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 choosing a topic for your personal statement.
In my 15 years working in graduate and undergraduate admissions, I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of personal statements. A scant few of those essays have been…well…really bad. Most have been well written and satisfactory. But there are a few that have stayed with me over the years. I haven’t saved them and I don’t refer back to them, but I remember them, and here’s why.
Are these memorable essays interesting, plain and straightforward, or self deprecating and humorous? Are the topics unusual or seemingly ordinary? Do people write about intensely personal experiences, or choose philosophical topics? The answer to all of these questions is yes. There truly is not a set formula, but without question, the most important thing is that the essay is authentic. Choose a topic about which you are passionate, which you believe really illustrates who you are and what you believe. These are the essays that admissions committees most enjoy reading. It can be about your love of horses, the first marathon that you completed, or the band that you play in every Saturday night. Any topic will work as long as you write about something that is meaningful to you and demonstrates who you really are. However, there is one topic I recommend avoiding, which I have dubbed the “I want to be a lawyer so I can give back to the world” essay. This is so overdone and very, very difficult to write with any degree of originality and sincerity. Take my word for it on this one – choose another topic.
A long time ago, I read an article about the importance of basic kindness towards others. The author’s message was that people will not remember exactly what you said. They will not remember exactly what you did. But they will remember how you made them feel. Choose a topic that is so important to you and so authentic that the admissions officers reading the essay will remember how your story made them feel, long after your first day of law school has begun.
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