How to Avoid Common Mistakes Applicants Make with “Why Us” Essays

“Some of the law schools I’m applying to have extra optional essays, asking why in particular I want to go to their law school,” Dave told me during our recent zoom meeting. “Do I really have to do them? I’m anxious to just submit my applications as soon as possible, and everything else I need to do for them is already done.” 

Dave, like many other applicants, was discovering that some law schools have what’s often referred to as a “Why Us” essay. It’s usually an optional essay. You don’t absolutely have to do it. But it doesn’t hurt to show interest, especially if it’s a school you are really hoping to attend, especially in a competitive application cycle. 

If you do want to write a “Why Us” essay, try to keep in mind the following, to avoid common mistakes applicants make:

  • Focus On Substantive Information: Before writing optional essays, you should consider whether you actually have something substantive to say. If you are just repeating what is stated on a law school’s web site, then it may not help you. Try to find something specific that would make sense for you to want to go to that specific school. For example, if you have internship experience and are interested in international law, and the school has an international law journal or clinic, you could mention that. If they can see how you might benefit from something specific they offer, that could potentially help your application. If you need additional ideas about what to write about, you can see what the school mentions during online admissions presentations, or speak with their alumni. It’s also a potential opportunity to remind them of your unique strengths as an applicant. For example, if you have excelled at sports, and now hope to become a sports and entertainment lawyer, and the school has a sports law journal or related coursework, it’s an opportunity for you to highlight your achievements.
  • Make Sure the Essay Is As Good As Your Main Personal Statement: I know how hard most applicants work on their personal statements. They write draft, after draft. But when they get to the ‘Why Us” or other optional essays, they run out of steam. I understand it—after writing the main personal statement you might be burnt out, or running out of time to submit. But the optional essay is actually also a writing sample. So take a moment to re-energize yourself, and write it when you have enough time to perfect it. When you are done, double check your grammar and spelling. Make sure you are actually addressing it to the correct law school and not confusing it with another law school you are applying to. While that might sound really obvious, it does happen every year. Read it out loud to yourself to catch any last minute mistakes. Then when you hit “submit” you can relax, and not have to worry about what to do if you realize you submitted an application with a mistake in it.



Hillary Mantis consults with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is Assistant Dean for the Pre-law Advising Program at Fordham University and author of career books, including Alternative Careers for Lawyers. You can reach Hillary at