How Long Should My Law School Personal Statement Be?
by Daniel Coogan
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Although much of the law school application process has been standardized, there are still some aspects of it that change from school to school. One such aspect is the length of the law school personal statement.
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at several schools’ personal statement length guidance:
- Harvard has strict requirements for length and formatting of personal statements: 2 pages maximum, 11pt minimum font size, 1-inch margins, double spaced
- Columbia asks for two double-spaced pages “using readable fonts and margins”
- UC Berkeley asks for a personal statement that is “ideally four, double-spaced pages”
- Georgetown states: “There is no minimum or maximum length. We do not feel that an applicant’s personal statement should be limited.”
These examples show that there is great variety in both length requirements and in specificity in describing those requirements.
So what is an applicant to do? Most applicants apply to ten or more schools, and it is unfeasible to write a different version of one’s personal statement for each school one applies to. Instead, we recommend that you write two versions of your personal statement: a 2-page version and a 3+ page version. These two versions, with some minor modifications, will satisfy all length requirements.
Start by writing the three-page version, finalize it, and then pare it down to a two-page version if necessary. (It will almost certainly be necessary: two pages is the most common length requirement.) The process of paring down the essay may be painful and may take several hours over a couple of sittings, but it is much easier than writing two different essays.
A few additional rules of thumb:
- Follow each school’s instructions to the letter. We mentioned Harvard’s requirements above: 2 pages, 11pt minimum font size, one-inch margins, double-spaced. If they spent the time putting together those requirements, they don’t want you to deviate from them.
- Don’t play games with margins, font size, etc. First of all, it’s obvious to the reader that you have changed the document properties to fit more words into less space. Second, it’s just less pleasant to read. Remember that there is an actual human being at the other end of this process, and he or she will not appreciate reading an essay that is cramped or significantly different in format from the other components of the application.
- Keep it brief. When no length is specified, only consider writing something longer than three pages if you have something truly compelling to say.
- Use a header. Create a header that includes your full name and LSAC number, and indicates that the document is your personal statement. Do this for every written component of your application, not just your personal statement, and make sure it’s on every page of the document. 📝
Daniel Coogan is the Director of Law School Admissions Counseling at Stratus Admissions Counseling.Daniel is a graduate of the New York University School of Law and Bowdoin College. At NYU, Dan was an articles editor for the Journal of Law and Business, and did extensive coursework in corporate and partnership taxation and tax policy. After preparing for the LSAT and applying to law school with the help of Stratus Admissions Counseling, Dan tutored Stratus clients on the LSAT and GMAT before and during law school. After law school, Dan was a tax attorney at a major corporate law firm before rejoining Stratus in his current capacity. Dan has advised dozens of applicants over the past several admissions cycles at Stratus. Follow this link to learn more.
Your grades and LSAT score are the most important part of your application to law school. But you shouldn't neglect the personal statement. Your essay is a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants, especially those with similar scores.
You want to present yourself as intelligent, professional, mature and persuasive. These are the qualities that make a good lawyer, so they're the qualities that law schools seek in applicants. Talking about your unique background and experiences will help you stand out from the crowd. But don't get too creative. The personal statement is not the time to discuss what your trip to Europe meant to you, describe your affinity for anime, or try your hand at verse.
Best practices for your personal statement
1. Be specific to each school
You'll probably need to write only one basic personal statement, but you should tweak it for each law school to which you apply. There are usually some subtle differences in what each school asks for in a personal statement.
2. Good writing is writing that is easily understood
Good law students—and good lawyers—use clear, direct prose. Remove extraneous words and make sure that your points are clear. Don't make admissions officers struggle to figure out what you are trying to say.
3. Get plenty of feedback
The more time you've spent writing your statement, the less likely you are to spot any errors. You should ask for feedback from professors, friends, parents and anyone else whose judgment and writing skills you trust. This will help ensure that your statement is clear, concise, candid, structurally sound and grammatically accurate.
4. Find your unique angle
Who are you? What makes you unique? Sometimes, applicants answer this question in a superficial way. It's not enough to tell the admissions committee that you're an Asian–American from Missouri. You need to give them a deeper sense of yourself. And there's usually no need to mention awards or honors you've won. That's what the law school application or your resume is for.
Use your essay to explain how your upbringing, your education, and your personal and professional experiences have influenced you and led you to apply to law school. Give the admissions officers genuine insight into who you are. Don't use cliches or platitudes. The more personal and specific your personal statement is, the better received it will be.
Applying to law school? Use our law school search to find the right program for you or browse our law school ranking lists.
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