Personal statements should provide a reader with a sense of who you are beyond your test scores and transcript, and demonstrate that you have a distinct voice to contribute to the incoming class. In the same way that each individual is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing an effective personal statement. Your content will be driven by your life experiences, your perspective, and the reasons you chose to apply to law school. Remember, however, that you typically will not interview with an admissions committee before receiving a decision on your candidacy. You should, therefore, aim to provide the reader with a window into who you are as a person through your personal statement.
The information provided on this page is meant to help you think about, and then write, an effective personal statement. Having an interesting story to tell is not enough. Rather, the presentation of your information is just as important.
Do you have any tips before I start to write?
You should be the subject of your personal statement. To ensure that your writing has an appropriate focus:
- First, consider your defining qualities and strenghts. Specifically, what would your family, colleagues, or friends say about you? Think in terms of adjectives.
- Second, consider the experiences through which your qualities have been developed and/or demonstrated. For example, do you love to tutor, work with kids, solve computer problems for your friends, or run marathons?
- Finally, tell a story through a cohesive narrative. Your most difficult task, and the most important task, in writing your personal statement is tying your abstract qualities with instances that demonstrate them.
Remember, you should connect your experiences logically to your interest in applying to law school, but do not dedicate your entire personal statement to this information. There are thousands of applicants with a similar interest in law school, but there is only one of you.
What should I write about?
While there is a broad range of topics that can be discussed in an effective personal statement, below are some common examples that are appropriate and relevant:
|Significant Learning Experiences||Consider past experiences that provided you with the most satisfaction or served as a significant learning experience|
|Leadership Experiences||Discuss organizations, clubs, and activities in which you've played an active, leadership role. Did you lead a particularly notable initiative? Did you help develop a new program, or perhaps engage an underserved community?|
|Overcoming Obstacles||Describe a personal challenge that you faced or a hardship that you overcame.|
|Personal Growth||Discuss how you have become consciously aware of how a personal value changed the way you view yourself or the world around you.|
How do I know my topic is on track?
Don't write your resume in paragraph form. As you select your topic, take special care to avoid speaking about information that is already described on your resume. Your personal statement is not meant to merely reiterate your resume in narrative form.
Focus on the present and the recent past. Admissions Committees are inerested in the adult version of you, as opposed to the child you once were, even if you had formative childhood experiences. With that in mind, prioritize relatively recent activities or experiences.
Find the appropriate depth and breadth. Although it is tempting, try to avoid writing a mini-autobiography or a chronological narrative of your life. Describing the event, activity or experience that you ultimately choose should take no more than one-half (usually about one-third) of your personal statement. The remaining portion should demonstrate how your anecdote(s) impacted you and shaped the person you are today.
The "Do's" for an effective personal statement
Revise and reflect: Do not rush to finish your personal statement without taking the time to understand yourself. Personal statements are about critical self-examination, and Admissions Committees know when essays only begin to scratch the surface. Reflecting on your first draft is just as important as the self-reflection you did in considering your topic.
Focus on yourself: And use the first-person "I" when discussing yourself throughout the essay.
Ensure that your narrative is cohesive: The ideas you present in your personal statement are connected by a common thread (or threads). For example, your conclusion should refer back to your introductory paragraph and restate your main thesis in a slightly different way.
Proofread carefully: Edit and spell-check your personal statement multiple times, with the caveat that the spell-check tool is not perfect. You typically have only two double-spaced pages to make the strongest case possible for your candidacy. Do not let the small details distract from your big picture. Sometimes it helps to have somebody you trust read over your finished product, including Penn's pre-law advisors.
Check each law school's requirements and instructions: While most law schools ask for an open-ended essay, the prompt may differ by school. You should also check each law school's page length or word/character specifications. Generally, a two-page, double-spaced essay is the standard.
The "Don'ts" for an effective personal statement
Try to sound like a lawyer: You should not include legalese or complex language in your statement because you are applying to law school! Avoid rhetorical flourishes and language that you think sounds sophisticated. Clarity and concision of presentation are valued in both your personal statement and in the practice of law.
Forget that you're applying to a professional school: Try to avoid cliches or overly colloquial phrasing. Law school admissions committees will be put off by informal language in your application materials. You should consider this as one of your first professional exercises in your law school career.
Include direct quotations: Avoid using other people's quotations (and direct quotes in general). As stated, the purpose of your personal statement is to demonstrate your own voice. Instead of quoting, try to paraphrase using explanatory details. Even when quoting yourself, you probably will not remember the exact words or phrasing you used.
Title your personal statement: The theme of your narrative should be apparent to the reader through the content of your statement. Including a title is distracting and a waste of valuable space.
Use your personal statement to justify your other application materials: The personal statement is not an appropriate place to provide context for a poor GPA or standardized test score. If you are concerned about your "numbers," and if you believe that additional information would help the reader to understand your performance, include a separate "supplemental statement." This information is important to the Admissions Committees, but it should not be the focus of your personal statement.
Remember: be yourself, tell your story, and let the best version of you be reflected on the pages!
Diversity Statements and Addenda
What is the purpose of a diversity statement and should I write one?
The diversity statement is your opportunity to explain how your particular background and experiences have impacted your current values and worldview. The word "diversity" is usually broadly defined in this context. There are many different sources of diversity, and your story should be unique to you. Think of Admissions Committees as assembling a chorus from some of the most talented students in the world. Your diversity statement, in support of your personal statement, should demonstrate to the reader that you will bring a distinct voice to this chorus. This is your opportunity to tie your unique voice and worldview back to the aspects of your upbringing that make you different.
How long should my diversity statement be?
Most diversity statements should be one double-spaced page. Make sure to check each law school's instructions, though, for their individual page and word-count preferences.
What is the purpose of an explanatory addendum?
An explanatory addendum is your opportunity to provide additional information and insight about an aspect of your candidacy that requires further context.
What topics are appropriate to address using an addendum?
Examples of appropriate addenda topics include:
- Explanations of undergraduate GPA and/or LSAT performances
- Particularly strong interest in a law school (and why)
- Extenuating circumstances that are not otherwise metntioned in your application
Importantly, you should not use an addendum as an additional personal statement. Limit your content to contextual information not otherwise available within your application materials.
How long should my addendum be?
Most law schools allow students to exercise their best judgment to determine content and length of addenda. Aim to limit your addendum to one double-spaced page, but check each law school's requirements (and formatting preferences) before submitting.