Tips for Optional Essays
Following the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action, a number of law schools are expanding or revamping their optional essay prompts to better understand candidates’ backgrounds and perspectives.
“Until recently, almost every law school offered an optional diversity statement. Prompts for diversity statements varied among law schools, but typically concerned an applicant’s identity and background, past hardships or potential to contribute to a diverse and inclusive campus environment,” Kuris says. “After the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed race-conscious admissions policies in June 2023, law schools adapted diversity statements in different ways, which will likely continue to evolve over future admissions cycles.”
HOW OPTIONAL ESSAYS DIFFER FROM PERSONAL STATEMENTS
Most law schools offer optional essays prompts designed to give applicants an opportunity to discuss their identity, background, past challenges, or their potential to contribute to diversity within the law school community.
“While it’s hard to generalize about all these essay prompts, they still differ from personal statements in many ways,” Kuris says. “They are more reflective, looking backward rather than forward. They often have tighter page or word limits.”
And simply being “unique” isn’t enough, Kuris adds.
“The purpose of these optional statements is not solely for applicants to detail their unique background,” he says. “Everyone is atypical in some ways. Rather, these optional essays are intended to free applicants from having to weave together their background and interests within the same two-page statement.”
USE OPTIONAL ESSAYS STRATEGICALLY
The biggest mistake applicants make is including an optional essay when it doesn’t add much or any value to their overall application. Optional essays, Kuris says, are truly optional.
“Many law school applicants fear that if they fail to maximize every possible opportunity to write about themselves, they will appear lazy or disinterested,” Kuris says. “Therefore, they sabotage themselves by padding their application with redundant and repetitive text.”
Before submitting an optional essay, consider whether it enhances the value of your application or if it’s simply added to occupy space.
“Admissions officers have a limited amount of time, perhaps a matter of minutes, to review your application,” Kuris says. “Anything you write that does not contribute to a coherent argument for your admission risks wasting that time. Thus, an optional essay is unnecessary if its key points are already adequately communicated through the personal statement or other materials. Optional essays should be used strategically to build your argument for admission. Don’t simply talk about yourself to fill space.”
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