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.
All application components must be submitted electronically through this online application and LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). We urge you to familiarize yourself with LSAC's requirements for the submission of official documents through the Credential Assembly Service, including the length of time they estimate for processing those documents.
We will not accept any application materials by mail should you miss a deadline with LSAC. No exceptions will be made. Any application materials or supporting documents we receive by mail (or email) will be discarded.
You must submit an application fee of $85 (USD) with your application. This fee is nonrefundable and will not be credited against your tuition. The fee must be paid by credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) before you can submit your application online through LSAC.
Components Submitted Online through LSAC
- Personal Statement
Your Personal Statement should describe your background, academic interests, the program of study you wish to follow and your reasons for doing so. You should prepare this statement without assistance from others. The format of the statement should not exceed three double-spaced pages using a 12-point font with standard margins. We will not accept a résumé or curriculum vitae in place of the statement.
- Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
You must submit a résumé or curriculum vitae for consideration as part of your application.
- Application for Financial Assistance(Optional)
LL.M. applicants who wish to be considered for financial assistance from Columbia Law School must complete the Financial Aid section of this application. All applicants who complete this section will be automatically considered for award of all funds for which they are eligible.
Because our financial aid funds are limited, applicants who will require financial assistance to attend Columbia Law School should also seek assistance from other sources, as we cannot guarantee an award. Awards are generally in the form of partial waivers of tuition and, in some cases, loans. Full waivers of tuition are almost never granted.
If you are applying for Columbia Law School's Appel Fellowship, Jagdish Bhagwati Fellowship, or Human Rights Fellowship, you must complete the Financial Aid section.
If you do not submit an application for financial assistance with your application for admission, you will not be considered for financial aid, even if you request it after the application deadline. If you think you may need financial assistance, you must complete the Financial Aid section of this application. If you later decide you do not need financial assistance, you may withdraw your financial aid application by sending an email to email@example.com.
It is your obligation to notify the Office of Graduate Legal Studies should other funds become available to you within seven (7) days of learning of such an award. Since Columbia Law School offers financial assistance mostly on the basis of need, the Law School reserves the right to reduce the amount of any financial assistance it has awarded if other funds become available to you.
- Appel, Jagdish Bhagwati, or Human Rights Fellowship Essays (Optional)
For additional information on the Human Rights and Appel Fellowships, visit Tuition, Fees, and Financial Aid. If you are applying for a fellowship, upload your essay to the Attachments section of the online application. If you submit a fellowship essay, you must also complete the Financial Aid section of the online application in its entirety. Only successful applicants will be notified.
Components Submitted through LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
- Transcripts and Diplomas
You must submit an official transcript and, where applicable, a diploma or proof of degree from all postsecondary (university level) institutions you have attended, whether or not you earned a degree. If you are unable to submit original documents to LSAC, you may submit certified copies. If the originals are not in English, you must submit an official, certified translation of each document in addition to the original document. If you are in school at the time you submit your application, submit your most recent transcript, and send an updated one to LSAC once your fall grades are available.
We strongly prefer but do not require the International Transcript Authentication and Evaluation Service in addition to the basic CAS service; it is up to you whether you select the evaluation service.
- Statement of Rank
If your official transcripts for your first law degree do not include your class rank, you must include a separate statement of rank issued by your University. If your University does not provide official class rankings, you must include a statement from your University that students are not provided with an official class rank upon graduation. Either statement should be sent to LSAC and included in your official CAS report. If your school refuses to issue a statement that they do not rank candidates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org a copy of your CV/résumé prior to submitting your application.
- Letters of Recommendation
We require two original letters of recommendation from your law school professors, employers, supervisors, or other persons qualified to appraise your academic potential for graduate legal studies. If you have work experience, one letter should come from a law school professor and one letter should come from a work supervisor. Letters from family friends and letters from prominent persons who have not taught you or supervised your work are not helpful. If your recommenders cannot write in English, please submit certified translations together with the original letters. We reserve the right to disqualify letters written or translated, in part or whole, by the applicant.
Your recommenders must submit their letters of recommendation directly to LSAC. They may do so either electronically via LSAC’s new Electronic Recommendation system (also called E-LORs) or by mail to LSAC. If your recommender uses the new E-LOR system, be sure they include a work e-mail address and contact information in their letter, so we can contact them if we have any questions about the letter or to verify the authenticity of the letter. If your recommender sends the letter by mail, it must be written on official letterhead and addressed to the Office of Graduate Legal Studies. If your recommender is unable to print the letter on official letterhead, ask her to include an explanation as to why she is unable to do so.
In the “Recommenders” section of the Columbia Law School online LL.M. Application, you must also include a work email address for each recommender so we can contact her/him should we have questions about the letter or your candidacy (please note that we cannot accept generic email addresses such as Gmail, Yahoo!, or Hotmail addresses for recommenders). Not providing an official work email for your recommender will significantly delay the review of your application, as you will be required to provide one before we review your application. If your recommender does not have an official work email address, you must explain on the online application why s/he does not have one).
Please do not submit more than two letters. Part of compiling a strong application for admission is determining which two recommenders are best able to evaluate your ability to pursue and succeed in graduate legal studies. In very rare circumstances, applicants may feel they have a compelling reason to submit an additional letter of recommendation. If you feel you fall into this category and would like to submit a third letter, your reasons should be obvious to the Admissions Committee and you should give a detailed explanation in the Additional Recommender section below. Nevertheless, your application will be considered complete once two letters have been submitted to the Credential Assembly Service. (Please note: Letters submitted directly to the Office of Graduate Legal Studies, instead of through the Credential Assembly Service, will be automatically destroyed, and not added to your file. No exceptions will be made.)
- TOEFL Scores
All applicants except those who earned their first law degree entirely in English in an English-speaking country must take the TOEFL iBT or the paper-based TOEFL and the Test of Written English (TWE) by our admission deadline (December 19, 2017). We do not accept the IELTS or any other exam in place of the TOEFL. The minimum scores required for admission are:
- TOEFL iBT: 105 overall score, with 26 on the Reading and Listening sections and 24 on the Speaking and Writing sections;
- Paper-based TOEFL: 620 overall score, with 59/60 on the Structure/Writing and Reading sections, 60/61 on the Listening section, and 5.0 on the TWE.
If your scores fall below these levels, your chances of admission could be adversely impacted even if other factors in your application are strong. You must decide whether to repeat the test based on how far below these scores your results fall; we cannot make this decision for you.
If you are applying for Early Review, your scores must be in your CAS report by November 1 (meaning you will need to take the exam at least a month beforehand to allow time for your scores to arrive at LSAC). Otherwise, you should register for and take the TOEFL by the December 19 deadline. We will not accept scores sent directly to us from ETS; you must submit them to LSAC for inclusion in your CAS report. All score reports we receive directly from ETS will be discarded.
You should take the TOEFL no later than our regular application deadline, December 19, 2017. TOEFL scores are valid for a maximum of two years from our application deadline (so you must have taken the TOEFL exam on or after December 19, 2015 for the scores to be considered in this application cycle). If your scores are lower than our minimum requirements, and you decide to retake the TOEFL after December 19, 2017, we cannot guarantee that the Committee will consider your late scores (and any additional scores or scores submitted after the deadline must still be submitted through LSAC).
Waivers of the TOEFL requirement are rarely granted, and are granted at the sole discretion of the Office of Graduate Legal Studies. Therefore, if you are planning to request a waiver, you should assume the request will be denied and make arrangements to take the test by the application deadline. Requests for waivers on the grounds that you have run out of time to take the exam or work primarily in the English language will not be granted. Waiver requests should be sent via email to email@example.com and should include a detailed description of why you think you qualify for a waiver and your CV/résumé. In your waiver request, if you have ever previously taken the TOEFL, you should also include your prior TOEFL score(s) and the date(s) taken. If you are granted a waiver, you must upload your waiver approval email to the “Attachments” section of this application. Waiver requests sent after December 19, 2017 will be automatically denied.
Once submitted, all application materials become the property of LSAC and/or the Office of Graduate Legal Studies and as such will not be returned to you under any circumstances.