The key to writing a solid personal statement for law school is going through multiple drafts. My original personal statement was poorly written and far too general. After going through the drafting process with Dean Clemence, I was able to greatly improve the content, structure, and presentation of my personal statement. In addition, going through the drafting process helped me to really focus on why I wanted to go to law school and what past experiences in my life would prepare me for success in law school. In the end, I ended up with a final product that was well-written and persuasive, while also being focused and concise.”
Michael Cerankowski `11 History and Government & Law,
Vanderbilt University Law School, Class of 2014

LAW personal globe

When asked to produce their personal statements, most students face a blank page and simply do not know where to start. The fact is (without fail) there are wonderfully rich stories to tell that capture an applicant’s unique qualities and motivations to enter the legal professions. It takes effort and commitment to practice self-reflection and have insights reach the writing process. What does the law school want to know? The answer is as varied as each individual applicant. You have the personal answers, they just need to be discovered and articulated.

Use the tips below to support your thinking and and your writing. Talking with someone you trust about your ideas and getting reactions from readers should be included in your efforts. Dean Clemence is available to provide advice and guidance. To make an appointment, please call (610) 330.5080.

What is a personal statement?

  • It is an essay, typically 500 words or two double-spaced pages, often presented in story form. It provides non-quantifiable material used to evaluate you in lieu of a personal interview. As such, it is an important opportunity to make a positive contribution to your application.
  • It is a writing sample; it validates whether or not you demonstrate the ability to be logical, clear, and persuasive.

Now that I know what a personal statement is, how do I decide what to write about?

  • Don’t approach your essay trying to guess what law schools want; do examine and express what you have to say.
  • Take plenty of time to update and review your resume, then make sure your personal statement doesn’t look anything like it!
  • One way to use your resume as a resource is to sift through the experiences listed on your resume searching for times you felt energetic, inspired, challenged and/or proud. Expect this process to feel somewhat awkward; most college students don’t spend much time, if any, thinking or writing about themselves. Couple this sort of thinking with reflections about your life, its challenges, your personal qualities and accomplishments. Search for what really matters to you.
  • After you have reflected on your own, consider sharing your thoughts with a pre-law advisor or someone you trust. An outsider’s perspective is an essential part of this process because you are writing for others.
  • Whether or not you have decided about what to write, sometimes it is beneficial to just write. See what happens. It may yield useful material or possibly lead you to a different approach.

Now that I have chosen a theme, how do I write the statement?

  • Be careful and deliberate. Make sure your story substantiates your claims. Your storytelling needs to include real evidence and examples.
  • Follow basic rules for writing. If you find yourself laboring over the introduction or the conclusion, stop and concentrate on your central messages. You will develop greater clarity after you have developed them.
  • Be willing to find surprises and adjust your story as you learn from your writing.  Often you will discover connections that were hidden before you initiated the personal statement process. You will need to be flexible and have the time to be flexible as you move from one draft to the next. Yes, successful personal statements usually emerge from multiple drafts.

Now that I’ve written it, how do I know if it’s any good?

  • Have you checked for mistakes in grammar and punctuation?  Have you checked again?
  • It’s not good if it’s not about you. You might honor others but your purpose must be to connect to yourself. Although you are undoubtedly very smart, don’t be theoretical. This is apersonal statement.
  • Test yourself: turn your statement face down and write a list of the things your reader will have learned about you. If you’re stumped, go back to your writing. If you’ve got a substantial list, ask yourself if you are not just satisfied with the list but enthused about it because it really captures your essence.
  • Share your writing with a trusted advisor or someone who actually doesn’t know you very well. Encourage them to be honest with you. Does any part of the statement confuse them, seem extraneous, repetitive or disorganized? Take their advice seriously; it can be difficult to stay open to suggestions after you have been writing for a while.
  • Remember, law schools want a personal statement to address something you are passionate about, experiences that resulted in intellectual or emotional growth, a challenge that you not only met but surpassed, your inner strengths, personal qualities and/or your academic interests and research. Believe it or not, some applicants find a way to include all of these angles in one cohesive statement. If you look hard enough, you might find an underlying theme that enables you to hit your highest mark, too.

Now that I have learned what to do, is there anything else I should not do?

  • Don’t use quotes or give a title to your statement.
  • Don’t use the statement to explain something negative. Save it for an addendum.
  • Don’t exceed recommended essay length. If you must, tinker with the margins.
  • Don’t use precious space in your closing to repeat what was said in two pages and try not to say obvious and unnecessary things about wanting to go to law school. Trust your message and end your statement naturally.

You might also want to peruse this book by Joe Schall, which is now offered for free online: Writing Personal Statements and Scholarship Application Essays: A Student Handbook .