Check out the second-to-last episode of the nine-part admissions counseling web series I recently recorded with PowerScore founder and author of the PowerScore LSAT Bible Series, Dave Killoran. You can also find it on the PowerScore YouTube channel.
DAVE: Let's talk about another type of supplemental essay, and that is the addenda. Anne has mentioned the addenda a few times already, so I'm going to let Anne expand upon that idea a little bit more.
ANNE: Absolutely, and I'm a big fan of addenda for a reason: It is your opportunity to explain what happened. It's why I bring them up often. Now, I know that a lot of law school applicants can get "addendum-happy," and add an addendum for every single teeny-tiny thing that is negative in their application, and that's not what their purpose is. Their purpose is to provide an answer to the question, "Why? " If there is ever anything in your application where you perceive that the Admissions Committee might stop and go, "But why did that happen?" that's when you add an addendum. The best way to do this is to get a friend, someone who knows you well but not too well, and have them read your application. Say to them, "Every time you don't know why something happened or you'd like a little more information, just highlight it, put a little checkmark next to it," because that means that, if they want more information, you can bet the Admissions Committee would probably like more information on that as well.
Some of the most common types of addendums are the low LSAT or low GPA addendums, explanations for your criminal record, or explanations for your academic probation or dishonorable discharge from the military. That's why I mentioned [addenda] when we were talking about the points in the biographical information regarding conduct--that's when addenda really come into play.
The big thing about addendums is this: Addendums are not your personal statement. They're also not your supplemental essay. They're not given to fiction, they're not given to fictional writing, they are not given to flair or drama. They are clear, they are straightforward, and they are brief. No Admissions Committee wants to read 250 or 500 words on why you had a stomach ache on the day you took the LSAT. If that is what happened, then it's two sentences long: "I was diagnosed with the flu shortly after taking the LSAT, I can provide doctor's records if necessary." Done. Period. It needs to be brief, factual, and absolutely drama-free. No flights of fancy. No "exploding fireworks in my intestines" if all you had was a stomach ache. Absolutely not. It's very, very, very drama-free.
[They are also not] excuses. They are not "pity parties." It's very factual, matter-of-fact: "This is what happened, I take full responsbility for my actions, I wanted to let you know so that you could have all the information on hand when making your admissions decision." Moreover, don't tell the Admissions Committee how to do their job. Don't tell them how to interpret your LSAT score, don't tell them how to interpret your grades. Simply provide them with the extra information they need in order to make an admissions decision. [Addendums] are explanations, not excuses.
The biggest thing I can tell you is brief, factual, drama-free. If I could bold that, and make it shine, over in over, in bright red neon, that's what I would do. [Remember:] Brief, factual, and drama-free.
DAVE: Let me just add something to what Anne said, all of which are completely valid points. When you think about addendums, be careful: You don't want to try to address every other thing out there. [On the other hand,] A lot of students don't realize they have the chance to write one or more of these. One of the most useful [to understand] is: If you have something that's negative that you need to address, you don't want to address it in your personal statement. [...] If you can't get a letter of recommendation person to address it, then you can put it into an addendum, and actually talk about it there; it's really a great place to take care of problems.
But, as [Anne] said, it's not a "pity party." There are many different things that you can talk about. Sometimes, it's going to be your LSAT score. Maybe you have a long history of doing very poorly on standardized tests, but actually excelling when it comes to schoolwork. Well, you can talk a little bit about that. Do they want to see three pages of it? Definitely not. But if you have a valid point and can say, "Look, I got a 1200 on my SAT, 400 on each section, and yet I have a 4.0 [GPA] in college," well, obviously, that could show [the Admissions Committee] that maybe you're just not a good standardized test taker. And if your LSAT score is not where you want it to be, but you feel that you can do the work in law school, that's worthwhile for them to hear. But you can't complain, you can't whine, you can't create drama about it. You simply have to be very cold, reasonable, and analytical in terms of how you disclose this information and how you talk about it.
Another thing that I really want to mention that applies not only to these short essays, but also to the supplemental essays, and even your personal statement is: Don't ever leave the Admissions Committee wondering. Don't leave them asking the question, "Why?" or "What just happened?" When you are writing and speaking to the Admissions Committee make sure that, if something could or should be explained, that it is explained. [The addendum] can be a great place to do that, but not everybody needs to. This is something that, again, when we do admissions counseling, we counsel people and help them decide if they should submit an essay like this. For some people, it's almost a necessity; we can take care of a problem in this type of essay that we don't want to take care of in the personal statement. For other students, they don't have any issues that really need to be addressed this way. No problem; they don't need it.