Tips for Writing Your Best Personal Statement

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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

17 thoughts on “Tips for Writing Your Best Personal Statement

  1. Jerry ford on said:

    Hey I have a quick question and would like to hear your thoughts and advice. I scored a 178 LSAT but a splitter with at 2.8 gpa. I just finished up a four year accomplished college baseball career where i recieved many national accolades. Being a student-athlete or better put athlete athlete occasional student in a sport that is year around was a main reason for my low gpa. I went to an HBCU in Houston and is a black male URM status. What are my true shots at a t 14 school. Do I have a shot at Harvard or a t-5 or should I focus more on the bottom t-14 to t50s.. any advice would be appreciated

  2. Natasha on said:

    Hello Ann

    I could really use some advice on what to do. I scored a 135 on the lsat my first time and a 136 the second time. Both times i took a prep class with Kaplan. I’m wondering if i have a shot at getting into a law school next year. I never was a good test taker however i am a very fast learner. My undergrad Gpa was a 2.5 and i never played any sports because i worked part time. I don’t really want to take the lsat a third time and waste another year by not starting school. Im also having a hard time finding a topic for my personal statement. Please help!!

    • Natasha, I think you’re going to have a tough time convincing a reputable school that you are likely to make it through law school or pass the bar exam. I think you need to throw away Kaplan and try one more time with a different method to see if you can get into the high 140s, at least.

  3. Ashley G. on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I love your blog! It’s so insightful. I’m currently a senior with a 3.2 GPA (History Major) but I took a long break from college because I battled cancer (didn’t have the money to go back to school immediately after). Since I returned to college, I have had a consistent 4.0 GPA for the past two semesters with multiple history, anthropology and philosophy classes. My LSAT practice scores range from a 170 to 178 on average (I’ve taken about 7 practice tests with Princeton Review and Kaplan). I did intend on writing about my volunteer experience abroad but after reading your blog I’m afraid I’ll fall prey to the cliches you mention. I know I will I have to explain my grades and gap in an addendum, but I’m really lost about what to write at this point. I really want to go to a good law school. I know I have what it takes to do well at a really good school, but I feel like my GPA is holding me back. I don’t want to sound disingenuous in my personal statement nor do I want to sell myself short. Any feedback from you will help tremendously! Thank you so much. Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Hi Ashley,
      You absolutely must write about your health issues and your comeback with your grades. Your LSAT will hold a lot of weight, as will letters of rec from professors!

  4. Vahe N. on said:

    Hello Ann,
    Thank you for the valuable information you post on your blog. I have been preparing for LSAT for past two months and was planning to take the October exam. I took the summer Testmaster classes and I have taken 3 practice exams so far but Unfortunately, I am averaging a score of 145. Before I start studying for LSAT my goal was to score in high 160’s to possibly get accepted at UCLA or USC, however, now I find myself not even being able to enter 150’s range with studying 30+ hours a week on LSAT.
    I am starting to think I should probably target lower tier schools with kind of LSAT score that is within my range. At the same time I don’t know if I should reschedule the exam and take it in December or push it all together to next year June/October in which I will have literally the whole year to study and hopefully get the score that I originally planned for.

    I have studied hard on my undergraduate while working and my GPA is 3.75 I am afraid If I take the exam in December it will be a little too late in the admission cycle. Would you please advice what you think about my situation?

    Thank you so much for your time in advance.
    Vahe

    • Hi Vahe, December is NOT too late. It’s not. If you need more time, take it. But if the additional time isn’t going to make a difference in your score – if you feel that you don’t have potential to improve it – then go ahead and apply with your current score. Keep your dream schools, of course, but cover your bases with others.

  5. Carolyn on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I have greatly enjoyed reading both your blog posts and “The Law School Admission Game,” thank you for all of the information. I am an older (30-year-old) applicant applying for Fall 2016. I have a Masters in Social Work and four years of experience working with clients who have been diagnosed with persistent mental illnesses. I decided to return to school after seeing the impact that behavioral health courts and collaborative justice have had on clients such as mine. I have a strong idea of how I would like to utilize my future law degree (as a public defender in a mental health courtroom). I would like to think that this sense of focus will benefit me in the application process. However, after receiving my latest LSAT score, I am unsure if it is even worth applying to my dream school (Berkeley). I took the test three times, hoping to offset my low undergraduate GPA (3.24). Despite the fact that I was denied for a much needed accommodation (for severe arthritis), I still managed to improve from 153 to 160 to 163. Although I have a much improved graduate GPA (3.70), I know that this will not be considered. I feel as though I am a very strong writer and that my personal statement will be the highlight of my application. But how much can a great statement and a quality resume do to really improve my admissions chances? Would you believe that it is better to simply forgo applications to Berkeley and other T14s to concentrate my energy elsewhere? Your time and assistance in providing any information would be incredibly appreciated.

    Best,
    Carolyn

  6. Allison Armstrong on said:

    Ann,

    I am about to graduate with a BFA in graphic design and a BA in Art Education with a 3.7 from a state school in Arkansas. I have been considering a change in careers for about a year now, because I have found the art world not intellectually fulfilling. I have strongly considered applying to graduate school for biomedical illustration, so I also have a strong science background with around 32 hours of biology. After a lot of research I have decided to apply to law school instead and have started studying for the LSAT, but I was curious if my arts majors would hurt my chances of getting into a great school, such as Vanderbilt or University of Texas at Austin, (provided I do well on the LSAT) particularly because my GPA isn’t extremely high. However it should be noted that my major GPA is a 3.9 and my GPA only lowered with a few of those upper level division biology classes rather than on the basis of my art major. Is this something I should address in the addendum, because my GPA isn’t extremely low either? And is the change of career-path something I should definitely spend a lot of time addressing in my personal statement?

  7. Rachel on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I’ve been out of school for 2 years now. I graduated with a Neruopsychology and Neurbiology degree from Penn State and had a GPA of 3.5. Unfortunately, the first two times I took the LSAT, which was over a year ago, my score was fairly low (150). I work a full-time, second shift bartending job so it was very hard to find a consistent study schedule. I also want to add that I was self-studying, which I found was the not the best decision for me. Since then I have signed up for 7sage prep course and my scored has improved almost 10 points. Now the reason I have waited over a year to take the LSAT again was circumstances in my life. I was in a serious relationship, almost engaged, to a man that relapsed on drugs and almost died. I spent most of a year trying to get help him get clean. Not only that, but I was working 50-60 hour weeks at work, which ended up making me pretty sick for a few months, and I also moved 3 times in the past year. I have finally settled down eliminating most of the stressful factors in my life. I finally plan on taking the lsat either before or after the summer. I just want to know how I can explain in a personal statement my motivation to overcome the difficulties in my life. I do have a diverse resume from my college experience, but that was two years ago. Since then I haven’t done much but bartend and serve, but I have worked at the same place for five years. I unfortunately never had the opportunity to get the experience that most people have because I always had to work in a restaurant to pay my bills and live. I’m just afraid that my personal statement and application as a whole won’t stand out like everyone else.

    • Rachel,
      I’m glad you found 7Sage and that you are improving your score. I think you need to explain somewhere – maybe your personal statement and maybe a diversity statement- about your responsibilities and personal situation. Overall, keep things in the personal statement positive, directed, and focused.

  8. Smita Patil on said:

    Hi Ann,

    I just read your book, The Law School Admissions Game, and I thought it was incredibly helpful! I am working on a first draft of my personal statement right now and I wanted to get your advice on tailoring personal statements to each individual school I plan to apply to. I have heard conflicting opinions about this to the tune of it’s a good idea because it adds a nice, personal touch, but also that it might be a bad idea because it can come across insincere if not done well. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks so much for creating resources like this blog!

    • Hi Smita,
      I am so happy the book was helpful. Don’t tailor your essay unless (1) a school asks you to, or (2) it is a natural flow to the end of your essay AND you have a very specific reason why this school is a great fit for you.
      Hope this helps!
      Ann

  9. Hi there,

    I came across your website and figured I would leave a comment. I got a 146 last year and I am about to take the exam again, praying for a slight increase in score even though I have been studying for months, I am not a test taker and it is so frustrating. I am in the process of writing my personal statement and getting my letters of recommendation. My undergrad GPA is 3.15 but I went to grad school for forensic linguistics, in which I got a 3.95, where I worked within the law consistently and wrote a 90 page thesis on a topic that was law related. I am so stressed out because I know I am an ideal student and have the ability to succeed in law school but I feel like my stupid lsat score will hold me back. I swear my anxiety is through the roof… Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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