(1) This is the word for word Personal Statement of an applicant (who gave us permission to use it) who elevated above a top law school’s medians and was admitted. Kudos to her and many thanks for letting me share!
I sit and I play. I play until it is too dark to read my music. Then comes that indescribable moment, sought by all musicians, when thinking becomes subordinate to instinct. The music is no longer just sound, but poetry spoken from within.
I love to play French horn at dusk. Before I begin to play, I imagine the most beautiful conglomeration of sounds and expressions traveling through the air. I take a deep breath and immerse myself in the music that I love so much.
Playing a Strauss concerto or a Beethoven sonata represents, for me, the culmination of countless hours of practice and hard work deciphering fingerings, tempos and pitches. In this transcendent moment, though, when I play in the darkness of the room, I think not of the fingerings and the intervals that I need to execute, but rather of the expression and interpretations that make the music mine. I play late into the night with nothing on my mind other than trying to make each note I play the most beautiful and sonorous sound. I hear the ethereal tone of my horn echoing off the walls and saturating the air.
There is something intoxicating about dwelling in a single moment in time. Hours spent trying to perfect a note that is born in the soul and travels through the air to live no more. The endless pursuit of one moment of perfection ultimately not mine to have and to hold. My life is spent pursuing these moments.
In college, I found that my fascination with musicality and expression translated easily to literature. When I first read Lolita, I recognized in Nabokov’s writing the same lyricism that I always strive for when playing French horn. I saw the same passion I so often feel “in the moment of music.” I immediately fell under the spell of Nabokov’s enchanting prose and artfully chosen words. It was the most beautiful story I had ever read—the story of a grown man, head over heels in love, driven to murder by forbidden concupiscence. I began to empathize with this man, thinking to myself, “How terrible to love someone so much… someone so unattainable.” And just like that, I found myself rooting for a pedophile.
Perhaps it was my passion for music that allowed me to fully see this side of Nabokov’s “hero.” Life is rarely black and white. I found that I could empathize with someone who was desperately trying to hold onto something so poignantly beautiful, something that could never last, while at the same time being completely aware of his gaping flaws.
As I learned reading Lolita, Nabokov’s clear love for and mastery of language, while incongruently romantic, is at the same time capable of transforming the depths of one’s perception and understanding of the world. There is a power in words, not only to entertain and enlighten, but also to persuade, convince and even transport. I have seen this power manifested in the plea of an applicant for political asylum, in the argument crafted on his behalf and in the judge’s ultimate decision, which can bring a human being out of danger and to a new life. It is this power of expression and my desire to master it that draws me to the law.
(2) Not many applicants have such an incredibly gripping experience to convey, but everyone has their own emotionally important event. Put the reader in your story, just like this client of ours did.
The door slammed shut and now, it was just me, three other guys, and one dead man in the room. None of us -- that is, the four of us who were alive -- had ever washed a dead body before, but the phone call I received the day before would soon change that. A congregant from my mosque wanted to know if I could personally help with the funerary body-wash of a man who was hours away from death. Knowing that at least someone had to discharge the religious rites for this soon-to-be-deceased man, and I had the added responsibility of being a religious services coordinator, I agreed. But it was only after I had sent out several mass-texts searching for friends naive enough to volunteer did I realize why this intricate religious ritual had fallen on the shoulders of a funerary novice like myself. The dying man had been convicted for the rape and murder of a young girl and her mother two decades ago and was being lethally executed by the State of Texas.
Here I was, moments away from personally conferring upon a rapist and murderer the dignity of a sacred rite. Wondering if the latex that covered my hand was enough of a psychological barrier between myself and the murderer's body, I paused. A rush of anger flooded me: why had I volunteered to confer the dignity of a ritual washing for this rapist's corpse? My stomach tightened and I looked around to see my partners having tilted the corpse and waiting for me. With each second of introspection, my repulse and reluctance to continue grew, but being aware that the body had to be shrouded and transported to the mosque before the noon prayer, I knew the group couldn't afford to lose these precious minutes. I stepped back from the autopsy table and told the guys to give me a few moments pause. Meditation is seldom done with a three men and one dead one waiting for you in the backroom of funeral home, but then and there, I began breathing exercises, waiting for my emotions to subside. Eyes closed, I decided to approach the ritual cleanse as simply a trickier car-wash with the added burden of some strict religious guidelines.
When we prepped to wash the corpse’s lower half, my hands brushed over several stripes of protruding flesh. Vaguely recalling the biographical details in the man's court record I had glanced at the night before, I immediately realized from the location of the scar tissue that these marks were the result of childhood abuse. While I prepped to wash the posterior bottom-half, it was clear that this was not an indefinite corpse, but one that had engraved within it countless personal narratives. Like any other kid, decades ago, he too, must have quipped 'recess' as his favorite subject in elementary school, and similarly, it was doubtful that this body had been spared the tremors that adolescents of all backgrounds have suffered at their first date. In speaking just one dark detail from his childhood, the fleshy Braille reminded me that the man's entire life couldn't be reduced to his worst moments.
By the time we finished the washing and had taken the body to the cemetery, my earlier self-doubts had dissipated. At the cemetery, the other volunteers were surprised to see me stepping into the burial pit alongside the deceased's siblings to help lower the body into the tomb. This time, my resolve came not from an energizing meditation session but from the realization that the differences between the deceased man and myself, however stark in legal records, paled in comparison to the ups-and-downs of life we shared as members of the same species -- of the genus Homo
Whether it was trying to host a Quran-burning pastor for an interfaith dinner discussion at my mosque or, as in this case, helping perform the ritual bath of an executed felon, I have always been drawn to exploring and understanding the deeper narratives of unseemly people. This capacity to carefully listen to the backstories and motivations of individuals, even those whose ideologies or behavior profoundly disturb me, is what attracts me to the law. At its core, our legal system succeeds when participants’ complexities are fully appreciated and their stories are heard. In employing my drive for unraveling the perplexities of each individual, and lending a voice to those understandable slices of humanity contained in each viewpoint, I hope that I can play a part in advocating not just for the rights of the conferred, but also of the condemned.
(3) This one did the trick two cycles ago cycle for a long list of schools. Names are changed to preserve anonymity of the author.
My morning consisted of a hurried walk and a gnawing tardiness. I stared longingly at those gliding across campus on bicycles and skateboards as my pace quickened. Speed walking turned to intermittent galloping, as class was desperately close to starting and I had yet to enroll.
Aside from the particular disruptive shame engendered by arriving late to class, the sanctity of the first day made it all the worse. I missed the pleasantries and introductions, the icebreakers and shared awkwardness. When I finally arrived, I greeted my instructor with a smile and a hushed hello, hoping to make my transition from latecomer to class member as indistinct as possible. What happened next caught me off guard: with the infectious rhythm of sweet tea and pecan pie, Dr. Kopolow asked me to introduce myself—a standard request, to be sure, but for one in which I was nonetheless unprepared. Because for the first time ever, I was not “Bobbie, the baseball player.”
For more than two years at the Westeros University, I was a student-athlete, a centerfielder on the baseball team, which is to say that for more than two years, my schedule scoffed at the suggestion of twenty-four hour days. During the fall, we ran sprint after sprint until the sun rose, and then we ran some more, stopping with only enough time to rush to class; class, in turn, ended with only enough time to rush back to practice. And under the pressure of expectations and pre-season polls, spring brought with it practices that wore on well past nightfall as weeks became defined by travel destinations and the line between student and athlete became increasingly subsumed by wins and losses.
Eventually, my injuries mounted and conspired against me, taking with them as they healed not only the baseball career I put everything into, but also an oversized chunk of my identity. I had spent my life competing for success in a sport defined by failure. My journey had taken me from the mountainous roads of Londonderry, Vermont to the quaint beaches of Cape Cod, through hospitals and into surgery. Dr. Kopolow's simple question, then—Who are you?—became probing, because these experiences had defined my life; my helmet and bat didn’t just protect me behind home plate, it was the outward shell of recognition that I was able to drape myself in for every introduction and icebreaker thus far.
“Hi, I’m Bobbie,” I said in a half-hearted stutter, “I used to play baseball here.” It felt like a defeat—a blowout loss to Essos State, but on an intensely intimate scale because I was the only player on the field. My shoulders slumped as I took my seat, splintered by the biting irony of introducing myself in the past. But if I was no longer a baseball player, who was I?
As time passed and the semester progressed, this question remained with me, growing in import as the link between student and athlete became increasingly thin. Distance allowed for introspection, though, and I realized it was not so much the game of baseball itself that I missed most, but the competition and the daily struggles—the feeling of being pitted against my ideal self over and over, pitch by pitch, sometimes with success, more often with failure, but always with the unceasing desire to redefine how good I could be. Strangely enough, I found this feeling again in the most unlikely of places: an essay contest.
I picked up a flyer after class one day, delighted by the prospect of telling my former teammates I was going to write about how a poem made me feel—and “For the Union Dead” did just that. Reading it for the first time, I was inspired by Lowell’s ability to conjure life through ink, each line living and breathing, each break a meditative gasp for air. What I enjoyed most, however, was the fact that my interpretation of it was born through argument, between nothing more than the “yellow dinosaur steam shovels” and myself. I spent weeks drafting and refining and sculpting my essay, cajoling the words into harmony. A minor tweak in hitting mechanics became a subtle change in sentence structure; the search for efficiency of footwork was now a search for economy of phrase. I was competing again, not through batting average or runs batted in, but through words and ideas, and I was enamored by the dual familiarity and newness of it all.
Eventually I submitted my work, which was then chosen as one of three winning essays. In doing so, I’d found an answer to the question I stumbled over just a few months before: I’m a jock who likes poetry, alliteration, and the art of critique; a former baseball player who is as amazed by the vital lyricism of Isabel Wilkerson as I am of the hitting prowess of Alex Rodriguez. I was always these things, but it wasn’t until I removed my catcher’s mask that they came into focus. So, while I may not be an athlete any longer, I know that the competitor still remains; forged through experience, I am confident that this drive to succeed will help me excel in law school and in life.
(4) Another example of an applicant who was admitted to their dream school and stood out with a wonderfully sincere and powerful Personal Statement. We will keep sharing exceptional examples of how to do the process — these matter so much.
I sat, pondering both the murky nature of the grey slush on the floor and my own murky future as my university applications sat on an admission officer’s desk somewhere.
Then I took an elbow to the face.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” Looking up, I beheld a kind smile squeezed between the passengers sardined in the aisle of the bus. Her name was Belle, and that cloudy afternoon I learned that she—like me—wrote mystery novels and that she had a learning disability that prevented her from reading lengthy texts.
In the months following I watched as friend after friend received their acceptances to outstanding universities. I was nervous about what made me one of the last to be accepted; my grades were much the same as theirs. “What was wrong with me” I often pondered, “how am I different?” As for Belle, we chatted occasionally when we arrived early to school and at lunch in a maintenance corridor that no one ever visited. Mostly I listened. I heard about how her disability made even basic assignments difficult, how she worried about her father’s health, and how the boy in her drama class was harassing her—I confronted a vice principal personally to ensure that this was stopped. When my nervousness about my applications really got to me one day, I asked her. “Do you ever think that maybe you’re not all that?” She responded “Well, I’m not all that.”
Coming from a family that puts a great deal of emphasis on success and prestige, I could barely comprehend her response, so I asked her why she thought that. To which she responded, “I have a learning disability. I’m only in grade nine, and I’m barely passing my courses so I’m probably not going to be all that. It’s not a condemnation. I just probably wasn’t born to be great. Most aren’t.” After that, we just stared at each other for a moment, and then she began to recite this poem:
"Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man."
After she finished, we sat in the empty hallway, staring ahead at the wall, both pensive. At that time, I only had a vague idea of what she was trying to say.
By June my acceptances finally came, and I faced a dilemma of whether to leave my girlfriend for an Ivy League school or to stay and attend our local college. My family was vocal that they wanted the Ivy league and truthfully, I did too. Belle, however, decided the issue with only one wise sentence: “If it’s meant to be, what you leave behind will return to you.” With that my decision was made.
After the year ended I lost touch with Belle, but once in a while I would look her up. Eventually, I stopped searching. The night before I took my last exam, I saw a documentary about Joseph Merrick, a deformed man universally known as “The Elephant Man” who spent his life as an exhibition. The documentary ended with a recitation of Belle’s poem to me. This reminded me to look her up, at which point I found her Facebook profile only to see that it was covered with people saying their farewells. From what I could piece together she died of cancer. That night was spent crying in the hallway outside my apartment.
I left Belle behind, and she did not return to me, but her words did. I was blessed by her brief presence in my life. At fourteen, she had an uncommon grace and maturity that I at twenty two could not possibly approach. Sometime that night I came to understand her poem and her message to me of striking a balance between striving and humility, letting go of one’s own anxieties, and accepting one’s own limitations. I don’t yet live up to that standard of hers—few could in this world—but I do remind myself of it daily in the hopes that one day I will truly demonstrate her uncommon grace in my every action.
(5) This is another example about how writing about something differentiated and sincere about YOU — not targeted to an anonymous file reader — works. This client punched above her numbers at multiple schools and received several handwritten notes about how exceptional her Personal Statement was.
Always remember, the target audience of the Personal Statement is you, not an admissions committee. With this advice alone you will do well. Enjoy!
In the third grade I learned just how powerful lawyers can be. They were big, scary and took my cat away from me; and at the age of 8 years old, my cat, Jazzy, caused a $2 million lawsuit.
Jazzy was a gift to me from my parents and I loved him with all the fervor of a precocious new “parent.” He was mischievous, full of energy, and brought me so much joy. As an indoor/outdoor cat, Jazzy was given the opportunity to come and go as he pleased, but he never strayed too far. He enjoyed patrolling the fence along my property. My house is situated in a quintessential suburban neighborhood, surrounded by neighbors on each side. Our neighbor to the right was a seemingly normal woman who decided to wage war on my family, and in particular, on our cat.
The first time Jazzy went missing, we didn’t even realize he was gone. I remember the day very clearly; I sat on the floor playing with my baby sister when the phone rang. When my mom answered, I saw the confusion grow on her face as the person on the other end explained that Jazzy had been dropped off at the local animal shelter to be put down.
“We most certainly did not drop our cat off at the pound.” I jumped hearing my mom’s mention of Jazzy. When she hung up the phone we rushed to the aid of our beloved pet. Our next-door neighbor had trapped Jazzy with a can of tuna fish in a cage on her back lawn and delivered him to the local shelter.
Cats are highly intelligent but can be easily manipulated by food. My poor cat expected a treat, not a trap. Although the only reason Jazzy initially made his way onto our neighbor’s property was for the tuna, he now decided to make a habit of trying. Oblivious to the danger he faced, Jazzy thought it was a game to find the treat. We kept a careful eye on him and made sure to try and stop him from going onto her property.
Eventually, he won the game and wound up back at the pound – heading once again towards euthanasia. This time, however, that wasn’t the only action she took.
What started as a typical afternoon of a third grader; running around my house and playing with my cat and my little brother, ended unlike any before. The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” I yelled, and ran for it. As always, my mom beat me to it. My mom stood there shaking her head as she stared at the papers handed to her; she had been served. Bemused, she turned toward my kitten, “Jazzy, you are causing us some serious trouble.”
No one believed that this lawsuit would go far. My parents were served a summons for a civil law suit because of how terrorizing my 6 lb. cat could be. Apparently my neighbor had a ‘cat phobia’ that caused her so much anxiety, she was afraid to leave her own house in fear of being attacked. According to her, my kitten was ruining her life.
The lawsuit lasted almost a year. Multiple lawyers were involved and in the beginning even they were laughing at how frivolous the whole thing was. However, as the months wore on it was evident that our neighbor’s counsel would not give up; they were relentless.
I remember watching the people in fancy suits using big words that fascinated and terrified me. I didn’t understand what the lawyers were saying; I couldn’t comprehend any of the technical terms. To me, it was so obvious. Jazzy was a good cat; he would never hurt a fly. But, if you put tuna on your lawn, he will (like any other cat) try and find it.
My first exposure to the law ended with my cat being taken away from me. The lawyers came to an agreement, a “Stipulation of Settlement” stating my family will never own another cat while we live in that house and she lives in hers. I cried myself to sleep trying to understand how the lawyers could allow my neighbor to take my pet away from me.
Fifteen years later, I now work for a law firm filled with people in fancy suits, using big words. The words still fascinate me, but they no longer terrify. Indeed, I am empowered by them. As a Legal Assistant, I often find myself remembering how I felt towards lawyers at the time. I think back to that day the doorbell rang, where I stood as a wide-eyed 8-year-old girl. Since then, I have dreamed and set a goal of being able to have a voice to fight back. Although I’m not that little girl scared of losing her cat anymore, I still have that same dream, and I am on my way to achieving it.
(6) This one produced some of the best results we have seen, and accomplished so much. It's also in Karen's top 3 all time, and Karen spent 12 years at Harvard Law so that is high praise.
My feet skid on the ground, one after the other. It was clumsy, but it succeeded in stopping the bike. As I craned my neck to look behind me at the long, tree-lined road, the helmet I had haphazardly buckled fell to the right side of my face, letting the breeze pass through what felt like a heat wave just north of my forehead. I had covered maybe 250 feet, roughly the length of a city block, in a mere 30 seconds. It wasn’t quite a success, but it was progress. I picked up the bike and repositioned it so that it faced the abandoned road that had become my training ground for the day I spent teaching myself how to ride a bike, and I embarked down it again. This isn’t a tale from my childhood; this was a little over a year ago. At 22 years old, I taught myself how to ride a bike.
When I was seven, I asked for my first bike for Christmas. On Christmas morning, my dad rolled in a pink bicycle with a white basket and shiny bell. Five years later, he rolled that very same never-been-ridden bike out the front door, and into the Goodwill store. At 12 years old, I begged for another bike, and my parents begrudgingly gave me an all-black roadster they had intended me to grow into. I just gave that bike away last week, the tags and plastic casing still intact. That I asked for bikes but never asked to learn how to ride them, and that my parents gave me bikes but never taught me how to ride them, can be explained by one simple fact: I lived on a hill, one of San Francisco’s famous seven hills no less; riding a bike outside just wasn’t appealing. As active as my family was growing up, bike riding had simply never been a part of my childhood.
It was not until the week before my first day as a legal assistant at Google when I committed once and for all to finally learn how to ride that baffling apparatus. Having just graduated from college and returned from a post-grad travel excursion, I began to prepare for my first day. While daydreams of meeting my team drifted through my mind, I realized that I hadn’t considered one important thing: the Google bikes. With a campus that spreads over a mile, the Google bikes are the primary mode of transportation on campus. When I interviewed, I remember seeing dozens of Googlers perched on these bikes, breezing down Charleston Avenue with their laptops occupying the basket in front.
With a pit in my stomach, I decided to no longer just accept what I had once thought to be my non-cycling fate. I got in my car, and drove up to Sonoma County, to a town with which I was very familiar but where no one would recognize me. When I arrived, I rented a bike from the nearest bike shop and walked it two blocks away to a quiet road deeply hidden within a surrounding vineyard, strapped on my helmet, and kicked off.
For those first few pedals, I played it safe. My palms were already sweaty from nerves and as soon as I felt myself gaining speed, I immediately put my feet on the ground. After thirty minutes of this, I was flustered. Learning to ride a bike was harder than I expected; I was frustrated with my lack of any real gains, and I was embarrassed to be in this position in the first place. Up until this moment, I had succeeded in accomplishing practically anything I set my mind to with relative ease. Riding a bike presented a challenge that was going to take considerable effort, and I’d have to keep at it long after that day ended. This was almost enough to get me to quit right there, but I contemplated what it would mean if I went home: further evidence that I wasn’t capable of something I desperately wanted to learn.
From that point on, my attitude changed. I grew more patient, acknowledging that each unsteady pedal was progress. The intuitions I lacked for how to balance began to come together as I learned that speed actually increased stability; a common understanding for most, but an intuition I had to develop. I found myself a little more fearless with each pedal, trusting my body to keep me upright just a little longer each time. The result was a few pedals at a time, then a few more, until finally I was able to take what I considered my first bike ride.
Riding down that tree-lined street felt exhilarating, and I savored both the sense of accomplishment and sense of freedom I felt on the bike. I’m sure that whatever image I had of myself in those moments, riding through the wind, effortlessly peddling on the bike, more closely resembled someone attempting to bike after a day of wine-tasting. Nevertheless, it felt good. After a few hours and more than a few scrapes, I wheeled the bike back to the shop and proudly reported that I had actually learned. I drove back to San Francisco feeling ready to face my first day, knowing that even though it would take time before I felt truly confident on a bike, I had proven to myself that I was capable of something that I never thought possible.