By the time you’re preparing your law school applications, there’s not a lot you can control. You’ve already earned your LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, and your work history. That’s all in the past, and all that’s left is to report it. But there’s one area in which you still have all the control in the world: your personal statement, through which you can showcase what can’t be learned about you from your transcript and test scores. Your application essay(s) are your opportunity to stand out from other applicants and tell admissions officers how you will uniquely contribute to the school of your dreams.
To make sure your personal essay is on point, follow these guidelines:
1) Make It Personal
It’s right there in the name: personal essay. Narrow in on a specific experience that’s unique to you, rather than discussing your views on some impersonal topic. For instance, an essay about how your life changed when you received a cochlear implant will resonate much more with readers than an essay about your views on cochlear implants in the deaf community. Avoid talking about an issue in an overly generalized way. Keep it specific and personal.
2) Make Sure You Have a Fresh Idea
Your essay should not be like anybody else’s. Avoid common topics, like how traveling to a developing country made you want to fight against economic injustice, how you come from a long line of lawyers, or how your love of Law & Order makes you certain you’re meant to be a lawyer. Thousands of people apply to law school, and somebody else is probably going to have your exact GPA, LSAT score, and extracurricular interests. What they won’t have is a unique story from your life. Focus on what you and you alone can talk about and you won’t get thrown in the reject pile.
3) Show, Don’t Tell
Instead of listing your positive attributes like a laundry list, use a story to show the reader that you have those traits. Think of it like trying to avoid bad exposition in a movie. Nobody wants the hero of the story to tell them, “I’m really strong.” They want to see the hero lift a car off a trapped child. Use a story to show what you’ve done and have to offer rather than passively listing what’s unique and wonderful about you.
4) Make Sure You Have a Great Hook
Your first paragraph has to be excellent. Your essay is likely one of hundreds, if not thousands, that the reader has to judge, and she may stop reading if the first paragraph does not grip her. Just as people may judge a book by its cover, your reader may judge your entire essay on its opening. Make sure yours is killer!
5) Follow the Instructions
Many law school personal essays are open ended, but if there is a specific question, make sure you answer it. If there is a word limit, don’t exceed it. You can get creative in the body of the essay, but not with the requirements.
6) Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes will make you stick out for all the wrong reasons. Proofread your essay many times, double and triple checking the name of the school. You’re likely applying to numerous law schools, and you do not want to send an essay with the wrong school name in it!
7) Avoid Inspiration Quotations
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi said some great things, but starting your essay with one of them is cliché.
8) Avoid Big Words
Throw too many big words in your essay, and you’ll come off as pretentious. Don’t try so hard to impress the reader with an expansive vocabulary. For best results, write eloquently and concisely from the heart.
9) Take a Risk—If You’re in the Bottom of the Applicant Pool
If you know your LSAT score and grades aren’t on par with the average applicant for the school to which you are applying, it’s more important than ever to stand out in the personal essay. In this case, it’s OK to take a risk to get noticed.
10) Build to a Law School Tie-In
Your personal essay should not start with why you’d be a great fit for law school, but by the end, the reader should know. Your personal story should reveal characteristics about yourself or a lesson learned that clearly shows you have the desire or traits necessary to succeed and contribute as a law student.
But don’t just take our word for it. Check out these essays that resulted in acceptance to the University of Chicago Law School, and these essays that garnered admission to Harvard Law School and the Law Center at Louisiana State University Baton Rouge.