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3 Ways to Develop a Fresh Personal Statement Without Ignoring Your Past





Most personal statements I help students with relate to issues that were raised or experienced during their formative years. Recently, many of my students have told me they have attended free seminars in which they were advised to not discuss experiences that took place before college.


However, the truth is, whatever inspires you to pursue higher education, whatever drives you as a human through college and motivates you to attend law school over business school or law school: all of that is fair game.


This article is dedicated to busting the myth that you have to write your personal statement and other law school essays on experiences you have after you get into college. It is absolutely okay to discuss significant experiences that inspire your pursuit of a law degree, regardless of how old you were one when they took place. In fact, the experiences that most inspire you may have even taken place before you were born.


Crafting The Strongest Personal Statement for You


The most important part of writing a personal statement is making sure that you are responding to the question that the school is asking of you. For example, take the below description from NYU School of Law:

“… we would like to give you the opportunity to include more information about yourself than the application form conveys. Because people and their interests vary, we leave the content and length of your statement to your discretion. You may wish to complete or clarify your responses to items on the application form, bring to our attention additional information you feel should be considered, describe important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent in your application, or tell us what led you to apply to NYU School of Law.”

At first glance, this description seems very vague and open-ended. In digging into it, you can see that they are clearly asking you to:

  • Add context to your application (“give you the opportunity to include more information about yourself than the application form conveys”);

  • Describe yourself and what makes you unique (“describe important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent”); and,

  • Explain why you are interested in the particular school (tell us what led you to apply to NYU School of Law”).

Each school will have a description like this, telling you exactly what they are looking for in your personal statement or essays. This doesn’t mean you can’t reuse most (or all!) of your personal statement for multiple schools, just that you should make sure you answer each school’s questions, and add information if your personal statement doesn’t have all the right content included yet.


Notice that nowhere in the question do they require you to write about something recent- you just have to answer their questions, and the more authentic you are, the better! Instead of focusing on trying to find the right experience after college to write about, consider doing the following to brainstorm or write your personal statement and essays:


1. Consider the life-altering experiences that happened in your formative years.


One of the things I have students do when working on their personal statement is to do a Good, Bad and Ugly exercise where you write out significant experiences that happened to you, and you may discover that a lot of them happened before college. That is when many of the formative events in your life likely happened, and it’s appropriate to mention them if they explain who you are and where you are interested in going when pursuing graduate education.


2. Take a fresh perspective on an old issue you’ve had time to process as an adult.


Perhaps this myth morphed from the general rule that you don’t want to repeat what you said to get into college, and that you should talk about something fresh and new. But a lot of traumatic events happen well before college, and experiencing a trauma doesn’t necessarily inspire one to attend college like it does to inspire law school. Writing about a traumatic experience takes a lot of healing, and we’re not necessarily doing that in college yet.


Sometimes, we need to wait until we are healed and ready to write about certain experiences, and how they will continue to inspire us to pursue certain goals, like law school. Trudel, who was accepted to Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, NYU School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center, had this to say when we busted this myth on our LSAT BOSS podcast:


“I definitely understand not wanting to reuse the stuff you used to get into college, and you’re a much different person when you apply to law school. But at the same time, if you stayed consistent, and if this is the thing that has motivated you and always motivated you, it’s also fine to have a new take on it, and say something different about it. It’s more about why you’re trying to go to law school, and less about sticking to some rule that someone said online.”

3. Don’t be afraid to discuss family members, their past experiences, and how they shaped your own journey.


I have had many students who have been inspired to pursue law school because of the effects that war, or military service, have had on their upbringing. Suppose you are a first generation American. How do you talk about the experiences of your parents or grandparents and NOT talk about a period in time before you were 18?


The ‘no experiences before college’ rule falls flat on its face for cases like this. One of my students discussed the experiences of her grandmother following the Korean War, and how those experiences of her family members informed how she was raised in Tennessee. She is now choosing between offers from Boston University Law School and Vanderbilt Law School, so clearly, talking about experiences or events from before you were born is not off the table.


Here's to busting myths and marching to the beat of our own, authentic, drums. If you need assistance developing your unique personal statement, contact us here to schedule a free phone consultation with our admissions experts.






Shana Ginsburg, Esq., is the Founder and President of Ginsburg Advanced Tutoring, which focuses on test preparation and tutoring for students with learning challenges. Shana received a BA in Public Policy and English, and a teaching certification, from Duke University. She worked as a high school English teacher before attending University of Maryland School Law to study school law and trial advocacy. During her entire academic and professional career, Shana has tutored students who under-perform on standardized tests, helping students in the bottom and top percentiles to overcome anxiety-inducing obstacles to their test success.



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