I often respond to questions from readers on the law school admissions process. Here is a question I recently responded to:
Q: How do you write a compelling law school personal statement?
A: As a Harvard Law School graduate who also worked for 5 years as a law school admissions counselor for Kaplan and Harvard College before and during law school, I have a strong point of view on this.
Simply put, you should write about something you care about deeply. Something you’re passionate about. If there is a specific reason or event in your life that makes it appropriate for you to write about “why I want to go to law school” or even “why I want to go to XYZ Law School specifically,” then go ahead and do that. But explaining why you want to attend law school is not necessary, and certainly should not be a topic you default to if you don’t have a compelling reason to do so.
Use the personal statement as an opportunity to help the admissions committee learn more about yourself, your interests, aspirations, and perhaps your goals for the future. You don’t have to declare these things directly. You can tell a story. And you should use examples. Your reader should draw the right conclusions on his own. In fact, telling a good story and entertaining the reader (appropriately) are good ways to distinguish yourself from the masses of other applicants that simply write “why I want to go to law school” essays. By the time your reader reads the 357th essay about “why I want to go to law school,” they are ready to bang their head against a wall. So being able to tell a good story that shows things about you, that shows what kind of person you are and what kind of leader you may likely become, rather than simply declaring those things, can make your application memorable when the admissions officer must go back and separate admitted applications from rejected or waitlisted ones.
Finally, help your application reader get a glimpse of your personality and character through your essay. One successful applicant to Yale Law School I knew about spent his 250-word essay writing about pie crusts. Not one word about the law or being a lawyer. Pie crusts! But what it did show was his humor, character, and surprising insight about a topic that seems so tangential and fringe. I am sure the applicant got a good chuckle from the admissions committee–just before they accepted him.
My own essay to Harvard was about a volunteer experience I had with a non-profit organization that was important to me and had special sentimental value. I wrote about why I volunteered there, what I learned, and how that experience changed me and influenced my thinking. I mentioned nothing about why I wanted to attend law school, and I didn’t even say I had any aspirations of being a lawyer. I just wrote about a personal project I had been part of and why it was important to me. It was enough for my application reader to draw whatever inferences he wanted about my character, personality, and potential as a graduate of Harvard Law School. Two months after I applied, I got my acceptance letter in the mail.
Be sure to check out our law school admissions guide “How to get into Harvard Law School (whether you have the highest scores or not)” for in-depth tips and strategies on admission to elite law schools!
If you liked this post, please share it!Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Linkedin
Application Status Check
You may check the status of your Harvard Law School application online. This feature will allow you to monitor the status of your file at your convenience. Your status will be updated as soon as changes are made to your application.
Application Fee or Fee Waiver
$85 (nonrefundable). You may pay the fee by credit card when you submit your application or you may enclose a check or money order payable to Harvard Law School with your certification form. Do not send cash.
If payment of the application fee poses a severe financial hardship, please follow the recommendations below:
- We recommend, but do not require, that you request a fee waiver from LSAC (if you have not already done so). If LSAC has granted you an LSAC fee waiver within the last year and you apply electronically to Harvard, your Harvard application fee will be automatically waived. If your fee waiver request has been denied by LSAC, you may consider asking for reconsideration.
- You may also reach out to us directly to request a fee waiver, if LSAC denies your request for a fee waiver or otherwise. You may call our office at (617) 495-3179 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a Fee Waiver Request Form.
Application fees are waived on the basis of financial need as demonstrated by information on the Fee Waiver Request Form. We require tax documents supporting the information on your Fee Waiver Request Form. No application for admission will be considered before the application fee has been paid or a fee waiver request has been approved.
It is very helpful for you to provide as much information as possible on the online form itself before referring the reader to attached materials. Give as much information as possible in the space provided, and attach additional pages or electronic attachments if you need additional space. Please answer all questions and sign the form or Certification Letter.
We require a résumé as part of the application.
The following links are to sample resumes from successful applicants in prior years. You do not have to follow the formatting used in these resumes, but all three are examples of well-organized, easy-to-read drafts.
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.
The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the Admissions Committee a better sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School. In many instances, applicants have used the personal statement to provide more context on how their experiences and strengths could make them valuable contributors to the Harvard and legal communities, to illuminate their intellectual background and interests, or to clarify or elaborate on other information in their application. Because applicants and their experiences differ, you are the best person to determine the content of your statement.
STANDARDIZED TESTS and LSAC’S Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
All applicants to the J.D. program must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). LSAT or GRE scores taken within the past 5 years are considered valid.
All applicants – whether applying with the LSAT or GRE – must also register for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service and have all undergraduate and graduate transcripts sent to LSAC. While applicants need only take either the LSAT or the GRE, HLS does require all of those test results from the past 5 years.
Letters of recommendation must be submitted through the LSAC Letter of Recommendation Service. Two letters of recommendation are required, but you may submit up to three. We strongly recommend that at least one letter of recommendation come from an academic source. Our experience is that two thoughtfully selected recommenders are likely to be more effective than several chosen less carefully. Your application will be treated as complete with two letters of recommendation.
Character and Fitness Questions
Your application to Harvard Law School includes a set of Character and Fitness Questions. In addition to a bar examination, there are character, fitness, and other qualifications for admission to the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction. Applicants are encouraged to determine the requirements for any jurisdiction in which they intend to seek admission by contacting the jurisdiction. Addresses for all relevant agencies are available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
While it may not be required as part of the application process, college certification(s) will be required from admitted students prior to matriculation. The College Certification must be filled out by an official from each undergraduate and/or graduate institution that you have attended (regardless of whether you received a degree from that institution). This is, if necessary, to confirm your degree conferral as well as to confirm the responses you provided on your application to your character and fitness questions. Responsible University officers should return the signed form via email or postal mail to our office. If sent by postal mail, the form must be submitted in a countersigned official University envelope. If you receive the envelope, do not break the countersigned seal. Submit the countersigned, sealed envelope to the HLS Admissions Office by June 15, 2018. Otherwise, the College Certification may be emailed directly from the school official’s email account to the Law School by June 15, 2018.
The Admissions Committee makes every effort to understand your achievements in the context of your background and to build a diverse student body. If applicable, you may choose to submit an optional additional statement to elaborate on how you could contribute to the diversity of the Harvard Law School community.
We encourage you to provide any relevant information that may be helpful to us in making an informed decision on your application. Any information that you believe to be relevant to your application is appropriate. Examples of information that may be relevant to individual cases include unusual circumstances that may have affected academic performance, a description or documentation of a physical or learning disability, an explicit history of standardized test results accompanying a strong academic performance, or a history of educational or sociological disadvantage.
If a close relative has attended HLS, you may attach this information in an addendum.
During the application review process you may be invited to interview. These interviews will happen throughout the admissions cycle. The Admissions Office will contact you directly to set up an interview.
Interviews are conducted using Skype – a videoconferencing system. As always, we will accommodate individuals who may be unable to conduct their interview in this manner. If there is a reason that Skype would not work for you, we will work with you to find an alternative. However, our expectation is that Skype will be used for the majority of the interviews we conduct.
Information for Foreign-Educated Applicants
Harvard Law School requires that your foreign transcripts be submitted through the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS). If you completed any postsecondary work outside the US (including its territories) or Canada, you must use this service for the evaluation of your foreign transcripts. The one exception to this requirement is if you completed the foreign work through a study-abroad, consortium, or exchange program sponsored by a US or Canadian institution, and the work is clearly indicated as such on the home campus transcript. This service is included in the Credential Assembly Service subscription fee. An International Credential Evaluation will be completed by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), which will be incorporated into your Credential Assembly Service report. Questions about the Credential Assembly Service can be directed to LSAC at (215) 968-1001, or LSACinfo@LSAC.org.