If you're anything like me, the last thing you want to do when you're writing something (be it an essay, a short story, a novel, or a grocery list) is show it to someone else and have them critique it. After all, you've put a little bit of yourself into this piece of writing (well, maybe not if it's a grocery list), and the one thing you don't want to hear is criticism, even if it is constructive.
However, when it comes to your personal statement, having others read it before you consider it finalized is probably one of most important things you can do.
Why? Because, eventually, other people will actually read it. And those people will be the ones in charge of deciding if you do or don't get into law school. Wouldn't it be nice to have some feedback before law schools admissions officers read your essay? That would take so much of the guessing and stress out of things!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when seeking the feedback of others on your personal statement:
Vary your audience
Ideally, you want to get a number of different people to read your essay, and they should all possess different levels of familiary with you and your work. What I typically suggest is getting at least one family member, one close friend, and one acquaintance to read your essay. If you can also add a stranger to the list (like, for example, an admissions consultant who doesn't know you outside of your application materials) that would be even better.
Why is it important to get all of these different people to read your essay? Because they will all interpret your essay in different ways:
- A family member will probably be reading to make sure you've represented yourself in the best light possible. They love you, and they want you to look good. Therefore, they're more likely to point out any negatives in your essay, making sure you actually want them there. This will let you take a look at your essay from an outsider's emotional perspective.
- A close friend will know your recent life experiences well (probably better than a family member) and, if they don't, will ask you to tell them about the experiences in your essay after reading it. Close friends are good for catching missed details, and having you retell the story will likely let you consider it from a different perspective, making sure you've included all the relevant plot points.
- An acquaintace is great for catching plot holes. They don't know you that well, and may only have vague or limited knowledge of your life experiences, so they'll be able to tell you when something doesn't make sense. Listen to what they have to say--if they don't get it, neither will law school admissions officers.
- A complete stranger is the best reader of all--they don't know you, don't know your life experiences, and will take from the essay exactly what's on there in black and white. Of all of your readers, their feedback is the most important, because it is very likely that the perception a stranger has of your essay is the one law schools will have, too. Of course, getting a complete stranger to look at your essay can be a difficult proposition, so consider using a critique group, an online forum, or an admissions consultant.
Have them look at everything
Of course, having someone read your essay and give you their opinion on the story you're telling is fantastic. But one of the great things about having others read your essay is that you can have a fresh pair of eyes take a look at everything in your essay, from topic choice to spelling, and everything in between. Remember when you self-edited your essay? Ask your readers to keep all of those things in mind, too. Since they haven't been staring at the essay endlessly for the past few weeks (or months), they are much more likely to catch any errors you may have missed.
Try to keep your ego out of it
It's hard to let go of the fact that, at the end of the day, every single suggestion and criticism (constructive as it may be) is aimed at something you wrote about yourself. It's hard to not get offended and you'll definitely feel the need to justify your choices and defend your writing. However, keep in mind that these are not personal attacks. Yes, they are comments about things in which you had a direct hand, but they're not meant to be belittling or negative--on the contrary, all of the feedback you're getting will be aimed at making your essay even better, not worse! Take it all in stride, smile politely, and then give each suggestion due consideration. Remember: It's not at attack--it's all meant to help.
Remember that you don't have to take all of their suggestions
At the end of the day, you have the option to only implement those suggestions with which you agree. You don't have to agree with all of them--heck, you don't even have to agree with any of them! Remember, though, that the feedback coming from your readers is valuable since it will likely emulate the impressions and feelings of law school admissions readers later. That's why you're having others read your essay, after all. Look at it as an exercise in humility and acceptance--sometimes, those outside the stressful law school application bubble have a better understanding of it all than those who have been stuck inside it for months on end.
The ten parts of this series are:
- Part 1: Take Your Time
- 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 (this post)
- Part 9: Proof
- Part 10: Don't Be Afraid
Next time, we'll discuss the importance of proofing your work one final time before submitting it.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.