As in the college admissions process, law schools are looking for interesting, confident, and successful people to fill a diverse class. Whereas medical schools often look for signs of compassion and business schools want to see evidence of leadership, law schools are most interested in the personal attributes that make you unique. Focus on your strengths, wherever they may lie.
The purpose of this section is to explain the qualities of a strong essay, not to delineate the substance of your ideas. Also, as we will stress throughout, the essay is meant to convey the personal characteristics that the rest of your application cannot communicate. Therefore, we preface our list with a warning about what not to include: anything that is fully covered by another part of the application. For example, do not tell the reader what your GPA was, or list the awards that you won. Avoid simply listing your extracurricular activities. If you bring up any of these issues, you should have some significant insight to add that is not evident from another part of your application.
Admissions officers rank sincerity highest in importance: They ultimately just want to know who you are. The best way to sell yourself, therefore, is to be yourself. Don’t focus too heavily on what you think they want to see, at the expense of conveying your own message in your unique way.
“Applicants make a mistake when they try to write something they think will please the committee. When they try to anticipate what that might be, they run a great danger of going astray. The best statements we get reflect the individual in an honest, genuine, and effective manner and thereby project to us an additional dimension that may be inadequately developed in the rest of the application.”
–Admissions Officer, University of Virginia School of Law
“The essay ought to be authentic. An applicant ought not to write about something because he or she thinks that’s what someone else wants to read. The applicant clearly should choose something in which he or she has an interest and perhaps some passion.”
–Admissions Officer, Yale Law School
Sincerity is important to stress because it’s hard for most applicants to achieve, despite the fact that it seems so simple. The pressures and anxieties of the situation have locked you into a mindset that may prevent you from writing honestly. Further, because you are not used to writing about yourself and being so close to the subject, you cannot assess the sincerity of your own writing. Thousands of students every year will read this same advice, whether in a guidebook or even in the application instructions themselves, and they simply cannot put it into practice. If you can be one of the few who truly understands what it means to be sincere, then you will already have separated yourself from the pack in a crucial way.
You might question how a reader who doesn’t know you can judge your statement’s sincerity. The basis for judgment usually lies in the context your reader has developed from reading hundreds or thousands of other essays. Assessing your essay against others is an essential area in which EssayEdge can offer a more critical eye than your friends, relatives, or teachers who have not accumulated the expertise specific to the personal statement. Moreover, our perspective in reading your essay is just as objective as your admissions reader’s perspective will be.
As with sincerity, you must focus on demonstrating solid writing ability before you even start worrying about the specific issues you will tackle.
“We’re looking for quality of writing…Applicants should outline what they want to say in the personal statement and write clear, concise sentences, keeping in mind who their audience is and what our purpose is.”
–Admissions Officer, University of California at Berkeley School of Law
The reasons for this emphasis on good writing are evident enough. First is the important role that written communication skills will play throughout your career, as they do in most other professions. Second, a well-written essay makes its points clearly and forcefully, so your content benefits as well.
Good writing means more than the ability to construct grammatical sentences. You also must create a coherent structure and ensure proper flow as the piece progresses. Because the process of developing ideas and putting them down on paper is so intimate and personal, all writers end up needing editors to assess the effectiveness of their product. You should consult people whose writing you respect for advice or even more hands-on help. Having been trained specifically in the nuances of admissions essay writing, EssayEdge editors are the best-equipped individuals to provide assistance in this crucial area.
Because law school classes are so interactive, admissions committees seek a broad range of perspectives, not just racial and ethnic diversity. Your purpose is to convey the elements of your background that make you different from the rest of the applicant pool.
“The fact that you were active in your fraternity or sorority is really not going to do it. What we’re looking for is people who, in their personal statement, stand out as being so unusual, so diverse, that they’re extremely attractive as law students for the first-year class. Maybe what’s going to make someone distinctive is that he or she spent six months living in a log cabin in Alaska.”
–Admissions Officer, UCLA School of Law
“When I see a laundry list of everything the applicant has participated in, my response is: You and everybody else. What about those experiences will be of significance when you’re sitting in contracts class during the first year of law school? Why would a faculty member or your classmates care about your experiences? How have they given you special insights?”
–Admissions Officer, University of Michigan Law School
Reflect on your experiences with an open mind. Don’t go into the process thinking about what point you want to prove, because that will lead you to write hackneyed generalizations. Instead, consider what might make a great story to someone who doesn’t know you. Then evaluate whether that story illustrates characteristics that are important to you.
All strong essays will be rooted in personal details. A unique topic will turn out dull if the writer provides only vague generalizations. On the other hand, specific, concrete details can bring a conventional topic to life.
“The more personal you can be—the more you can bring in your own background or history—the more valuable the statement can be.”
–Admissions Officer, Harvard Law School
Applicants often make the mistake of assuming that dealing with grand ideas will impress a reader. That kind of approach usually results in trite, sweeping statements that offer no tangible insight into the applicant’s character. Your readers want concrete evidence to grasp, and they want that evidence to say something meaningful about you.