When I applied to law school in 1987, I had no clue what admissions officers were looking for in a personal statement—very few prospective law students did. Most of us dutifully recapped the highlights of our applications and resumes, not really understanding what a law school personal statement was for.
Today, your competitors are a bit more savvy. Most law school applicants know that the personal statement is the most important “soft” factor in the application package, and most have heard that it’s a good idea to lead with a story. The bar is a little higher when you’re writing your personal statement today, largely because the Internet has made general information widely available.
The problem is that those nuggets of wisdom have often been reduced to nuggets, and single-sentence advice can be misleading.
Don’t Just Tell a Story
Tell a story” is perhaps the most important and useless bit of law school personal statement advice making the rounds.
If that sounds like an LSAT “apparent discrepancy” question to you, here’s the resolution: the directive to tell a story doesn’t help you if you don’t understand why you’re telling the story and how to integrate it with the rest of your law school application.
As a result, many personal statement drafts:
- Open with an interesting story that doesn’t seem to bear any relationship to the rest of the statement; or
- Are entirely taken up telling a story that leaves the reader wondering, “why are you telling me this?”; or
- Include a string of anecdotes, none of which is explored in enough depth to be useful.
Many applicants get too caught up in the idea of finding a “good” story, and so choose one that’s more dramatic or attention-catching over one that actually does the job. And, many find themselves agonizing over not having a story that’s attention-catching enough to do the job.
Tell Your Story with Purpose
One reason for opening with a story is that it often provides a strong hook. With hundreds or thousands of application files, not every personal statement will be read through to the end. A strong opening increases the chances that your initial reader will be interested enough to stick it out.
But, the hook is not enough. The story you tell must bring to life the characteristics you want to highlight for the admissions committee. That means that most applicants who start with a good story are putting the focus in the wrong place. To make effective use of storytelling in your personal statement, you must first understand what it is that you want to convey about yourself and then choose a story that illustrates those characteristics.
When you’re brainstorming for your personal statement and creating that short list of possible topics, don’t list your stories. List themes that are important to your life and supported by your experiences and then attach possible stories to each.
For more information about creating a powerful law school personal statement, check out ourLAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS eBOOKS