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How To Write A Winning Personal Statement: Focus On Your Conclusion

The second most important part of your essay, behind only the introduction, is the conclusion. Just as the introduction had the purpose of drawing in the reader, the conclusion's foremost function should be to leave the reader with a lasting impression. This section offers guidelines on ways you can maximize the impact of that impression. These guidelines can be grouped into three categories, each of which encompasses a lesson on what not to do.

Synthesize, Don't Summarize...

personal statements, personal statement, graduate school

The second most important part of your essay, behind only the introduction, is the conclusion. Just as the introduction had the purpose of drawing in the reader, the conclusion's foremost function should be to leave the reader with a lasting impression. This section offers guidelines on ways you can maximize the impact of that impression. These guidelines can be grouped into three categories, each of which encompasses a lesson on what not to do.

Synthesize, Don't Summarize

The chief difference between these two tactics is that the former deals with themes while the latter deals with facts/experiences, though there is some overlap. You do not need to recap the essay paragraph-by-paragraph. You do not need to remind the reader of the experiences you have discussed (except as individual experiences might be tied to certain themes you want to synthesize).

You do want to reiterate key themes, but preferably not in a way that merely repeats them. Instead, in synthesizing these key themes in your conclusion, you should ideally be adding a fresh perspective. Try to tie themes together and demonstrate how they complement each other. In doing so, you should always avoid trite and clichéd generalizations.

In this essay, this applicant uses the conclusion to synthesize the second half of the essay. It's worth noting that he does not mention the content about recovering from addiction, because he could have tied this in with his renewed interest in public policy. Nevertheless, the concluding sentences do an effective job of linking his past experiences with his career goals: "After getting my master's in public administration, I would like to work in the area of economic development in the Third World, particularly Latin America. The setting might be a private (possibly church-based) development agency, the UN, the OAS, one of the multilateral development banks, or a government agency. What I need from graduate school is the academic foundation for such a career. What I offer in return is a perspective that comes from significant involvement in policy issues at the grassroots level, where they originate and ultimately must be resolved."

Seeing how the pieces fit together leaves us with a clear point to take away. Moreover, the last sentence is key to the lasting impression he creates, as it provides a fresh interpretation of the significance of his work at the grassroots level.

If in the process of synthesizing you are able to invoke your introduction, you will add to your essay a further sense of cohesion and closure. There are a number of different ways this can be accomplished. For example, you might complete a story you started in the introduction, as in this essay, or you might show how something has changed in your present since the timeframe of the introduction.

Expand on Broader Significance-Within Reason

One way to ensure that your closing paragraph is effective is to tie your ideas to some broader implications, whether about yourself or your field. However, do not get carried away. Some applicants feel they must make reference to changing the world or derive some grand philosophical truths from their experiences. Remember to stay grounded and focused on your personal details.

This applicant's conclusion ties his goals in teaching to a broader issue about research limitations at smaller liberal arts colleges. He does not express the goal of revolutionizing education, but instead simply wants to make a contribution that has personal significance to him. The final sentence invokes the tradition of scholars before him. Such a tactic is not usually advisable, because it can sound forced and generic, but in this case, the applicant has established his focus on a specific intellectual topic-human memory-so it's not as vaguely trite as invoking Plato, Descartes, and Kant in the search for truth.

Don't Add Entirely New Information-Except to Look Ahead

We have used the word "fresh" here several times, and what we're mainly talking about is perspectives and ideas. You should avoid adding entirely new information about your experiences. In shorter essays, you may have to pack details everywhere, but in general, if it's an important experience, it should come earlier.

That said, writing about your future goals is a strong way to end. After you have established your background and qualifications in the previous paragraphs, delineating your goals can help synthesize these topics, because you are tying your themes together in the context of where you will go next.

This applicant's conclusion is a straightforward, well thought out description of her professional goals. Such an ending demonstrates to the reader that she has given much consideration to her future and the role a Ph.D. in literature can play in it. Moreover, she makes clear that while she has definite career goals in mind, she also appreciates literature for its own sake. This kind of natural affinity for her subject of study serves to make her a dedicated and genuinely engaged student, and, therefore, a more attractive candidate to the admissions committee.

 

How To Write Winning Law School Personal Statements

Why Unique?

After weighing academic performance, law schools are most interested in assembling a class of interesting people. In this sense, their criteria are broader than those used by business or medical schools, whose applicants face more clearly defined expectations. Unfortunately, law school applicants often find this freedom intimidating rather than encouraging.

Too often writers resort to a safe route, and it should be obvious why such an approach would prevent ...

personal statements, personal statement, graduate school

Why Unique?

After weighing academic performance, law schools are most interested in assembling a class of interesting people. In this sense, their criteria are broader than those used by business or medical schools, whose applicants face more clearly defined expectations. Unfortunately, law school applicants often find this freedom intimidating rather than encouraging.

Too often writers resort to a safe route, and it should be obvious why such an approach would prevent them from achieving the goal of uniqueness. The topic itself need not be revolutionary. Rather, the key to this type and all types of essays is simply to be specific and personal. Don't be afraid to give your readers a glimpse of who you really are.

This applicant describes his upbringing in the inner city as a way to offer insight into his current maturity. He does not use his disadvantaged background as an excuse for anything, nor does he overstate its significance. Rather, he portrays his past honestly to show how it shaped his character and determination.

This applicant focuses on his extensive international experience in business and education. The details of his work often have little to do with law, but in exploring his global travels he demonstrates the unique perspective he has cultivated.

This applicant offers an in-depth account of a boot-camp experience. Note how his focus on a single experience can nevertheless convey a great deal about his character, because he offers concrete details from his personal experience. Depth is almost always preferable to breadth.

Finally, this applicant achieves uniqueness through his writing style. What makes the essay effective is not the specific topics with which he engages the reader, but the playful and inventive thought process he demonstrates.

These four examples are meant to show you the boundless ways in which you can offer a unique portrait. You don't need to come from a very diverse background or to have accomplished something extraordinary. These essays are effective because they offer honest portrayals and are grounded in specific, personal details. Law, although mentioned, is not the focus of any of these essays. In your own essay, you should stay focused on the topic you choose and explore it fully, making a connection back to law only if that seems natural.

In the previous section, we examined some essays that mentioned law as a natural conclusion but focused on some novel experience unrelated to law. When you don't have interesting, fresh ideas to offer about the legal profession or the study of law, you are better off emphasizing your unique strengths rather than stating platitudes about your future career. In the tired eyes of an admissions officer, nothing is more tedious than an essay that starts off, "I have always wanted to be a lawyer," and then cites a list of trite reasons. One obvious mistake is to focus on your parents' experiences as lawyers without demonstrating any independent, mature thinking about your own goals.

A less obvious, more common mistake is to write about how you want to help people. The fact is that most law school graduates, especially from the top schools, go on to work in the private sector. Law school admissions officers are not out to judge the moral value of your career intentions, particularly because they know that people often change their minds. They're well aware that most of their graduates will go on to seek financially rewarding careers. Therefore, applicants who mention clichés about wanting "to improve society" usually sound disingenuous.

Focusing on Specific Legal Areas

If you have specific goals such as working for a particular disadvantaged group that lacks advocates, then the situation is different: It's always good to showcase a unique, focused commitment. Even better would be if you had a track record of community service to back up your objectives. For example, you may have worked with handicapped people for several years, and this exposed you to certain injustices that you want to correct. The same approach would work for topics that are not about public service. For example, this applicant describes his background in science and connects this to his current interests in intellectual property law. He recognizes that his unusual background is a strength rather than a liability. His unique reasons for attending law school are clearly grounded in relevant experience and thoughtful consideration.

Unique Personal Interests

Discussing specific areas of law is a surefire way to demonstrate a mature commitment to the study of law. However, admissions officers certainly do not expect this level of decisiveness. Another way to show your reasons for pursuing law is to tie your interest to personal qualities or skills.

This applicant shows that her interest in law is grounded in her willingness to seek "justice at any cost." What's important is not that she be the only person with this conviction, because that would not be possible. Instead, the uniqueness comes through her personal details, the evidence that she provides to back up her principled nature.

Brushes With the Law

Some people will discover their interest in law through an unplanned encounter. This applicant describes her involvement in an Equal Employment Opportunity suit, then ties this in with her interest in environmental law. The result is an essay that accomplishes two objectives: first, a concrete event that demonstrates her exposure to law, and second, a distinct field of law for which she has special qualifications to pursue.

In this essay, the focus is even more explicitly on the role that law and lawyers have played in the applicant's life. Though the details of the essay still center on the applicant's background, he uses past encounters with the law to define his current objectives.

 

Learn How To Write A Law School Essay

Though most schools weight the numbers a little more; your LSAT score and GPA have a big impact, law school essays are definitely taken into account. Moreover, your law school essay will make or break your application if you're a borderline applicant, and it can even make up for a weak showing in the numbers department.

If you're applying to law school, your law school essay, along with your LSAT score and your undergraduate GPA, is going to be the most important factor in...

law school essay,law school,writing essays

Though most schools weight the numbers a little more; your LSAT score and GPA have a big impact, law school essays are definitely taken into account. Moreover, your law school essay will make or break your application if you're a borderline applicant, and it can even make up for a weak showing in the numbers department.

If you're applying to law school, your law school essay, along with your LSAT score and your undergraduate GPA, is going to be the most important factor in both what schools will accept you and how much scholarship money they're going to offer you.

Even if you're a huge long shot for a particular school the admissions staff will read at least the first paragraph of your law school essay, just to see what you have to offer. On the flipside, if you're a strong applicant to a particular school a bad law school essay can knock you out of the running if you're too flippant or stuck-up.

Though some law schools will give a required topic for your law school essay, most will offer up a few suggestions but allow you write on anything your heart desires. When writing your law school essay, avoid repeating any information that can be found on other parts of your application.

The admissions staff can read; they know what your GPA is and what activities you've taken part in. Instead, fill them in on what isn't on your application. Write on something that both defines who you are and why you stand out from the crowd.

Avoid over-used topics; writing about the most inspirational person you know or what difficulties you've overcome are tired topics and won't get you much attention unless it's something truly fresh or earth-shattering.

If the most inspirational person you know is the Unabomber or you were born without legs and can run a ten second fifty yard dash the admissions staff has probably heard it before.

The admissions staff has gone through thousands of applications, so tell them something about yourself that makes you stand out in their minds. Have you hiked the entire Appalachian Trail? Gone skydiving in a kayak? Raised your baby brother for a summer? Helped a poor family get a house?

Your activities don't necessarily have to be related to the law (though sometimes it helps), the topic you write about just needs to have been important to you. You should also have something to say about the topic, whatever it may be. Say it, and think of the law school essay as a way for the admissions staff to get to know you better.




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