At this time of year, many students are trying to write their personal statements. It can be incredibly tough, so don’t give up! Over the years I’ve read thousands of personal statement drafts, and I want to share one of the most important tips:
When you think your draft is final, it’s not.
That may seem overly harsh, so let me explain.
The Goal is Perfection, and Perfection Takes Time
I get it: writing about yourself is no fun and feels uncomfortable. Everybody feels that way. Once you recognize that it’s difficult for everyone, you have an advantage though. The typical applicant wants to speed through their essays and just be done with them. What you must do, however, is embrace the process and realize that it takes time to write a great statement. And I do mean great. Anyone can write an okay statement fairly quickly, but at top law schools “okay” isn’t good enough. You’ll be competing against applicants who spent weeks and months writing their essays, and they’ll be captivating, engaging, and compelling. Yours needs to have those traits as well. With that in mind, set aside plenty of time for the drafting and refining process.
Most People Draft Too Quickly
When writing a draft, you naturally want to finish it as quickly as possible. This is a mistake. The goal of your writing is not speed, but clarity of presentation. That takes time! Sure, at first you can sketch down some quick ideas, but then take your time piecing those together. And once you’ve built a framework you love, then begin the process of crafting every sentence and carefully selecting every word. Yes, every word! Far too many people are willing to just send in essays they’ve convinced themselves they like or that seem pretty good, when just a bit of extra work would make them outstanding.
Everything Must Have Purpose
I often see essays that are generally solid but then contain sentences or paragraphs that aren’t helping the applicant. As mentioned above, you have to perfect every sentence and word, and it’s not enough to have the right words—they have to serve the higher purpose of supporting your case. Examine every idea in your essay, and ask yourself, “What is this doing to benefit me?” When you use that test, you can quickly kill useless fluff sentences such as this one I recently read: “State Law School has an excellent public interest program, and I feel I can learn much from the respected professors there” (yes, that’s from a real essay, school name removed). That sentence tells the school nothing about you, and reminds them of something they are more than well aware of! Similar sentences appear in many essays I read, and they reveal that the applicant does not understand what the law schools want and that the applicant doesn’t have something more compelling to say about themselves. It’s a double negative.
Give Yourself Time Away
Another common mistake is trying to squeeze the entire essay writing experience into a few days or a week. As with baking a cake, insufficient “cooking” time results in an essay that is underdone and often lacking richness and depth. Once you finish a draft, always take a few days off from it, then come back and review it. Time away gives you perspective, and will help you see what is working in your essay and what is not.
What About Re-Drafts?
There’s a basic truth I’ve learned about re-drafts over the years: if we talk about your draft and then the same day or the next day (or two) you send me a new re-draft, it won’t be that good. Re-drafting is just as hard as the initial draft, and it requires the same high bar of scrutiny and review. When you change some of the ideas or words in your initial draft, you then need time to properly review it. That can’t happen in just a few days. So, when you go to draft and then redraft your essays, keep in mind that you’ll need lots of time. Great writing takes time, so make sure you give yourself plenty!
Visit our blog’s Law School Personal Statement Resource List for more for more information on writing your personal statement, including discussions of topics and writing style as well as our famous free Personal Statement Webinar. For more comprehensive assistance with writing your essays, check into our Law School Admissions Consulting Programs.