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What is a personal statement?

Your personal statement is a critical component of your law school applications. After your LSAT score and CGPA, many schools focus on your personal statement. It is the only “interview” you get for most law schools. Schools use your personal statement to determine the strength of your writing skills and whether you will be a positive addition to their law school community.

How long is a personal statement?

Read the instructions for each school carefully and follow the length and spacing rules for each school. The practice of law is rule-based and detail-oriented, so this is your first chance to prove you can follow rules and pay attention to detail. The most common page length is two pages, double-spaced, but make sure to check each school’s application for specifics.

Can I use one personal statement for all law schools?

Make sure to read the prompt for each school’s personal statement. Most schools have an open personal statement so you can write about a topic of your choice. Some schools have more specific topics that may require you to write about why you want to go to law school, why you have selected that particular school, or how you will contribute to the legal community. Again, it is important to follow the instructions for each school.

You may be able to start with a general personal statement topic that you can then use as a foundation for each school’s statement. Do not feel compelled to insert the name of the law school into each personal statement (unless the school specifically asks why you want to attend that school). If you insert the name, you increase the risk of sending the statement with a school’s name in it to the wrong school. This happens more frequently that you might imagine and does not bode well for your application.

What should I write about if the personal statement permits me to choose the topic?

For most schools, the personal statement is your opportunity to tell your story. Each of us has a story and the challenge is finding the best way to tell it in your personal statement. A common mistake is to repeat your resume and transcripts and explain why you will succeed in law school. Law schools already have your resume and transcript and have used those plus your LSAT score to make a preliminary assessment of whether you will succeed in law school. What the school does not yet know is who you are as a person, what your perspective is on the world and how you developed that perspective, or what motivates you. Your story will help them decide if you will be a valuable member of their law school community. Don’t read too many sample personal statements online or in books. Students who read too many statements often become overwhelmed (because the statements that make the web or the books are often from those extraordinary students) or they start to look for topics that often appear and assume that they should write about those topics. This strategy only helps students look more like everyone else applying to law school, which is the opposite outcome you should hope for from your personal statement.

How do I start this process?

This process requires some soul searching and digging into those stories that best demonstrate who you have become as a result of your life experiences. Don’t just pick the first story that comes to mind and commit to it – there may be stronger ones out there.  Start with brainstorming personal statement topics. Take five minutes and brainstorm at least ten potential topics.  Pick three of them and spend 10–15 minutes freewriting on each of them. 

Review what you have written and decide whether you want to start with one of these topics or select another from your brainstorm list.  Draft an outline of your personal statement and then begin to write. 

For more information about this process, go to: Steps to Writing a Personal Statement

What help is available for editing personal statements?

After you have completed a draft of your personal statement, the editing process begins. Have at least one objective person review your draft.

Penn State Resources:

  1. Pre-Law Advising: The pre-law adviser will review your personal statement and provide you with general feedback and suggestions if you email the draft statement to her at least 24 hours in advance of a scheduled appointment. The pre-law adviser does not give written feedback on personal statements via email. View the Personal Statement Review Policy for details.
  2. Penn State Learning at University Park: Writing tutors are available review and discuss your personal statement drafts.

How do I submit my personal statement?

Within LSAC, you will create a list of schools to which you intend to apply. The list will link you to each school’s application. Within the application, the personal statement or essay must be uploaded to each school. 

For more about personal statements from LSAC, see Personal Statement or Essay.

Katherine E. Garren, J.D.
Pre-Law Adviser
Division of Undergraduate Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
101 Grange Building
University Park, PA 16802
Email: keg146@psu.edu

Phone: 814-865-7576
Fax: 814-863-8913
Hours: 8am - 5pm (Mon-Fri, Eastern Time)

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