks for one or not) will cover major awards or accolades, so there’s no need to mention them unless they advance the story you want to tell.
7. Show, don’t tell
Use specific details in your story to show the reader what you want them to know about you. Anyone can say “I am persistent.” The right story will show you are persistent, which is much more convincing.
8. Find a great proofreader
When you work hard on a piece of writing, it can be difficult to be objective about what you’ve done. Make sure you have at least one excellent writer go over your personal statement, both to provide feedback on how effective it is, and to spot those tiny grammatical and spelling errors you might not have noticed yourself.
9. Tailoring the law school essay can be great, as long as you don’t forget you’ve done it!
It can be a really nice touch to add details in your statement about why you would be a particularly great fit at a given school. Just don’t send those details to any other school! If Fordham gets an essay discussing why you’d be a great fit at Saint John’s, Fordham will be quite a bit less likely to let you in!
If you follow the advice above, you should be able to craft a personal statement that will help you stand out to admissions committees.
Good luck! And remember, the bottom line is: grab your reader’s attention, and tell them a compelling story about why you would be a great law student.