Are Optional Essays Really Optional?

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Are Optional Essays really Optional?

This is really for the gunners out there, the people for whom each and every point of extra credit is an important requirement.

Are you one of them?

If so, you probably already know that law school applications often come with the opportunity to write additional essays, including Diversity Statements, Why This Law School essays, and Addenda.

Increasingly, law schools are giving students the opportunity to answer the types of prompts commonly associated with applying to college from high school: Things like what 3 historical figures would you like to have dinner with? Or what would you say to your seven-year-old self? Or describe an activity that you can become so engrossed in that you lose track of time.

So, do you have to do these?

Well, they are quite literally optional…

That means that failure to complete some or all of them is, by definition, not disqualifying. If you’re well above a school’s median in LSAT and GPA, and if the other required pieces of your application (personal statement, LORs, and resume) are strong, then failure to complete them won’t stop you from being admitted.

…but they provide another opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

You’re applying to a profession of advocacy. Advocate for yourself here, and it will show that you are a good bet as a future advocate. If you legitimately have something to say that is not rehashing facts elsewhere in your application, then you should write these essays. Admissions officers are admitting human beings, not LSAT scores or GPAs. They decide what questions to ask with the extra essays, meaning they really do want an answer as long as it’s a good answer. You might strike a chord with an admissions officer in one of these essays where you didn’t with the other pieces of your application, which is a lost opportunity if you don’t write it.

Anything that can make you more likely to be admitted can make schools more likely to offer you scholarship money, so there’s a financial reason to knock one of these out of the park as well. 

Tips for Optional Essays

Addendum – These essays are used to explain a negative fact like a semester of low GPA or a criminal conviction. These essays need to do two things:

  • Explain the negative fact in your record *in its entirety.* You will be Googled, and a lie by omission is still a lie!
  • Show that the negative fact is firmly in your past. This generally consists of showing the lessons you’ve learned and steps you’ve taken to improve as a result of the experience.

Diversity Statement – These essays ask you to explain how you would add to the diversity of the law school community. They also need to do two things:

  • Describe the experiences in your life that have shaped your identity *other than what’s in your personal statement or other application materials.* If you’re repeating yourself, you shouldn’t be writing it.
  • Explain how those experiences and lessons learned will make you more likely to be an empathetic/motivated/successful law student and lawyer.  This usually has to do with relating your experience to your career and law school vision, which you are also alluding to in your personal statement. It’s just this is different evidence for that vision than what’s in the personal statement. 

Why This Law School Essay – People treat these essays as a chance to repeat what’s in a school’s Wikipedia entry and praise it effusively. That’s the wrong way to go about these essays. Instead, your best bet is to look at the extracurricular activities at a school and describe how your personal experience makes you a great fit for those activities specifically and a great fit in general for a school that finds those programs important.

Other Essays – The idea behind these is for the admissions officers to get to know you as a person and future member of the law school community. Do you have something to say in response to the prompt that reflects well on you as a person or student, or future legal professional? Then go ahead and write it. If not, don’t treat it as an assignment you must complete. 

Posted in
Branden Frankel, Esq.

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