For our first entry in the Real Talk series, Associate Director Nefyn Meissner shares his advice on approaching the personal statement.
Some applicants feel the need to start their personal statements with a bang by throwing in a colorful personal story or dramatic hook to grab the Admissions Committee’s attention right from the start. I, for instance, could spend the next page regaling you with a pithy vignette from my prior work in elementary education, opening with a vivid description of the time a lively Pre-K student chased me across the classroom with a pair of safety scissors after I tried to correct his attempt at identifying the letter Q. (He was adamant that it was the letter O…just fancier). Instead, I will start this post by reassuring you that our best applicants most often open their essays by making a clear statement in their opening paragraphs. Such essays start strong, dig deep, and end when they should end. These essays do so with a dash of authenticity and brevity. It is my hope that this short essay does just that.
Putting aside debates over whether or not the letter Q is indeed just a more dressed-up version of the letter O, the former elementary educator in me would be remiss if I did not remind you that the two most important things to do when writing an essay are to follow instructions and check your work. This is doubly true for those of y’all applying to law school. A jumbled memo, a rambling oral argument, or a misplaced comma in a contract can all have major implications in the real world. Law school will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to write incisive memos, craft compelling arguments, and draft ironclad contracts. Show us that you are ready for the challenge by formatting your essays appropriately, following word and page limits, and avoiding simple mistakes.
Content is just as important. Your personal statement should tell us something about who you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to go. Should you add a famous quote at the top for inspiration? No, please don’t. Should you mention you want to come to HLS? We already assume that if you’re applying. Should you talk about your grandmother? Only if doing so helps make the case for us to admit you. Otherwise, we might end up wanting to admit your grandmother. Whatever you write about, keep it relevant and real.
In closing, I’ll share the real secret behind a good essay. That secret? There is none. It’s fine if you can’t write about surviving a classroom showdown over the true identity of certain letters of the alphabet. Just start strong, dig deep, end when you should end, and remember to check your work.
Filed in: Inside the Black Box
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