(Also see our other interview about burnout, diversity statements, and addenda.)
Our discussion follows.
1. How can someone write an impressive personal statement if they haven't ever *done* anything impressive? After all, not everyone applying to law school has founded NGOs to save orphans from smallpox.
I always warn my students of falling into that death trap of “Oh no, I didn’t volunteer/start up a business/end world hunger, what do I do?!” It’s a terrible thing to start doubting your abilities and accomplishments just before writing an essay where you have to showcase them. Personal statements are not about what impressive things you've done as much as they are about how impressive you are, as a person-- specifically, a mature person going on to an advanced degree. This is seen mainly through effective writing skills; even the most altruistic feats come off as boring and uninspiring if written about poorly or without good argument structure. Law school as an institution exists to train students to become persuasive and effective writers, and any lawyer worth his/her/its salt has to good at persuading people. So, admissions counselors want to see promise of that in each applicant.
2. Applicant after applicant will write personal statements stating their reasons for wanting to go to law school. How can each one of our dear readers write a compelling essay on this topic that will stand out to admissions committees?
If your wonderful readers choose to write a “Why Law School” essay, they should focus on tailoring it specifically to themselves, not to what they feel admissions counselors want to hear. A common mistake is to write an essay thinking that admissions counselors want to read about why law school will help an applicant end global warming, develop his/her own corporate empire, or fulfill the family legacy of lawyering. A “Why Law School” essay should provide realistic reasons why you should go to law school, and explain why your own qualities and experiences make this a natural choice. So, it’s less “Why law school would be a good idea” and more “Why I want to go to law school and how my background and abilities make it a great fit for me.”
3. How much time should one spend revising a personal statement, and how can one tell when it's *finished*?
It’s impossible to set a firm amount of time and have that work for everyone. Everyone works at different speeds and everyone has different amounts of free time available to them. So, whether it’s one month or an entire application cycle (about four to five months), one has to allot enough time to write multiple drafts and to revise and review appropriately. It’s also important to be honest with yourself about how much time you actually have, and to be realistic with your goals. Rushing should NEVER be an option.
You’re done with your essay when you’ve exhausted your own resources-- when you feel like you can’t possibly add or edit anymore! This is when giving your essay over to someone for review may be a good idea. Yes, applicants do give me their essays to review, but a professor or trusted colleague can help as well. You are your own worst critic and own worst slave-driver so, sometimes, someone else has to tell you to step away from your computer. And, usually, they’re right.
4. Anything else?
It’s important to note that the personal statement is the ONLY chance for admissions counselors to get to know you. Yes, hard factors (like the LSAT...ahem) are critical and often deciding elements, but your statement has significant sway. Your essay is also the only part of your application that you have complete and utter control over. So, don’t squander it, but don’t lose sight of what it’s about, either.
Stefanie Arr is a professional writing tutor and editor based in New York City. She has nearly a decade of publishing and editing experience and offers expert, in-depth editing and revision services. She can help you develop and improve the skills necessary to deliver a clear, finished product, including brainstorming and paper organization, grammar and syntax mechanics, academic research, argument structure, style, and draft revision.
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