Together with the information on your resume and any addenda that you include, the personal statement is your opportunity to articulate the voice, perspective, and contribution that you will make to Berkeley Law’s entering class.
The Personal Statement
A personal statement is required of all applicants. The statement can be up to four double-spaced pages. There is no required topic for the statement. It is your opportunity to describe the subjective qualities that you will bring to the study of law at Berkeley. We recognize that there are many personal factors not measurable by one’s academic record or test score and that these factors are important to consider when building a law school class. Some of these factors include leadership potential, integrity and accountability, intellectual curiosity, determination in the face of adversity, problem-solving skills, resiliency, motivation, compassion, creativity, and the ability to relate well with people. Implicit in the value of a Berkeley Law degree is the caliber of our classroom dialogue. That dialogue is a function of the voices that comprise the class. Thus your personal statement, first and foremost, should describe your voice. Because we do not interview applicants, the personal statement is your only opportunity to introduce yourself. Take advantage of this opportunity to describe your life journey, what brings you to our door, and why you wish to attend Berkeley Law School in particular.
While review by others is acceptable, your personal statement and any other accompanying document must be uniquely your own. If you plagiarize all or part of your personal statement, or intentionally misstate anything in your application, you may be disqualified for admission.
Some Personal Statement Advice from a Past Faculty Admissions Committee Member
The following was written by a member of our faculty, who served for many years as a member of the Admissions Committee, in response to trends in personal statement content and tone. We offer his comments for you to consider when composing your own personal statement:
“The statement should avoid simply summarizing what is in the resume. It should avoid simply asserting how able, accomplished, and well suited for law school the applicant is. It should avoid uninformed attempts to ingratiate oneself through exaggerated claims of one’s interest in Boalt. For instance, more than a few applicants stressed how much they want to work with named individuals who are at best passingly related to a Center or the like and aren’t even members of the faculty; these claims make one doubt the applicant’s due diligence.
The statement should avoid self-absorbed autobiography. What we need is something that doesn’t simply assert, a.k.a brag about, how qualified and impressive the applicant is, but rather demonstrates it through the substance of what is said in the personal statement. If it is going to be autobiographical, I for one would prefer it to generalize a bit; that is, instead of, ‘How I changed as a result of this experience and now am so special,’ it should talk about how and why such experiences can affect people.
“I felt the cold, sharp edge of a knife at my neck.” “ ‘You rich Americans are all alike,’ she screamed.” “I’ve never been so scared in my life.” “The child’s belly was swollen and scabbed.” You get the picture. Starting the essay with a dramatic, unexplained sentence designed to grab the startled reader’s attention. (In fact, what it does to the reader is produce a dismayed feeling of, “Oh no, not another one of these.”). Continuing this dramatic episode for a short paragraph without tipping off its relevance to the application. Beginning the next paragraph by switching to expository style and informing us of what you were doing in this dire situation and how it was part of the background that makes you a special applicant to law school. Developing why you are so special in the rest of the statement. Then concluding with a touching statement returning to the opening gambit, about how now, after law school, you can really help that little girl in rags.
It is very clear that many applicants have been coached by someone that this is how to write a compelling personal statement. This format is transparently manipulative, formulaic, and coached. Except for the occasional novelist we admit, none of our students or graduates is going to write in this style again; none, thank goodness, is going to begin a brief with, “He stood frozen in fear as the gunman appeared out of the darkness.” So, this artifice is irrelevant to law and counter-productive: Once it ceases to surprise – and it did so more than 10 years ago – it just becomes a cliché which really ought to be held against the writer. Not only using clichés, but also having been coached ought to, in an ideal world, discount an application. Needless to say, however, I did not hold these statements against the writers. Often the bulk of the statement does report on impressive activities that are relevant to admission. But it is transparent when essay formulas have been coached, and we (should) strongly advise applicants to write in their own voice and style and without trying to dramatize what they have to say in order to attract our attention.”
You may submit separate, supplementary statements to highlight any particular topics that you wish to bring to our attention. Examples may include a history of poor standardized test-taking (a copy of previous test scores is required), how you might contribute to the diversity of the school, or other specific incidents that you wish to explain.
In addition to the statement, we require that you include a resume. The resume may be of any length and should provide chronological information about your work experiences, travels, and accomplishments. Your personal statement should not be a narrative version of your resume.