(Also see our previous interview about law school personal statement topics.)
Our discussion follows.
1. Now that it’s “application crunch-time” or, that much closer to Thanksgiving, what is your advice to students reaching burnout already?
Law school admissions is such an arduous process-- between LSAT studying and putting together all the actual application materials, it’s no wonder many students reach burnout levels relatively quickly.
To combat this, I often recommend that students rotate what they are focusing on so that they don’t become so bogged down with the task at hand that they want to just throw in the towel. As I’m sure you advise your own students,, a break is highly recommended when you feel you just can’t go on.
When working on such an important essay, the last thing you want to do is make careless mistakes out of oversight or tiredness. That is easy to do when staring at the same piece of writing day in and day out-- it can become rote and downright mind-numbing, allowing for mistakes to happen. Taking a break would prevent this, as it’ll allow you both time to rest and to stay alert when working on it.
A break is also beneficial because you’ll often come back to your essay with a refreshed, newer perspective and catch things you would have otherwise missed, or come up with newer and better material than you did the first time around. So, if your eyes are starting to glaze over and the term “personal statement” makes you cringe, maybe you should think about working on other parts of your application, and letting go of your statement for a little while.
2. Now, about supplemental essays. What do you tell your students about writing diversity statements?
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the diversity statement. Two of those are that:
1. Diversity statements is only for underrepresented minorities (URMs)
2. Diversity statements are mandatory.
Both of these statements are far from correct.
You don’t have to be an underrepresented minority to write a diversity statement. Similarly, diversity statements are not adversity statements, either. Anyone who feels that their background or upbringing has allowed them to have a more diverse experience can write one. This also goes for anyone who feels that, by being part of the representative admitted class, will bring diversity to the student body of their prospective school.
That being said, you don’t have to write a diversity statement. Yes, it can be a valuable asset to your application package, but it’s not mandatory and, therefore, isn’t necessary. If you are considering writing a diversity statement, be sure that you have something well-argued and genuinely compelling to say; it’s better to submit your application “as is” with its required materials than to submit an extra essay that is questionable or, worse, written poorly.
3. When should applicants write addenda?
I appreciate your use of the proper plural form of “addendum”, Steve.
Addenda are used to explain extenuating circumstances arising from low LSAT scores or less-than-stellar GPA, or from disciplinary actions that must be disclosed. In an addendum, you can explain how getting mono during the school year resulted in you having to withdraw your fall semester junior year, or how illness prevented you from doing as well as you hoped during your first LSAT exam.
However, do note that this is not a place for excuses. Rather, it’s for genuine explanations of extenuating and adverse circumstances that negatively affected you. Also, some schools require an addendum to explain LSAT score increases of 5 points or more; so, if you’re lucky to have improved your score considerably, check with your school to make sure an explanation is not required. And, congrats.
Similarly, if disciplinary or judicial action has been taken against you, you must disclose these circumstances-- part of succeeding in law school lies in being admitted to the bar, which includes a Character and Fitness examination. Some schools specify whether they want you to disclose convictions, violations (even moving violations). However, for uniformity, and to be on the safe side, I recommend that you always disclose. An important thing to remember is that you won’t be penalized for disclosing such information, but you definitely risk being penalized if you don’t.
4. Anything else?
When writing your personal statement, remember to breathe. Keeping your head clear is probably one of the best things you can do to guarantee a well-written statement.
If you want to write a diversity statement, think carefully. If you’re stuck and find yourself grasping at straws, don’t force yourself. Remember, it’s not mandatory.
An addendum is not for excuses. If you have viable reasons as to why you didn’t do so well in school or on the LSAT, you already know them. When deciding whether that moving violation/academic warning/disciplinary hearing needs to be disclosed, just do it. When in doubt, always disclose, disclose, disclose!
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.
Photo by nicmcphee