In a previous post, I mentioned the importance of putting the person in the personal statement. Although I didn't go into great detail about it then, I'd like to do so now.
Although scheduling the time to write and carefully planning your personal statement are both very important to the success of the essay as a whole, it is almost guaranteed that the statement will ultimately be a flop unless the most key ingredient is added to the mix: YOU.
Last admissions season I read a very compelling essay. It was the story of a man and his wife. They came to America from a foreign country with nothing, built up a business from scratch and with their bare hands, and provided for their children, giving them everything they themselves lacked, and everything for which they'd come to this country. It was a touching story, beautifully written, and marvelously executed. At certain points, I found myself sufficiently emotionally engrossed in the tale that I was actually holding my breath.
What was the problem, you ask? Why did I suggest to the candidate that they discard such a powerful essay and start fresh? Because the essay was the story of his grandfather and grandmother. In fact, the applicant didn't even make an appearance until the very last sentence of the story, when it was stated that he "wants to carve out a path just like" his grandfather had.
The story, while compelling, was absolutely impersonal. It told me everything about the grandfather and grandmother, their perseverance and pluck--and told me nothing about the person actually applying for entrance to the school.
Although it was masterfully written, it was a waste as a personal statement.
Think back to what the personal statement is: The personal statement should essentially be your interview with the Admissions Committee. Imagine for a moment that you're sitting with the Dean of Admissions at your dream school, telling them about why you want to go to law school. Would you spend those precious minutes talking about your grandfather, mother, or best friend? Would you spend time telling them about your favorite book or movie? Or would you want to open their eyes as to why they should admit you with personal anecdotes that tell your story and show them who you are? If you're picking anything other than the last option, it's time to revise your thinking.
The idea behind the personal statement is to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that they would not have found elsewhere, something that will broaden their understanding of you as a person and as a potential attorney--something that will compel them to put you in the "admit" pile, and hopefully in the "admit with scholarship" section.
Just as you must not underestimate the power of the personal statement, you should also not underestimate the power of your own story. Everyone may not have a compelling or exact reason for attending law school, but everyone has an interesting story to tell. It may not seem that interesting to you (you've lived it, and so it may seem commonplace), but it will be interesting to those that have never heard it before. Get over the awkward feeling you get when you have to talk about yourself, and find those personal anecdotes that will make you stand out.
After all, you're only as unique as you let yourself be, and you will only be unique if you talk about yourself.
The admissions committee wants to admit you--not your friends, relatives or acquaintances. Just you. Don't disappoint them by talking about anyone else.
The ten parts of this series are:
- Part 1: Take Your Time
- Part 2: Plan It Out
- Part 3: Get Personal (this post)
- Part 4: Get Specific
- Part 5: Embrace Variety
- Part 6: Step Away
- Part 7: Edit
- Part 8: Involve Others
- Part 9: Proof
- Part 10: Don't Be Afraid
Next time, we'll discuss the importance of getting specific in the anecdotes you tell in your personal statement.
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