Many law schools invite applicants to share more about themselves through optional essays.
For example, the University of Pennsylvania Law School provides the following optional essay prompts:
- Describe how your background or experiences will enhance the diversity of the Penn Carey Law community (e.g., based on your culture, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ideology, age, socioeconomic status, academic background, employment, or personal experience).
- These are the core strengths that make Penn Carey Law the best place to receive a rigorous and engaging legal education: genuine integration with associated disciplines; transformative, forward-looking faculty scholarship; highly-regarded experiential learning through urban clinics and our pro bono pledge; innovative, hands-on global engagement; and a manifest commitment to professional development and collegiality. These qualities define Penn Carey Law. What defines you? How do your goals and values match Penn Carey Law’s core strengths?
- What do you find valuable (or challenging) about a collaborative environment?
- If you do not think that your academic record or standardized test scores accurately reflect your ability to succeed in law school, please tell us why.
Are these essays optional? Well, technically, they are; it says so right there in the name. In fact, however, the only truly optional essay here is the one about your academic record or standardized test scores. If you don’t feel that those reflect your ability to succeed in law school, take the opportunity to share why in an essay. If you feel that your grades and standardized test scores are a good measure of how successful you’ll be as a student, it is okay to skip that prompt (and others like it).
The application is a very one-dimensional process, but you are a three-dimensional human being with at least two decades of life experiences. The personal statement was your opportunity to let the committee know why you want to go to law school. After that, applicants often run out of steam (or ideas) and skip any additional essays, hoping that the word “optional” means “it’s okay to opt out.” It doesn’t. If you want to get into a school, take every opportunity to tell the admissions committee more about yourself. Failure to respond to the “optional” essays can seem as though you are saying you have nothing else interesting to offer to the law school community.
Here are a few tips for making optional essays more impactful:
- Brainstorm. You can start thinking about optional essays by brainstorming all possible ideas and situations – think about your college career, volunteer work, employment, and family and personal life. Which events, experiences, and achievements would you like the school to know about that aren’t discussed elsewhere in your application? Then, decide which of those events, experiences, or achievements make the most sense for each essay.
- Follow the directions. Most optional essays are short, about one page, double-spaced. Be sure to read the school’s instructions, and don’t exceed the word or length limit. The length of your optional essay should not rival that of your personal statement.
- Show, don’t tell. The biggest mistake applicants make is responding to an essay question without fully illustrating what they are talking about. In other words, give the reader some detail about what happened so they can picture it. Remember, you are making yourself a three-dimensional person – it is harder to say no to a person!
- Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t write about the same things you did in your personal essay or diversity statement. This is your opportunity to continue your narrative, not repeat it. Examples can be from your personal or professional experience.
Optional essays offer your a chance to share more about yourself with the admissions committee. Putting in the time to answer the optional essay questions effectively will serve you well by adding more depth to your application. Don’t skip them!
Looking for guidance on how to write an optional essay that will boost your chances of acceptance? Check out our Law School Admissions Services and work one-on-one with an expert advisor to perfect your optional essay, or any other element of your law school application.