Personal Statement Mistakes

With application season around the corner, the law school personal statement is becoming a hot topic around the Veritas Prep offices. With applications projected to rise for the 2009-2010 season and the personal statement increasing in importance, students are desperate to ace this difficult assignment and improve their chances. Unfortunately, the best efforts to do so are often misguided. As the basketball coaching legend John Wooden once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

With that in mind, it seemed a like a good time to address two extremely common philosophical mistakes that students make on the personal statement. Note that the two issues here deal with the approach to the writing assignment, not the execution.

1. Cherry picking a topic. It is human nature to gravitate toward the most interesting “talking point,” but in the case of a law school application, students rarely have the luxury of writing about the most exciting aspect from their background. Instead, candidates must focus on the experiences and background elements that best address any weaknesses or unexplored themes in their applications. We ran a blog post last year that dealt with this concept in greater detail.

2. Reciting the resume. Another common mistake in approaching the personal statement is to simply spell out the details of your resume, rather than picking a conceptual starting point and using your experiences to establish that theme. This is one of the reasons that we constantly urge clients to explore MBA and medical school applications, in order to get a handle on the types of prompts that exist. Simply listing activities, jobs, and accomplishments is, quite frankly, a waste of space. Why? Because you already did that on your resume. The personal statement is the chance to tell the admissions committee something new – ideally, as discussed above, something that sheds new light on an explored idea or even turns a weakness into a strength (or at least neutralizes it).

The personal statement is a tricky writing sample to execute, but avoiding these two major philosophical mistakes is the best way to produce something that actually speaks to the concerns of the admissions officer and elevates a candidate’s application and subsequent chances for admission.