You’ve taken the LSAT, crafted a killer personal statement, and secured your letters of recommendation. In theory, admissions committees have all the information they need to make a decision. But what if a first glance at that information would give them the wrong idea about your capabilities – say, if you had a mediocre GPA because of a really low GPA one semester, or if you had to take the LSAT multiple times?
Guess what, kids – you’re in luck, because rather than trying to weave in an explanation in your personal statement, you get a chance to put it all in the explanatory essay. An explanatory essay is like it sounds—you get a chance to provide an explanation for something problematic.
When considering whether or not to write your essay, keep in mind that you’re writing for people who do not look with eager anticipation on having to slog through explanatory essays on top of the piles of special-snowflake personal statements they have to deal with year after year. Use the eye roll test: If you were explaining to a frenemy—someone who might be friendly towards you, but wouldn’t hesitate to be critical of you—would she roll her eyes and turn away as provide your explanation?
Make sure there’s an actual problem. You should have a GPA that falls out of the ideal range or a somewhat problematic LSAT history (of multiple LSAT scores or LSAT cancellations). An explanatory essay on how your GPA is a 3.89 rather than a 3.96 because of a B+ in one class you got is going to get some exasperation.
Have a legitimate explanation. Perhaps you had to take care of an ailing relative, you fell ill and missed several weeks of classes, or financial aid fell through sophomore year and you had to work way more hours to make tuition. A tale of woe on how you didn’t realize how time-consuming rushing a fraternity would be?
When it comes to actually writing the essay, err on the side of bare-bones comments. You already gave admissions officers more work to do by writing the explanatory statement; make it as easy as possible for them to read. Show them you’re a logical human being who can look back on your past hiccups with clarity.
State the problem, then the explanation, and do it as succinctly as possible. Save the dramatics for your personal statement. A long-winded story on how your GPA is kind of low—but not that low—because you had to work really long hours at your job and you didn’t even have time to shower on a regular basis, much less get groceries, leading to your mom commenting that you were looking super malnourished when you went home for Thanksgiving, and you were so tired from working and studying that you fell asleep in your mashed potatoes is going to result in this:
Remember, if you’re writing an explanatory essay that isn’t superfluous, the problem and explanation should need no embellishment.
If you’re writing an explanatory essay for something like a criminal conviction or the explanation is something that distinctly falls into the “My bad” category (e.g., your low GPA is because of an addiction), state how you’ve learned from your mistakes and show how you’ve moved past it (e..g., attendance at AA meetings and X years of sobriety) to demonstrate that it won’t affect your performance in law school.