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(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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jessuf
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby jessuf » Tue Apr 26, 2011 10:11 pm

I wrote my personal statement on overcoming not one but TWO mental disorders. I personally want to go into public interest/health law related to mental health due to my past, so I assumed it made the most sense to talk about my mental disorders. I could go into how common mental disorders are and how I want to fight the social stigma against them, but I will save that for another day. I am just really passionate about mental health, I believe people with mental disorders are incredibly underrepresented, and I want to help solve this problem. It seemed more fitting to describe a personal experience with mental disorders, show why I was so passionate about the field and demonstrate how I've come out strong as opposed to writing about what I learned during study abroad or a cool law internship I had where I filed papers and got coffee. I focused my essay more on the positive - more on what I have done since overcoming my disorders, demonstrating my accomplishments and positive character traits. I've had two different deans from my university read the essay, and they said it was really powerful and well-formulated. According to LSN, I am an auto-reject at all T1 and T2 schools I applied to due to my LSAT score, but I got some acceptances and some waitlists. I think this may be because of my personal statement because my softs aren't anything unique or spectacular.

I think if crafted well, a personal statement on a taboo subject can go over well. It at least offers the committee a fresh topic to read about. However, as other posters have said, you have to be super careful to not focus on the negatives, to not sound "crazy" and to try to emphasize how you came out on top, how it changed you for the better, etc. etc. Because you don't want to go into any sort of law remotely related to mental disorders, though, it seems odd to talk about it since you say your numbers are strong. What I did when crafting my personal statement was make a list of generic things I wanted to touch on (e.g. awards, leadership roles, unique experiences, challenges I met and faced, academic success, etc.) and then I made sure to incorporate all of those things into my personal statement to make my battle with a mental disorder sound more like WINNING than LOSING (sorry, Charlie Sheen was just on tv, speaking of crazy). You could do something like that for a variety of topics, see which one you can incorporate all of the good stuff into best, and then choose that topic.

keg411
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby keg411 » Sat May 07, 2011 4:21 pm

CanadianWolf wrote:To the above poster: Colleges & universities requiring those with certain mental illnesses to leave for a semester is well documented & was heavily publicized two years or so ago. Try a little research before offering such careless advice based on personal anecdotes.

OP: It can be done successfully, but it has to be crafted carefully. Hopefully you have other aspects of your life that can be shared in a compelling manner. Good luck !


This must have changed since I got out of school. My school even had a psychiatrist. Unless you were suicidal or needed some type of in-treatment program, no one was going to kick you out or require you to leave unless you were so sick you couldn't pass your classes.

darrel99
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby darrel99 » Thu May 19, 2011 10:42 pm

If you have a mental disorder the only real issue is will it affect you under fitness and character and how the Board of Bar Examiners views it. In Texas I checked because I have a disorder P T S D and wanted an answer of how it would treat when applying to practice. The question that is asked is; Are you suffering from schizophrenia, Bi-polar or delusional disorder? If the answer is no then the matter never comes up. If it is yes with confirmation from treating doctor that it is currently controlled then it still would be a non-issue except maybe ongoing reports from treating doctor to confirm the status quo.

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kurla88
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby kurla88 » Thu May 19, 2011 11:27 pm

My instincts say NO.

pineappl
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby pineappl » Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:47 pm

I know this thread has been inactive for a while, but I created an account just to say this: The amount of stigma on the thread is astonishing. That mental disorders: mean you're crazy, mean you very well may hurt yourself/others, mean you're not socially adapted, (particularly if one has bipolar or schizophrenia apparently), mean you're less likely to succeed in law school than if you had a physical disability (eg. diabetes, cerebral palsy), and should only be written about in personal diaries and creative writing classes. The amount of prejudice is sad.
-"Crazy" and "having a mental disorder" are not synonymous.
-There is no correlation between mental illness and violence towards others. (This correlation only exists with drug use included.)
-Having a mental disorder and 'social adaptation' have a weak correlation, at best, assuming no treatment.
-Mental disorders can be completely overcome or significant remission can be achieved.
-People with any mental disorder, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, can be wildly successful in law school, any other type of school, any type of work, etc. Who knows, the grit and courage that comes from fighting through a mental disorder might result in frighteningly effective lawyering skills:)
On the positive side, in my experience, presenting information about a mental disorder can be effective if it is presented confidently and - especially - in a manner that goes against prejudices. It is a risk, yes, but may be worth it. I see no need to hide part of who you are/what you have dealt with...it's your story and there's no shame in it. Everyone's story has value. Be bold...however you decide.
Thx for reading. I am passionate about this, as you all can tell:) I was a student of mental health policy, have had internships and jobs concerning mental health policy, and worked with kids with mental illness. I graduated with an excellent gpa from a top university, have bipolar disorder, and am considering (even more strongly now!) writing my personal statement about something related to this thread:)
ps. to second someone's reply, the flurry of news articles a few years back concerned colleges/universities asking students to leave because of suicidality or concern of hurting themselves/others. Stating that you have a diagnosis is very rarely sufficient cause for a school to dismiss you on grounds of safety to yourself or others. After all, approximately 1 in 3 college students experience prolonged feelings of depression. Mental disorders are very common.

emfall
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:59 pm

Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby emfall » Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:13 pm

I was just thinking about this because I haven't written my PS yet. I really think this shows how you face adversity and triumph especially if you describe the feeling of bipolar and the stigma. Why a liability. Though what others say is what others perception of reality is and it is sad especially since so many lawyers get clients off on the insanity plea. Mental illness doesn't just hit criminals, it hits all walks of life. Most people with bipolar end up being very poor and have to climb to reach the top. Let me know if your ps works.

flexityflex86
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby flexityflex86 » Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:16 pm

can't this later raise c+f issues?

pineappl
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:15 pm

Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby pineappl » Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:40 pm

Re: "what about the c+f?"

Depends in part on the state. In VA, for example, their C+F questionnaire asks about mental health issues but has a pretty long disclaimer, quoted below (source: http://www.vbbe.state.va.us/pdf/LRC&FQuestion.pdf. Emphasis is mine.):

"The following inquiries address recent mental health and chemical or psychological dependency matters. The purpose of such inquiries is to determine the current fitness of an applicant to practice law. The mere fact of treatment for mental health problems or chemical or psychological dependency is not, in itself, a basis on which an applicant is ordinarily denied admission in Virginia, and the Board of Bar Examiners regularly licenses individuals who have demonstrated personal responsibility and maturity in dealing with mental health and chemical or psychological dependency issues. The Board encourages applicants who may benefit from treatment to seek it. On occasion a license is denied or deferred when an applicant's ability to function is impaired in a manner relevant to the practice of law at the time that the licensing decision is made, or when an applicant demonstrates a lack of candor by his or her responses. This is consistent with the public purpose that underlies the licensing responsibilities assigned to the Board of Bar Examiners; further, each applicant is responsible for demonstrating that he or she possesses all the qualifications to practice law."

Definitely more nuanced than this thread had led me to believe before! I don't know if VA is representative, though I know it isn't one of the definite outliers. http://www.activeminds.org/storage/acti ... part_a.pdf is an interesting paper.

pineappl
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:15 pm

Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby pineappl » Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:57 pm

where did you find your stat about most people with bipolar ending up being very poor? Just curious...i didn't know that sort of data was kept, and "most" seemed like a much higher % than i would've imagined.

schooner
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Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby schooner » Fri Jun 17, 2011 10:03 pm

Just don't do it. One of the "off the official books" advice my undergrad prelaw advisor told me is that you should avoid a personal statement that focuses on having a mental health disorder, especially deep-seated ones that could return while you're enrolled in their school. Law schools don't want to take on students who will struggle/flunk out/screw up their alumni success stats/become a liability for some reason.

And if you're talking about something BDD... consider that competing applicants will be writing about hardships like overcoming homelessness, growing up in a refugee camp, having a parent killed in a crime, coming from a dirt-poor background, surviving physical abuse as a child, etc. I'm sorry to say this, but your problem will sound like a luxury yuppie problem in comparison.

Yes, it's unfair. I just think you have to remember that you're trying to persuade the adcom to admit you, not just confide in them or make them sympathize with you. Would you tell a prospective employer something like that?

schooner
Posts: 374
Joined: Sat May 14, 2011 6:50 pm

Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby schooner » Fri Jun 17, 2011 10:29 pm

It is a risk, yes, but may be worth it. I see no need to hide part of who you are/what you have dealt with...it's your story and there's no shame in it. Everyone's story has value. Be bold...however you decide.


I think this is bad advice from the kumbaya school of thought. If the OP follows this advice, the resulting story might end up a great memoir or expose somewhere -- and a terrible PS for law school. The admissions committee might just as well see the courage of the OP baring it all in his PS, then think "let some other school deal with his/her problems."

The OP is trying to convince a bunch of law professors (who are probably all Type As) that s/he is worthy of joining their profession, not write an afterschool special on "the value of every person because every person is a unique snowflake despite all the ugly flaws" or something like that. If the OP wants to write about overcoming adversity, s/he needs to be more strategic about it. Like when you're in a job interview and you're asked "what's your biggest flaw," you want to spin a negative trait that's really a positive in the employer's eyes, like "I'm a workaholic" or "I expect too much excellence from myself."

If the OP wants to change the perception of people with mental illnesses in the legal profession, get admitted into a great school, become successful, THEN become an advocate and example of someone with a mental illness who succeeded.

pineappl
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:15 pm

Re: Mental Disorder PS

Postby pineappl » Sat Jun 18, 2011 9:35 pm

I asked this question of 3 pre-law advisors/law school admissions deans today, and here was their take:

Don't write about hardship just for the sake of writing about hardship (this went for mental illness, homelessness, anything). However, if your experience in overcoming the hardship has played a significant factor in your wanting to pursue law, then - by all means - they want to know about it. With the one additional caveat here: admissions officers want positive PSs. If you're still struggling acutely with the hardship, they could look at that and say, perhaps you're not ready for law school. BUT, if it's a hardship that you've overcome or are continuously-overcoming-and-succeeding-in-spite-of, then they look at that in a neutral or even favorable light.

These were the almost universal responses I got when I asked specifically about how any indication in the application or PS of one's having a mental illness would appear to law school admissions staff; how writing a personal statement dealing with overcoming mental illness might be perceived; and - relatedly - how having a mental health diagnosis might play into admission to state bars (that reply, too, was more favorable then I had thought previously).

I thought the guidance was very helpful and so thought it would be helpful to pass that along...straight from law school admissions staff. They were very very open to the question, were considerate, did not shy away from the question whatsoever, and were not at all hesitant about the replies given above. That said, a good thing to do might be to ask the pre-law advisor at your school/alma mater for an "insider's" opinion if one has specific questions about their circumstance, as they know the field first-hand. Perhaps there's a wide spectrum in likelihood-to-experience-mental-health-discrimination at different law schools (for example, reading blogs yielded very different advice from my speaking today with the 3 advisors (all from different schools). Asking specifically may be helpful, particularly of a pre-law advisor or law school admissions staff person, whether they're at a school you want to apply to or not.




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