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Do’s and Don’ts When Writing Your Personal Statement

So, you’ve decided to apply to law school. Law school applications require a personal statement! Your personal statement should explain to the law school why law school is the next reasonable step for you. Writing about yourself without a clear topic can be really difficult for some people so here are some do’s and don’ts when writing your personal statement.

Personal Statement Do’s

1) Do format it appropriately.

Make the story flow as if you’re talking face-to-face with someone about your interest in the law or law school. Make sure to write in the first person to get the best effect of this. Your personal statement should show the reader why you decided to choose law school and why you’re applying to that specific school. Also, consider the appropriate formatting, which should be two pages maximum, double-spaced, written in Times New Roman or Arial font.

2) Do carefully edit your own work. 

Although you may think your first draft sounds good, there is always more than you can improve on, whether it be grammatical flow, stylistic choice, organization, or even content. Make sure that you take breaks in between editing so that you can look at your statement with fresh eyes, and try to be harsh with what you want to include and what you want to cut out. The end product should be something you can be proud of, knowing that you edited every sentence and that it is necessary for your personal statement. 

3) Do explain things in a positive light.

If you want to discuss a very serious topic or negative experience, make sure it leaves the reader with an overall positive view of you. If you have any stories that explain your character and views on certain things unrelated to law, consider writing that in your diversity statement. If you happen to be a gap year student, don’t highlight the fact you took a year off from school. Instead, confidently write about any activities, work, or ideas you achieved during your time off. The ultimate idea is to highlight how you respond to things, not what happens to you. 

4) Do focus on defining the events that led you to your interest in law. 

These types of events that led to your interest in law are crucial in understanding your motivations as an individual, and they help to give a better understanding of where you are coming from and what you’ve experienced. This could include global events and movements or personal life stories that influenced your interest. Also, feel free to include memorable and catchy anecdotes for them to remember you by, because they help in painting a mental picture of you. 

5) Do get feedback from professionals, people who are close to you, and people who are not close to you.

When asking for feedback, be careful about your ASK. People love to give opinions and sometimes they give you opinions that make you worse off. If you’re looking for topic ideas, discuss that with a law school admissions professional or prelaw advisor. 

The law school admissions officers from Harvard and Yale offer the following advice on their podcast: Once your statement is written, have a family member or a friend read it and then ask them to explain to you in their own words why you want to go to law school or why law school is the next logical step for you. If they are able to clearly explain that to you, you’ve probably written a strong personal statement. If they can’t explain it to you, then you know you have some story development to do.

6) Do make your personal statement universally applicable.

You want to make sure that your personal statement addresses your main goals and what you want the law schools to know about you. Your statement should be applicable to wherever you apply, and it should also work as a template that can be customized or modified slightly in case there are specifications that you want to accommodate for different schools. 

Personal Statement Don'ts

1) Don’t end it on a negative note.

Your personal statement should leave readers with a favorable view of you. Even if you write about a negative experience that strongly impacted your decision to pursue law school, the overall tone of the personal statement should be positive at the end.

2) Don’t use a cliché reason for why you’re interested in law. 

You want to avoid using generic statements such as “I want to make the world a better place” or “I want to make an impact” because it’s just too broad and overused statements such as these won’t stand out much in a personal statement. The whole point is to make it personal to you, so be specific about what really drives you to go into law. Talk about what you’re really passionate about, and also make sure not to use childhood motivations as a reason either, because it isn’t as relevant as your views and choices today. Even if you've wanted to pursue law school since you were a child, you should write about experiences that show what you've done recently to pursue that goal.

3) Don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously especially if they have never worked in law school admissions.

While it is good to ask others to review your statement, asking too many people (and the wrong people) can potentially damage the authenticity of your work. Be very judicious and picky about who you ask. Instead, try asking prelaw advisors or law school admissions professionals to review your work first. Then, once it is in pretty final shape and you at least know that you are heading in the right direction, you can ask for feedback from friends and family members especially for an extra set of eyes to check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. and to make sure that your personal statement conveys why you are pursuing law school.

4) Don’t cover too many topics. 

Your personal statement should focus on one or two key themes. It’s better to  elaborate in detail on one or two key topics rather than trying to spread yourself thin on every topic imaginable. 

5) Don’t use a generic format.

The main goal is to stand out and tell your story and motivations in a distinctive and memorable way. Don't just use the five-paragraph standard essay format for your statement formatting. Also, don’t use a title or headings. When writing your statement, you want to set the tone as if you’re actually speaking to someone, not make it another essay an admissions counselor has to read. 

6) Don’t start your personal statement early (or too late).

If applying for law school is years into the future, don’t worry about needing to start on your personal statement now. Things are bound to change within the next couple of years of your life, especially experience and your view of things. While getting ahead on your personal statement is okay, it would seem premature since your main points wouldn’t be recent nor that relevant. But, also make sure you understand when the application cycle starts (generally, August and September) and make sure you’ve started your personal statement at least several months in advance of when you plan to apply.

 

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