Law School Personal Statements Advice
There is no other component of your application that you can control as much as your law school personal statement. An excellent personal statement will separate you from the sea of candidates with similar academic qualifications. Analogous to an interview, a law school personal statement should introduce the attributes and accomplishments that make you an individual. Do not write a summary of your resume or transcript, but instead utilize this opportunity to expand upon what is unique about you, your life experiences, and your goals. The following advice is intended to help you understand your audience, teach you how to craft a persuasive statement, suggest topics, and tell you the inside secrets you should know. This advice is supplemented by personal statement samples with commentary at the end.See the following articles for more information:
This advice is divided into several sections:
1. Where to Begin: Motivate Yourself!
2. Write for Your Audience
3. Anticipate the Committee’s Cross-Examination
4. The First Steps to an Exceptional Personal Statement
Argumentation and Persuasion
Structuring Your Statement
How to Write a Strong Introduction
How to Write a Strong Conclusion
Appeal to Your Audience
5. Topics for Law School Personal Statements
6. Things to Remember Once You Begin
7. Inside Secrets You Should Know
8. To Do’s
9. Not to Do’s
10. Top 10 Personal Statement Mistakes
11. Sample Personal Statements and Commentary
1. Motivate Yourself!
1. Ask yourself if you want to go to law school. If the answer is, “I want this!” then find a way to say it in a heartfelt, mature, determined, engaging way in your personal statement.
2. Start writing now. Your personal statement is essential to gaining admission. Get serious.
3. You must demonstrate a strong, mature commitment to law: Inform yourself about your chosen profession and the schools you would consider attending. This research will take some time, and your serious competitors will put in this time.
4. The top law schools seem to ask very little of you in your application for potentially very high returns. This is somewhat deceptive because many of the people you are competing against will invest enormous amounts of time and energy in crafting and honing their two- or three-page personal statements. They may even utilize a professional editing service. Invest time in your personal statement. This is not the two-page essay you whipped off in college the night before and got an “A.” This is a difficult genre that requires several drafts.
5. When you begin writing, find a self-confident and mature tone, but don’t be afraid to let your personality and enthusiasm come through. Accept responsibilities for yourself, your family, and your community. Show why you are among the best and brightest, and break stereotypes by being unique.
2. Write for Your Audience
1. Admissions committees at top law schools usually consist of professional admissions officers, professors, and students. These are the people who will read your personal statement.
2. Your audience wants to enter into your thoughts and perspective, and they want specific details about you.
3. The ideal effect you want to achieve is personal transformation for the reader. The very best personal statements are the unforgettable handful that move the reader.
3. Anticipate the Committee’s Cross-Examination
Because very few law schools offer interviews, the personal statement functions in an introductory capacity. Thus a good personal statement should implicitly address the questions the committee will ask themselves about you if they had an opportunity. A well-crafted personal statement will not answer the following questions directly, but it will embed the desired answers in the narrative:
1. Will you be a good lawyer?
2. What was your tangible impact on an institution, an organization, or individuals?
3. Have you reached beyond the safety net of college into the real world?
4. Do you have a plan for your goals, or are you a dreamer?
5. Can you put yourself in another subject position in order to see all sides of an issue?
6. What will you bring to our law school?
7. Have you been a pro-active starter in the past? Did you raise money for what you started?
Do you know how to organize? Do you follow through on what you began?
8. Have you demonstrated your ability both to work with a team and to delegate?
4. The First Steps to an Exceptional Personal Statement
Argumentation and Persuasion
You have three purposes in your personal statement that demand the art of persuasion:
1. To make your reader believe you should be admitted.
2. To clear away any doubts your reader might have about you.
3. To make your reader act on your behalf.
You are writing a persuasive essay, but it should also have some of the elements of a persuasive speech. That is why it is generally called a personal “statement,” instead of personal essay. The personal statement is a unique genre and very difficult to master, since at most people write one or two in their lives. Most importantly for this genre, you want to build a strong ethos. That means your audience should like you and find you authoritative, competent, thoughtful, and honest. You want to demonstrate that you are a perceptive leader, who can communicate well with others, that you are open to new experiences and are enthusiastic. You do not want to come across as too formal, stuffy or too technical. You must give your audience evidence for your assertion that you should be admitted. The best essays will interpret the evidence provided by explaining how each piece of evidence contributes to supporting the assertion. The best essays will also be clear, concise, and graceful.
There are several types of evidence you may choose to use. Good personal statements use more than one type of evidence, and exceptional personal statements use them all.
1. Logos: Reason and logic, including facts, figures, expert testimony, and syllogism.
Use logos to persuade with facts.
2. Pathos: Emotional appeals, including examples and narratives that build sympathy.
Use pathos to persuade with feelings. Show you care passionately about
Caution: Using too much pathos, including wretched descriptions, fear or
guilt, or even too many glowing adjectives can make your audience feel
manipulated, offended, or turned off.
3. Ethos: Credibility, including perceived competence, character, and likeability. Use ethos to persuade by authority.
4. Mythos: Belief and value patterns of an audience, including traditional narratives, sayings, metaphors, and symbols. Use mythos to add power, subtle rhetorical control and wider significance to your argument.
A persuasive personal statement will be an organic whole from beginning to end, not a collection of elements held together with a few flimsy pieces of tape you call “Why I should be admitted.” An exceptional law school personal statement will have themes running throughout like a functioning circulatory system, with these themes discussed and interpreted in the introduction and conclusion.
Structuring Your Statement
You should be able to tell someone how your personal statement is structured, what the logical progression is, what each of the roughly six to ten paragraphs is about, and how each paragraph both interprets evidence for its specific claim and contributes to the overall effect of the essay. You should also try to have a unifying theme. This might organically develop from your attention-grabbing material at the beginning of the statement. For most people, this will be a story with a moral strong enough to be your motto: the “angle” from which you are presenting yourself.
There are several standard structures for law school personal statements. You may use more than one:
1. Tell a personal narrative or story. People remember stories. Have a clear ending to your story/stories as well as an explicit lesson. This type of essay typically allows you to demonstrate aspects of your character and leadership skills.
2. Show how you have made chronological growth, including steps you will take in the future. It is generally better to avoid giving long narratives about some aspect of yourself before college. If you have a good reason for mentioning your childhood or adolescence (such as an unusual history abroad or a specific obstacle you have overcome), then it is better to keep it to one short, vivid paragraph and refer to it again later in the essay, if you are making it the unifying theme of your statement. This structure relies on time to move it forward, but that is not enough: it also requires a theme you are tracing through time.
3. Present a problem and how you solved it or would solve it. This is called the problem-solution structure. For example, you might discuss what’s lacking in the legal system or society or demonstrate a need for change and then give evidence for how you have begun to solve this problem. This type of essay showcases your analytic reasoning.
4. Use a metaphor or analogy to help your audience understand you. This demonstrates your rhetorical control and usually integrates mythos into your statement.
5. Pose rhetorical questions to your audience or use suspense. This structure showcases your skill in persuasion and argumentation.
6. Describe what you have learned from another lawyer or mentor. Also analyze what you would do differently. This type of essay allows you to showcase your analytic reasoning.
7. Begin with a meaningful quote, which you explain and refer to throughout your statement. This is a difficult structure to master, but when it is done well, it can be satisfying for the reader. Do not randomly pick a quote from Bartlett’s. Do not pick a quote by some famous person whose work you have never read or barely encountered. Spend some time unpacking the various levels and resonances of the quote in relation to your life and goals.
8. List reasons you should be admitted. This structure, like the chronological structure, needs a unifying theme, or it is completely boring. It is best to avoid this structure.
How to Write a Strong Introduction
1. Attention-grabbing material: Hook them with a remarkable or a life-changing experience, an anecdote, or a question that will be answered by your law school personal statement.
2. Benefits: Make your essay worth their time to read.
3. Credentials: Build ethos.
4. Direction: Tell them your thesis and structure.
How to Write a Strong Conclusion
1. Discover something new for your audience that you set up along the way.
2. The conclusion is the final chord of music resolved. It should pull together the different parts of the personal statement, rephrase main ideas, interpret the importance of the choice of topics, point towards the future, and give the cue for ending with a rhetorical flourish.
Appeal to your Audience:
1. Using pathos will appeal to your audience’s feelings and emotions and make them more sympathetic to you. Several ways to use pathos include: writing your story as a quest narrative (which also adds mythos), asking the audience to think of a time when…, using rhetorical questions, using suspense, describing a great disappointment with details but ending with a positive lesson learned, describing a great joy.
2. Your audience will be one of three types of learners: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Try to appeal to all of these by working in visual descriptions for visual learners, discussing times in which you excelled in oral communication for auditory learners, and discussing specific ways in which you were active for kinesthetic learners (kinesthetic learners are those who learn by physically doing rather than reading or listening). Your audience will primarily self-select as visual learners, because these typically include people who are good at reading. The bottom line is this: Vivid, active language is crucial.
3. Try to make the reader feel he or she has taken a short mental vacation. Whisk the reader away into your world. Make the reader smile.
4. If you think the audience can’t relate to a specific piece of evidence you have given to back up your claim that you should be admitted, try to describe it so that the audience can feel connected imaginatively. This applies to describing your work in a different nation and culture, for example.
5. Your audience will perk up if you describe a campus visit you made and give specific details about which of their colleagues you met with and how that visit changed your perspective.
6. Appeal to universal human values, including success, freedom, honesty, and friendship, among others.
5. Topics for Law School Personal Statements
Your topic is related to, but separate from your structure. Your structure is the form of your personal statement, and the topic is the content. You may start with the structure or the topic, depending on which appeals to you more. Personalize your law school personal statement as much as possible by including concrete examples of your characteristics and specific details of your experiences. Show, rather than tell, the reader about yourself and your accomplishments.
1. Write about an event or issue of particular importance in your life.
2. Write what is unique about you or what interests and excites you.
3. Write about coursework, experiences, or research related to your law career or legal interest, such as completing a thesis, working with a professor, or volunteering for a legal aid or clinic.
4. Write about why a particular law school or program fits your goals. Extensive knowledge about that law school or program is essential for this to truly succeed.
5. Write about overcoming any difficulties or adversity in your life. This may include difficulties faced in your personal life, academic life, or in your local or college community. Be sure that you explain how this contributed to developing qualities that will make you a good candidate for law school.
6. Examine a tragedy in your life (loss of a parent or someone close, a severe accident) or a triumph (recognition for your outstanding performance, overcoming a disease, awards for excellence). Discuss how you have grown from this experience, and again, be sure that you explain how this contributed to developing qualities that will make you a good candidate for law school.
7. Write about the most important course, professor, or event that happened to you in college.
8. Write about your passions, ideals, or favorite hobbies and how they are related to your choice to attend law school and become a lawyer.
If you are still unsure about what you should write or where to begin your personal statement, try some of the following activities. Expand one or more into a theme for your law school personal statement.
1. List your personal skills and consider how they will make you an asset to the law school or legal community.
2. Have a friend or colleague do a mock interview with you regarding why you are interested in applying to law school. Your answers to their questions may trigger new ideas.
3. Review all the pivotal or remarkable experiences that you have had throughout your life. Examine how these experiences have directed your life or your decision to apply to law school.
4. Have you ever volunteered or served a cause of great importance to you? Write about that experience.
5. How has a mentor or experience, a particular book or quote, changed the direction of your life? Write about that life-changing event.
6. Have you assumed a leadership role in any arena, such as a club, sports team, or work? Write about what goals or ideals led you to seek these leadership roles, or what you learned and accomplished as a leader.
7. Write several adjectives that characterize you, and then write a short paragraph explaining how these words describe you.
6. Things to Remember Once You Begin:
1. Write about aspects of yourself readers can’t get from the other parts of your application.
2. Personalize as much as possible with specific, meaningful stories and experiences.
3. Talk about yourself but also discuss how you influence others.
4. Be creative. Use metaphors and analogies. These make extra neurons fire as the mind plays with the levels of resonance.
5. If you are fluent in another language, mention it. This is a strong card. Play it.
6. Discuss topics that build your credibility. Your reason for applying should not be that you have wanted to be a lawyer since you were five. What kind of credibility does a five-year-old have?
7. Try to show you have as many of the following qualities as possible: Intellectual ability, analytic ability, imagination, motivation, maturity, organization, teamwork, leadership, self-confidence, oral communication skills, written communication skills, and career potential.
8. Don’t depress your audience. Everyone loves a happy ending.
7. Inside Secrets You Should Know:
1. The law school professors will be reading your personal statement closely and will immediately be able to spot good writers, with polished ideas, elegant structure, and no errors.
2. Admissions committees have read hundreds of personal statements. They can spot a good one in about two seconds.
3. Use recent stories before older, personal experiences over academic, strongest arguments before weaker. End strong.
4. A strong introduction and conclusion are essential.
5. People can think faster than they can read, so they are able to think about other things when they read your personal statement. Ideally, your essay will grab their attention so that they focus solely on you.
6. Lawyers write professionally. You must demonstrate exceptional writing skills.
7. Lawyers are master orators. They must know the skills of persuasion. Your essay must be able to persuade your audience to admit you. Use your rhetorical choices to show you have considered the art form.
8. Community service is imperative for advantaged applicants and those interested in public service.
9. The admissions committee is looking for those who have had “cross-cultural” experience: those who have put themselves in another environment that is out of their comfort zone and excelled, enjoyed it, learned about another culture, and learned to fit in.
10. What you’ve done needs to be impressive and have impacted many people.
11. The admissions committee is looking for future leaders in the public and private sectors, and those who value social power. They are not looking for naïve idealists.
12. If the school were a store, you should go in knowing what you want, why you want it, and that you’re getting the best deal for your time and money. It is rare for an applicant to have taken the time to research the school, the program, and what he or she wants from it and why he or she wants that one experience. Present yourself strongly. Know what you want. Be clear about it, and simple, but smart.
13. Admissions committees are impressed when you can mention one of their school’s individual strengths and how that would benefit you. Showing that you would take advantage of the school’s strengths as a means to achieve your end shows the committee you are motivated.
8. To Do’s
1. Use first-person “I.”
2. Read through thirty personal statement samples. You will quickly see how they all start to sound the same. Now imagine your audience reading through thousands of law school personal statements. Try to find a way to make your writing style and content stand out from the crowd.
3. Have a clear idea of what you want to convey before writing. Before starting your law school personal statement, use an outline to determine the structure of your statement. Have a central theme or thesis that is used throughout your personal statement. Note that you can brainstorm and free write to generate topics for your personal statement, but before you begin writing anything close to your final draft you should have a clear and concise idea of what you are conveying in your personal statement.
4. Show continuity. Conclude your personal statement by referring back to the introductory paragraph and restate your main thesis in a slightly different way.
5. Use your law school personal statement as a means to market yourself. Most top law schools receive thousands of applications. Admissions committees seek to weave together a class composed of unique individuals whose diverse views symbiotically complement each other. Consequently, admissions decisions are based upon subjective determinations, such as the personal statement, in addition to objective measurements such as one’s GPA and LSAT score. Use this opportunity to show the admissions committee that you are more than a standardized test score and a cluster of grades; showcase your peerless and intriguing personality.
6. Be “personal” in the law school personal statement. Cultivate a positive ethos. Be genuinely honest and try to focus on your most favorable characteristics. This will allow your personal statement to stand apart from the multitude of generic law school personal statements that merely reiterate a transcript or generally describe how law school will benefit the applicant’s life.
7. Write clearly and to the point. Effectively utilize the limited words allowed to convey what is unique about yourself as well as why you are a suitable fit for law school or that particular program. Make sure every sentence is clear. If you aren’t sure what you said, no one else can guess.
8. Adhere to the page or word limitations. Respect the pages limits! Most well-written personal statements should be no longer than two to three pages double-spaced. Length does not correlate with quality. Don’t make margins less than 1” around. Use 12-point font. If you absolutely must, you can use 11-point font in Times.
9. Consider tailoring your personal statement to reflect the law schools to which you are applying. Making specific references to a particular law school or specialty will demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to a particular law school. Check if professors have retired or changed institutions.
10. Take your statement through several drafts. Show your statement to professors and lawyers, and listen to their advice.
11. Edit your law school personal statement. Proofread the final draft of your personal statement several times, including at least once orally, for substance, style, and grammatical and spelling errors. Have others edit your law school personal statement as well. Ideally, ask an academic advisor, professor, or someone familiar with the law school application process to edit your statement. Pay attention to detail. Two sentences joined by the conjunction “and” requires a comma before the “and.” Leaving out the comma is called a comma splice. A comma splice or two will send your file to the reject pile.
12. Do use specific details. If it’s a dull generality, or says something like, “This experience was very valuable,” cut it. If you can exchange the name of the school for others, take out that sentence or rewrite it with a detail specific to the law school.
13. Write about things that make you genuinely excited and enthusiastic. Readers of your statement can tell when your enthusiasm takes over. Be optimistic.
9. Not To Dos:
1. Do not focus upon your weaknesses! Almost every applicant has some aspect of their application, such as a low LSAT score or GPA, which they view as a flaw. Discussing this weakness will only highlight it. Instead, write about the traits and characteristics that define you as an individual and showcase what you will bring to that law school. Your tone should be confident and positive. If you do have a weakness to address, such as a severe illness resulting in poor grades for a semester or a documented history of doing poorly on standardized tests with their not truly reflecting your potential, write about this in an addendum.
2. Do not “write like a lawyer.” Lawyers are fond of “legalese,” or using long and often redundant words. The best law school personal statements display clear and succinct writing that is well within the specified word limitations.
3. Do not solely discuss why you want to be a lawyer. The fact that you are going through the admissions process evidences your interest in the law. This topic is trite and will not leave a lasting impression upon the admissions committee. Instead, again, try to discuss what experiences led to your choice and what unique attributes you will bring to law school and the legal field.
4. Avoid a boring introduction that loses the reader’s attention. Admissions committees read thousands of law school personal statements, and a boring introduction will result in the reader skimming over rather than fully considering your personal statement.
5. Do not use clichés, slang, or contractions. The tone of the essay should convey the seriousness of the topic and the writer. Don’t be vague.
6. Avoid controversial issues. Steer away from topics such as religion, political doctrines, or contentious issues. While you may be an outspoken critic of affirmative action or organized religion, the admissions committee may be offended by your views. Don’t be inappropriate.
7. Do not reiterate your academic accomplishments, unless they are not evident from your transcripts and test scores. As an example, a major family crisis or personal catharsis resulting in a drastic change in your grades is worth discussing, whereas your being on the Honor Roll most semesters is not. Furthermore, your grades are already documented on your transcript, and you should take this opportunity to give the committee information they cannot find in other parts of your application.
8. Do not solely rely on the spell checker. It will not correct words that are improperly used such as “form” instead of “from” and “none” versus “one.”
9. Avoid using the passive voice. Extensive use of the passive voice will rob your personal statement of clarity, brevity and impact. Sentences written in the active voice are more powerful and succinct than those written in the passive voice. The passive voice occurs when the subject receives the action of the verb and is acted upon by someone or something. Generally, passive voice uses a verb form of “to be.” An example of passive voice would be, “The fire is seen by Joe.” When using the active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb: “Joe sees the fire.” Trial lawyers may use passive voice as a rhetorical device to avoid attributing actions to a subject. However, the personal statement is not the place for passive voice.
10. Do not write about a romance. This is an example of an inappropriate topic.
11. Do not be too influenced by one person or idea. Show you can synthesize ideas and choose your own way.
12. Do not sound arrogant. This will score you zero points for positive ethos.
13. Do not use the words, “And at that moment I knew…”.
10. Top 10 Personal Statement Mistakes
This list, culled from discussions with admissions directors, lists the ten biggest mistakes applicants often make on their law school personal statements. Most of these were discussed above.
1. Spelling and grammatical errors.
2. Sending a personal statement to school B meant for School A. Harvard Law School does not want to read about your desire to attend Yale Law School.
3. Merely summarizing your resume in essay form.
4. Staying too detached in your writing style and not letting your personality come through in your “personal” statement.
5. Focusing upon your weaknesses and not your strengths.
6. Using too many big words or “legalese.”
7. Spending just a few hours on your personal statement and submitting your first draft.
8. Exceeding the specified page or word limitations.
9. Stating that once admitted you will save the world.
10. Using gimmicks such as writing in crayon, modeling your personal statement as a legal brief, or writing it as a poem.
For more personal statement sample essays go to or our article Personal Statement Examples.
Law School Personal Statement Samples
Note – this applicant had a 3.7, a 172 LSAT and was accepted at several top law schools including NYU (which he choose to attend), Columbia, Chicago, and others.
Eighteen months ago, I was sitting at my computer, wedged between a dripping coffee maker to my left and the company’s CFO five feet to my right. Every keystroke shook the flimsy fold-out card table that served as my desk, on loan to the company from another employee’s garage. We were packed in the largest of three rooms in a 2,500 square foot space baking in the heat generated by ten co-workers in close quarters, fifteen running computers, and an abnormally warm summer. On the glass doorway was etched the ghostly lettering of the former company occupying the space, serving as a grim reminder of the ever-present possibility of failure.
Two weeks earlier, I had been in my company’s small conference room sitting at the table surrounded by familiar faces from my last employer. Silicon Valley is incestuous: teams migrate from one company to the next, so I was not surprised to find myself recruited to join my old boss’s newest project. They were selling another David versus Goliath story, featuring a small rag-tag team of engineers defeating a seemingly insurmountable industry leader. Despite my skepticism, I still had a free-running imagination fed with nostalgic thoughts of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard working on their first audio oscillator in a Palo Alto garage. But at my last start-up company, we had challenged a corporation for a piece of the industry pie, and nine years and $330 million dollars later, the company was a hollow shell doing mostly engineering contractor work. I was lucky enough to join that company late in the game and sell my stock options early, but many others spent a significant portion of their career at a company that came close to glory but ultimately fell short: Goliath 1, David 0.
This time they were telling me it was going to be different; they were always saying this time would be different. I asked them how a small, poorly funded start-up company could go against a giant corporation, which was also the undisputed king of our market, with nearly $400 million in quarterly revenue. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, I was let in on the big secret, the meaning of the “C” in the company name: we were going to use recent innovations in carbon nano-tubes to revolutionize the industry. These nano-scopic cylindrical fibers that allow unparalleled circuit density would be David’s tiny, secret sling.
With the financial incentive of stock options and the confidence gained by working with a crack technical team, everyone was working at full capacity. There were scribbled drawings with names and dates taped up on a wall. These were the jotted ideas from our team of electrical engineers and physicists with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T. One posting was my recent workings of a carbon nano-tube electro-mechanical configuration bit, an idea that a co-worker and I had developed that I would write up and the company would push through the patent process. By packing a dozen well-caffeinated physics and electronics geniuses into a pathetic three-room rental that resembled a low-budget movie studio, we had created the primordial soup of intellectual invention. As a result of our collective ideas, our seasoned team, our innovative ideas, and nano-technology being the latest buzzword in investment, we were soon funded by venture capitalists for $10 million. It was immensely exciting to be the tenth employee in a growing start-up company that would have to upgrade offices and dramatically expand staff in an up-scaling war against the industry titan.
The increased design responsibility and unbounded architectural creativity that comes with working for a start-up is unparalleled. However, the necessity of side-stepping patented intellectual property belonging to our competitor, which covered all aspects of our design, from manufacturing to testing, placed a heavy burden on the design team. This danger was extremely real, as a similar start-up had collapsed following an infringement lawsuit related to unauthorized reproduction of a bit stream. As the designer of three different components, I examined our competition’s sixteen patents related to the memory aspect of the device. It was immensely satisfying to study, absorb, and then circumvent patent claims as I designed a conceptually similar but un-patented version of three memory blocks.
I am interested in serving as general counsel for a corporation focused on advanced semiconductor technology. My diverse work experience and master’s degree provide a perfect foundation to tackle the issues faced by a general counsel. I am drawn to the challenges I will find at the intersection of intellectual property, product liability, and corporate law. At this juncture in my life, I seek more challenge and personal growth in a field that calls on my written skills, attention to detail, and love of technology. My background in nano-technology will bring a unique perspective to the NYU classroom and will make me extremely marketable upon graduation. By pursuing a law degree, I intend to enter a profession that aligns with the interests and aptitudes I have discovered and developed through real work experience. It is through deep personal reflection that I have decided that law is the natural extension of my training, personality, and talents.
Commentary on law school personal statement samples:
This is an excellent personal statement because it shows this candidate has had a tangible impact on organizations, and probably on the global economy. The statement keeps the reader engaged by giving a meaningful story with background, context, conflict, and resolution. It also provides a peek into the mysterious and increasingly legendary world of Silicon Valley start-ups. This is a good model for someone who has been out of college for a while, but who hasn’t been working in a law firm. The essay is focused on career goals, with career history to back it up. This person is a doer, not a dreamer. The writer shows a depth of technical knowledge and strong analytic reasoning skills that go way beyond linear thinking, especially when he describes finding new solutions to highly technical problems that do not violate patents. The statement creates desire in the admissions committee to admit this person because other companies seek to hire the applicant and venture capitalists are willing to support the applicant with substantial funds. This statement will inspire members of the admissions committee to act on the applicant’s behalf because he has reached way beyond the safety net of college, and succeeded.
This applicant demonstrated he has strong written communication skills by writing a compelling statement, using logos, pathos, ethos, and mythos. Logos is used as evidence of excellence when he discusses the substantial funds invested in his intellectual potential, and the use of his analytical ability to keep the company afloat in the same waters where others have foundered. He uses touches of pathos lightly when he describes the “primordial soup of intellectual invention” inside the cramped office. And the analogy, in which he compares his small start-up and the industry leader to David and Goliath, uses both pathos and mythos to excellent effect: The story is one everyone knows; just by invoking the names, the writer brings another powerful story to his narrative without using valuable space. This mythic story becomes a theme woven throughout the essay. It is a rhetorical device that establishes a connection in the reader’s mind between this candidate and a king, or leader, known for his compassionate ethos. This reader has also composed the statement so that he comes across as an authoritative, competent, thoughtful, and honest leader.
This essay is too focused on the details of the story rather than giving evidence for why this person is a good candidate for law school. Luckily for the applicant, the story is powerful enough on its own, due to the impact the real events had on many people. This essay is structured as a personal narrative, and the topic is the applicant’s professional experience. The first paragraph is wholly descriptive prose that has very little to do with why this person is a good candidate for law school. The first paragraph lacks a thesis or a direction for the essay. Ideally, the reader should find a microcosm of the essay in the first paragraph.
The main body of the personal statement is full of specific details and action verbs, which is great because visual learners can imagine the office in vivid detail. By far, the second-to-last paragraph packs in the most value to the admissions committee for the space used, but the background story is important for this paragraph to be so powerful. The writer could plant more indicators of his positive qualities and characteristics throughout the background story. For example, he could mention how he used his oral communication skills to communicate with his design team and supervisors, so that the admissions committee knows he feels, like they inevitably do, that mastery of oral communication skills is important.
The last paragraph is where the applicant draws together his themes with his self-assessment and goals. He should mention what his master’s degree is in. This writer commits the common error of throwing in the name of the school receiving this statement as a token. Any law school program could fill that place. The writer does not convey that he has done research about the law program at NYU. There is no mention about how NYU Law School is strong in patent and intellectual property law. Nor does the applicant discuss how being in New York City will put him in contact with East Coast technology specialists who will give him an edge up in his career. NYU Law School admissions counselors would love to hear about how the applicant and law school are an ideal match. The writer needs to persuade the NYU admissions committee that NYU is the only school for him, and he can do this by interpreting how the school’s particular strengths will advance his goals.
Law School Personal Statement Samples - #2
Note – this applicant substantially revised his statement based upon the feedback that was provided to him. This example shows some potential, but offers more lessons on what not to do.
From Ordinary to Honors
Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Churchill’s statement is extremely evident in my path toward law school. Appearing to be a typical straight out of undergraduate law school applicant, I bring much more than that to the table. My academic achievements speak for themselves as I graduated with honors in only three years. However my path toward college was not as successful. I attended a competitive private high school and was among the bottom tier of students in my class. Going into my undergraduate studies, I was excited to get to a new place in my life, but did not realize my potential for academic success.
My success in high school was marginal at best. I was barely a B student. My first days of high school were rough, leaving my home area to attend a private school where I did not know a single other person. The discomfort I felt translated into a not so great first two years and I only ended up a B student because of a fairly successful senior year.
I again decided to leave my comfort zone as I attended the University of Southern California (USC), six hundred and fifty miles from home. One of my very first courses was a seemingly meaningless course, titled “University 101: The Student in University.” The course was essentially a welcome to school course, an easy A, and some fair warnings and instructions for surviving the college experience. To most people including myself, this class appeared to be a waste of time. I could not have been more wrong.
I quickly began to get very involved in the class, and it became a major factor in my comfort and success at USC. My instructor, Dr. Smith, was a huge part of this. Being the Director of Housing as well as the Director of Student Affairs, Dr. Smith helped me become comfortable on campus and get involved with various activities. He pushed everyone in the class to succeed, and I soon realized it was not about University 101, it was about the rest of our first semester, and our continued success as we went onto our degree.
I realized how poorly I began high school. With that in mind and my new found comfort at USC, I thrived early on. I knew I could succeed, and I had an instructor that cared as a great resource to my success. While other students were struggling to adjust to college life, I was able to relax and easily make it through my first group of classes. I felt as if I was better prepared for college life because of my tough course through high school, and my comfortable introduction to college life.
The College lifestyle seemed to work together with my learning style. Many students get to college, have an abundance of time on their hands and end up wasting all of it. For me it was a relief to have some free time, and I used the time to excel in my class work and still have a great social experience. The more independence I obtained, the better I was able to deal with it.
My early success has allowed me to push myself as of late in order to graduate in three years. My comfort at school allowed me to take up to 21 credit hours per semester, get involved on campus with activities and part-time jobs, and continue to succeed in my coursework.
I entered my undergraduate studies as someone who struggled in high school, coming into school with only 4 of my 127 required credits completed. Presently, I look forward to graduating with a perfect grade point average in only three years and attending law school to pursue a career as an attorney. I look forward to the challenges ahead, and am finally realizing my full potential for success.
Personal Statement #2 Commentary
This applicant chose to structure the personal statement around a quote. Winston Churchill wrote some of the most memorable quotes in the English language; he was an artist of the epigram. For this reason, he is over-quoted and often cited out of context, but he is always loved. This applicant also chose to tell a personal narrative about a mentor who changed his life. The title and the quote are both about change through time. The title is “From Ordinary to Honors,” which suggests the personal statement will be structured by chronological growth. The quote suggests the writer will look at his past mistakes and accomplishments in order to make well-evaluated choices about the future. The author’s angle is “I get more responsible with age.”
The biggest problem with this personal statement is its lack of specific details. The reader doesn’t feel like he or she gets to know the applicant. The writer doesn’t explain why he respects Winston Churchill, nor does he explain how the quote applies specifically to him. Furthermore, he gives no specific details about the law school he is applying to and why he feels he is a good match for that school. The reader learns from this statement that the writer feels he has improved as a student thanks to a teacher named Dr. Smith. There are no specific details about the author or his mentor. The reader is also told that the applicant began school with four credits and graduated from USC in three years, all of which can be learned from the transcript.
The essay sets up valuable points of entry where specific details could illustrate why this applicant would make a good law school candidate, but these opportunities are missed. For example, the personal narrative about the mentor, Dr. Smith, lacks a story. We learn that the professor was Director of Housing and Director of Student Affairs, that he taught a class called “The Student in the University,” and that he got this student involved in “various activities.” From this general evidence, this professor does not appear to be a serious scholar—even if he is actually an extremely rigorous academic. However, if, for example, the applicant discussed how Professor Smith taught his class about USC’s commitment to working with endangered species, and the applicant organized a special workshop to read and discuss the legal literature on animal rights, then that would give the admissions committee a specific story that illustrates the applicant’s qualities of motivation, leadership, analytic ability, and organization. In such a case, the applicant would want Professor Smith to mention this contribution in a letter of recommendation, in order to verify the story and therefore verify the applicant’s assertions about his qualities and character.
This personal statement also sets up a potentially powerful quote to create a thematic backbone for the essay, but the essay does not unpack the rhetorical power of the quote and weave that power through the essay. This writer needs to sit down with the quote and spend time unpacking the various levels and resonances of it in relation to his life and goals. The quote by Winston Churchill this writer chose as his epigraph is, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” The writer of this statement should have looked back at least as far as the time when Churchill said this, since the quote itself is about the value of history, not the value of an individual life. However, a cunning writer could beautifully bend the quote’s meaning to encompass one life, while at the same time invoking world events of great significance that have impacted him. For example, if the applicant were able to mention a grandparent who had some significant connection to World War II (and therefore Churchill) and who influenced the applicant by teaching him lessons about life or law, then the quote would have both mythic and personal significance, in addition to specific details that would contribute to a positive ethos. A rhetorical strategy such as this would allow the quote to unfurl its full rhetorical power, and it would elegantly bind the quote to a personal history, one that impacts, and is impacted by, others.
Finally, this essay focuses too much energy on negative aspects of the applicant’s personal history. Focusing on the fact that the applicant was among the bottom tier of students in his high school class does nothing to recommend the applicant for law school. Law schools, especially top law schools, expect applicants to have been high-achievers all along. Showing improvement over time might not be the best structure for this applicant to choose in the final draft of the personal statement. Improvement over time is best used when the applicant has had to overcome a major difficulty, such as a learning disability, a major accident, or moving to a new country with a new language, not just moving to a new school.
The essay told an epic tale about a student who struggled to achieve passing grades – moving on and off of academic probation, and through a myriad of stops, shifts, and re-starts, from one college to another – for the better part of a decade following his graduation from high school. For a time, it appeared that he was destined to be a college drop-out. To make matters worse, as the student floundered academically, he bounced around from one retail job to another. Then, one day, he took a position as a grassroots worker on a local political campaign. He quickly realized that he had found something that he loved to do, but just as importantly, he was very good at it. His life soon changed in dramatic ways. He almost immediately became a star local operative for a major political party, and in a very short time period worked his way up and into state-wide and national campaigns. His confidence ultimately inspired his academic career. He transferred any grades that he could (i.e., not the bad ones) to a new university, changed his major to political science, and revamped his study habits. For his final two years of college credit (which were required to attain a degree from the institution to which he had transferred), he aced nearly every course that he took and set his sights on a career in law.
As compelling as the above storyline is, it is important to always keep in mind that an outstanding story counts for little without an effective organizational structure and proper literary execution. Toward that end, the applicant in this case sought to engage the reader by presenting a scene in the opening paragraph which depicted one of the happiest moments of his life – his triumphant college graduation. It was as he moved toward the end of the first paragraph and into the second that he added the engaging twist which showed that his academic success story was far from the norm: it had been ten years (and many failures) in the making. Most importantly, the applicant did not harp on the lengthy, negative period in his life that I described above. Rather, he took a straightforward and succinct approach in recounting the great challenges that had stymied him for so many years. From there, it was off to the heart of the essay – how the applicant overcame his struggle and succeeded, ultimately setting a clear and direct course for law school along the way.
Finally, in the concluding paragraph of the essay, the applicant brought the reader full circle – back to the opening story. There he was, still standing at graduation, but instead of thinking simply about his past and how he had made it to this point, he was now looking toward the future and thinking about how he was fully prepared to conquer the challenges that lay ahead in law school and beyond.
I will never forget the excitement that this applicant felt when he received three acceptance letters from top law schools over three consecutive days. One of these letters came with a handwritten note from a law school dean who praised him for doing such an outstanding job on the personal statement. I should mention that this applicant ultimately ended up declining each of those three offers in favor of an offer from one of the most renowned and oldest law schools in the United States. While these successful results certainly help to keep this applicant’s memory in my mind, it is the personal statement that he wrote which most stirs my recollection.
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve advised on thousands of application essays over the years and been a part of success stories that are far too numerous to mention, but this was one of my most special cases because it showed not only how an applicant can overcome years of struggle, but also how in two double-spaced pages, he can demonstrate his success in a powerful way.
Every once in a while, somewhere out there, a law school applicant does something in the application process that can be described as a real game changer. The personal statement that this particular applicant wrote would probably best be described as a life changer.