A fundamental question that law school applicants should answer in their applications is why they are applying to law school. Some law schools go even further and offer applicants the chance to explain why they want to attend their school specifically. Schools may do this through their personal statement prompt, an interview question or even a school-specific “why” essay.
For example, the University of Notre Dame Law School offers applicants an optional statement of no more than two double-spaced pages “to express a specific interest in Notre Dame Law School.” The School of Law at the University of California— Irvine has a mandatory essay of up to 750 words about why you are interested in their school. In contrast, the University of Virginia School of Law does not have a “why” essay but interviews selected applicants, typically including a question about their interest in the school.
Sometimes these essay prompts remind me of a line from Bette Midler’s self-absorbed character CC Bloom in the movie “Beaches”: “But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”
Many law school applicants find “why” questions frustrating. They have trouble articulating their interest without resorting to boilerplate flattery about a school’s prestigious faculty and academic excellence and vibrant campus. They understandably fear that it will come across poorly to say that they know little about a given school except that their grades and test scores are in line with the averages for its admitted students.
Honestly, many applicants apply to a wide range of law schools without giving too much thought about the distinctions between them, reasoning that they can invest more attention if and when they are accepted. So how should they answer the dreaded “why” question?
— Do the research.
— Find areas of overlap.
— Focus on a few specific points.
Do the Research
Law schools value applicants with strong research skills because research is a core legal skill. They particularly value applicants who show they have done their research about where they are applying.
If you can, visit the law school, set up an appointment with an admissions officer or talk to a current or former student. Use search engines like Google News or LexisNexis to find any mentions of the school in the press.
Most importantly, carefully review the law school’s website. Law school websites are one of the best ways to learn about a school: how it sees itself, what it offers and what’s going on. While law school websites might look unremarkable at first, close reading can reveal valuable details.
Compare multiple law school websites and notice the differences between them in style and content. Often, the words and images they use are meticulously crafted to present and promote a distinct identity. Without copying their phrasing word for word, reuse some of these terms in your essays to reflect an understanding of a school’s unique character while avoiding cliches and generalities.
Find Areas of Overlap
Do you hate being judged based on your grades and standardized test scores, without due consideration for your other unique qualities? Well, how do you think law school admissions officers feel when their schools are judged solely on metrics like their ranking or bar passage rate?
Law schools differ in their size, geography, culture, curricula, special programs, campus activities and many other ways. These distinctions provide perspectives on how each law school stands out.
Based on your research, make a list of noteworthy nuances of a school. Think about which ones are most relevant to your strengths and interests as a candidate. For example, if your personal statement is about your dream of becoming a prosecutor, look for clinics, research centers, programs, professors or distinguished alumni in the criminal law field.
Focus on a Few Specific Points
If someone asks what you like about him or her and you answer “everything,” you better be able to back that up with a few specifics. Otherwise, your broad compliment may sound insincere.
Likewise, in a “why” essay or interview response, center your answer on a few concrete reasons. Try to keep the reasons varied. For example, rather than mention three clinics you find interesting, think about other potential points of intersection, like a personal connection or a geographic interest.
When elaborating on the reason you are interested in a school, don’t try to “flood the zone.” Think realistically about your plans for law school and beyond. It would be more effective to thoughtfully explain why a professor’s research interests align with your own than to rattle off every relevant course in the catalog.
Ultimately, “why” questions are about connecting a law school to yourself. Answer with confidence by researching and identifying a few specific ways in which a school’s unique offerings match with what sets you apart.
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How to Discuss the Appeal of a Top-Choice Law School originally appeared on usnews.com