ugh... need some help too long? - please read / critique?

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ugh... need some help too long? - please read / critique?

Postby soesghost » Thu Dec 16, 2010 3:11 pm

Hi - this is the second or third draft of my PS - I am only applying to Fordham and Brooklyn law, but they ask for 2 and 3 pages respectively. I am an older non trad student so I am having a great deal of trouble explaining my reasons for applying in that space - 3 1/2 or so seems to be all I can whittle it down to. My question is this - if they ask for 3 and I send 3 1/2, am I cutting my throat? And I assume that applies to asking for 2 and sending 3 1/2 as well. Secondly, any thoughts at all about the content etc are greatly appreciated.

Thanks all!:

Standing there the open courtyard, shivering, with the droplets of a misty rain chilling my newly shaven head, my mind reeled. The industrial smell of asphalt mixed with the thick stench of the adjacent waste processing plant to form a noxious odor that I can recall to this day. I glanced up and down the lines around me, at the long rows of similarly shorn young men in suits, attempting to stand at attention, and, for the most part, failing miserably. The anxiety in the air was palpable, almost a living thing, amplified by the staccato barking of the drill instructor. Still trying to process this surreal situation I had found myself – no, put myself – in, I wondered once again if I had made the right choice.
It was May 4, 2003, and I was at the FDNY Fire Academy for my first day as a Probationary Firefighter. We were the largest class in FDNY history, 363 strong - the phalanx of a non-stop hiring wave in a desperate attempt by the city to shore up the ranks after 9/11. Beyond the obvious losses, September 11th had a shockwave effect through the department. From those who became sick due to their exposure to the toxic pile at Ground Zero, to the crushing mental stress of the men who had lost so many brothers, to the veteran firefighters who had just had enough, the department was decimated. While the physical bodies lost through attrition could be replaced by hiring, nothing was going to compensate for the loss of literally thousands of years of firefighting experience, and the drill instructors knew it. I felt almost as if I were observing myself in a movie, a distant third-person perspective, when I heard the D.I. shout something that snapped me from my reverie. It was a phrase that would come to define my existence over the next eight years. A phrase, I later realized, whose philosophy had dictated my life’s path since my early teens “There is no failure!” he screamed. “There is no TRY! You will adapt and overcome! ADAPT AND OVERCOME!”
I have long believed that adversity tempers character, the way fire and hammer will forge steel into something stronger than it was. I was 8 when my parents divorced. My father had been a larger than life figure, a strapping man with a booming voice who commanded respect, yet never laid a hand upon us in discipline. The loss of his presence in our household was the pebble in the metaphorical pond, and forever changed my tranquil life. Their divorce was acrimonious, to say the least. What had once been a pleasant, happy home was transformed into a war zone, with screaming arguments, smashed dinner plates, and holiday decorations torn from the walls and shredded. We had absolutely no money, though at the time I didn’t understand that. I just knew that my colorful cartoon cereal boxes had changed to dull white, and every flavor was now called “No-Frills”. My mother was forced to go back to work to keep the roof over our heads, which left me alone for long stretches with my brother, who did not handle the divorce well and proceeded to physically take out his frustrations on me. Many of my childhood memories are shadowed with terror, of locking myself in the bathroom and watching as the doorknob is slowly unscrewed from the outside. I still bear several of the scars from that time on my face, a time when life was about survival and not achievement. Once I got older and stronger, I ended the abuse, but I was left with a determination that no one would ever intimidate me again, despite their size or station.
Things continued to deteriorate financially for us, and though my mother tried her best, we were forced to sell our house. I was 19 by now, and felt I was old enough to make it on my own, so I set off. I landed in a two room slum apartment in Brooklyn, the only tenant in a building beneath the elevated train. Though the rent was barely manageable, I had next to no income and no margin for error. When a gas company dispute turned ugly, the landlord was unsympathetic, and I was left with no heat and hot water for two years. I can still recall the night a window fell in and shattered on the abandoned third floor, letting in the bitter winter as I huddled around a space heater. I wasn’t homeless – but I was essentially a squatter. Years later, my family asked me why I never asked anyone for help or moved home. I was perplexed by the question – I had created my circumstances by my actions, so I should be the one to get myself out. It never occurred to me that someone else should be responsible for my situation. With apologies to Nietzsche, the face staring back from the abyss was, indeed, my own. It was the darkest time of my life, but I swore if I ever made it out of that place I would never find myself there again.
No night lasts forever, and in time there were rays of light. I completed my degree and found employment as a stockbroker for one of the larger firms. Though this afforded me enough to live on, I was not considered successful. There is a distinct and often inverse relationship between a broker’s financial success and his clients’. While I did not mind if an investment did not pan out as planned, I was unable to knowingly put my customers in products, frequently pushed by the firm that would make me a profit while practically guaranteeing my customer did not. One day the president of the firm overheard me pitching a blue chip stock to a client, and when I was done with the call, he made a statement I can hear to this day. He said “Buy XXXX, or buy XXXX – do something good for the firm.” At that moment my position came into sharp focus, and I realized I had no future in this business. Unable to override my moral and ethical programming, my future was limited, and I began to look elsewhere.
I reached out to the contacts I had made, and found a childhood friend who was employed in a new industry called “day-trading”. It took some persistence on my part, but desperation and ambition will drive a man, and I secured an interview with the owner. Given an opportunity, I made the most of it. Because this was simply the trading of stocks for a company account, I was free of the shackles of a corporate agenda, and I began to thrive. Within three years I had paid off my debts and moved into an apartment in Manhattan. Times were good – these were the heady days of internet stocks, when the market became water cooler conversation in every office in America, where fortunes were made and lost daily, and we were at the forefront.
Times were indeed good – so good, in fact, that I began to question what I was doing. My job was to move a pile of cash from point A to point B, and scrape off some in between. It was lucrative and fun – yet empty at the same time. While I wasn’t doing anyone any harm, I felt that I wasn’t adding anything to the greater good. I was a flea on the giant back of the market, neither affecting anything positively or negatively, save my bank account. This attitude was prevalent among several of the traders, and we tried to find a way to give back. I spent the next few Thanksgivings and Christmases at soup kitchens, though I wonder if my true desire was charity, or atonement for some guilt I felt at succeeding after struggling for so long. Then came September 11, 2001, and the end of the world as we knew it.
I spent that morning at my office in Midtown, that night at my apartment a few blocks away, and September 12th standing on a smoldering pile of rubble that used to be the World Trade Center. Feeling a need to do something, anything, I snuck through the security cordon and spent the next 24 hours unpacking supplies for the responders, running Gatorade and water out to the firefighters on the pile, and prepping food for the meal tables. It was an experience I am unable to describe accurately, one I will never forget, but changed me forever. I went home that night, and those existential questions that had been soft embers in the back of my mind now stood out in blazing flame. I thought of the people who died that day. I thought of the courage of the first responders. Mostly, though, I thought of my father. He had been a firefighter for 28 years. Endless black and white memories flashed through my mind – images of him cradling a soot-covered, tear-streaked child as he left a burning building. Of him sitting at the end of an extended aerial ladder several stories off the ground, taking a baby from a panicked mother nearly obscured by black smoke. Of him standing in full dress uniform, receiving a medal from the mayor for rescuing people from a collapse. By my age, my father was a hero, in the truest sense of the word, a person who had risked life and limb for complete strangers, and had a positive effect on their lives. What was I? What meaning had my life had?
The answer was nothing. In light of all that had happened, and all I experienced, I decided I had to change things. I had taken the FDNY exam a few years earlier, mostly at my father’s behest, with no particular intention to take the job. It is a several-year process to get hired and I hadn’t thought about it since taking the test. When I received the letter offering me the job a few months after September 11th, it was as if I was being given the answer to my crisis – here was my chance to make a difference, and I wasn’t going to let it pass. After almost 8 years on the Fire Department, I have seen and done things I wouldn’t have thought possible before. I have crawled down a burning hallway with fire over my head, fighting the primal urge to flee in the other direction. I have stood without a safety harness atop a stuck elevator in a four story blind shaft, pulling out a young girl in the throes of an asthma attack. I have lain beneath a tour bus, amid shattered glass and blood, holding the hand of a man who was in shock from the crushing injury that would claim his legs. I have had a wonderful career, have made a difference, and found the meaningfulness I sought so long ago. And now, once again, it is time to look forward.
The Japanese philosopher Kakuzo Okakaura once said “The art of life is a constant adaption to one’s surroundings.” I would take this a step further in saying that one’s surroundings are a summation of the choices made in life. Though I faced some trying times, I tried to see them as challenges. I sought to take something positive from each pivotal experience, and build my character on the lessons I learned. I feel I have had a positive effect on many people’s lives on a personal level, but now I feel it is time for something more. I have spent nearly a decade in service to the City of New York, and I would like to continue that. I believe law school will give me the necessary skills to have that impact on our city in a truly significant way. I expect to learn from my classmates and my professors, and as an older, non-traditional student I can bring a unique and diverse perspective to the class. It is my desire to affect change from within, on a policy level, to better serve and protect the community that is at the heart of my decision to pursue a career in law.

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Re: ugh... need some help too long? - please read / critique?

Postby rinkrat19 » Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:25 pm

Um... that PS is most definitely not 3 1/2 pages, it's 5 1/4 (TNR 12pt) or 4 1/3 (TNR 11pt). Are you forgetting to double-space?

You need to cut with an axe at this point, not a scalpel. I'm at work and can't look closely at it now. Maybe tonight I'll have a go.

And yes, you do need to get it under the required page limit. Part of being a law student and lawyer is being able to follow simple instructions. You are not a special snowflake: your PS is not more deserving of an extra half-page (or three) than anyone else's.

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Re: ugh... need some help too long? - please read / critique?

Postby DamnLSAT » Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:41 pm

Yes - This needs to be half the length it is currently. The adcomms will read dozens of statements per day and simplicity and succinctness is imperative. If you drone on for page after page, they will lose interest immediately.

Your intro is good, and it catches my attention, but I quickly lost interest after that.

I would second the "Axe" cutting method. If you do not follow the instructions in the application process, you might as well not apply. I'm not saying you will get the X right off the bat, but you do not need anything working against you in the application process.

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Re: ugh... need some help too long? - please read / critique?

Postby rinkrat19 » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:09 am

Ok, I read the whole thing this time and you can solve your length problem by choosing ONE of the THREE topics you've included. FDNY, your parents' divorce and your rotten family life, OR your financial career. Any of the three would make a fine topic, but there's absolutely no way to talk about all three in 2 (double-spaced) pages.

After choosing one, the other topics can certainly be mentioned in passing to give detail/motivation/etc. where appropriate, but only a sentence or two.

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