The Top 10 Personal Statement mistakes

1.       Not proofreading your own work*.*  We’ve all been there: we just want to be done with the darn thing and send it off.  You’ve looked at it many, many times, dissecting every word and comma but you missed that you wrote pubic instead of public. Not the same word! We are not the best judge of our own tone because *we *know what we meant to convey, but does someone else reading it know what you meant?  Have someone read it. Then, before submitting, read again. Out loud. You cannot do this too carefully – about 90% of applications have typos in them!

2.       Restating your resume in paragraph form.  It is perfectly OK to talk about your experiences (or better yet an experience) that are listed on your resume, but you should focus on your growth, what you learned about yourself or yourself within an industry rather than your job responsibilities.

3.       Talking about someone else more than yourself.  People inspire us all the time, but the reader may want to admit them instead of you if you are not careful. If you want to talk about someone who has influenced you, focus on what you learned from this person or what their experience taught you. The operative word here is Personal Statement.

4.       Trying to make something out of nothing.  Many people don’t have a unique life struggle or difficult upbringing, so don’t try to fit your experience into someone else’s. If you have never had to make a difficult decision, don’t try to make one up.  For the record, trying to decide which prom dress to wear is not a great choice for a topic, even if it was a difficult decision between wearing a hideous, but hand made one versus the dress of your dreams.

5.       Thinking that the essay needs to be all about why law or why a certain law school.  This can be your topic, but it doesn’t have to be.  You likely have something more interesting to discuss.

6.       Focusing too much on your career plans.  At this point, you haven’t even gone to law school and haven’t worked as a lawyer for even one day, so this is an essay about the future, which is essentially a work of fiction.  The personal statement should focus more on where you have been and perhaps just a little about where you are going.  And although it is has been a few years since I’ve read one of these, please don’t put it in the form of an obituary.

7.       Declaring love for one area of law without knowing anything about it.  Be genuine about your interests and remember that most people don’t even know the range of options that are available to them prior to attending law school.  You may be drawn to an area and have a clear vision of that area, but you should not be interested in international law because you liked your study abroad experience or love to travel.

***8.       ***Repetitious use of certain words. The most common is starting every sentence with the letter “I”…as in “I [Mike Spivey] used to count these instances in Personal Statements and they would get up into the 20’s and 30’s for some.” Using the same word twice in the same sentence or using a spiffy word throughout are also off-putting.

9.       ***Too much information. ***There are a good number of moving personal statements that involve emotional, personal (yay! see above), and even cathartic disclosures. This is all very good. What is not so good is to go into graphic detail about a touchy topic, e.g. “before I was a whistleblower on fraternal hazing, I was subject to humiliation and degradation. One night I was called down to our fraternity house and …bleep bleep bleep…” You want to leave to reader moved, but not moved with a bitter taste in their mouth. Remember that you are writing to strangers, so when in doubt, edit something graphic out.

10.       Using too many unnecessary words and/or lack of precision with the words you use. Most importantly, stick to instructions. If your PS is one word too many, or one word over the page count, some schools will dramatically downgrade your application for this.  The use of unnecessary words is often especially true with …ing words and the word ‘that’ when it’s not meaningful.  Example:  “I have been considering that the future”  should be  “I considered  the future.” Finally, make sure the word you use has the precise meaning that you want. As a lawyer, this will be your mandate. As an applicant, admissions offices are therefore particularly sensitive to this. As an example, below I want to say “relevant reading”…not “relative reading” …although both would technically make sense.

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Relevant reading: