Quick Tips for a Quick (But Effective) Personal Statement

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In the greatest musical in recent history, Aaron Burr queries of Alexander Hamilton: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

For those of you taking the January LSAT and hoping to apply to law school this application cycle, you should soon start writing like you’re running out of time. Because you are. As soon as possible following the examination, you should put quill to ink (i.e., fingers to keyboard) and get started on your personal statement. I recommend prioritizing the personal statement over other application related tasks because it involves the most mental labor — the rest of the process is largely busywork.

Without further ado, here are some quick tips for getting started on the personal statement:

1. Think about what makes you unique

The hardest part about the personal statement, by far, is coming up with a topic. In order to accomplish that first hurdle, you need to think about what makes your story unique and interesting. For some, that’s a life-changing experience abroad, for others it is recovering from a challenging situation (although preferably not a situation that reflects poorly on one’s judgment-making process), and for others it is an experience that opened their eyes to the importance of the law in some meaningful way. The key is to avoid writing something clichéd or non-unique.

For example, it turns out that a lot of aspiring lawyers end up doing Teach for America. Without casting any aspersions on TFA, my understanding is that it is an extraordinarily common subject for personal statements. The personal becomes impersonal if one’s experience is shared by hundreds of other applicants. I would avoid topics like this, unless you find a unique spin that you believe differentiates your experience from everyone else’s. Thus, the first step is to come up with some topics relating to you as an individual.

2. Draft

As soon as you settle on a topic, I would launch into writing. Get an initial draft done quickly (this is easier said than done). I was paralyzed with indecision for a long time before I started writing, and it slowed the process down substantially. The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect (or even good), but it needs to get done.

3. Get a little help from your friends

When I was writing my personal statement, I shared it with as many people as possible. Not only does this outsource some of the editing work, but it also allows you to get important input on the parts of your story that are compelling and the parts that are not. This is also why getting an initial draft done quickly is so important. You should refine and rework your statement numerous times before finalizing. It can be very difficult to share your personal statement, especially after the hours you’ll likely expend coming up with a topic and investing yourself in the drafting it, but it is a vital part of the process.

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Writing the personal statement is draining and difficult. Selecting a topic, especially immediately after finishing the LSAT, is a difficult process. Just remember, apart from your grades and LSAT score, the personal statement is probably the most important part of your application. It is very important that you get the attention of the admission officer and display your writing aptitude.

If you need inspiration for the drafting process or feel like things couldn’t get worse, throw on the Hamilton soundtrack and think about trying to write dozens of Federalist Papers. Write like you’re running out of time.

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