Many applicants are recent immigrants or have parents who are immigrants and plan to write about this aspect of their life in a personal statement or diversity statement. Certainly, having this life experience makes you distinctive and can add to your appeal at any school. But, often these essays fall flat.
First, you must decide if you are going to write your immigrant narrative in the personal statement or diversity statement or both. How do you decide? The personal statement is the opportunity to answer the questions, why law school and why now. If your immigrant story is part of the answer, then introduce the narrative here. If you hope to become a tax attorney, your immigrant story may be best told in your diversity statement. Each statement should stand alone. They should complement each other and not duplicate each other. For those applicants using both opportunities to tell aspects of your family history, don’t repeat. Tell unique stories and provide unique insight in each essay.
Here are 5 tips to help you improve:
- Show. Don’t Tell.
Just telling the reader that you and/or your family assimilated or learned English isn’t always enough. You need to show the admissions committee – paint a scene. Give a specific example. You need an arresting image to get their attention. Did you learn English watching cartoons? Immersed in an elementary school classroom? Are you still maintaining cultural aspects of your country of origin, and if so what are they and why? How do they impact your law school decisions or how will they impact the law school community?
- Show grit.
In your essays, focus on how you solved the problem rather than the problem itself. For example, if you moved to the U.S. and didn’t speak any English, what did you do? How did you learn the language? How did you make friends, form a new community? Are you still observing certain holidays or traditions from your native country? If so, what are they and why? How do they influence you today?
- Avoid clichés.
“Fish out of water.” “Cultural differences.” “Breaking down barriers.” “Pulled up by their bootstraps.” These are phrases that are repeated often. That repetition has made them, well, cliched. You are trying to set yourself apart from the applicant pool; don’t employ overused phrases that cause you to blend in. You are better off explaining your situation with specificity than turning to hackneyed, overused, boring clichés.
- Don’t make Mom the focus.
Often, applicants write about people they admire – usually a parent or grandparent. It’s great to love your family, but don’t make them the focus of your essay. You need to show the admissions committee that you are a good fit, not your father, mother, or other relative. Set a scene, but make yourself the lead character.
- Make a point.
Going through an experience – good or bad – means nothing if you haven’t gained insight into yourself. Law schools want people who can think critically and examine the world around them. Your essay needs to show what you learned and how you can apply that skill to your studies and work. How have you grown from this experience? How does your experience help other people?
Remember that most basic failures of imagination in essay writing occur because applicants don’t want to spend time brainstorming, thinking, and writing. All that preparation is an important part of the process that will produce a quality finished product worthy of pride.
Work one-on-one with an Accepted advisor to devise an admissions strategy that will help you present a compelling story and produce an application that will stand out and get you accepted. Check out our Law School Admissions Consulting Services for more information.
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!