This blog is brought to you by PowerScore Law School Admissions Consultant Jeff Gardner
I recently helped a student cut a 4-page personal statement down to a lean, mean, Oh-Wow-I-Can’t-Believe-We-Squeezed-It-Into-Two-Pages essay. She needed a 2-page statement for several schools that required it and, although this client had a number of experiences we agreed showed some tremendous personal qualities, I felt one of the experiences needed to be removed because there simply wasn’t enough room.
It was one of the toughest editing jobs I have done in a while. Once we were done, the student told me she was happy with the statement, but wondered if it should have a conclusion. After some thought, I gave her two reasons for why it did not need one.
- We would have had to cut even more from the statement to make room for a conclusion, which would have meant removing what we had already decided was really good information; there simply was not any fat left to cut out. We’d already taken out some very good stuff–if we removed even more material, what would we really be replacing it with? Nothing new, just a summing up of what she had already told her audience in the rest of the essay.
- A conclusion would have been something that basically amounted to “I hope the experiences I told you about in the last two pages make you think that I am a hard-working, dedicated person who cares about others and who would be a great addition to you law school.” This kind of paragraph violates the “show, don’t tell” rule that we should always follow in a personal statement: The actual experiences and thoughts and deeds that you yourself felt and did will always speak for themselves–thus, there is no good reason to sum them up. Additionally, it’s more effective to let the reader draw their own conclusions about you based on what you write. Anytime you start saying things like, for example, “this shows what a great problem-solver I am,” or “this demonstrated my abilities in academia,” you run the risk of making readers think you are trying to tell them what to think.
A well-crafted personal statement can start off by briefly stating what you are trying to show, but then going right into the actual “showing.” For example, a statement that starts off, “There are three major experiences in my life that helped me decide to apply to law” leaves no doubt about what what the essay will discuss. When you are done writing about those three things, there should be no question in the reader’s mind about your purpose. Sometimes, a personal statement can be successful simply by jumping right into the facts. The client I mentioned above, for example, began her statement by saying, “When I got to _______(a foreign country) I was appalled by the health conditions,” and proceeded to discuss her efforts to assist a group trying to provide free vaccinations to the populace. Since she had already both told and shown her story within the essay, there seemed to me to be no reason to restate anything she had said at the end.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against writing a conclusion in your personal statement is that there is something powerful about leaving the reader wanting more. A personal statement, especially one that is required to be only two pages long, is not intended to look or feel like a term paper. In my client’s case, writing an essay that discussed how she helped the villagers and ended with, “I know my efforts didn’t change the world–but hopefully they were a good beginning” leaves a “hmm, yes–I hope so, too” lingering feeling in the reader’s mind. It draws them into the story. Adding a conclusion on top of that could “break the mood,” so to speak.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and so none of that is to say that a conclusion can never work. It is sometimes perfectly acceptable to sum things up, especially if you are writing a more academically-oriented personal statement. When my clients write about how they chose a topic for an honors thesis, it makes sense to have some kind of conclusion because the statement centers on their own thought process in an academic setting. In that kind of statement a conclusion can feel more natural.
In conclusion, don’t feel like you have to make your personal statement sound like a thesis. But if you’re writing about a thesis, feel free.