Pen & Chisel Q&A: Is Your Law School Personal Statement Too Vague?

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!

Q: My advisor says that my personal statement is too vague. How can I solve this problem?

Vague information is a common weakness in law school application essays. To make the most effective argument for admission, it’s best to avoid vagueness. Instead, provide vivid, specific information throughout your personal statement and other essays.

What’s wrong with vague information?

First, vague information is not persuasive. If the evidence supporting your argument is ambiguous or unclear, it will be less likely to convince the admissions committee to admit you to their program. In contrast, clear, specific details will let you directly illustrate your points, supporting your argument for admission much more effectively.

On top of that, vague descriptions are boring to read. It’s not only important to convince the admissions committee of your argument for success in law — you also need to grab and keep their attention throughout your essay. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your reader’s interest.

How is detailed information better?

Vagueness creates two problems; specific detail solves those problems. First, detailed information will essentially serve as evidence for your argument for admissions to law school. Using strong evidence will make your argument more convincing. This will let you directly show the admissions committee that you are a good candidate for admission to their school.

Detailed information is also much more interesting and compelling to read than vague information. Vivid details will help you create interest and hook the reader, making them more likely to read your whole essay, stay engaged, and give you the chance to make a strong argument for admission.

How to identify and revise vague information

Let’s analyze an example to see what vague information looks like and how you can make it more detailed. Can you picture exactly what happened from the description below?

As captain, I guided the basketball team to victory. Together, my teammates and I worked hard to triumph over the Blue Jays.

While this describes a positive accomplishment, the details of what happened are unclear. What did you (the captain) do to guide the team to victory? How did you and your teammates work hard? What was the end result?

For instance, did you set up specific drills to address key weaknesses, allowing the entire team to increase their skills? Did you work on-on-one with a struggling teammate, or come up with a new strategy that ensured a win? In the process, did you increase teamwork between players or help others form meaningful bonds? And as a result, did you win an important game, advance to a playoff or championship, or earn an athletic scholarship or award? Any or all of these additional details can help you create a more compelling argument.

I had to move fast to counter the Blue Jays’s offense. As the ball flew by me, I pivoted, intercepting it and passing it swiftly to our retreating point guard. Dashing down the court, I heard the tell-tale swish of the basket. Our new strategy had worked!

By rewriting to include specific details like these, you directly show your actions and their effects. This particular example highlights strategic thinking, teamwork, and ability to turn on a dime to achieve real results. What law school admissions committee wouldn’t want to see those characteristics in their student body? This direct depiction is much more effective than a vague reference to “my leadership.”

As well, this description is far more interesting and vibrant than the previous example. It’s easy to visualize the fast pace and dramatic action of the game. Your readers will get invested in your story and want to know what happens next. This will keep them hooked throughout your essay, propelling them forward toward your ultimate argument for admission.

Now that you know what an effective description looks like, it’s time to get going and fill your essay with specifics! Revise those vague sentences and replace them with vivid details, and you’ll create a much more convincing, compelling essay.

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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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