A (lightly edited) email I sent to a former student of mine, who asked for advice on applying to YLS:
1. pay attention to all the little things in your application. put together a resume that looks nice (google "minimalist resume template"). use an interesting typeface for your personal statement (12-point williams caslon text set at exactly 22 pt - don't mindlessly double space) and slap a header over it that screams "i put some thought into this" without calling too much attention to itself. basically, work out some ways to drizzle a nice professional "sheen" over everything. it's not that hard to do - it's kind of mindless, actually - but it really goes a long way in helping your application stand out. after all the faculty member reading your submission's only human. think of all the 12-point times new roman she's been inundated with by the time she gets to your application. work on her subconscious. tug at the part of her soul that can't resist leafing through the west elm catalog every november by making everything look bourgeois. obviously no typos should exist anywhere in your application. forget about reading everything over a hundred times - your eyes will glide right past the mistakes, just ask three friends and your mom to read it over for you once. (my application to yale had a typo that i only found out about a week after i submitted it - it was at the level of "loathe to" vs. "loath to," which is really the only level you can reasonably expect to get away with.)
2. you only get a couple hundred words to make your case. choose your words wisely. anything you hint at in paragraph one of your personal statement you should really circle back to by paragraph five, or better yet, by the second paragraph of your diversity statement. (i highly encourage you to have one, by the way, if you're anything past the southern border of upper middle class - the most important thing i learned in law school was that half my classmates came from families with net worths over $1 million. with that said, having to move around a lot as a kid because your mom was in the military probably qualifies you for a diversity statement, having heard a lot about duty of care because your dad, uncle, and half-brother are all lawyers probably doesn't.) the one mistake i keep seeing otherwise qualified people make is their applications fail to come together. whatever shows up on your list of extracurriculars better show up again, in a different way, on your resume, and better be distilled into an "essence" - climate change, public health, gallivanter of the third world - to be sprinkled throughout the rest of your application like cardamom. take a good look at what you've done and think about what ties it all together. it's okay if you haven't worked. use your extracurriculars to tell a story about the classes you took in college, and echo that story in your resume. now use your personal statement to tie everything neatly into a bow.
3. obviously your personal statement needs to tell a story. the story i told in mine was: "going to college made me think a lot about injustice," which is pretty banal as far as stories go. the banality doesn't matter. take your story, think about the two or three most predictable ways of telling it and then toss them out. what you just tossed out are the personal statements all the people who won't get in to yls are submitting, left and right, during your very application cycle. think about it this way. banality exists all around you - you're what, 23 and living in the first world? so is everyone around you, and so was i, and so are most of the people who actually get into yls. make the most of banality's banality. the only difference is how *your* particular marble-counter kitchen island is presented. play with words. try to cultivate a voice on the page. look, at this point it's probably too late for you to change anything else about your application anyway - your softs are your softs, your gpa is what it is. i didn't have good softs, and my gpa was nothing to write home about. i knocked it out of the park with my second lsat score, sure, but i think it was the essays that got me in. yale has a soft spot for good writing. when you sit down to write your essay, try to shoot for as many interesting turns of phrase as you can, and be a masochist about avoiding cliches. save that bullshit for harvard.
4. speaking of the lsat, try to schedule it in your favorite part of town if you can, and try to walk to your testing location from a nearby coffeeshop, i can't tell you what a difference that makes. the first time i took the lsat, i took it in downtown chicago. i hate downtown chicago. the second time i took it, i took it at a high school six blocks from where i lived in hyde park, i woke up early, i bought a cup of coffee, i read the new york times. i was in a completely different frame of mind when i walked into my second test, i was a lot more nervous about it because i knew it'd be my last shot, but i was infinitely more serene. morning walks make all the difference. and if you can find a testing center on a street that's relatively tree-lined and the sun is out that day, you're getting a 180.
5. i said it before but i'll say it again: the faculty members who will be reading your application are thrashing in money; the people they're admitting come from families that are, generally speaking, thrashing in money; and they all feel sick to their stomachs about it. you'll see the stupidest, most mind-bending vaudeville acts of cognitive dissonance happen as a result - i'm talking house parties thrown by a professor who's just written a book about inequality where servants flit around in bow ties shoving you cream puffs the size of golf balls, and toward the end of the night some girl in a slutty black dress will invariably stand on top of a table and remind everyone to give the waitstaff a round of applause. truly next-level shit. if you don't come from bourgeois filth, use this information to your advantage. try to remember that two of the three professors reading your application almost certainly hates himself.
Yale 250: https://bit.ly/2yTAJmR