Taking a moment to look a bit beyond your LSAT prep future, it's time to discuss your upcoming personal statement. It's important to keep your law school applications in mind. I know they may seem miles away to you right now before you've gotten the LSAT score you'd like, but they will creep up on you much sooner than you think.
Let's be honest, you're taking the LSAT most likely because you want to go to law school, which means you're probably a smart cookie. Everyone knows how difficult and taxing law school can be, therefore, you know what taking the LSAT means for you and the next three years of your life. But, your LSAT score is not the only thing that law schools are looking at.
Many of the top law schools have said that right after your LSAT score and your GPA, they look at your personal statement. Remember that most students apply to law schools that they feel will most likely accept them based on their GPA and LSAT score. The only way you can make yourself stand out is through your personal statement.
The Importance of Personal Statements
So, your GPA is impressive and your LSAT scores make you eligible to apply for some of the top law schools in the country. Congratulations, you did great! Now, it's time to pay attention to the only thing you can use to differentiate yourself from all the other top academic applicants at these universities.
The truth is that no matter how smart you are in your own bubble, even if you're top in all your classes and you have the highest achievements, you're diving into a peer group that's just like you. If you're applying to top law schools, there's a good chance many of the other applicants have the same level of academic excellence as you. They've done extracurriculars, they've excelled in their studies, and they've done well at the LSATs.
All you have to differentiate yourself if the personal statements. It's the one piece of your application that no one else can mimic. When you're on even playing ground with others academically, it's time to stand out from the pack with a fantastic personal statement.
There's no checklist or instructions for a personal statement. You can't treat it like a regular academic assignment. No amount of knowledge will help you excel above the other applicants. Your impact will come from writing something that's compelling and persuasive. Think of it like making a case for yourself. With your personal statement, you're answering the question:
Why should we choose you out of all the applicants? What makes your application unique?
It's a heavy question with no simple answer. But, it's also a chance to dig deep and convince the admissions officers that you have what it takes to be successful at their law school.
Examples of Impactful Personal Statements
One student recently took a leap of faith, and without asking the different law schools that he applied to, wrote about his status as an extinct mammal because of his natural red hair. If you weren't aware, red hair is a recessive trait that is slowly being weeded out by natural selection. Gingers are actually becoming a rare commodity in our world. Therefore, comically, this student wrote about how he should be considered a minority (though he is a Caucasian male) because redheads will soon be obsolete.
Many of the law schools didn't seem to find his statement amusing. However, one top school sent him his admissions packet along with a copy of his personal statement with a sticky note attached to it. The sticky note stated how much they enjoyed his statement because it was well written and thoroughly showed them his personality and wit.
Another example of the importance of personal statements comes directly from the mouth of an admissions officer from Columbia University. When asked about personal statements, the admissions officer in question stated that each year the admissions counselors at Columbia were in competition with each other to find the best personal statement.
He said that in that year the best personal statement belonged to a man who wrote about his office. Apparently, every Friday at this applicant's office, there was an obstacle course race that each office worker participated in. It consisted of each participant sitting on an office “rolly” chair and pulling themselves through the office. This person was the all-time reigning champion of the obstacle course race, and when this fact was brought to his attention, he realized he had to make a change in his life. Therefore, he decided to veer his life path towards law school.
The admissions counselors all loved the statement and chose it as the best of that year. Consequently, that person was admitted to Columbia, and all because of how well written his personal statement was. Can you imagine getting into your dream school based on a story about rolling your office chair around obstacles?
Anecdotes aside, you need to remember that there is still a path ahead of you after the LSAT. Even after you finish, there are really important things you need to focus on. So, it's prudent that once in a while, on your LSAT prep off-time, you should think of different topics that might work for either type of personal statement. That way you won't be racking your tired head after you've taken the LSAT.
The LSATs aren't your final goal. The true goal of all your academics thus far is to get into law school, then to graduate and find work in the field of law (whatever that looks like for you). As much as the LSATs are a vital part of that, you can't lose sight of the total vision.
LSATs are a major part of your law school application. However, once you're into law school, your LSAT score won't make much of an impact on your future career. The same is true of your personal statement, although it can help to reveal more about you as a person. In the end, your personal characteristics and driving motivation will impact your future far more than LSAT scores.
Take time to do well on your LSATs. But, don't neglect the other parts of your applications, like the personal statement, that will have an equally meaningful impact on your admission into law school while also helping you remember why you're doing all this in the first place.
Now, it's time to learn more about personal statements and how to write one for yourself.
Introduction to Personal Statements
No law school application is complete without the personal statement. The application is typically two pages in length, and your personal statement is likely the most important qualitative element to your application and shouldn't be treated as a second thought by any means. Frequently, it's pointed out that the personal statement is the entry point into your application, and you know what they say about first impressions!
There are two schools of thought with the personal statement. One school believes that the personal statement is where the real you should shine; step away from the numbers you've acquired and your academic pedigree and really let the admissions officers know what makes you tick, what makes you, you. The other school of thought believes that the personal statement is not a place for flowery stories about moments that have changed your life, and rather it is another opportunity for you to highlight your academic achievements.
What you should do, if you have the opportunity, is research what the admissions officers of the schools you want to go to are looking for. A great way to do that is to set up a meeting with them. That way you can talk to them in person, and maybe even get a chance to tour the campus and the library (a place you will be spending most of your time if you go to that school). When you are in the meeting you can get the info you want straight from the horse's mouth. Then, you can write your statement appropriately.
What to Talk About in Your Statement
As for the subject matter, we've established that your personal statement should be about you, of course, but what about you? The answer is to write about something personal, relevant, and as unique to you as possible. This could be a quality you possess, an experience that helped define you, or motivation that drives you.
Whatever you choose, the key is—you guessed it—to make it personal. It doesn't have to be an event that has likely never happened to anyone else, a feeling no other person has ever felt, or a trait no other person has possessed; but keeping authenticity and honesty in your essay will drive home the personal element.
Consider your personal statement to be the creative part of your application. This is the element that goes beyond quantitative credentials and lets you win over the admissions officials on a personal level.
There's no perfect answer to the subject matter you should write about. If you need some help coming up with a topic, follow a process like this:
- Write as many topic ideas as you can think of, ignoring whether they're good or bad. Make sure this initial list is extensive and thorough. It should include ideas in a broad range of topics, from personal experience that's influenced your life to how you've overcome challenges or circumstances that contributed to your character. Don't be shy in this phase.
- Read through your list of ideas and cross out any that don't fit in well with the initial criteria. Focus on those that wouldn't be about you directly, aren't very impactful, don't reveal part of your character or circumstances you're not very comfortable talking about in-depth.
- Once you've narrowed down your list, look at any remaining options and create pros and cons lists for the remaining options. If the first cut didn't narrow it down enough, do another cut before making and pros and cons. Make your decision based on the pros and cons of each idea, choosing the one that makes the strongest case for your admission.
If you don't feel confident in your topic choice, pick another topic. It's okay if it feels a little out of your comfort zone, but you don't want to pick a topic that makes you feel so uncomfortable that you can't write about it well enough. You need to be able to write a thorough, clear, and compelling statement about whatever topic you choose, so choose something you'll be able to expound on.
The Elements of a Great Personal Statement
No matter what style you're going for or what you're writing about, each law school personal statement has a few common elements. These are fairly consistent throughout all statements. Getting the structure correct and submitting the right elements will improve your chances of gaining entrance into a top law school.
Here are some things to consider when creating the perfect personal statement for your law school application:
It's essential to begin your statement with a great opening. The University of Chicago Law School recommends against beginning with a quote, as many choose to do. Starting with a quote, mantra, or vague idea doesn't immediately present you. This is, after all, a personal statement: lead with yourself.
The admissions officials are examining your personal application, not a general application to judge for adequacy. Begin honestly, and remember that the audience you're writing for has read innumerable personal statements (likely even just this year) and they'll smell falsities from a mile away. Don't waste your own time or their time trying too hard to be clever.
Try to start on your best foot. Our advice is to write the introduction last. Write the meat of your personal statement first, then loop back and write your introduction. That way, you'll be able to come up with a better opening statement that ties in well with what you're talking about in general.
The bulk of your focus should be on the middle bits of your personal statement. Make sure that you're following a logical narrative structure. You need to include the 5 major elements of a story:
If any of these elements aren't clear in your personal statement, you'll have a bit of difficulty formulating a compelling narrative to convince an admissions officer of your merit.
In this statement, you're the character to focus on, but you still need to make that known at some point in the statement, mentioning yourself in some way. If you're telling a story of something that happened in your life, make sure to include a reference to when and where that event happened, so the reader can develop a mental picture of the story as it goes. This is important for keeping their attention.
The action of your personal statement comes in the form of anything that takes place during the story you're telling. It doesn't have to be a large, momentous action, it just has to be something that's taken place, or else you're not really telling a story, you're just saying something. At the end, you'll reveal to the reader the lesson learned or the point to take away from the statement.
Taking a closer look at the earlier example from the chair-racing gentleman, we see all 5 of these elements come into play: The time is given, the location of the office is mentioned, the chair racer identifies himself in the story, the action of the chair races and being declared the all-time champion is discussed, and the outcome of the decision to pursue law school is revealed.
This is just a guideline for structuring the body of your personal statement. Because it's generally a story about you, it's in your best interest to make sure you're doing your story justice.
The conclusion of your statement should be where you reiterate the message of your personal statement and answer the question of what you're a good candidate for admission. It's all about wrapping up the whole statement into a neat and tidy ending that creates a sense of closure and calls the reader into action. In this case, the action you want is acceptance into the school.
Often, your conclusion will look a bit like your introduction, because you'll likely talk about similar themes in both. However, the goal of the conclusion is to leave the reader with a satisfying sense of closure and to lead them to appreciate the qualities you've emphasized in the statement.
General Do's and Don'ts
If you have to narrow it down to one solid list of things you definitely should be doing and things you definitely shouldn't be doing, here's what you would end up with:
- Be concise, organized, and candid
- Proofread, proofread, and then proofread again
- Be yourself
- Keep your personal statement about you
- Be honest and authentic
- Connect your story to the profession of law
- Outline before you write
- Regurgitate your resume and qualifications
- Overlook typos or submit anything but the final version
- Name drop (unless the individual has genuinely influenced you personally somehow)
- Attempt to use legal terms or phrases you may be using incorrectly
- Cover your entire life story
If you need something more in-depth, Nova.edu put together a guide to creating personal statements, and BU Law has some great examples of ones that cut through the noise.
Personal Statement Tips
Besides the structure and tone of the statement, what else can you keep in mind to make yours better? There are as many opinions as there are law school admissions officers, unfortunately. But, you can still glean some useful tips from the chaos of opinions:
Skip the gimmicks. Gimmicky personal statements scream ‘I don't have anything original to say' more than they amuse. If you can think of it, they've likely read it. What they haven't read is a concise but thorough presentation of who you are and what you've accomplished.
Now, because you're presenting what you've accomplished. it doesn't mean you should spend the entirety of your personal statement regurgitating your resume and credentials; that's what the rest of your application is for. Instead, consider using your personal statement to invite the admissions officials to get to know you and see how you present yourself. Have a trusted friend, colleague, or individual read your essay and give constructive, blunt feedback.
Feedback and Proofreading the Statement
Don't rely only on your own judgment for your personal statement. Your judgement is the ultimate decider, as it's your application and you statement written about you, but you should always seek feedback from people you trust. Look for trusted academic advisors, mentors, or even friends and family who could offer a fresh perspective. Ask how compelling it is, how well written, if they would make changes, etc. Accept and apply the feedback that you think makes sense with your vision.
Beyond simple feedback, have a fresh set of eyes proofread your essay. It can't be said enough: proofread, proofread, proofread! Your personal statement is your introductory argument as to why you should be admitted to your choice law school. If your essay contains errors, it's less likely an admissions officer will be inclined to believe you have the skills and attention to detail required for your legal studies.
Personal statements should be just that: personal. If you look up a template and essentially fill in the blanks, you're not giving the admissions officer a true look into your personality, your best qualities, and the unique contributions you can make.
Templates bring up a lot of problems. A little food for thought:
Did that example statement help the writer gain entry to law school?
Will a school admissions officer recognize the template format and stiff writing style?
Why would you trust your chance of admission to someone or some organization with no skin in the game?
Is using a template considered plagiarism?
How do you know if a template is even any good?
Just like writing your resume or CV, templates can only get you so far. You can look at the basic structure of a template for reference, but that's about all you should use them for. Take the time to do this right, even if it means going around to different academic influences and people you trust to help you write, re-write, edit, proofread and polish your final personal statement. It will be worth it once you get that acceptance letter!
The perfect personal statement is the one which perfectly and truly states you. If you bring your personality, your voice, and your story with honesty and authenticity, you'll have the start of a winning essay. Again, we can't say this enough, but the perfect personal statement is just that: personal.