NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

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NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by NourishAndStrengthen » Tue Apr 03, 2018 2:52 am

This is a guide to writing for law school admissions, including personal statements, “Why X?” essays and diversity statements. This guide will focus primarily on personal statements as they seem to be the most difficult for prospective applicants, but the principles outlined are applicable to all admissions essays. The community has been extraordinarily helpful to me, so this is my small attempt at giving back. After giving a brief background about myself, I will discuss the different types of admissions essays, ideation, drafting, and revising.

1. Background

Before progressing further, I think it is important to know why you should (or shouldn’t) follow this guide. During my undergraduate, I worked at a small litigation shop for a couple of former BigLaw partners. After graduation, I spent a a few years in litigation consulting drafting expert reports. Basically, I have spent a large chunk of my professional career writing, rewriting, and learning from some of the best. I admit that this experience has been targeted towards attorneys and judges, but I am also poet at heart and have a great appreciation for the creative process. I’m not the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I have been complimented on my writing ability. This Fall, I will be attending a T13.

2. Types of Admissions Essays

Admittedly, admissions essays are far below LSAT and GPA in importance. While a good essay may not improve your chances, a poor one will certainly hurt them. Except for a few notable exceptions (looking at you Yale), law school applications request three written essays: a personal statement, a “Why X?” essay and a diversity statement. Of these, only the personal statement is explicitly required. The general LSL consensus is that certain schools (Michigan, UVA) may tacitly require a “Why X?” essay. Diversity statements are entirely optional. A brief summary of each may be found below:

Personal Statement: This is your bread and butter and, aside from studying and taking the LSAT, will be the most consuming part of your application. Some schools do not have length requires, but a few have 500-word (or two-page) limits. Personal statement topics are generally open ended, asking you to explain something about yourself that the admissions committee might not glean from your application. Some schools, such as Duke, might explicitly ask you to incorporate career goals into your personal statement. Regardless, the main topic of your personal statement does not need to be law related.

“Why X?”: The “Why X?” essay is an optional, 250-word, essay in which a school asks why you would want to attend there. Basically, the school wants you to give them warm fuzzies. While soliciting flattery is a faux pas in most social circles, it is perfectly acceptable in law school admissions. “Why X?” essays are a chance to show what unique offerings (classes, professors, programs) attract you to the school.

Diversity Statements: Admittedly, I am not practiced in diversity statements and, if someone makes a guide, I will gladly link to it in this post. Diversity statements are generally 250-word optional essays in which you say how your experience contributes to a diverse perspective at the law school. The most common diversity statement topics involve race or sexual orientation, however, I have also read individuals writing, and others advocating for, diversity statements on religion, disability, socio-economic background, and veteran status. If you aren’t 100% sure if you should write a diversity statement and there isn’t a consensus, I would advocate forgoing it.

3. Ideation

First, I am a big believer in quality over quantity. You should write one essay that can be used for all of your applications with minimal (read, no) editing. As such, a personal statement should be about 500 words and incorporate a small segment on your career goals. Individualized comments about the school can be reserved for the “Why X?” addendum (more on that later).

So, how do you summarize your life experiences, hopes, dreams, and career ambitions into a 500-word statement? The answer is, you don’t. Often, applicants attempt to cram every bit of their being into a personal statement, creating an incoherent mess. Instead, focus on crafting a cohesive narrative. Find a theme and use it to connect your personality, experiences and career goals.

The purpose of this narrative is to show the admissions committee that you are interesting, intellectually curious and can contribute to the law school. Your narrative or topic should be broad enough that it can touch nearly every part of your application but specific enough to be unique to you. Again, this does not need to be law related. For example, if I’m passionate about learning a language, I might discuss making mistakes (perseverance), getting by with a limited vocabulary (creativity), and the people I befriended while practicing abroad or at a local market (open mindedness). Perhaps, learning a language also ties into my broader goals of working in immigration law because I empathize with those who have to adjust to a new place, or maybe it ties into a passion for copyright law because language is beautiful and those who use it best should be able to protect it. Finally, perhaps my career goals aren’t connected with language at at all but the aforementioned traits I developed have given me the confidence to succeed in other interests.

In order to brainstorm a narrative, jot down a few items that come to mind when you think of the interests, activities, or events that define who you are. Select one, and then craft a story that shows part of you using that single perspective. Remember, personal statements can only hurt you so, when in doubt, play it safe. Writing about a personal issue may be great for an op-ed or a TedTalk, but that does not mean it is ideal, or appropriate, for a law school essay.

Ideally, your “Why X?” essays will tie into your personal statement. For example, I like language, Duke teaches an “Esperanto for Lawyers” class and has a large Esperanto-speaking population, therefore, Duke and I are perfect for each other. This might not always be the case, and that is ok. The key to writing a “Why X?” essay is making sure that (1) it is flexible enough so that the format can be reused; and (2) it makes the school feel that you care. A great system of doing this is to choose one or two features of law school that are important to you ( i.e., legal clinics) and doing research on each school’s unique offerings. This shouldn’t take longer than 10 to 15 minutes per school once you have your “Why X?” topic selected. In a “Why X?” it is important to show the school that you know a little about them (remember: warm fuzzies), so make sure that your topic is universal (most schools have legal clinics) but can be personalized (schools tend to have unique clinic offerings).

4. Drafting

After you have an idea, it is time to put it to words. How you draft is a product of experience, training, and personal preferences. I, for one, am a big proponent of writing down as much as I can in one sitting without worrying too much about structure and then organizing everything at the end. Others prefer jotting down an outline beforehand and then fleshing it out with complete paragraphs.

No matter your style, you can’t know if an idea works until you put it to paper. In the drafting stage, you might want to try a few different angles on a topic. If your narrative doesn’t seem to work well or make sense, throw it out and choose a new topic.

Do your best to structure your statement in a logical format that can be easily followed. If you are insecure, or unpracticed, following the general essay format of topic-body-conclusion is a tried and true format. Essentially, you open your personal statement if with a brief introduction and a strong topic sentence comprising a few elements (“Through this, I learned X, Y, Z”), write a corresponding body paragraph for each element, and then summarizing it again in a final paragraph. In this case, the conclusion is an excellent place to mention your career goals (“Having developed X, Y, and Z, I can confidently pursue my passion in Space Law, a field which requires…”).

Draft your first “Why X?” essay around one school with the trait you have chosen. Your goal in drafting this is to create a flexible structure that allows you to spend minimal time tailoring. That’s not to say tailoring won’t be required. Every school will have different clinics, classes, or clubs, that might require slightly different explanations, but the overall theme should hold together nicely. For example, you could draft your “Why X?” essays as an introduction with no tailoring (“Hands-on learning is important to me”), a body with some tailoring (“[School]’s [clinic one] and [clinic two] help me succeed by [reason]”), and a conclusion with minimal tailoring (“These clinics make [school] a great place for me to develop”).

Ultimately, by the end of your first phase of drafting you want to have a presentable piece that can be understood by a complete stranger.

5. Revising

Revising can be challenging for a lot of people. It is human nature to become attached to things, even when they are quite bad. As a rule, your first draft will be bad. There will be errors in ordering, extraneous sentences and typos. Incorporate the input from whoever is reading it. Odds are, if they have a problem understanding something, so will the admissions committee. There is no shame in removing whole paragraphs and drafting them again.

Alternatively, you may struggle with your topic. It could sound great in your head but not flow on paper. Maybe it ends up giving the reader a different impression than what you hope to convey. Negative feedback on your topic is exactly what you should be looking for, don't dig in your heels, think about it and consider altering your focus or using a new topic. To reiterate, there is no shame in throwing something out. I drafted and revised a number of topics before settling on the personal statement that I used.

After incorporating the edits from someone else, take time to revise your own work. Think critically about sentence structure and word choice. Remove passive voice and simplify sentences wherever possible. In general, the fewer words you use in a sentence, the better it sounds. Revising a sentence’s structure to drop even one or two prepositions will almost always sound cleaner. For example, “The home in which I grew up” does not read as well as “My childhood home.” This is an extreme example, but it still illustrates the importance of being clear and concise. Along these lines, the words “really” and “very” don’t belong in your writing. Anything that is “really [adjective]” or “very [adjective]” can be described better by a different word. Pull out a thesaurus or do a few word searches online.

Finally, consult a style guide for punctuation and grammar. I recommend using the BlueBook as it is what is the legal profession’s standard. The most important principle, however, is to be consistent. So, if you decide to consult a Chicago guide, use Chicago all the way through. If you are a fan of the Oxford comma, use it with conviction.

Check your work over multiple days to catch any typos. Once your certain that everything is perfect, and your reader agrees, your essays are ready for submission.

6. Closing

I hope this guide was helpful to a few people. I am more than willing to answer questions and incorporate comments in the thread below. Thanks for reading this and, especially, thank you to LSL for helping me make informed decisions about law school and get into a T13 with $$$.
Last edited by NourishAndStrengthen on Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by UVA2B » Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:03 am

Moved to the appropriate forum and stickied because it's a fantastic guide. Great job!

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by NourishAndStrengthen » Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:56 am

UVA2B wrote:
Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:03 am
Moved to the appropriate forum and stickied because it's a fantastic guide. Great job!

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by presh » Fri Apr 06, 2018 10:50 pm

I think this is a lovely guide. I would also add that, in addition to not getting too attached to your first draft, you shouldn’t get too attached to any particular essay topic. Sometimes inexperienced writers won’t let go of a PS topic even when multiple drafts are clearly not working. Be willing to move on!

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by NourishAndStrengthen » Sun Apr 22, 2018 12:27 pm

presh wrote:
Fri Apr 06, 2018 10:50 pm
I think this is a lovely guide. I would also add that, in addition to not getting too attached to your first draft, you shouldn’t get too attached to any particular essay topic. Sometimes inexperienced writers won’t let go of a PS topic even when multiple drafts are clearly not working. Be willing to move on!
Added a paragraph to mention this explicitly. Thanks for the feedback!

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by ChaimtheGreat » Wed Aug 29, 2018 1:35 pm

Great guide! I am embarking on this journey currently.

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by pneumonia » Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:41 pm

marry wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:57 pm
Need Legal Advice Against Abu Dhabi (UAE) Based Company for several default and fraud in the financial transactions

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We, are a USA based C-type Corporation, registered since 2004 in the USA, and paying taxes and contributing to the growth of the country. To relinquish you a glimpse, we are engaged in the healthcare sphere where we provide health care audits, revenue collection management, coding, transcription, and information systems related services to the healthcare industry. We are entrenched in the USA presently working with very renowned practitioners and medical institutes.

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Mr. Matar Moh’d Ali Obaid Al Mheiri (Chairman & Director) of United American Medical Supplies (UMED), Abu Dhabi cheated with our company and made default and fraud in the financial transaction between two companies. He further breached the channel partner agreement and gainfully employed many of our employees deputed to UAE on various work assignments. He is also the Owner and Chairman of “Golden Standards Recruitment Services Abu Dhabi”, (UAE) and currently supplying manpower to various government and non-governments projects.

UMED responsibility were to take the order from the clients, maintain client relationship, and to collect order amount on our behalf. We were responsible for domain knowledge and deliverables. UMED was accountable to collect the money in local currency in their bank account and afterwards to transfer that money to our company in USD after deducting their share of 20% towards marketing and management fees.

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M/s UMED didn’t stop at this point and gained the access to our company intellectual property through gainfully employing our employees. M/s UMED made unauthorized use of our intellectual property on various occasions and still keep on following the same practice. For the reason of such omission and commission, we suffered extreme financial losses which M/s UMED are liable to repay to us.

M/s UMED made several payment defaults and started controlling over the gain of the business that we are deriving from customers based in UAE. We were cheated by Mr. Matar Moh’d Ali Obaid Al Mheiri (Chairman & Director) of United American Medical Supplies (UMED), Abu Dhabi on payment defaults and control over the business gain for AED 3.31 Million in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

After making the multiple commitment on various dates to transfer the money, UMED did not transfer the money until date. Now, they are not answering our calls, emails and any request to transfer the money. In terribly clear words, UMED cheated our company and currently don’t have any intention to transfer money or to repay us for the financial losses.

We can offer all documentation, agreement, client testimony, records of the amount paid on various occasions for the visa, travelling, loading & boarding, local transportation for our company and UMED employees. We are able to additionally offer the evidence of amount transfer to our company by UMED in the past years.

Please advise what actions we can take against the Abu Dhabi based company and what are the chances of this kind of cases in UAE court.
This is not a good PS. Did you even read the OP?


Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by roadrunner41 » Sat Jul 20, 2019 12:32 pm

Is there anything to be gained by hiring an admissions consultant. I have opinions on this yet some people are bugged when I say anything negative about such consultants.

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Re: NourishAndStrengthen's Guide to Admissions Essays

Post by Nony » Sat Jul 20, 2019 1:42 pm

Some applicants can benefit, mostly if you have C&F issues or are a particularly unconventional applicant (especially severe splitters) and want assistance making your whole application as strong as it can be. Or someone who feels especially ignorant about the process and wants some individual help. Because admissions are so numbers-driven, someone with good numbers and everything else very standard (the kind of experience/softs that won't necessarily help, but won't hurt) probably doesn't need one. There are some good ones out there, and probably some bad ones.

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