Most likely, you’re not looking forward to writing your law school application essay. But you should actually view this chance to submit a personal statement as a gift from the admissions committees—they are giving you the opportunity to tell them absolutely anything you want about yourself. For some candidates, this assignment may be daunting at first—after all, where do you begin? With some time and reflection, though, you should be able to seize this opportunity and use it to fundamentally shape the admissions committees’ perspective of you as a candidate.
At this point in the application process, you have limited control over most of the components of your can- didacy—your GPA was determined years ago, for example, and your recom- mendations are in someone else’s hands. Yet what you present in your personal statement—and how—is completely up to you, so think carefully about the best way you can represent yourself. In this chapter, we offer guidance, advice, and ideas to help you in writing your personal statement and, we hope, to pro- vide some inspiration as well.
Law school applicants are typically responsible for writing one or more of the following three kinds of application essays: a traditional personal statement, a free-form essay, and an optional diversity essay. Which one(s) you will write depends on the school or schools to which you are applying and the story you wish to tell the admissions committee about yourself.
Let’s deal with the traditional personal statement. Here are prompts from different schools that ask you to tell your story:
Please provide more information about yourself in a written personal state- ment. The subject matter of the essay is up to you, but keep in mind that the reader will be seeking a sense of you as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Berkeley Law. –- Berkeley School of Law
Please use the personal statement to introduce yourself to the admissions committee and to help the committee get to know you on a personal level. It should demonstrate your contribution to the law school community beyond simply academics. The admissions committee generally finds that a state- ment that focuses on a unique personal attribute or experience is usually the most informative (as opposed to a restatement of your qualifications or résumé).–- University of Chicago Law School
Candidates to Columbia Law School are required to submit a personal essay or statement supplementing required application materials. Such a statement may provide the admissions committee with information regarding such matters as: personal, family, or educational background; experi- ences and talents of special interest; reasons for applying to law school as they may relate to personal goals and professional expectations; or any other factors that you think should inform the committee’s evaluation of your candidacy for admission. –- Columbia Law School
The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the admis- sions committee a better sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School. In many instances, appli- cants have used the personal statement to provide more context on how their experiences and strengths could make them valuable contributors to the Harvard and legal communities, to illuminate their intellectual background and interests, or to clarify or elaborate on other information in their application. Because applicants and their experiences differ, you are the best person to determine the content of your statement. –- Harvard Law School
The admissions committee requires that every applicant submit an original example of written expression. The purpose of this personal statement is to provide you with as flexible an opportunity as possible to submit informa- tion that you deem important to your candidacy. You may wish to describe aspects of your background and interests—intellectual, personal, or profes- sional—and how you will uniquely contribute to the Penn Law commu- nity and/or the legal profession. -– The University of Pennsylvania Law School
You will note that all of these essay questions use the phrase “personal statement.” Traditionally, “personal statement” has specifically referred to an essay in which a candidate explains why he or she wishes to earn a JD and describes his or her relevant life experiences. These days, however, a “personal statement” can be any essay that discusses something important to or about the applicant that the applicant wishes to share with the admissions committee. This means that in response to your target school’s essay question, you can write either a traditional personal statement or what we call a free-form essay.
In a traditional personal statement, you explicitly demonstrate a connection between your past experiences and your current interest in at- tending law school. This kind of essay is a great deal more straightforward than the free-form essay, though it is not necessarily easier to write. Effectively communicating to the admissions committee why you want to go to law school requires a good deal of self-awareness and self-study. Career changers in particular have to make truly convincing and reasoned arguments about their decision to pursue a law degree. What brings about self-awareness and facili- tates self-study? Research, research, research. This includes visiting law schools, sitting in on classes, speaking with law professors and students, visiting the schools’ career services offices, and/or possibly even working for a time in the legal profession. We do not recommend that you write about what you want to do in your legal career—or possibly even pursue one—if what you want to achieve in your life does not in fact require a law degree. Fully investigat- ing your target JD programs and identifying clear connections between the resources they offer and what you have already accomplished in your life, in addition to what you hope to do in the future, is a crucial part of successfully writing this kind of essay.
Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.