Ten Tips for a More Powerful Law School Personal Statement

  1. Plan Ahead-A personal statement that will tip the scales can’t be crafted in one draft on a Saturday afternoon. Ideally, you should start working on your personal statement 4-6 weeks before you want to submit your applications.
  2. Kill the Editor on Your Shoulder-Nothing is more destructive to brainstorming and experimentation than questions like “is this what they want to hear?” and “should I really say that?” and “how does this sound?” Get it out on paper and THEN pick what you like; no one is going to see those early drafts unless you choose to share, so there’s no risk.
  3. Convey What’s Unique about You-this doesn’t require that you spent a few years as a circus acrobat between college and law school, and it doesn’t mean reciting your resume or accomplishments in your personal statement. It means looking at the common thread among the things you’re passionate about and excel at and letting that unique combination of talent and interest shine through.
  4. Forget the Five Paragraph Structure-Obviously, good grammar and clarity are important, but overly formal structure has a negative impact on your statement in many ways: it eats up space with empty words, flattens out the tone so that the reader is less likely to stay engaged and constantly reminds the reader that it’s something you were assigned to write and she was assigned to read.just to name a few. In short, lighten up.
  5. Paint a Picture-Your personal statement is your best opportunity to show yourself as a three-dimensional human being, and that means setting a scene and telling a story. Don’t just say it; bring whatever it is you’re trying to convey about yourself to life for the admissions committee.
  6. Actions Speak Louder than Words-Anyone can lay claim to a list of adjectives, and most prospective law students lay claim to the same ones. Illustrating the traits you’re trying to convey will go much further than simply rattling them off, and that means telling stories that show you putting those characteristics into action.
  7. Don’t Rehash-A huge percentage of law school applicants entirely waste their personal statements by simply rehashing things the admissions committee already knows from other parts of the application. Your GPA, your LSAT score, your elected offices and jobs and sports…all of those things are on your resume, in your transcript, etc. Let those documents speak for themselves and take advantage of this (rare) opportunity to show the committee something beyond the numbers and facts.
  8. Stay Positive-The temptation is strong to eat up valuable real estate excusing away your grades, LSAT score, freshman year suspension or some other negative in your application. Most schools provide an opportunity to submit a supplemental statement if there’s something of that nature that you need to address. Your personal statement is your one opportunity to let the committee see you as a three-dimensional person who will add value to their program. Use it.
  9. Get Neutral Feedback-I’m sure your mom and your girlfriend are eager to help, but they’re not the readers you need. We know they’re impressed with you; what we need to know is whether what you’ve written can hold the interest of someone who doesn’t have any particular attachment to you. A few possibilities: a professor, a pre-law advisor or an admissions consultant. There are many other options, but just remember-you’re not looking for the opinion of someone who already thinks you’re great.
  10. Don’t Get Too Much Feedback-Neutral feedback is critical, but too many law school applicants are so concerned about the quality of their personal statements that they pass them around to virtually everyone they know. This invariably ends in a mass of conflicting advice that does nothing but create confusion and undermine confidence. Carefully choose a trusted reviewer or two and leave it at that.