How Long Should My Law School Personal Statement Be?
by Daniel Coogan
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Although much of the law school application process has been standardized, there are still some aspects of it that change from school to school. One such aspect is the length of the law school personal statement.
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at several schools’ personal statement length guidance:
- Harvard has strict requirements for length and formatting of personal statements: 2 pages maximum, 11pt minimum font size, 1-inch margins, double spaced
- Columbia asks for two double-spaced pages “using readable fonts and margins”
- UC Berkeley asks for a personal statement that is “ideally four, double-spaced pages”
- Georgetown states: “There is no minimum or maximum length. We do not feel that an applicant’s personal statement should be limited.”
These examples show that there is great variety in both length requirements and in specificity in describing those requirements.
So what is an applicant to do? Most applicants apply to ten or more schools, and it is unfeasible to write a different version of one’s personal statement for each school one applies to. Instead, we recommend that you write two versions of your personal statement: a 2-page version and a 3+ page version. These two versions, with some minor modifications, will satisfy all length requirements.
Start by writing the three-page version, finalize it, and then pare it down to a two-page version if necessary. (It will almost certainly be necessary: two pages is the most common length requirement.) The process of paring down the essay may be painful and may take several hours over a couple of sittings, but it is much easier than writing two different essays.
A few additional rules of thumb:
- Follow each school’s instructions to the letter. We mentioned Harvard’s requirements above: 2 pages, 11pt minimum font size, one-inch margins, double-spaced. If they spent the time putting together those requirements, they don’t want you to deviate from them.
- Don’t play games with margins, font size, etc. First of all, it’s obvious to the reader that you have changed the document properties to fit more words into less space. Second, it’s just less pleasant to read. Remember that there is an actual human being at the other end of this process, and he or she will not appreciate reading an essay that is cramped or significantly different in format from the other components of the application.
- Keep it brief. When no length is specified, only consider writing something longer than three pages if you have something truly compelling to say.
- Use a header. Create a header that includes your full name and LSAC number, and indicates that the document is your personal statement. Do this for every written component of your application, not just your personal statement, and make sure it’s on every page of the document. 📝
Daniel Coogan is the Director of Law School Admissions Counseling at Stratus Admissions Counseling.Daniel is a graduate of the New York University School of Law and Bowdoin College. At NYU, Dan was an articles editor for the Journal of Law and Business, and did extensive coursework in corporate and partnership taxation and tax policy. After preparing for the LSAT and applying to law school with the help of Stratus Admissions Counseling, Dan tutored Stratus clients on the LSAT and GMAT before and during law school. After law school, Dan was a tax attorney at a major corporate law firm before rejoining Stratus in his current capacity. Dan has advised dozens of applicants over the past several admissions cycles at Stratus. Follow this link to learn more.
Sample Personal Statement Questions
Below are the personal statement writing instructions for seven top law schools. They should give you a good sense of the kinds of questions most law schools ask of applicants, as well as the instructions on the form for completing your personal statement.
Columbia Law School
“Candidates to Columbia Law School are required to submit a personal essay or statement supplementing required application materials. Such a statement may provide the Admissions Committee with information regarding such matters as: personal, family, or educational background; experiences and talents of special interest; reasons for applying to law school as they may relate to personal goals and professional expectations; or any other factors that you think should inform the Committee’s evaluation of your candidacy for admission. This statement should be printed on a supplementary sheet or two and should be returned to the Law School with other application materials.”
Georgetown University Law Center
“An applicant may write a double-spaced personal statement on any subject of importance that he or she feels will assist the Admissions Committee in its decision. There is no minimum/maximum length.”
Harvard Law School
“The Personal Statement provides an opportunity for you to present yourself, your background, your ideas, and your qualifications to the Admissions Committee. Please limit your statement to two pages using a minimum of 11-point font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing. Please refer to the Statement Form for more information. Attach your statement to the Statement Form when submitting on paper.”
University of Michigan Law School
“There is no formula for a successful personal statement, and different individuals will find different topics to be well-suited to them. Applicants have, for example, elaborated on their significant life experiences; meaningful intellectual interests and extracurricular activities; factors inspiring them to obtain a legal education or to pursue particular career goals; significant obstacles met and overcome; special talents or skills; issues of sexual or gender identity; particular political, philosophical, or religious beliefs; socioeconomic challenges; atypical backgrounds, educational paths, employment histories, or prior careers; or experiences and perspectives relating to disadvantage, disability, or discrimination. Any of these subjects, and many more, could be an appropriate basis for communicating important information about yourself that will aid us in reaching a thoughtful decision. The length of your personal statement is up to you.”
Northwestern University School of Law
“Include a typed, signed personal statement (recommended length: one to three pages, doublespaced). Please look upon this essay as an opportunity to introduce yourself to members of the Admissions Committee. In doing so, keep in mind that the committee evaluates applicants in many areas beyond test scores. We encourage you to discuss personal and professional goals that are important to you and to include information about your achievements. Feel free to comment further about your education, background, community involvement, and strengths and weaknesses in certain courses or activities. Please type your name and Social Security number on the top of each page.”
Stanford Law School
“Enclose a statement of about two pages describing important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent in your application. The statement must be submitted electronically with your electronic application. While admission to Stanford Law School is based primarily upon superior academic achievement and potential to contribute to the legal profession, the Admissions Committee also regards the diversity of an entering class as important to the school’s educational mission. If you would like the committee to consider how factors such as your background, life and work experiences, advanced studies, extracurricular or community activities, culture, socioeconomic status, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would contribute to the diversity of the entering class and hence to your classmates’ law school experience, please describe these factors and their relevance.”
University of Texas School of Law
“Your personal statement should give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and experiences. Please review the Admissions Bulletin for a list of factors that the Admissions Committee considers in the admissions process. Your personal statement may not exceed two (2) typewritten, double-spaced pages with a font size no smaller than 11 points.”