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How to Write the Columbia Law Personal Statement

August 25, 2023
Contents

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Reviewed by:

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 04/28/23

Are you in the process of writing your Columbia law personal statement? Do you feel a little in over your head? Overwhelmed? Downright confused? This guide should ease all of these feelings!

The four T’s, trauma, tragedies, triumphs, and talents, are common in law school personal statements, and often create the most compelling essays! 

As a student that has perhaps experienced many triumphs, or zero tragedies, picking the perfect topic for your personal statement, and knowing how to share it in an eloquent yet intriguing way, can be challenging.

Since Columbia Law is one of the T14 law schools, admissions committees have high expectations when it comes to students’ personal statements. They want to be wowed; they receive thousands of applications each year and have a low threshold for cliche, redundant, or unenthusiastic essays.

To ensure you submit a winning personal statement, this guide will provide you with easy to follow steps on writing your essay, what to avoid in it, and a sample statement to inspire you!

Columbia Law School Personal Statement Requirements

The Columbia Law School personal statement is open-ended to ensure students can share any information they believe is most meaningful. Students are encouraged to discuss more about their interests, goals, and aspirations in their personal statements. 

They should also mention how Columbia Law will help them achieve these goals, and share any other relevant details that are otherwise missing from their applications. The only formatting requirements are that it is double-spaced and approximately two pages. 

How To Write a Strong Personal Statement for Columbia Law School

Understanding the basic requirements of your Columbia Law personal statement is a great start. It’s important you understand these instructions so that you do not start on the wrong foot by submitting an incorrectly formatted essay or answering a different law school’s prompt—which happens more than you’d think!

Now, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to craft the most compelling personal statement possible!

Step One: Brainstorm

Before you begin writing your first draft, you want to find a focal point for your personal statement. This is most commonly a significant experience that happened in your life that influenced or affirmed your decision to join the legal profession.

Be thorough in this preliminary process. Along with your focal point, you’ll want to jot down some key traits and experiences that relate to this main experience. Some questions to consider as you brainstorm ideas are:

  • Who or what influenced you to become a lawyer?
  • What was your eureka moment?
  • How has this moment defined you?
  • What challenges did you face that led you to your decision to become a lawyer?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What is most important to you?
  • What are your key talents? How will these talents help you in the legal field?
  • Which experiences have led to the most personal growth?
  • What are you known for amongst your friends and family?
  • What can you share that will impress the judges?
  • What makes you a good candidate for law school aside from your grades and LSAT score?
  • What can you contribute to Columbia Law?
  • What makes you stand out amongst the thousands of other applicants?

While you should not attempt to reflect on all of these prompts in your personal statement, answering them during the brainstorming process will help you pick which ideas can come together to create a unified narrative.

Step Two: Rough Draft—Introduction

As tedious as it may sound, your personal statement will require multiple drafts. Your first draft will be rough. It might seem unfocused, you may ramble, and it won’t fit the allotted page limit. Get out all of your ideas first and worry about cutting down and revising on your second draft. 

Begin with your introduction. Consider using the climax of your chosen anecdote as your hook. Your main goal is to grab the readers’ attention, so be creative and descriptive!

Many students prefer to begin mise-en-scene and spend the rest of the essay explaining the context of their story and the relevancy to their current and future aspirations.

As you write your personal statement, refrain from limiting yourself to the typical five-paragraph essay format. Using several shorter paragraphs tends to read better!

Step Three: Rough Draft—Body Paragraphs

Once you’ve created an intriguing introduction, you’ll want to write one or two paragraphs explaining the context behind your anecdote. Again, be descriptive. Show, don’t tell. 

Think about what you heard, saw, smelled, and felt during this experience. Immerse your readers so they can feel connected to your narrative. These descriptions are what will make your story distinct and memorable!

The context of your story should lead to your reason for joining the legal field, explain your specific legal interests, and/or prove how you confirmed law was the right path for you. After this, you’ll want to use a couple paragraphs to develop this interest. 

Share significant extracurriculars, work or volunteer opportunities, or courses you took that helped you gain perspective and insight on the legal field. 

Step Four: Rough Draft—Conclusion

Your final paragraphs should involve Columbia Law. Share your specific career plans for the future and how Columbia can help you achieve them. It’s important you do your research for this part of your essay to demonstrate your enthusiasm to join this law school.

Your final few sentences can summarize your focal experience, what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown, and where you hope to be in the near future. 

Step Five: Second Draft

Once you’ve completed your first rough draft, it’s time to fine-tune it. Go through it several times to cut out any redundant ideas and make your writing as concise, persuasive, and engaging as possible. Here’s where you’ll cut down on your word count to ensure it follows Columbia’s formatting requirements.

You should edit your statement several times during this stage. Give yourself breaks between each editing session so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes and catch mistakes you would otherwise overlook. We recommend revising your statement at least three times before moving on to the next step.

Step Six: Receive Feedback

Once you’ve revised your rough draft and are content with your Columbia Law personal statement, you should ask your friends or family for feedback on it. Instead of simply asking them to look it over, ask them if your personal statement meets this criteria:

  • Does it encompass my most valuable traits?
  • Is it compelling? Are you intrigued to read on after the first sentence?
  • Is it personable?
  • Is it descriptive?
  • Is it focused throughout?
  • Does it thoroughly explain my inspiration for joining the legal field?
  • Do I demonstrate a clear passion for law through the experiences I share?
  • Are my reasons for attending Columbia Law clear?
  • Are my future aspirations clear and specific?
  • Does my statement avoid vague statements?
  • Does my statement avoid clichés?

While you should accept grammar, spelling, or language use suggestions, ensure your unique voice is still present in your writing!

Step Seven: Receive Expert Feedback

If you want to ensure your Columbia Law personal statement wows the admissions committee, you should consider submitting it for review by one of our expert admissions counselors. These counselors know exactly what a winning statement looks like and can offer you insight on how to perfect your statement!

If you want more comprehensive help, they can also guide you through the entire personal statement writing process to reduce your stress and increase your chances of getting into your top law school!

What To Avoid In Your Columbia Law Personal Statement

Many law schools use personal statements instead of interviews, so it’s essential you present your best self through them. To ensure you do so, avoid the following:

Reiterating Your Resume

The admissions team will already have access to your resume, so don’t waste their time or yours recapping your achievements. Use your statement to expand on some of these experiences and add more color to your application! Go beyond your academic achievements and share what is truly most meaningful to you.

Generic Sentiments

You may only be applying to Columbia Law School because of its prestige and the doors it can open for you. But, you’ll want to avoid sharing this sentiment in your personal statement. Simply stating you’re applying to Columbia to attend one of the best law schools in the nation is too vague, overused, and generic.

Go beyond the rankings! What programs, clinical opportunities, or courses are you most excited about? What makes Columbia the best option amongst other similarly-ranked law schools?

Mentioning Weaknesses

If you have a low LSAT score or GPA, your personal statement is not the right place to address it. You will be given the chance to submit an addendum to address these weaknesses! Your Columbia Law personal statement should highlight your positive attributes and paint you in the best light.

Focusing on Childhood Ambitions

Students erroneously believe telling the admissions committee they’ve wanted to become lawyers since they were young children will suffice as inspiration to join the field. 

The committee is less interested in you breaking up fights on the playground and more interested in what you did to confirm your passion for law when you were old enough to understand the rigors of it! Focus mainly on experiences you had in college. 

Hyperboles

Do not exaggerate your experiences. Be genuine when you create your narrative and do not portray yourself as someone you aren’t. There is no need to make up fake stories just because you think it will impress the judges.

You don’t need to have experienced anything traumatic or life-changing to write an excellent personal statement. 

Overcomplicating It

Stick to language you understand and feel comfortable using. Avoid using overly academic or flowery language that will confuse the meaning of your words. The admissions committee is not assessing your range of vocabulary, and misusing words will indicate poor writing skills and a lack of confidence. 

Telling Someone Else’s Story

If you aren’t the main character in your personal statement, then you’re going against the very premise of this application material. The focus should be on you and your own experiences!

Using Quotes

Starting your personal statement off with a quote is risky, unless it’s a personal quote said by someone close to you. Don’t use quotes by historical figures, no matter how much they inspire you. These quotes are overused and ingenuine! The committee is interested in your words and the principles you live by, not someone else's.

Evoking Pity

Do not resort to trying to make the admissions committee admit you into their program because they feel bad for you. Not only will you be unsuccessful but it’ll make your statement less personable. You want the admissions committee to like you and look forward to admitting you after they’ve read your statement!

Humor

While you may consider yourself a comedian, and think your sense of humor is your most redeeming quality, you’ll want to leave the punch lines out of your personal statement. There’s no guarantee the members of the admissions committee will share your sense of humor, and you risk coming off as offensive or being misunderstood.

Confessions

You want to submit a personal statement that offers the committee insight into who you are and who you plan on becoming. However, you do not want to share information that is too personal. Do not reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to the committee or anything that could be incriminating. 

Careless Errors

Just like you wouldn’t show up for an important interview wearing sweatpants and a torn tee, you should be mindful of the way your personal statement is presented. You do not want it to have spelling or grammar errors. It should be polished and professional so that it gets the message across without any distractions.

Part of being careful is also ensuring you do not mix up your personal statements! You’d be surprised how many law school applicants submit personal statements with the wrong school’s name. Take time to review your application and ensure it’s the correct one before submission.

Columbia Law School Personal Statement Example

We’ve thrown a lot of do’s and don'ts at you in this guide, which may be hard to keep track of. To show you how all of these steps and suggestions come together, here is a Columbia Law School personal statement example, and an explanation of why it works!

​​We had a routine growing up. 
Mom came home from work at five and soaked her blistered feet in a bucket of lukewarm water and Epsom salts as she peeled potatoes with shaky and scarred hands. Dad came home at five thirty and had his first drink, a swig of gin straight from the bottle. Mom pulled her aching body up from the table with a groan as she put the potatoes to boil.
I began the meatloaf: onion, nearly expired ground beef, one egg, breadcrumbs, ketchup, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, dad’s favourite. Dad had his second drink. Mom drained the potatoes, hunched over the sink. Dad had his third drink. Mom set the table, three plates, three glasses, fork to the right and knife to the left.
Dad has his fourth drink. Mom scanned the room for any stray dishes, inspected the food to ensure perfection, and made sure nothing was out of place. Dad had his fifth drink and clobbered his way to his chair with his bottle in his right hand. The house trembled at every clumsy step. 
Mom served him. Then she sat across from him, glued her eyes to her plate, and chewed slowly. 
I stared at her sunken eyes, the drops of sweat dripping down her temples in a house that was always blistering with rage, the tears begging to come out of eyes covered in cheap concealer that struggled to cover the black and blue hues beneath. 
After dinner my mother and I cleaned the dishes and tiptoed to our rooms. Dad finished his bottle and dozed off on the couch.
That was a good day, anyway. The days mom came home late from work, set the cutlery wrong, or left a dirty dish in the sink included the cacophony of silent sobs mixed with slurred screams, bangs, groans, and the deafening sound of my father’s hardened fists against my mother’s soft, tear-stained cheeks. 
It was a routine I mastered by seven.  I lived in a house that never knew peace. Its walls were cigarette-stained, full of holes, and exhausted from containing so much chaos. My father was an alcoholic. A prisoner to gin, as he self-proclaimed between swigs of Plymouth. But me and my mother were the real prisoners. 
That was until my father was diagnosed with end stage liver cancer a few weeks after my fifteenth birthday. He died much like he lived: recklessly, angrily, and with a bottle in his right hand. My life finally began at fifteen. Our house sighed with relief and my mother and I forged a new routine.
Our house filled with airy laughter and delicious smells of my mother’s favorite south-Asian dishes. But, as I relished in my mother’s newfound joy, I thought about all the other women still stuck in a rut, still imprisoned by husbands devoted to calamity.
I couldn’t save my mom, but I could save other women and children. So, I decided to pursue a career protecting and advocating for domestic violence victims and freeing them from their prisons. 
I started by volunteering at women’s shelters throughout high school and into college, where I met hundreds of victims of domestic violence with the same sunken eyes as my mother. Once I gained more perspective, I joined the organization Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence in my sophomore year of college.
I assisted with the organization’s blog, where domestic violence victims were able to share their stories and learn about useful, accessible resources I had spent hours researching about . I eventually joined the board of directors to play a larger role in the organization. 
I oversaw a dozen fundraisers and events to help these survivors receive the support they needed and worked tirelessly to help them break their silence. Through this, I recognized the importance of advocacy for these women whose voices were ripped from them.
I know I will have the greatest impact on domestic violence victims as an attorney; to give these survivors their voices back and help them regain control over their lives, as my mother and I so desperately needed. 
Columbia Law offers a robust JD program and several advocacy opportunities to provide legal help to domestic violence survivors through their Center for Institutional and Social Change.
With the education and experience Columbia Law can provide me, combined with my own story of survival, I believe I will become an excellent advocate and end the violent routines so many families are trapped in.

Why It Works

There are a number of reasons that this essay works, but the first is that it is memorable. This personal statement opens with a hook that reveals a traumatic event the writer’s family experienced. They use descriptive language throughout and immerse the reader by adding relevant details that can paint a vivid picture.

While they spend the majority of the statement developing their story, they still include important details that show their resilience and ability to overcome challenges. This student proves how they used their adversity to help others and clearly demonstrates how they developed their interest in domestic violence advocacy.

It focuses on the relevant extracurriculars they pursued to affirm their passion, and shows the impact they had through these activities. They end the statement making specific reference to one of Columbia Law’s centers, and show clear intent and direction as they share their specific legal goals to advocate for domestic violence victims.

FAQs: Columbia Law School Personal Statement

This guide has given you a comprehensive overview of how to write a winning Columbia law personal statement. If you have any unanswered inquiries, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this law school requirement:

1. Does Columbia Law Require a Personal Statement?

Yes, Columbia Law requires students to submit a personal statement as part of their application. This statement is used to learn more about a student’s background, interests, reasons for pursuing law, and aspirations.

2. What Font Should I Use for My Columbia Law Personal Statement?

While Columbia does not give specific instructions on the font they prefer, Times New Roman or a similar professional font is generally accepted.

3. How Long Should My Personal Statement Be for Columbia Law School?

Your Columbia Law personal statement should be approximately two pages, double-spaced. This is about 600-650 words.

4. How Do I Write My Columbia Law School Personal Statement?

Here’s a summary of our in-depth, step-by-step process for writing your Columbia Law School personal statement:

  • Step One: Brainstorm and make note of all of the key experiences, traits, and stories that come to mind as you reflect on your motivation to join the legal field
  • Step Two: Write a rough draft without paying attention to your word count; begin with an intriguing hook from the anecdote that will be the focal point of your essay
  • Step Three: Develop your anecdote and explain the extracurriculars you pursued to affirm your interest in law
  • Step Four: Write a conclusion that shares your specific career aspirations and how Columbia Law will help you achieve them
  • Step Five: Revise and fine-tune your first draft until it meets the formatting requirements and you’re content with it
  • Step Six: Have your friends and family edit your work to ensure it is compelling, personable, authentic, and unique
  • Step Seven: Consider having an expert admissions counselor review your application before you submit it

Following these steps will help you write a stellar personal statement with as little hassle as possible!

5. How Important Are the Columbia Law Personal Statements?

Columbia Law personal statements are crucial in the admissions process. These statements give the committee insight into the type of student they would be admitting to their community and what they can contribute to it. 

Well-written personal statements can even help the admissions committee overlook weak parts of your application, like an LSAT score below the school median!

Final Thoughts

There are an infinite amount of experiences you can discuss in your personal statement, so long as they are sincere and genuine. 

By following the steps shared in this guide, you should be able to craft a spectacular personal statement that will impress the admissions committee and convince them you’re an excellent, well-rounded law school candidate!

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