Personal Statements

What is a personal statement?

• A personal statement is just what its name implies—a statement that tells the admissions officers who are reviewing your application something personal about you. It’s your best opportunity to highlight information about yourself that might otherwise be “lost” in the large file of information that comprises your law school application. On paper, you’re going to look a lot like many other applicants in terms of your GPA, LSAT, honors, awards, and extracurricular activities. Your personal statement allows you to let the admissions committee know that you are a unique individual who has particular gifts, ideas, and experiences to contribute to the class.

Do all law schools require me to submit a personal statement?

• Not all law schools require a personal statement, but the great majority do. And even if one isn’t required, it’s wise to submit it anyway. You can find out whether a particular school requires a personal statement by checking that school’s individual website.

What should I write my personal statement about?

• Think about this question: “What important things would the committee never know about me unless I include them in my personal statement?” The personal statement that has the most impact is the one that gives the admissions officers some insight into “what makes you tick” and what unique qualities you would bring to the student body of the law school. Imagine this scenario: The admissions officer has two applicant files in front of her. The two applicants’ credentials are nearly identical, but one applicant has written a personal statement that is very “plain vanilla” while the other applicant has written colorfully about some interesting experience he had in his childhood that shaped who he has become. Which statement would make the stronger impression on the admissions officer? Which student would likely be considered the more interesting applicant to whom a space in the 1L class might be offered?

• A “plain vanilla” statement is one that simply recites an applicant’s various achievements (most of which are already listed on the applicant’s resume), or one that goes on and on about why the applicant wants to go to law school and how hard the applicant will work when he or she gets there. Many personal statements are written in a style that is very wordy and tries to sound “sophisticated.” This may be off-putting to an admissions officer, who is probably law-trained and has come to value simple, direct writing.

• The bottom line is that the more “personal” your statement is, the better it will be. As you consider what to write about, ask yourself the following questions:
o What am I passionate about? Ballet? Soccer? Politics? Write about that passion!
o What experience has had a profound impact on me? Growing up on a farm? Working in an orphanage in Rwanda? Serving in the military? Being bullied in middle school? Write about that experience!
o Who has had a tremendous influence in my life? My grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. from Poland? My first-grade teacher who gave me a love of reading? My swimming coach who pushed me beyond what I thought were my limits? My philosophy professor who helped me see the world in new ways? Write about that person!
o What challenge have I overcome to get where I am today? A physical disability? Discrimination in some form? Financial hardship? Write about overcoming that challenge!

How long and in what format should my personal statement be?

• Some law schools limit the length of the personal statement. Even when there isn’t a limit, though, you should aim for no more than two typed pages, double-spaced. Although a title isn’t necessary, sometimes it can be a powerful way to catch the reader’s interest. Be sure to put your name and LSAC identifier on each page of the statement. Of course you should proofread your statement carefully to make sure it contains no spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.

• Realize that you may not be able to sit down and write a perfect personal statement in a couple of hours. It may take you many hours over the course of several weeks to draft your statement.

Should I tailor my personal statement for each school I’m applying to?

• This is often not necessary, but you should always review each individual school’s application to make sure that the statement you’ve written is responsive to any “prompt” that school gives you.

How do I submit my personal statement?

• You will submit your personal statement through LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS), by simply uploading it to your file. LSAC then transmits it to each school you designate to receive your application. This personal statement should be non-school-specific. Some law schools also have specific questions they require you to answer as part of their individual applications, and you should pay careful attention to each application.

What is an addendum and when do I need to submit one?

• An addendum is brief letter that explain a “deficient” portion of your application. While technically an addendum is always optional, you should definitely submit one if you have a criminal history, if you have been on academic probation, or if there are other “red flags” in your application materials. A student might also choose to submit an addendum if his GPA or LSAT score is low or discrepant or if there is a significant time gap in her academic career.

• A good addendum is short and to the point. You should briefly lay out the facts of your situation, objectively and without unnecessary detail. Admissions officers value candor, and they look to see whether the student has taken responsibility for his or her actions, instead of casting blame elsewhere or whining about the unfairness of the situation. Just be direct and honest, and let the admissions officers draw their own conclusions.

Can I ask someone to review my personal statement (and addendum, if any) before I submit it?

• Yes! Professor Graham (grahamlp@wfu.edu), Wake’s Pre-Law Adviser, will gladly review your personal statement and any addendum upon request. You may have professors who are also willing to review your materials; the more eyes the better!