Becoming visual – images through facts

Becoming Visual – It’s The Facts Stupid!

  • Creating images with facts
  • Length of time
  • Content of activity
  • The applicant is more than the activity
  • Personal statements

The Facts Don’t Always Speak For Themselves!
How To Make Sure They Do!

Learn to describe facts so that they create maximum impact!

The Autobiographical Sketch – Describe your activities, jobs, and awards in a positive way.

It is your responsibility to tell the committee anything that you want it to know!

Inside Perspective – Please remember that the Admissions Committee cannot know what the applicant wishes to have considered unless it is included in the admissions materials submitted.

When you describe activities, you must be concerned with (at a minimum) both length of time and content.


Length Of Time

The length of time that you have been involved in an activity is strong evidence of your commitment to that activity.

Inside PerspectiveA big mistake made by applicants is the failure to give meaningful time frames to community service and other activities.

Inside PerspectiveIf an applicant has worked 40 hours a week but only states that she has worked “long hours” and there is no letter from an employer, the Committee can only guess how long and guess to the applicant’s detriment.


Content Of Activity

Avoid listing only the title of the job, activity or award. In many cases, the title will not be a sufficient description for the reader to understand what you did. After having listed the title, you must describe the responsibilities, qualifications for award, etc. A well written entry can document a history of advancement, achievement and the assumption of greater and greater responsibility. Here are some hypothetical examples that might be found in an autobiographical sketch.

Western Pre-Law Society, 92-94; organized trips to Law Fair; President 1993-94.

Researcher – Department of Justice, Summer 95; was only non law student hired to do legal research in the criminal division.

State University Dean’s List; (A- average or higher), 5 consecutive semesters.

Debating Club, 1991 -94; Attended weekly meetings, placed second in North American competition 1993, Vice-President 1994.

Big Brothers Organization, 1993; Averaged 8 hours per week providing tutoring and mentoring to two boys aged 8 and 12.

Cambridge Scholarship, 1996; Awarded each year to Cambridge student who makes the greatest all around contribution to the university in the areas of athletics, academics, and university community involvement.

Head Of Orientation Committee, 1996; From an applicant pool in excess of 100 applicants I was selected to plan and organize the orientation activities for 5,000 first year students.


The Applicant Is More Than The Activity.

In each of the above examples, the explanation clarifies the activity and provides evidence of a quality that is desirable in a law student. The reader will use the descriptive material to infer additional things about the applicant.  For example, the winner of the Cambridge Scholarship (because of interest in athletics and the university community) is much more than an academic. Attending weekly meetings of a debating club is evidence of both commitment and discipline. Spending eight hours each week as a Big Brother is evidence of ability to manage time and a commitment to public service. Three years of involvement in the Pre-Law Society is evidence of an interest in law and an interest in working with people. Being elected president is evidence that he is held in high regard by his peers. Notice how much better the summer job with the Department of Justice sounds once you know that the applicant was the only non law student selected for the position. The fact that the person was the head of the orientation committee is evidence that the applicant is responsible.

The descriptive material will allow the committee to make inferences about the applicant that extend beyond the activity itself. In this way the descriptive material will assist in the creation of positive images.


Creating Images Through Facts – The Personal Statement

The single biggest mistake applicants make in developing personal statements is that they write a statement rather than a personal statement. A personal statement will help the reader get to know you better. This means that a personal statement must be about you as an individual and NOT about your view of the world in general or law in particular. A statement (in contrast to a personal statement) is not about you but is either about how you see the world or about some other topic.

In order for someone to get to know you, you must reveal something about yourself. Its time to get personal. Don’t be abstract. An effective personal statement must talk about you in a very personal way. Focus on the facts. For example you could: write about the best thing that ever happened to you, the worst or the most unusual. You could write about your greatest achievement -making it clear why it is important to you. You could write about your greatest failure or disappointment – saying what you learned from the experience. Go into detail! Be specific! Use concrete examples to make your statement distinctive. Avoid the generalities and platitudes that apply to every law school applicant and will make it impossible for your statement to be distinctive. For example, it does little good to say that you want to make the world a better place. Be specific. What motivates you specifically? Why?

You cannot tell the school directly that you have the qualities it seeks. Rather, you must describe yourself in such a way that the school will infer that you have those qualities. For example, imagine that a law school is seeking applicants with the following characteristics:

  • Maturity
  • Disciplined
  • Hard Working
  • Honest
  • Generous
  • Motivated
  • Intelligent
  • Responsible
  • Well Rounded (diverse interests)
  • Community Oriented
  • Sound Judgment

The school requires a personal statement. You cannot write a personal statement that says:

“Hello, my name is Stanley Student. I want you to know that I am mature, disciplined, hard working, honest, generous, motivated, intelligent, well-rounded, community oriented and have sound judgment. Please send my offer of admission to:

Stanley Student
123 Main St.
Anytown, Canada
AlA 2B2”

Describe specific aspects of yourself that will allow the reader to infer that you have the above qualities.

Describe something you have done that will show that you are honest or responsible or motivated, etc.

Don’t write that you have sound judgment. Describe some event or incident in which you exercised sound judgment.

Your job is to describe specific things about yourself that will convey the kinds of images that are consistent with what the law school is looking for!

The above has been reproduced and/or adapted from Mastering The Personal Statement by John Richardson. Copyright remains with the author.

Copyright © 1998, John Richardson. All Rights Reserved.

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