PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
Alext182
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PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby Alext182 » Wed Jun 08, 2011 11:35 am

I'm mainly wondering if this general structure will work. I plan on adding a few details to the narrative later if I keep these paragraphs. I'm hoping to go to SMU next year so i am including their prompt (as it is unique--emphasizes why you are choosing law school).

"A personal statement containing any information that is especially relevant to your decision to study law, which may include factors such as what motivates you to study law, what you seek to accomplish with your law degree, and how your past experiences may help you to accomplish your goals."


My mother, an immigrant from Vietnam, was all too happy to sign the papers declaring that I was dropping out of high school. My mom smiled the entire time, and just kept asking if I could still go to college—“with a G.E.D. he could enroll as soon as he turns 17” the principal answered back with a slightly bemused smile. To this day, I am unsure if my mother was in denial over the severity of the issue or if her hope and expectations for me were simply that steadfast.

That night, once I was finally alone—away from my annoyingly optimistic mother and my brother, furious that I was repeating his mistakes—I broke down and silently cried hidden in the bathroom. I felt like a complete failure. Growing up, I always planned on becoming financially successful—and moving my family out of our working class neighborhood. My mother struggled to raise 3 boys alone, at times having to rely on food stamps and public housing to push through difficult times. And due to my zealous appetite for reading, I had distinguished myself from my peers academically at an early age. Therefore, I had expected that as my life naturally unfolded my academic talent would ensure that I went to college and built a worthy career. But I was nowhere near the person I needed to become in order to attain those goals—a realization that overwhelmed me.

After that night, I began studying for the G.E.D. English, my best subject, did not appear to be difficult for me. The Math and Science sections, on the other hand, were more challenging for me. Using preparation books I checked out from the library, I began studying in the evenings while searching for a job during the day. I applied everywhere I could think of—retail stores, fast food stores, and grocery stores—that might hire me. But my job search was futile. Finding a job at 16 is difficult enough but being a drop out made it seem impossible, giving me even more motivation to prepare to pass the G.E.D.

When the test day finally came, I knew I had done all I could to prepare. Once inside the musky room filled with rows of desks, I sat and watched as my fellow test-takers arrived. One-by-one adults and/or immigrants came filtering in as my stomach dropped. Unlike them, I could be getting a free education in high school in my native language while preparing for college I realized—but instead, I had wasted my opportunity.

Since then, I have strived to capitalize on my educational opportunities and talents. In my first semester at Collin County College, I was required to take remedial math. However, by my last semester at CCC less than two years later, I had been awarded a full scholarship and accepted into the prestigious Student Leadership Academy. After transferring to the University of North Texas, I continued my academic success by graduating with a 3.96 GPA and receiving two national fellowships to support my academic research.

Realizing that education was more than good grades, I routinely approached professors requesting suggested reading material and as a result, I was fortunate to discover two amazing mentors, who actively encouraged me to read academic books outside of the classroom to further develop my ideas and writing skills. By doing so, I was able to utilize my unique background and analytical skills to research and develop my own academic papers. I hope to continue refining my critical thinking and analytical skills during law school while providing a unique perspective to class discussions…something about career goal…

Looking back, it wasn’t a decisive decision that somehow led me to change overnight from high school drop out to college graduate. It was a gradual process, from studying for the G.E.D., to remedial math at a community college, and eventually to two research fellowships at a university. But I believe my relative success since my breakdown that night can be attributed to realizing I had failed—not due to lack of talent—but due to lack of character and hard work. Since then, I have strived to challenge myself without ever repeating that same mistake.

Main Questions:
1. Do I sound too preachy? Also, do I sound too whiny? I'm trying to find a balance between pointing out diversity/hardships but not embellishing them.
2. Does it sound too informal? I gravitated towards language that I would use if I was verbally telling the story--should I adopt a more academic tone?

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

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memphisbelle
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby memphisbelle » Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:13 pm

Overall, It's well written for a first attempt. The resume stuff gets a little old at the end. I found myself skimming most of the last few paragraphs. In truth, the only thing that I was continuing to read for is why you dropped out of high school. From this, all I get is that your mother was happy about it and you weren't. Did you have to drop out to support them? It's something that you don't want to beat the reader over the head with, but by not clarifying it you create questions that override the reader's interest in the particulars of the rest of the essay.

I understand that the prompt tends to elicit the 'restatement of resume' type of essay, so it would likely be fine for that school. If you're planning to apply widely, I'd try to come up with another subject/a different variation on the fact that you dropped out of HS.

For your questions:

I don't think it sounds too preachy. I think you are simply telling your story, not making judgment on the circumstances/events that led you there. That part is done very well. I would imagine it could be easy to fall into that trap.

I think your tone is fine. It's honest and that's what you need for a story like this. I can't imagine it in an 'academic' tone. That sounds funny to me. The only wording that stuck out to me was 'decisive decision' in the last paragraph. Find another way to say that.

Also, please study for your LSAT and kill it so that you can go to HYS. With a 3.9x, you should aim higher. Is that your LSAC (all UG work) GPA?

In any case, your accomplishments are awesome and I wish you the best of luck!

MB

Alext182
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby Alext182 » Wed Jun 08, 2011 4:32 pm

Thanks for your feedback and advice. The GPA is just my upper level coursework (which is what I am used to using). Overall I think the GPA for my entire undergraduate career would be more like a 3.8, which I will update if I keep that line (now that you have pointed it out).

I dropped out because I the principal said she would either take me to court for truancy (which my mom couldn't afford, and I was skipping more classes than I attended) or I could drop out and get my G.E.D. I was skipping because I was doing well enough in my classes and didn't feel the need to go. Additionally, the school was dangerous with multiple gangs and I had a lot of family issues at home—my mom is attracted to drunks. Anyways, I'll incorporate a line about truancy in the first paragraph...that’s a really good point and something I wouldn’t have anticipated. It’ll be good because I thought that first paragraph was too short and needed more context.

I’ll work on a separate PS for other law schools which aren’t as narrow as SMU’s. I agree that I recap several accomplishments which may unfortunately be necessary. Still, I might try and narrow it down to a couple specific accomplishments which will allow the reader to connect the dots (i.e. if I was awarded two fellowships you can assume I had high grades) etc.

I'm hoping to go to SMU or UT. My wife is currently doing her 2L internship at a huge Dallas firm which will likely turn into a job offer (they only took 4 interns because they said they wanted to have enough jobs available to each of them). If she gets that job offer, I would like to go to SMU on a full ride or UT (she could transfer to their Austin office). If she doesn’t get a job offer, then I will apply to a lot more schools.

I took the June LSAT, expecting between a 167 – 169 which were my scores on the last several preptests. I studied for less than two months and didn’t take a course. So my plan is if she doesn’t get a job offer, then I’ll study harder for the October LSAT with the hope of going to a top law school.

Thanks again for your insight, I was stuck and you’ve given me a fresh perspective! I really appreciate it.

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memphisbelle
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby memphisbelle » Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:45 pm

Well, I wouldn't highlight the truancy thing then, especially the fact that you were bored and just stopped going to class. If that's the case, the vague-ness that you've left in the PS regarding why you left school is probably a better way to go. You can even cut into how you did get a job and helped pay bills and such to give that impression without explicitly stating that you quit school to support them. Either way, best of luck. :)

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booboo
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby booboo » Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:50 pm

If he reasons the truancy with familial issues and issues at school, it could become a stronger narrative.

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paratactical
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby paratactical » Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:53 pm

booboo wrote:If he reasons the truancy with familial issues and issues at school, it could become a stronger narrative.

This. It could be a quite compelling narrative.

Alext182
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby Alext182 » Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:10 pm

I'm not comfortable with leading the reader to false inferences--I think my story is very unique and administrators may remember it. If I go to SMU I might have some of the highest numbers and the lowest socio-econonomic background so my application might be remembered and i'd prefer not to feel like I have to "keep up" my story.

I can try incorporating some information about family issues/home issues. I have a lot that I could use--but I want to do so tastefully and without making the PS seem like a "woe is me" type of story. That being said, it could give it more weight if I add details correctly.

Thanks for the advice, i'll work on a rewrite to see how it flows.

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memphisbelle
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby memphisbelle » Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:16 pm

Good point. I had an RC fail and thought that in addition to being truant, that you had worked to help your family. I meant focus more on that than the truancy. Obviously lying would be a bad idea and you have no reason to do so with your numbers.


Alext182 wrote:I'm not comfortable with leading the reader to false inferences--I think my story is very unique and administrators may remember it. If I go to SMU I might have some of the highest numbers and the lowest socio-econonomic background so my application might be remembered and i'd prefer not to feel like I have to "keep up" my story.

I can try incorporating some information about family issues/home issues. I have a lot that I could use--but I want to do so tastefully and without making the PS seem like a "woe is me" type of story. That being said, it could give it more weight if I add details correctly.

Thanks for the advice, i'll work on a rewrite to see how it flows.

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esq
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby esq » Thu Jun 09, 2011 2:39 pm

I think that it's a great PS topic that can really show how you overcame an educationally disadvantaged background, but you need to work on clarifying your story a little bit before it reaches its potential. For instance, the ambiguity that you use to write about your childhood education leaves me wondering if dropping out of high school was something that your mother pushed for, or if you really were just doing poorly in school. You describe your mother as giddy at the opportunity to take you out of school, and yourself as unhappy about this and innocent of contributing, possibly for lack of aptitude, to your mother's decision to take you out of school. You state that "I had distinguished myself from my peers academically at an early age," which leads me to believe that you were doing well, but then you also state that you "could be getting a free education in high school in my native language while preparing for college I realized— [add comma, take out dash] but instead, [take out comma] I had wasted my opportunity," leading me to believe that your mother pulled you out of school because you wasted your opportunity by not doing well in school. It's confusing. (and on a side note, "I had distinguished, I had wasted my opportunity." Watch out for passive voice.)

I also have an issue with - your - frequent - overuse - of - dashes - to - fit - in - extra - information. In many cases, a simple period, a comma, or the conjunction 'and' would work just fine. There is nothing wrong with using a dash with sparing appropriateness, but when you drop them as frequently as you do in your PS, it displays a lazy writing style.

Take: "I had failed—not due to lack of talent—but due to lack of character and hard work." You'd be better off with: "I failed not due to a lack of talent, but due to a lack of character and hard work."

"But I was nowhere near the person I needed to become in order to attain those goals—a realization that overwhelmed me." Would be better as: "But I was nowhere near the person I needed to become in order to attain those goals. This realization overwhelmed me."

"That night, once I was finally alone—away from my annoyingly optimistic mother and my brother, furious that I was repeating his mistakes—I broke down and silently cried hidden in the bathroom." Could easily be: "That night, finally alone and away from my annoyingly optimistic mother and my brother, I broke down and silently cried hidden in the bathroom. I was furious that I was repeating my brother's mistakes."

Also, I think that through your story you could easily make a strong case that you have the self determination that it takes to succeed in law school. In your PS, however, I don't see that you effectively connect the dots of your background to a "why this makes me a successful candidate for law" statement. In fact, I don't see much effort given to this at all, and you should assume that the adcomms that read this will be expecting you to break down your background and how it specifically relates to your success in law school. It's not so much an I hope to "refin[e] my critical thinking and analytical skills" statement (what you want out of law school) if you can connect the dots, but more of a self aware "this is the point of the whole story," (this why I can hang, what I can contribute) statement. My point: you need to break your story down with a conclusion that shows the adcomms how this story fits into the scheme of what they are looking for. It's a better way to sell yourself in my opinion.

Alext182
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby Alext182 » Thu Jun 09, 2011 3:19 pm

Thanks for the detailed feedback “esq.” Your right, I overused the dashes (I think Salon or Slate just did an article about how common people are over using them now) and slipped into passive voice. Any other criticisms would be appreciated.

Here’s a rewrite, focusing less on accomplishments since they will be detailed on my CV/Resume and my Letters of Rec. I’m not sure if it addresses their prompt well enough but I think it’s useful as the PS I would use in my general applications. I was already writing focusing on more of a, “I’m determined enough to succeed in law school and have real world experience” sort of thing before your critique. I know the ending needs a stronger closing but I’m struggling to come up with it. Does it make it sound like I’m a naïve poor kid who wants to go to law school to support his family? Because I’m more than that lol.

It felt surreal pulling up to the curb, where my younger brother and mother alongside all of their possessions were waiting for me, looking to me to save them. Covered in sweat due to the summer heat, I hugged them both and said we would get through this. My mother lost her house, her job, and now her longtime abusive boyfriend was unsurprisingly kicking them out when they needed him the most. My mother emigrated from Vietnam when she was 16, eloped to marry my father, and divorced when I was toddler. We had endured unemployment, welfare, food stamps, and public housing while she raised 3 boys alone but my mother, for the first time in my life, looked defeated. I felt numb while my mind raced to make a list of things we would need before the day was done, while constantly thinking back to four years ago, the day I dropped out of high school.

My mother was all too happy to sign the papers declaring that I was dropping out of high school. Smiling the entire time, she just kept asking if I could still go to college—“with a G.E.D. he could enroll as soon as he turns 17” the principal answered back with a slightly bemused smile. I rolled my eyes, annoyed that she would smile while forcing me to drop out or pay truancy fines for the classes I skipped routinely due to a lack of motivation. To this day, I am unsure if my mother was in denial over the severity of the issue or if her hope and expectations for me were simply that steadfast.

That night, once I was finally alone, I broke down and silently cried hidden in the bathroom. Growing up, I always planned on becoming financially successful and moving my family out of our working class neighborhood. Due to my zealous appetite for reading, I distinguished myself from my peers academically at an early age. Therefore, naively I expected that as my life naturally unfolded my intelligence would ensure that I succeeded in college and built a worthy career. But I was nowhere near the person I needed to become in order to attain these goals—a realization that overwhelmed me.

After that night, I began studying for the G.E.D. Using preparation books I checked out from the library, I began studying in the evenings while searching for a job during the day. I applied everywhere I could think of, retail stores, fast food stores, and grocery stores, which might hire me. But as a 16 year old recent drop out, I quickly realized that my job prospects for even the simplest of jobs were slim, giving me even more motivation to study for the G.E.D. Without a job or a school to attend, I studied extensively for the G.E.D. on a daily basis. Thankfully, my scores on the math and science sections drastically improved allowing me to register for the first test administered after my 17th birthday.

When the test day finally came, I knew I had done all I could to prepare. Once inside the musky room filled with rows of desks, I sat and watched as my fellow test-takers arrived. One-by-one adults and/or immigrants came filtering in as my stomach dropped. Unlike them, I could be getting a free education in high school in my native language while preparing for college I realized but instead, I wasted my opportunity.

Standing there on the curb with my family, I am proud to say I wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment as I was that night I cried in the bathroom alone. A semester away from graduating, I knew I could get a full time entry level job to support them. With the stipends earned from two national fellowships, I had enough money saved to pay for an apartment for them while my mother looked for a job. While I couldn’t buy her a house as I wished as a child, I could support my mother through this ordeal. And it started with my breakdown that night when I realized I had failed—not due to lack of talent—but due to lack of character and hard work. Since then, I have strived to challenge myself without ever repeating that same mistake.

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Magnolia
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Re: PS Statement (from a HS Drop Out Who Did Great in College)

Postby Magnolia » Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:52 pm

It feels a little unfocused. Reading it felt like I was meandering through the paragraphs without a particular goal or destination. That's probably related to you not knowing how to end the essay.

You mention at one point that you were unmotivated in school and at another point that you were academically advanced compared to your peers. Those two sentences struck me as odd when I read it, so is there some way to reconcile the two? Were you unmotivated because you weren't challenged enough?

This essay felt like less about you and more about the dynamics of you in your family. You even open with a paragraph about your family instead of about you.

What was the college application process like for you? Was it impacted by your family or by having a GED? Did either of those impact your adjustment to/life in college? How did that experience change you/the way you think? These are all questions I had after reading this. You're skipping a few steps between when you dropped out of high school and when you were a senior in college picking up your family. I'm not really sure how you got there. Plus, without those details to connect high school-you to college-you to post-collegiate-you (assuming you've graduated), your essay basically answers the prompt by saying "I persevered and beat the odds by getting my GED when I was 17. Obviously that proves I can rock law school." Hold my hand and walk me through how that experience made you into the student that you were in college and the person that you are today. That's a really crucial step that's missing here.




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