Many students find that the personal statement is the most difficult part of the application process.
What It Is
The personal statement is a 2- to 3-page essay that, when done well, introduces who you are and what unique qualities you bring to the institution while also highlighting your strengths and demonstrating strong writing skills.
Naturally, opinions vary on what makes a great personal statement. Approach the personal statement from the perspective of the admissions committee. They may have 8 applicants or more for every available seat in their class and must now choose among a sea of highly competitive candidates. Give them a reason to choose you.
The Writing Process
When preparing your personal statement, we suggest these steps:
- Review law school applications to see what prompts they're giving for personal statements. To view applications, log into your Credential Assembly Service account through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website (you'll need to register in order to view the applications). You can view the law school applications without applying—they will not receive your application until you click “submit.”
- Write down the questions that law schools are asking applicants to address through the personal statement. Spend some time reflecting on these questions. This will give you insight into the kinds of things that law schools generally want to know, as well as what your top choice schools will ask you to write about.
- Spend some time brainstorming about what qualities you want to convey and how you can address the questions presented by the schools.
- Spend at least a month writing the personal statement. Many people go through at least 2 to 3 drafts before arriving at a final essay. Write a first draft and then set it aside. Don't be discouraged if you dislike it! Come back to review it with fresh eyes, and then keep reviewing, editing, and polishing until you feel that it represents you well.
We offer multiple personal statement workshops for students each fall and spring semester. Check our event calendar for more information and to register. We also offer appointments for students to have their personal statements reviewed. In addition, review our suggestions below regarding what you might want to consider and what you should avoid when writing.
What to Do
Following are some tips on what you should consider when writing your personal statement:
- Consider your audience. Law professors, law school alums, and admissions professionals will be reading your essay, so think about what they might want to know about you.
- Be yourself. Tell the admissions committee who you are and what you feel passionately about. What do you enjoy? What's important to you? What are your goals?
- Explain why you're interested in law school. Although your essay is predominantly about what an interesting and qualified person you are, many admissions professionals will wonder why you want to attend law school. While it doesn't have to be the bulk of your essay, you should mention why attending law school (or attending this law school in particular) is your goal.
- Use examples. Think about how you want the committee to see you, and then provide examples that demonstrate those qualities.
- Tell a story about yourself. This should highlight the strengths you want the committee to see in you.
- Demonstrate that you’ve done your research. If you're interested in a particular area of law, show that you're committed to using your relevant skills in that field.
- Allow yourself plenty of time. At least a month is recommended. This isn't an essay that's best done on a deadline. Brainstorm about who you are and what matters to you, and develop a theme or a story for your essay over time.
What Not to Do
In the spirit of learning from others’ mistakes, we'd also like to offer suggestions about what to avoid based on actual essays we've reviewed:
- Don't treat this as another résumé. There's no need to summarize your work or academic history by writing something like, “First I had this job, and then I got hired at this company.” You have the opportunity to do that in your résumé. Write with more depth about highlights and experiences at your jobs instead.
- Don't use extensive quotes. This essay is about you and should be written in your own words, not from the perspective of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Supreme Court Justice. Using too many quotes takes away from your message and hinders your voice.
- Be wary of using courtroom lingo or legal terminology in your essay in an attempt to be funny or to appear knowledgeable. This is especially important when it comes to using legal terms to describe a non-legal situation. You're not expected to have a vast knowledge of legal terms at this stage, and lawyers can be sticklers regarding proper terminology.
- Remember that your audience will likely be a committee of people who have already been through law school. There's no need to describe to them what law school is like—they already know.
- Don't make the argument that practicing law is just like your hobby or pastime. It isn’t.
- Don't cite Law and Order, Boston Legal, John Grisham books, or any other law-related pop culture reference as your inspiration to become a lawyer. This usually suggests that you haven’t given a lot of thought to why you want to become a lawyer. Surely you have better reasons than these.
- Be very careful when addressing such issues as religion and politics in your essay. This isn't the time to try to convert people to your way of thinking. You don’t know the backgrounds of your admissions committee members, and they're not likely to all be the same. Talking about your passion for politics is fine, but arguing in favor of a candidate or a political party is not the purpose of your essay.
- Avoid trite conclusions. For example, don't say “Everyone tells me I would be a good lawyer because I love to argue.”
The Personal Statement Review Process
Once you're finished writing, it's a good idea to have someone else review your personal statement. When doing so, please consider that people will have different opinions. Asking multiple people to review your essay will likely result in multiple perspectives, some of them mutually exclusive. As with a law school admissions committee, your essay might appeal to some individuals but not to others. Take any feedback into consideration, but remember that ultimately it's your statement and should reflect who you are. Edit the essay so that it feels right to you.
We in Pre-Law Advising Services will review personal statements of University of Illinois students and alumni up to two times. Our advisors will provide feedback on topics such as the statement’s content, theme, structure, transitions, flow, and overall quality of writing. We'll give our impressions and offer suggestions on these topics. We'll also help to troubleshoot problem spots and brainstorm potential alternatives.
However, we won't edit, proofread, correct grammar or spelling errors, rewrite, or restructure your statement. It's very important for applicants to express themselves in their own words, especially because the personal statement is intended as a writing sample reflecting your ability. Ours is not a proofreading service but one intended to help students clarify and convey ideas effectively.
If you'd like us to review your personal statement, we ask that you make an appointment and then email your statement to the advisor with whom you're meeting at least 2 business days (Monday-Friday) prior to the appointment so that she is prepared to discuss it with you.
Because we can only review your essay twice, you will want your essay to be fairly complete before getting our feedback. We recommend that you meet with the Writer’s Workshop and/or have other trusted writers review your essay and provide feedback prior to your appointment.
If you are struggling to get started, we suggest attending one of the personal statement workshops offered every semester, or review the personal statement materials we've posted on our Compass page for some guidance.