Writing Your Personal Statement, Part 1: Take Your Time


    Writing Your Personal Statement, Part 1: Take Your TimeAlthough all components of a law school application are important, I believe that the most important one is the personal statement. To that end, I've decided to write a series explaining some of the pivotal points you should keep in mind as you prepare to write your law school application personal statement.

    We'll start off with today with something I find most law school applicants don't even think about: the personal statement timeline.
    While many applicants consider the personal statement to be one of the hardest parts of applying to law school (second only to preparing for and taking the LSAT), a good amount of them don't even spend half the time they spent on LSAT prep writing the personal statement. I'm not entirely sure why that is; it probably has its roots in the college mindset of the last minute college paper that still--incredibly--got you an "A." Case in point: in my own experience, it's most often the straight-out-of-college law school applicants that leave the all-important personal statement to the last minute, and then hurriedly write, edit, and submit it in just a few days (not to say that you older applicants aren't guilty of it, too, though).

    Of course, there are applicants out there who can crank out a decent statement in two days--there may even be some out there that can do it in one day. However, it is my firm belief that even these writing wizards could benefit from giving themselves a little longer than that--and I'll explain why in just a moment.

    First, let's understand the purpose of and reasons behind the law school application personal statement. The University of Chicago Law School puts it best:

    The personal statement is one component of the application over which you have complete control. It is also one of the most difficult. We do not give students a specific topic to discuss because we want you to write about something personal and completely individual to you.

    The personal statement is your chance to go beyond the numbers of your application. Think about what you would want to convey in an interview and what you can contribute to the Law School.

    Remember that we read thousands of these each year and you want to keep the Committee interested. You do not have to have overcome adversity or want to save the world. If you have, or you do, that is fine, but we really just want to understand who you are and what you can add to our student body.

    Remember that the Committee is looking for you to demonstrate skills that you will need in law school - we want to see that you can communicate your message in a clear, concise, and organized manner.

    I believe most, if not all, law schools would agree. To summarize the very good points above:

    • The personal statement should be personal and individual.
    • The personal statement should essentially be your interview with the Admissions Committee.
    • The personal statement should be interesting.
    • The personal statement should allow the Admissions Committee to understand who you are.
    • The personal statement should be clear, concise, and organized.

    If you are able to write an interesting, individual, personal, compelling, clear, and effective personal statement in 24 hours or less, my hat is off to you. As a matter of fact, call me--I'd like to find out how you do it. Many applicants think they can do it; the truth is, the essay they write may be okay, but it won't be stellar. And do you really want to apply to law school with an essay that's just "okay?"

    So here is where my first tip comes in: When it comes to the personal statement, take your time. If I had it my way, I would make every applicant devote at least a month to writing the personal statement. Why a month (at least)? Because this is the process your essay should follow:

    1. Brainstorm various topics; select the most interesting ones.
    2. Outline the topics you chose as most interesting.
    3. Write the first few paragraphs for each of these interesting topics.
    4. Based on how easy/difficult each one was to write, narrow down your selections to one or two topics.
    5. Write rough drafts of each of these topics.
    6. Walk away from your rough drafts for a few days.
    7. Come back, read the rough drafts, and edit them.
    8. Walk away for a few days.
    9. Come back, re-read, edit again.
    10. Walk away for a few days.
    11. Come back, re-read, edit again (if necessary), and make a final selection.
    12. Proof.
    13. Proof.
    14. Proof.
    15. Have someone else proof.
    16. Proof some more.
    17. Walk away for a few days.
    18. Come back, re-read, proof again.
    19. Have someone else proof (preferably not the first proofer).
    20. Submit.

    I can see some of you thinking this is excessive. I want you to consider the following: You're getting ready to spend the next three years of your life (and thousands of dollars) in law school. You want this time and money to land you a good--nay, great--job. You want to get into the best law school possible. You're spending your time studying for the LSAT instead of hanging out with your friends. You're putting all this time, money, and effort towards this one specific goal. Don't you owe it to yourself to spend a good amount of time writing what amounts to your one shining moment of personal interaction with the people that will either let you in or shut you out?

    Remember, too, what UChicago says above: "we read thousands of [personal statements] each year." When you read thousands of personal statements each year, you get pretty good at discerning which ones were carefully crafted, and which ones were haphazardly thrown together. Don't let last-minute planning lump you in the latter category.

    Getting into law school is intense. You will be competing against students with backgrounds, GPAs, and LSAT scores very similar to yours (yes, that applies even if your numbers are stellar). The personal statement (which is already important to begin with), will become one of the key differentiators. You may not write about a unique topic (few applicants do) but, by starting early and taking your time, you can make the topic you choose to write about compelling, convincing, and memorable.

    The ten parts of this series will be:

    • Part 1: Take Your Time (this post)
    • Part 2: Plan It Out
    • Part 3: Get Personal
    • 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

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    See you next time, when we'll discuss the importance of brainstorming and outlining.

    Class dismissed!

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