PowerScore Guide to Law School Admissions: The Personal Statement

    It's getting to be that time of the year: That time when you start research and selecting schools, you start studying for the LSAT, you start worrying about your applications. And, quite possibly, the thing you worry about most when it comes to your applications is your personal statement. 

    There is so much which can be said about the personal statement--so much, in fact, that we're even considering writing a book about it. However, the most important part about the personal statement is not all the minutia that comes along with it, but knowing the general premise of it, and what it needs to cover.

    With that mind, I'd like to share with you all a video that I made a few years ago, part of the PowerScore Guide To Law School Admissions video series on YouTube: 

    If you have any questions about your personal statement or your law school applications, be sure to send me an email and let me know. The transcript of the video is available below.



    DAVE: We've gotten a pretty good idea of what LSDAS is doing with those reports, and all the elements that are actually included in them, but now let's actually move on and talk about some elements that go beyond LSDAS. We're going to ahead and move to one of the most important and powerful pieces of the application, and I know Anne and I both have a lot to say about this particular topic, so you'll have to bear with us. Hopefully, you'll find it very useful. The topic is the personal statement. So, Anne, I'll let you go ahead and give an overview of that, and then we can continue on.

    ANNE: Thanks, Dave. The reason I like to talk about the personal statement (and, believe me, I could talk about this for three hours all by itself, there is so much to talk about) is not merely because it's probably the most stressful part of the application after the LSAT score; it is because it is the applicant's calling card. It is the one aspect of your application that you have one-hundred percent complete control over. It's the one thing that turns you from a set of numbers into a flesh-and-blood person asking to be admitted into a particular law school. You need to ask yourself: What is the message that I want the Admissions Committee to be left with?

    One thing that [my admissions counselors] always say [to their clients] is: When you're writing your personal statement, and you've done your final draft, walk away from it; then half an hour later ask yourself, "What do I remember about that?" Because that is essentially the same thing that your Admissions Committee is going to remember. Do you want to be the person that is completely unmemorable, or do you want to be the person that leaves a completely bizarre impression on the Admissions Committee? No. You want to leave a positive, strong, solid impression on the Admissions Committee, so you need be very careful [with what you write in your personal statement].

    Ask yourself [with] every single sentence that you write: "What is this saying about me? What am I conveying with every word?" Every word has a purpose in the personal statement, particularly because it is not meant to be five, or ten, or fifteen pages long--it is two pages. Two pages double-spaced, eight-hundred words to explain who you are, what you are, and how you will contribute to the law school environment.

    One thing that I really want to bring home is that [the personal statement] does not need to be a big long list of reasons for why you want to go to law school. As a matter of fact, the words "why I want to go to law school" don't even need to figure into your personal statement for it to be valid. Indeed, it's when you don't talk about why you want to go to law school that your real, true self comes out, and you really can come and shine. You're no longer trying to impress [the Committee], you're just being yourself--and, at the end of the day, that's the most valid, important, telling thing.

    [The personal statement] needs to be clear and straightforward. This is not a time for flights of fancy, this is not the time for convoluted metaphors or complex similes. It needs to be straightforward; it needs to be about who you are, and what you want to bring to the table. [Remember, always ask youself:] What do you want to convey [to the Admissions Commitee]?

    [The personal statement] needs to be personal; it needs to be specific. It is so very similar to the letters of recommendation in that way. It brings yet another facet to who you are. This is not just somebody else telling the Admissions Committee, "Yes, this person is great," it's you saying, "Yeah, I am, and let me tell you why."

    Moreover, look at the very last point under "What it is": It is truthful and positive, even if it's negative. You see, here's the thing--negative topics are not off-limits in the personal statement. They're not. However, you can't just present a negative topic and leave it at that. If you're going to make the choice to present a negative topic (and it's a risky choice, but it's a valid one nonetheless, because it can be very, very powerful), make sure you tell the Committee: "What did I learn? What did I take out this? How did I change for the better? And, how did this change for the better affect who I am and what I will bring to you?"

    Again, much like the letters of recommendation, [the personal statement] is not a regurgitation of your résumé. It is a valuable piece of real estate--you can literally write your way out of law school with a poor personal statement--and if all you do is waste this valuable real estate regurgitating points that you have already brought forth in the biographical information and the résumé, you're essentially wasting your time, and you're wasting the Admissions Committee's time.

    [The personal statement] can't be confusing, it can't be offensive, it can't be convoluted; you can't leave a personal statement with the Committee asking themselves, "What did I just read? I don't even know what I read. I don't know who this person is, I don't know what they bring to the table."

    It also should not be an explanation of the negatives in the application. There's a very specific name for explanations of the negatives in an application, and that is "addenda" [See video 8 of 9].

    The personal statement has the word "person" in it, has the word "personal" in it--make it personal, make it about you, make it positive. And [remember,] it does not have to be about why you want to go to law school, or what you've achieved.

    I know Dave has some things to say about it, so I'm going to turn it over to him.

    DAVE: Anne, you just stole one of my points, which is to put the "person" in the "personal statement." But, I'll let you have that particular point. [Laughs]

    I do want to echo some of Anne's point here, and expand on a few of them, as well. [The personal statement] is your opportunity to tell [the Admissions Committee] who you are. [Anne] said, "Make the numbers come alive," and I agree with that one-hundred percent. Now, a lot of times what you get is students who don't really know what they want to write about, and that's a real challenge. Obviously, if you [want to be] a great candidate, you should have some clear and compelling things to say that would interest the Admissions Committee. This is one of the things that I think people forget about when they actually write these statements. When we do admissions counseling programs here, we spend a lot of time reshaping the way people look at the personal statement, and helping them to understand that what they probably think [is compelling] isn't actually what the Admissions Committee wants.

    I want you to put yourself in the shoes of an Admissions Committee member, just for a moment. Now, at first, you're probably pretty excited: "I can make these choices, life or death: you're in, you're out, you're on the waitlist. I'm all-powerful!" That sounds great but, to get to that particular point, what do you have to do? Well, you have to read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays, you have to look over page after page of law school reports, you have to look at letters of recommendation--all these giant amounts of information that each person generates when they're applying to law school. If you think about it, it's very bureaucratic, very administrative, very paperwork-oriented..and you know what that means: That means that it's boring. What's happening here is that they're going through these applications, and they're just losing their minds.

    So, then they get to your personal statement. There's a couple of different archetypes that we talk about when we counsel people about bad personal statements. One of them is right one here: "Regurgitation of the Résumé." I don't want to just read a glorfied version of the résumé that says, "Well, I'm going to tell you a little bit more about what I already told you about in my résumé." Or, sometimes people talk about, "I went to Europe for three weeks, and that was fantastic, and I learned a lot about myself." It's great the first time you read that essay; after you've read it three or four hundred times as an Admissions Committee member, the trip to Europe kind of loses its appeal and its excitement.

    You need to speak uniquely.



    Have a question about applying to law school you’d like me to answer? Send me an email.

    Check out the Admissions Tip of the Week archives!

    Find PowerScore on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.