Perhaps the most difficult part of applying to law school is writing the perfect essay. Your grades and test scores are the most important part of your application, but your personal statement is your chance to set yourself apart from the crowd. You’ll want your essay to be both memorable and relevant. Here are a few tips for writing the perfect personal statement:
- You will probably only need to write one personal statement, but you will want to tweak it for each school to which you apply. There should be a few subtle differences in what each school requires in a personal statement.
- Your final essay should end up about two or three pages, double-spaced. For your first draft, try to write at least four pages, leaving yourself room to cut.
- Don’t worry about being “unique.” Instead, tell your story authentically and sincerely. Your goal is to present the best version of yourself, not to be the most interesting person in the world.
- Ask for feedback. The more time you spend on your personal statement, the harder it becomes to spot any mistakes. Ask for feedback from professors, friends, family members, and anyone else whose judgement you trust.
- Avoid flowery or overly complicated prose. Good law students--and good lawyers--use direct, concise prose. Remove extraneous words and make sure your meaning is clear.
As the bus entered the heavily guarded military installation, my eyes landed on a sign that read "All the Way." When the bus stopped, several angry Drill Instructors boarded and began introducing us to a very colorful vocabulary, usually reserved for drunken sailors. They instructed us to gather our belongings, get off the bus and assemble in a circular formation. As I searched for the strength to get up, several Drill Instructors yelled at us for our clumsy attempt to dismount the bus and fall into formation. I wondered if I had made the right choice. Since then, I have come to realize that my military experiences have tremendously enhanced my self-worth. From those first eight weeks of Basic Training to the day I walked out with an honorable discharge, I gained an enormous amount of skill and confidence. I grew as a person, and I learned life skills: discipline, tenacity, leadership, and problem solving abilities, all of which will enhance my potential as a law student.
In the military, training makes the difference between failure and success. Whether one's specialty is exiting aircraft at 1,300 feet, enforcing law and order around the fort, or taking medical X-rays, training is needed in order to develop discipline and confidence. As the Army becomes more technologically advanced, as does the guidance individuals receive. In my case, the Army provided me with high-tech instruction in the field of electronics communication repair. At the tender age of 18, I was responsible for operating and maintaining million-dollar telecommunications equipment. This often involved being located in remote areas away from other support units, while working under adverse conditions. However, electronic equipment or theories of electricity were far from the only things I learned about. The experience provided me with invaluable skills that will prove critical in the legal profession. For example, I was required to analyze intricate electronics circuitry, find problems, then fix them appropriately. I also had to interact with coworkers, supervisors, and engineers while trying to solve these difficult technical problems. As a result, I learned the importance of articulating my thoughts in a coherent and logical fashion while under duress. Being forced to independently solve complicated problems in a short period of time strengthened my discipline and tenacity, qualities that will be essential in Law School.
Moreover, the military provided me with the opportunity to travel abroad. Living in countries such as Korea, Spain, and Germany and immersing myself in their cultures has given me perspective on the differences between the United States and other countries. Each place I have lived has been unique in some way, from the different languages to the variations in cultural practices. Interacting with individuals from different backgrounds has helped me develop a good rapport with people.
From my travels, I also learned that there can be more than one solution to a problem. Indeed, having a variety of perspectives makes it easier to come up with approaches to different problems. My travel experience has strengthened my interpersonal skills, as well as my integrity and determination.
Perhaps most importantly, my military training provided me with the courage, strength and dedication to succeed even after I left military service. I believed that I could accomplish anything, as long as I put my mind to it. This belief led me to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry, where I worked for several companies, and eventually convinced me I could succeed in an academic environment. In each of my jobs, I benefited from my hard work ethic by advancing to senior technician levels and eventually securing leadership positions within my department. For six years I enjoyed a variety of challenges and opportunities, whether it was troubleshooting computer equipment, collaborating with electronics engineers, or operating industrial machinery.
I longed to be in a more intellectual environment, where I might be allowed to see things from a different perspective. I had always been more interested in mathematics and science than liberal arts subjects. So when I decided to go back to school, I decided to take courses in philosophy and the social sciences. Understanding philosophical and political rhetoric proved to be quite difficult, as I had to analyze abstract theories and assumptions about retribution and the nature of politics. Nevertheless, I managed to persevere and even make the Dean's honor roll on several occasions. My work and academic experiences have undoubtedly built upon the skills I developed in the Army.
Through my experiences in the military, I did find some satisfaction. However, I found greater happiness in helping others, whether it was by using military resources to aid a community during times of crisis, or participating in local food or blood drives. For me, there is nothing more gratifying than helping people in times of need. I always have been a firm believer that people have a responsibility to give something back to their community. While the military has provided me with invaluable skills, my desire to help others stems from my traditional Hispanic upbringing. My parents always stressed the importance of maintaining and supporting the family structure. Ever since I can remember, my mother and father always taught their children to respect and help one another. These ideals did not stop with our own family. My mother told me that everyone on this earth belongs to one big family, and that it is our duty to respect and help another. She stated that while our lives may be going well, there is always somebody who needs our help. This is why, for the past year and half, I have become involved in a local mentor program that provides guidance and support for children with disadvantaged backgrounds. As a mentor, my responsibilities include working with the local youth to improve decision making capabilities, build conflict resolution abilities, improve school performance, and build the desire to continue their education. As a lawyer I hope that I will be able to help individuals through legal crises.
The sign at the military installation that reads "All The Way" has had a tremendous impact on me. What began as a simple twist of fate has inspired me to face new challenges and given me the determination to succeed in all my endeavors. Law school will be a welcome challenge, one which I plan to face with my arsenal of experience, passion, dedication, leadership and discipline. I believe that these characteristics make me a confident, accomplished and promising candidate who would be an asset to the incoming class, and ultimately to the legal profession. I am convinced that I have the necessary skills to go "All the Way" at your institution.
Law School Essay Do's and Don'ts
- Do: Choose a narrow topic. Offer details about a small topic, rather than broad generalities about a large topic. Focus on a concrete experience and its impact on you.
- DON'T: Tell your life story or restate your resume. Resist the urge to tie together all of your life experiences. Essays that say too much end up saying nothing at all.
- Do: Keep your essay interesting. Paint a picture; tell a story. Try to make your personal statement interesting and memorable.
- DON'T: Be a cliche. Before choosing a topic, think about what makes your story unique and highlight those experiences.
Many college students know exactly what field they plan on entering after graduation and have been preparing for that field throughout their college career. I had difficulty deciding on a career field I found rewarding enough to warrant devoting my entire life to it. While I had always considered pursuing the law and majored in public policy as an undergraduate, I was never passionate about it. I didn't have clear goals, and it seemed to me as if my degree and my circumstances were pushing me into studying the law; I needed to rediscover why I fell in love with the law in the first place.
As a college senior, I took the LSAT because all of my classmates were taking it. I did not prepare, and I really did not want to attend law school after college; thankfully, my low LSAT score precluded that as a possibility. I needed to understand more about life before I could commit myself to a career. After being in school for about two decades, I felt completely out of touch with reality and did not think I would ever find career direction by attending more schooling. With these thoughts in mind, I decided that I needed real-world experience to help me find the direction I so desperately sought.
I accepted an investor relations position in New York that tested both my intelligence and my work ethic. The first few months moved at a hectic pace as I attempted to acquire knowledge of my new pursuit and to control the responsibilities assigned to me. I quickly adjusted and maintained a schedule of seventy-hour workweeks. Because of my hard work and growing expertise, my colleagues soon began to acknowledge me as an important member of the organization and my opinion became respected and sought out. This respect provided me with a great deal of confidence, and I began to realize that I had unlimited potential. I had finally regained the attitude necessary for success, and my recent LSAT score is a testament of this self-awakening.
While I may not have taken the direct route to law school, I took the course that suited me well. I needed to find goals that would drive me through all-nighters and exam periods. Over the course of the past few years, I have transformed from an inexperienced college graduate into a respected professional. My departure from classroom study has helped me grow into a more confident, independent individual who has developed the ability to set goals and focus on the path to achieving them. I believe I am now prepared to make the most of my future educational experiences, and I hope for the opportunity to do this at your university.
Law School Essay Do's and Don'ts
- Do: Be yourself. Don’t tell law schools what you think they want to hear; tell them the truth.
- DON'T: Use your personal statement to explain discrepancies in your application. Instead, address those issues in an addendum.
- Do: Keep your essay simple and brief. Remember that your reader has a huge stack of essays to read through. Your personal statement shouldn’t be more than two or three pages double spaced.
- DON'T: If you are in the bottom of an applicant pool, don’t try to play it safe. You have nothing to lose by making a novel statement.
“Why shouldn’t we print the names?” I stared at the article I had written, surrounded by six other members of my newspaper’s staff, unable to answer my own question. At issue were the names of two students, arrested for allegedly assaulting two police officers. I had found them after trawling through campus police logs, nestled between reports of suspicious smells and loud parties. As a crime reporter, I had leaped at the thought of finally writing about something more interesting than administrators chastising social clubs. I felt like an investigator, a detective perhaps, building a case of facts and statements, hard questions with hard answers, trying to uncover the truth. But as my article gleamed on the computer screen before us, I went silent, uncertain.
The phone conversations kept playing back in my head. I had made the initial call, straight to voicemail, asking for comment. The first response came quickly, the voice on the other end begging me not to ruin his life, pleading with me to run the story another way. The second student was less forthcoming, telling me that he had been advised not to speak with me about this matter, but urging me to consider exactly what I—what The Harvard Crimson—was doing. I told them both the same thing: it was not my decision, my editor and the rest of the staff were going to discuss it, and they would make the final judgment. The accused students seemed to understand that it was out of my hands and hung up without further protest. But my excuse seemed insufficient as we sat and talked about our duty as a newspaper and how to avoid compromising our integrity as an organization.
The article ran the next day, names and all. When my roommate questioned me about it, I defended the article. Refusing to print those names, after having printed others in the past for similar situations, would have set a bad precedent for our paper. We were trying to balance two concerns: the needs of the community and the privacy of students. In this instance I firmly believe that we struck the right balance, fulfilling our responsibilities to report the news fairly and accurately. As a journalist, I felt proud of the story I had written. As a fellow student with empathy, the voices still echoed in my ear, urging me to reconsider, to find out more, to pore over the evidence and discover what actually happened.
Semesters later, I met one of those students and realized that I had not expected him to reappear on campus. I had assumed he was guilty from the beginning, suspended perhaps, my article fully justified. To find him innocent—no suspension, the charges dropped—and a little abashed to meet me made my eyes stare at the floor. The verdict of public opinion had been overturned, and I felt ashamed of having bought into it. Apart from announcing the students’ initial arrest, our paper has yet to revisit the topic. If I want to read the piece again, I simply have to enter one of those names into Google and it appears, the first result. Given what I know now, the outdated nature of that story makes me wish I could add to that narrative, if only to reflect the changed circumstances of their cases.
I wish I had the chance to play a different role in those two students’ lives, a role less focused on producing allegations and more focused on resolving them. My stint in journalism is over, but my foray into the law has hopefully just begun. If offered the opportunity to join this law school, I would want to continue investigating cases that affect the members of my community, in the capacity of either a public defender or a government prosecutor. As someone deeply aware of the impact my actions can have upon individuals, I want the chance to see that impact on an individual level. After spending a summer in the Department of Justice fending off the inquiries of reporters, I want to do more than repeat what others have said or testified. I want to take an active role in shaping those testimonies. For me, becoming a lawyer offers the most direct path to my goals, and I am confident that my past experiences both at Harvard and away from it have prepared me for the difficulties law school entails. My hope is that attending this school would provide me with the tools to deal efficiently with practical lawyering. When the time comes for me to pass judgment on a person whom I have never met, whose words pierce me through the telephone, I want more than just a police log to go on.
Exposure to my parents' restaurant businesses from an early age has given me insight into the everyday running of business. Working part-time at my parents' restaurant, I gained considerable experience since, as a member of the family, I have always been delegated more responsibility than other members of staff. I gained a Level 2 certificate in Food and Health Hygiene, allowing me to cook in the restaurant. Further, in addition to serving customers and carrying out sales transactions, I have dealt with other aspects relating to the staff rota, marketing, ordering supplies, and accounts.
In this manner, I have developed a good understanding of what is required to run a business successfully and can use this knowledge later in life when I pursue my personal ambitions. Through this work experience, I gained excellent interpersonal skills when dealing with customers daily. Thus inspired, I wish to follow in my parents’ footsteps and set up my own business one day. I have decided to study Level 3 BTEC National Diploma in business to further my knowledge and wanted to also study another area I have a great interest in, which is law; hence I chose this particular pathway on the Business course. My law studies on this course have reinforced my interest and desire to expand my knowledge of the legal environment. Further, having thoroughly enjoyed the Law modules on my current BTEC course, I have elected to pursue a combined degree in business and law, the two subjects I am most passionate about.
My course has also given me insight into the British legal system when visiting the Old Bailey, experiencing how the courtroom operates on a daily basis. The study skills I have acquired would enable me to research thoroughly and use the information to inform my arguments. I have learned to be more confident in delivering presentations, writing up my findings, and organizing my time and workload effectively in order to meet deadlines. These are skills that will contribute positively to my degree studies.
Twelve years ago, my parents decided to do voluntary work through the business at an elderly residential home. I have been a volunteer through this and serve Christmas dinners to the residents who spend the holiday alone. This experience has been gratifying, and I have continued to do this as I have got older and more independent. Volunteering in the community is vital, as it gives a sense of giving back something to society.
In my personal time, horse riding is a passion of mine and is something I have enjoyed since the age of four. I have competed in many championships across the country and was placed in the top 10 county championships in 2008. Overall I have gained over 300 awards. In 2007 I was awarded a Pride Award for outstanding bravery due to an incident in the US involving the legal system. This experience has definitely matured me and taught me to value life and to prioritize the more important things.
I am a motivated, hardworking, and well-grounded individual, who is truly passionate about achieving my future goals and aims. I would adapt to university life well and could make a positive contribution. I look forward to the challenges my subject has to offer.
“What does it mean to go green?” I asked that question to students while teaching a community college course in the rural community of Ondo, Nigeria where I grew up. I had just completed an internship with the Clinton Foundation. During that internship, I had the unique opportunity to nurture the biophilia, an intense attraction to nature and its designs, that is my most defining quality. I was inspired to travel back home to teach students the principles of going green. On that fateful day I looked out at my students, eagerly awaiting their answers to my question: “What does it mean to go green?” To my surprise, I was met only with blank stares, eyes wide with inquiry. No one answered. No one knew how to answer. After a little research, I learned that those blank stares of inquiry were representative of youth throughout Africa. That day I faced a haunting reality. My country’s beloved youth—who make up about twenty percent of the global population—were not eco-conscious. That experience inspired me to launch the nonprofit Green Institute.
Green Institute’s mission is to raise the next-generation of sustainability leaders through education, advocacy, and innovation. Green Institute shapes entrepreneurial, selfless leaders who disrupt environmental injustice through innovative action. Green Institute’s unique programming enhances leaders’ capacities to improve the world while working to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Green Institute offers a range of programs under its three pillars—education, advocacy, and innovation, including nanodegrees, recycling programs, symposiums, webinars, and innovative research. The Green Kids program trains children to be eco-conscious. The Green Campus Initiative empowers undergraduates to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. We equip students to create Green Initiatives on their campuses. The Green Room features webinars with renowned sustainability leaders who share their experiential knowledge with communities around the world. Prominent Green Room speakers include Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. To extend our education beyond our tuition-paying students, we have established the Trash for Education program. Trash for Education is an incentive program where students can earn “credits” in exchange for the waste material they collect. Students can redeem these credits for books or to waive tuition fees. The program partners with the state government and private corporations that purchase collected waste at a price Green Institute sets. Since the Trash for Education initiative began, pollution from plastic and scrap tires has reduced six percent in Ondo, Nigeria. Green Institute’s programming reflects the connection between learning, action, and innovation.
Green Institute’s positive impact in Nigeria and beyond provides a compelling narrative of innovation that would contribute significantly to Yale University’s intellectual life. Approximately 150, 000 people have directly used our services. The Institute has sponsored over two hundred local participants to attend national and international conferences. Additionally, it has indirectly helped over fifty students receive scholarships to study abroad and fulfill their careers. Green Institute has established ten chapters in institutions of higher learning throughout Nigeria. The Institute has partnered with recycling companies and local waste collectors to reduce waste. We turn scrap tires into beautiful furniture through a technical skills development program that has trained about fifty local participants. This initiative has helped reduce pollution in local communities and curbed the spread of malaria parasites that breed in scrap tires. The Institute initiated a green cocoa farm for local farmers increasing the cocoa value chain eight percent as yields increased from five to six thousand metric tons of cocoa annually. Moreover, Green Institute has secured five thousand green pledges, which are a verbal allegiance to green practices while refraining from unsustainable lifestyles. In the process, we recruited and trained over twenty five thousand sustainability ambassadors who are leaders in diverse fields. About 150 volunteers and interns are applying for our programs at any given time. Green Institute has received multiple awards from national bodies for its sustainability efforts. On June 5th, 2020, Green Institute hosted one of the largest virtual symposiums on eco-consciousness. The symposium featured more than twenty prominent sustainability leaders with thousands in attendance. The event joined multiple disciplines, including science, health, business, investment, the arts, and entertainment to campaign for sustainable development.
Green Institute empowers budding leaders to advance to new phases of their educational and career development. It has also been at the frontier of regional sustainable development. The positive transformation Green Institute has brought to thousands of lives has been my crowning achievement. Additionally, my book, Principles of Green and Sustainability Science (2020, Springer), is the first sustainability text to deal exclusively with sustainability issues in Africa while providing global sustainability visions. In five years, I want to be at the frontier of Africa’s sustainable development. As a World Fellow, I would broker relationships with the program’s network of facilitators and participants to produce innovative ideas, products, and services to better prepare leaders to navigate the ever-evolving nuances of the Green Movement across Africa and globally. The Yale Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow Program will help me reach my potential as a leader. Connecting with other Fellows, students, and faculty at Yale will expand my vision for sustainability. I am eager to step outside my comfort zone as I learn from new ideas and the visions others have cast for their innovative work. I want to play a pivotal role in transforming communities into greener, safer spaces in this generation. Therefore, the Yale Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow Program is a critical next step for my work. Being a World Fellow will accelerate my growth as a leader and foster my capacity to execute my vision for a more sustainable world. I will contribute to the World Fellows program a unique perspective that will energize the campus community. I will demonstrate to Yale University through my scholarship, service, and innovation that the right question asked at the right time—like, “What does it mean to go green?”— can change lives.