In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements. What’s working well? What’s not? If it were his/her essay, what would be changed? Find out!
Note: To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements, though any identifying names and details have been changed or removed. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work.
My parents got divorced when I was in pre-kindergarten, and then my father got divorced again when I was in second grade. My mother went through her second divorce when I was a freshman in college, at the same time as my dad was going through his third. Both of them are in new relationships now (with people whom my brother and I call their future ex-husband and ex-wife, respectively). So you could say I have a pretty solid understanding of divorce.
Perhaps it is for this reason that I did what I did my freshman year of high school.
There was this girl Jane who, truthfully, was pretty unintelligent—when she spoke, her observations fell just short of the mark. No one really liked her, and Jane was often the entertainment, the one to tease, the one at whom we could laugh because she never seemed to understand that we were laughing at her. I wouldn’t call us bullies, because I don’t believe Jane ever felt she was bullied. I believe she saw us as her friends.
Jane lived next door to my good friend Mary, who told me one day that Jane’s parents were in the middle of a messy divorce—a topic about which I, of course, knew quite a lot. One afternoon, Jane’s parents had had an enormous blow out on the driveway in front of the house one day. She heard them screaming and Jane’s mom was crying.
The next day, Jane didn’t show up at school. Then she missed several more days in a row. When she finally came back, she cut the last three periods and then skipped three more days. This went on for several weeks before Jane and her parents were called in to meet with the school’s administration.
Later that day she stayed in school but she was even more quiet than usual. When I asked her if she was okay, she told me that she was pretty sure she was going to be expelled. I asked her where she was going everyday and she replied, “I walk to school, but then sometimes I just keep walking.”
I asked her if together we could go to the Vice Principle, Mr. Wagner, because I had a few things to say on Jane’s behalf. She agreed and we went to the administration wing. Mr. Wagner saw us right away. I told him that Jane was in the middle of an incredibly difficult time. I told him that she was practically raising her little brother and herself since her parents were so distracted. Jane cried which backed up my story up. Pretty soon I could tell Mr. Wagner was on our side. He promised he’d talk to the rest of the administration. Sure enough, the next day Jane told me they were going to let her stay.
The next year Jane left our school because she and her mother moved. But I always felt so good about meeting with Mr. Wagner and confidently pleading Jane’s case. It made me feel like it was my calling—speaking for those who could not speak for themselves.
It runs in my blood, I think. My aunt is a lawyer and so is my father and my grandmother. There are a lot of Janes in the world who need their side supported by someone with a strong voice. I will do everything in my power to use my voice to speak for those whose voices aren’t quite as strong. It is a gift I look forward to using, if you will give me the chance to use it.
Overall Lesson: If you write about your childhood in your personal statement, you must find a way to tie it to your adulthood.
First Impression: I am hooked by the first paragraph—the candidate’s story rings true, is a bit heartbreaking, and is concisely written. The language is well suited to the content.
Strengths: The climax of the story is good—she speaks to the vice principal on Jane’s behalf. The candidate’s story choice is also good, because it has a clear connection to law and advocacy.
Weaknesses: The beginning of the third paragraph—“There was this girl Jane who, truthfully, was pretty unintelligent—when she spoke, her observations fell just short of the mark.”—is, quite simply, unacceptable. Although this essay does a pretty good job of conveying the candidate’s capacity for empathy, this sentence reeks of ignorance and judgment, which is problematic not only because these traits are unbecoming, but also because they tend to be associated with a lack of critical thinking ability. The candidate must offer a more nuanced description of Jane, and if she cannot, she should refrain from describing Jane at all.
The candidate should eliminate the following sentence for the same reason—it likewise comes across as callous and manipulative—“Jane cried which backed up my story up.” Until I read that line, I had had no inkling that she might have been embellishing her story about Jane’s situation with untrue details (such as raising her little brother, perhaps).
Finally, claiming to be from a family of lawyers tends to be effective only if you use the fact to make a more interesting point than just that you probably should be one, too. The candidate could use the end of the essay to delve more deeply into what she believes and wants professionally as the adult she is now. She could return to the topic of her parents’ multiple divorces or perhaps discuss certain ideas about the law and justice that she has learned in school—something to incorporate more of who she is today into the essay’s conclusion, which is currently based entirely on something that happened to her eight years earlier.
I believe this essay could be richer and deeper in places and sound more intelligent overall. The candidate has the bones of something here, but as is, this essay will not get her accepted into any great schools. Without additional analysis and a more nuanced discussion of what she believes being an advocate means, the essay actually makes the candidate sound a little immature. I found myself forgetting that she is a college graduate. To effectively convince the admissions committee that she is ready for law school and capable of being a lawyer, she needs to tie it together and show that she is mature and prepared for what lies ahead. 📝
jdMission is a leading law school admissions consulting firm with a team of dedicated consultants who have not only been through the law school application process themselves, but also possess elite communications skills and can help you navigate this crucial—and often perplexing—process. Your consultant will serve as your coach and partner every step of the way, advising you on school selection, helping you brainstorm personal statement topics, editing your essays and resume, helping you manage your recommenders, advising on any addenda, and more! Sign up for a free 30-minute consultation or a free personal statement review with a jdMission Senior Consultant.