Before even beginning the application process, you must consider your reasoning for attending graduate school. Here are some commonly cited reasons, good and bad:
- Grad school is a great way to put off having to deal with the real world.
- The job market is bad right now, but by the time I finish my degree it will be better.
- Others have been telling me I should go to grad school because I had good grades as an undergrad.
- My parents went to grad school, so I should too.
- If I don’t go to grad school, I’ll have to move back home.
- A graduate degree will guarantee me more money in a future job.
- I have no job offers, but a decent GPA.
- I enjoy teaching and research, and grad school is an opportunity to do both.
- Grad school is a great way to start over with my emotional life, especially since I just got dumped.
- Having a PhD would give me greater status and more self-worth.
- My work experience so far has been uninspiring, and I want to explore new opportunities that would come with a higher degree.
- I’ve applied for and received a scholarship, so I owe it to others to accept and use it.
- It’s a sanctioned and convenient way to defer my student loans.
- Quite simply, I love learning.
It’s easier to pass judgment on some of these reasons than others, but all are used regularly, and the most important realization about them is this: Even the worst of reasons doesn’t guarantee failure in grad school, just as even the best of reasons doesn’t guarantee success. Those who succeed in graduate school tend to have a dogged work ethic matched to an ambitious vision and a strong sense of obligation to self, while those who do not succeed tend to spend much of their emotional time questioning their own sense of value and purpose in the process. Because of the personal and professional challenges that come hand in hand with graduate education, all grad students experience concentrated periods of self-assessment, and responsible students begin that assessment even before they apply.
An effective personal statement is based on sound self-assessment. To help you reflect on some of your accomplishments, interests, personal traits and characteristics, ask yourself:
- What’s your background, your values? (first generation college student, parents' occupation, role models, spirituality, social justice, etc.)
- Who have been the most influential people in your life and why?
- If applicable, reflect on the diversity/uniqueness that you bring (culture, age, major, special life experiences and perspectives.)
- How would you describe yourself?
- How would your professors, employers, family members, classmates and friends describe you?
- What are you passionate about?
- What keeps you motivated? Why?
- What kind of learner are you?
- How do you re-energize?
- What are your greatest assets?
- What is it that you would like for a law school to really know about you?
- Why should a law school want to have you as a student?
- Think of your proudest moment. Why was that accomplishment particularly meaningful to you?
- What skills are you learning in your classes, research experiences, and other academic endeavors that are relevant to the legal profession?
- What are you learning about yourself through your experiences inside and outside of the classroom?
- Reflect on your extracurricular experiences: remember critical incident moments, "revelations" etc.
- Ponder about one or two particular events that deeply affected you. Why did these people/events have such a profound impact on you?
- How have you demonstrated leadership?
- What kind of hurdles did you have to overcome in your life?
- What cocurricular activities have broadened your horizons?
- What experiences have enabled you to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures?
- How have you formed your own opinion/perception of the nature of legal practice and the daily demands placed upon lawyers and their families?
- What kind of lawyer would you like to be and why?
- What impact do you want to have on your community? In what ways have you already started this process?
- What are your goals for the future, both personally and professionally?
- Why do you want to become a lawyer? Be as sincere as you can
- What experiences have confirmed your career choice? Be as specific as you can
- What do you want law schools to know about you beyond what is stated in your application?