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How to Write a Personal Statement

boston college career center

A personal statement answers two questions for law schools:

“Who are you?” and “Can you write?” Here are some strategies for answering those questions effectively.

Before you write, think expansively and plan deliberately

Consider the times in your life that most vividly reflect your character and personality, or that demonstrate your commitment and initiative.

Try “freewriting”—writing for a set amount of time without stopping and with no thought to grammar or spelling—to help you get started or generate new ideas.

Start by setting your style and structure

Write a working introduction just to get started. The introduction you actually use may be the last part of the essay that you write.

While the final essay should be about two pages long, early drafts will vary in length. Start by getting the main elements of the story you want to tell down on paper, then edit or expand the piece.

Avoid titles and epigraphs (quotations at the beginning of your essay), as they can be distracting.

Keep the focus on you

Show who you are by addressing these questions:

  • What have you learned from your experiences?
  • What do you want to learn more about (in general, not necessarily related to the law)?
  • What are you motivated to do next (again, generally—not in a specific area of law)?

The key elements of the story should be your own observations, thoughts, and feelings.

Use clear, concise language

The essay takes the place of an interview, so “talk” to the reader. While the essay should be lively and expressive, it is not an exercise in creative writing. It is an exercise in communication.

A statement is stronger with fewer adjectives and adverbs. Limit the use of metaphors and allegories, if you use them at all.

Use the active voice. (“The boy sailed the boat,” not “The boat was sailed by the boy.”) Give specific examples that support your assertions and your purpose.


Tell your story in your own voice

Write about something you like or something you know. Be willing to start over if your theme isn’t working out.

“Don’t teach, don’t preach, and don’t make a speech.” Your readers know what the law is and what lawyers do.

If you enjoy writing the piece, it will show and your audience will enjoy reading it.


Writing about the law

If the application does not require you to write specifically about the law, consider writing more broadly about your experiences and goals.

If there is a required question about becoming a lawyer, be specific and substantive in your reasons. You may want to become a lawyer because you enjoy the power of words, advocacy, or the role of a constructively engaged expert. You may want to become a lawyer because you have experienced what lawyers can do and you want to do that work.

If you choose to write about the law as part of your essay, consider incorporating your ideas into your concluding paragraph. Connect how this particular degree will help you reach your goals.

Spend some time, seek advice, and then take ownership

An essay that presents your ideas accurately and articulately will require several drafts.

Complete a first draft, set it aside for a while, and then review it. Ask yourself if the work presents a positive impression of someone who is proactive, resourceful, and resilient.

Edit the text for clarity, the paragraphs for strength and purpose, the structure for logic, and the completed essay for message and style.

Show your edited draft to a friend or two. Listen carefully to their reactions to see if they understood your meaning. Next, show your edited draft to an advisor.

When you consider revisions, the goal is to strengthen your own voice. In the end, this is your personal statement.

Finally, proofread the essay. Check syntax, grammar, and spelling carefully. Do not rely on spell-check computer applications. Then let the law schools know what you are thinking: send it.