Let’s Get Personal

Application season is here, and William & Mary Law School has already received a number of strong applications for the Class of 2022! Many of you, however, are still in the midst of completing your applications, and one topic we often get questions about is the personal statement. Associate Dean for Admission Faye Shealy took the time to outline a few tips for personal statement success this week – certainly it’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this will give you a good idea of the things that we, and often many law schools, are looking for.

What should I write about?

library (47)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. Should you want to write about a past experience, explain to us how it affected you. When you 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 submitted with all applications, 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 we 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 the majority 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. The statement 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.  And make sure that if you highlight a specific law school in your personal statement that it matches the specific school application!

Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Applying to Law School

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Lowell_Brooke EIt was just two years ago last week that I visited William & Mary for the first time. I instantly fell in love and applied immediately after, getting my acceptance just a few weeks later. While I know I made the right choice in selecting a school, there a few things I would have done differently while going through the application process. Don’t worry; you can do it! 

Deciding When to Take the LSAT 

This is, of course, can be the most intimidating part of the law school process. Do not fret! Once you tackle the LSAT, you will be ready for the rest of your application. I took the LSAT the June after my junior year of college. When I wanted to retake it, my only choices were the September or December tests my senior year. If you don’t like to feel rushed in how you study, try to plan when you take the LSAT far in advance. Senior year of college is busy and for me, was not an ideal time to retake the LSAT. If I could go back, I would have taken it earlier in my junior year. That being said, do what works best for you and your timeline.  

I gave myself three months to study so I didn’t have to cram before, but everyone operates differently. There are books and online courses that lots of people use – Khan Academy now has a FREE study course through LSAC that anyone can access! Try out different study habits and programs to see what works best for you. 

Deciding Where to Apply 

Honestly,  I wish I had visited more campuses. You can read about a school all you want, but the most telling sign for me was how I was treated by students and faculty when I visited William & Mary. If you are like me, and you didn’t have the time or means to visit everywhere you apply, make sure you reach out to current students to hear about their experience.   

In line with visiting campuses, I recommend applying to schools outside of your comfort zone. I am from a small town in Maine and for 21 years of my life spent very little time outside of New England. I chose to apply to William & Mary to explore a new area and I ended up falling in love with it. If I hadn’t taken a chance on Virginia, a state I had never been to before, I would never have ended up at the right place for me.  

Application Materials 

The most challenging part for me in terms of supplemental application materials was writing my personal statement and deciding who should write my letters of recommendation. When you start to work on your personal statement, stay true to yourself. The best advice I can give is to write about your genuine reason for wanting to go to law school – that is something admission officers cannot get from your resume or transcript. For me, it was a revolutionary Supreme Court case (Obergefell v. Hodges), but for you, it may be that you have always wanted to help a certain group of people or have dreamed of drafting contracts. Tell your story!  

Letters of recommendation can be tricky, especially if you haven’t had many professors more than once. I asked a professor who I had more than once and had done well in his class, but I did not have a natural connection with him. The professors who you click with will know you the best and be able to speak to your character, personality, and work ethic. Don’t try to force relationships just for a letter. If you’ve only had a professor once but you are close with them, try going to their office hours and talking to them about why you want to go to law school. I always had my professors that were writing my letters read my personal statement so they were able to learn more about me. 

Waiting to Hear Back  

So you have figured out where to apply, written a beautiful statement, and secured letters from your two favorite professors: now what? Relax! You have just accomplished a tremendous task. Applying to law school is a stressful process and waiting to hear back even more so. Lean on your support systems and know that you will end up where you are supposed to. And, as always, reach out to current law students who went through the same process. Whether you need advice about William & Mary or the application process in general, Student Admission Ambassadors are here for you! 

Brooke Lowell is a 2L from Rockland, Maine. She attended Simmons College and earned her degree in Political Science in 2017. She is currently a member of the Public Service Fund and serves as the Vice President for Equity Alliance. She also works as a member of the Bill of Rights Journal staff. Last summer, she served as a graduate research assistant for Professor Evan Criddle at William & Mary Law School and will continue to work at the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia as her externship for the year.