by Faye Shealy
Although most application deadlines are still months away, the extraordinarily-organized among you have likely begun to craft personal statements. Our office fields a multitude of inquiries pertaining to the personal statement, so I thought I’d take a moment to address some of the most commonly-asked questions.
What should I write about?
You! You! You! We will read your GPA and LSAT scores on the LSAC report; the personal statement is your chance to attach a personality to those numbers. We are looking to enroll a dynamic class of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone has a story, and we want to hear yours. Find a way to tell us who you are and what you care about. Convince us that you have something to add to our community. There is no single “right” way of constructing the personal statement. We leave you with an enormous amount of liberty to show us who you are (but do remember that you’re applying to a professional school).
Keep in mind that your extra-curricular and community activities and recommendations will be important parts of your application materials. Your personal statement should supplement – rather than repeat – your credentials. If you want to change the world, tell us why and how. If you want to write about a past experience, explain to us how it affected you. If you want to write about an issue of national or international importance, show us why you are so intrigued. Read your statement aloud before submitting it. Ask yourself if it’s sincere. Ask yourself if it’s you. We read personal statements all day, and we can easily separate essays with a clear voice from essays that are clearly canned.
How heavily do you weigh the personal statement in relation to the rest of the application?
We conduct a comprehensive review of your application and every aspect of the application is important. William & Mary is a small school. When we mail acceptance letters, we are not merely building a class. We are building a community. We pride ourselves on producing Citizen Lawyers and keep that mission in mind as we select each class.
Can a strong personal statement compensate for low numbers?
Yes. Again, we review your application as a whole. Although your academic record and LSAT score are very important factors, each applicant should invest the time and thought necessary to produce essays that impress us. If your numbers aren’t stellar, the personal statement is your chance to blow us away.
What is the proper length for a personal statement?
As long as it needs to be…and no longer. We read thousands of personal statements each admission cycle. Your personal statement should be gripping – especially if you choose to write a long piece.
What about the optional essays?
If you have a genuine and specific interest in one of our programs, tell us! We want people who want to come to William & Mary, and we want to know what’s attracting applicants. You can also use an optional essay to tell us about an event in your life of which you are especially proud and couldn’t include in your personal statement.
Is content more important than style?
No. Both content and style are very important. Most lawyers spend most of their days writing. Above all, the personal statement is a writing sample. It demonstrates your critical thinking skills and your capacity for creativity. It demonstrates your ability to organize information cogently and convincingly. It demonstrates your attention to detail. Finally, it gives us a glimpse into your character. All these qualities are important to the successful and ethical practice of law.
Any other advice?
Think and then write. Set it aside for a day or two. Return for a review prior to submission. Note that spell checks do not match the name of a law school with your application submission…though we often do enjoy reading why an applicant really wants to go to Yale Law School or has always wanted to study in Boston.