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!

Shine Bright Like a Diamond: Making an Application Stand Out

As Admission Deans, we often get asked similar questions. What is more important, the LSAT or the GPA? How long should a personal statement be? Does it look bad if I take the LSAT more than once? How do I make my application stand out? 

That last one is killer – William & Mary Law School receives between 3,500 – 4,000 applications per year; that’s a LOT of applications to read, and a lot of pieces of differentiate between. There are a few things to consider when submitting your application to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward.

  1. Don’t Be Modest – “This is not the time to shy away from highlighting your strengths and accomplishments,” says Associate Dean for Admission, Faye Shealy. Your resume should reflect your involvement, your experience, your academic honors, everything. That means being thorough with your resume, identifying the details of your internships, jobs, and responsibilities in student leadership positions. Which leads me to the next tip…
  2. Have a Professional Resume – It goes without saying that applying to a professional program requires a professional resume. Utilize your resources, like the Career Center, to help you build a professional looking resume; and please, please, please, do NOT send us a written list of the things you were involved in. If you haven’t taken the time to outline your resume in a professional manner, we assume that you haven’t taken the time to put your best application forward.
  3. Present the Best Version of You – “There is only one you – present the best version of yourself through every piece of the application,” says Senior Assistant Dean for Admission Rhianna Shabsin. That doesn’t mean changing yourself to fit what you think we’re looking for – we like diverse, unique applicants! You are the only person who has lived your experiences; let that shine through your personal statement, resume, addendum, etc.
  4. Don’t Wait – An application that is submitted earlier in the cycle says that you are prepared, you have taken the time to get your ducks in a row, and that you’re excited to apply. Keep in mind that “earlier”  means not waiting until the last minute to submit. William & Mary Law School typically gets 20% of our total application volume in the last two weeks of February – your application will stand out much more if you don’t wait!
  5. Be Thorough – Details matter, and in the process of applying to law schools, there are a lot of details. From character and fitness questions to the addendum on diversity, there is opportunity for you to provide a lot of details that may help paint a better picture of who you are and how you might fit with our program. Those are the ways we can distinguish between your application and the other 3,896!

Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to standing out from the crowd. Remember to be your unique self – there is no cookie-cutter law student!