Law School Admissions: Supplemental Essays

    Here is the first of the last three episodes of a nine-part 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: Now we're going to continue and talk about some of the other components. The next one is the supplemental essays. Anne?

    ANNE: Now, there are three traditional, usual forms of the supplemental essay, and we've listed them [in the video]. Some of them you may know right off, and some of them, like the Statement of Purpose, take just a little bit longer to think about and understand. The two most common are probably the "Why" Essay, and the Diversity Statement.

    The "Why" Essay is very straightforward; it's very clear. As a matter of fact, Duke Law has one, and it just says, "Why do you want to go to Duke?" They give you no word limit, [and] they want to know why you want to go to a particular school. Now, here's the deal with this particular "Why" Essay: You can't just say, " I want to go Harvard because I've been wanting to go to Harvard since I was five years old." Next thing you know, the Admissions Committee is hitting the "snooze" button. The "Why" Essay has everything to do with how much you have investigated a school and determined that you are a great fit for them. Don't talk about what they can bring to you, talk about what you can bring to them. They know they're awesome--that's why you're applying there. Tell them why you are awesome for them.

    Sell yourself. You have to think about yourself as a product that is being marketed. Would you buy a toothpaste where all they tell you is, "The box is really pretty"? No! You want to know that it's whitening, that it fizzes, that it bubbles, and that it'll give you the best smile ever! And that's what you have to do with your supplemental essays. They're essentially asking you: "Why do you want to come here? I know that you wrote this great personal statement, I know that you wrote this great résumé, I know that you have these great grades, but why do you want us? Tell us why we should want you."

    The Diversity Statement is another great supplemental essay, and I can't tell you enough how much this applies to everyone. The Diversity Statement is not just for minority applicants. Think about what makes you a diversity applicant. If you're a white, 22-year-old male, you may not think you're very "diverse," but guess what? If you grew up in poverty, that makes you pretty diverse. If you grew up in a single-parent household with a dad instead of a mom, that makes you pretty diverse, too. If you grew up in a twelve kid family, that's diversity as well. Diversity is not so much what your race might be or what country you're from, but what diversity you can bring to the community of a particular law school. Do your life experiences make you see things in a different way? Diversity, as defined by a law school, is not what color your skin is, or what country you're from, but rather what you can bring to the intellectual conversation of a law school. That's diversity. That's what determines whether you are a diverse candidate or not.

    The Statement of Purpose is actually something that's very much geared toward a specific specialization. "I want to go and study international law at XYZ School because of my experiences in the Coast Guard [...] or because of my experiences with internships in the summer with the CIA ." You have to explain why [you're choosing to apply to law school]. This is time where you actually say, "This is why I want to go to law school." That's what the Statement of Purpose is

    I really want to call everyone's attention to more supplemental essay opportunities. When you are reading your application, don't read with anything other than a fine tooth comb. Every single question, every single statement that doesn't have a 'yes' or 'no' checkbox next to it, or that doesn't have a word limit, is yet another supplemental essay opportunity where you can inject even more of your personality into that statement, into that essay, into that application. Analyze yourself, come up with different ways to show [your personality], to "play against type." If you're an engineer that also loves to sculpt, bring it up! That's where the supplemental essay opportunities come in. Make the Admissions Committee sit up, shake the sleep out of their eyes, and go, "Whoa, really? Did I just hear that? This Art major also wins math competitions? That's awesome!" Because, then, you know what? Sixty minutes later, when they're on their coffee break, you know what they're going to say? "Hey, how about that kid? The one that wins math competitions and has a painting? Isn't that crazy?" And that means you just got an admittance letter.

    Make sure that you don't read your applications with anything other than a fine-tooth comb and a big magnifying glass, looking for opportunities to add even more spice to your application.

    DAVE: And let me just add to that by saying that this is another part of the application that you control, and the more opportunities that you see and that you take to actually write about yourself and to let [the Admissions Committee] know who you are, the better off that you're going to be.

    Now, I also want to talk a little bit more about the Diversity Statement. I wanted to actually view it from the side of the Admissions Committee again, because they're the ones actually making the decisions, so we need to get inside their heads a little bit.

    When they talk about law school diversity, as [Anne] said, a lot of people think it means just race. It doesn't. It's a diversity of experience. They want to have people from different backgrounds with different experiences because they want to assemble a class that has all sorts of viewpoints present. The analogy that I always use--I'm a big sports fan--is: You wouldn't want to make a football team out of 53 quarterbacks. They all play the same position, they all do the same thing, the team won't be that good. Well, in the same way, you don't want to assemble a law school class with a couple hundred of the same type of person. You need people with different backgrounds, different skills, different interests so that, when class is going on and you're talking about some really interesting law points, different people will come up with different viewpoints that someone else may not have thought about. You might listen to another student thinking, "Gosh, I never looked at it that way." That's what creates richness in the law school experience; that's what their goal is. So when you have elements about yourself that are differnet from the so-called norm or what would be something they would see a lot of, you want to highlight those ideas and bring them out.