Pre-Law Advising

Additional Essays

You should expect to write a number of essays in addition to the personal statement. Some are mandatory, some are optional. Don’t fall into the trap of writing an essay just because it’s permitted. Consider whether an additional essay will fit well with your application’s themes and whether it will add important information, or just add time to the reader’s review.

Showcase a different style appropriate to the prompt

Don’t make your additional essays “second personal statements.” The personal statement is, typically, an introspective story-like essay. Additional essays are opportunities to demonstrate your ability to write in different ways. Often the prompts will suggest a more straightforward expository style; sometimes the essay will be limited to fewer words. Be thoughtful about your stylistic decision.  

Choose material with a purpose

Whatever you write about, make a thoughtful choice. Your application should have some thematic consistency. As you think about what to write in response to additional essay prompts, think about how the essay fits with the rest of the content. Are you reinforcing a theme, adding a new wrinkle, or deliberately providing contrast or counterpoint? Try to write in a way that helps the reader understand how this information fits with the rest of your application.  

Diversity statement prompts invite you to discuss how specific traits or aspects of your identity have shaped you and will shape how you contribute to the law school community. Many prompts specifically invite students to discuss issues of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation, but an identity or diversity statement may focus on any trait or experience that has been particularly impactful in your life. 

  • Consider not writing one – you don’t have to submit a diversity statement. You may not want to be defined by your race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation; that identity trait may have been the subject of your personal statement. Consider the impact of not writing one.
  • Read the prompt – Not all diversity statement prompts are the same. Read the prompt carefully and be sure that your essay is responsive.
  • State your thesis at the beginning – As with any good essay, you should have a very clear statement at the outset of your diversity statement articulating the ‘identity’ issue you are writing about and summarizing what you will say about its effect on you.
  • Focus on the impact of your identity – even before the Supreme Court made race-conscious admissions unlawful, the right emphasis of a diversity statement was on the way your identity has shaped you and how that will affect your contribution to the law school environment. How did being bullied make you stronger? Has discrimination made you sympathetic to others? Being a musical prodigy were you forced to develop time management skills? How did being disabled affect your outlook?

Many law schools have their own specific short essays. For example, Yale has two mandatory 250 word essays in addition to the personal statement. Every applicant must write an essay ”about an idea or issue from their academic, extracurricular, or professional work that is of particular interest to them.” In addition, applicants have the option of writing short essays responding to prompts that are related to Yale Law Schools values. Stanford asks applicants write several essays from among a handful of prompts that change regularly; the Stanford prompts range from values-oriented (list five things that are important to you”) to whimsical (e.g., write a letter to your future roommate; what music do you want the admissions committee to listen to while reading your application; given the opportunity to teach anything at all, what class would you teach your law school classmates). Penn-Carey offers you an opportunity to write about how your values align with the law school’s values.  

There is no magic in writing these applications, but there are a few basics that apply.

  • Be yourself – these essays are opportunities to give the admissions staff more insight into your personality and values.
  • Be professional – even if you decide to be humorous, remember that this is still a professional school. application.
  • Be a good writer – it remains important, especially in light of the limited word count, to write clearly and effectively.
  • Be responsive – always, always, always answer the prompt.
  • Be thoughtful – make a considered choice of content. Conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t repeat in these essays what’s already in your application; we beg to differ. If done carefully, you can use an additional essay to underscore, emphasize or enlarge on a theme that is stated elsewhere in your application.  

In some cases you’ll be asked to write about your interest in the specific law school.  It may be difficult to write these essays – after all, in many cases you are applying to many schools because you can’t be sure where you’ll get in. In addition, without visiting or attending classes at a school it can be difficult to know what makes a school special. Most schools are trying to assess your genuine level of interest; some just want to see what you have to say.

Do some homework – read the school’s web page.  What can you tell about it from what the school itself features? These considerations are not too different from how you choose where to apply.

  • Geography – is the school in a location or setting that you are interested in?  Will you be happy in rural Virginia or in the Midwest?  Do you want to be near the center of politics, the center of finance, or the film industry?  Do you have family or friends near a specific school?
  • Programs – are there specific programs or certificates that you are interested in (the Columbia Law School Leadership Experience Application Process; University of Miami Entertainment Law Track; Berkeley Law School Sports Law program), or specific scholarships that attract you (NYU Root Tilden Kern scholarship, Penn-Carey’s Toll Public Interest Scholars Program)?
  • Fit/orientation – this can be very fraught, so be careful. Your assessment of a school’s “character” may not be consonant with the school’s own assessment or the image that it is building or trying to convey. Be careful about pigeonholing yourself prematurely.