Your personal statement provides admissions committees with a narrative of who you are and what you value. To learn what not to write in your personal statement for law school, read on.
“At the intersection of 21st and Speedway, I lay on the open road. My leg grazed the shoulder of a young woman lying on the ground next to me. Next to her, a man on his stomach slowed his breathing to appear as still as possible.
A wide circle of onlookers formed around the dozens of us on the street. We were silent and motionless, but the black-and-white sign affirmed our existence through their decree: BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
So began the memorable personal statement that landed Cameron Clark a spot in his top-choice law school, Harvard University. As it likely did for you, this introduction grabbed the admissions committee’s attention and urged them to continue reading to learn what happened next.
This level of engagement and originality is what makes an excellent personal statement. But, what makes a bad law school personal statement? Find out below!
Personal statements are meant to humanize and add dimension to applicants! As such, it’s impossible for us to tell you exactly what to write about to capture your unique essence. But, we can tell you what NOT to write!
Here are some elements you should avoid in your personal statement:
Your first sentence has to hook your reader enough to urge them to continue reading. A sure-fire way to stop your readers from wanting to read on is using a generic, overused quote as your hook.
Instead, start with the punch line of an engaging anecdote about your life that can be linked to your perseverance, drive, and ambition. By starting with an authentic personal experience, you’re sure to have a unique hook that the committee hasn’t already seen.
Your personal statement is supposed to sell the admissions committee on you! You want to demonstrate what an outstanding candidate you are and the excellent traits you possess. In order to do this, you can’t spend the majority of your statement talking about someone you admire or someone who has influenced you.
If you choose to use an anecdote in your story, ensure you’re the protagonist of it!
You want to avoid being vague in your personal statement. To seem as genuine as possible, describe important details of the narrative you’re creating. For instance, instead of discussing your entire childhood, pick one event that stands out and has shaped you into who you are today.
Be descriptive! If you’re retelling a story, think about what you saw, how you felt, even what you smelt and heard. This will engage your readers and immerse them into your statement.
While including an anecdote in your story is an excellent idea, ensure you don’t simply retell a story without connecting it back to skills and values relevant to law school. Connect your anecdote to your law aspirations and highlight how your experiences have given you unique and valuable perspectives that you can bring to your legal career.
While humor can add color to your personal statement, it’s best to leave the punch lines out! Humor is tricky and unpredictable; you might have a tough crowd who won’t find your joke funny, or worse, you might offend them with.
To err on the side of caution, avoid making jokes. A good personal statement won’t need humor to stand out!
Aside from avoiding certain elements in your personal statement, there are also common types of bad law school personal statements you’ll want to avoid.
Writing about an emotional event that tugs at the admissions committee’s heart strings can be an effective way to keep them connected to your story. However, ensure you don’t evoke pity as your main emotion. Making the judges feel bad for you won’t influence them to accept you into their programs!
The judges want to get a sense of your resilience; you want them to be impressed by your attitudes and motivation despite your adversity.
Some students believe listing their flaws or weaknesses will make them appear more humble and down to earth. This isn’t the case! You never know what types of skills or traits law schools will find admirable, so don’t sell yourself short by sharing specific weaknesses.
The admissions committee is not interested in what you can’t do, they want to know what you can do and bring to their law school!
You don’t want to sell yourself short, but you also don’t want to exaggerate your accomplishments to an unrealistic extent. The admissions committee will be able to tell!
You also want to avoid spending the majority of your personal statement listing all of your accomplishments and saying how great you are. Your resume will already do this.
Everyone has room for growth, so it would be more beneficial to focus on one big achievement and mention the backstory to it! Was there anything in your way of this achievement? Did people doubt you? Is there an interesting, unexpected story involved? Use these answers to guide your statement!
If you have remaining questions about bad law school personal statements, read on to find your answers.
Avoid topics that make someone else the protagonist of your story, that are far too personal, or only focus on your accomplishments and not your growth.
Here’s what you should do in your personal statement:
Here’s what you shouldn’t do:
Your personal statement gives the admissions committee insight into how well you can write! Ensure you edit your work several times and don’t have any grammatical or punctuation errors that can limit the power of your words.
Law schools also want to see that you’re equipped to handle and thrive in law school and a legal career. They want to see that you can overcome challenges, are highly self-motivated, resilient, persistent, and dedicated.
Most law school personal statements are around two pages long.
Yes! These statements are meant to capture your essence, not your academic potential. No other part of your law school application does this, so it’s extremely important.
Your introductory line and paragraph should be the most interesting part of your personal statement. The best way to make this sentence unique and interesting is to use the climax of the experience you’ll be focusing on as your hook.
Figuring out what to write in your personal statement is challenging. Students often either have no idea where to start, or have no idea how to condense all of their ideas into two pages.
However, by going over what to avoid in your statement and the common bad types of law school personal statements, you should have a better idea of the direction to take your statement in!