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Five Proven Personal Statement Themes
1. Overcoming adversity – this can make a great theme, but it is sometimes a hard essay to pull off. The first obstacle is ensuring that you are writing about an actual adversity rather than a disappointment. An obstacle is something like serious illness, divorce, abuse, war, poverty, discrimination, etc. Contrast that with a disappointment, which is wanting something you didn’t get—failing a class, losing an election, etc. Focusing on disappointments reflects poorly on your priorities. To be successful with this essay you have to have experienced a genuine adversity, and describe how you dealt with it, how it changed you, and how it contributed to the qualities that make you a good candidate for law school.
2. Your proudest personal achievement – this is a common theme that requires some thought to do well. Remember to explain how the achievement shaped you and how it helped you to develop the qualities that will make you a good student or lawyer. Look for something that isn’t on your resume or transcript. Explain why it was a goal, why you failed to do it before (or failed to try), what was different that allowed you to accomplish the goal, and what you learned in the process of accomplishing it.
3. A unique hobby or passion – this is another good theme. Again, you have to tailor the essay to describing how this passion is relevant to the admissions committee. What does it illustrate about you that makes you a good candidate?
4. A major event in your life, good or bad – this could be anything that changed you in a way that taught you a beneficial lesson, highlights a favorable trait, or changed your perspective.
5. What makes you diverse – this is an over-used theme, but it is effective. Consider weaving this theme into a different topic instead of making it your main topic. Also, many schools allow you to prepare a separate diversity statement. If this is the case for your law school, do not make your personal statement theme about your diversity.
Four Themes to Avoid in Your Personal Statement
1. Why I want to be a lawyer – remember, the personal statement is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from the other applicants. Everyone applying to law school wants to be a lawyer, so don’t write your essay about your desire. Some schools expect that you include the information, but you can do this without making it your theme. Along that line, the following information should never appear in your personal statement: I love to argue, law will give me options, I want to make a lot of money, or I want to change the world/make a difference.
2. Gimmicks – do not employ a gimmick in an attempt to distinguish yourself; admissions committees hate them. So what is a gimmick? Anything cute you can think of: writing your statement on colored paper, as a legal document, beginning with well-known quotations, statement as poetry or song, etc. The committee is not interested in what your cat would tell them about you. Remember this essay is like an interview. Would you show up to an important job interview dressed as a clown so that people would remember you?
3. Hard luck stories – these too often come across as a plea for sympathy. These essays have a tone that seems to suggest that the applicant deserves special treatment because of something that happened to them. You can write about a bad experience, but you need to focus on how it makes you an attractive candidate, not about why the committee should ignore your bad grades, low LSAT, etc. These pleas are best handled in a short addendum to your application.
4. Controversial issues – avoid topics based on extreme expressions of your religious or political beliefs. Moreover, do not use controversial language. Such an essay calls your judgment and open-mindedness into question.