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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.

Check the application of every school to which you’re applying, but in general, you should follow these guidelines.

Header

I prefer a one-line header. Put your name on the left, your LSAC number in the middle, and the words “Personal Statement,” followed by a page number, on the right. It looks like this:

In case you’re not comfortable with Word headers, I’ve made a correctly formatted .docx file with a one-line header. Click here to download the sample text, then substitute your information for the placeholders.

You can also put all the information on the right-hand side, in three lines, like this:

If you use a three-line header on the first page, you may want to use a shorter header—name, page number—on subsequent pages.

The Essay Body

  • Don’t give your essay a title.
  • Use twelve-point, Times New Roman font.
  • Use one-inch margins all around.
  • Double-space your essay.
  • Left-align or justify your essay.
  • Add half-inch indentations to each paragraph.
  • Don’t add an extra return between paragraphs.
  • Use one space after periods.

I’ve implemented this formatting in the personal statement format sample.

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