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.
“WOMAN OVERBOARD!” My crew career started with a splash. I had been rowing for two weeks and my coach asked me to move from four-seat all the way back to the bow, which entailed climbing over three of my teammates and strapping myself into the seat. I never made it. After keeling over into the river, heaving myself into the launch boat, and enduring the wet ten-block walk back to my dorm, I began reevaluating my extracurricular choices.
Standing at 5’6” and displaying an admittedly stocky build, one could say that crew was not ideally for me. Coupled with the fact that I could barely run a mile without stopping, it seemed that I was ill-equipped for the physical demands of the sport. It didn’t help that I had fallen out of the boat within two weeks of joining the team. All in all, I gave the coach, and my fellow teammates, no reason to have confidence in my abilities.
Rather than quit and try my hand at another extracurricular activity, I decided to apply myself to winter training, the indoor season of crew where rows on the water are replaced with sessions on the ergometer, hockey rink stairs, and the track. To say I struggled was an understatement. I became used to bringing up the rear on team runs and finishing last on long distance erg pieces. Gradually however, I noticed a change.
While running or climbing stairs didn’t seem to get any easier, I was finishing the same distances faster. Encouraged by my progress, I began to add extra workouts to my weekly schedule. By the time my spring season came around my sophomore year, I had the third fastest 2K score on the team; no one was more surprised than me. But that is where I stayed until I graduated. Having always been a vocal member of the team, I found that my leadership role became more pronounced with my success in training. The team’s collective efforts were rewarded senior year, where we finished with a 9-3 season record and were ranked 6th among Division III crews nationally.
At the end-of-season banquet that year, my coach credited me as one of the people who turned the team around and put it on the winning path. “Tara is Tara,” he said. “You want her in your boat. She has set the standard for hard work.”
My efforts in rowing reflect a “can’t quit, won’t quit” mentality that I apply to every aspect of my life—my studies, internships, and jobs receive the same dedication, effort, and determination to succeed that I devoted to crew. Furthermore, my participation in a varsity sport has taught me to manage my time effectively and built my stamina in terms of dedicating my time and effort to the task at hand. It is with these qualities that I intend to succeed in law school and go on to work in security.
Crew requires self-discipline, adhering to a set of principles, and holding yourself to a high standard; practicing law demands the same. As a lawyer I will be expected to not only adhere to the law, but also to uphold it, a duty that I am eager to take on. The challenges of law school are daunting, but I welcome them. Freshman year my coach told me I didn’t know when to quit, and he was right. My perseverance accounts for a lot of my past successes, and will ensure future ones.
Overall Lesson: Using a lighter tone and topic in your personal statement can be effective, but avoid making trivial mistakes.
First Impression: I am pleased that a female candidate is writing an essay about sports. She comes across as likable and sincere. Also, the candidate’s opening is strong, and I remain enchanted throughout the first paragraph.
Strengths: The obstacle she presents seems genuine, and the details she chooses to include provide evidence of her struggle—she falls out of the boat within two weeks of joining the team and finishes last in team runs (some readers may even find these examples endearing). This is a very important point to consider, because when writing an “obstacle” essay, candidates often exaggerate the adversity of a situation to appear brave or resilient. And usually, the fabricated or enhanced challenge will seem implausible—and the admissions reader will see through the tactic.
Because the candidate’s change is believable, I admire her and the effort she dedicated to making that change happen. We all understand the difficulty of sticking with something when we are not good at it. When she says in the essay’s last paragraph that she will bring this same attitude to her law studies, I trust that she in fact will, because her claim to approach life in this way is believable to me.
Weaknesses: In the penultimate paragraph, she writes, “It is with these qualities that I intend to succeed in law school and go on to work in security.” Discussing your longer-term career plans can be good, but in this case, I do not know what type of security she means or in what capacity she intends to work. She does not elaborate, and I have no idea what she is talking about—the Central Intelligence Agency, perhaps, or the National Security Agency? Security at a private corporation? She needs to provide more detail about her plans and goals in this regard.
The candidate also makes a series of very minor errors that all need to be fixed:
- Do not title your personal statement.
- Do not assume that your readers are familiar with specialized terms, such as four-seat, ergometer, and erg pieces—you must define them. Remember that admissions officers work in a different field than you do.
- In general, opt for periods over semicolons.
- Avoid using unconventional spacing or formatting. The version of this personal statement originally submitted to jdMission included some unusual format choices (that we have not recreated here on the blog), but this is not a good way to have your essay stand out to the admissions reader. Stick with 11- or 12-point font (ideally Times New Roman), indent your paragraphs, and do not put an extra line space between them.
- Finally (and this is a very common grammar mistake), do not separate your subject from its verb with a comma. The candidate’s otherwise powerful final sentence is marred by being grammatically incorrect. She writes, “My perseverance accounts for a lot of my past successes, and will ensure future ones.” “Perseverance” is the subject here, and both “accounts” and “will ensure” are the associated verbs—her perseverance will ensure her future successes—so “perseverance” must not be separated from its actions by a comma.
This is a very good statement—albeit a little on the short side. However, its current brevity means the candidate has room available in which to elaborate on what she means by “security.” After she addresses this issue and fixes the minor mistakes I listed in the Weaknesses section, her essay will be in great shape! 📝
Read more real law school personal statement reviews.
jdMission is a leading law school admissions consulting firm with a team of dedicated consultants who have not only been through the law school application process themselves, but also possess elite communications skills and can help you navigate this crucial—and often perplexing—process. Your consultant will serve as your coach and partner every step of the way, advising you on school selection, helping you brainstorm personal statement topics, editing your essays and resume, helping you manage your recommenders, advising on any addenda, and more!