Most law schools will ask for a personal statement that reflects who you are and why you want to go to law school. Resist the temptation to make this a one-essay-fits-all-schools personal statement. The more specific you can be about each school, the more interested your admissions readers will be in your application. For Duke, I have put in bold the things to which you need to pay particular attention. My comments are in red.
“Duke seeks to identify applicants who demonstrate leadership and engagement. Most successful candidates show sustained and meaningful commitment to one or more fields of interest to them . The Law School benefits from a student body that represents a broad range of experiences and interests .”
“It is often helpful to indicate reasons for interest in law school in general and Duke in particular, especially when they relate to an applicant’s specific experiences.”
In order for your essay to merit attention, make sure that you focus your answer on the specifics of their question. They are looking for an incoming class that is made up of more than the top 10% of every undergraduate university. Take this opportunity to show the admissions committee who you really are. Your numbers are already out there, so no point in mentioning them in your essay. Talk about your passions, how you spend your free time, your relationship with your large extended family, or whatever else about you demonstrates the niche you have carved out for yourself in the world. Make sure you are clear about why you want to go to law school and what you intend to do when you graduate. Be very specific why Duke is on your short list. Tie it back to the main theme of your essay.
Duke’s additional essay:
“You may submit a Duke-specific essay by letting us know why you want to go to law school and why you have decided to apply to Duke.”
Many wonderful personal statements do not focus so much on why law as they do on the personality and life experiences of the writer. If this is the case, and your personal statement only touches on the reasons why you want to become an attorney and get your education at Duke, then grab this opportunity to tell the adcom more about why, and specifically why Duke. If you have already discussed why law and why Duke at length in your personal statement, you may want to use this opportunity to talk about Duke’s second suggestion for the optional essay.
“Or, you may choose to submit an essay that describes how you will enhance the educational environment of the Law School and contribute to the diversity of the student body. If you choose to submit the diversity essay, tell us more about your particular life experiences with an emphasis on how the perspectives that you have acquired would contribute to the intellectual community of the Law School.”
This essay should dovetail with your personal statement. You do not want to reiterate what is already in your personal statement, but you do want them to tie together. If you have devoted your personal statement to why you want to go to law school, and Duke in particular, use the optional essay to give the ad com a real sense of who you are. Be detailed, specific, and genuine. There is something about everyone that is “diverse.” You cannot imagine how exhausting it is to read generic, one size fits everybody personal statements and essays until you have read a stack of applications to law school. Everyone has a story to tell – make yours come to life.
“The resume is an important part of your application and it will be reviewed to learn of the extracurricular, political and community activities, and jobs you have performed. Your resume should include your full name at the top and list all honors and awards you have received. Include dates for all items listed on your resume. There is no required length.”
So here is where you get to list every single thing you want the adcom to know about you. Which means that in your essays, you DO NOT need to list every single thing you want them to know. Awards should be listed on your resume, but not necessarily in your personal statement. Same for employment, volunteer work, etc. Your resume reveals facts; your essays present personality and, perspective in a snapshot format.