• Sanchit Varma

Writing the personal statement for King's College London: Why you should play to your strengths

King’s College London is a leading institution for higher studies in law, and provides students with an opportunity to broaden their horizons in a vibrant community of intellectuals, students from other jurisdictions, and leading practitioners.

As part of the entry requirements for the LLM program applicants are required to submit a personal statement, English proficiency scores, copies of their academic transcripts, and can optionally submit a CV. This post breaks down how one should go about putting together the personal statement, and includes snippets from CollegeIt’s interaction with Farhan Shafi, an LLM candidate at King’s College London pursuing a specialization in international dispute resolution.

What should you include in the personal statement?

The university website specifies that the personal statement should not exceed 4,000 characters if directly entered into the online application form, or two pages if uploaded as an attachment.

In Farhan’s experience “universities tend to put a lot of weightage to [the candidate’s] uniqueness and what [applicants] need to focus on is what makes you, ‘you’.”, and accordingly it’s important to include details in the personal statement that are based on one’s strengths and experiences.

I didn't talk much about academics, I mean, you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot, right?

Following such an approach can also makes it easier gloss over shortcomings in one’s profile – for instance, Farhan did not meet the academic requirements for the LLM program at King’s. While the program required a High 2:1 undergraduate degree with a final mark of at least 65% or above, he only had about 61%.

In playing to his strengths, Farhan mentioned that he "didn't talk much about academics, I mean, you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot, right?", and instead he chose to talk about an access to justice initiative he had started in law school, which was engaged with by over 6 million people in its lifetime. He bolstered his statement by talking about his prior work experience in arbitration, potentially adding a few brownie points to his application, considering Farhan also wished to specialize in the same field.

I focused on my work experience, and an access to justice initiative I had started in law school

Academic achievements and engagement outside of the classroom, such as summer school experience, conferences, internships, and related work experience, can all be incorporated into the personal statement. Discuss prospects for postgraduate research, specific courses, and professors you admire. It's a good idea to avoid employing platitudes and generic phrases, and instead using the personal statement to speak in specifics about topics that you like.

Structuring the personal statement

As a broad approach for the personal statement, Farhan suggests that applicants should highlight their motivation for going for an LLM, what they bring to the table, and what they can do after obtaining an LLM. He followed a structure which focused on his prior work experience, which he then linked with the reasons for which he wanted to obtain an LLM, and demonstrated how the skills which he gathered could help him during the course of the program.

Based on our conversation with Farhan, the personal statement can potentially be structured as follows:

  • Make a great first impression in the initial part of the personal statement. Start out with a strong introductory paragraph that captures the attention of the reader. Consider mentioning your motivation for pursuing an LLM, and include a few lines about your biggest accomplishments.

  • Go ahead and tell your story after the strong introductory paragraph: talk about how your interest in law developed over the years, and how that led to an inclination towards any particular area of law. You can build a coherent narrative to demonstrate your interest in a particular specialization and your suitability for the program using past internships and work experience. In doing so, it is important to highlight how these experiences prompted you to apply for an LLM, and how they can help you during the program. A general caveat for the personal statement is that it should not be a bland restatement of your CV – instead, it should be used to bring out how the several line items in your profile shaped your ideas and interest in law, and how it eventually prompted you to apply to KCL.

  • Once you’ve laid down a strong foundation in the initial part of the personal statement, you can dedicate a paragraph to your most recent work experience. Farhan used this space to talk about his prior experience in arbitration, and how this experience helped him appreciate the intricacies of dispute resolution. You can also use this paragraph to demonstrate how an LLM would contribute to your skills and understanding in your preferred area of specialization.

  • After you’ve talked about your work experience, put down a few lines to discuss your academic background and achievements, and use these to demonstrate how such background has prepared you to meet the challenging demands of KCL’s LLM program.

  • Several universities in the UK require LLM candidates to submit a dissertation towards the end of the program. Keeping this requirement in mind, it may be a good idea to dedicate a paragraph to talk about your prior publications – essentially, these will speak to your ability to write a dissertation and effectively fulfil the requirements of the program. You could also consider mentioning a potential dissertation topic – Farhan explains that this provides a fair bit of substance to your motivation behind applying for an LLM, and that you’re always free to change your topic later on in the course.

  • Finally, you can wrap up the personal statement by writing about what you like about the university and why KCL would be a good fit for you. A simple way to do this would be to highlight specific modules in the program, or faculty members who you like, and how you believe this would contribute to your intellectual growth. You can also consider linking this paragraph to your overall motivation for applying for an LLM.

As a disclaimer, the structure set out above is indicative and Farhan's approach might not work for everyone. At the end of the day, it may be a good idea to let the personal statement be what it is designed to be: personal.