JustDude's guide to personal statements

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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JustDude
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JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby JustDude » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:23 am

Decided to write something here. Cannot really post my PS, but hey, thats your chance to get back at me. Opinion expressed here is mine. criticisms welcome.


JustDude's Practical Guide to PS.

First step is easy. Read approx. 30 PS posted on this site in one sitting. How do you feel??? That’s right, really bored. This exercise is required to give you an idea how the average Admission officer feels when she gets to read yours (yes I used "she" instead of "he". Not because I am one of those weirdo-feminists. Most of AdComms are women - important to know). You need to take into account this sort of readers fatigue. Also, it will give you a glimpse into what other people are writing about. You thought you are unique; you thought that going to Africa for 2 months during your "Third world reality tour" makes you special??? - Well, you were wrong!!!

Second step - is to read something of decent quality. May I suggest "50 PS that worked for HLS" by "crimson something"???.. Damn right - 50 personal statements that helped or at least didn’t thwart much applicants in their quest of getting into HLS. Available at Barns and Nobles. Don’t consume this book in one sitting. Take several days. Reread some stories. Don’t try to skip, take your time (of course if you have it). This is not a contest for speed eating of cheap hot dog, the feast that we accomplished earlier to test your stomach. This is wine tasting my friend, to please your senses.

And while you are occupied with this task, let’s have an honest talk. How important is PS anyway??/?. We need to asses potential gains and losses. Well, PS is the fourth most important piece of your application package. First is LSAT and it accounts for approx. 60% of the outcome, Second is Undergrad. GPA, that accounts for approx 40%. The rest is UG school reputation, PS, LOR and other “softs”. And don’t try to contradict with "But NW Dean of admissions said that PS should be well written, It should display.....". Dude, what he really meant was "PS should be". It's a part of application package, so it should be there.

Am I trying to demotivate you??? Absolutely not. But I am trying to prevent you from making one stupid mistake – writing a “risky PS”. You see, Excellent PS cannot have a huge positive effect, but a bad one can harm you a lot. Basically there are three types of PS. First, most common - neutral. decent, yet uninspiring story, spiced with some clichés. Second category - harmful PS. You took risks (and more on them later on in a section "things to avoid"), but they didn’t pay off in the way you wanted. They usually don’t –consider yourself warned. And third - a PS that helped you. Doesn’t happen often, so make sure that you don’t finish up in a category 2 while shooting for category 3.

In summation - do not, under any circumstances, take risks. I will provide easiest to understand example (but the same rule applies to content, style and everything else) – the use of inappropriate words. Dear buddy, next time you are thinking about writing a story about "being a white n***** " in your diverse neighborhood (and yes this is an N-word and that is the real example - even safeties rejected that retard), rethink it. That goes for "straight f*****" and so on. You got the picture. It goes also for using words such as "****", "*****", "******" etc. Every now and then we have threads here "Can I use f*** in my PS. It's really what that kid in inner city told me before I turned his life around. Or so I think. ". No you cannot! And writing about fifty babes in bikinis on a slide was not a good idea. (that’s more like example of the retarded storyline). Those examples are real, my friends, from here. As I wrote this paragraph, I looked through current PS forum. What do I see??? - Someone is introducing himself as "beaner wetback son-of-a-maid" in his very first sentence. The rule of the thumb is: if you think about asking somebody whether something is appropriate for PS or not, It is probably better be left out. It is kind of like LOR. Would you like your recommender to use those words or content in LOR??? Probably not. Think of you PS as of recommendation letter for yourself (words, style, content).

You are in a proper mind frame and now is the time to actually write something. We will accomplish it in several steps. Choose a theme/idea - Pick a story to convey this idea - Write plan/summary of your PS - Grow some meat on the bones.

Choosing a theme. Many of you I know are at a loss where to start. Here ask yourself a question. Decide - What message you want to convey. Identify for yourself this message. Should not be longer then seven words. From our exercise in para 1 you already should have gotten an idea that to convey something more complex then 1 simple idea to a jaded AdComm reading your PS would not be easy. (later on we will add something that I call "auxillary or opportunistic" second, subordinate idea. However for now, we need only one).

Which theme to choose? Well, there are certainly different points of view regarding themes. I will present mine. Not necessarily right, just my opinion. May be somewhat controversial, but here it goes: address your weaknesses in PS. Yep. PS is your only chance to say something, to rebut. And we all have deficiencies in our applications. Why not address them??? Of course you can try to present yourself as someone who is about to save the world, feed the africans and cure AIDS. But whom you are going to deceive??? May be your grandma, but she is old. PS of this type will not harm much, but neither will it help. What we need is achievable goal and down to earth message. And if indeed you cured cancer, it's better to leave this fact out anyway. I mean, you should go to med school in this situation.

I think I can hear you scream: "MORON....MORON, That’s what addendum is for!!! MORON."

Moron – may be. Even likely. But I am just trying to help, and I indicated - it's just my opinion. Bear with me for now and then decide for yourself. What kind of deficiencies we can address??? - Well, everything starting with having a low GPA, being a foreigner or recent immigrant and ending with being an older applicant with 15 years of experience. And examples continue. Of course no dean have ever said that they are concerned if you are a foreigner or older or anything else. But do you really expect them to say "Well, if you are a foreigner we are concerned about your speaking skills, regardless of you LSAT Score, and also older applicants can screw up our vibrant, on average 24 y.o, class". No. So you need to look through their eyes and try to discern what can possibly make them doubt the strength of your application.

I want to make sure that you understand what I mean by "addressing your deficiencies". I don’t want you to write some lame addendum here. In fact all addendum-like excuses should be removed from PS. I will give an example how we can address softly a low GPA later on. But certainly it is not going to be in a way "I was immature drinking too much, now I am different", "I had to work three jobs", etc. Those stories are good the addendum. More like "good", but still, they belong to addendum. In addendum you are presenting facts, in PS you are drawing your character/personality using facts. PS should convey the idea "I am ________". Addendum/resume conveys the fact "I did ________".

If you don’t have any shortcomings - fine, JC, son-of-a-god, but still have a very well defined idea of what you want to convey per favor.

We have the theme, and now we need to develop a strategy, a plan regarding how to address your theme in an indirect way. Create an outline of the story you are writing about. Five sentences will suffice.
The key is to develop a plan for a story that will leave the reader with this particular thought about you. Let’s exemplify some particular situations.

You have a bad GPA - You want to convince AdComm that you are mature enough. Well, you can write a story about your tutoring and inspiring some unprivileged students to excel. Tell how you instill in them the notion regarding academic excellence, an idea that academic excellence is not for grade, but for some sort of self gratification or something. As a result, you will project these qualities on yourself. You will write how much you changed and motivated those delinquents, but as a result, the committee will see a changed and motivated you. I mean you cannot instill those qualities in other folks if you don’t have them yourself. This storyline can make you look like a motivated, reformed man in some roundabout way. You cannot fit this story in addendum. Addendum is for straightforward message: "I am rich, didn’t care much, sorry".

You are a recent immigrant whose english speaking skills and leadership skills can be in question - write about situation in which you spoke publicly to inspire others, a situation in which you took up a leadership role. The story could be about results of your speech or reasons for it or anything in between, but you will convey an important message - You can speak and you can lead; people listened to you. And the fact that you are an ESL didn’t stop you. You will show them that you overcame this obstacle.

You are a privileged asshole who got a Benz on your 18th birthday - write about how you drove it to your 8$/hour job at pizza place for three years, and what you learned from that. Show your humility. Explain how this experience humbled you and how it changed you. Show how this "gig" changed your definition of "hard work". Tell some story about your fitting in with your less fortunate classmates. Without being too patronizing of course. Thats also will show that you are in law not for money (like majority of others). And that would be something fresh for sure.

You are non-traditional with 10 years experience - you probably want to write something that happened in those last 10 years. You will not distinguish yourself from younger applicants by writing about college experiences, regardless how significant. But you will immediately have 2 strikes against you - you are older, but not wiser (since there was nothing to write about). Writing about new experiences in those ten years will compensate for being older. The message will be yes you are older, but you have something those guys don’t.

You should have noticed that we are delivering our message in a very indirect way. This is what principle "show don’t tell" is all about.

Well, now we have an idea. Now we need to come up with a good outline (a summarized version of your PS). What is the best way to do it???... well, do you remember little exercise in the beginning???. So tell, which PS did you remember in the end??? Which PS was easier to read??? Yes, we need an engaging story. We don’t need to try to impress anyone anymore. We already have the approved outline, now we need to write an interesting plan that incorporate this storyline. I hope you understand that you are not focusing your PS on this outline. Outline serves to provide a sense of direction.
Develop your idea slowly. And as you develop the story, it could be appropriate time to introduce some secondary sub-story. Yes I do remember that I told you that we need one main idea. But we didn’t rule out an auxiliary idea. Well, lets say we are writing "tutoring" story. We conveyed the idea regarding your motivation and newly discovered commitment to academic work. While we are conveying that idea we can subtly hint on other things. You want to show yourself as an individual interested in pro bono work - emphasize that it was not a paid position (not a big deal honestly, but who knows, it can support your intentions to work in public sector, would you discuss that later). You want to show your hard work - you can say "this student was so different from 50 others that I tutored during my first two years in college". And so on.

What we need to have:
I) a good opener that will arrest the interest of the reader. Do not hit the reader with your idea right away. Allocate up to 30% for some engaging narrative and pave the way for the introduction of the storyline.
II) Development of your story can take 50%,
III) finish (more like close the loop) in the last 20%. We need to reinforce the ideas that we presented in the first 80% of the drivel. The best way to accomplish this goal is to "close the loop". Make sure, in the end, you go back to the start of your story.

How to write an engaging story?, The trick is to write the story that will engage the reader. Thus, engaging story.

Lets have an example.

Lets assume you are that douchebag with benz. How shall we start? Why not describe your birthday, during which you went to garage and found "modest but solid" Mercedes C63 AMG. Pros: This guaranteed to grab attention of the reader, It is something fresh. After describing this in several sentences we are moving to your college. You moved in apartment and have free summer before classes. Here you can say that you decided to take a break in your intellectual pursuits(you will have enough in college) and take a temporary job at local pizzeria at minimum wage. While ostensibly you are here deriding a "former you" for calling this life changing job as "temporary", you also show your work ethic. I mean, you didn’t have to take this job, and you could have partied, but you took it and worked. And it wasn’t for money. After this introduction, move on to describe your colleagues, your working surroundings. It was all revelation for you, no joke. Inform the reader that you built such a strong bond with those folks, so that you decided to stay there even after semester starts. You showed humility here, You showed that you can relate to completely different people. Here we can indicate what kind of law you want to practice. You can tell, through some of those folks experiences, how they perceive law and people working in law. You can say that you realized how it is important to be able to walk in someone’s shoes to understand someone's needs. You can make a good case for your dedication for public interest work and you can be a bit idealistic there. Finish with some anecdote that once they saw you driving a benz and realized that you are richer then average, they stopped treating you like one of them, and you subsequently left. You have passed this benz to your siblings since then, but the lesson is still with you. Here you see we are closing the loop to the beginning of the story with your birthday present.


Once you have this sort of expanded outline, it would be worthwhile to do yet another exercise. Pick up the book (50 PS's by crimson something"), and read those PS's more critically. After each read - analyze the PS. What was the main idea??? How was it delivered??? Was it convincing???. Then read the "official" critique and analyze how your opinion is different. It's OK to differ, but at least consider their critique (I personally, don’t agree with all of it).


Now, have a look on what you wrote. Critically. Does this summarized version of your PS convey the ideas it was intended to??? Well, if yes, proceed to "grow meat on bones" and include necessary details, etc. This can take some time. You will be coming up with different details and nuances, but keep in mind your final goal.


Now we should have a draft. Proofread. Your PS should covey some idea, some emotion about you, rather then some fact about you. It should convey who you are (whom you became, whom you transformed into, etc), rather then what you did (what happened to you, etc). Resume should be used to convey facts regarding you.


Things to avoid:

a) Stuff that I described in para 2. All those questionable words and gimmicks are no-no. If it is questionable, then the answer is no. Let’s not return to this topic ever again.

b) Insults. Avoid insulting anyone in your PS. It could be acceptable to make an insult if it is a fact. However making "opinionated" insult, such as calling somebody incompetent, dumb and so on is not OK. Try to avoid this practice. Also, don’t blow negativity out of proportion. Mentioning that your father was an alcoholic as a some sort of explanation on why you chose a school that is on a different coast or why you decided to volunteer in abused spouses’ shelter is acceptable. But you cannot call him "an incompetent loser that wasted his life, but inspired you to be different". You have no right to judge. That will only show that you are incapable of understanding other people. Also, making a monster out of him for no good reason will make you look like a vindictive unforgiving miserly person. You need to be bigger then that.

c) Trying to be a gunner or look good at the expense of others in a "soft" way. (slightly different from (b)). This goes with explaining how you won some retarded petty competition in High School, in College or wherever, and how you were better then others. When you start writing about that, ask yourself – does it really matter for your success in Law School. The fact that you won some engineering competition among your 20 classmates during your freshman year will bear little importance to a person reviewing your file, but it will make you look like a douche. Also, the fact you are so proud of this achievement will imply that this is the best you can do. It is something that belongs to the resume. See below in PS Critique #1.


d) Feeling sorry for yourself. Yes you had some hardships and so on. Guess what – everyone did. You can write about them, but really try to do so in a positive way. It is very important to maintain positive attitude even if writing about difficult stuff. No one will admit you just because they feel sorry for you. Of course it is inevitable that you will describe some difficulties, but make sure that for each single sentence with hardship, there are four sentences with upbeat attitude. Of course there are exceptions for this - for example if you intend to describe some personal growth story. But, it needs to end on a strong positive note.

e) Illogical transitions. This mistake is very characteristic for the PSs that are trying to prove your commitment to law. " I cured cancer and I want to be a lawer", well guess what, you should be a doctor. "I helped poor in Africa (for the whoopping two months!!!) and I want to be a lawyer", well, may be piece corps will fit you better. "Whan I was one year old, one of my very distant relatives back in Iran was prosecuted for being a spy, I am still so disturbed by this event, that I want to be a lawyer". Sorry that you lived in such anguish for the last 21 years, but you either need to be a lawyer in Tehran or may be work for some CIA or something. In america, under current administration we do not prosecute spies, even real ones. "I was raped in a frat house, I want to be a lawyer". And how exactly those are connected? May be you want to work with abused victims or in some women’s shelter. I know that doesn’t sound very appealing, but you will fit right in. And since we are on this subject we can go directly to:

f) “TMI” PS. I am talking about “risky” themes that involve a great deal of personal information that can make the reader feel uncomfortable. Ad Comms advised against PS’s that can make them cringe. There was a thread here somewhere, in which a poster very self-righteously defended the idea of incorporating sexual assault into PS. Something along those lines: "You have no right to tell us not to incorporate that fact". Well, do so if you please, but what idea you are trying to convey? I am really sorry that it happened to you, and I would do anything (besides admitting into program) to help you. If you have seen the movie "Preciuos" ( I have not, just for the record, and have no plans to do so), ask yourself - Would she make a good candidate? Would you decide to write on such a topic, please do make sure that your statement is structurally solid. Make sure that you have an idea (different from feeling sorry for yourself) and that this idea is eloquently communicated. This type of PS absolutely needs to finish on a positive note.

g) "Lame" commitment to Law. You are not going to write to graduate program in Physics something like "An apple hit my head, and after that I decided to study physics" (actually could be a funny gimmick with reference to Newton). So why do we still have a pleasure to read lame stuff such as "I did an engineering project. I gotta be a patent lawyer". You can show, through your experiences, what area of law interests you, but not in such lame way. Also, stay away from "as long as I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer". That’s akin to writing that you want to be a doctor because as a child you liked the idea of wearing a white lab coat.

h) Opening with a quote. Plain lame. You are writing a story about yourself and you open with a sentence that somebody else said regarding something else. You should be able to do better then that.

i) Addendum like excuses. If you want to address your low GPA with some facts such as you were immature, worked three jobs or was a successful entrepreneur, etc addendum is the place to do that. Do not try to "tuck in" this information inside your PS, even (or especially) if your PS is focused on something completely different.

j) Trying to show personal growth by elaborately describing "bad former you" and subsequently a "new changed you". If you want to show growth, it is counterproductive to spend first several paragraphs describing what a TruePOS you were/are, and then trying to show new “you”. It is difficult to make this gimmick work. Chances are, you will not be able to completely erase the moronic image that you portrayed in the beginning. First impression is very important. Much better approach - relay the life changing experiences and show whom you become, and after that describe how "this new you" is so much different from "the old you". In this case, the first impression would be positive. But even with this approach make sure that the "old you" is not a complete moron.

k) Putting too much emphasis on little achievements. It is Ok to mention it somehow, but if you emphasize it for no good reason, you will make people think that this was you biggest life achievement to date. You don’t want that.

Selected critique.

Lets have a look on some Personal Statement from Kens Free Book.

Personal Statements #2 (Senior Design). Author describes that he won first place in some retarded competition. What is the main idea??? Well I guess idea of some innovation and his passion for patent law. Thats ok, but his description of his winning first place - did it add anything??? I can’t care less about his winning that first place. But does he come across as an arrogant jerk? - I certainly think so. This is just a competition within his class. By emphasizing it so much he implies that it was his biggest achievement in life. Kinda pathetic.

He also opens with “My team agreed to implement an idea I had for years”. Too much “I” in this team. This sentence serves well to reinforce the idea of his being a narcissistic douche. And his invention is not that good by the way. Just think, would you like to come to a restaurant and deal with some electronic apparatus instead of human. Not a very romantic date, but I digressed, my friends.

Another interesting shortcoming is an abbreviated name of his device – TruePOS. Do we really need to use that choice of words???. He repeats it all over there. Do we really want AdComm to have a strong association of his application package with three letters “POS”???. The only thing here worth patenting is a word "TruePOS". I now do use it a lot in a contexts you can’t even imagine.

And let’s examine his theme. He is trying to convince us that he wants to be a patent lawyer because he read some stuff about patenting his POS ( Hey, I am not trying to insult, I just use his choice of abbreviation). Whoa, that’s convincing and not contrived at all. But I am certainly concerned/afraid that next time he puts a bandage over finger cut, he will switch to Med School. And once he checks his engine oil he will jump onto some Auto repair school.


Personal Statements #17 (Kenyan Immigrant).

This personal statement suffers from several major drawbacks.

First, it looks like resume. Does "Through my role as Operations Accountant in the Information Management and Investment Performance Departments at Morgan Stanley, I was responsible for ensuring that the company’s Board of Directors received adequate financial highlights for the performance of the company’s over 250 mutual funds." really belongs to Personal Statement, rather then to resume???. I think not.
And this is not the only example. The whole structure of PS is resume based.

Second. Whats up with this unbridled bragging. "To everyone surprise I made dean list" "I completed the intense degree in four semesters, not the six it would take an average student to complete," - No way, you are SO much better then the average student. This again, belongs to resume, and it will feel neutral there. Honestly, at that point I was afraid that he will say that he is a nigerian prince and needs my help to get his money to US. This bragging also leads me to ask a difficult question. I mean if he is so successful in his finance job, would he bother to explain what he is looking for in law? May be my dear reader you have seen it, but I certainly have not.

Third. Lack of maturity. Later on we learn that this guy is around 30 (he left for US 10 years ago after he spent some time in Kenyan college). And he still brags about his achievements in community college. Also, we learn that he apparently is set to fix the world. "With the knowledge of the law and by using it to address social ills across the globe, I will help build to a society that is fairer tomorrow than it is today. " - Really????? Really???/ [Inser here an owl “O RLY” picture] Dude, when you are 22, you have a choice whether to be idealistic or mature. After 30 you gotta be only mature. "Though I still believe that I can do all things, if I set my mind to it, I also know that I cannot change the entire world." No F****** way. When did you come to this realization?

Fourth. Inconsistencies in his future plans. Well, He either wants to be a law prof, or save the world. Man..... Choose one....

Fifth. Grammar???? Style??? Reminds me of nigerian spam letters. I guess he didn’t have enough English classes in his community college.

On a personal note. All those immigrant stories are so ill contrived. Yes, he went to US from Kenya just because his teachers went on strike. WOW. I do believe that. In reality he probably waited for 10 years as some distant relative to get visa and then hopped the plane when this opportunity presented itself. But that’s just me.

Personal Statements #21 (Resisting label muslim).

General: This whole PS should be re-written and submitted as Diversity statement. DS is basically your chance to write a second PS and these subjects fits very nicely there. DS can incorporate resume-like facts and can be used to draw attention to some portions of your resume. The contents are pretty horrible too. She is not going to impress anyone with this "post 9/11" alleged "discrimination". It seems like every muslim applicant is writing about it. Also, relaying incidents such as "accusation of spreading Anthrax" and other do portray her as petty childish person. No one is going to feel pity for her and to accept her based on that fact. She should have told that to principal in her school. And good lord (or allah I guess) it happened years ago and she is still complaining. She needs to move from that. Admission committee wants a diverse class and being muslim, rather then being "victimized" as muslim can win her some points. Portraying herself as a strong dedicated muslim female leader with record of achievements (that she kinda has) can distinguish her from the pool of other muslim applicants. She can start by saying that "9/11 events drew major attention to muslim culture. Some attention was positive some negative." Here she still implies possible post-9/11 discrimination, but she also makes statement that her muslim identity is important and needs to be dealt with, and she still manages to convey a positive attitude. After short introduction she can describe her leadership role in all her organizations. She can state the message that she was trying to convey through all her work. Resume like narrative should be more suitable for DS then for PS. She can reemphasize her image as female leader by providing references to role models who, lets say, inspired her. (I heard there are some, PM of pakistan may be?).

Other staff:

First. Opening with unwarranted berating of Hilary Clinton is not a good idea. I hate HC too, but is she so sure that AdComm would share her opinion? I would not bet on that. Also starting with negativity is never good. Opening with a positive "role model" can be so much better.

Second Her paranoiac obsession with attempts to prove that she is "More then just a muslim" makes me wonder why she is so defensive. She repeats this several times throughout single paragraph. I feel a little offended, since she implies that I, a reader, have some sort of preconceived prejudice against her. Also she seems to suffer from "persecution complex". Overall, this theme makes me feel uncomfortable. This is another reason for why re-writing this as a DS will be a good idea. PS will portray her personal qualities, and DS will serve to portray her muslim identity, without the need to run from it.

Third. Resume-like, painfully boring narrative doesnt help the cause.

Personal Statements #1 (Ssilicone Valley Start-up).

Writer opens first paragraph with "18 months ago", and second one with "two weeks earlier". Very awkward time reference. It's kinda like "two days before the day after tomorrow". Then, he elaborately describes shabby working conditions and dubious future of the project that he started some time ago and he mentions how a well funded (300mil.) project failed. He quantifies the investment into them (10 mil) , which seems to be a comparison to a greater funding of the failed project. He lavishly describes intellectual prowess of his colleagues. All this descriptive masturbation kinda paves the way for some success story, but alas, we went that far only to learn that now he wants to be a lawyer. And he developed this desire because he read a whopping three patents and liked it. Wow, just wow. Should we assume that project failed as well and he is now in search of some venue with a lesser failure rate? He could be up for a big disappointment.

Also, the mild prestige-whoring "These were the jotted ideas from our team of electrical engineers and physicists with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T." is rather unnecessary. Especially if the school you applying to is not mentioned.


Personal Statements #4 (Happy Camper).

I didnt really like the opener. She generalizes and talks not so favorably about the whole population. And she does have this attitude - I am better. She can safely skip those two sentences.

To understand the good qualities of this PS we need to read it keeping in mind her numbers (4.0, 180). Perfect numbers. The potential drawback for applicant with those numbers is that the applicant can be perceived as being somewhat anti-social, studying all time. This is not the type of person AdComms like. The writer here is trying to portray herself as a very communicable and social person and she is doing that with great success. She describes how she went an extra mile (to learn a foreign language) in order to communicate with people. This is the main theme of her assay and it is incredibly convincing. She hints on her ability to deeply understand different cultures, describing her changed attitude towards Soviet Russia. She hints on her great intellectual potential as well (in addition to her 4.0 and 180), by mentioning that she partook Russian language (her forth) and that she was able to communicate with russian students extensively ("to consternation of her family"). This is not an easy thing to do, to learn an incredibly difficult language and to be able to use it so extensively. She is genuinely excited about different cultures, and, more importantly, she doesn’t take favorites and treats them "equally". This unbiased approach is a very important quality for anyone who wants to work in international law. She finishes with mentioning that she is interested in international law, a conclusion that an attentive reader already has in mind. She is not being defensive about her choice; rather she boldly states something that we already know.

This is an extraordinary well-written assay that emphasizes all points the applicant wants to deliver. It is very positive, memorable and very easy to read.

Every sentence and every word here is filled with meaning and substance. Consider her three lines about russian language. Last year started - Changed attitude towards Soviet Russia - Use extensively - Equally enjoy. Just this sequence shows her as intellectually curious (learned culture), capable (Last year started, able to communicate extensively), breaking stereotypes (understood Soviet Russia), communicable (talk to students to consternation), and unbiased (like this culture and previously studied one equally).

Personal Statements #6 (Coming out).

Only general remarks here. What did this applicant showed in his story? That he was too afraid to come out and face consequences for something that he was and believed in. He chose to live a lie. However, he does describe how important coming out was for him through his experiences in Iceland. He even mentioned that he had a chance to come out, while talking to Harrison, but, alas, didn’t. Overall I wonder what the intended message here was. If you want diversity points for being gay - write a diversity statement.


Personal Statements #5 (Minimalist).

Well, if it were written by somebody with 150 LSAT I would have said - Moron. This guy has 178, so he is not a complete idiot. But.... What he was trying to say???/. I honestly didn’t get a clue after first round of reading, but couldn’t muster enough interest to go for a second round. After reading his "I love the Yankees, but do not hate the Red Sox." however I do feel that he is a wuss and afraid to take charge. If you don’t hate RS, you are not a Yankees fan. You don’t need to wish death on them of course, but yeah, it is a healthy (or sometimes not) rivalry. And if you are not in it, do us all a favor, purchase some extra large pads.



Personal Statements #10 (Ubuntu).

PS with such name cannot possibly disappoint. Could it be about some well-off white guy with crappy major who went on three month summer "third world reality tour", where he observed plight of people and capitalized on it in his PS???/. No, that would be too easy. May there is some substance???? Lets see!

He opened with some exceptionally lame quote. As I said before, openings with quotes are not so good. Who the hell is this archbishop tutu by the way??? Those are details however.
As we read, we walk straight into some description of fun-loving, but scared africans (how original!), and stumble upon "Slowly walking toward the community center, the sound grew louder.". Wow, just second sentence from under the pen of this guy (besides lame quote) and this modifier already dangles like his penis.
"The community center was one of many I visited during a month-long trip to the Eastern Cape of South Africa last July." Good lord its even better then I thought. Just a one month trip. This guy spends next two paragraphs to describe the plight of african people (wow, who would have guessed) in order to proper capitalize on it later. Passing couple passages of descriptions and we arrive straight on this hidden gem "So one may find it unusual that as I have grown, I have become so drawn to public health, human rights, and international health policy." Really??? No, my friend, "one" doesn’t find it unusual. In fact, "one" finds it to be quite usual for white upper-middle class idiot to be interested in indulging in self-righteous ego-stimulating activities. But let’s linger no more, for surprises are right around the corner. As we go, we pass through some quite boring description of his working as a freelance journalist. He read 1500 pages of something and thought it needs a place in PS. But it is not all that boring and disappointing in those three paragraphs. Its all about "No longer did I want to write about the change makers – I wanted to be the one making change." OOOps, so we are about to see some action I guess. Speedforward a bit and what we have? - "And so I pursue an education in law so that I may return to Africa, return to the hundreds of NGOs that make a small but noticeable difference each and every day in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases plaguing the continent. In some small way, I know I can make a difference." Alas, the promised change is still in plans. And why he would need a law degree to work in NGO in africa - remains a mystery. But lets not waste time to overanalyze (we have wasted quite a bit already), for his "But I'm not trying to be heroic" just won our "douchebag of the moment" award.


Personal Statements #27 (Cambodia and Uganda).

The only good thing about this PS is that it could be an example of the very common mistake. She is trying to show her personal growth by drawing a portrait of "Old deficient her". Likely that’s the image that will linger in readers mind. This particular PS suffers also from another problem. She mentions that in "old her" she was idealistic and obstinate and she didn’t listen to others opinions. That’s a bad quality not to be able to consider other opinions. However, she didn’t succeed in refuting this claim. In the second part of her assay she only mentions that encounter with the real life made her less naive and idealistic. But it didn’t say anything about her obstinacy and inability to listen to others.

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Gefuehlsecht
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby Gefuehlsecht » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:44 am

If I may add two sentences to this nice collection of advice:

- Don't write a personal statement which talks about the pain and suffering your parents went through.

- If you ignore above call your father father when you do mention him in the personal statement. Don't call him Dad. Same goes for your mother. Don't call her Mom.

Just don't.

icydash
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby icydash » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:05 am

very good advice all around.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby OperaSoprano » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:27 am

JustDude, this is amazing. Truly amazing.

Once more, if I may: be memorable. I didn't have that in mind, but I took risks with mine. According to JustDude's guide, they were probably inadvisable risks, because I realize now that they called into question how I would handle the stress of law school (or rather, to be blunt, what it would do to me.) I probably shouldn't have been quite that open, but it got the job done, and the head of my admissions office remembered my PS, to my very great surprise.

Play to your strengths. If you are an unusual candidate, own it. I thought schools wouldn't want to hear about my fashion background, and wound up pleasantly surprised. I might have enjoyed more and worried less if I had only known.

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lostjake
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby lostjake » Wed Mar 03, 2010 6:31 pm

icydash wrote:very good advice all around.

+1

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existenz
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby existenz » Fri Mar 05, 2010 4:36 am

Excellent breakdown. Luckily I didn't have any panic attacks about my PS while reading it, so hopefully I didn't botch it too bad.

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JustDude
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby JustDude » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:25 am

OperaSoprano wrote:JustDude, this is amazing. Truly amazing.

Once more, if I may: be memorable. I didn't have that in mind, but I took risks with mine. According to JustDude's guide, they were probably inadvisable risks, because I realize now that they called into question how I would handle the stress of law school (or rather, to be blunt, what it would do to me.) I probably shouldn't have been quite that open, but it got the job done, and the head of my admissions office remembered my PS, to my very great surprise.

Play to your strengths. If you are an unusual candidate, own it. I thought schools wouldn't want to hear about my fashion background, and wound up pleasantly surprised. I might have enjoyed more and worried less if I had only known.




Being memorable can backfire. If you come to an interview dressed like a pimp, you will be very memorable. But it wont play to your advantage.


Playing to your strengths is good. However, one can play to one's strenghtes very effectively by addresing weaknesses.

And I dont see why schools wont be interested in your fashion background. If anything, that would be like a fresh air. It's good that you wrote about it. That was probably a good material right there.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:31 am

JustDude wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote:JustDude, this is amazing. Truly amazing.

Once more, if I may: be memorable. I didn't have that in mind, but I took risks with mine. According to JustDude's guide, they were probably inadvisable risks, because I realize now that they called into question how I would handle the stress of law school (or rather, to be blunt, what it would do to me.) I probably shouldn't have been quite that open, but it got the job done, and the head of my admissions office remembered my PS, to my very great surprise.

Play to your strengths. If you are an unusual candidate, own it. I thought schools wouldn't want to hear about my fashion background, and wound up pleasantly surprised. I might have enjoyed more and worried less if I had only known.




Being memorable can backfire. If you come to an interview dressed like a pimp, you will be very memorable. But it wont play to your advantage.


Playing to your strengths is good. However, one can play to one's strenghtes very effectively by addresing weaknesses.

And I dont see why schools wont be interested in your fashion background. If anything, that would be like a fresh air. It's good that you wrote about it. That was probably a good material right there.


Compromise rule... be memorable in a prudent fashion? I definitely have never appeared on the Fordham campus dressed like a pimp.

I was convinced my background was too fluffy, but I should have owned it more than I did. I never really talked about it until my second LOCI. In retrospect, I think it wasn't a weakness, per se, but I made it seem like one because I couldn't find a comfortable way to address it.

This guide really is awesome, though. Rock on.

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hiromoto45
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby hiromoto45 » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:35 am

There is a new URM articles section, can you post the guide there too? More applicants will see it there since it will be featured than buried in the forum.

logicman86
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby logicman86 » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:48 am

JustDude wrote:Decided to write something here. Cannot really post my PS, but hey, thats your chance to get back at me. Opinion expressed here is mine. criticisms welcome.


JustDude's Practical Guide to PS.

First step is easy. Read approx. 30 PS posted on this site in one sitting. How do you feel??? That’s right, really bored. This exercise is required to give you an idea how the average Admission officer feels when she gets to read yours (yes I used "she" instead of "he". Not because I am one of those weirdo-feminists. Most of AdComms are women - important to know). You need to take into account this sort of readers fatigue. Also, it will give you a glimpse into what other people are writing about. You thought you are unique; you thought that going to Africa for 2 months during your "Third world reality tour" makes you special??? - Well, you were wrong!!!

I am starting to write my personal statement now. I disagree with its value. I know I got almost a full ride to my undergrad with SAT and GPA under 25th percentile, and I am not a collegiate athlete. Being an exceptionally strong writer can play a big part in the admissions process... at least for undergrad. However, writing is more important in law than most college majors so I would presume it'd apply here too.

On another note, what are your credentials? Your advice all seems very plausible, and thought out but I personally will utilize it as long as I know you aren't some troll.
Second step - is to read something of decent quality. May I suggest "50 PS that worked for HLS" by "crimson something"???.. Damn right - 50 personal statements that helped or at least didn’t thwart much applicants in their quest of getting into HLS. Available at Barns and Nobles. Don’t consume this book in one sitting. Take several days. Reread some stories. Don’t try to skip, take your time (of course if you have it). This is not a contest for speed eating of cheap hot dog, the feast that we accomplished earlier to test your stomach. This is wine tasting my friend, to please your senses.

And while you are occupied with this task, let’s have an honest talk. How important is PS anyway??/?. We need to asses potential gains and losses. Well, PS is the fourth most important piece of your application package. First is LSAT and it accounts for approx. 60% of the outcome, Second is Undergrad. GPA, that accounts for approx 40%. The rest is UG school reputation, PS, LOR and other “softs”. And don’t try to contradict with "But NW Dean of admissions said that PS should be well written, It should display.....". Dude, what he really meant was "PS should be". It's a part of application package, so it should be there.

Am I trying to demotivate you??? Absolutely not. But I am trying to prevent you from making one stupid mistake – writing a “risky PS”. You see, Excellent PS cannot have a huge positive effect, but a bad one can harm you a lot. Basically there are three types of PS. First, most common - neutral. decent, yet uninspiring story, spiced with some clichés. Second category - harmful PS. You took risks (and more on them later on in a section "things to avoid"), but they didn’t pay off in the way you wanted. They usually don’t –consider yourself warned. And third - a PS that helped you. Doesn’t happen often, so make sure that you don’t finish up in a category 2 while shooting for category 3.

In summation - do not, under any circumstances, take risks. I will provide easiest to understand example (but the same rule applies to content, style and everything else) – the use of inappropriate words. Dear buddy, next time you are thinking about writing a story about "being a white n***** " in your diverse neighborhood (and yes this is an N-word and that is the real example - even safeties rejected that retard), rethink it. That goes for "straight f*****" and so on. You got the picture. It goes also for using words such as "****", "*****", "******" etc. Every now and then we have threads here "Can I use f*** in my PS. It's really what that kid in inner city told me before I turned his life around. Or so I think. ". No you cannot! And writing about fifty babes in bikinis on a slide was not a good idea. (that’s more like example of the retarded storyline). Those examples are real, my friends, from here. As I wrote this paragraph, I looked through current PS forum. What do I see??? - Someone is introducing himself as "beaner wetback son-of-a-maid" in his very first sentence. The rule of the thumb is: if you think about asking somebody whether something is appropriate for PS or not, It is probably better be left out. It is kind of like LOR. Would you like your recommender to use those words or content in LOR??? Probably not. Think of you PS as of recommendation letter for yourself (words, style, content).

You are in a proper mind frame and now is the time to actually write something. We will accomplish it in several steps. Choose a theme/idea - Pick a story to convey this idea - Write plan/summary of your PS - Grow some meat on the bones.

Choosing a theme. Many of you I know are at a loss where to start. Here ask yourself a question. Decide - What message you want to convey. Identify for yourself this message. Should not be longer then seven words. From our exercise in para 1 you already should have gotten an idea that to convey something more complex then 1 simple idea to a jaded AdComm reading your PS would not be easy. (later on we will add something that I call "auxillary or opportunistic" second, subordinate idea. However for now, we need only one).

Which theme to choose? Well, there are certainly different points of view regarding themes. I will present mine. Not necessarily right, just my opinion. May be somewhat controversial, but here it goes: address your weaknesses in PS. Yep. PS is your only chance to say something, to rebut. And we all have deficiencies in our applications. Why not address them??? Of course you can try to present yourself as someone who is about to save the world, feed the africans and cure AIDS. But whom you are going to deceive??? May be your grandma, but she is old. PS of this type will not harm much, but neither will it help. What we need is achievable goal and down to earth message. And if indeed you cured cancer, it's better to leave this fact out anyway. I mean, you should go to med school in this situation.

I think I can hear you scream: "MORON....MORON, That’s what addendum is for!!! MORON."

Moron – may be. Even likely. But I am just trying to help, and I indicated - it's just my opinion. Bear with me for now and then decide for yourself. What kind of deficiencies we can address??? - Well, everything starting with having a low GPA, being a foreigner or recent immigrant and ending with being an older applicant with 15 years of experience. And examples continue. Of course no dean have ever said that they are concerned if you are a foreigner or older or anything else. But do you really expect them to say "Well, if you are a foreigner we are concerned about your speaking skills, regardless of you LSAT Score, and also older applicants can screw up our vibrant, on average 24 y.o, class". No. So you need to look through their eyes and try to discern what can possibly make them doubt the strength of your application.

I want to make sure that you understand what I mean by "addressing your deficiencies". I don’t want you to write some lame addendum here. In fact all addendum-like excuses should be removed from PS. I will give an example how we can address softly a low GPA later on. But certainly it is not going to be in a way "I was immature drinking too much, now I am different", "I had to work three jobs", etc. Those stories are good the addendum. More like "good", but still, they belong to addendum. In addendum you are presenting facts, in PS you are drawing your character/personality using facts. PS should convey the idea "I am ________". Addendum/resume conveys the fact "I did ________".

If you don’t have any shortcomings - fine, JC, son-of-a-god, but still have a very well defined idea of what you want to convey per favor.

We have the theme, and now we need to develop a strategy, a plan regarding how to address your theme in an indirect way. Create an outline of the story you are writing about. Five sentences will suffice.
The key is to develop a plan for a story that will leave the reader with this particular thought about you. Let’s exemplify some particular situations.

You have a bad GPA - You want to convince AdComm that you are mature enough. Well, you can write a story about your tutoring and inspiring some unprivileged students to excel. Tell how you instill in them the notion regarding academic excellence, an idea that academic excellence is not for grade, but for some sort of self gratification or something. As a result, you will project these qualities on yourself. You will write how much you changed and motivated those delinquents, but as a result, the committee will see a changed and motivated you. I mean you cannot instill those qualities in other folks if you don’t have them yourself. This storyline can make you look like a motivated, reformed man in some roundabout way. You cannot fit this story in addendum. Addendum is for straightforward message: "I am rich, didn’t care much, sorry".

You are a recent immigrant whose english speaking skills and leadership skills can be in question - write about situation in which you spoke publicly to inspire others, a situation in which you took up a leadership role. The story could be about results of your speech or reasons for it or anything in between, but you will convey an important message - You can speak and you can lead; people listened to you. And the fact that you are an ESL didn’t stop you. You will show them that you overcame this obstacle.

You are a privileged asshole who got a Benz on your 18th birthday - write about how you drove it to your 8$/hour job at pizza place for three years, and what you learned from that. Show your humility. Explain how this experience humbled you and how it changed you. Show how this "gig" changed your definition of "hard work". Tell some story about your fitting in with your less fortunate classmates. Without being too patronizing of course. Thats also will show that you are in law not for money (like majority of others). And that would be something fresh for sure.

You are non-traditional with 10 years experience - you probably want to write something that happened in those last 10 years. You will not distinguish yourself from younger applicants by writing about college experiences, regardless how significant. But you will immediately have 2 strikes against you - you are older, but not wiser (since there was nothing to write about). Writing about new experiences in those ten years will compensate for being older. The message will be yes you are older, but you have something those guys don’t.

You should have noticed that we are delivering our message in a very indirect way. This is what principle "show don’t tell" is all about.

Well, now we have an idea. Now we need to come up with a good outline (a summarized version of your PS). What is the best way to do it???... well, do you remember little exercise in the beginning???. So tell, which PS did you remember in the end??? Which PS was easier to read??? Yes, we need an engaging story. We don’t need to try to impress anyone anymore. We already have the approved outline, now we need to write an interesting plan that incorporate this storyline. I hope you understand that you are not focusing your PS on this outline. Outline serves to provide a sense of direction.
Develop your idea slowly. And as you develop the story, it could be appropriate time to introduce some secondary sub-story. Yes I do remember that I told you that we need one main idea. But we didn’t rule out an auxiliary idea. Well, lets say we are writing "tutoring" story. We conveyed the idea regarding your motivation and newly discovered commitment to academic work. While we are conveying that idea we can subtly hint on other things. You want to show yourself as an individual interested in pro bono work - emphasize that it was not a paid position (not a big deal honestly, but who knows, it can support your intentions to work in public sector, would you discuss that later). You want to show your hard work - you can say "this student was so different from 50 others that I tutored during my first two years in college". And so on.

What we need to have:
I) a good opener that will arrest the interest of the reader. Do not hit the reader with your idea right away. Allocate up to 30% for some engaging narrative and pave the way for the introduction of the storyline.
II) Development of your story can take 50%,
III) finish (more like close the loop) in the last 20%. We need to reinforce the ideas that we presented in the first 80% of the drivel. The best way to accomplish this goal is to "close the loop". Make sure, in the end, you go back to the start of your story.

How to write an engaging story?, The trick is to write the story that will engage the reader. Thus, engaging story.

Lets have an example.

Lets assume you are that douchebag with benz. How shall we start? Why not describe your birthday, during which you went to garage and found "modest but solid" Mercedes C63 AMG. Pros: This guaranteed to grab attention of the reader, It is something fresh. After describing this in several sentences we are moving to your college. You moved in apartment and have free summer before classes. Here you can say that you decided to take a break in your intellectual pursuits(you will have enough in college) and take a temporary job at local pizzeria at minimum wage. While ostensibly you are here deriding a "former you" for calling this life changing job as "temporary", you also show your work ethic. I mean, you didn’t have to take this job, and you could have partied, but you took it and worked. And it wasn’t for money. After this introduction, move on to describe your colleagues, your working surroundings. It was all revelation for you, no joke. Inform the reader that you built such a strong bond with those folks, so that you decided to stay there even after semester starts. You showed humility here, You showed that you can relate to completely different people. Here we can indicate what kind of law you want to practice. You can tell, through some of those folks experiences, how they perceive law and people working in law. You can say that you realized how it is important to be able to walk in someone’s shoes to understand someone's needs. You can make a good case for your dedication for public interest work and you can be a bit idealistic there. Finish with some anecdote that once they saw you driving a benz and realized that you are richer then average, they stopped treating you like one of them, and you subsequently left. You have passed this benz to your siblings since then, but the lesson is still with you. Here you see we are closing the loop to the beginning of the story with your birthday present.


Once you have this sort of expanded outline, it would be worthwhile to do yet another exercise. Pick up the book (50 PS's by crimson something"), and read those PS's more critically. After each read - analyze the PS. What was the main idea??? How was it delivered??? Was it convincing???. Then read the "official" critique and analyze how your opinion is different. It's OK to differ, but at least consider their critique (I personally, don’t agree with all of it).


Now, have a look on what you wrote. Critically. Does this summarized version of your PS convey the ideas it was intended to??? Well, if yes, proceed to "grow meat on bones" and include necessary details, etc. This can take some time. You will be coming up with different details and nuances, but keep in mind your final goal.


Now we should have a draft. Proofread. Your PS should covey some idea, some emotion about you, rather then some fact about you. It should convey who you are (whom you became, whom you transformed into, etc), rather then what you did (what happened to you, etc). Resume should be used to convey facts regarding you.


Things to avoid:

a) Stuff that I described in para 2. All those questionable words and gimmicks are no-no. If it is questionable, then the answer is no. Let’s not return to this topic ever again.

b) Insults. Avoid insulting anyone in your PS. It could be acceptable to make an insult if it is a fact. However making "opinionated" insult, such as calling somebody incompetent, dumb and so on is not OK. Try to avoid this practice. Also, don’t blow negativity out of proportion. Mentioning that your father was an alcoholic as a some sort of explanation on why you chose a school that is on a different coast or why you decided to volunteer in abused spouses’ shelter is acceptable. But you cannot call him "an incompetent loser that wasted his life, but inspired you to be different". You have no right to judge. That will only show that you are incapable of understanding other people. Also, making a monster out of him for no good reason will make you look like a vindictive unforgiving miserly person. You need to be bigger then that.

c) Trying to be a gunner or look good at the expense of others in a "soft" way. (slightly different from (b)). This goes with explaining how you won some retarded petty competition in High School, in College or wherever, and how you were better then others. When you start writing about that, ask yourself – does it really matter for your success in Law School. The fact that you won some engineering competition among your 20 classmates during your freshman year will bear little importance to a person reviewing your file, but it will make you look like a douche. Also, the fact you are so proud of this achievement will imply that this is the best you can do. It is something that belongs to the resume. See below in PS Critique #1.


d) Feeling sorry for yourself. Yes you had some hardships and so on. Guess what – everyone did. You can write about them, but really try to do so in a positive way. It is very important to maintain positive attitude even if writing about difficult stuff. No one will admit you just because they feel sorry for you. Of course it is inevitable that you will describe some difficulties, but make sure that for each single sentence with hardship, there are four sentences with upbeat attitude. Of course there are exceptions for this - for example if you intend to describe some personal growth story. But, it needs to end on a strong positive note.

e) Illogical transitions. This mistake is very characteristic for the PSs that are trying to prove your commitment to law. " I cured cancer and I want to be a lawer", well guess what, you should be a doctor. "I helped poor in Africa (for the whoopping two months!!!) and I want to be a lawyer", well, may be piece corps will fit you better. "Whan I was one year old, one of my very distant relatives back in Iran was prosecuted for being a spy, I am still so disturbed by this event, that I want to be a lawyer". Sorry that you lived in such anguish for the last 21 years, but you either need to be a lawyer in Tehran or may be work for some CIA or something. In america, under current administration we do not prosecute spies, even real ones. "I was raped in a frat house, I want to be a lawyer". And how exactly those are connected? May be you want to work with abused victims or in some women’s shelter. I know that doesn’t sound very appealing, but you will fit right in. And since we are on this subject we can go directly to:

f) “TMI” PS. I am talking about “risky” themes that involve a great deal of personal information that can make the reader feel uncomfortable. Ad Comms advised against PS’s that can make them cringe. There was a thread here somewhere, in which a poster very self-righteously defended the idea of incorporating sexual assault into PS. Something along those lines: "You have no right to tell us not to incorporate that fact". Well, do so if you please, but what idea you are trying to convey? I am really sorry that it happened to you, and I would do anything (besides admitting into program) to help you. If you have seen the movie "Preciuos" ( I have not, just for the record, and have no plans to do so), ask yourself - Would she make a good candidate? Would you decide to write on such a topic, please do make sure that your statement is structurally solid. Make sure that you have an idea (different from feeling sorry for yourself) and that this idea is eloquently communicated. This type of PS absolutely needs to finish on a positive note.

g) "Lame" commitment to Law. You are not going to write to graduate program in Physics something like "An apple hit my head, and after that I decided to study physics" (actually could be a funny gimmick with reference to Newton). So why do we still have a pleasure to read lame stuff such as "I did an engineering project. I gotta be a patent lawyer". You can show, through your experiences, what area of law interests you, but not in such lame way. Also, stay away from "as long as I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer". That’s akin to writing that you want to be a doctor because as a child you liked the idea of wearing a white lab coat.

h) Opening with a quote. Plain lame. You are writing a story about yourself and you open with a sentence that somebody else said regarding something else. You should be able to do better then that.

i) Addendum like excuses. If you want to address your low GPA with some facts such as you were immature, worked three jobs or was a successful entrepreneur, etc addendum is the place to do that. Do not try to "tuck in" this information inside your PS, even (or especially) if your PS is focused on something completely different.

j) Trying to show personal growth by elaborately describing "bad former you" and subsequently a "new changed you". If you want to show growth, it is counterproductive to spend first several paragraphs describing what a TruePOS you were/are, and then trying to show new “you”. It is difficult to make this gimmick work. Chances are, you will not be able to completely erase the moronic image that you portrayed in the beginning. First impression is very important. Much better approach - relay the life changing experiences and show whom you become, and after that describe how "this new you" is so much different from "the old you". In this case, the first impression would be positive. But even with this approach make sure that the "old you" is not a complete moron.

k) Putting too much emphasis on little achievements. It is Ok to mention it somehow, but if you emphasize it for no good reason, you will make people think that this was you biggest life achievement to date. You don’t want that.

Selected critique.

Lets have a look on some Personal Statement from Kens Free Book.

Personal Statements #2 (Senior Design). Author describes that he won first place in some retarded competition. What is the main idea??? Well I guess idea of some innovation and his passion for patent law. Thats ok, but his description of his winning first place - did it add anything??? I can’t care less about his winning that first place. But does he come across as an arrogant jerk? - I certainly think so. This is just a competition within his class. By emphasizing it so much he implies that it was his biggest achievement in life. Kinda pathetic.

He also opens with “My team agreed to implement an idea I had for years”. Too much “I” in this team. This sentence serves well to reinforce the idea of his being a narcissistic douche. And his invention is not that good by the way. Just think, would you like to come to a restaurant and deal with some electronic apparatus instead of human. Not a very romantic date, but I digressed, my friends.

Another interesting shortcoming is an abbreviated name of his device – TruePOS. Do we really need to use that choice of words???. He repeats it all over there. Do we really want AdComm to have a strong association of his application package with three letters “POS”???. The only thing here worth patenting is a word "TruePOS". I now do use it a lot in a contexts you can’t even imagine.

And let’s examine his theme. He is trying to convince us that he wants to be a patent lawyer because he read some stuff about patenting his POS ( Hey, I am not trying to insult, I just use his choice of abbreviation). Whoa, that’s convincing and not contrived at all. But I am certainly concerned/afraid that next time he puts a bandage over finger cut, he will switch to Med School. And once he checks his engine oil he will jump onto some Auto repair school.


Personal Statements #17 (Kenyan Immigrant).

This personal statement suffers from several major drawbacks.

First, it looks like resume. Does "Through my role as Operations Accountant in the Information Management and Investment Performance Departments at Morgan Stanley, I was responsible for ensuring that the company’s Board of Directors received adequate financial highlights for the performance of the company’s over 250 mutual funds." really belongs to Personal Statement, rather then to resume???. I think not.
And this is not the only example. The whole structure of PS is resume based.

Second. Whats up with this unbridled bragging. "To everyone surprise I made dean list" "I completed the intense degree in four semesters, not the six it would take an average student to complete," - No way, you are SO much better then the average student. This again, belongs to resume, and it will feel neutral there. Honestly, at that point I was afraid that he will say that he is a nigerian prince and needs my help to get his money to US. This bragging also leads me to ask a difficult question. I mean if he is so successful in his finance job, would he bother to explain what he is looking for in law? May be my dear reader you have seen it, but I certainly have not.

Third. Lack of maturity. Later on we learn that this guy is around 30 (he left for US 10 years ago after he spent some time in Kenyan college). And he still brags about his achievements in community college. Also, we learn that he apparently is set to fix the world. "With the knowledge of the law and by using it to address social ills across the globe, I will help build to a society that is fairer tomorrow than it is today. " - Really????? Really???/ [Inser here an owl “O RLY” picture] Dude, when you are 22, you have a choice whether to be idealistic or mature. After 30 you gotta be only mature. "Though I still believe that I can do all things, if I set my mind to it, I also know that I cannot change the entire world." No F****** way. When did you come to this realization?

Fourth. Inconsistencies in his future plans. Well, He either wants to be a law prof, or save the world. Man..... Choose one....

Fifth. Grammar???? Style??? Reminds me of nigerian spam letters. I guess he didn’t have enough English classes in his community college.

On a personal note. All those immigrant stories are so ill contrived. Yes, he went to US from Kenya just because his teachers went on strike. WOW. I do believe that. In reality he probably waited for 10 years as some distant relative to get visa and then hopped the plane when this opportunity presented itself. But that’s just me.

Personal Statements #21 (Resisting label muslim).

General: This whole PS should be re-written and submitted as Diversity statement. DS is basically your chance to write a second PS and these subjects fits very nicely there. DS can incorporate resume-like facts and can be used to draw attention to some portions of your resume. The contents are pretty horrible too. She is not going to impress anyone with this "post 9/11" alleged "discrimination". It seems like every muslim applicant is writing about it. Also, relaying incidents such as "accusation of spreading Anthrax" and other do portray her as petty childish person. No one is going to feel pity for her and to accept her based on that fact. She should have told that to principal in her school. And good lord (or allah I guess) it happened years ago and she is still complaining. She needs to move from that. Admission committee wants a diverse class and being muslim, rather then being "victimized" as muslim can win her some points. Portraying herself as a strong dedicated muslim female leader with record of achievements (that she kinda has) can distinguish her from the pool of other muslim applicants. She can start by saying that "9/11 events drew major attention to muslim culture. Some attention was positive some negative." Here she still implies possible post-9/11 discrimination, but she also makes statement that her muslim identity is important and needs to be dealt with, and she still manages to convey a positive attitude. After short introduction she can describe her leadership role in all her organizations. She can state the message that she was trying to convey through all her work. Resume like narrative should be more suitable for DS then for PS. She can reemphasize her image as female leader by providing references to role models who, lets say, inspired her. (I heard there are some, PM of pakistan may be?).

Other staff:

First. Opening with unwarranted berating of Hilary Clinton is not a good idea. I hate HC too, but is she so sure that AdComm would share her opinion? I would not bet on that. Also starting with negativity is never good. Opening with a positive "role model" can be so much better.

Second Her paranoiac obsession with attempts to prove that she is "More then just a muslim" makes me wonder why she is so defensive. She repeats this several times throughout single paragraph. I feel a little offended, since she implies that I, a reader, have some sort of preconceived prejudice against her. Also she seems to suffer from "persecution complex". Overall, this theme makes me feel uncomfortable. This is another reason for why re-writing this as a DS will be a good idea. PS will portray her personal qualities, and DS will serve to portray her muslim identity, without the need to run from it.

Third. Resume-like, painfully boring narrative doesnt help the cause.

Personal Statements #1 (Ssilicone Valley Start-up).

Writer opens first paragraph with "18 months ago", and second one with "two weeks earlier". Very awkward time reference. It's kinda like "two days before the day after tomorrow". Then, he elaborately describes shabby working conditions and dubious future of the project that he started some time ago and he mentions how a well funded (300mil.) project failed. He quantifies the investment into them (10 mil) , which seems to be a comparison to a greater funding of the failed project. He lavishly describes intellectual prowess of his colleagues. All this descriptive masturbation kinda paves the way for some success story, but alas, we went that far only to learn that now he wants to be a lawyer. And he developed this desire because he read a whopping three patents and liked it. Wow, just wow. Should we assume that project failed as well and he is now in search of some venue with a lesser failure rate? He could be up for a big disappointment.

Also, the mild prestige-whoring "These were the jotted ideas from our team of electrical engineers and physicists with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T." is rather unnecessary. Especially if the school you applying to is not mentioned.


Personal Statements #4 (Happy Camper).

I didnt really like the opener. She generalizes and talks not so favorably about the whole population. And she does have this attitude - I am better. She can safely skip those two sentences.

To understand the good qualities of this PS we need to read it keeping in mind her numbers (4.0, 180). Perfect numbers. The potential drawback for applicant with those numbers is that the applicant can be perceived as being somewhat anti-social, studying all time. This is not the type of person AdComms like. The writer here is trying to portray herself as a very communicable and social person and she is doing that with great success. She describes how she went an extra mile (to learn a foreign language) in order to communicate with people. This is the main theme of her assay and it is incredibly convincing. She hints on her ability to deeply understand different cultures, describing her changed attitude towards Soviet Russia. She hints on her great intellectual potential as well (in addition to her 4.0 and 180), by mentioning that she partook Russian language (her forth) and that she was able to communicate with russian students extensively ("to consternation of her family"). This is not an easy thing to do, to learn an incredibly difficult language and to be able to use it so extensively. She is genuinely excited about different cultures, and, more importantly, she doesn’t take favorites and treats them "equally". This unbiased approach is a very important quality for anyone who wants to work in international law. She finishes with mentioning that she is interested in international law, a conclusion that an attentive reader already has in mind. She is not being defensive about her choice; rather she boldly states something that we already know.

This is an extraordinary well-written assay that emphasizes all points the applicant wants to deliver. It is very positive, memorable and very easy to read.

Every sentence and every word here is filled with meaning and substance. Consider her three lines about russian language. Last year started - Changed attitude towards Soviet Russia - Use extensively - Equally enjoy. Just this sequence shows her as intellectually curious (learned culture), capable (Last year started, able to communicate extensively), breaking stereotypes (understood Soviet Russia), communicable (talk to students to consternation), and unbiased (like this culture and previously studied one equally).

Personal Statements #6 (Coming out).

Only general remarks here. What did this applicant showed in his story? That he was too afraid to come out and face consequences for something that he was and believed in. He chose to live a lie. However, he does describe how important coming out was for him through his experiences in Iceland. He even mentioned that he had a chance to come out, while talking to Harrison, but, alas, didn’t. Overall I wonder what the intended message here was. If you want diversity points for being gay - write a diversity statement.


Personal Statements #5 (Minimalist).

Well, if it were written by somebody with 150 LSAT I would have said - Moron. This guy has 178, so he is not a complete idiot. But.... What he was trying to say???/. I honestly didn’t get a clue after first round of reading, but couldn’t muster enough interest to go for a second round. After reading his "I love the Yankees, but do not hate the Red Sox." however I do feel that he is a wuss and afraid to take charge. If you don’t hate RS, you are not a Yankees fan. You don’t need to wish death on them of course, but yeah, it is a healthy (or sometimes not) rivalry. And if you are not in it, do us all a favor, purchase some extra large pads.



Personal Statements #10 (Ubuntu).

PS with such name cannot possibly disappoint. Could it be about some well-off white guy with crappy major who went on three month summer "third world reality tour", where he observed plight of people and capitalized on it in his PS???/. No, that would be too easy. May there is some substance???? Lets see!

He opened with some exceptionally lame quote. As I said before, openings with quotes are not so good. Who the hell is this archbishop tutu by the way??? Those are details however.
As we read, we walk straight into some description of fun-loving, but scared africans (how original!), and stumble upon "Slowly walking toward the community center, the sound grew louder.". Wow, just second sentence from under the pen of this guy (besides lame quote) and this modifier already dangles like his penis.
"The community center was one of many I visited during a month-long trip to the Eastern Cape of South Africa last July." Good lord its even better then I thought. Just a one month trip. This guy spends next two paragraphs to describe the plight of african people (wow, who would have guessed) in order to proper capitalize on it later. Passing couple passages of descriptions and we arrive straight on this hidden gem "So one may find it unusual that as I have grown, I have become so drawn to public health, human rights, and international health policy." Really??? No, my friend, "one" doesn’t find it unusual. In fact, "one" finds it to be quite usual for white upper-middle class idiot to be interested in indulging in self-righteous ego-stimulating activities. But let’s linger no more, for surprises are right around the corner. As we go, we pass through some quite boring description of his working as a freelance journalist. He read 1500 pages of something and thought it needs a place in PS. But it is not all that boring and disappointing in those three paragraphs. Its all about "No longer did I want to write about the change makers – I wanted to be the one making change." OOOps, so we are about to see some action I guess. Speedforward a bit and what we have? - "And so I pursue an education in law so that I may return to Africa, return to the hundreds of NGOs that make a small but noticeable difference each and every day in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases plaguing the continent. In some small way, I know I can make a difference." Alas, the promised change is still in plans. And why he would need a law degree to work in NGO in africa - remains a mystery. But lets not waste time to overanalyze (we have wasted quite a bit already), for his "But I'm not trying to be heroic" just won our "douchebag of the moment" award.


Personal Statements #27 (Cambodia and Uganda).

The only good thing about this PS is that it could be an example of the very common mistake. She is trying to show her personal growth by drawing a portrait of "Old deficient her". Likely that’s the image that will linger in readers mind. This particular PS suffers also from another problem. She mentions that in "old her" she was idealistic and obstinate and she didn’t listen to others opinions. That’s a bad quality not to be able to consider other opinions. However, she didn’t succeed in refuting this claim. In the second part of her assay she only mentions that encounter with the real life made her less naive and idealistic. But it didn’t say anything about her obstinacy and inability to listen to others.

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JustDude
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby JustDude » Fri Mar 12, 2010 3:03 am

OperaSoprano wrote:
Compromise rule... be memorable in a prudent fashion?


You are all about fashion!!!



OperaSoprano wrote:I definitely have never appeared on the Fordham campus dressed like a pimp.


I didnt mean you. It was a very hypothetical example.



OperaSoprano wrote:I was convinced my background was too fluffy, but I should have owned it more than I did.


Totally. Fashion = money. Money = need for law.
I think, this background actually helped you a lot.
If you were to admit people, would you admit fifth biochemist or first fashionista???..


OperaSoprano wrote:I never really talked about it until my second LOCI. In retrospect, I think it wasn't a weakness, per se, but I made it seem like one because I couldn't find a comfortable way to address it.


Could it be that fashion took you off the waitlist??? Could be

nenupharvn
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Lawyer job descriptions

Postby nenupharvn » Thu May 06, 2010 10:57 pm

Spamming is not cool.

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blackwater88
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby blackwater88 » Sat Jul 03, 2010 8:51 pm

R.I.P. JD

Spryor
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby Spryor » Sat Jul 10, 2010 1:11 am

This looks like great advice. Thanks, Dude!

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vespertiliovir
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby vespertiliovir » Sat Jul 10, 2010 1:58 am

JustDude wrote:Fifth. Grammar???? Style??? Reminds me of nigerian spam letters. I guess he didn’t have enough English classes in his community college.

LOL at you making fun of someone's grammar.

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NU_Jet55
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby NU_Jet55 » Sat Jul 10, 2010 2:01 am

vespertiliovir wrote:
JustDude wrote:Fifth. Grammar???? Style??? Reminds me of nigerian spam letters. I guess he didn’t have enough English classes in his community college.

LOL at you making fun of someone's grammar.



Ummm....you realize he got permabanned a week ago right?

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vespertiliovir
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby vespertiliovir » Sat Jul 10, 2010 2:02 am

NU_Jet55 wrote:Ummm....you realize he got permabanned a week ago right?

Thank god -- I just saw the bump, so I decided to jump in and deride him again.
Also, I've been drinking...

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NU_Jet55
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby NU_Jet55 » Sat Jul 10, 2010 2:05 am

vespertiliovir wrote:
NU_Jet55 wrote:Ummm....you realize he got permabanned a week ago right?

Thank god -- I just saw the bump, so I decided to jump in and deride him again.
Also, I've been drinking...


haven't we all :)

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vespertiliovir
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby vespertiliovir » Sat Jul 10, 2010 2:06 am

Well I would certainly hope so :wink:

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trialjunky
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby trialjunky » Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:04 am

This is so right...this should be in the challenges section! You could win with this methinks

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thecilent
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby thecilent » Mon Jul 12, 2010 11:14 am

JustDude wrote:Decided to write something here. Cannot really post my PS, but hey, thats your chance to get back at me. Opinion expressed here is mine. criticisms welcome.


JustDude's Practical Guide to PS.

First step is easy. Read approx. 30 PS posted on this site in one sitting. How do you feel??? That’s right, really bored. This exercise is required to give you an idea how the average Admission officer feels when she gets to read yours (yes I used "she" instead of "he". Not because I am one of those weirdo-feminists. Most of AdComms are women - important to know). You need to take into account this sort of readers fatigue. Also, it will give you a glimpse into what other people are writing about. You thought you are unique; you thought that going to Africa for 2 months during your "Third world reality tour" makes you special??? - Well, you were wrong!!!

Second step - is to read something of decent quality. May I suggest "50 PS that worked for HLS" by "crimson something"???.. Damn right - 50 personal statements that helped or at least didn’t thwart much applicants in their quest of getting into HLS. Available at Barns and Nobles. Don’t consume this book in one sitting. Take several days. Reread some stories. Don’t try to skip, take your time (of course if you have it). This is not a contest for speed eating of cheap hot dog, the feast that we accomplished earlier to test your stomach. This is wine tasting my friend, to please your senses.

And while you are occupied with this task, let’s have an honest talk. How important is PS anyway??/?. We need to asses potential gains and losses. Well, PS is the fourth most important piece of your application package. First is LSAT and it accounts for approx. 60% of the outcome, Second is Undergrad. GPA, that accounts for approx 40%. The rest is UG school reputation, PS, LOR and other “softs”. And don’t try to contradict with "But NW Dean of admissions said that PS should be well written, It should display.....". Dude, what he really meant was "PS should be". It's a part of application package, so it should be there.

Am I trying to demotivate you??? Absolutely not. But I am trying to prevent you from making one stupid mistake – writing a “risky PS”. You see, Excellent PS cannot have a huge positive effect, but a bad one can harm you a lot. Basically there are three types of PS. First, most common - neutral. decent, yet uninspiring story, spiced with some clichés. Second category - harmful PS. You took risks (and more on them later on in a section "things to avoid"), but they didn’t pay off in the way you wanted. They usually don’t –consider yourself warned. And third - a PS that helped you. Doesn’t happen often, so make sure that you don’t finish up in a category 2 while shooting for category 3.

In summation - do not, under any circumstances, take risks. I will provide easiest to understand example (but the same rule applies to content, style and everything else) – the use of inappropriate words. Dear buddy, next time you are thinking about writing a story about "being a white n***** " in your diverse neighborhood (and yes this is an N-word and that is the real example - even safeties rejected that retard), rethink it. That goes for "straight f*****" and so on. You got the picture. It goes also for using words such as "****", "*****", "******" etc. Every now and then we have threads here "Can I use f*** in my PS. It's really what that kid in inner city told me before I turned his life around. Or so I think. ". No you cannot! And writing about fifty babes in bikinis on a slide was not a good idea. (that’s more like example of the retarded storyline). Those examples are real, my friends, from here. As I wrote this paragraph, I looked through current PS forum. What do I see??? - Someone is introducing himself as "beaner wetback son-of-a-maid" in his very first sentence. The rule of the thumb is: if you think about asking somebody whether something is appropriate for PS or not, It is probably better be left out. It is kind of like LOR. Would you like your recommender to use those words or content in LOR??? Probably not. Think of you PS as of recommendation letter for yourself (words, style, content).


This is where I stopped reading. If the rest of it was anything like these first few paragraphs, then I am happy I stopped.

Eric475
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby Eric475 » Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:53 pm

What was he permabanned for?

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vespertiliovir
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby vespertiliovir » Mon Jul 12, 2010 4:58 pm

Read his posts, you'll understand.

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existenz
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby existenz » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:33 pm

Dear 0Ls. Read this now.

That is all.

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paratactical
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Re: JustDude's guide to personal statements

Postby paratactical » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:34 pm

existenz wrote:Dear 0Ls. Read this now.

That is all.


+1




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