In my years as a law school admissions consultant, I’ve seen a wide range of winning personal statements and other essays, and the subject matter of some of them might surprise you. Writing a personal statement or optional essay that really captures the admissions committee’s attention requires breaking free of the “what do they want to hear” mentality and thinking about what really conveys something meaningful about you.
HINT: The answer to that question isn’t always something academic or work-related.
Some of the best admissions essays I’ve seen have focused on what might seem unlikely topics: a childhood job at a fruit stand; the experience of traveling alone to a foreign country without knowing the language; raising guppies.
None of these topics is what springs to mind when most people think of a personal statement or optional essay. But, in each case the author was able to begin with an interesting story that stood out from the crowd and then tie that story to lessons learned, personal character, skills, strengths and how those things would carry forward to make him or her an interesting and successful addition to the next law school class and the practice of law.
No matter who you are, no matter what your past experience, something has led you to the point of filling out that law school application. Something has fed your interest in law school. Something has persuaded you that you’ll do well in that academic environment. Something has drawn you to the practice of law or legal research or some other law-related career. And that thing is not your GPA. It’s not your LSAT score. Your resume may contain clues, but it’s certainly not the full story.
One of the surest ways to find your focus when brainstorming for your personal statement is to look for the common thread. Most of the important things in your past will share something significant, something you might never have seen before.
For example, I have made my career as a teacher, an attorney, a marketing strategist, a public speaker, a journalist, an author, an editor and an admissions consultant. At a glance, that may seem like a scattered bunch, like I’ve bounced from one career to another. In fact, though, I’ve drawn on the same skills and essentially performed the same function in each of those fields: Communication is one of my core strengths. And it’s not just a factor in the careers I’ve chosen. It’s the reason I have 9 blogs. It’s the reason that I exchange hundreds of emails with friends each week. It’s the reason my reading of a good book is often interrupted by the need to stop and write down some thought that spins off of my reading. It’s the reason I give a good dinner party. It’s even the reason my daughter sometimes catches me talking out loud when I don’t even realize I’m doing so.
Without intentional, focused thinking, most of us would never make those connections, would never find the common thread that runs among the things we value and the things we do well in life. But if you can identify that thread, if you can find an example or two that illustrate it well and then follow the thread forward, into law school, you will have found the key to a personal statement that is truly personal, sets you apart from the competition and simultaneously shows the admissions committee exactly why you’d make a good addition to the next law school class.