The Personal Statement and Application Essays
What it's all About
The Personal Statement provides you with the opportunity to share your personality with the Admissions Committee. It is here that you can truly describe your goals, your experiences, the obstacles you have overcome and the reasons you have decided to attend law school.
The Personal Statement can make the difference between getting a large envelope and a small skinny one.
How Do You Tackle The Problem?
- After you have decided on the schools you are going to apply to, go through all your applications.
- Make a list of your schools, your deadline for each school and the essays each school requires. This allows you to prioritize. It also allows you to see at a glance how many essays you need to write and which schools require the same type of essay. You should make every essay you write fit the school you are sending it to, but there will most likely be overlap.
- Start with the personal statement. The other essays tend to be shorter and on some focussed subject. The personal statement is probably going to be seen by every school you apply to. Make it your first priority.
- Aim to use each essay to portray a different aspect of your skill set, but ensure that you maintain a general theme throughout the application.
How to Write the Essay
This allows you to find specific details that you want to incorporate into your essay. Here you can find the general theme of your essay and the main points that you think will help develop the theme.
Walk through Your Life
Step chronologically through your life from childhood. Make a record of all important experiences that you remember. Note all pivotal lessons you learned, obstacles you overcame and any painful moments you endured. Be sure to include how you felt at each stage. Do not omit any significant event.
This step can help you remember events that have had an impact on your life that you may have forgotten. This material can be used to demonstrate a history of community service, or interest in some field. This step can also help you to illustrate your personality and your motivations.
You should be careful not to over-emphasize awards you have won or accomplishments that you achieved too far in your past. This can make your essay seem weak. Law schools are most interested in what you have done in college and beyond.
Here you should think about the people, books or quotes that have truly shaped your values and personality. Did you develop a relationship with someone that cause you to change the way you think about others, or change the way they think about others? What events, experiences or people have helped to shape your goals?
What are you Proud of?
Assess yoru acomplishments by noting anything you are proud of, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Take note of events in every sphere of your life, not just academic achievements. Did you overcome personal obstacles? Raised your siblings? Served in the military?
Some accomplishments are obvious, like those that which received public acknowledgement, but sometimes the accomplishments which are able to speak volumes about your personality are the personal accomplishments that seem insignificant to you.
You've got Skills and Personality
Skills and personality traits/personal qualities tend to be fuzzy and overlap.
First, like above, make a list of your skills. Do not concentrate only on skills that are obviously related to law, like oral presentation skills. Also list skills that are unique to you and draw connections between these skills and what will make you stand out as a great lawyer.
You can start your list by looking at your accomplishments and noting what skills you showed at each accomplishment. Add to the list by writing down ways you have demonstrated these skills in recent years.
To list your personality traits, you can make a list of all the words you think describe you. Have friends, family members, co-workers, managers etc. do the same (or pretend you were in these roles and describe yoruself). Now look for the words that come up the most. Words such as sense of purpose, intellectual curiosity, perseverence, academic ability, integrity (yes, for lawyers :)), enthusiasm, creativity, leadership etc, are great.
Group the words together and decribe the circumstances in which you have demonstrated these characteristics. Describe how these qualities will help you succeed in law school and in the practice of law.
What are Your Dreams? "If you don't know where you are going, any road can take you there."
This exercise is meant to help you articulate your goals. If you could be or do anything, regardless of skill, money, time etc, what would you be or do? Do not think only of goals related to law or professional goals. Write down everything you want. Will you have kids? Where would you live? What kind of car would you drive?
Now hone in on the mosr realistic or specific goals. With your current education, experience, and skills where do you think you will be in twenty years? Make a time line in about 5 year increments. Be as specific as possible about actual positions and places.
The aim at the end of this step is to get a realistic view of your goals. The ability to show the Admissions Committee that you have well thought out goals, can emphasize your sincerity and motivation for choosing law school. This is also one way to show the Admissions Committe that there is some depth to your decision to choose law school.
Essay Do's and Don'ts
- Take the time to write your essay. The perfect essay may require more than three re-writes. You may also need to put away your essay for a few days and then read it again with "fresh eyes".
- Use an attention-grabbing quote, question, anecdote or description to start your essay. Make sure anyone reading your first line wants to read on.
- Decide what you want to write about and write an outline with your major points in order.
- Use a central theme or thesis to unite and give direction to your essay.
- Use concrete examples to illustrate your qualities and decsribe your experiences. Your examples can distinguish you from other candidates.
- Discuss what is truly important to you, what excites you. Let the Admissions Committe see who you really are.
- Conclude your essay in a manner that restates your thesis.
- Reread your essay out load. Pretend you are a member of an admissions Committee. Does the essay tell you what you need to know to admit an applicant?
- Go through your essay and make sure that every sentence contributes to the essay. Eliminate sentences that are redundant or do not add to your essay.
- Use descriptive language - use imagery and examples to show your characteristics. Describe how you felt and how experiences impacted you. This goes a long way to make a reader identify with your life and goals.
- Find several people from different backgrounds to proofread your essay. You never know what type of person on the Admissions Committee will read your essay. Having someone from a different background give feedback can help you make your essay versatile and appealing to every audience.
- Don't make things up
- Don't make weak excuses for your GPA or test scores
- Don't try to be a comedian, subtle humor is ok though
- Don't write your resume in prose or an autobiography
- Don't write three pages when your school stipulates one page. Try to make your essay comply with all rules given my the school about font size, number of pages, line spacing and word count.
- Don't try to impress the Admissions Committee with legal language or your vocabulary.
- Don't hesitate to re-write your essay if it doesn't answer the essay question or if it just does not work. Submit an essay when you are completely satisfied.
- Don't rely on your computer to do all your spell checking. Putting your essay away for a few days and then proofreading can help you see errors.