How to Choose a Topic for a Yale Law School Admissions Essay

Three Parts:Knowing What to WriteKnowing What Not to WriteWriting the Essay

Yale Law School (YLS) requires applicants to submit a 250-word essay on a topic of the applicant’s choice. The 250-word essay, also called the ‘Yale 250’ or simply ‘The 250’, gives members of the YLS admissions committee a chance to assess the applicant’s writing and analytical abilities and gives them a peek into the applicant’s character and intellectual passions.[1] The YLS application also requires a personal statement, which should not be confused with the 250-word essay. Your YLS personal statement is meant to highlight those aspects of your background that you feel may be of interest to the admissions committee and, in particular, those aspects that may not be evident from the rest of your application.[2] Whereas the potential topics about which you can write your personal statement are limited to your background, the field from which to choose the topic of your 250-word essay is much wider. Applicants may, therefore, find themselves wondering what the admissions committee is looking for in The 250 and what topic to write about.[3]

Part 1
Knowing What to Write

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    Know the purpose of the 250-word essay. The YLS admissions committee uses The 250 to evaluate the very important lawyerly skills of writing, editing, and reasoning.[4] Look at this essay as your first exercise as a lawyer. Your task for this essay is to use the very limited word limit you are provided to say something meaningful.[5] The essay is designed to test your ability to say something meaningful as concisely as possible and to prepare you for the real world in which judges (when you are in practice) and law professors (when you are in law school) take word limits very seriously.[6] The purpose of the 250, then, is to test the quintessential legal skills that a lawyer should have, namely being persuasive and concise at the same time.[7]
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    Explore something you care about. The 250-word essay allows you to write about something that you were not able to in your personal statement. Look at it as an opportunity to explore something important or meaningful to you that you weren't able to address in your personal statement.[8]
    • One potential topic is to write about a policy argument. A policy argument is an argument that advocates adopting a legal rule because of the benefit that it will bestow upon society or rejecting a legal rule because of the harm that it will cause to society.[9] Writing about a particular policy argument that you care about is a great way to showcase your lawyerly writing skills.
    • An example of a policy argument essay would be to take one side in the two sides of the debate as to whether a psychiatrist has a duty to warn potential victims of a mentally-disabled patient of hers.[10] Policy arguments can come into play from both sides in this case. Potential victims of such patients can argue that public safety requires that the law impose such a duty on the psychiatrist, while the psychiatrist could make the policy argument that imposing such a duty would undermine the psychiatrist-client relationship and would prevent the psychiatrist from providing proper medical care to her patient or client.[11] If you choose this topic for your 250-word essay, choose one side of this or a similar policy debate and persuasively make your case as to why you support the particular side of the debate that you do.
    • You can also write about something more personal, like a hobby or passion or anecdote. The field from which you can choose your topic for The 250 is wide, and there is no reason not to write about personal anecdotes or hobbies, so long as your essay still demonstrates your ability to write persuasively and reason logically.[12]
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    Know that The 250 is “rarely a deal maker or breaker.[13] The 250-word essay allows the admissions committee at YLS “a window into some small snippet of who you are, carefully and thoughtfully condensed into a few short, but meaningful, paragraphs.”[14] Whatever your topic, never forget the purpose of the essay, which is to showcase your ability to reason and write like a lawyer.

Part 2
Knowing What Not to Write

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    Stay under the word limit. Know that your essay should be 250 words or less. Never go above the word limit but do not write too little either because 250 words is not a significant length for an essay, and by writing too little, you will be missing an opportunity to showcase your writing ability. Stay marginally under the word limit or exactly at 250 but never go over the limit.
    • Members of the admissions committee will not look kindly upon applicants whose essays exceed the word limit. Ignoring the word limit suggests to them that you did not read the instructions, you do not know how to use the word counter on your computer, or, worse, you are trying to “mock” the faculty who came up with this application requirement.[15]
    • Know that prepositions, definite articles, and indefinite articles all count as words for the purposes of the word limit.[16]
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    Proofread your essay. Grammatical and typographical errors are common mistakes that YLS applicants make on their 250-word essay. One explanation for this may be that applicants put off writing The 250 until closer to the deadline, thereby leaving themselves little time to edit or proofread the document. Give yourself sufficient time to proofread your essay because avoiding grammatical mistakes and typos is extremely important. The 250 is meant to be a lawyerly exercise and such mistakes make you look like a potential “sloppy lawyer.”[17]
    • Ask a friend or family member to read your essay.[18] Others can often catch mistakes that you might yourself miss.
    • Note that the spell-checker in your word-processor will not catch such mistakes as writing “untied” instead of “united” and writing “affect” instead of “effect.”[19]
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    Avoid writing about writing a 250-word essay. Avoid writing such trivial information as “So I have to write a 250-word essay. Actually, now I have written 20 words so it's actually a 230-word essay! Wait, make that a 224-word essay!”[20] A couple of hundred applicants each year are reported to have done this, leaving the admissions committee feeling like the applicant has really not written anything meaningful at all for their 250-word essay.[21]
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    Avoid writing in stream-of-consciousness prose. Remember that the essay is testing your writing, editing, and reasoning skills, and that your essay should, therefore, be organized in a coherent fashion. Avoid writing “random facts about yourself” or information that is written in incoherent prose. Make sure to package all that you write in The 250 into a coherent essay in a way that tells the admissions committee that you are adept at writing, editing, and reasoning.[22]
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    Avoid using The 250 as an Addendum or an essay on why you wish to attend YLS. Know that the YLS application lets you submit an Addendum,[23] which is meant to be a short statement in which you can explain any aspect of your application that may require explanation (such as a leave of absence or a low grade that was the result of difficult circumstances). Do not write in The 250 what you can cover in an Addendum.
    • By writing information in your 250-word essay that really belongs in an Addendum (which you are allowed to submit), you are missing the opportunity to showcase your ability to reason, write, and edit, which are skills that the admissions committee is really looking for in The 250.[24]
    • Writing in the 250-word essay about why you wish to attend YLS is also a mistake because the admissions committee members already know a great deal about YLS. Writing about why you want to attend YLS will not give them the chance to assess your writing, reading, and editing ability, all lawyerly skills that The 250 is designed to test.[25]

Part 3
Writing the Essay

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    Start strong. Like any essay, your topic sentence should be engaging and your introduction to the essay should make the reader want to read on. Avoid clichéd opening sentences. As one well-known book on academic legal writing puts it, your opening should make those reading your essay think, “wow, I need to read the rest of this.”[26] Of course, those reading your Yale 250 will probably read your essay regardless of your introduction because they read every single application,[27] but having an introduction that makes them want to read on will make your application stand out from thousands of others.
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    Omit needless words. This is the advice that a well-respected style manual[28] gives to authors, and it is particularly good advice in the context of the Yale 250. You have only 250 words to work with, which is roughly the equivalent of half a page of single-spaced text using standard font and margin settings. That means that you should try to be as concise as possible. Being concise is also one of the skills that The 250 is testing, so when you are editing your essay, keep this advice in mind: omit needless words.
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    Use arcs of coherence. One of your goals for the Yale 250 is to write, in a limited space, prose that appears coherent.[29] One way to make your text appear coherent is by using what are known as ‘arcs of coherence’. When one sentence comes after another in a passage, the strings of sentences will appear more coherent and less choppy and disjointed to the reader if she can see a connection between the sentences. Arcs of coherence provide this connection that the reader needs for your prose to make sense to her.[30]
    • E.g. if you see two back to back sentences such as, “Herons live in the northern United States. Herons live in most of Canada,” your reader will need to know what the connection is between these two sentences.[31]
    • You can attempt to make a connection by using words like “and,” “similarly,” and “likewise” to indicate a connection between those two sentences.[32]
    • Making connections in this way will help you meet the all important goal of presenting your Yale 250 as a piece of coherent prose.


  • Be open to starting over. With only 250 words, it's easy to get stuck on a single idea. However, it's rare that your first idea will be perfect. Don't be afraid to wipe the slate clean and completely rewrite.

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