Tips for Writing Your Best Personal Statement
Whether you’re extremely proud of your LSAT score and GPA or hoping they fade into the background of the rest of your application, you and I both know you’re much more than those two numbers. Your resume, your diversity statement, your addendum—they all come together to help the admissions committee get an idea of the person behind the numbers. But, in the pile of applications from students with similar credentials and lots to offer, nothing makes someone stand out like a memorable, well-written, honest, thoughtful, 100%-you personal statement. The tips below will help you transform your brainstorms into a personal statement that will make law schools confident that you will succeed in the classroom and in your legal career.
- The personal statement is personal. Be completely yourself.
Law schools ask for personal statements to get to know you, so give them what they want. A seasoned admissions officer can spot a failed impersonation a mile away—whether it’s the intro of one of the “50 Personal Statements that Got People Accepted at X Law School” [see this post: Why I Hate Personal Statement Examples and Why You Should Too”] or a bad Emerson impression. So, write in your own voice, with all its distinctive (but grammatical) qualities. And never tone yourself down. A blog-reader once asked if she should refrain from mentioning she’s gay when applying to Southern law schools. My answer: of course not! Why on earth would you hide yourself? If a law school doesn’t like who you are or what you believe, then you probably wouldn’t enjoy spending three years of your life there anyway.
- Be honest and sincere when choosing a topic, but keep it positive.
Keeping Tip #1 in mind, you—not your parents, friends, or college professors—are the best person to decide what the “right” topic for you is. Pick a topic that’s meaningful to you so that you can write about it in an insightful way. There are, however, a few topic areas I would warn you to stay away from:
- Anything that could have been (or actually was) your college personal statement – Law schools are looking for maturity and professionalism so your focus should be on more recent accomplishments.
- High school-related anecdotes – These could also give the admissions committee the idea that you’re immature or that you failed to bloom once out of the constant watch of your parents.
- The injured athlete sob story, the study abroad revelation, the “poverty is real” epiphany, and the headline you read but didn’t actually experience yourself –These topics are overused and they can make you seem either naïve about the world or disingenuous. It’s best to use one of your other inspired ideas instead! Remember that you don’t have to be unique or stand-out; you should strive instead to be sincere and authentic.
Even with these few off-limits topics, the possibilities for your personal statement are endless. But sincerity and honesty are key. Don’t try to blow your one day of volunteering or single trip abroad out of proportion and into a life-changing experience. You won’t be able to write about it convincingly, and the admissions committee will sense that.
Finally, framing is essential when approaching your topic. Remember who your audience is and that you’re trying to win them over. For example, if you’re telling an emotionally charged story in your personal statement, you might try sticking to the facts to gain credibility with your readers and avoid seeming overly dramatic. One of the most common mistakes I notice with respect to framing is leaving something negative unresolved on the page. By all means, tell the story of your grades dropping freshman year while you struggled to support your child as a single parent. But you cannot leave it at that: explain how caring for a baby in college motivated you to work harder in school and pursue a career in child advocacy. Resolve any negatives by ending on a positive note about your future in law school, and never leave the admissions committee in doubt of your potential for success.
Read More at “Winning Personal Statement Topics for Law School”
- Do your best writing.
This tip should be obvious, but people seem to forget a lot of their good writing habits as soon as they’re asked to write about themselves. So, avoid clichés like the plague (which is a perfect example of a cliché to avoid!). Don’t overuse passive voice. Stay away from the six most cringe-worthy words/phrases an admissions officer can read: “personally,” “in conclusion,” “I believe,” “unique,” “firsthand experience,” and “worldview.” For reasons why to avoid these words, read this post.
Write simply and clearly, which means refraining from waxing poetic or trying to sound like a lawyer (which, believe me, will not go over well) or using ten big words when three smaller words will do. And please, please, please leave time to edit and proofread!
The last thing to stress is something I’m sure many writing teachers have told you over the years: show, don’t tell. Instead of stating “My strong work ethic has helped me succeed”—which doesn’t give the admissions committee any real information about you—explain how you took 16-credit hours each semester while working two part-time jobs. The very best personal statements will make a reader believe what you believe about yourself without ever directly telling her what to believe. If you provide a persuasive narrative and convincing facts, the reader will reach the conclusion you want her to reach.
For more tips, read: 8 Tips for Writing Your Law School Personal Statement