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 essays 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?
- Describe a time when, as a member of a team, you particularly excelled or were especially frustrated. What was your role within that team? What was the outcome?
- 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, of course they are, it is right there in the name. That said, the application is a very one-dimensional process and you are a 3-dimensional human being with at least two decades worth of 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 the essays hoping that the word “optional” means “opt out.” It doesn’t. If you want to get into a school, you should take every opportunity to tell the admissions committee something more about yourself. After all, failure to respond to the essays sounds like you are saying that you have nothing interesting to offer to the law school community. Below are a few tips for making optional essays less painful and more impactful:
- Most optional essays are short, about 1 page double-spaced. Don’t exceed the limit. Your optional essay should not rival the length of your personal statement.
- Show, Don’t Tell. Add color to the application! The biggest mistake applicants make is responding to these questions without illustrating what they mean. In other words, give the reader some detail about what happened so that he or she can picture it. Remember, you are making yourself a 3-dimensional person – it is harder to say no to a person!
- Don’t Repeat. Don’t write about the same things you did for the personal essay or diversity statement. This is your opportunity to continue your narrative not repeat it. Examples can be from your own personal or professional experience.
A good way to approach optional essays like these is to brainstorm all possible ideas and situations – think about your college career, volunteer work, employment, family and personal life. Which events, experiences, and achievements would you like the school to know about you that aren’t discussed in another essay and that will address the question? Then, decide what makes the most sense for each essay.
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.Christine Carr is a Harvard graduate with over 15 years of admissions experience, including nine years as Associate Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Law. She has read over 10,000 personal statements and counseled thousands of prospective applicants through the application process Want Christine to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!