Explaining Why You’re Applying to Their Law School (The "Why X" Essay)

You’ve survived the personal statement drafting process, decided on a law school strategy, and you have taken the LSAT for (hopefully) the last time. You’re ready to apply! Except, many law schools have additional essays that make the entire process just that much more labor intensive. So, you dive in for more essays!

In this blog post, we will be discussing one type of optional essay, the “Why X” statement, or an essay in which you describe to the law school why you are interested in attending that school in particular.

On a cursory level, it can be very easy to write this type of essay. You write one template, drop in the proper nouns related to the specific institutions, and you’re ready to submit. This method can produce a very generic essay, though. If it feels like fluff, it most likely is a bit superficial, and admissions committees will quickly make the same determination. They have seen this all before. What’s the best approach, then, to craft a “Why X” essay that truly makes a positive impact on your application and is distinct for each school?

Penn Law, for example, asks the “Why Them?” question in a unique manner that is designed to get you to a deeper level. Essentially, Penn asks you to identify how your interests, goals, and values connect to Penn Law’s core values. This concept is a great direction for any Why X Law School essay. Figure out what motivates you, find those opportunities at each law school that requires a “Why Them” essay, and then highlight those activities in your essay. Don’t just list them, instead, connect these to what motivates you.

“I’m an EMT and a Health Science major, and I’ve seen America’s health crisis from both the academic and practical level on the ground. I want to get involved in Princeton Law School’s  Rural Health Clinic because too many people do not know how to navigate the system.”

“I’m an engineer, and Dartmouth Law’s Journal of Science and Technology would be an ideal way for me to take a leadership role in researching and recommending federal and state regulations that are necessary for the safe and orderly institution of artificial intelligence technology.”

Both of these statements connect someone’s interest to one of the school’s opportunities. By personalizing why the school’s opportunities have motivated you to apply, you may help the school better understand how you fit with their institution, and it may also convince them that you are more likely to enroll than the next applicant!

The Why ‘X’ Essay Basics:

  • Format – Generally one page, or a bit longer, at 1’’ margins and 11 or 12 point font (about one page is a good rule of thumb unless the school gives an explicit length requirement, such as Berkeley, which specifies 350 words)
  • Not for Everyone – Some schools don’t want a “Why Them” component to their application. Some schools ask for this type of essay specifically, which is a clear indication that you should write one. Alternatively, at other schools, such as UVA, a “Why” essay is not requested but has still been shown to be strategically advantageous to submit. So, read the application instructions and do your research to figure out for which you schools you should be writing this type of essay, and which schools do not welcome them.
  • Templates – Some templating is natural for Why X Law School essays, but spend time personalizing the essay to the school — be careful to avoid leaving in references that do not apply to a specific school (e.g. “I like the feel of a college town” when the school is in a big city).
  • Lead with the Personal – Start with a personal connection if you can—have you ever visited the school? Do you know someone who attends and have you heard good things from that perspective? What was your introduction to the school? These are often the strongest and most differentiating components of a “Why X” essay, if they apply to you.
  • Talk About Yourself – The why essay should tell the school more about you than it does about them. They already know about their programs and the information provided on their website, so it's not about listing the programs or courses and saying that you would be interested in them—it's more about why you are interested in them and how that relates to your goals, interests, learning styles, and preferences.
  • Law School Characteristics – You can also mention things like size, location, and atmosphere, but make sure that you give a reason “why” that also tells the reader about yourself (that you have a connection to a city or that you went to a large/small undergraduate school and want something similar/different, that you thrive in a collegial environment, etc.).
  • Branding – It is sometimes helpful to synthesize how a law school talks about itself. Do they focus on “breadth and depth” or “intimate seminar-style environment” or “close attention of faculty?” Think about what that might mean to you. Again, it is important to connect that branding to something specific about yourself.
  • Visit Them – Go to a recruiting event at their school / in their city / visit them at a fair, and if possible, meet someone from Admissions and engage in conversation / ask questions that will elicit info you can incorporate into your why essays.
  • Consider Your Whole Application – Do your other essays (Personal Statement, Diversity Statement, and others) and your resume cohesively blend with your Why X Law School statement? The more cohesive, the more authentic your statement reads. For example, talking about your focus on health law and how you are interested in a school’s Health Law Clinic is more powerful if you can back it up with extracurriculars, jobs, and/or other experiences in the healthcare system that show up in other components of your application.
  • Learn about them – Read the news/updates sections of the schools' website or watch a student video; perhaps there will be something that resonates and relates to your interests and goals, and you can comment on it in your statement.

These are just some of the suggestions that may help, and it is always good to have someone read the essay before you submit. It is essential to make sure that the essay comes across as well written and sincere—and the more personal connections you can make to the school, the more genuine you will seem.