Personal Statements

   As law schools diminish their reliance on LSAT and GPA numbers in the selection of students to admit, narrative submissions become more significant.  The personal statement is the primary way you can make sure the people on the admissions committee are familiar with who you are -- not merely what you have accomplished.  Remember that it is an essay you are preparing that should be interesting and revealing about you.

    Personal statements often fall into one of three general types:  (1)  Heroic:  Here the writer seeks to demonstrate how he/she has overcome obstacles or problems that have arisen.  These could include handicaps, illnesses, poverty, family tragedies, and the like.  (2)   Public Interest Activities:  As a means of showing one's character and commitment to societal improvement the applicant writes about volunteer activities, social/political interests and contributions.  (3)  Personal Traits:   Statements in this vein are designed to convince members of the admission's committee that the applicant is possessed of skills and abilities rendering them worthy of admission.  Leadership activities and achievements may be stressed along with indicators of academic excellence.

    Below are some suggestions you may find useful as you prepare your personal statement.  Describing one's self  is never an easy endeavor.  Do not become frustrated if your first draft (and you should have more than a couple) is less than satisfactory.  Be sure and re-read your statement multiple times and have someone else proof read it as well.  It is also a very good idea to read it aloud.  After the second or third draft, set it aside for a few days and then return to it after the initial efforts.

    Certainly you want a polished product:  correct grammar, punctuation, diction, and spelling are vital.   In addition you should present the statement in a double spaced format with sufficient margins.  The length should be no more than is specified by the school's instructions.  If there are no instructions you should write no more than two or three pages (at most).  Specificity, accuracy and truthfulness are essential.   Put your name on each page.

    Beyond these general observations you should:



            overuse of thesaurus

            use of third person to refer to yourself

            a title to your statement

            conclusions regarding your abilities or potential

            self aggrandizement

            whining (i.e., why you got a C in literature 201)

            making the statement a resume

            procrastination in its preparation

            gimmicks such as poetry, quotations, etc.

            vague or obscure references

            pretentious phrases

            ostentatious vocabulary

            appearing cynical


       Consider Including

         an interesting first sentence and paragraph

         important aspects of your character

         flowing sentences and complete paragraphs

         a coherent theme to your statement

         explanations (not excuses) for discrepancies or problems in your academic or personal record

         mention any significant obstacles you have overcome in your life

         what important event(s) have shaped your life

         references to deeply held beliefs and/or values

    Further Information

       Additional information on personal statements may be found  here and  here.   Keep in mind the intended audience for your statement:   Admissions committee members at a law school.  They are comprised largely of faculty, often with a member of the Admissions Office staff and occasionally with a student.  Your statement will be read by a group of individuals.  Your task is to convince each reader that you should be admitted into the law school to which you are applying.  Write to a single person.  Be honest.  Be clear.  Be concise.  Be direct.

    Recommendations from Director's of Admissions  (Note:  These are from Admissions Offices at two of the most selective law schools in the nation).

Michael D. Rappaport
Assistant Dean of Admissions
UCLA School of Law

Applicants should take the time to look at what the law school is asking them to write about. At UCLA, we say, "we know you have lots of extracurricular activities--we want to know how you differ, what makes you unique? What can you bring to the first year class that's going to make you distinctive from the other 99 people who are already there?" The fact that you were active in your fraternity or sorority is really not going to do it. What we're looking for is somebody who, in their personal statement, stands out as being so unusual, so diverse, that they're extremely attractive as a law student for the first-year class. Maybe what's going to make them distinctive is the fact they spent six months living in a log cabin in Alaska. You try to give the law school some justification for admitting you. With a lot of people, there's nothing that's going to make them distinctive. If that's the case, they've got to recognize that, indeed, the essay is not going to make that much difference here at UCLA.

We're also asking if there's any reason their LSAT or grades are not predictive. You'd be amazed at the number of people who completely ignore this--they don't take advantage of the opportunity.

Most law schools operate fairly similarly. There's a certain group of applicants whose grades and LSAT scores are so high that the presumption is that the applicants are going to be admitted unless they do something terribly stupid to keep themselves out. I have seen applicants whose personal statement has done that, but it's extremely rare. At the other extreme is another group of applicants who, no matter what they write, are not going to get in.

The applicant has to realize, first of all, where he or she stands. If you have a straight-A grade point average and a perfect LSAT score, you don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about your personal statement. On the other hand, if you know you're in the borderline area, that's where the personal statement becomes very, very important.

The applicant should take the time to read the application to see what the schools are asking for. Sometimes the school will ask for a general description of why you want to go to law school, or why they should admit you, something of that nature. In such case you can be fairly sure that the school is just interested in the essay to see how well you write. So what you say isn't as important as how you say it. On the other hand, some schools are more specific--UCLA being a very good example of that.

Make sure the essay is grammatically and technically correct and well written. Avoid sloppy essays, coffee stained essays, or ones that are handwritten so you can't read them. You'd be amazed at what we get!

(Stelzer, pp. 70-71)

Beth O'Neil
Former Director of Admissions and Financial Aid
University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall)

We're trying to gauge the potential for a student's success in law school, and we determine that, principally, on the basis of what the student has done in the past. The personal statement carries the responsibility of presenting the student's life experiences.

Applicants make a mistake by doing a lot of speculation about what they're going to do in the future rather than telling us about what they've done in the past. It is our job to speculate, and we are experienced at that.

Applicants also tend to state and not evaluate. They give a recitation of their experience but no evaluation of what effect that particular experience head on them, no assessment of what certain experiences or honors meant.

They also fail to explain errors or weaknesses in their background. Even though we might wish to admit a student, sometimes we can't in view of a weakness that they haven't made any effort to explain. For example, perhaps they haven't told us that they were ill on the day that they took the LSAT or had an automobile accident on the way. Such things are legitimate reasons for poor performance. I mean, we understand that life is tough sometimes. We need to know what happened, for example, to cause a sudden drop in the GPA.

Another mistake is that everyone tries to make himself or herself the perfect law school applicant who, of course, does not exist and is not nearly as interesting as a real human being.

Between l and 5 people read each application.