Personal Statement

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
Buck Strickland
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Joined: Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:23 pm

Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:43 pm

I feel like this is pretty close to what my final draft will look like. What I'd most help with is my last paragraph. I want to give the sense that I have an idea of my plans after law school but anything I write feels out of place to me. That I'm trying to keep this to two double-spaced pages probably exacerbates that problem. Any (constructive) feedback is sincerely appreciated.



To many people, classical music puts forth a picture of performers in tuxedos with tails; affluent, white haired audiences; beautifully ornate concert halls. I had been familiar with this side of classical music; throughout my time in and after college I played my share of engagements that fit such a picture. Whether it was a private concert in a patron’s home, a performance in an intimate theater at Lincoln Center, or a concerto with the Winston-Salem Symphony; whether background music at a cocktail hour or at Maya Angelou’s 83rd birthday party, I had existed in just about every stuffy scenario the phrase “classical music” could possibly bring to mind. It was a yearning to play such gigs that fueled hours upon hours of practice, and as I closed my guitar case at the end of each one I felt a sense of satisfaction I didn’t think could be surpassed. Little did I know that not but eight months after graduation, those hours of practice would show me that the satisfaction I sought might not lie in music but in public interest law.

Just as unexpected was the fact that for this to be revealed to me, I would have to end up in The Bronx. The South Bronx. Far from what anybody would consider the cultural epicenter of New York, this region is arguably the most dangerous in the entire city and the last place one would expect a classical music school to pop up. Yet in defiance of that notion (to say nothing of my own better judgment) I found myself, every Saturday, traveling an hour each way from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to teach classical guitar lessons in the rundown building that was the ____________ of Music at ____________ Church.

I had been involved with underserved communities in the past, most memorably as co-music director at an African American church in Winston-Salem, NC. But for all that that position had in common with ___________ – the shoddy, previously abandoned buildings; the inability to pay anybody, just offer a bit of money to help with travel expenses – this was a brand new experience in many ways. Instead of helping to lead a small band, I was giving group guitar lessons to about twenty-five students ranging in age from six to sixty. Few of them spoke fluent English, and the ones that did spoke it with varying degrees of competency and preferred their native Spanish. I was flummoxed. Even the most basic concepts of music tend to be somewhat abstract and can be difficult enough to communicate without any language barriers. On my first day, as I struggled in spite of my very best efforts, I wondered if I was really up for this challenge.

A few months later my students gave their very first recital in front of an audience of their friends and loved ones. Many of them told me it was the one of the proudest days of their lives and I told them it was one of mine, too. As I stood back and watched my students receive well deserved congratulations for jobs well done, I realized that this concert meant more to me than any I had personally given in the past. I had worked harder, grown more as a person, and not had to doubt for a moment that music had given me a chance to do something positive in people’s lives.

I still think fondly about that day and feel a great sense of pride regarding the work I did at _________. However, in the weeks after the concert, an uncomfortable reality began to set in that made me question the impact I thought I had made. I realized that I had done something to help my students cope with their situations, but I had done nothing to actually lift them out of their situations. Violent crime, addiction, poverty, issues related to immigration and racial profiling, all of this would shape their existences more than guitar lessons and that left me feeling powerless. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that being a professional musician just wasn’t going to be as fulfilling as I always imagined it would be. Eventually, I determined that the legal field would be my best chance at making a difference in communities like the ones in which music had allowed me to work. With this in mind, I returned home to North Carolina to learn as much as I could about the field and to start getting involved.

The lessons I’ve learned since then have broadened my awareness of the issues facing North Carolinians of every stripe and have strengthened my resolve to be part of the solution. The time I’ve spent observing attorneys in the office and in the courtroom, volunteering weekly with the ACLU of North Carolina, and attending events sponsored by the NAACP of North Carolina has shown me how the law can affect social change while also giving me an understanding of what it is lawyers really do to help bring this change about. From what I can tell, public interest law seems like the most satisfying way I could possibly spend my career. I can’t claim to know exactly how this passion will manifest itself – maybe I’ll land my dream job working for the local ACLU affiliate, maybe I’ll end up with some sort of private public interest firm – but law school is the first step and it is one I would be proud to take at __________ Law.

Buck Strickland
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Joined: Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:23 pm

Re: Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Mon Aug 19, 2013 11:14 am

So I think I've already identified one way to improve my last paragraph: instead of that weak effort to list specific jobs I might want to take in the future, I should probably list issues that I'm passionate about defending. That will do a better job of showing my priorities rather than being a half-baked attempt to read the future.

Any other advice?

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Ramius
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby Ramius » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:01 pm

Good topic, poor flow. There were a lot of awkward sentences and extraneous words I found in there. I would say at least half a dozen times I had to go back and reread a sentence to make sure I understood it correctly. Your choice of words and phrasing totally disrupted any intended flow to the statement. That left a bad taste in my mouth when I reflected on it.

I've given this advice many times, but it's the best way to correct this sort of problem: read this outloud like you would a speech. Imagine yourself telling this story to a group of admissions people in person. This will quickly and effectively let you pick up on wasteful words, awkward phrasing and issues with punctuation. Once you've done that and made corrections on it, post the revised version and let people have a look.

You're on the right track, but in my opinion this statement isn't nearly ready for submission.

GL OP!

Buck Strickland
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Joined: Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:23 pm

Re: Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:14 pm

Thank you for the feedback. Could you give an example of one of these clunky sentences?

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Ramius
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby Ramius » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:26 pm

Whether it was a private concert in a patron’s home, a performance in an intimate theater at Lincoln Center, or a concerto with the Winston-Salem Symphony; whether background music at a cocktail hour or at Maya Angelou’s 83rd birthday party, I had existed in just about every stuffy scenario the phrase “classical music” could possibly bring to mind.


Just as unexpected was the fact that for this to be revealed to me, I would have to end up in The Bronx.


Yet in defiance of that notion (to say nothing of my own better judgment) I found myself, every Saturday, traveling an hour each way from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to teach classical guitar lessons in the rundown building that was the ____________ of Music at ____________ Church.


Those are a couple examples of sentences I didn't like.

xbsnguy
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Joined: Sat Mar 09, 2013 3:25 am

Re: Personal Statement

Postby xbsnguy » Wed Aug 21, 2013 5:53 pm

I have the same criticism as matthewsean85, so I'll just build upon what he said.

Punctuation marks are meant to improve comprehension and flow. They're not used to shove as much content into one sentence as possible. This is hackneyed advice, but still important to keep in mind: put yourself in the shoes of the adcomm. If you had to slog through thousands of these, you will probably appreciate and favor the more concise personal statements.

Cut down on extraneous words for the same reason. Keep your writing simple and concise, and instead of being hidden by needless words and clumsy syntax, your message will shine through.

Buck Strickland
Posts: 81
Joined: Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:23 pm

Re: Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Thu Aug 22, 2013 5:51 pm

I've made some major changes to the beginning and end. At the very least, I want another sentence to wrap things up neatly. But at 10-point font, I have room for another paragraph and I'm considering adding something about how my path to the law has been unique, but it has given me unique perspectives and skills that I look forward to bringing with me into the classroom. Thoughts?


To many people, classical music puts forth a picture of performers in tuxedos with tails; affluent, white haired audiences; beautifully ornate concert halls. I had been familiar with this side of classical music, having played my share of engagements that fit such a picture. From a concerto with the Winston-Salem Symphony, background music at Maya Angelou’s 83rd birthday party, to a recital in an intimate theater on Lincoln Center’s campus, I had existed in just about every stuffy scenario the phrase “classical music” could possibly bring to mind. It was a yearning to play such gigs that fueled hours upon hours of practice, and as I closed my guitar case at the end of each one I felt a sense of satisfaction I didn’t think could be surpassed. Little did I know that not but eight months after graduation, those hours of practice would show me that an even greater satisfaction might be waiting, not in the realm of music, but in public interest law.

Just as surprising was that for this to be revealed to me, I would have to end up in The Bronx. The South Bronx. Far from what anybody would consider the cultural epicenter of New York, this region is arguably the most dangerous in the entire city and the last place one would expect a classical music school to pop up. Yet in defiance of that notion (to say nothing of my own better judgment) I found myself, every Saturday, traveling an hour each way from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to teach classical guitar lessons in the rundown building that was the ________ School of Music at _________ Church.
I had been involved with underserved communities in the past, most memorably as co-music director at an African American church in Winston-Salem. But for all that that position had in common with ________ – the shoddy, previously abandoned buildings; the inability to truly pay anybody, just offer enough to cover travel expenses – this was a brand new experience in many ways. Instead of helping to lead a small band, I was giving group guitar lessons to about twenty-five students ranging in age from six to sixty, none of whom were born in the United States. Few of them spoke fluent English, and the ones that did still strongly preferred their native Spanish. I was flummoxed. Even the most basic concepts of music tend to be somewhat abstract and can be difficult enough to communicate without any language barriers. On my first day, as I struggled in spite of my very best efforts, I wondered if I was really up for this challenge.

A few months later my students gave their very first recital in front of an audience of their friends and loved ones. Many of them told me it was the one of the proudest days of their lives and I told them it was one of mine, too. As I stood back and watched my students receive well deserved congratulations for jobs well done, I realized that this concert meant more to me than any I had personally given in the past. I had worked harder, grown more as a person, and not had to doubt for a moment that music had given me a chance to do something positive in people’s lives.

I still think fondly about that day and feel a great sense of pride regarding the work I did at _________. However, in the weeks after the concert, an uncomfortable reality began to set in that made me question the impact I thought I had made. I realized that I had done something to help my students cope with their situations, but I had done nothing to actually lift them out of their situations. An environment characterized by violent crime, addiction, and poverty; issues related to immigration and racial profiling – all of this would shape their existences more than guitar lessons and that left me feeling powerless. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that being a professional musician just wasn’t going to be as fulfilling as I always imagined it would be. Eventually, I determined that the legal field would be my best chance at making a lasting difference that I could be really proud of.
With this in mind, I returned home to North Carolina – the place where I’d most like to practice law – to learn as much as I could about the field and to start getting involved. The lessons I’ve learned since then have broadened my awareness of the problems facing the people of my own community and have strengthened my resolve to be part of the solution. The time I’ve spent observing attorneys in the office and in the courtroom, volunteering weekly with the ACLU of North Carolina, and attending events sponsored by the NAACP of North Carolina has shown me how the law can affect social change while also giving me an understanding of what it is lawyers really do to help bring that change about. Most of all, these experiences have made me feel certain that a career dedicated to the issues I’m most passionate about – the first amendment, marriage equality, protecting the right to vote, immigration – would provide me with a lifetime of satisfaction.

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Ramius
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby Ramius » Thu Aug 22, 2013 6:18 pm

You made some major strides here, I really liked the overall flow of this statement.

One thing I want you to seriously look at in editing it further is your use of the past perfect tense throughout. Maybe this is personal preference, but the one thing that stuck out to me in a bad way was the rampant use of past perfect language. For example, instead of saying, "I had done..." just say "I did." Past perfect isn't necessarily wrong in every case here, but it got distracting as you used it more. The statement will feel more concise if you switch to simple past tense. IMHO.

You're looking much better here. Keep up the good work and you'll be ready when submission day comes. GL!

Buck Strickland
Posts: 81
Joined: Sat Aug 03, 2013 4:23 pm

Re: Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:50 pm

I appreciate it. You give pretty blunt advice, but you are also give really sincere praise when you think it's due. I'm happy to have gotten a positive response out of you.

What do you think about my idea to possibly add on another paragraph? If I don't do that, do you think I should wrap things up with one final sentence? It just doesn't feel totally complete at the moment.

I have two other concerns beyond style and flow. I've been told that the statement doesn't leave the reader thinking "wow, that guy NEEDS to do law!" As it reads now, someone could say "well why not medicine or social work?" Maybe my nod to the issues in the last paragraph makes the law thing clear, though. What do you think?

My other concern is my transition from my sentence about struggling on my first day to the next paragraph where the recital was a success. I really didn't want to waste space by going into how exactly I overcame all of those hurdles. My hope is that the reader just kind of understands that I obviously had to have done something and it all worked out. Do you think the middle part is all that important or am I doing alright by skipping it?

ZVBXRPL
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Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2012 10:15 pm

Re: Personal Statement

Postby ZVBXRPL » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:09 pm

Seems like you're doing good work. Keep it up.

P1: "To many people, classical music puts forth a picture of performers in tuxedos with tails; affluent, white haired audiences; beautifully ornate concert halls."
1. Find a better word for "puts forth." "Evinces" and "reveals" comes to mind.
2. Classical music is described in too much detail. We get that it's a formal event. But "white haired audiences"? Overkill.
3. Skip the semicolons. Almost without exception. If you use one semicolon a month, that's probably too many.

The third sentence is a run-on. Break it up. Additionally, you use a "from"-"to" sentence link yet list three events--the Maya Angelou part appears to be hanging and lonely.

P2: "Just as surprising was that for this to be revealed to me, I would have to end up in The Bronx. The South Bronx."
1. You mention the Bronx twice. Why not just say South Bronx and leave it at that. Let the story stress your experiences, not your grammar.

"Far from what anybody would consider the cultural epicenter of New York, this region is arguably the most dangerous in the entire city and the last place one would expect a classical music school to pop up."
1. A bit controversial. What if your audience is from the SB? Tread carefully.

When you're writing a paper of any sort it helps to read your writing out loud. Try it out. Good luck.

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crg0097
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby crg0097 » Fri Aug 23, 2013 2:31 pm

Good job! It's nice to see another classical musician on this forum!

Buck Strickland
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby Buck Strickland » Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:27 pm

Thanks! What's your background?

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crg0097
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Re: Personal Statement

Postby crg0097 » Sat Aug 24, 2013 1:39 am

PM sent.




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