When applying to law school, your personal statement is your best opportunity to present to admissions committees aspects of which you are that are not apparent through LSAT scores, GPAs and transcripts. It is this access to your personality and non-quantifiable characteristics that makes it such an important piece of the puzzle and enables it to set you apart from other applicants.
When I advise applicants, I try to impress upon them the importance of a fresh idea and a genuine voice. Every year applicants show me their original statements, and they sound too generic and clearly were lost in the crowd of other applicants.
There are ways to avoid a bland or ill-fitting statement. I will discuss three common mistakes to avoid that can result in an essay that might hamstring your law school application.
- Telling instead of showing: It is important to illustrate the positive aspects of your profile with specific stories. You want to choose anecdotes that highlight your work ethic and other important qualities.
Avoid directly stating a list of attractive characteristics that you embody. You want to articulate who you are with representational tools that also describe your experiences through clear, concise descriptions that are both interesting to read and genuine.
For example, many students include meaningful academic experiences in their personal statements. Such experiences are often best described by recounting a particularly important exchange with a professor or the exploration of a single concept as opposed to a broad statement about one’s overall impression of a class or subject.
- Losing sight of the horizon: Your personal essay should be part of a broader strategy that connects to a theme. Do not write the essay in isolation or without considering the perspectives you are putting forth in other areas of your application.
All the different components of the application, including the essay, should be emblematic in their own way of this predetermined theme. They should fit together and keep a consistent tone. At Stratus Prep, our admissions counselors begin work with candidates by engaging in an in-depth introspection process.
During this process, the counselor and applicant work together to gather information from all aspects of the applicant’s life, and from this information the counselor helps the applicant form an overall strategy for the application. Only after this process do we begin to brainstorm personal statement topics, thereby ensuring that the personal statement is a component of the application as opposed to an independent essay.
- Being afraid to discuss difficulties: Although your personal statement should focus on your strengths, describing challenges and areas of difficulty can often convey one’s strengths as well as or better than describing the strengths themselves.
For example, a client of mine wrote a powerful personal statement about overcoming a speech impediment. Writing on this topic enabled him to present himself as a genuine person who, when faced with a difficult challenge, had the tenacity and conviction to meet and ultimately overcome the challenge.
So, when writing your personal statement, make sure that you present yourself in a way that is interesting and relatable to the reader and make sure that your personal statement is a component of a unified application package.