LSAT Kung Fu Blog / How To Get Into Law School: Personal Statement
How To Get Into Law School: Personal Statement
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to continue our look at each piece of the law school application. We’re going to work chronologically—that is, we’ll take each item in the order that you should (in a perfect world, one in which you can maybe go back in time and fix your mistakes) be working on it. I’ve chosen to use a Q+A format, to make you feel like we’re in this together. It will be fun. I
promise absolutely do not promise that.
Last week, we looked at how your LSAT score figures into your admissions decision. This week, we’re taking a crack at your Personal Statement. Again, we’re going with the Q+A structure, because it’s delightful:
So, what is it? It is a brief narrative essay that helps the reader understand who you are.
So all I have to do is bare my soul in two pages of text? No pressure, huh? Yeah, it’s not easy. But where did you get the idea that getting into law school would be easy?
OK. So how important is it? Very. Remember when we were talking about your letters of recommendation? This is a lot like those, except probably more important. That is to say, your Personal Statement won’t matter much if you don’t have a strong LSAT and GPA. But if those numbers are solid, your essay is probably the most important way for you to distinguish yourself from the thousands of people who got the same LSAT score as you. In many cases, it’s not any stretch at all to consider the Personal Statement as being the whole ballgame right there.
Ugh. Well, do you have some advice for me? Of course, dummy. That’s sort of the whole point of this whole thing.
Well, how about you stop insulting me and hook a brother up? Fair enough. Here’s the big idea: your Personal Statement should tell a story about you. It should be real, it should be specific. Somewhere in your life, there is a story that indicates who you are, and why you're you. Think until you find an important anecdote that does that job, and then use this space to tell it. Your personal statement should be a narrative; it should show the reader why you're a good fit for her school, instead of trying to explain anything.
But how, more specifically? Well, first of all, keep it to two pages. Some schools will accept a longer statement than that, but it's been my experience (and I've helped edit a lot of Personal Statements) that the shorter the better. Being concise forces you to cut everything but your strongest material, so what's left is an essay full of clarity and power. It's awesome. Plus, lots of schools require a short essay. Writing yours short will let you use the same essay everywhere.
Got it. So—Hold up a second. One other thing on this topic. It is super, super important that you follow the directions from your school. Most schools want a general sort of Personal Statement. That's what we're discussing here. However, some schools give more specific directions; in those cases, most of what I'm telling you here will still apply, but it's vital that you submit an essay that fulfills any special requirements a school puts to you. And one other thing, oh please, for the love of cheese and crackers, do not write a Personal Statement about how excited you are to attend UCLA and then submit that statement to Georgetown.
Ha! Do people do that? Oh, man, people do things you just wouldn't believe. Including that.
I'm still not certain I know what I'm doing. How about I give you a task? Use your Personal Statement to demonstrate leadership. Your story should indicate that you have an impact on your world. Show how you've changed your environment. This tells the reader that you are a go-getter; that you make your life happen instead of watching it happen to you.
OK. That makes sense. What else? Well, your Personal Statement should also show the school you’re applying to that you're a natural fit. It's like a first date; you need to show the school why you'll be compatible. You’ll do this foremost through strong writing. Think 4 C’s: your statement must be Clear, Cogent, Compelling, and Correct (free of all error).
That was too cute for words [eye roll]. Oh, then you’ll love this: One C to avoid! Cliché.
[Luxurious, taunting eye roll, fraught with disdain]. Well, it’s true. You really need to not be trite. Look; everybody wants to change the world. Everybody wants to make the world a better place. Why, specifically and individually, do you want to do those things? By keeping your statement as specific and detail-oriented as possible, you'll avoid the tropes that every other applicant trots out come personal-statement-time.
Yeah, I guess that checks out. Anything else I should avoid? Yeah. Don’t mention your weaknesses. Readers have an emotional connection to well-written essays. You don't want that connection to be pity or scorn. Use the addendum to your application to talk about your low GPA (we’ll cover addenda in a future post). In your Personal Statement, keep the focus on all the things that make you wonderful, and that show what a great addition you'll be to the school(s) you're applying to.
Cool. Any other thoughts? Sure. As you write, put yourself in their shoes. Your personal statement is a sales pitch. If you want to convince someone that they need what you're selling, you have to first understand what it is they need. Admissions officers want bright, active, diverse, accomplished student bodies. Keep those attributes in mind as you write, and use this space to show how you are all of those things.
But what if I'm not all of those things? That’s OK. Focus on the attributes that you do have. The entire exercise is to put the real you forward in your best light.
OK, but what if I’m none of those things? Dude. Then how do you expect to succeed in law school?
Dunno. Well, think about it. Maybe take some time and work on you? Come back to this later. I’ll be here.
Questions? Comments? Complaints? Post them below, or shoot me an email.
Be good to one another, for we need it now more than maybe ever,
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