What to Know About Law School Optional Essays

WELCOME TO THE LATEST installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

I can’t decide whether to write multiple essays for a particular school. Other than the personal essay, the school offers the opportunity to submit two optional essays: a “diversity statement” and another called the “optional essay” with three prompts to choose from. I’m having trouble coming up with separate ideas for my diversity statement and optional essay because my Armenian heritage is a big aspect of my life. Do you think it could hurt my application if I don’t submit an optional essay? Should I keep digging and try to come up with topics for both? AB

Every law school requires a personal statement, typically limited to two or three double-spaced pages. Nearly all law schools also allow for an optional diversity statement of one or two double-spaced pages. Prompts for diversity statements vary among law schools, but typically concern an applicant’s identity and background, past hardships or potential to contribute to a diverse and inclusive campus environment.

[READ: See 2 Successful Law School Diversity Statements.]

Beyond those two essays, some law schools also allow or require extra short essays. Most commonly, a school might ask about why an applicant would be a good fit for the school, but others may ask unique hypothetical or offbeat questions, like an applicant’s favorite books.

A classic mistake is to write as much as allowed, hoping that something will stick. Many law school applicants fear that if they fail to maximize every possible opportunity to write about themselves, they will appear lazy or disinterested. Therefore, they sabotage themselves by padding their application with redundant and repetitive text.

[Read: How Law School Applicants Can Prevent Self-Sabotage]

Applicants can best show their professionalism, communication skills and respect for the reader by writing efficiently and purposefully. Admissions officers have a limited amount of time, perhaps a matter of minutes, to review your application. Anything you write that does not contribute to a coherent argument for your admission risks wasting that time.

If your personal statement already adequately communicates the key points you would cover in your other essays, then those optional essays are unnecessary.

The purpose of the diversity statement is not for applicants to detail the uniqueness of their background. Everyone is unique in some ways. Rather, the diversity statement is intended to free applicants from having to weave together their background and interests in the same two-page statement.

For some applicants, this may be easy, like an Armenian American inspired by the trauma of the Armenian Genocide to become an international human rights lawyer. For others, this may be tricky, like an Armenian American whose ancestors suffered in the Armenian Genocide but who happens to feel most passionate about securities law. Forcing such a candidate to awkwardly cram both topics into the same essay might put him or her at a disadvantage against other aspiring securities lawyers.

[Read Law School Admissions Process: A Month-By-Month Guide.]

The same advice goes for other optional essays. Use them strategically to build your argument for admission. Don’t simply talk about yourself to fill space. If an optional essay prompt asks for your favorite book, there is no need to lie and claim that it is “The Common Law” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

On the other hand, before you write about your love of “Harry Potter,” consider whether and how that would bolster your application. Unless you can trace your interest in justice to Hermione’s efforts to emancipate house elves, you might be better off choosing another book or skipping the essay altogether.

In sum, if your personal statement feels overcrowded, think about whether you can move some of its material to a diversity statement or optional essay. Even if not, think about whether you could write an optional essay that conveys or emphasizes something about you that your personal statement and other materials fail to address.

If you honestly cannot think of anything else that would strengthen your case, then forgo a diversity statement and optional essays. Like a lawyer, show meticulousness and fine judgment with restraint, not verbosity.

More from U.S. News

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What to Know About Law School Optional Essays originally appeared on usnews.com

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