Below are several sample law school personal statements. Each of them helped their writers achieve results superior to those their numbers might predict, but they are very different statements. Some are the sort that end up being among the most memorable essays admissions officers read throughout the cycle or even their career — truly unique experiences — while others are examples of clear, effective statements about the writers' life paths and goals in the absence of unusual or extraordinary life experiences.
When reading these essays, keep in mind that admissions officers are individuals, and what may stand out to one person may not stand out to all. That said, our team has over 125 years of collective experience reading and making decisions on law school applications, and these are essays that we feel represent excellent examples of different types of personal statements.
(1) This is one of Derek Meeker's top 3 favorite personal statements ever in 17 years of working in law school admissions, including his time as Dean of Admissions at Penn Law. This applicant's results were also phenomenal.
The Bow is a traditional cattle ranch in a remote section of Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Each spring the snows retreat, and life – wild and domesticated – returns from the lower valleys to its rich pastures. During summers in college, I would leave my studies of early-modern philosophy on the east coast and return there as well, together with two middle-aged cowboys, Luis and Manuel, who came from a small town in western Mexico. As the ranch’s sole human inhabitants and proprietors, we worked 4,800 acres and tended 850 cattle. Through this experience, I forged a bond with the Bow’s land and way of life, a bond that inspired my first photographs.
Although I had no prior experience with cows, my youth in rural Montana spawned an interest in cattle ranching. It also gave me an adeptness for riding horses and doing manual labor, something I reinforced with my high school construction job. But, most importantly, I went to the Bow because it allowed me to engage a different way of life and to do so from the inside. I lived, socialized, and worked with Luis and Manuel, all in Spanish. Their traditions as migrant cowboys shaped every aspect of our lives on the ranch. In the spirit of the Mexican rodeo, or charreada, we focused on elegance of technique in our riding, often competing with one another to see who could extract a sick cow from the herd with the least disturbance. On Sundays, our one day of rest, we rose early and made the three-hour trip down to a small, Latino Catholic parish. There we attended mass, ate, and socialized with other migrant workers.
Jumping into this new world demanded significant personal growth. Most basically, I had to learn and adapt to the practice of cattle ranching at the Bow. As a philosophy major who made the persistent search for explanations a habit of mind, I copied Luis and Manuel’s methods and sought to grasp the reasons behind them, so that I could apply them on my own initiative and in novel situations. I also toughened myself to the physical intensity and unpredictability of the work. Laboring ten hours a day, we fixed miles of barbed-wire fences; irrigated huge pastures with nothing but gravity, ditches, and shovels; tended, moved, and medicated cattle; and made roughly 3,000 bales of hay. Every day we endured the capriciousness of ranching in a remote alpine environment. Sunny weather could quickly darken into sleet. A falling tree could break a fence in a remote corner of the ranch, allowing fifty cows to disappear into a dense, unbounded pine forest from which we had to locate and extract them one by one.
More abstractly, I had to learn how to forge a friendship with Luis and Manuel, which required opening myself up amidst cultural differences. I initially tailored my behavior to what I thought would fit into my colleagues’ worldview. As a young American from a small, conservative town who now studied Descartes and Hume in college, I worried my life beyond the Bow would alienate them. By contrast, I discovered they held no similar worries towards me. They treated me like they treated each other, speaking of their lives back in Mexico; of their wives, children, houses, and land, and how they missed them; of their previous jobs, rodeo triumphs, and brushes with death; all interspersed with dirty jokes they had been collecting for years. Much of their experience was difficult for me to imagine. Yet their openness allowed me to connect with them as individuals, and I realized I needed to repay their honesty in kind. I had to respect them enough to trust in their ability to form a bond of friendship across a cultural divide. When I did, the distance my reticence had created disappeared, and our differences made the relationship more fulfilling.
By labor, I gave myself to the Bow’s land. By responding to my toil, the land gave itself to me. And by cultivating a friendship, Luis, Manuel, and I gave ourselves to one another. As time passed, I began to express this bond in black and white photographs.
The light was best in the mornings – pale and glittering. After we would wake and feed the horses, I’d often set up my camera and tripod outside the old barn. From there, I could comprehend the entire ranch. Rolling pastures fall away on all sides, their tall grasses blown about in gentle waves and dotted with cows of black and brown. Further out, dark forests of aspen and pine run to high peaks jutting up into a huge blue sky. Bright white cowboy hats shade Luis and Manuel’s weathered faces. They methodically tack up their horses for another day. Looking out over this expansive sweep, carried in uncountable rays to the surface of my lens, I would open the shutter.
(2) This is the word for word Personal Statement of an applicant 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.
(3) We want to present an example of a strongly written personal statement where the topic itself is tricky because it could be viewed as trivial or superficial. However, no personal statement is reviewed in isolation from the rest of the application. This client turned his passion into a direction. The fact that he got so into gaming that he actually studied Japanese and Chinese languages and cultures, and pursued work in Japanese media, underscores his seriousness about this path and provides gravitas and legitimacy to what might otherwise be seen as a somewhat juvenile endeavor. The applicant's resume, transcripts, and letters of recommendation support his interests and pursuits, and enhance the overall picture of how gaming fits into his ultimate career plans. This applicant will be starting his 1L year at Berkeley Law this fall!
I blame it on Pikachu. That little, yellow, squeaky character from Pokémon beckoned me every day after school to come play with it. Then, Mario and Zelda joined in and I was a goner. Immersing myself in their fantasy worlds was fun and intensely rewarding. The key to these blockbuster video games captivating me was not the satisfaction of accumulating the most points or the highest levels (although that was fun too), but the way they kept me wanting to explore the unknown aspects of the game. The primary goal is to save the princess, but how about I solve the puzzle in that far-removed cave first? There appears to be an island on the horizon, but will the game’s code allow me to swim that far? I would explore every nook and cranny, knowing that hidden adventures awaited. Over the years, I developed great thumb dexterity, but also a deep curiosity and a love for the Japanese culture and language.
Aside from the digital aspects of video games, they are also works of literature. This concept hit me after reading an article about Nintendo’s team of expert translators. An incredible amount of human power and money goes into writing a game’s story, first in Japanese, then translating it into every other major language. Somehow, it had not registered with me until then that almost every game I grew up playing was the product of Japan. I was fascinated, and wanted to learn the language in order to truly understand the makeup of the games that had become a passion of mine. I took the elementary Japanese class in college, and then stayed up far too late on far too many nights playing games in the original Japanese versions, in order to more quickly learn the language.
As I explored Japanese, I found the same curiosity that I felt while playing video games emerge equally strong when it came to learning the language. The discovery of an obscure word would compel me to search Google, eager for examples of its use. Classmates would receive texts from me at odd times, so excited I was to share my new found vocabulary. And it was not just me. During my translation internship at NHK, Japan’s national public television network, I attended an episode review meeting every week. The translators would meticulously, almost fanatically, rack their brains for the best possible expression of each line for the newest episode. It reminded me of when I would play a new game and attempt to learn as much as possible about it. Like the translators, I loved exploring language, and I sought to learn others in addition to Japanese. Sadly, my Italian and Icelandic textbooks never made it past the first few chapters, but my Chinese and Ancient Greek are still progressing well. In fact, I spent most of last year in China, engrossed in the study of Chinese language and culture.
While my interest in Asia has grown, Japan’s venerable gaming industry has struggled in recent years. In an effort to crack down on gang-controlled casinos, the government passed strict laws barring almost any form of gambling, including match winnings. At the same time, the hundred-billion dollar game industry has shifted to eSports tournaments, which depend on prize money provided by corporate sponsors. In this environment, Japan has stagnated, developing almost no eSports games and no pro players. This is just one of many challenges in this field.
It is my plan to become an attorney and help address some of these issues. I hope to develop an expertise in copyright and contract law, and use my language skills and developing knowledge of the gaming industry to represent companies in Asia and the United States. Eventually, I would love to see Japan’s gaming companies reintegrate into the booming global industry, giving more children the chance to experience the same joy I once did in exploring the worlds they create.
(4) 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.
(5) 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.
(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.
(7) This is great for schools that accept over 2 page personal statements, and it shows you don't have to be a neuroscientist (or star football player, as it were) to get into a great law school. He got into his top choice, in part because this essay shows commitment, passion, and how an impact can be made in many different ways.
Dutch Kills Playground, in the heart of Astoria, NY, contained a black asphalt field about thirty yards wide and fifty yards long. Marked with faded blue lines and barricaded by a deteriorating wooden fence, it was known as the “Rink.” When it was hot, the ground was scorching; when it was raining, puddles as large and deep as tiny lakes appeared; and when it was snowing, it served as an unsafe ice rink. But to me, it was perfect. The Rink was the home of my middle school’s gym classes and football games. It was the battleground on which my classmates and I proved our athleticism. Every catch or drop of the ball became a bragging right or a stinging humiliation. It was at the Rink where my competitive nature and drive to improve were born. It was also where I set my sights on becoming part of a division I football team one day, if not as a player, at least as part of the crew.
Those fantasies remained through my high school years, and followed me on to college. They were quickly crushed, however, within my first week at the University of X as I went about looking for an opportunity to work with the team (by then I had ruled out actually playing). The football facilities were state of the art, but their doors were closed to all outsiders. There were no job postings, no numbers to call, and I didn’t know any of the players, coaches, or staff. The closest I was able to get to the football stadium was its parking lot. Fortunately, I met a friend in my introductory philosophy course who worked for the team. He was able to connect me with his boss, and in the spring semester, I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime internship as the equipment room manager.
The equipment room became my “office.” It was cramped and dusty, full of dirty uniforms, laundry machines, footballs, pads, helmets, and a couple of other student workers. It was a complete mess. As a “present” to the new incoming staff (me), the graduating seniors left the equipment room in a state of complete disarray. Old clothes were put on top of cleaning supplies, I found footballs inside of shoes boxes, and discovered new equipment left on the loading dock, completely unprotected from the rain and other natural occurrences. Finding the necessary items to complete even the simplest task required dumpster diving through mountains of equipment. Undeterred, I went right to work reorganizing, replacing, and alphabetically categorizing each and every item by size and color. On top of that, I learned everything from equipment maintenance to player safety, and soon, I was dismantling helmets and equipping players as if my occupation was a full-time equipment manager. It was unglamorous, and at times demoralizing, but by the end of the semester, I had proven my worth and was offered a job as a full-time student manager for the team. I also had a new boss: tight ends coach (Name Removed).
A humble, quiet man from Texas, Coach X took me under his wing and taught me everything about the tight end position and the offense – in routes, out routes, three-point technique, etc. In return, I made Coach X’s job as hassle free as possible. Some of the tasks were small, such as negotiating with the volleyball team for their practice balls; others more important, like making sure the players showed up for tutoring on time. As an observer of how things ran, I was also able to identify significant areas that required improvement, like how the coach drew up his plays.
Old-fashioned and unwilling to let go of good old paper and pen, Coach X spent hours drawing up plays for the tight ends, and then making copies for each player to study. I felt there had to be a faster and simpler method, one that would allow the coach more time for film analysis, player development, and much needed rest. I found some computer applications for writing up plays, and I set up a projector and screen so that the coach and players could review the plays together. Then, I showed the coach how he could use the programs to streamline his process and make it more effective for everyone. Although resistant at first, over time Coach X saw the value in the new system, and began counting on me more and more for input and assistance.
My dream was coming alive. I was living and breathing football, and making a difference. I didn’t play, but I lived the life of a “student athlete.” No matter what day it was, Sunday, Friday, or Thanksgiving, my day consisted of team-lifts, breakfast, class, lunch, practice, dinner, film review, clean up, and meetings, or I was at the game recording plays and calling out formations along with the coaches. Other than class, my time was spent in the football facility with players and staff that truly cared about the sport. It was a significant time commitment, but I learned so much more than just football tactics. I learned the intricacies of the collegiate athletic system, how the departments worked together to negotiate schedules and resources, how the program worked to comply with the standards of the NCAA, and how I could add value to the whole. These lessons were more fulfilling than any touchdown or interception.
Although I worked for the football team for a relatively short period of my life, it has thus far been the most influential experience of my life, because I learned discipline, teamwork, time management, and most importantly, the ability to negotiate and work with other individuals to make us all successful. As I shift my focus from football practice to practicing and studying law, I expect the skills I learned and developed on the field will be of good use to me, my legal “team," and ultimately to my clients.
(8) This personal statement is from an applicant whose results were exceptional for his numbers!
“Miss, if I do my work, can I have a Snickers bar?” It was my first day of school as an 8th grade English and Language Arts student teacher, and Manuel was looking up at me from his computer with a mischievous grin on his face. I made the classic rookie educator mistake of responding to his bargain with, “I’ll think about it.” He giggled with his friends for a moment, then returned his attention to his online reading assignment. Before I knew it, the dismissal bell sounded, the kids stampeded out the door, and I had survived Day One.
My mentor teacher and I lingered in the library to debrief. I was hesitant to reward Manuel for meeting what I deemed to be bare minimum expectations; nevertheless, I asked Ms. P about the school policy on candy. She acknowledged that sugary incentives were permissible, but not without a notable eye roll. “I wouldn’t spend my money on that kid. He never does his work.” It astonished me that in just the third week of school, she had already formed pervasive negative judgments of this child. Apprehension knotted in my stomach as I realized I was being challenged to do exactly what drove me into education in the first place: fight for a challenging student who was so often dismissed by other educators.
On Day Two, Manuel sauntered into our classroom at the beginning of 8th period with a smirk and a “Miss, where’s my Snickers bar?” I regretfully informed him that I had forgotten to go to the store. Disappointed, Manuel took his seat at the back of the room and promptly went right to sleep. Despite my unskilled but earnest efforts to get him on task, he napped all 50 minutes of class. Again, the bell buzzed, the students bounded out and down the hall, and I sank into a chair, exhaling my frustration into the empty room. Ms. P’s expression was smug as we made eye contact. I could practically hear her eyes screaming, “I told you so!”
That gaze lit a fire in me. Here is the thing: Manuel is not dumb, lazy, or any other negative trait so often unfairly ascribed to him. He is just far too accustomed to adults whose promises constantly fall through. Weeks passed as I watched him wear the same clothes to school every day and heard “this phone number has been disconnected” every time we tried to call his family. Why did this 12-year old have no adults looking out for him the way parents and teachers should? I committed to changing this cycle. From then on, every day I camped out at his desk, perpetually challenging and encouraging him. I spent every last ounce of patience I had until his grades, slowly but steadily, trended upward. On Halloween, he finally worked hard enough to earn his Snickers bar from me; his face lit up with pride like a Christmas tree.
My experiences this semester reminded me why I decided last year to pursue law school instead of a career in teaching. While I entered education to be an agent of opportunity for disadvantaged students like Manuel, during my student teaching, I have been increasingly frustrated by the limits of my ability as an educator to make the difference that I desired. Through studying education law in my coursework and working for a local attorney, I realized the power lawyers hold to further educational equity by creating better legal outcomes for children whose lives have been destabilized by crime and disruption of the family. Instability at home stunts students’ abilities to learn effectively before they even walk through the
schoolhouse doors, exemplified by how the unreliable nature of Manuel’s home life influenced him to be skeptical of teachers and quick to give up on himself. Teachers can only do their best to repair the damage done, but attorneys are capable of addressing these problems at their roots by ardently representing children and families embroiled in legal conflict.
I believe that my passion for government, dedication to child welfare, and natural intellectual curiosity will be better used to serve vulnerable children and families as an advocate in the courtroom than as a classroom teacher. Our justice system needs attorneys who not only relish in the philosophical challenge of the law, but are driven by the real, diverse individuals whom it serves. I was attracted to the
(Redacted) Law School while visiting last January because I believe it shares this perspective, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue my education in (Redacted) at a school whose values I cherish.
(9) This essay is an outstanding example of discussing one's path to law school in a way that is neither cliché nor generic. Through the use of metaphor and descriptive details regarding her background and identity, the writer takes us on her academic journey with a genuine and conversational tone that keeps us engaged. We get a clear sense of who she is, why she is going to law school, and what her goals are. A K-JD splitter, she rose above "the pack" with multiple offers from T-14 schools.
Growing up, I loved playing the Game of Life. I delighted in driving around the game board in a little plastic car, the steps neatly laid out in front of me: go to college, get a job, get married, have kids. Although I could choose the path to “Start Career” instead of “Start College,” I always chose college because, even at a young age, I knew that it made the rest of your “life” more successful. After all, my parents had built their lives in America from two suitcases and $200 – working tirelessly in menial jobs to put themselves through school. They followed the same step-by-step process that I mirrored with my plastic car and miniature peg people in the game, patiently moving one step at a time towards their goals. As I grew older, I wanted to build my future in this same straight-and-narrow path.
For me, this path meant becoming a doctor. As an American-born Chinese kid, or “ABC” as we were called, I felt compelled to choose a career considered to be safe. And as a Chinese American girl, especially, I was supposed to choose a job that values technical skills over assertiveness. Doctor, yes. Engineer, yes. Lawyer, no. These preconceived notions of the Chinese American community followed me through my adolescence; any time I brought up the possibility of choosing a different career path, I was immediately shut down with an air of disapproval: “Why don’t you want to become a doctor like so-and-so’s son?” Thus, I constantly heard a voice inside my head, reminding me that I couldn’t be the disappointment of the group – the one who wasted my parents’ sacrifices. This voice, along with a natural affinity towards science and medicine, led me to choose a pre-med path at the start of college.
My decision did not turn out quite like the straightforward course on the Life game board. My pre-med courses lacked the type of intellectual stimulation I desired, and I became increasingly disenchanted with them. An academic advisor suggested I switch my major to undeclared after my first semester so I could explore the array of majors available at the university. But in my mind, undeclared equated to unmotivated and confused, so I staunchly refused. As I continued to struggle through my pre-med courses into my sophomore year, I learned of an opportunity to travel to Honduras with Global Medical Brigades, an organization that brings basic healthcare services to underserved areas of the world. I signed up the next day.
We spent eight days in Honduras over Christmas vacation, doling out over-the-counter medicines to villagers who stood in the rain for hours each morning, anxiously awaiting our arrival. I learned that our trip, and others like it, provided the sole source of healthcare for the majority of people we met. They viewed traveling to the hospital or regular pain management as a hopeless fantasy. The nonchalant way in which they discussed pain and illness as an accepted part of life shocked me. For the Hondurans we met, access to healthcare was a luxury, and they found it easier to accept this fate as truth than to waste time and energy fighting an impossible battle. I left Honduras with a sense of hopelessness, feeling the fleeting nature of our efforts as inconsequential to those we had treated. I began to realize that the traditional study of medicine could not adequately address what I already understood to be a complex health crisis.
The desire to understand the disparities in access to healthcare brought me to work with the Institute for Global Health the following semester, while simultaneously switching my major to Global Health. As I reviewed policy proposals and planned events to bring awareness to international health issues, I immersed in a curriculum that illuminated a tangle of economic challenges and political corruption, all of which is rooted in inequality. It is this last issue that gnaws at me; in a world of brilliant legal and scientific minds, why have we not reached equality in global health? A basic covenant of human rights is to recognize the inherent dignity of all, and the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. And yet in Honduras, I saw a mother who accepted the congenital heart defect of her baby as a guaranteed death sentence, because she did not have bus fare for the daylong journey to the nearest hospital. I saw a man who cried out of gratitude when we gave him ibuprofen, because his 78-year-old bones ached from working in a field all day. That is not living with dignity.
Unification between health policy, human rights, and ethics is needed to solve these issues. In an increasingly interconnected world, global health issues transcend borders and affect lives on both an individual and communal level. The lingering health inequalities between rich and poor raise fundamental questions of social justice and define the need for effective global governance for health. Only the law can create a cohesive solution by taking into account all of the seemingly disparate, but equally influential factors.
Last year, a Chinese family friend warned me about the difficulties of finding a job after law school, and praised her son, who was finishing his medical residency. I proudly told her that through my choice of a “risky” career, I will be working to address the health issues that flood the news regularly – the same issues that her son will also face. Law school will provide me with the knowledge and experience to tackle these challenges as I forge my own path in the game of life.
(10) This one is Mike's personal favorite.
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.