If you’re sitting down right now, trying to write the most brilliant, persuasive, powerful personal statement ever written, but your fingers are paralyzed on the keys, you’re not alone. “I hate to write about myself,” some tell me. Others say, “my life has been pretty boring/sheltered/standard/privileged.” Still others say, “I went through hard times but I don’t want to write a sob story.” How do you hit the perfect compromise and create a personal statement you can be proud of?
Here are a few ideas to get you started on brainstorming topics:
1. It’s very hard to go back to the drawing board after writing an intro and conclusion, so just start writing your ideas down and sharing your stories and experiences. Start writing like you would a journal or blog post, using a conversational tone. Write how you speak. You can fix the grammar and spelling later. Fine-tune conclusions and themes later. Right now, get your stories on paper and see what themes naturally emerge.
2. Yes, your final personal statement will be between 500 words and 4 pages depending on each law school’s specifications. Most law schools want 2-3 pages. And yes, this is double-spaced. But don’t think about that. When you first get started you should write at least four pages so you have room to cut.
3. Don’t try to weave together everything you’ve ever done. Find things that are similar, either in subject matter or in exhibiting a trait you’re trying to demonstrate, and only weave them together if it really works.
4. Don’t reiterate things from your resume. Leave job descriptions to the resume, and if you discuss resume items in your personal statement, be sure to take a more anecdotal and lessons-learned approach rather than describing your duties and accomplishments.
5. Going in chronological order can be a trap. There is no reason to start with the day you were born, no matter how dramatic the birth might have been. Start with the most interesting thing about you – get the reader’s interest by sharing information about you that will be likable and interesting and as captivating as possible. Don’t try to “warm up” to your story with childhood memories, no matter how cute. You can always reflect back on those memories later in the essay if they were essential in formulating your goals and ideals and if they provide real context for your later achievements.
6. The goal is not to be “unique.” That’s a very high bar to set. Don’t apologize for being privileged if you were fortunate enough to fall into this category. Just tell your story, whatever it might be, and tell it in an authentic and sincere voice. Remember that the key is to present the best version of yourself, rather than to be the most interesting person on the entire planet.
7. If you did face a lot of obstacles in your life (family issues, poverty, discrimination, immigration, etc.) you face an entirely different set of problems because you may have to pick and choose among them. Sharing all of your traumatic events (parents’ divorce, food stamps, education not stressed, poor grades, working through school, dealing with depression and ADD) can be overwhelming and cause concern that you don’t really have your life together. But
sharing a few of these things can make for a powerful essay. The key is sharing information that shows you’ve prepared yourself for the challenges ahead and you’ve demonstrated that you truly overcame these issues – not just that you’ve survived them, but that you overcame them.
8. Most of my law school admission consulting clients struggle to state the reasons why they are applying to a certain law school. I want to offer some hints and tricks in this regard:
A. Do I have to say why I want to go to Law School X?
No. You don’t. Unless X Law School asks you to, and then – yes – you do. If you will be writing an optional essay on Why Law and/or Why School X, then you do not need to address it in the personal statement.
B. Is there some advantage to saying why I want to go to Law School X?
Yes. If you can convince them, they’ll be more likely to admit you rather than waitlist you and make you prove you deserve a coveted admission letter that they’ll then have to report for rankings purposes.
C. So, what can I possibly say?
It’s true – sometimes law schools just don’t seem to be that different from one another, especially when they are ranked similarly.
Here are some tips:
• Don’t say you love their Environmental Law program if nothing in your application supports your interest in Environmental Law.
• Don’t pick a study abroad program as your reason; you can do any ABA school’s study abroad summer program and transfer the credits (generally).
• Don’t list reasons that could be applied to any law school equally like ‘esteemed faculty’ or ‘national reputation’ or ‘bar passage rate.’ Be specific.
• If you’re applying part-time, tell them why. Otherwise they’ll think you’re just using the part-time program to be admitted through the “back door.”
Good luck, and I hope I’ve inspired you to do a little more research and critical thinking about why you’re choosing each law school on your list.
Ann K. Levine is a law school admission consultant and owner of LawSchoolExpert.com. She is the author of The Law School Admission Game: PlayLike an Expert and The Law School Decision Game: A Playbook for Prospective Lawyers.
The Personal Statement for Business School: 6 Tips for Writing a Stand-Out Essay
The personal statement for business school is the most important part of your application. By the time you are applying, you probably cannot significantly alter your GPA or GMAT/GRE score. Thus, if your numbers make you a “borderline candidate” – someone who could be admitted but could just as easily be rejected – your personal statement for business school is your greatest opportunity to swing the decision in your favor. In this case, you should also make sure to pay close attention to the MBA application timeline – apply in the first two rounds. As one Director of Admissions put it: “If someone with your numbers has a possibility of being admitted to a particular school, but not everyone with your numbers is admitted to that school, the major deciding factor is the personal statement.”
On the other hand, even if you seem like a shoo-in – you have, for example, a perfect GPA and a 750 on the GMAT – a weak personal statement for business school is damning. Indeed, nothing looks worse than a candidate with perfect numbers and no personality – or, worse, who exhibits a lack of effort on their application.
In short, your personal statement for business school is what makes you a person, rather than simply a set of numbers and achievements. It is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions officers, and one of the only opportunities you will have to make an admissions officer like you,rather than simply liking your achievements.
Like most written assignments, the personal statement for business school is more of an art than a science. Although there are no formulas for success, your chances of acceptance improve greatly if you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to produce a masterful essay. This is no small task – it will involve dozens of revisions and hours of re-writing and re-organizing. However, by committing yourself to producing an essay that far exceeds adequacy, you can help swing the admissions fortunes in your favor.
6 Key Tips for Writing the Best Personal Statement for Business school
1. Tell YOUR story.
Everyone has their own story to tell. You may have the same test scores or GPA or even work experience as the application sitting on top of yours in the admissions office. But not everyone has your individual stories. Tell them in a way that nobody else can replicate.
In addition to that point, your essay needs to be about you. Admissions officers from nearly every elite business school – Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford, to name a few – lament the number of essays written about a candidate’s parents and grandparents. Those relationships obviously affect your life, but writing about these individuals in an essay does not help a reader understand who you are as individual.
2. Your essay should coherently tie together the other parts of your application.
Most people enjoy participating in activities outside of only school and work. Maybe you play the harmonica in a folk band, maybe you were a track star in college. Maybe you do both. Whatever experiences and background you bring to your application, the personal statement for business school is your chance to tie them together in a meaningful way.
That being said, they should come together in a coherent manner as well. Don’t try to explain every experience you have ever had. Choose the ones that will be most relevant to business, to business schools, and to the person sitting in the admissions office reading your essay. There should be a cohesive narrative that ties together everything you have ever done.
3. Your essay needs to stand out.
Your essay needs to stand out. Applications are read on a comparative basis, which means that your personal statement for business school is read next to thousands of others. That is a lot of essays for an admissions officer to remember, so you need to make yours count.
This can be done in many ways. For example, by demonstrating your unique perspective or background, discussing a particularly interesting or unusual passion, or discussing any other experiences and characteristics that would be considered rare or special among your co-applicants. Remember: your excellence is not evaluated in a vacuum; you must show in your personal statement for business school that you are not only excellent, but you are better in some way(s) than your peers.
4. An admissions reader should be able to sum up your personal statement (and the rest of your application) using the same phrase you would use for yourself.
When you pick up your personal statement for business school, think to yourself: “If I were reading this application, how would I describe myself in 10 words or less?” If you can’t come up with a memorable and compelling answer in a few seconds, go back to the drawing board.
Most admissions officers remember essays that have a very clear persona about them. Think of your personal statement for business school as very similar to a business’s “30-second elevator speech”. Perhaps you are the “entrepreneur who launched her first company at age 10,” the “fitness expert,” the “orthodox rabbi,” or the “professional musician.” Remember: every admissions officer will look over hundreds of applications. If your pages aren’t readily distinguishable from the other 14,985 pages an admissions officer must read through, you simply cannot expect that an admissions officer will remember much about you, much less advocate that you be admitted.
5. Show your motivations for pursuing an MBA.
This tip might sound obvious, but many people neglect to address it in their personal statement for business school. One of the key questions that admissions officers ask as they are evaluating applications is: “Why does this applicant want to pursue an MBA…at our school?”
If the answer you suggest in your application is that you want an MBA in order to get a pay raise at your current job, then a school might be less inclined to admit you. Top MBA programs are looking for people who will leave their schools to become change-makers and leaders in the business world. Even if you are applying to business school as a more experienced applicant, you need to have a compelling answer for “Why an MBA now?”
Maybe you have been working your way up the ladder at an investment bank for the past few years, and you want an MBA so that you can take your managerial skills to the startup world. That example tells a more compelling story than “I want a better job.”
6. Show that you have the personal and professional qualifications to achieve your goals (which means you need to have goals!)
Your past work experiences and qualifications should in some way inform what your future goals are. To take the last example, if you have strong experience in managing a team, but would like to switch to the startup or nonprofit or other fields, you need to show – through your personal statement for business school – that an MBA is imperative to achieving your goals. These goals should be explicitly outlined in your essay.
MBA programs are looking for qualified, experienced, and motivated candidates. Your application – particularly the essay – is your only chance to display how you fit the bill. While your test scores and GPA may qualify you academically for certain schools, the personal statement for business school is where you have to opportunity to stand out.
Make it personal. Make it coherent. Make it goal-oriented. And you just might make it into your dream school.