Let’s discuss how to explore potential ideas for your law school personal statement. A good topic is the anchor of the essay, so how do you arrive at one that can put you in your best light?
Rather than hit you with silly advice (like “try to sit down with a piece of paper and fill it up with various ideas”), in this post, we are going to get to the heart of what makes effective essays, so you can get started on one of your own.
First things first, let’s remove some of the stress and pressure from the process. Finding an effective essay topic is not like finding a soulmate (or at least how people imagine finding a soulmate to be). There is not only one perfect essay topic out there for you. In fact, I would imagine everyone has many topics they could write about that could lead to an amazing essay. And, as with potential dating partners, the ones that seem really, really great on the surface might not really be the best match.
To understand why that might be the case, we have to talk about the purpose of a personal statement. Broadly speaking, the purpose is to let the reader get to know you. However, there is a specific way we want to do that. Here it is:
The primary purpose of an effective law school personal statement should be to show that you are a thoughtful human being, a person that is engaged with the world around you and thinking about your connection to the world and how what you do affects others.
From experience, I’ve found that most people run straight for a topic that we could call “the worst thing that ever happened to me.” There is a tendency for people to view their own life much like the plot of a movie, and it’s tempting in that context to focus on the scenes where some major action happened. Often people will write about a serious injury (I, for example, wrote about breaking my back). Having read many other essays on similar topics, I now question the wisdom of that choice.
That is because people under extreme duress often aren’t really thinking; they are just reacting. Unless some great insight into yourself or your world was wrung from this terrible incident, it is probably dead on arrival as a personal statement topic. If however, the incident was a catalyst for later change and personal growth, you might be okay writing about it as long as the focus is on that growth.
After all, merely facing adversity isn’t what makes someone interesting. What makes someone interesting is what they choose to do when faced with a range of options. What might sound at first like a banal topic, like taking a wrong turn on a road trip, might be an incredibly fruitful avenue for showing your readers who you are and how you think. For that reason, it is utterly wrong to dismiss out-of-hand less “flashy” topics. One of the best personal statements I’ve read was about what someone chose to do with an unexpected vacation. Another total home-run was about knitting.
So while you should not strain yourself to find a quirky or unusual topic, consider the merits of each topic you are thinking about in terms of how they will showcase your personality and show your thoughtful side. Do not think about which would make the best movie scene. A great topic will generally allow you to incorporate the following:
- An event, a series of events, or a change in your life that offered a challenge of some kind
- How you responded or continue to respond to that stimulus
- Your thoughtful analysis of how the events changed you, and why (think about answering the question “what do you understand about the world now that you didn’t before?”)
Ideally, you can address all this while coming across as a likable, interesting person. Find a topic that enables you to do this, and you have the makings of a game-changing essay.
Now that you have guidelines in mind for how to think about an effective essay topic, think about some likely winners over the next few days or week. Envision what you might say in the context of each topic. As you dwell on it, eventually, one you feel strongly about will likely emerge as the forerunner.
If however, you are feeling stuck or aren’t confident in your choice of topic, we are here to assist you. You can talk with myself and Josh and gain the advantage of our expertise with a personal brainstorming consultation.
We are looking forward to working with you!