One of the required components of the law school application is a personal statement. Luckily, you probably submitted a personal statement when you applied to college, so you already have experience with this type of writing!
Let’s take a look at the instructions for preparing the personal statement from a few law schools as examples:
- Boston College Law School requests a personal statement that “demonstrates [the applicant’s] interest in and capacity for the study of law—up to three pages, double-spaced with a minimum of one-inch margins and 10-point font.”
- NYU School of Law explains that they “leave the content and length of [the applicant’s] statement to [the applicant’s] discretion.”
These prompts (and many others) sound pretty open-ended! So, where to begin? Whether you are applying to five schools or fifteen, you do not need to write an entirely original personal statement for each school. Instead, because there is so much overlap in the prompts, you can think of your essay as a two-part document:
1. Show all schools what makes you stand out.
Start with an anecdote that drops the reader into the action. Using a story is a great way to show, rather than tell, the reader what skills you have, what forces motivate you, and what will make you a valuable addition to the school’s community—as well as keep a busy reader interested in what you have to say! Include specific details that make the story uniquely yours, rather than general statements.
Your resume is included in your application, so the admissions officer reading your application will know which extracurricular activities you participate in and which awards you have won. Do not waste space in your personal statement listing information that can be found elsewhere in your application. Instead, take a deeper dive:
- Is there a specific extracurricular activity or internship on your resume that merits additional attention?
- Did you complete a project for a course that opened your eyes to an issue that you wish to continue exploring in law school?
- Did you have a conversation with someone that inspired you to pursue a law degree?
Help the reader understand who you are as an individual by painting a more vivid picture than your resume can.
2. Show each school what makes you fit in.
Demonstrate your genuine interest in a school by including at least one paragraph that focuses specifically on that school; your personal statement should not sound like a mass newsletter. Take the time to explore each school’s website. Although there is substantial overlap across websites, you still should be able to find a detail about each school that connects logically to the focus of the first part of your essay. Here are a few areas to consider as you explore a school’s website:
- Are there any student organizations that you are excited to join? Share this enthusiasm!
- Are there any professors whose research focuses on an area that you want to explore? Mention that you are looking forward to taking courses with this professor or serving as a research assistant.
- Have you worked with alumni? Let the school know that you are already connected to members of their community.
- Is the school located in a geographic region that is important to you, perhaps because it is close to home or has resources relating to a particular industry that you plan to join? Provide these details!
Caveat to the above advice: If there is a specific school for which writing an entirely original personal statement makes sense, then do not shy away from this task! Perhaps you are applying to the law school affiliated with your undergraduate institution, or you have already worked at a law school to which you are applying. Such a connection may merit significant emphasis that would not be appropriate in the personal statement that you submit to other schools.
As with any piece of writing, plan to engage in your preferred pre-writing exercise, write an initial draft, and then set aside that draft so you can return to it later with fresh eyes. Expect to go through several rounds of revisions before you are satisfied with a finished product, so give yourself plenty of time (at least one month) to complete this process.
Don’t forget to proofread! Writing clearly and professionally is an essential skill for lawyers; show the admissions officer reading your application that you know how to organize your thoughts logically as well as use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Finally, remember to double-check that you are submitting the appropriate version of your personal statement to each school. All of the advice provided above will be meaningless if your essay praising a school is sent to the wrong institution!