Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing the Personal Statement

  • The expanded resume: I did this, then I did that, afterwards I joined X, formed Y, and won award Z.
  • Why this is bad: all of that stuff is on your application and your resume. Your personal statement contributes zero to your file.
  • The position paper: "Legislative reform is urgently needed. Senator X did this, Senator Y did that. We need to stop this. That's why I want to be a lawyer.
  • Why this is bad: First, the ideas in these statements are usually very simplistic. If it were easy to stop Senators X and Y from doing these things, they would have been stopped a long time ago. Second you're either repeating something that's already on your application in your extracurriculars or course work, or running the risk of being discredited (i.e., if you really cared about legislative reform, why isn't it on your list of activities?) Third, you have told them exactly one thing about yourself -- and that one thing is not very personal or unique. This is a weak personal statement at best.
  • My most unforgettable character: "Mary is homeless. She carries her possessions in two shopping bags, which she never lets out of her sight. She wasn't always homess. Once she had a husband, three children, and a suburban home. What happened? .... And that's why I want to work with the homeless."
  • Why this is bad: This is often a really interesting statement -- about Mary. If the school is looking primarily for a writing sample, this will do; if it wants to learn more about the applciant, it won't.
  • What I did on my summer vacation: Whether you went backpacking through Europe or worked as a Congressional page, this essay tries to make a single event in to an essay.
  • Why this is bad: If it tells what you did without discussing why it was important, it will be no better than an expanded resume. This essay can work if you turn it into a Major Event essay. (see good personal statment)
  • Why I want to be a lawyer: Any explanation of why you want to study law is a bad topic, unless you have a very specific goal already connected to your experience.
  • Why this is bad: This is a terrible essay for anyone who wants to say "I love to argue," "Law will give me a lot of options," or "I want to get rich." All of these might be true, but you can surely find a better way to present yourself. It is not generally a good essay for a young person with little practical experience in a field. This essay can be very successful for a person who alreday has a career track and wants to advance by using legal skills. It can also work for a person leaving a field to work on legal issues related to that field, such as a nurse who wants to work in hospital administration or malpractice litigation, a forest ranger who wants to work for environmental legislation.

So Why are all those "great personal statement" books filled with essays like these? People make the mistake of thinking that if a person got accepted to a top school, their personal statement must have been good. Even at top schools, people get accepted with mediocre personal statements; their biographical information and recommendations make an adequate arguement for them. But personal statements like these will not get you in to your reach schools.

Source: The DeLoggio Achievement Program