what the law school is asking them to write about. At UCLA we say, "We know you have lots of extracurricular activities—we want to know how you differ, what makes you unique. What can you bring to the first-year class that's going to make you distinct from the other 99 people who are already there?" The fact that you were active in your fraternity or sorority is really not going to do it. What we're looking for is people who, in their personal statement, stand out as being so unusual, so diverse, that they're extremely attractive as law students for the first-year class. Maybe what's going to make someone distinctive is that he or she spent six months living in a log cabin in Alaska. You try to give the law school some justification for admitting you. With a lot of people, there's nothing that's going to make them distinctive. If that's the case, they've got to recognise that, indeed, the essay is not going to make that much difference here at UCLA
We're also asking if there's any reason their LSAT or grades are not predictive. You'd be amazed at the number of people who completely ignore this—they don't take advantage of the opportunity.
Most law schools operate fairly similarly. There's a certain group of applicants whose grades and LSAT scores are so high that the presumption is that the applicants are going to be admitted unless they do something terribly stupid to keep themselves out. 1 have seen applicants whose personal statement has done that, but it's extremely rare. At the other extreme is another group of applicants who—no matter what they write—are not going to get in.
The applicant has to realize, first of all, where he or she stands. If you have a straight-A grade point average and a perfect LSAT score, you don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about your personal statement. On the other hand, if you know you're in the borderline area, that's where the personal statement becomes very, very important.
The applicant should take the time to read the application to see what the schools are asking for. Sometimes the school will ask for a general description of why you want to go to law school or why they should admit you, something of that nature. In such a case you can be fairly sure the school is just interested in the essay to see how well you write. So what you say isn't as important as how you say it. On the other hand, some schools are more specific—UCLA is a very good example of that.
Make sure the essay is grammatically and technically correct and well written. Avoid sloppy essays, coffee-stained essays, or essays that are handwritten so you can't read them. You'd be amazed at what we get!
Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions University of Michigan Law School
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