Today I’m going to talk to you about your personal statement. In one recent survey of LLM graduates they almost universally said that the personal statement was the most difficult and anxiety producing part of their LLM application. But don’t panic!
Your personal statement may be more subjective and difficult to evaluate then grades on a transcript or a score on a test, but it’s also an opportunity for you to stand out from other applicants by telling us about the person behind the application, and how you will benefit from a year in our program. Your personal statement will help me and the other members for admissions committee to understand why you’ve decided to pursue an LLM what your aspirations are, what your concerns are, what are the interests that have driven you to succeed in the past, and how good a match those are for our school and its resources.
The most important thing to realize about the personal statement is that it is precisely that — personal. There’s no magic formula that results in a good personal statement, because what makes the best personal statements work is that they are unique to the individual writing them. The best personal statements capture the spark of your own history — your passions, your interests – in a way that won’t be replicated by any other writer. That said, while every good personal statement is unique to the given student, there are a few general characteristics that I see in the best personal statements — and a number of common mistakes to avoid.
Let’s start with the good. For me, the best personal statements tell me how what you’ve done in the past has made you who you are today, and how an LLM degree will make you who you are going to be in the logically consistent and persuasive. There’s no single way to do this, but whatever structure you choose make sure that you’re making a clear and persuasive argument that ties together the main strands of your history and of your career plans. The best personal statements also make a case for why you want to come to my school for your LLM. As an admissions committee member, I want to see that you’ve done your research on our LLM program and on the faculty who teach at Pitt Law, and that you think that our program is a good fit for your needs and ambitions. This doesn’t mean engaging in flattery or praise of the given school or our professors — rather I want you to tell me how our course offerings, or our professors’ research interests, connect to your own interests and plans. When writing a personal statement for my program or any other program, be sure to follow the directions carefully. Pitt Law’s personal statement, for example, allows you a great deal of freedom in writing. Other LLM programs may have specific questions that they want you to answer, or impose page limits or formatting requirements.
Admissions committee members at my and other schools are usually lawyers by training, and that means we expect rules to be followed precisely. A few more do’s and don’ts for writing your personal statement. My first “don’t” should be obvious from what I’ve already said: don’t plan to use the same personal statement for more than one school. If you’re applying to more than one school, you want to write each personal statement with a specific school and its requirements in mind. Do proofread your personal statement carefully — your personal statement should reflect you’re best written English. As I said, admissions committee members are usually lawyers by training, and all lawyers are perfectionists. Use the spell check functions in your word processor, and have your statement proofread by a friend whose English skills you trust. Don’t, however, have your statement written or rewritten by someone else. Whatever your English writing skills may be, your personal statement at the end of the day needs to be your own writing. There’s no surer way to have your application denied, or to get expelled after admission, than to submit a personal statement that isn’t your own work.
The personal statement can be the most challenging portion of the LLM application, but if you give it the time and effort that it deserves it can also be the component of your application that sets you apart from other applicants, and convinces the admissions committee that you are the best fit for a spot in next fall’s LLM class.