The personal statement is the aspect of the application that we hear the most about when recruiting or talking to prospective students (except perhaps general fear of the LSAT!). "What should I write my personal statement about" is a critical question for the applicant, but one that is hard to answer. Here is a summary of do's and don'ts taken from several members of our admissions committee:
- Most importantly, a personal statement is supposed to be PERSONAL! We want to hear about you, what makes you tick, what motivates you, and what inspires you. We are trying to make up a class of interesting, dynamic people, and this is the place to show us that you will add something vital to our school.
- A good personal statement will give a sense of who you are as a person after reading it, and there are hundreds of ways to accomplish this.
- Remember, this is your writing sample as well as a personal statement so make sure that it is a flawless piece of writing. No typos, nice paragraphs, and something that flows well is highly desirable. Make sure to have someone whose writing you respect read it and offer comments.
- Hopefully your personal statement can be interesting, tell a captivating story, or inject some humor into the essay. We read a lot of these, so something fun helps.
- Try to focus on something unique about you, something that is not going to be repeated in other people's essays. One essay topic we see a lot is the pre-med student who has an epiphany in a Political Science class and decides to change her major (but not until after getting a C- in Organic Chemistry!).
- If you are sending out individualized personal statements, make sure that you send the correct personal statement with your application. I have read hundreds of personal statements talking about how the applicant really wants to go to a school other than Chicago. Needless to say, this can ruin an otherwise wonderful personal statement.
- Don't just rewrite your resume in your personal statement, writing chronologically about all the things you have accomplished in your life. That is what the resume is for, and such a personal statement tells us nothing new.
- Be very careful when talking about the law. Remember, our committee is made up of lawyers, so if you are going to argue a legal issue, be aware that a lawyer will be reviewing your arguments very carefully.
- Don't be weird just to be weird, or try anything too strange. No rhymes, videotapes, or Audio CDs, please.
- Don't talk about our law school instead of yourself. It's great that you think we have a wonderful law school, and even better that you learned a lot on our website, but we already know that!
- Don't feel like you have to write an essay about saving the world. If saving the world is your passion, then feel free to write about it. Something personal and introspective that fails to mention global warming, international terrorism or the sub-Saharan AIDS epidemic can still be a great personal statement.
And if you think writing a general law school personal statement is tough, consider this recent (actual) application essay topic from our undergraduate college:
Write a short story. Here are the requirements:
- It must begin with the words "I never knew they could do that with ordinary string."
- It must mention the University of Chicago, but cannot involve an erstwhile student applying.
- It must mention a rubber ball, a domesticated animal, a famous person, and the complete works of William Shakespeare.
- It cannot involve any superhero-type powers.
- Length: Five pages.