Writing a Law School Personal Statement When You Think You’re Boring

What do you do if you think you have a boring life and you have to write your personal statement for law school?

First of all, you should not think you have a boring life.

I’ve interviewed hundreds, really thousands, of people who are applying to law school and people always say, “I have a boring life.”

Or “I have nothing to write about.”

Or “My life is so ‘normal.’ ”

But after we talk for a little while and I start asking them questions about their lives, we always uncover the most remarkable things about their lives: about how they grew up, about what shaped them, about what lessons they learned in life.

And we always find great things for their personal statement.

So don’t think that your life is boring.

Everybody’s got an interesting inner life. And that’s what the law schools are looking for.

What point of view are you bringing to this world?

What’s perspective do you have?

What’s the inner life that you have?

And how can you show that in a story?

Want expert help on your personal statement?
Take my class, Write Your Personal Statement in 7 Days. It’s a great way to get support and structure for writing a personal statement in a short amount of time.

Have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Post your thoughts below and I’ll respond.

Law School Personal Statements (Part 4): Revise, Revise, Revise!

KeyboardAll good writers know, “Writing is rewriting.”

Sometimes you read your personal statement draft and you realize, this is not the story I want to tell.

It sucks but it happens a lot.

You’re definitely not alone.

Sometimes you can rewrite what you have but other times you need to scrap the whole thing and go back to the drawing board.

Are you telling one story or two or three?

I’ve read many drafts where the author tried to shove too many stories into one essay. It was a mish-mash and there was no cohesion to the essay. Remember what I said earlier, you have to pick one story. Cut the extraneous stories and focus on expanding your core story.

What if it’s too long?

On the other hand, if you’re satisfied with the story itself but it’s too long, then you need to edit. Every sentence has to count. If a sentence repeats what you said earlier, just in different words, cut it out. I learned from a writing teacher that you should cut until the paragraph makes no sense. Then put back the last thing you cut.

Kick it up a notch!

Let’s say you’ve written the story you want to tell and your length is good. How can you take your essay to the next level?

One simple way to improve your essay is to pay attention to how it flows. You do this by focusing on the first and last sentences of every paragraph.

Look at the last sentence of your introduction. Does it make you wonder, what’s next? Does it entice you to keep reading? Now look at the first sentence of your second paragraph. Does it connect with the last sentence of your introduction? If not, rewrite those sentences.

Keep going. Look at the last sentence of your second paragraph. Then look at the first sentence of your third paragraph. Is there a connection there? Does it make sense?

Do this with each of your paragraphs. Keep working on those first and last sentences to make sure each of your paragraphs connects well with the next one.

Word counts & essay length

Many schools require that the personal statement be two pages, double-spaced, with 11- or 12-point font, and one-inch margins. Some schools want three or four pages. Some give a maximum word count. Some don’t have a word count or page limit at all.

Follow the directions for each school. The major mistake that law school applicants make is they don’t tailor their personal statement and other materials to every school. Yes, tailoring takes time. Yes, it takes diligence. This is your future career we’re talking about! Do the work.

Can you use the same personal statement for all schools?

Yes, you can use the same basic personal statement. But as I just stated, you need to tailor your personal statement to the length requirements, and any other requirements, given by each school.

Proofread like a pro

So you feel like your essay is almost ready for human consumption. Now you need to proofread. Print out your draft. I repeat, print out your draft.

Any editor worth his or her salt will tell you that you can’t find all the mistakes and errors in a document by proofing it on the computer screen. On paper, errors pop out more. Your eyes are more careful when you’re reading it on paper.

Now that you have your essay printed, use a bright-colored pen to mark anything you need to change. After you’re finished editing, make corrections to your electronic copy. Then, print out your essay and proofread it again.

Great writing takes time.

Don’t settle for okay or decent or good. Revise, revise, revise until your personal statement is the best it can be.

Want more help? Take my class, Write Your Personal Statement in 7 Days. It’s a great way to get support and structure for writing a personal statement in a short amount of time.

Have questions about your law school personal statement? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

Law School Personal Statements (Part 3): The First Draft

Human_skeleton_diagramBefore you write the first draft of your law school personal statement, you need to first understand the anatomy of a personal statement.

If you haven’t already, read my post, Writing Your Personal Statement (Part 1): Reading Comes First.

After you’ve read all seven personal statements in the Personal Statement Packet, come back to this post.

Let’s go over the four parts of a personal statement: the introduction, the second paragraph, the middle and the conclusion.

THE INTRODUCTION

Each statement begins with an introductory paragraph that “hooks” you into the story. You must get your reader’s attention right away.

There are two ways to do this: either begin with provocative sentences about an experience or event that shaped you OR put us on scene with you at the time of the event or experience.

Go back to the Personal Statement Packet that you read earlier.

Notice that Jamie, Sam, Terry, Madison and Gerry all start with provocative sentences about their lives. Whether it be about hating his father for his alcoholism and depression (Jamie), or crying when her younger brother was born on Christmas (Sam), or admitting that you were eight when your fascination with disasters began (Madison), these applicants hooked us and drew us in to their stories.

For great examples of putting the reader “on scene” with you, refer again to the Personal Statement Packet and notice how Delilah and Brenda start their essays with a first-person account. We are right there with them, getting the frantic phone call at the cafe (Delilah) or watching our suitcase disappear into the crowd at Delhi’s Ajmeri Gate (Brenda). Putting the reader on scene with you is a powerful way to hook the reader.

Spend more time on your introduction than you do on any other paragraph in your essay. It’s that important.

THE SECOND PARAGRAPH

So, you introduced something provocative or interesting in your introduction. You hooked us in. Now we need to know why you’re telling us this story.

Give us some history, some context on your life, so that we understand where you’re coming from. Show us what you were like before you changed. That is what the second paragraph is all about.

THE MIDDLE

In the following 3-5 paragraphs, describe what actions you took and how you changed. I can’t put it plainer than that.

Describe the actions you took, whether positive or negative or some combination of both, and how it helped you change, discover or understand yourself or something in your life. Bring us to the present day. That’s it.

THE CONCLUSION

You need to give the reader a satisfying ending. That’s the purpose of the conclusion: to end your story and wrap it up with some final thoughts.

How are you going to do this? Refer back to whatever situation you describe in your introduction. Whatever you wrote about, you need to explain what you are like today and how the situation resolved itself. As one of my favorite writing teachers taught me, “The DNA of your conclusion is in your introduction.”

In the Personal Statement Packet, Jamie writes a stellar conclusion. Go back and read his introduction and his conclusion. Read, absorb, learn.

SHITTY FIRST DRAFTS

It’s time to take a crack at your first draft. It doesn’t have to be good. This is only the beginning.

As the awesome writer Anne Lamott said, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

CELEBRATE!

Once you finish writing your first draft, take a break and do something nice for yourself. The hardest thing is to face the blank page. You did it and got the words out of yourself. Congrats!

You need to celebrate now. Because after you’ve written your first draft, the real work begins.

Want more help? Take my class, Write Your Personal Statement in 7 Days. It’s a great way to get support and structure for writing a personal statement in a short amount of time.

Have questions or comments about the law school personal statement? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

 

Law School Personal Statements (Part 2): Finding Great Topics

Law schools are looking for four elements in your personal statement:

Your VALUES,
your INTERESTS,
your PERSONALITY, and
your POINT-OF-VIEW.

How do you find great essay topics that will reveal those four elements?

Unlike the advice given by many prelaw professionals, I don’t believe in tackling the personal statement topic head-on. That doesn’t work for 90% of the law school applicants out there.

Go ahead and ask yourself: “What’s an important topic or event from my life that I can write about that will represent who I am in 2-3 pages?”

No pressure, huh? Trying to answer this kind of loaded question typically gives you writer’s block.

As I explain in the video above, there’s another way to go about finding potential personal statement topics. You need to mine your past for stories. I call it, digging for gold. But how? How are you going to find great stories for your personal statement?

Through free-writing. I have all of my clients free-write to 49 writing prompts. Yes, 49. Today, I want you to try free-writing to 10 prompts.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Find a place where you can be undisturbed for one hour.
  2. Take out a pen and pad of paper.
    1. If you write very slowly or you can’t read your writing, type your responses on your computer. Just be mindful to only type forward. Do not correct yourself!
    2. If you can’t write by hand or type quickly enough, record your responses into a recorder and type them up later.
  3. Set the timer on your cell phone, watch or kitchen timer to 6 minutes.
  4. Start the timer and for the first prompt listed below, write as quickly as you can.
  5. Be free. Be open. Be honest.
  6. Don’t edit. Don’t censor. Don’t cross out anything!
  7. This is important: don’t stop writing. If you can’t think of anything, write or type a saying over and over again. It can be anything. Keep writing until more thoughts appear.
  8. When the timer goes off, STOP.
  9. Set your timer again and repeat with the next prompt.

Here are your 10 writing prompts:

1. My favorite snack from childhood…
2. The neighborhood I spent my childhood in…
3. My favorite book from childhood…
4. When I was a little kid, I loved to…
5. My religion growing up…
6. If I could change one thing about the town or city I grew up in…
7. What I liked best about high school…
8. What I hated about high school…
9. The family I grew up in emphasized…
10. If I could change anything about my college years…

At the end of the hour, read over what you’ve written.

Which prompts still call to you? Go back and keep writing. See where your writing takes you.

If you don’t have more time, put your writing aside. Tomorrow, come back to your writing and read it over. Do you feel pulled to write more about anything? If yes, keep writing. Allow yourself to release whatever has been stored up inside.

If you don’t feel compelled to write more, and an essay topic hasn’t shown itself yet, then come up with more prompts. These 10 prompts are just a few examples of what you could use. There are an infinite number of prompts you could free-write about. Watch my video again and write your own prompts.

The more you free-write, the more you will allow your subconscious to unearth the memories and stories that shaped the person you are today.

I’ve been using this technique with my clients for years and it works. Try it before you knock it.

You will be amazed at what you will discover about yourself when you stop thinking and start writing.

Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?

Want more help? Take my class, Write Your Personal Statement in 7 Days. It’s a great way to get support and structure for writing a personal statement in a short amount of time.

Have questions or comments about the law school personal statement? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

Law School Personal Statements (Part 1): Reading Comes First

Every person has a story to tell.

Many stories, in fact.

The personal statement for law school is a vehicle for you to tell one of your stories to a committee of strangers.

No biggie, right?

Wrong!

It takes a lot of time, introspection, and hard work to write a great personal statement. Not a mediocre or good statement, but a great one.

In the law school application process, you are nothing but ink on paper.

Just like I mention in the video above, when your GPA and LSAT score are equal with hundreds or thousands of other applicants, a memorable and authentic personal statement can help your application rise to the top.

It can mean the difference between getting into a good school versus a J.D. mill, between getting into a great school versus a good school, and between getting a scholarship versus no money at all.

So, now that you know how important your personal statement is, you’re probably thinking, how the heck do I even begin?

Simple. You’re going to read.

Like many writers have professed before me, good writing begins with good reading.

Now, there are prelaw advisers and consultants who will disagree with me. They say that applicants should just write their drafts first, without looking at any examples, so as not to taint their ideas of a what a personal statement should be.

I respectfully disagree with that.

If law schools required that applicants write a sonnet instead of a personal statement, you better believe you’d research some great sonnets before you started drafting your own. In doing your research, you’d discover that sonnets are poems that consist of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, and they include a problem and solution, or question and answer. If you didn’t do your research, how would you even know how to begin writing one?

Learn from others. Read first.

First, click here to download our FREE Personal Statement Packet.

OPEN and PRINT OUT the 16-page packet. You will gain a more thorough understanding if you read these documents on paper and take notes. So again, I highly recommend that you print them out.

The packet contains seven sample personal statements and four sample diversity statements. These are all real essays by real students, the majority of whom I advised when I was a prelaw adviser at the University of Washington. All of these students were admitted into the law schools of their choice, many in the Top 20, and many with scholarships.

Read through the packet and tips sheet at least twice.

Notice how each statement is very personal. Remember, you are not writing a statement of intent, you are writing a personal statement. You are telling the admissions committee a story from your life that changed you, your life, and/or your way of thinking.

For each personal statement, write down your answers to the following.

  1. What did this person learn about himself or herself?
  2. What strengths, skills or values does this person have?
  3. What makes this person a good candidate for law school?

Read carefully and you will be amazed at how much you can learn. By analyzing each personal statement, you will absorb the personal statement form and understand how someone might tell a story from their life within the confines of this form.

Want more help? Sign up for my class, Write Your Personal Statement in 7 Days. It’s a great way to get support and structure for writing a law school personal statement in a short amount of time.

Have questions or comments about the law school personal statement? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.