The Top 15 Things Every Law School Applicant Should Know is a series that will teach you the ins and outs of successful law school applications. Stay tuned for the remaining elements. This week we’ll discuss the value of the opening anecdote.
When deciding whether or not you might be interested in reading a particular novel, magazine article, or op-ed piece, many people often turn to the first few sentences to get an immediate sense of whether or not it is a “good fit.” If the opening entices them and makes them want to read more, they’re hooked.
The same thing is true of personal statements. How you open your essay can mean the difference between a captive and engaged audience, and a required but not enthralled reader. Here’s an example:
Opening to essay #1: Hi, my name is Catherine. I want to be a lawyer because I want to help the disadvantaged and underrepresented. (You laugh, but believe me when I tell you I have read this opening, and more than once.)
Opening to essay #2: I looked in the rearview mirror and my stomach flipped. The blue and red lights were flashing, and I was being pulled over – again.
In all honesty, which essay would YOU want to read? The essay that opens with an anecdote or story is often the most successful. You have captured your audience’s attention, you have led with an interesting and unique perspective, and you are showing off your writing aptitude – all skills that will come in handy when you are both a law student and an attorney.
This past admissions season, my favorite essay was about the applicant’s family car. It was well written, heartfelt, and poignant. It opened with an anecdote about the embarrassment of being a “mini-van family” and the desperate desire for a cooler car from which to emerge. But the story unfolded beautifully – the writer talked about the memories that the car had for their family, the trips they had taken, the talks that had transpired going from school to softball practice, even the meaning behind the long forgotten treasures that were discovered between the seats of the car when they got ready to sell it. It was sweet, sentimental, and conveyed to the reader the depth of the applicant’s love for his/her family and the ultimate understanding that what was important was the familial experiences that had transpired, and not the x factor of the car in which those experiences took place. It was lovely and it made me want to get to know the applicant better – not slog my way through yet another applicant’s essay. And what got me hooked? The opening sentence. “I hated my family’s Astro Van.”
So when you are thinking about your opening, consider the value of a well-told and personal story that really opens up your world to the adcom. Don’t know how to choose a story, or how to make it attention worthy? Admissions consultants can help guide the way to a perfect opening to your essay.
By Catherine Cook, Accepted.com Senior Editor. Published author and former Duke Law admissions officer, Catherine has helped applicants gain acceptance to nearly 30 top law schools.