How I Wrote a Personal Statement that Got Me Into Harvard Law School

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Law schools are looking for deep thinkers.

When I was applying to law school, the advisor at my college told me to intern for a lawyer. Sound advice, and one I might give, but unfortunately my experience was miserable. I was even told by my employer that I was “not law school material.”

So, how did I even get into law school, never mind Harvard Law? There are the general requirements: grades, LSAT scores, recommendation letters, and the elusive element of luck. But, I also managed to write a personal statement that said something about who I was and why I wanted to go to law school, a statement that had nothing to do with my terrible intern experience.

People think that law schools want to hear how much you know about the law or how you’re going to hang your own shingle, go into politics, or become General Counsel at a large corporation. But, law schools actually want to know how your mind works. They are looking for deep thinkers who look at the world around them and are able to establish some critical distance to evaluate both their own experience and the experiences of others. This is the heart of what legal thinking is.

Luckily, I was able to convey the moment when I decided I wanted to go to law school and why I came to that decision in a way that both told a story and gave the admissions committee a good idea of the thinking process that went with it. It’s not enough to give someone a great story – although that’s vital, too. It’s equally important to explain why that story meant something to you. Schools look for the way you process an experience and what unique insight you can write about it. That kind of writing, an articulate explanation of thought, is the same kind of skill that law schools want in their classrooms studying civil procedure.

8 Tips For Law School Admissions Success

JessicaPishko

Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels. 

 

Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Law School Personal Statements
• Your Law School Personal Statement…It Needs to Be, Well, Personal!
• 2015 Best Law Schools by U.S. News

Writing About Your Experiences Abroad

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Ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role other than window-dressing.

You’ve done it – you studied, worked, or volunteered abroad and now you want to include part of this in your personal statement. Maybe you want to show that you’ve experienced a different culture or that you’ve managed to go outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve had interesting experiences – met people, climbed mountains, or lived without air-conditioning. Or maybe you had the opportunity to help people who genuinely needed it.

But, at this point, you’ve also realized that many other applicants have similar experiences, and you are right. While the experience may have been transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, you need to ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role in your essay as something other than window-dressing.

There’s an Onion article which jokes that someone’s short work experience in Africa allowed her to post a better Facebook photo, and, without the proper analysis, descriptions of abroad experiences can feel the same way in an admissions essay. Often, I read essays with lush descriptions of exotic scenery and people who speak different languages, yet you the writer – the most important person – stays the same. Without showing admissions committees why a study abroad experience was transformative, these types of stories simply blend together and give the impression that you were there simply to add another notch to your resume.

So, what should you do? Studying abroad can be a pivotal moment in your personal journey, but a personal statement needs to explain exactly why. If, indeed, gaining experience with other cultures was important to you at that stage, what exactly did you learn? It can’t be enough to just give a story about someone you met while traveling, you have to explain why that person changed you. An admissions committee member once told me that it mattered less what an applicant’s experience was, what mattered was how she talked about it. Even the most seemingly dull experience can be transformative to someone who is really paying attention.

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Jessica PishkoCheck out Jessica Pishko's bio! graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels.

 

Related Resources:

• Two Ways to Reveal Leadership in Your Applications
What is Passion in Admissions?
7 Signs an Experience Belongs in Your Application Essay

How to Deal with Deadlines

Dealing with Deadlines

You don’t want to feel rushed and you don’t want to miss your deadline.

You don’t want to feel rushed (stress can lead to mistakes) and you don’t want to miss your deadline. So what can you do to stay on top of your game and submit your applications before the buzzer?

1. Set yourself a schedule and work backwards from your deadlines. Allow time for holidays, sleep, exercise, and of course work.

2. Focus first on the applications with the earliest deadlines. It wouldn’t make sense to work on the application with the further deadline first when you have a looming deadline for another application right around the corner!

3. Work on applications one at a time. Adapt essays from your first application, when possible, to later applications. However never merely paste in an essay because the question is similar. Customize it for this application and this program. Trying to write more than one application at once will only lead to confusion, not to mention unintentional overlapping of material – forgetting to change just one Harvard to Stanford shows a level of sloppiness that Stanford just won’t stand for!

4. If you fall behind, consider dropping/postponing an application to maintain quality overall. Pushing off an application to a subsequent round or the following year is better than submitting a subpar application.

Good luck!

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Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Application Essay & Personal Statements
Resourceful Essay Recycling
• The Biggest Application Essay Mistake [Video]

Your Law School Personal Statement…It Needs to Be, Well, Personal!

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This is not “why do I want to go to law school?” but rather “why YOUR law school is a good fit for me.”

When writing your personal statement for law school, it’s a good idea to include a few school specific sentences about why each of the schools to which you are applying is interesting to you. This is not “why do I want to go to law school?” but rather this is “why your law school is a good fit for me.”

Here’s an example: You live in northern California, and are married. You wife works in Silicon Valley, and will most likely be the breadwinner while you are attending law school. So you are looking at Stanford, Boalt Hall, Hastings, Santa Clara, and a few other schools. Do your research on each of these schools. What are they known for? Do they have a particular law review for which you would like to write? A specialization or curriculum focus that is appealing to you? Find out what sets that school apart from all the others, and then use that in your essay to demonstrate real interest in the school. Proximity to family, location near the beach, or easy access to mountain biking aren’t serious, academic, or professional reasons.

If you are applying right after graduation from college, chances are you don’t mind moving to another location to attend law school. However, if you are a few years out, are settled somewhere, and perhaps have a family, then uprooting your life might not be appealing. You will understandably look for law schools in your area. But no matter if you are 22 or 42, no matter what stage of life you might be in, location really shouldn’t be the main motivation for wanting to attend a school. You want your adcom to read your essay and walk away feeling that you have really given your school selections a lot of thought and have chosen based on serious and substantive data, not convenience.

The ancillary part of this equation: you do not want your reasons to be so generic that the inclusion of the name of any law school in the sentence still makes sense. An example of this might be, “XYZ is particularly appealing to me because of its renowned reputation, outstanding faculty, and exceptional placement of graduates in their chosen career field.” You can make this statement about almost any school; doing so weakens your essay and gives the readers the impression that you don’t think their school is so special after all.

Make your essay personal. Make it substantive. And you will make it memorable as thoughtful, deep, and well-researched.

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Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid on Your Law School Application
Is My Personal Statement Too Personal?
• 6 Tips for Getting Started on Your Application Essays

Admissions Offers to International Grad Students Increase 9% Since 2013

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9% increase in grad school offers to international students

For the fourth year in a row, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) reported a 9% increase in graduate school offers to international students. Here are some highlights from the recent report (Findings from the 2014 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey, Phase II: Final Applications and Initial Offers of Admission):

• There were fewer applications submitted by Chinese applicants in 2014 than in 2013, and no increase in acceptances, ending an eight-year streak of growth. Even with this decrease, Chinese students still make up the largest group of international representatives at U.S. graduate schools, at 37%.

• In India, there was an increase in the number of applications sent to U.S. graduate schools, and a 25% increase in initial admission offers. This follows a 27% increase the year before (2013).

• There was also an increase in offers to prospective students in Brazil (a 98% increase this year, after a 46% increase in 2013). Brazilian students still only make up 1% of the total number of offers to international students, even with this huge increase.

• Other regions with growth in offers of graduate school admission over the last year include Europe (2%), Africa (3%), Canada (4%), and the Middle East (9).

• Regions that experienced declines in offers include Mexico (-1%), Taiwan (-6%), and South Korea (-9%).

• The fields of study that saw the largest increase in initial offers of admission in 2014 were physical/earth sciences (13%), engineering (11%), “other” (7%), business (6%), social sciences/psychology (6%), life sciences (6%), arts/humanities (5%), and education (1%).

• Prospective international students received an increase in offers of admission in the following regions of the U.S. (from 2013-2014): the Midwest (12%), the West (9%), the South (9%), and the Northeast (8%).

According to Suzanne Ortega, CGS President, “American graduate schools continue to attract students from around the world. We should be excited about the fact that new growth is emerging from a host of different regions and nations. International students are important to the U.S. economy because our workforce will continue to face shortages of graduate-level talent over the next decade. To support our economic competitiveness, we should make it easier – for international graduates who wish to do so – to remain and work in the U.S. after completing their degrees.”

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• Delivering STAR in an American Context
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Grad School Admissions 101