In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements. What’s working well? What’s not? If it were his/her essay, what would be changed? Find out!
Note: To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements, though any identifying names and details have been changed or removed. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work.
I don’t imagine the process of coming out as gay is easy for anyone. I can still remember the first time the words came out of my mouth. The person I told, my best friend, waited expectantly for the big news I had promised her over the phone. My heart began to beat faster. My palms were sweating. A million thoughts raced through my head. Here was something integral to my identity, something so deep it had taken me years to uncover. And I was about to tell someone who could either accept it, or turn away from me.
Fortunately, the experience in my case was a positive one, overall. Without fail, my closest friends and family told me they loved me, and would continue to do so. There were, of course, some people who did not accept me, and that hurt in ways that I can’t begin to explain. But the ones who really mattered embraced me, and coming out to them was an affirming experience. I knew even more than I had before that I had a network of people around me who cared for me and supported me.
When I was in college, I became involved in activities that affirmed my identity further. I organized on campus for things like a gay student union and gender non-specific bathrooms, and the groups I worked with had various levels of success with these projects. But [my undergraduate university] is a largely queer-friendly school in [a large metropolitan city], and so the activities felt somewhat sheltered. After organizing with these campus groups for a while, I branched out and began volunteering for organizations in the larger city ….
I had always known that not everyone’s experience of coming out as gay was as positive as mine, but it was when I became involved with these organizations that I began to see just how cruel the world could be to LGBTQIA [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual] people. I met thirteen-year-olds who had been abused and thrown into the street because they were gay. I met trans women who had been discriminated against for their identities by bosses and landlords. I met drag queens whose daily experience involved street harassment and the threat of bodily harm. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were struggling every day to meet their basic needs like food and shelter because of their identities.
I also began to learn from people who were older than me, who had slept on the Chelsea Piers, and lived through the plague of HIV and AIDS. I learned about intersectionality, the varied forms that oppression can take and where they meet in an individual’s life. I learned of how mainstream organizations like HRC [Human Rights Campaign] and those involved in the fight for marriage equality often jettison the most vulnerable members of queer struggle in order to achieve what they consider the “greater good”—like the exclusion of transgender people from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the ‘90s. I learned about assimilation of gay people into mainstream society, and how it worked remarkably well for some while for others it would never, ever be an option.
In the end, it was these—the most vulnerable members of my community—that I found the most reason to fight for. People whose doctors won’t treat them because they’re HIV positive. Trans men and trans women without legal documentation who can’t find a lawyer that will take them on. Intersex prisoners who the prison industrial complex tries to squeeze into its limited boxes.
I honestly believe going to law school is the best way I can help these people. I have spent years writing and signing petitions, organizing LGBTQIA dance parties, protesting in the streets. Now, as I enter the phase of my life in which I am choosing a profession, I want it to be one that takes all I have learned and keeps it in the forefront of my mind. I want to stand up for the people in my community who have so few advocates.
A queer utopia—that is, a world in which the struggles I have learned of through my involvement in the LGBTQIA community no longer exist—is still a long way off. But I have seen good people filling in the gaps in the lives of those most strongly affected by inequality. I am committed to becoming one of those people, and I feel that this is the best way I can do it.
Overall Lesson: If you are passionate about a specific issue, that is fine—but take a moment to step back and contextualize it in a sentence or two.
First Impression: After reading the first paragraph, I completely forgot to stop to jot down my first impression, which I think is a great sign. I read the entire essay before I remembered to document my initial impression, and I believe this speaks to the essay’s strength.
Strengths: This candidate is one of my favorite kinds of applicants and one admissions officers seem to appreciate as well—she has the experience to support what she claims are her passions, she demonstrates her sincerity by sharing insight and knowledge she has gained from her experiences, and she offers reflections that reveal her capacity for intellectual thought. Here is a specific example of what I mean: “I met thirteen-year-olds who had been abused and thrown into the street because they were gay. I met trans women who had been discriminated against for their identities by bosses and landlords. I met drag queens whose daily experience involved street harassment and the threat of bodily harm. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were struggling every day to meet their basic needs like food and shelter because of their identities.”
She then goes on to do the same on a broader scale: “I learned of how mainstream organizations like HRC and those involved in the fight for marriage equality often jettison the most vulnerable members of queer struggle in order to achieve what they consider the ‘greater good’—like the exclusion of transgender people from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the ‘90s.”
Overall, these kinds of sentences persuade the reader that the candidate is who she says she is, and they convey that her desire to attend law school is heartfelt, as is her interest in a specific kind of legal career.
Weaknesses: This essay holds together well. My only criticism might be that adding a passage of neutral analysis would be beneficial in breaking up this block of righteous-rage text. I do not mean that the candidate should water down her fervent energy, which is in no small part driven by anger, but her essay could be more profound if she were to step back from her enthusiasm for a moment and reflect even more broadly on the implications of her topic. I am referring to the theme of injustice in general and how a society deals with it over time, or perhaps how various societies now view and have historically viewed gender—and how all these realities intersect with liberty and oppression. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this essay as is, I still think it could use a few sentences from a more distant, bird’s-eye view that contextualize contemporary LGBTQIA issues.
In addition, the candidate’s use of the abbreviation LGBTQIA without any definition or explanation was slightly jarring, because I did not know what the “I” and “A” represent. I had to go look the extended abbreviation up. She likewise references the organization HRC without providing any other details or the group’s full name. When you use an abbreviation that your reader cannot readily understand, your statement loses some impact. Either your reader must stop and do additional work to get the full effect of your text (by looking up the abbreviation, as I had to do), or he/she will simply read on without doing so, meaning that some of your intended meaning will likely be lost. You will save admissions officers time and energy—and ensure that you keep their uninterrupted attention—by always explaining or writing out any abbreviations that may be unfamiliar to them.
I would have a conversation with this candidate about the contextual issue I discussed earlier. I imagine she already has insights that would be easy to incorporate, perhaps just before the essay’s penultimate paragraph. With a little work and some clarification of the abbreviations, this essay could be quite powerful. 📝
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