The personal statement is a piece of writing which you send off with your UCAS application to different universities. It’s capped at 4,000 characters (so will often end up running for about one side of A4), and serves as the best way to differentiate yourself from other applicants to the most competitive courses. In short, it’s the personal statement which is the truly ‘personal’ part of your application. This is your chance to grab the attention of the admissions team, who will often use the personal statement as the easiest way to pick between candidates with other similar metrics (e.g. predicted A Level grades which meet the entry requirements). Other universities (Oxbridge specifically) place even more emphasis on your personal statement, using it as a way to decide who to invite to interview (and then as a source of discussion during interviews). Put simply, it’s an important part of your application.
For law specifically, a subject which is known to be both competitive and highly academic, the personal statement is even more crucial. The University of Law have a page outlining some law personal statement tips, but this article seeks to present our views on some of the most crucial elements of a successful personal statement for studying law at university – from what you should do to what you shouldn’t, structure, content and more, this article will get you well on your way.
First thing’s first, you’re going to need a clear structure. There are a few reasons for this. First, having a clearly planned out structure before you start writing will limit the amount of ‘waffle’ you could accidentally end up putting into your writing (more on that in our next point). Second, a clear structure allows your reader (those university admissions teams) to enjoy the personal statement more by increasing the smoothness of the reading experience associated with a well thought out body of text (remember, they’ll be reading hundreds, if not thousands, of these). Third, you’re applying to study law – the personal statement is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that you can produce well planned, structured writing (as is crucial for any humanities subject). The theme of the personal statement serving a dual purpose (presenting the content itself but also showcasing your writing abilities) will come up again throughout this article – it’s super important to bear in mind.
There is no one-size-fits-all structure that your personal statement should take, and you should allow yourself to be guided largely by the content you’re looking to present. It is a good idea, however, to feature a particularly catchy opening leading into an introductory section, a main body (structure however best suits the content) and at least a line or two of concluding material at the end.
Leading on from our last point, being concise is key. Not only does this allow you to demonstrate your clarity of writing (as all law students and aspiring lawyers need as a key skill), but it also increases the amount of content (or explanation of that content) you’re able to pack into 4,000 characters. For example, have you written ‘on the other hand’? ‘Conversely’ is 2 words/7 characters shorter, and serves the exact same purpose. Also consider whether you’re repeating yourself. Conciseness is best achieved by proofreading.
Throughout your personal statement, it’s best to take a relatively formal tone. Your content is the part that allows your personality and individualism to shine through. Also avoid humour – it’s simply too risky without knowing the preferences of the individual whose desk your personal statement will eventually land on.
Proofreading is essential for a personal statement, and you’ll likely go through many rounds of drafts. Having concise writing is key (see the point above), but even more important is the fact your personal statement needs to avoid any errors in spelling or grammar. These are easily correctible and may reflect badly on you as a student applying to an essay-based subject at university. It’s fine if you personally struggle with spelling or grammar – see our next point for a way to combat that.
Your personal statement, while being innately ‘personal’, is best improved by showing it to a range of people. Although there will naturally (and sadly) be a difference in the quality of assistance you will receive based on the quality of your sixth form/college, be proactive in seeking out the best people possible to read over it and give you feedback. Are there any teachers at your school who studied on the university course you now find yourself applying to? Can you find current students/alumni of that course on LinkedIn and ask if they’d be willing to spare a few minutes to glance over it for you? The more input you get (from people who have more experience than you on this topic), the more secure you’ll feel in defending why you’ve written what you have.
If you’ve successfully followed the tips above, you’re likely to have a personal statement with a great deal of specific references in it. There’s an easy way to roughly check this – visually scan down your personal statement and see how many capital letters there are. If you’ve got very few, it’s likely that you may have included a fair amount of ‘waffle’. If you can spot quite a few capital letters, that’s a sign that you’ve probably included the specifics – great job! Where ‘I’ve read many legal books’ might throw up a red flag, ‘I’ve read X and Y books’ means you’re on a great path.
Attempting to present a broad overview of your degree’s content (e.g. trying to do a broad sweep of UK legal history) is useless, impossible, and ultimately pretty boring to read. It also means you’ll end up with something that skims the surface of many things. Remember, this is a ‘personal’ statement. The best way to approach it is to drill down deep into one or two particular niches that interests you (again, rather than skimming the surface of a huge range of topics). This keeps your personal statement fresh and interesting to read for the admissions team. Have you developed an interest in a particular piece of legislation that’s just come out? You could spend a paragraph going into some detail here – and the contents of that paragraph are what comes next.
This is one of the most important pieces of advice possible. Once you’ve found a particular area of interest to talk about in your personal statement, you need to back that up with specific, tangible examples. Some people will also advise that you try and keep this content relatively recent (in order to demonstrate an engagement with world affairs/news). Although not compulsory, this can still be a useful avenue to explore. ‘I’m really interested in the new Online Safety Bill’ is generic, proves very little, and could apply to anyone. ‘My interest in the new Online Safety Bill led me to read X book and watch X documentary, after which I considered X issues/questions’ is specific to you, demonstrates a tangible interest in these topics, and is simply far more interesting to read. This idea of constantly building on what came before allows you to demonstrate a thread running throughout your essay (helping your structure present itself as clear in the process). This is where you’ll often hear people say that your personal statement needs to ‘flow’.
The range of things that you could ‘show’ is vast – books related to your course are a great starting point (although don’t feel you need to tackle anything particularly academic at this stage, especially if that leads to you getting bogged down in detail). If you know one of your top choice universities employs a particularly prominent member of faculty, perhaps you’d be interested to have a look at their writing and include that too. Other such content could include documentaries, conferences, events, or work experience. Now your personal statement is looking far more personal.
Balancing the proportion of academic to extra-curricular content in your personal statement is not an easy task, especially when you’re likely to hear that certain top universities like Oxbridge heavily favour the former. Law is also an intensely academic subject. With that in mind, it’s only natural to place a heavy emphasis on the academic side. However, if you’ve got extra-curricular content which you feel you could successfully link to your degree course in some way (e.g. ‘For my swimming club, I researched current health and safety regulations to make sure we are compliant’ – ‘I am in a swimming club’, conversely, doesn’t hold much value), then do feel free to include that too.
In short, while writing law personal statements may appear a challenge, following our top tips will allow your application to excel. Be clear, be specific, be you.
Watch this video from Solent University Law School, Southampton, which is packed with great tips on how to write a strong personal statement for law.
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