Issue-Based Essays – Quick Overview


An issue-based essay can be an effective way to show the reader how you think. Your focus will be on an external issue rather than a personal quality or experience. Nevertheless, your goal should still be to reveal insight into your character, and the more you can tie the issue to personal experience, the better.

In the second section of this lesson, we discussed focusing on specific legal areas. Your purpose here is similar, except the issue need not be fundamentally related to law. Also, in an issue-based essay, you may spend more time engaging with the issue apart from your personal experience, thereby showing your reasoning skills at work.

This applicant focuses on his interests and goals in Third World development. To provide evidence of his personal engagement with this issue, he discusses his academic studies of Latin America, as well as his travel and exploration. With statements like the following, he shows the level of thought he has invested in the issue:

“While working at the United Nations, I came to appreciate the importance of mutual respect within the context of multinational interaction; a country’s dignity must not be overlooked. Keeping this in mind, I believe we must approach Latin American issues with a better understanding of Latin American perspectives.”

Finally, the discussion culminates in a statement of how his legal education will provide him with the tools he needs to continue his engagement:

“I hope to use my legal education in conjunction with my interest in Third World development to enhance Latin America’s position in the world economic structure. Whether my future includes negotiating international trade agreements, challenging immigration legislation, or providing legal assistance to the Hispanic Community, I look forward to being an advocate for ‘el pueblo’-the people.”

This applicant tackles the issue of discrimination, but again with a personal perspective. He describes personal encounters of stereotyping he has faced as an Asian American. He then extrapolates to the bigger picture with the following:

“During the course of my studies, I became fascinated by the two perspectives on overcoming discrimination against African-Americans that emerged in the early twentieth century. One proponent, W.E.B. Du Bois, advocated civil rights with a strong political voice; another, Booker T. Washington, advocated earning respect through hard work and results. I firmly believe that Du Bois and Washington’s ideas provide a good foundation for Asian-Americans in realizing our desire to overcome discrimination.”

He goes on to discuss both his ideas in further detail and examples of work he has already done. The connection to law is natural and forceful:

“As a student at the University of Virginia Law School, I will continue to refine the knowledge and skills I need to work effectively on advancing social and political welfare issues on behalf of Asian-Americans and society at large.”

Next: Essay Structures

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