Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

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John Mill
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Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby John Mill » Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:30 pm

So I've wanted to be a lawyer for a very long time, and given how terrible the legal job market is atm I'm only going to attend law school if I can make the T14. Given how difficult this can be I'm doing everything I can to get myself ready and give myself a leg up as early as possible. Lately I've been a bit concerned about my personal statement.

One of my biggest regrets is that after high school I did basically nothing for four years, it kills me that I'm now four years behind everybody else I knew and that I didn't use the four years to join the Peace Core or the military or get meaningful work experience, or SOMETHING that could at least look good on a personal statement or pay for school.

I dropped out of high school half way through my senior year, spent a year moping around and playing World of Warcraft and dating, then started working at my family's restaurant, met a girl, dated her for three and a half years, got engaged and started undergrad. That's about it. So I had two questions, keep in mind these are geared mostly at the upper T14 (my dream school is Columbia):

1) Does it look real bad that I spent four years just doing nothing with my life, or is this kind of typical for most applicants?

2) Any advice on the kind of things I could start doing now that would look good on an application? Like what do people look favorably upon in terms of volunteer work, extra curricular, etc. Keep in mind I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into UG so I cant go off and join the Peace Core or anything like that.

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vanwinkle
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby vanwinkle » Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:36 pm

A personal statement can break an application, but rarely "makes" one. Essentially, you have to have the goods (GPA and LSAT) just to be seriously considered, and it's only then that it matters whether you have a solid PS or not.

If you have solid numbers for Columbia and can explain in a PS why you want to go to law school, you should be fine. If your GPA and LSAT are both below Columbia's medians, you're pretty well screwed unless you have a Nobel Prize or a Purple Heart to write about.

The good news is law schools like older and more mature applicants. If you do a PS that talks about taking the slow road and figuring out what you wanted to do over time, and how that's worked out for you so far, that might help.

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John Mill
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby John Mill » Sun Nov 04, 2012 12:46 pm

Alright thank you, very much!

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Sun Nov 04, 2012 2:00 pm

Personal statements "can" make an application but they are rare. There is one somewhere in the PS section about how this guy was literally homeless when he decided to change his own destiny and go to LS and then went on about how he did it. (If I recall the details correctly.) Something like that can be a game changer.

Generally, it is MUCH more about the numbers.....

Jacking around for a while after HS shouldn't hurt and could actually help in a "look how I changed myself and matured" type of way.

Good luck.

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TheThriller
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby TheThriller » Sun Nov 04, 2012 8:23 pm

JCFindley wrote:Personal statements "can" make an application but they are rare. There is one somewhere in the PS section about how this guy was literally homeless when he decided to change his own destiny and go to LS and then went on about how he did it. (If I recall the details correctly.) Something like that can be a game changer.

Generally, it is MUCH more about the numbers.....

Jacking around for a while after HS shouldn't hurt and could actually help in a "look how I changed myself and matured" type of way.

Good luck.


I would say JCF would be a good resource for someone who would have a compelling PS. He was American's secret weapon for like 10 years.

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dingbat
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby dingbat » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:31 pm

I agree with the above. For most people, a PS only serves to prove you're a real human being. Most applicants don't have anything exceptional (Yale's admissions director even wrote an article basically telling people to shut up about peace corps). As long as a PS doesn't raise any red flags, they don't really care. As JC said, there are exceptions, but forget about that for now.

Talking about how you matured let's them see you're a human being, so go for it.

If you think it sucks that you're 4 years behind, I'm a bit older (30s), at least 2 guys I went to elementary school with are already retired, a childhood friend is CEO of a multinational, and I got friends at Partner (or equivalent) level in a number of firms. I just gave up a promising career to pursue a legal education. Oh, and there's someone double your age in my class, also going for a reboot, too. ;)

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:34 pm

TheThriller wrote:
JCFindley wrote:Personal statements "can" make an application but they are rare. There is one somewhere in the PS section about how this guy was literally homeless when he decided to change his own destiny and go to LS and then went on about how he did it. (If I recall the details correctly.) Something like that can be a game changer.

Generally, it is MUCH more about the numbers.....

Jacking around for a while after HS shouldn't hurt and could actually help in a "look how I changed myself and matured" type of way.

Good luck.


I would say JCF would be a good resource for someone who would have a compelling PS. He was American's secret weapon for like 10 years.


:D Yeah, my PS did end up working pretty well for me.

dingbat wrote:I agree with the above. For most people, a PS only serves to prove you're a real human being. Most applicants don't have anything exceptional (Yale's admissions director even wrote an article basically telling people to shut up about peace corps). As long as a PS doesn't raise any red flags, they don't really care. As JC said, there are exceptions, but forget about that for now.

Talking about how you matured let's them see you're a human being, so go for it.

If you think it sucks that you're 4 years behind, I'm a bit older (30s), at least 2 guys I went to elementary school with are already retired, a childhood friend is CEO of a multinational, and I got friends at Partner (or equivalent) level in a number of firms. I just gave up a promising career to pursue a legal education. Oh, and there's someone double your age in my class, also going for a reboot, too. ;)


Damn young'uns.....

Yupp, age is simply a number.

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:38 pm

John Mill wrote:
2) Any advice on the kind of things I could start doing now that would look good on an application? Like what do people look favorably upon in terms of volunteer work, extra curricular, etc. Keep in mind I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into UG so I cant go off and join the Peace Core or anything like that.


Oh, on this.

Nothing you can do in the short term will make that much difference. IF you want to volunteer and do something, do something that is meaningful to YOU and don't worry about how it will look. Otherwise, concentrate on grades and studying for the LSAT. Those two things will do far more for you than any softs will in the short term.

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dingbat
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby dingbat » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:42 pm

JCFindley wrote:
John Mill wrote:
2) Any advice on the kind of things I could start doing now that would look good on an application? Like what do people look favorably upon in terms of volunteer work, extra curricular, etc. Keep in mind I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into UG so I cant go off and join the Peace Core or anything like that.


Oh, on this.

Nothing you can do in the short term will make that much difference. IF you want to volunteer and do something, do something that is meaningful to YOU and don't worry about how it will look. Otherwise, concentrate on grades and studying for the LSAT. Those two things will do far more for you than any softs will in the short term.

Unless you have the opportunity to invent an artificial brain, win an Olympic medal, earn an Oscar or a Grammy award, become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or something like that, no, softs won't matter (although it is better to have so
something rather than nothing)

skri65
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby skri65 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:46 pm

dingbat wrote:
JCFindley wrote:
John Mill wrote:
2) Any advice on the kind of things I could start doing now that would look good on an application? Like what do people look favorably upon in terms of volunteer work, extra curricular, etc. Keep in mind I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into UG so I cant go off and join the Peace Core or anything like that.


Oh, on this.

Nothing you can do in the short term will make that much difference. IF you want to volunteer and do something, do something that is meaningful to YOU and don't worry about how it will look. Otherwise, concentrate on grades and studying for the LSAT. Those two things will do far more for you than any softs will in the short term.

Unless you have the opportunity to invent an artificial brain, win an Olympic medal, earn an Oscar or a Grammy award, become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or something like that, no, softs won't matter (although it is better to have so
something rather than nothing)


How is this true if there is inevitably going to be a large number of people that are right around the medians and the adcomm will need to decide, of these people with almost identical numbers, who to accept and who not to? This is a genuine question. You are going to need to the numbers to get in..but there are a lot of people are are in the gray area where, to me, softs need to make a difference because there are simply no other ways to differentiate applicants who are borderline and whose numbers are similar.

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Elston Gunn
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby Elston Gunn » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:03 am

skri65 wrote:
dingbat wrote:
JCFindley wrote:
John Mill wrote:
2) Any advice on the kind of things I could start doing now that would look good on an application? Like what do people look favorably upon in terms of volunteer work, extra curricular, etc. Keep in mind I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into UG so I cant go off and join the Peace Core or anything like that.


Oh, on this.

Nothing you can do in the short term will make that much difference. IF you want to volunteer and do something, do something that is meaningful to YOU and don't worry about how it will look. Otherwise, concentrate on grades and studying for the LSAT. Those two things will do far more for you than any softs will in the short term.

Unless you have the opportunity to invent an artificial brain, win an Olympic medal, earn an Oscar or a Grammy award, become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or something like that, no, softs won't matter (although it is better to have so
something rather than nothing)


How is this true if there is inevitably going to be a large number of people that are right around the medians and the adcomm will need to decide, of these people with almost identical numbers, who to accept and who not to? This is a genuine question. You are going to need to the numbers to get in..but there are a lot of people are are in the gray area where, to me, softs need to make a difference because there are simply no other ways to differentiate applicants who are borderline and whose numbers are similar.


Seriously, they very very rarely matter. There just aren't that many applicants that have good enough numbers: http://nyu.lawschoolnumbers.com/stats/1112/

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dingbat
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby dingbat » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:18 am

skri65 wrote:How is this true if there is inevitably going to be a large number of people that are right around the medians and the adcomm will need to decide, of these people with almost identical numbers, who to accept and who not to? This is a genuine question. You are going to need to the numbers to get in..but there are a lot of people are are in the gray area where, to me, softs need to make a difference because there are simply no other ways to differentiate applicants who are borderline and whose numbers are similar.

Because the bolded isn't true. Last cycle 130,000 tests were administered. Less than 3% of test-takers scored 169+, meaning less than 4000. Columbia receives about 7000-9000 applicants per year, and has a 25th percentile score of 170. Ergo, approximately half of all applicants are below the 25th percentile. Approximately 1200 offers are extended per year.
Roughly 1% of tests score a 172, which means approximately 1300 last year.

Admittedly, the quick math I gave has issues (including test takers applying in a different cycle), but hopefully you get the point

skri65
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby skri65 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 8:09 am

Thanks for the replies. OK, I agree with you for the very top schools in the country. But when you get outside the T14, is this true? I take myself as a good example. I have a 3.6 and a 164, and will be applying to schools in the 25-35 range. Looking at law school numbers, there are actually a lot of people with very similar numbers..

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:30 am

skri65 wrote:Thanks for the replies. OK, I agree with you for the very top schools in the country. But when you get outside the T14, is this true? I take myself as a good example. I have a 3.6 and a 164, and will be applying to schools in the 25-35 range. Looking at law school numbers, there are actually a lot of people with very similar numbers..


In general, if you have the numbers and don't screw up on your PS or have other aberrations in your app you will get admitted. What I mean here is they may have 1000 with the right numbers. Then they likely look for reasons NOT to admit someone which will cull the file. Reasons not to admit someone are more obvious than figuring out if being president of your frat is more impressive than volunteering at a homeless shelter twice a week.

Reasons not to admit might be; two or more DUIs, misspellings on your PS, PS comes off as arrogant, cussing in your PS, PS comes off as weird, inconsistent WE, or any other number of things.

Where a PS "might" make a difference is when you are below the lower 25% and you have something to add to the class they are building. Generally, it has to be something pretty unique that the adcomm thinks will add something to their class or perhaps something that they can brag about. Yeah, the standard Olympic medalist or Nobel Prize examples work but it could also be unique WE, or military service, or a significant award or even being an artist or actress or opera soprano singer.

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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby skri65 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:40 am

Thanks for the extensive response. Just to be clear, when you say "has the numbers," do you specifically mean at or above medians? In other words, does this not include people that are slightly under median?

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:48 am

skri65 wrote:Thanks for the extensive response. Just to be clear, when you say "has the numbers," do you specifically mean at or above medians? In other words, does this not include people that are slightly under median?


I would go so far as to say those "around" median. How much below "around" extends will depend on the school.

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dingbat
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby dingbat » Mon Nov 05, 2012 9:58 am

Just to clarify, when I say nobel prize or Olympic medal, that's a bit absorb but makes the point - its got to be something impressive that most likely no one else will have. In my class there's a military fighter pilot (or was it bomber planes?), someone with a biochem (i think) PhD + 10yrs work, and someone who created a new financial product.
That's the kind of softs that matter

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BlueJeanBaby
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby BlueJeanBaby » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:00 am

I applied to a lot of reaches and am hoping my PS gives me an edge. I'll let you know how that works out.. haha.

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:29 am

dingbat wrote:Just to clarify, when I say nobel prize or Olympic medal, that's a bit absorb but makes the point - its got to be something impressive that most likely no one else will have. In my class there's a military fighter pilot (or was it bomber planes?), someone with a biochem (i think) PhD + 10yrs work, and someone who created a new financial product.
That's the kind of softs that matter


Supersonic heavy bombers to be technical.

Image

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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby KingsCup » Thu Nov 08, 2012 10:15 pm

How does something like Engineers Without Borders look? I keep seeing stuff like Nobel Prize winner or whatever, but I've also heard that things such as a Peace Corps or Teach For America, things similar to Engineers Without Borders, looks great

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JCFindley
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby JCFindley » Thu Nov 08, 2012 11:31 pm

bgoodrick wrote:How does something like Engineers Without Borders look? I keep seeing stuff like Nobel Prize winner or whatever, but I've also heard that things such as a Peace Corps or Teach For America, things similar to Engineers Without Borders, looks great


Anything that is relatively rare and prestigious or just plain interesting helps. How much it helps will vary widely from school to school.

There was a quote from the Dean of Admissions at my school about accepting a tug boat captain. It is not overly rare but it IS rare for one to apply and attend law school and it is interesting. That tug boat captain is why I even applied where I did.

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dingbat
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Re: Will a Personal Statement Make or Break an Application?

Postby dingbat » Thu Nov 08, 2012 11:36 pm

JCFindley wrote:
bgoodrick wrote:How does something like Engineers Without Borders look? I keep seeing stuff like Nobel Prize winner or whatever, but I've also heard that things such as a Peace Corps or Teach For America, things similar to Engineers Without Borders, looks great


Anything that is relatively rare and prestigious or just plain interesting helps. How much it helps will vary widely from school to school.

There was a quote from the Dean of Admissions at my school about accepting a tug boat captain. It is not overly rare but it IS rare for one to apply and attend law school and it is interesting. That tug boat captain is why I even applied where I did.

Nobel prize is an exaggeration, obviously, but it's meant to imply something extraordinary. Being class president means nothing, Teach for America / Peace Corps helps, but not a lot (because a relatively large number of applicants have done this).
As JC said, if it's something rare, prestigious and/or interesting, it'll help.. How much depends partly on how rare/prestigious/interesting, and partly on the school (some care more than others)




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