Why Columbia Law Essay

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald’s book

Most likely, you’re not looking forward to writing your law school application essay. But you should actually view this chance to submit a personal statement as a gift from the admissions committees—they are giving you the opportunity to tell them absolutely anything you want about yourself. For some candidates, this assignment may be daunting at first—after all, where do you begin? With some time and reflection, though, you should be able to seize this opportunity and use it to fundamentally shape the admissions committees’ perspective of you as a candidate.

At this point in the application process, you have limited control over most of the components of your can- didacy—your GPA was determined years ago, for example, and your recom- mendations are in someone else’s hands. Yet what you present in your personal statement—and how—is completely up to you, so think carefully about the best way you can represent yourself. In this chapter, we offer guidance, advice, and ideas to help you in writing your personal statement and, we hope, to pro- vide some inspiration as well.

Law school applicants are typically responsible for writing one or more of the following three kinds of application essays: a traditional personal statement, a free-form essay, and an optional diversity essay. Which one(s) you will write depends on the school or schools to which you are applying and the story you wish to tell the admissions committee about yourself.

Let’s deal with the traditional personal statement. Here are prompts from different schools that ask you to tell your story:

Please provide more information about yourself in a written personal state- ment. The subject matter of the essay is up to you, but keep in mind that the reader will be seeking a sense of you as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Berkeley Law. –- Berkeley School of Law

Please use the personal statement to introduce yourself to the admissions committee and to help the committee get to know you on a personal level. It should demonstrate your contribution to the law school community beyond simply academics. The admissions committee generally finds that a state- ment that focuses on a unique personal attribute or experience is usually the most informative (as opposed to a restatement of your qualifications or résumé).–- University of Chicago 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; experi- ences 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. –- Columbia Law School

The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the admis- sions 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, appli- cants 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. –- Harvard Law School

The admissions committee requires that every applicant submit an original example of written expression. The purpose of this personal statement is to provide you with as flexible an opportunity as possible to submit informa- tion that you deem important to your candidacy. You may wish to describe aspects of your background and interests—intellectual, personal, or profes- sional—and how you will uniquely contribute to the Penn Law commu- nity and/or the legal profession. -– The University of Pennsylvania Law School

You will note that all of these essay questions use the phrase “personal statement.” Traditionally, “personal statement” has specifically referred to an essay in which a candidate explains why he or she wishes to earn a JD and describes his or her relevant life experiences. These days, however, a “personal statement” can be any essay that discusses something important to or about the applicant that the applicant wishes to share with the admissions committee. This means that in response to your target school’s essay question, you can write either a traditional personal statement or what we call a free-form essay.

In a traditional personal statement, you explicitly demonstrate a connection between your past experiences and your current interest in at- tending law school. This kind of essay is a great deal more straightforward than the free-form essay, though it is not necessarily easier to write. Effectively communicating to the admissions committee why you want to go to law school requires a good deal of self-awareness and self-study. Career changers in particular have to make truly convincing and reasoned arguments about their decision to pursue a law degree. What brings about self-awareness and facili- tates self-study? Research, research, research. This includes visiting law schools, sitting in on classes, speaking with law professors and students, visiting the schools’ career services offices, and/or possibly even working for a time in the legal profession. We do not recommend that you write about what you want to do in your legal career—or possibly even pursue one—if what you want to achieve in your life does not in fact require a law degree. Fully investigat- ing your target JD programs and identifying clear connections between the resources they offer and what you have already accomplished in your life, in addition to what you hope to do in the future, is a crucial part of successfully writing this kind of essay.

Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.

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Hi! My name is Dorielle. I am a mentor with ChaseFuture and a current 2L (short-hand for second-year) at Columbia Law School (CLS). Given Columbia’s location in New York City and its ivy-league reputation, there is no doubt that gaining admission to CLS is a competitive process. However, with that being said I will seek to demystify the application process and provide some useful tips to consider when applying to CLS during your application cycle.

I. Grades and the LSAT

Applicants interested in CLS should be prepared to face a highly competitive process. This is the usual for any law school. Grades, LSAT scores, or TOEFL scores are very important components of your application. But, there are other ways to distinguish yourself through your application materials, so if these are not your fortes, then do not despair. 

II. Personal Statement

Many applicants underestimate the power of a personal statement. The personal statement is the applicant’s opportunity to really distinguish themselves from a series of other equally competitive candidates. Thus, I'll spend more time on discussing the personal statement.

At Columbia, the admissions committee really values putting together a class of diverse and unique individuals. Applicants should really take the time to think about what would make them a valuable, diverse addition to Columbia Law School. I encourage all applicants to think of a powerful experience, extracurricular activity, an important family member who has inspired them, or any type of life experience that can really speak to who they are as an individuals, but also demonstrate their desire to attend law school, specifically Columbia. It's easy to get into the habit of writing a form personal statement, but personalization is important. 

Columbia really gives all applicants the opportunity to discuss anything in their personal statement. While it may be nice to discuss some of your extracurricular activities, don’t forget you will also be submitting resume or CV, so it isn’t necessary to spend your time summarizing and discussing your activities.Talk about something new and different that will really engage the reader and have them interested in learning more!

All applicants should start their personal statement with a powerful opening that grabs the reader attention. Furthermore, throughout the essay, applicants should really emphasize their interests, backgrounds, and goals. Lastly, including specific reasons why you want to attend law school, especially Columbia Law School. 

I really encourage all applicants to DO THEIR RESEARCH—reach out to students or peruse the Columbia Law School site to really get an idea of what the school is like, the culture, and a greater understanding of why they may want to attend. Providing real reasons, that are well thought out is certainly a plus compared to the more generic answers such as, “I want to go to Columbia because it is an ivy-league.” The reality is that there are lot of people who will say the same; it will not impress the committee, and it takes away space from speaking about your real insights of the university!

III. Optional Essays

It is very important for all applicants to take advantage of all opportunities to write, including any optional essays that may be offered as a part of the application. These opportunities are key, as they give the applicant not only another opportunity to demonstrate their writing abilities, but highlight something that may have not been discussed or mentioned in their application. For example, Columbia offers applicants the opportunity to write a diversity statement. If an applicant feels that they are diverse, they should certainly take the time to discuss how their diversity will contribute to the law school.

IV. Timing

Timing is everything in the law school application cycle. If you take anything away from this blog, remember to include in your strategy early submission of your application. In fact, Columbia Law School reviews most applications in the order in which they are received. Getting in your application materials as early as possible should certainly be something all applicants need to strive to achieve. 

However, it also equally important that all applicants ensure that their materials are all edited, free of grammatical and spelling errors, and proofread before submitting. An applicant should not rush through completing their application just to get it in early. But, it certainly is important that, when thinking about applying to Columbia, all applicants consider the timeline and try to get all of their materials completed at an early date. This means adding a lot of cushion time for your editors. Start early.

I hope this blog, serves as a useful resource for all applicants interested in applying to Columbia Law School. Grades and test scores are certainly not everything, and there are so many ways to distinguish your application and make yourself a strong applicant. Good luck!

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