statement that's very well written and well focused. There are a variety of things an applicant can write about; it does not have to be about why he or she wants to go to law school. I tell applicants who are in the process of writing that this is their one opportunity to tell the admissions committee why they're different from every other applicant in the pool, what makes them special and how they can stand out from the 4,000 other applicants we look at every year. It's not an easy task, but if they approach it this way, then they can focus their personal statement. What we don't want to see as we're reading the personal statements is just a review of something else that's already in their files. What 1 want to come away with is something new about the applicant that I haven't picked up from anywhere else in the file. If someone wants to focus on one particular job they've had and how that job has sort of led them down a certain path, that's fine but, again, we don't want just a reiteration of what the resume states.
Oftentimes 1 will tell applicants to treat the personal statement as though they were in an interview with us and we've just told them, 'Tell us something about yourself" or 'Tell us something that you think would make a difference in your file."
If someone is an older applicant who has been out working in a particular field and now is making the jump over to law school, that person should anticipate that one of the questions that's going to come up when we review the file is "Why is this person changing careers?" so that person may want to focus their personal statement on that. An applicant who was clearly premed the first couple of years of college and then changed to poll sci might want to tell us why; otherwise, that's an unanswered question we have.
Some applicants mistakenly think that in all cases what we want to know is why they want to go to law school, and that's not
If you're going to write a winning personal statement, you cannot do it in two or three hours; it requires a lot of thought.
necessarily true. I've read many very good statements from applicants about some particular event in their life, their studies abroad while an undergraduate, or people they've met who have had an impact on their lives. I had a personal statement once from a woman [who ended up being a student at Stanford Law] who was a film major in college and told us about herself and wrote it as if she were filming it. There's a fine line between being creative and cautious, and 1 think it's hard for applicants to figure out exactly how far they can go and still have a good statement. The other day 1 read a personal statement that was written as though it were an LSAT exam and 1 thought that was a little too cutesy. Keep in mind that you're applying to a graduate program.
Mistakes? Sometimes, if their undergraduate record was not particularly strong, applicants make the mistake of focusing their whole personal statement on explaining away their undergraduate GPA. [In reality] there's nothing they can do about that, and that's not what the personal statement should be used for from our perspective. It should be a way to give us information that we wouldn't be able to glean from the rest of the application.
[Another mistake people make is] being too gimmicky or too creative. To make your personal statement a poem, for example, is a little gimmicky.
A number of applicants are surprised that we read the personal statement so completely. The misconception out there [sometimes fostered by misinformed prelaw advisers] is that the personal statement really doesn't matter, that it all comes down to the LSAT and the GPA-and that's not true at all. We could fill our class by the numbers but we don't. When you consider the quality of applicants and the few spaces we have to offer, if we have a numerically strong candidate but his writing skills are weak as evidenced through the personal statement, that person may not be offered a spot in the class.
The personal statement is obviously the most difficult part of the application. If you're going to write a winning personal statement, you cannot do it in two or three hours; it requires a lot of thought. Start way ahead of time and do several drafts, at least. When you think you've got your final draft, have someone who knows you well—whether it's a spouse, significant other, or a very good friend—take a look at it and ask this person if it rings true. I remember that one of our students told me he had his wife take a look at one draft and after reading it, she said, "You're not that arrogant." He wrote another one and she said, "You're not that humble, either." He reworked it, finally came up with a copy he liked and that his wife also thought [represented] what he was all about.
Keep in mind that part of the exercise is to say what you want to say and to do so in about two pages. Two pages should be enough to get your point across.
I read all the files and then there's also an actual committee composed of faculty members. Some files will only get one read, some will get as many as three reads.
Michael D. Rappaport
Dean, Admissions UCLA School of Law
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