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What the Admissions Committee Seeks
Law school applicants are required to submit a personal statement that incorporates three themes:
a) Why you
want to be an attorney
The essay must also accomplish a fourth objective, which is to demonstrate that you possess both the hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills that are required in the legal profession. Not an easy task!
Competition is fierce for law school admission, particularly in the prestigious Ivy League programs. Your personal statement carries more weight in the admissions process than you may realize. Perfect grade point averages and LSAT scores are expected at this level, as are maturity and excellent communication skills. Your best chance to stand out from the crowd is to convey the exceptional personal attributes of an effective and ethical attorney. Ironically, applicants often minimize the importance of their personal statement and reference letters in the selection process. However, they are your best opportunities to demonstrate your strengths outside the classroom.
Admissions officers seek the following traits in law school applicants:
Your personal statement is your opportunity to show the committee that you are a unique and dynamic candidate who is committed to the legal profession. You cannot gain acceptance into a top law school without a compelling personal essay.
We strongly recommend that you avoid four common pitfalls:
luck stories, unless they explain your professional commitment
In our work, we frequently see well-intentioned essays fall flat because they don't capture the reader's interest and convey the writer's true personality. Far too often, they simply reiterate the same material that is presented elsewhere in the application. If you take this approach, you will waste a golden opportunity to present a new side of yourself to the committee.
Don't underestimate the importance of your personal strengths (or lack of them). Due to the high ethical standards and level of critical thinking expected in the legal profession, your character and motivation will be highly scrutinized during the selection process. You should use the personal statement to sell your whole self, not just the individual pieces that you think they want to see.
In a typical day, a law school admissions officer will read between 25 and 50 application essays from candidates around the world. What stands out and makes a positive impression? Contrary to popular opinion, it's not simply academic prowess. Indeed, many candidates with exceptional grades are rejected each year. For most competitive applicants, the key to success is selling your unique (non-academic) strengths.
Before you write, consider your audience and their objective. Committee members are vibrant people with unique personalities and talents. Their goal is to select passionate students from all backgrounds and walks of life who will contribute to the class in their own unique way. The ultimate class roster will include talented athletes, musicians, scientists and poets. No two successful candidates are alike, nor are their essays. A "great essay" can be about football, a dance recital, a family vacation or an embarrassing moment. What's the common denominator? Your writing must reveal your true personality, whatever that may be. Show us who you are and what you will bring to our program. Show us the contribution that only you can make.
Are there specific guidelines to follow? Absolutely! We surveyed 30 admissions officers on what they expect to see in law school personal statements. Here's what works:
1. Answer the question that was asked. Many candidates try to dodge tough questions, particularly those about their personal weaknesses and failures. Yet the committee asks these questions for a reason. We want to understand how you respond to adversity and the specific insight you developed from those experiences. Answer the tough questions honestly and directly. Don't try to sell us the "canned" response you think we want to hear.
2. Write naturally, but concisely. Use simple sentence structure and your normal everyday vocabulary. Don't waste time on fancy introductions; get to the point quickly and reinforce it with specific examples.
3. Use excellent grammar and punctuation. Use logical paragraph breaks to separate your thoughts and to make the essay easier to read. Proofread your work carefully before sending it in. Don't let simple carelessness ruin your chances.
4. Show your real personality (let us get to know you). Too many essays are long, boring, theoretical pieces about politics, the economy or complex business issues. No matter how well-written or researched, they don't tell us a darn thing about the candidate. Anyone can write a rational and detached paper, but that's not what we are looking for. We want to get to know you and understand the unique contribution you will make to our school.
your essay as much as possible. Write about your own unique, funny,
interesting experiences. Provide details to add color. Adopt a relaxed,
7. Convey a positive message (avoid cynicism). Many applicants choose to discuss a misfortune they have experienced and how it shaped their personality. Be very careful of your tone if you decide to write about a hard-luck story. Avoid the "victimization" perspective and focus on how you overcame the situation. Show us how the experience helped you to demonstrate your stamina, perseverance and intelligence. If written well, these essays show that you can succeed in the face of terrible obstacles. If written badly, you may sound plaintive, self-righteous and bitter.
8. Write about topics you are passionate about. Nothing lifts an essay off the page more than genuine enthusiasm! Yet few candidates have the confidence to write about a passion if they feel it is silly or frivolous. Questions about your favorite hobby or childhood memory are designed to flesh out your non-academic side. Yes, we really want to know! Nothing is more precious than your unique memories about key people and experiences in your life. We've read magical essays about eating ice cream and singing in the shower and absolutely dreadul ones about triglyceride synthesis. When choosing your topics, pick what genuinely excites you. Your enthusiasm will show in the final product.
9. Use the active voice. Nothing is more tedious than trying to read an essay written in the cold, detached passive voice. While popular with scientists who publish in technical journals, it is pretentious and verbose in everyday writing. Keep your verbs simple and active. What's the difference?
Voice: The cow jumped over the moon.
Yes, it sounds that silly when you use it, too!
10. Explain events whenever appropriate. Many of your accomplishments are of interest to the committee because of why you tackled them, what you thought about them, and what you learned. Tell us the reasoning behind your decision and how your life changed as a result of the experience.
11. Be specific and focused. Rather than listing several items or events, give a full description of just one. The more details you include, the more personal your essay will be.
12. Proofread your essay several times and get feedback from valued sources. Explain to them what you hope to convey in your writing and ask them if you met your objectives. The true test of your writing isn't what you intended to say, but what the reader actually understands.
13. Revise and polish until it is perfect. Give yourself enough time to do the essay(s) well. Successful applicants usually invest several hours considering each question, deciding the correct approach, constructing an outline, and writing a first draft. You may have to write and revise multiple drafts before you are satisfied with your essay.
In addition, our experts advise all applicants to avoid the following common mistakes:
1. Don't let anyone else tell you what to write. Well-meaning parents and advisors often interfere in the writing process and sabotage the candidate's chances. Use your own best judgement in choosing a topic and writing your essay. Don't let anyone else influence you. We read thousands of essays each year, and have developed a keen eye for authenticity.
2. Don't oversell yourself or try too hard. Many candidates manage to squeeze every accomplishment they've ever had into a single one-page essay. Others explain emphatically how much they "really, really" want to attend our school. Don't take such a desperate approach. Answer the questions to the best of your ability and be yourself.
3. Don't rehash information that can be found elsewhere in the application. We already know your grade point average, standardized test scores, academic awards and honors. Use your limited essay space to discuss experiences that aren't revealed anywhere else. Consider your essay to be an informal interview, your exclusive "one-on-one" time with the committee. Show us why we should accept you into our academic community.
4. Don't write a scholarly or overly academic paper. The essay is your opportunity to demonstrate your non-academic strengths, particularly your personality. Don't waste the opportunity to let us get to know the real you.
5. Don't appear overly idealistic or preachy. Don't use trite or tired themes for the focus of the essay. Be original. Each year, we receive hundreds of essays that discuss the horrors of nuclear weapons and the dangers of global warming. Sadly, they don't tell us anything we don't already know. If you choose to discuss a meaningful issue, do so in the context of your demonstrated commitment to change it, either through your career or volunteer work. Don't confuse passive idealism (or future intentions) with productive action. A demonstrated commitment to a cause is worth writing about; passive idealism is not.
6. Don't try to explain blemishes on your record. With rare exceptions, it is impossible to explain poor grades and test scores without sounding irresponsible or defensive. Neither will enhance your admissions chances. If you have a compelling excuse for an academic disappointment, place it in a separate addendum to your file, rather than in the body of your essay or personal statement.
7. Don't use large, pretentious words. Use the simplest possible language to explain your meaning precisely. Using three-dollar words to impress the committee usually backfires because it comes across as presumptuous and arrogant.
8. Don't be boring and safe; tell a real story! A fresh and well-written essay will enhance your credentials and separate you from the crowd. More importantly, it will make you memorable.
9. Don't lie or exaggerate. Applicants seldom realize how easy it is to detect lies and half-truths in admissions essays. Don't pretend to be someone you are not. After reading your file, committee members have an excellent "feel" for your character and can tell when a reported event or achievement isn't consistent with the rest of your history. Lying is a fatal mistake. A single misrepresentation on your application will cause us to doubt all of your other assertions.
10. Don't be gimmicky. Avoid using definitions to begin your essay. This crutch was extremely popular in the late 2000's, but is now synonymous with sloppy writing. Likewise, avoid using cute or "meaningful" quotations, unless they perfectly fit the character and tone of your essay. Quotations are terrific if they are seldom-quoted and deeply relevant to your chosen topic. All too often, though, their usage is cliche and the resulting essay is unimaginative.
11. Don't play games with the word limit. Don't use a miniscule type size or invisible border to shrink an essay to the stipulated length. Except in extreme circumstances, your finished essay should adhere to the maximum word limit. In many cases, less is more. Present your points quickly and efficiently; don't feel obligated to "fill" extra space.
Here's how we can help you improve the quality of your personal statement:
1. We offer professional editing services and writing services for law school candidates. Gain the competitive edge and win the coveted Ivy League spot you deserve!
2. We also offer a package of personal statements from candidates that have been accepted to Ivy League law schools, which you can use as inspiration for your own original writing. To order 101 Law School Personal Statements That Made a Difference (ISBN 9781933819624) in paperback or Kindle format, please visit www.amazon.com.