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.
Everyone said it would be a mistake to keep my baby. My mother, my father, my teachers, my guidance counselor. Seventeen when I got pregnant, I would not even have a chance to graduate high school before he was born. Instead of going to the prom, I’d be going to the maternity unit. Instead of putting on a cap and gown, I’d be putting diapers on another human being.
But the moment I first held my son, I knew I’d made the right decision. When he looked up at me with his huge blue eyes, I felt a determination born inside of me. I made a promise that this baby boy who everyone said would be a stumbling block in my path would really be a blessing. He would be a blessing by making me work harder than I ever had before to build the best possible life I could for both of us.
Up until that point, I hadn’t worked so hard at anything. I rarely went to school, blowing off classes to hang out and smoke pot with my friends. I went to parties most nights of the week, often with the older kids who’d finished or dropped out of high school and were doing nothing with their lives but that listless hanging out. The guy who’d gotten me pregnant was someone I’d met exactly twice, whose last name I wasn’t even sure of. When I told him, he asked me if my parents would pay for the abortion if I just said I didn’t know whose the baby was.
When Michael was born, all of that changed in the blink of an eye. At first, making a better life for the two of us meant getting a job and getting out of my parent’s house. Luckily, they were still around to help watch him while I worked long shifts at the GAP. I rarely slept. I would come home from work, feed Michael, take a nap, and be up again shortly thereafter to change him.
After Michael and I got settled in our new life, I decided to get my GED. I studied in the back room on my breaks and on my days off. I passed with flying colors and was on to my next challenge—community college. It was difficult, sometimes, taking classes with people years younger than me. They had lives that I couldn’t imagine anymore. But many of them did not have the drive I had to succeed. At the end of my first semester, my grades reflected that drive. I had a 3.9 average.
While my fellow students wrote for newspapers and played sports, I took my son to daycare and folded shirts in perfect rectangles. While other people at school complained about having to wake up at seven a.m., I wondered if I’d ever sleep again. And through it all, I watched the big blue eyes of my little baby boy get bluer and deeper and wider, and I knew I would go for the rest of my life without sleep if I had to.
I finished community college at age 25. My son was in first grade by then. Some people would have been happy there, would have felt that they had accomplished enough. With my degree, I could have gotten a job in an office, gotten health insurance and an IRA. But I had made my son that promise. So I started applying to four-year programs. My son and I became “homework buddies,” doing our assignments together at the kitchen table at night.
I studied English, the thing I had always been best at in high school. Back then, I had loved writing poems. Now, I was set on doing something different. After college, I planned on going to law school. I knew that my skills with the written word would come in handy in a career as a lawyer.
Three more years passed. Michael was ten, but I still wasn’t getting any sleep. Not content to just study, go to work, and raise a son, I had also begun interning at a local law firm. At my graduation from college, Michael sat in the audience and waved to me as I walked across the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.
Once, when I was young and didn’t know what I was getting myself into, people told me that having a baby would be a mistake. But as it turned out, having a child motivated me to do things that I hadn’t even dreamed of before he came along. And now, at age 28, with my child growing and a bright future ahead of both of us, I am happy to have made mistakes, and used them to motivate me. Being a lawyer is the next step on the path to that future. Even if it means giving up sleep for a little while longer.
Overall Lesson: Use extreme language only in extreme circumstances.
First Impression: I like how the candidate immediately introduces a difficult choice she had to make. We now know what to expect in her essay—we will hear about how she arrived at her decision or about what her life was like after she made it.
Strengths: This candidate strikes me as resilient, proactive, and persevering. She has made her own way—that is clear. She also tells her story without victimizing herself or appealing to the reader’s sympathy, which is a surprisingly difficult task with this type of subject matter. I want her to succeed, and I actually believe that she will. What a powerful take-away!
Weaknesses: This might seem nitpicky, but extreme language can sound stale in personal statements. For those of us who read tons of them (and admissions officers read many more than I do), lines like this one feel a bit trite (note the extreme language, in bold): “He would be a blessing by making me work harder than I ever had before to build the best possible life I could for both of us.”
What if the candidate had instead written, “He would make me work harder than I had been, because I wanted to build a good life for us both”? This sentence conveys the same idea without the grandiose language and, for some reason, is more powerful—perhaps because we often do not actually think in extremes; we just write about them in retrospect. The candidate probably did not actually think to herself, “I’m going to create the best possible life for us.” More than likely, her thought was something comparable but less absolute and less inherently competitive—something along the lines of “I’m going to create a good life for us.”
Absolute statements also tend to sound more unreasoned than reasoned—and law school is all about reason. This is yet another argument for avoiding extreme language in personal statements.
Finally, the candidate maintains the same pace throughout her story from high school to present day, giving each phase equal attention and time, but some parts of her narrative are more important to her law school application than others and should therefore receive more consideration. For example, she could consolidate the details of her Gap job and her community college education into a smaller portion of the essay and focus more on her four-year program and law firm internship, given that those experiences and accomplishments will be most relevant to her aptitude for law school.
Like most essays in the early-draft stage, this one could benefit first from a thorough edit to condense some areas and then the addition of new material to expand others. I would also encourage the candidate to scour her essay for any absolute terms (perhaps even marking them with a highlighter) and then to consider each one individually, asking herself, “Is this necessary? Is this true? Can I say this in a more tempered way?” Doing so—and eliminating any instances that do not truly enhance her story—will strengthen this already promising essay and result in a compelling personal statement. 📝
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.