Crafting a winning personal statement

By Alison Monahan

For whatever reason, writing the personal statement often seems like the most daunting step in the law school application process. It can be intimidating to sit and stare at a blank piece of paper that eventually has to tell your story in an authentic and compelling way, and it can feel awkward and challenging to articulate to an admissions committee who you are and why your application is sitting in front of them. Although challenging, it is a critical component of your law school application and there are a number of things you can do to make sure that you present the best possible version of yourself to the admissions committee.

Give yourself more time than you think you need

Your law school personal statement is far too important to be put off until the last minute. The process can be (and should be) time consuming. Not only can it be challenging and time-consuming to choose a topic in the first place, but it is also critical that you leave plenty of time for revisions and editing at the end. For most people, first drafts of writing are not the most clear or effective versions possible, so be sure to leave time to step away for a while and come back with fresh eyes.

Start by brainstorming

Most schools do not dictate what topic you should write about in your personal statement. This means that the first step in crafting your statement is choosing a topic, and this can often be one of the most difficult steps. It may be helpful to start by thinking about what is on your resume. What experiences have you had that helped you get to where you are now? These may include things like involvement in sports or clubs, particular obstacles that you’ve overcome or formative academic or work experiences. Think about how each of these things has led you to where you are now, and focus on the one that you feel can best help you illustrate who you are now and why.

Choose a single topic

In all likelihood, you will not have more than two or three pages to work with. This is not a lot of space, so it is very important that you choose a singular topic that helps you to best show the admissions committee why you would be an asset to their school. Focus on one particular experience and use it to tell a story. Illustrate to the admissions committee who you are and why your application is in front of them. Focusing on a single topic can also help you avoid the trap of simply summarizing your resume, something that you never want to do!

Start writing, regardless of how unprepared you feel  

It can be tempting to continue putting off actually getting words onto a page in the interest of more planning or brainstorming. However, once you have chosen your topic, try to start writing even if you feel like you’re not ready yet. The hardest part can be getting started, but once you begin things may feel like they flow more effortlessly. You can (and should) always go back to edit and re-write later, but having at least something on the page to work with can really trigger the creativity needed to help you build your story.

Be authentic

Yes, in many cases numbers tend to be very important in law school admissions, but you really are far more than a number, and the personal statement is your chance to illustrate that. This is the one part of your application where you get to show the admissions committee who you are as a person. Remember that your goal here isn’t to prove that you’re the most interesting or accomplished person ever, that’s simply not possible. Your goal is to present the best and most authentic version of yourself so that the admissions committee has a deeper understanding of who the real person behind the all of the numbers is.  

Proofread and proofread again

This is another critical point; there should be absolutely no typos in your personal statement! Just as you would never send a resume with typos to a potential employer, you should never send a personal statement (or any part of a law school application for that matter) with typos to an admissions committee. Typos are very avoidable with some care, so failure to eliminate them reflects poorly on your attention to detail. Your personal statement is the chance to show the admissions committee who you are, so don’t let typos turn an otherwise great essay into a red flag. Printing a hard copy of your essay to proofread or reading your essay out loud can help you catch errors that may otherwise escape your attention.

No matter how intimidating it seems, the law school personal statement really is a great opportunity to show an admissions committee who you are as a person. Taking the time to carefully craft your story can add a much-needed layer of dimension to your applications, so be sure to give it the attention it deserves!

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for women (and some men) embarking on a legal career. Alison is also a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox® and Bar Exam Toolbox® which provide free resources, tutoring and a variety of courses and tools to help law students and bar exam takers succeed with less stress and anxiety.