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

Among the many optional essays law schools may ask you to write, one of the most common is the "Why X" essay—essentially, 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 may seem 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, and one that likely won't help your chances of admission. 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?

The University of Pennsylvania Law School, for example, asks the “Why Penn” 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 X” essay, and then highlight those activities in your essay. Don’t just list them—instead, connect them 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 specifically connect the applicant's background and experience to one of the school’s opportunities, rather than just saying "I'm very interested in X clinic" or "Y Journal really appeals to me." By personalizing why the school’s opportunities have motivated you to apply, you will 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 core goal of submitting a Why X).

"Why X" Essay Dos and Don'ts

  • DO check to see if the school has any specific formatting or length requirements or guidelines in their instructions, before you start drafting. If not, we generally advise applicants keep their "Why X" essay to about one page, at 1’’ margins and 11- or 12-point font.
  • DON'T write a "Why X" essay for every school you apply to. Some schools don’t want them. Some schools ask for them specifically, which is a clear indication that you should write one. Alternatively, at other schools, 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 schools you should be writing this type of essay, and which schools do not welcome them.
  • DO 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.
  • DON'T rely on templates. Some templating is natural for "Why X" essays, but spend time personalizing the essay to the school beyond just dropping in relevant info. And be incredibly 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).
  • DO research. The ideal "Why X" essay doesn't start and end with information that can be found on the law school's website, but you should still spend some time there. In addition to learning about the school's areas of strength, clinics, professors, journals, etc., check out the news/updates sections of the 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. Outside of the law school's substantive offerings, you can also mention things like class size, location, and atmosphere (but make sure that you give a reason “why” that also tells the reader about yourself).
  • DON'T make it all about them. The "Why X" essay should tell the school more about you than it does about themselves. 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.
  • DO incorporate the law school's "brand" into your essay, if applicable. Reviewing the law school's website, if it is well-executed, will teach you how the law school likes to talk about itself. Do they focus on “breadth and depth” or “an intimate seminar-style environment” or “close attention from faculty”? These can be useful concepts to use in a "Why X" essay, especially if you can connect them to your personal background, values, and goals.
  • DON'T write anything that conflicts with your other application components. Your "Why X" essay, like every other component of your application, will not be read or evaluated in a vacuum. If you write your whole personal statement about your background working in public service and how you want to be a public interest lawyer, your "Why X" essay shouldn't center on the school's corporate law offerings. The more cohesive your "Why X" essay is with the rest of your application, the more authentic it will read. 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.
  • DO visit the law school, attend a recruiting event, or otherwise personally engage with the admissions office if you can. A well-written "Why X" essay can pack even more of a punch if it's backed up by records of real engagement with that law school, whether through a visit to campus, stopping by their table at an LSAC forum, or even attending a webinar from the admissions office. Then talk about your experience and what you learned in your "Why X" essay! Be sure to give specifics.

These are just a few suggestions that can help you write a strong "Why X" essay, but we also recommend having someone else read your 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).