Most Common Personal Statement Mistakes

1. Writing a cover letter or résumé rundown

When you apply for a job, you write a cover letter to entice the hiring manager to look at your résumé. When you apply to law school, the admissions committee will look at your résumé no matter what. Your personal statement should tell a story that your résumé doesn’t.

Here’s an example of a personal statement written as a résumé rundown.

2. Making excuses

Do not explain why you performed poorly on the SATs, got rejected from your top-choice college, or did not earn the GPA you had hoped for. You can explain any mitigating circumstances in an addendum. Dwell on the positive.

3. Starting with a meaningful quote

Essays built around quotations are usually strained, boring, impersonal, and trite—plus they smell like high school.

4. Going for novelty

Don’t submit an essay in the form of a poem, play, or legal brief. Submit your essay in the form of an essay.

5. Dwelling on the distant past

If you are a college senior, it’s probably a mistake to set your whole essay in high school. If you’ve been out of college for more than a year, it’s probably a mistake to set your whole essay in college. It’s possible to write a great essay about high school or childhood; you just have to make sure you don’t seem like a victim of arrested development.

6. Writing about a disappointment as if it’s an obstacle

Asha Rangappa, Associate Dean of Admissions at Yale Law, explains this mistake on her excellent admissions blog.

Illness, poverty, divorce, civil strife, abuse, and physical handicaps are obstacles. Flunking a math test, being rejected from Harvard, or losing a class election is a disappointment. Obstacles imperil your ability to survive or succeed. Disappointments, as Asha explains, “are things you wanted but didn’t get.” They imperil nothing but your ego.

When you write an essay about overcoming a disappointment, you don’t convey your resilience so much as your immaturity.

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