Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

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Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby srb » Mon Jul 27, 2009 2:15 pm

In my opinion, the hardest part of the application process is coming up with a personal statement. I was a competitive horseback rider for many years, and it was the first thing that came to mind when I began to think of PS topics, but it felt so cliche when I began to write. Instead, I asked a close family friend and former employer if she could list three things she thought were unique about me (she also happens to be an attorney, who went through the application process many years ago). She immediately suggested that I write my personal statement about having a gay father.

This was difficult for several reasons. First, though I took many creative writing seminars in college and was an English major, I had never written about my father. Second, it was a controversial topic that I felt was impossible to work into a "why I want to go to law school" statement. Third, it was a topic about which I did not feel comfortable getting feedback, so I knew the editing would be primarily up to me. Fourth, and most importantly, I was so emotional in writing the essay that I did not know if I could manage a finished product that would be anything less than psychotic.

The following essay is the essay I wrote and submitted with every application. I received scholarship offers that were more generous than my scores would have dictated, and I was waitlisted at Columbia and Chicago, which was a far better result than I could have anticipated. Though I know my resume was not lacking, I do think it was my personal statement that set me apart and was responsible for the success of my cycle.

My advice to anyone considering writing the personal statement that might otherwise get torn apart on TLS: Go for it. Be willing to be vulnerable and be willing to be yourself, and you will have nothing to regret at the end of your cycle.

srb wrote:
My father is of average height, he has had salt-and-pepper hair for as long as I can remember, and though he laughs rarely, when he does, he laughs hard. My father is quiet, my father is intelligent, and my father is gay.

The day my parents told us they were separating was a Thursday in February in Placitas, New Mexico when I was twelve years old. They sat my older brothers and me on the black couch in our living room and told us that my father was moving out. They had been married for over twenty years. Later that evening, alone with my father in my room, we stood looking out my window at the desert behind our house. He held his arm around my shoulders. I asked him if he was having an affair. He said no. I asked him if he was gay. He looked at me, surprised, and said, “yes, I think I might be.”

I have never written about my father because I am angry, and until recently, I was ashamed at the thought that I was angry because my father is gay. I am angry because my father lied to me, for as long as he knew before he was honest with us. I am angry that I was forced to confront and change my definition of family at an age when I felt particularly vulnerable. I am angry that ever since that Thursday when I was twelve, when I felt such an inexplicable closeness to my father, there has been a rift between us.

That day, my father gave me the opportunity to learn who I was. Though it took me a decade to recognize what I could have seen as a twelve-year-old, I now know that I am an accepting person. I am the kind of person who will always listen. I am the kind of person who will ask the questions I am afraid to ask. My anger dissipates in the face of all I have learned about myself because of my father’s sexuality, and because of my willingness to accept the truth.

I want to continue to be the girl who stood at the window with my father. I want to be courageous in confronting the questions that I encounter. I want to be able to define and redefine concepts and theories that seem to be written in stone.

Though I have never thanked my father for showing me who I am, I am fully aware that it is only because of that day when I was twelve, when he answered yes, that I am the woman I am today: confident, accepting, tested and strong. Without my father, I would be lost.

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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby Ken » Tue Jul 28, 2009 1:58 am

Thanks for sharing your excellent and distinct personal statement.

I particularly recommend writing a unique statement for extreme reach schools where one knows that applicants with your numbers are generally rejected. Thus, stand apart and take a risk on schools that are a big reach and your statement certainly does this and the very positive results show that it can often work.

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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby jackassjim » Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:17 am

This is a fantastic text (I feel all strange inside now). Thanks a lot for sharing it!


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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby replicaprada » Fri Jul 31, 2009 4:24 am

The best that go together.

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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby Kiersten1985 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:02 am

Even the introduction to the PS is well-written and moving! Congrats!

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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby SpaceDawg » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:08 am


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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby missvik218 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:19 am

:D My little English major! So well done, I wouldn't have expected anything less. I can't wait to have your help on my PS; it's going to make my application infinitely better.

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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby soonergirl » Tue Jul 06, 2010 11:59 pm

I'm not sure that this OP is even around anymore, but I wanted to bump this thread because her statement is so well-constructed. Statements alone cannot overcome weak numbers, of course, but imo their power to differentiate is greatly underestimated.

As for her advice, I tend to agree. Though my writing is not quite as strong, the over-the-top personal approach worked for me, as well. I was shocked at one of the schools that admitted me. Part of my statement is appended below.

The only caveat I would add is that if you want to go personal narrative with your statement, make sure you have a bunch of people read it for you before you submit it. If it's hyperpersonal but ineffective, you want to know before the deans are reading it.

Eight years ago, on September 11th, I was in a state of shock. Now granted, most of the world was in a state of shock on 9/11. My dismay was a little atypical, though: it was on that day that I found out that my newborn son was different.

Honestly, I had already concluded that something was very wrong with Thomas. He was sickly and misshapen. He never stopped crying. At the same time I was still desperately clinging to the ever-fading hope that the diagnosis wouldn’t be anything too significant. Sadly, that proved not to be the case. I came to find that my baby was missing a chromosome, that he would be profoundly handicapped, that he would never walk or talk, and that he would never progress past an infant’s abilities.

It was utterly surreal. Here I was on the morning of September 11th, sitting in a shabby little office at Children’s Hospital, reeling from the news about Thomas. Meanwhile, the nearby television was playing an endless loop of the first tower collapsing. That remote cataclysmic event seemed unfathomable and yet somehow so fitting - the weakened structure teetering in a suspense of denial and disbelief before dramatically imploding from the unexpected blow....


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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby mala2 » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:58 am

That is interesting that you got a positive response from writing about your son. I was considering a similar topic, but have been told that academia is still prejudiced against women who are mothers. Is this inaccurate?


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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby ItsMyTimeBoston » Thu Jan 06, 2011 8:27 pm

Just my two cents as a nontraditional applicant:

I did a large amount of research regarding the nontraditional applicant’s personal statement and application in general. Of course, marketing yourself to law schools is the name of the game. Furthermore, I did months of research on putting together a compelling application: reading articles on TLS, other internet sources and books, like Richard Montauk’s pragmatic “How To Get Into The Top Law Schools”. I’ve come to the conclusion that the nontraditional applicant must show admissions committees that law school is the next logical step in one’s career—doing so is vital. Moreover, the personal statement is the one place where you can really demonstrate that. It is much less important for the nontraditional applicant to win the Pulitzer with their PS than it is for students in undergrad or 1-2 years out.

Although I’d like to think I’m a solid writer, my ps reads slightly like a resume run down geared toward why law school is right next step for me, and I think it’s compelling. If anyone wants to read it, pm me.


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Postby Gailsky » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:54 pm



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Re: Writing the Non-Traditional Personal Statement

Postby janemcready » Fri Apr 25, 2014 6:34 am

What you wrote about your father is very touching. It is always very difficult to write about our parents and how they care us, because their love towards the children is endless. They never keep demands and love their children without expecting anything. Nothing is so great as our parents love in this world.


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