Every topic in the world for your law school personal statement seems to have endless arguments for and against it. I can help you strike at least three off your list.
Before we begin, let’s get something straight. Anyone who tells you there are no bad topics for your personal statement is full of some serious cow turd.
Sure, there are a bunch of topics that are workable, but there are a few that make admissions officers start running for the hills.
I’m here to stop you from writing about one of the topics that leads to an audible groan and an eye roll with a facepalm.
Bad Topic #1: Law
Oh no! Discussing law in your law school personal statement can kill your application.
It’s important to use the precious space you have to show the admissions committee about your character and personality.
Save the legal reasoning for when you get into law school to avoid being automatically placed in the circular file. Let me explain why this is critical.
You Misinterpret or Misrepresent the Law
I have read a fair number of essays that give me in-depth details about constitutional law . . . incorrectly. Ouch.
I know you are the biggest smarty pants in the whole wide world. I get it. I was too when I applied to law school.
But, your view on law from your undergraduate seminar on Law and Healthcare Policy changes dramatically once you hit the casebooks in law school. You are immediately concerned with IRAC, proximate cause, and why everything is a “gray area.”
Informing the admissions committee about legal topics comes with painful consequences. You can be wrong (really, believe me, it CAN happen!) and you risk sounding naive and ill-informed.
Run from the law in your law school personal statement.
You will learn all these things in time, grasshopper. The fun will begin after your acceptance letter.
You Confuse (or bore) Law School Admissions Officers
Not only may you not know about the law, the admissions officers may not either.
The fine, wonderful creatures in the admissions office are there to help select the best incoming class. They are looking for diversity, ability to succeed in a rigorous environment, and strong character.
Members of the admissions committee may not have J.D.s. They may have J.D.s. Either way, they are not practicing law and don’t want to hear your thoughts on current legal topics.
They want to get their job done by 5 p.m. (who doesn’t?) and make a nice incoming class that is likely to succeed and make the school look good.
Remember your audience.
Bad Topic #2: Academics
Talking about academics is a no no in your law school personal statement.
I’m happy for you if the intellectual challenge of philosophy makes your heart sing or you have done endless hours of research on the Civil War.
You may talk about how philosophy has inspired you to compete in the debate society or the lessons you learned about yourself doing your graduate-level research in history. But, do not talk about the substance of dry, academic subjects.
If it can be Googled, it doesn’t belong as the main topic of your personal statement.
You Waste Space
The primary reason to stay away from bad topics in your personal statement is because you waste space that is at a premium in your law school application. You lose the opportunity to share who you are as a person with the people who are deciding your fate.
The goal of the personal statement is to show a side of yourself that isn’t evident in other parts of your application.
We want the admissions committee to understand what makes you tick, to see a snapshot of your life, and, most importantly, how you will contribute to the law school community.
None of this happens when you are discussing the Civil War or other topics that belong in an academic essay.
Save your space to share what makes you, well, you.
You Put the Admissions Committee to Sleep
You may think the Civil War is the most interesting topic on the planet. I get it. I don’t. It is also very unlikely that a tired, overworked admissions committee member is going to be as excited as you are about Ulysses S. Grant.
You risk droning on like a novel, or bad blog, without giving the admissions committee a chance to get to know you as a person.
People find stories of other people engaging.
I want to know what it was like to grow-up in rural South Dakota and professionally show sporting dogs. This is something that makes my ears perk-up. Spend your time making the admissions committee want to meet you in the law school hallway and ask how the dogs are doing.
It is likely admissions committee members are familiar with the topics in academic papers and, honestly, don’t care. You won’t get very far before you are immediately tossed in the denied pile.
Bad Topic #3: Irrelevant Childhood Stories
Irrelevant childhood stories hurt your law school personal statement.
I like the story about how you were holding hands with your first “real love” at the playground in pre-school and learned the meaning of true friendship. That’s adorable. But, it’s also totally irrelevant.
Irrelevant childhood stories hurt your law school personal statement.
The same is true for how you knew you always wanted to be an attorney because you convinced your dad to get you a puppy when he took you to the pet store “just to look.” Also cute. Also irrelevant.
If a childhood story is only endearing, it doesn’t belong in a law school personal statement.
You Appear Unsophisticated
You have two choices when you talk about cute childhood stories.
The first is that you have nothing better to show your character, maturity, and ability to succeed in law school and practicing law. The other is that you are a doting parent who cannot get enough of your baby and are reliving your childhood through them.
Take your pick. Neither is a good impression on the admissions committee.
I like cuteness and puppies and all that, but you are going to be an attorney. Start acting like one today. The goal is to have the admissions committee view you as competent.
Ensure you share stories where you grew as a person, refined your viewpoint, or developed your character by overcoming a challenge.
Sorry. Cuteness doesn’t cut it in law school applications. Save the adorable stories for networking events.
You Share Useless Information
Sharing useless childhood stories not only makes you look juvenile, it makes the admissions committee assume you have nothing better to share.
Admissions committee members are looking for reasons to admit, as well as deny, admission to you. Give them a reason to admit you. Leaving substantive information out gives them nothing to hold onto when making admissions decisions.
Focus on sharing a quality experience that shaped you into the person you are today. This can include information from when you were a child or your parenthood experiences, but make sure the stories give insight into you as a person.
Don’t be so endearing that you forget to make the case why you belong in law school.
Your law school personal statement is a chance to show the admissions committee you are a mature, capable adult ready to handle the responsibilities of law school.
Do not cover legal topics where you don’t have expertise (yet!), academic subjects, or adorable childhood stories.
You want the reader to feel confident that you are both prepared academically, but also personally, to handle the rigorous environment that awaits.
If you spend time talking about other subjects, you waste this precious opportunity to make the admissions committee feel comfortable putting you in the admit pile.
Don’t waste your space. You will be greatly rewarded.