Expressing your Authentic Self in Law School Personal Statements

Personal statements.

These two words evoke numerous unwanted feelings for law school applicants every year: uncertainty, confusion, fear, frustration, anxiety, and stress are just a few.

I liken them to the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question that is commonly asked in job interviews; they’re both vague causing the individual to wonder what the law school or employer is looking for yet, on the flip side, they both allow for freedom to tell one’s story without much limitation.

There are books and articles that provide tips on how to craft winning personal statements – everything from optimal page length, the importance of not simply repeating one’s resume, proofreading multiple times before submission to how to select a topic and distinguish yourself from the mass of other applicants.

One often mentioned tip that I’ll explore more deeply in this post is the value of authenticity – or expressing your most genuine self – when crafting a strong personal statement.  How do you strike the right balance between expressing your true self and presenting yourself in a way you want to be perceived? 

Here are some quick tips that will, hopefully, help you find that balance:

  1. Write in your own voice. The University of Chicago Law School explains this well.  “Don’t use phrases and vocabulary that you wouldn’t normally use in writing and conversation.” I see this all the time in resumes and hear it when I do mock interviews with law students, and it makes the student seem less authentic and can even lead me to question their honesty. Use simple, clear, and honest language that would reflect how you would typically communicate. 
  2. Write about a topic that resonates with you. If the law school provides a prompt about what you should address in your personal statement, you should be sure to touch on those topics in your statement. More often than not, though, law schools don’t provide a specific topic or question to be addressed, hence, leaving it to the applicant to determine what to write about. The University of Chicago Law School website specifically states, “Don’t try to fit your personal statement into a defined category or box." Similarly, UC Davis emphasizes that “A personal statement should showcase who you are and what you care about, not what you believe the readers want to hear.” According to an Ohio Wesleyan University guide on writing law school personal statements, law school admissions officers don’t have “a set agenda” when it comes to topics for personal statements. They really want applicants to communicate who they really are and what has made them the person they are today. In other words, don’t feel the need to write about something you think you should write about if it doesn’t truly resonate with you. If you refer to sample personal statements, don’t feel the need to model yours after them or write in a similar way. If you write about something that is meaningful to you, you will remain true to who you are and your authenticity will shine through. That being said, there are topics you probably want to steer away from, but that’s for another post.

  3. Be personal. The statement is, after all, a personal statement. Given the nature of my current work, I tend to read more diversity personal statements (essays law students write for diversity-specific job opportunities) as opposed to the personal statements of law school applicants, but the two are actually quite similar. It’s not uncommon for a law student to draft a statement that further describes the various experiences on the student’s resume instead of sharing a more personal aspect of his/her life that might not be apparent from the application materials. This will likely require some self-reflection before putting pen to paper, but the effort will be well worth it as sharing your experience and story will help your true self come through.

It is also important to keep in mind that some law schools have an interview portion of the application process; if you don’t convey your authentic self in your personal statement that could become apparent in the interview especially because your statement is likely to be discussed during the interview.

Another positive end result, perhaps the most important one, of expressing your authentic self in your law school application and personal statement, more specifically, is that you are more likely to find a law school that is a right fit for you. The same is true for the job application process; I firmly believe a law student is more likely to find a job that is the right fit if he/she expresses their genuine self in application materials and during the job interview.

Good luck, and.....

Jaya Saxena is an Assistant Director, Diversity and Inclusion at The George Washington University Law School’s Center for Professional Development and Career Strategy. In this role, she regularly advises law students on a variety of career-related topics and also manages diversity and inclusion initiatives. Jaya is an active member of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and involved with a number of organizations in the DC area. She received her undergraduate degree and a Masters in Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and earned her J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also has a Graduate Certificate in Health and Wellness Coaching from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She looks forward to speaking at Ms. JD's Eight Annual Conference on Women in the Law. You can find her on Twitter @thezenlegalmama.

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