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Recommendations as Your Craft Your Personal Statement

Charles Roboski, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid

Over the course of my career as a dean or director of law school admissions, I’ve had the opportunity to review more than 45,000 personal statements. I especially enjoy this part of my work, and consider it a privilege to help select future members of the profession.

As I reflect on the many applications that I have reviewed, it seems clear to me that some applicants fail to fully appreciate the important role played by the personal statement. Based on my experience, an applicant who invests time and effort in crafting a powerful personal statement will benefit from being that much more competitive.

As you begin the task of developing a personal statement, think of the personal statement as an ‘interview’ with the admissions committee. Here’s a short list of what my counterparts and I might ask if we were to meet with you in our office:

  • What experiences, events, or people have influenced your decision to earn a law degree?
  • Aside from your grades and performance on the LSAT, what qualities and skills do you possess that will allow you to be an outstanding law student or attorney?
  • What personal and professional goals have you set for yourself?
  • What interests you about this law school?
  • How your significant life experiences or hardships would benefit the law school and shape your future law career and how you approach your professional responsibilities.

Once you’ve given thought to how you thoughtfully respond to these questions (and others!), it may be helpful to create an outline to prioritize the points you plan to cover in your personal statement. Of course, if the schools to which you are applying require you to write about particular topics, your statement should be tailored accordingly.

I recommend writing your first draft in the middle of the summer, so you have plenty of time to revise. Once you have an edited first draft, ask strong writers and analytical thinkers to critique the content and style of your personal statement. Give your reviewers plenty of time to return thoughtful comments. As with any writing process, be willing to make substantive edits and change your direction in order to create your best possible work.

Strong personal statements are:

  • Sincere and succinct. Don’t try to write what you think the application committee wants to hear—help them to understand who you are. Share your values, personal and professional goals, your past experiences, and your motivation. Be focused, and pay attention to page limits!
  • Original. Borrowing ideas can make for a statement that reads as unauthentic, so base your statement on your own ideas and experiences. Including famous quotations can be a distraction, so be very thoughtful about using them.
  • Positive in tone. Remember, the personal statement is an interview. You want to come across as approachable, rather than arrogant or overly competitive.
  • Full of specific examples. If you make a claim about yourself, support it with evidence.
  • Sensitive to the audience. While you should write a statement that represents you, think about how reviewers will read your statement—chose topics and words carefully. Be aware that it is difficult to be appropriately humorous in a personal statement.

Above all, your personal statement should represent who you are in your best, most-polished writing.

Charles Roboski has served as assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at Michigan State Law since 2008. He previously served as dean or director of law admissions at Notre Dame Law School, Ohio State University, University of Dayton, Regent University, and Ave Maria University.

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