Table of Contents
- Law School Admissions Essay Timing
- Step-by-Step Essay Strategy
- Related Articles
Law School Admissions Essay Timing
Many people underestimate the law school personal statement. Writing two pages about yourself, without any topic constraints, often sounds like a fairly easy task at first – especially in comparison to tackling the LSAT. Do not fall into the trap of leaving your personal statement as a task to handle after applications have opened in September of your application year. Try to start the essay (at the latest!) by July of the summer before you plan to apply. Don’t forget that along with the personal statement, you will likely need to write interest statements, supplemental essays (i.e., the Yale 250), and potentially a diversity statement and/or addenda (for C&F or GPA explanations). Ideally, I recommend giving yourself at least 2 months of time to plan out, write, and edit your law school admissions essay – meaning that an ideal timeline would include starting work on the personal statement sometime around May or June of your application year.
Law School Admissions Essay Step-by-Step Strategy
- The first step in the personal statement process should be research. Before you apply, I recommend (at a minimum) googling successful personal statements, and reading through law school admissions essays that have done well in prior years. This can be helpful as a source of motivation, and may demonstrate some qualities that admissions committees have sought out previously. Aside from reading through essay examples, there are many other free resources online that you can take advantage of. For example, many law schools have free seminars / information on their admissions website specifically discussing what they look for – I would recommend looking through the admissions sections of at least a few of the schools you apply to, to search for their specific guidance regarding the personal statement. Additionally consider signing up for virtual information sessions or seminars regarding applications from schools that offer them. It may also be helpful to look at the HLS/YLS podcast (Navigating Law School Admissions podcast, available on Spotify) for admissions materials, or to attend one of their informational sessions to get an idea of what top law schools look for in application materials, even if you are not applying to T3 schools. While doing research, keep in mind that you shouldn’t be looking for a strict template to follow, but rather building out an understanding of how others have successfully structured a compelling narrative about themselves in the past, and what law schools tend to want to see–to thereby start to generate ideas for your own essay.
- After completing some research and starting to orient yourself with ideas about how to write a successful personal statement, step two should include a brainstorming session. List out multiple themes or ideas around which you might be able to center your personal statement. Keep in mind while doing this that personal statements often have a specific thematic focus that answers one or both of the following two questions: (1) Why do you want to become a lawyer/why do you want to go to law school, and/or (2) How have your experiences developed you into a person for whom law school/being a lawyer is the right path? I have listed out some additional questions/prompts below to help orient you in your brainstorming session:
- Temporal Narrative: Some personal statements follow a past→ present→ future narrative. It can be helpful to utilize this type of structure to focus on (a) past: what have you done in your past that either motivated you to become a lawyer, or helped you to develop skills that will make you a good lawyer in future, (b) present: what are you currently doing with your life that makes law school the right next step for you, or how has your current employment (or academic experience) developed you into a person with the right skills to become a lawyer, and finally (c) future: why do you want to become a lawyer and how will law school help you achieve your goals in the future (what are your future goals?).
- Persuasive Essay: It can be helpful to view the personal statement as a platform through which you are given the opportunity of 2 pages to write about the single most compelling reason for which you deserve to be admitted to a given law school. What is the most interesting accomplishment in your past? What makes you unique from everyone else, and uniquely qualified to become a lawyer? What is an event you have experienced from which your motivation to become a lawyer directly grew? What is the achievement for which you struggled or sacrificed the most to achieve?
- Coherent Narrative: One other strategy in approaching the personal statement may be to look at the entirety of your application materials, and attempt to weave a common theme between all of them. What is one unique quality, desire, belief, experience, or set of experiences, that links all of your professional/academic experience (resume), your unique approach, background, adversity you have overcome, or perspective to life (diversity statement), the qualities that other people first think of when they describe you (recommendation letters), and how does that quality/experience/belief support your desire to become a lawyer, and create the person you are? How can you explain that quality or thought to an outside individual, and explain how it has motivated or created who you are?
- After listing out ideas, take a day and try to decide which idea will be the most compelling to an admissions committee, and that feels the most genuine, personally significant, or compelling to you– which essay truly represents the story that you want to tell about yourself? Consider asking some friends, peers, family, or a mentor to read through your list and provide some feedback about your options while narrowing down your choices. Finalize the two best options, and start outlining. Take a day or 2 to write a brief (No more than a half page) outline for each of the two ideas you have chosen. After this, decide on the strongest contender between the two.
- The next step is to start a first draft based off of your winning outline. Set yourself a specific deadline by which to finish your first draft, and hold yourself accountable to that date. Move the environments in which you write – try writing in a local coffee shop, outdoors, anywhere that helps you to feel inspired and motivated.
- After getting a solid first draft, the final step is to edit. Wait at least 24-48 hours between finishing your first draft and starting your second. This is also the time to determine with certainty that you want to continue with the topic that you chose. If you have now realized that the first draft you wrote doesn’t have the zing you expected, or doesn’t fully convey what you hoped it would, it may be time to switch to your second place contender, consider adding in additional material from your brainstorming list, or to start the process over entirely. Do not be afraid of starting over – the reason that we started the writing process back around June, was to ensure that you would have enough time to submit the best personal statement possible in your application packet. Once you have given this decision full consideration, begin a round of edits. After completing your second draft, try to find a mentor or another trusted individual to read through your statement and provide honest feedback/edits from which to generate a third draft. Finally, for a fourth round of editing, read your essay out loud to yourself, and look for any other areas that can be further improved.
The personal statement can be a daunting task, but if you ensure that you have ample time to write, approach it in a methodical, structured, step-by-step way, and reach out to others for help and feedback, hopefully the process will become more approachable, and maybe even enjoyable by the end of the drafting process.
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