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December 20, 2002

Writing Personal Statements

For the last three years I've taught introductory literature and business/technical writing classes at a state university. Now that I'm applying to law school, I'm in the dubious position of writing my own personal statement, while at the same time being asked by my students to give advice on how to write personal statements. If you read my statement, you may think I'm not well qualified to give advice on these things, and since I haven't yet been admitted anywhere, I'd have to agree with you. That's why I point my students to other authorities on the subject. For example, here's a succinct guide from a book called Graduate Admissions Essays -- What Works, What Doesn't, and Why by Donald Asher:

Although you should never be slave to a formula, there is a set of key ingredients that many successful essays share. They have great opening lines or paragraphs. They convey at least a glimpse of the applicant's personality, substantiate specific academic preparation and knowledge of subject matter, and demonstrate an understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of the chosen career. They often give a sense of the candidate's maturity, compassion, stamina, teamwork skills, leadership potential, and general likability, usually without addressing these issues directly. Then they go on to show how the applicant plans to use the graduate education in her planned career, and establish that the student has an understanding of her place in the 'big picture.'

The essay is an opportunity to tie all the disparate pieces of your application together into a comprehensive, coherent whole. Some admissions directors told me that they are not always looking for new information in the essay; rather, they are interested in having the essay 'make sense' of the rest of the application. ... All the best essays will be both honest and forthcoming" (43).

I think that's pretty good advice, but again, I recommend looking at some of the books out there to see the kinds of things they recommend. When I'm in need of advice like this, I always make a trip to the bookstore and spend some quality time with the books they have there. I often find I don't need to buy a book, but looking at the samples and different strategies always gives me ideas to get the job done.

Posted December 20, 2002 12:10 PM | law school

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