Pen & Chisel Q&A: How to Pep Up a Boring Law School Admissions Essay

Eileen ConnerHere at The Girl’s Guide, we get tons of questions from law school applicants about how to best frame their application story. Rather than making stuff up that may or may not be right, we’re bringing in the big guns!

Please welcome Eileen Conner, founder of Pen and Chisel, who has agreed to serve as our resident expert on law school application writing. Eileen is here to help with any law school application questions you might have — including personal statements, diversity statements, addenda, and any other items you need to submit.

Got a burning law school application question? Just send a note and maybe it will be answered in a future column!

Today’s Question: I think my personal statement makes a good argument, but it’s boring to read. How can I make it more interesting?

Dullness is one of the more subtle problems that can crop up in law school personal statements. Although it’s most crucial to make a solid argument for admission, some attention to detail can make your essay really shine.

Here are three ways to give your essay the spark it needs to hold the admissions committee’s attention.

A Compelling Introduction

Your introduction not only establishes the main argument of your essay — it’s also your chance to hook your readers on the admissions committee, making them interested in your story and eager to see how it turns out.

If an essay lacks an engaging hook, readers are less likely to care about its outcome.

Therefore, catching the reader’s attention in the first paragraph of your essay — or even its first sentence — is key.

There are many different ways to write a captivating introduction.

  • One excellent strategy is to begin with a compelling problem. You can either do this simply, by clearly showing the problem and noting that you needed to solve it, or in a more complex fashion. For instance, you can tell an active anecdote that directly shows the challenge you hoped to solve.
  • Or you can turn the narrative structure on its ear and start by flashing forward to the solution to the problem, causing the reader to wonder how you got there.

In an essay that centers on a personal experience, anecdotes like these can be particularly effective.

Other ways to hook your readers include include posing key questions or introducing surprising facts. However, the particulars of your hook will depend on the topic of your personal statement. Experiment with your introduction and see what kind of hook you can devise to make it as riveting as possible.

Using Your Own Authorial Voice

Authorial voice is a tricky concept for many. Essentially, voice can be defined as an author’s personal writing style. This includes a variety of different factors, ranging from word choice and sentence structure to pace, tone, and even punctuation.

Many students fall into writing in a default “academic” voice over their years of schooling.

While authorial voice is discussed in literature classes, it often ends up pushed to the back burner and entirely ignored in favor of making only the necessary points to support a thesis. This concentration on subject matter over style can lead to a flat and uninteresting tone, often characterized by use of unnecessarily complex language chosen largely because the author thinks it sounds smart.

While this default voice is acceptable in basic research papers and theses, it’s not the best choice for a compelling personal statement. Instead, it’s a good idea to work to develop your own authorial voice, and to use it when writing your personal statement and other application essays.

Of course, you do still need to support your argument for admission well! However, if at all possible, you should do so in your own individual voice. This way, you won’t just be presenting your accomplishments to the admissions committee — you’ll also be showcasing your personality.

A Dynamic, vivid Narrative

There’s nothing worse than reading a story that plods along at a snail’s pace. Think about your own response to reading a slowly paced, meandering essay. Does it keep your attention, or do you find your mind wandering?

A quicker pace is not only more interesting — it can also help you cram even more excellent evidence for your success in law into your essay.

This is especially important in the personal statement, where you only have two pages to tell your story in the first place. Stay on topic, only including information that’s relevant to your argument. Proceed quickly from point to point, accumulating the evidence for your argument as you go.

As you write, consider the information you’re communicating. How can you make it more interesting? Why, by including a variety of bright, punchy details.

Instead of telling your story in vague terms, go for a variety of striking, sharp, rich, and powerful words and phrases. By making individual sentences more vivid, you’ll also make your whole essay more engrossing and memorable.

Overall, aim for producing a fast-paced essay, filled with surprising tidbits that make your readers want more. By including a hook that piques interest, a personalized voice, and a selection of intriguing details, you’ll create a personal statement that really stands out.

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Thanks, Eileen! Got a burning law school application question? Just send a note and maybe it will be answered in a future column!

More about Eileen:
Eileen Conner is the founder of Pen and Chisel LLC, where she specializes in helping law school candidates perfect their application essays. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious creative writing MFA program, Eileen is the former Senior Editor for Law at Revision Editing.

Read On:

As you embark on your law school application journey, you might want to bookmark Applying to Law School 101: What You Need to Know to Succeed.

Then check out some of these posts:

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Best of luck on your applications!


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