If the school asks for specific information -- why you want to be a lawyer, or what you see as your strengths -- you, of course, should follow instructions.
Some schools require an open-ended essay and allow an optional essay on some topic such as how you would contribute to increased diversity in the incoming class.
When it comes to writing an open-ended essay:
- Write what you would want to tell the admissions officers if you met them.
- Focus on something you care passionately about.
- Make yourself come alive as a person.
- Write about something that's unusual or compelling in your life.
- Draw on your professional and life experience. If you've been out of school for a while or are a single parent, use that insight.
- Write something that will make yourself stand out in the committee's minds.
- Relate the story you're telling about yourself to your passion for the lawi
- Be sincere and honest. Tell the truth, not what you think they want to hear.
- Use the essay to explain bad grades or low LSAT scores. Use an addendum for explanations.
- Rehash your awards and activities. The committee will know that information from your application forms and/or resume.
- Talk about how you've wanted to be a lawyer since you were a child. The committee has read that 1,000 times.
- Rely on gimmicks. That clever poem or joke will probably fall flat.
- Write about everything that's ever happened to you. Focus on one or two life-shaping experiences.
- Go on too long. The committee does a lot of reading. Two to 2 1/2 double-spaced pages are probably plenty.
Your goal should be to help the people who will be making the decision know you and understand why you want to attend law school.
Melanie Nutt, the Wake Forest University School of Law admissions director, said that one of the most memorable essays she's read lately was from a young man who said his mother was his hero -- and his inspiration to be a lawyer -- because she left an abusive relationship and raised him as a single parent. Another was by a young woman whose father is a mechanic. She wrote about "life lessons learned under the hood of a car."
What most of this advice boils down to is this: The best place to find a successful law school application essay is within your own life story.
Once you're written your story, that's the time to get help. Show it to a professor, counselor or editor for a helpful critique.
Need a bit more help with your law school applications? Take a look at the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Accepted.com. "Law School Admissions." http://www.accepted.com/law/ (Feb. 27, 2010)
- "Admission Essay and Personal Statement Development Services." http://www.admissionsessays.com/ (Feb. 27, 2010)
- Bodine, Paul. "Perfect Phrases for Law School Acceptance." McGraw Hill, New York, 2009.
- Kaufman, Daniel; Chris Dowhan and Amy Burnham. "Essays That Will Get You Into Law School. Barron's Educational Services, Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y., 1998.
- Law School Admission Council. "Additional Admission Decision Factors." http://www.lsac.org/Applying/additional-decision-factors.asp (Feb. 16, 2010)
- Law School Discussion. "EssayEdge Admissions Essay Guide." http://www.lawschooldiscussion.org/essayedge.htm (Feb. 27, 2010)
- Nutt, Melanie. Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Wake Forest University School of Law, Winston-Salem, N.C. Personal interview, Feb. 26, 2010.
- Owens, Eric and the staff of "The Princeton Review." "Law School Essays That Made a Difference." Random House, New York, 2008.
- Princeton Review. "Tips for Your Personal Statement." http://www.princetonreview.com/law/personal-statement.aspx (Feb. 16, 2010)
- Stewart, Mark Alan. "Peterson's How to Write the Perfect Personal Statement." Peterson's, Lawrenceville, N.J., 2009.
- Top-Law-Schools.com. "Law School Personal Statements Advice."http://www.top-law-schools.com/statement/html (Feb. 16, 2010)