Center for High Achievement & Scholarly Engagement
Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional Advising

Content

The possible topics upon which a statement could be based are diverse. You could think about travel experiences, life changing events such as the death of someone close to you, significant people in your life and how they affected you, significant books you have read, sports, employment, internships, etc. Think about events that have been formative and encouraged you to grow emotionally or intellectually. They need not be dramatic and entail you triumphing over huge adversity. They need to be true events that have shaped you in a relevant way.

Bear in mind that writing on something you are passionate about will make your essay more engaging and effective. Above all, remember that you are selling yourself and choose content that is positive, interesting, and about you.

Be personal

Law Schools do not simply want to read a statement that is interesting. They want a statement that is interesting and about you. The content you choose must therefore reveal something about your background, qualities or ideas. It might show that you are driven, demonstrate personal growth or reveal a quality that the law school would like to have in its class. You should then elaborate on the quality you have chosen.

Tell a story

Telling the school that you are driven and intelligent may be a fair description, but describing attributes in such abstract terms is not persuasive. A more effective means is to demonstrate your qualities with an anecdotal story and make the reader draw his own conclusion that you have a certain quality. Stories are a great way of conveying meaning because they can be interesting and they remain in the reader's memory. They can also provide the writer with a useful 'way in' to the essay.

The story that you choose does not necessarily have to have you at its center. It simply needs to be an interesting anecdote that can be used to tell the reader something about you and your character. It is by no means the only way of writing a personal statement but it is frequently used because it is effective.

Be unique

You are probably aware of the need to present yourself as unique, but this must not be misunderstood. It does not mean that you have to distinguish yourself as exceptional compared to the other thousands of applicants; an attempt to do so can make writing the personal statement an impossible task. What law schools look for as 'unique' in a student are personal and individual qualities that can have a positive impact in their classrooms.

How creative should you be?

This is a question on which it is difficult to give firm advice. Obviously, you cannot be too bland. However, neither should you be overly daring and creative and end up with an essay which is gimmicky. Joyce Curll, the Assistant Dean for Admission at Harvard Law School gives the following advice:

"To avoid mistakes you must walk the narrow line between being too cautious or too "creative" in the personal statement. If you are too cautious and only provide us a shopping list of such standard things as what you've done, where you've been, and why you want to go to law school, you may come across as bland and uninteresting, or fail to convey what kind of mind you have. A shopping list is frequently just a recapitulation of materials found elsewhere in the application and adds nothing of what the person would contribute to the class. If you are too creative, the statement can be too cute-attention-getting but not impressing." From How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School . Richard Stelzer. Thomson Petersons, Third Edition, 2002.

Ultimately, finding the balance between being too dull and too creative is one of personal judgment.

Topics to avoid

Why I want to go to law school

If you write entirely about why you want to go to law school, it will be very difficult to be original and interesting. Admissions staff will have heard it all several times before. The very fact that you have applied to law school and endured the rigor of the admissions process demonstrates that you want to go there. Law schools are more interested in your academic potential and why you will be a good law student. Of course, there are exceptions. If you have experienced a significant event that has made you want to go to law school for a specific reason or you have volunteered or worked in an area that is of great interest to you, then there is no reason why you should not talk about it.

On a similar note, avoid writing too much about your desired career. It is very difficult as a pre-law student to have a good understanding of the various areas of law and your ambitions will probably change as you go through law school. Your current ambitions are not therefore interesting to a law school professor.

Bringing freedom and justice to the world

This is also an overused topic but it has other problems as well. Very few lawyers actually work for protecting civil liberties and so writing about your desire to do so may display an ignorance about the work of a lawyer. Neither is it wise to write on the law or law's role in society. Your ideas may be excellent for a pre-law student but to a law school professor they will probably seem naive.

Explaining a low GPA or LSAT score

Using the personal statement to explain away a poor semester or a low LSAT score is a waste of an opportunity to sell yourself and tell the law school something positive. It is not what the personal statement is for. If you feel that it is necessary then do so in the form of an addendum to your application.

Be careful with political views

Some advice on personal statements steers students away from stating political views. If a view is stated strongly then the writer can appear belligerent and intolerant of opposing views. These are not lawyerly attributes. However, this advice may not be sound. Law schools look for people with different ideas and strongly formed opinions in order to create an intellectually stimulating atmosphere. The best advice is probably to include political views if you wish but just be careful how it is worded. You should present your opinion with an air of humility rather than obnoxious confidence.

A note on quotes

Statements based on quotes now tend to be very unpopular. A quote suggests that the writer is relying on someone else's ideas and is unable to present the theme of the statement effectively in their own words. Several admissions deans have actually expressed their dislike of the use of quotes. It is an overused and ineffective device.