Real Law School Personal Statements Reviewed: Do Not Just Say You Learned Something


Manhattan Prep LSAT Blog - Real Law School Personal Statements Reviewed: Do Not Just Say You Learned Something by jdMission

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.

Personal Statement

As a child the lurking fear of public speaking hid behind every classroom, every ceremonious event, and every solemn funeral. It was a monster that lay in wait for me, patiently ready to pounce— and pounce it did, viciously and often. By high school, I was determined to overcome this obstacle through scrupulous preparation. I engaged in debates only after studying both sides of an argument. I memorized quips, and some learned semantic tricks. If asked about free trade, I could recite chapter and verse of both sides. If asked [about] the Iraq war, I could stand on either the Democratic or Republican platform. Whenever I could defeat my opponent with a clever twisting of words, I felt victorious, as if I had unhorsed my competitor in a verbal joust. And so I continued to speak and to hone my oratory skills—until the words of yesterday compelled me to reevaluate my motivation to speak today.

Ronald Reagan consoled the hearts of the country with, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’” John F. Kennedy reinvigorated the spirit of selflessness with, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” These were more than words; they were the clarion calls of rhetorical genius that inspired the world. Ashamed of the empty rhetoric in my arsenal and challenged by their wisdom, I decided to search for my purpose to speak. In college, I took on rigorous courses on a gamut of topics ranging from East Asian cultures to ethics of international law. I pursued public sector work in nonprofit and took on internships related to community service. I searched for ways to not only hone the power of speech, but also to develop a voice that would inspire others.

By the end of my time at Columbia University, I was certain about what I wanted to speak for upon graduation. I wanted to return to my ethnic homeland, and do work related to conflict resolution. I took the job at Border Peace School (BPS) located near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea in order to learn on the field about the DMZ and North-South relations. I was confident in taking the job because of my undergraduate coursework, past work experiences and linguistic fluency. It was not until my first phone call at my new job that I was challenged once again.

My assignment for the day entailed calling the military branches along the DMZ in order to discuss entry into the Controlled Civilian Zone for our summer peace walk program. The conversation started smoothly enough. My tone was composed and confident, but as the conversation progressed, I froze in self-conscious silence. It was as if I reverted to my childhood self, entirely lost for the words to speak. I managed to hee-haw my way through questions and explanations, but I was not prepared to understand the officer’s military jargon. After a confused conversation, he warmly asked, “excuse me, but are you a gyo-po?” He wanted to know if I was a Korean who immigrated to a different country. I chuckled in confession, trying to mask the humiliation, but inside I felt naked; in a matter of minutes he revealed my inadequacies for the job.

I quickly realized that my rhetoric and knowledge accrued throughout college was of little use in the new country. I had to start from scratch again. I worked on my professional Korean with the help of generous coworkers; although many of them could speak English, I insisted on conversing in Korean to improve at a rapid rate. I took initiative to take on the role of giving tours to BPS visitors in both languages to learn more about the organization and practice my translating skills. In spite of my novice initial attempt, I was resilient in staying in contact with the military and eventually gained access for our peace walk. At times it was embarrassing and frustrating fumbling on my words, but I am proud that I had taken on a challenge to perfect a new language in an unfamiliar country. By working with people with not only a different language, but also a different culture, I needed to help them see from my perspective and also see from theirs. In Korea it was no longer just about how to speak, but also how to make the other person understand.

By the end of job, I was able to implement several DMZ related programs under a project proposal of 50,000,000 Korean won (~$50,000), which our team received through government funding. Because of the small staff, I took on more responsibilities than I had expected taking the job, but that challenge just propelled me to work harder. The greatest personal success, however, was that the same military officer who I spoke to over the phone served as our guide during the peace walk. I shared about my experience and also listened to his while trekking along the 155-mile border. Though he was guiding us to monitor our activities, the fact that a military officer walked side by side with activists was a symbolic victory. It was a hopeful step toward peaceful reunification.

Through this time, I discovered that language and understanding each other’s narrative is the most important part about reconciliation. Going forward, I want to learn critically about alternative dispute resolution in the legal field. It is important to me that as a lawyer, I can engage every alternative solution before going into litigation. All these are examples of what I hope is in the future for negotiating a peaceful reconciliation between two Koreas. Although it is a lofty dream, my hope is that in the future I could play a small role in the mediation between the two countries. I believe that my interest and experience in the field of mediation, peace and conflict reconciliation and interest in Korea will allow me to be a unique and valuable addition to [the target school’s] Law Program and particularly its unique Center on International Conflict and Negotiation will be an ideal place to apply these past experiences and pursue my legal studies. Gain the skills needed to assess, analyze disputes and resolve them efficiently and creatively.

In Korea, I learned that the key to communication is not simply about articulating my views clearly and winning debates, but also about recognizing commonalities, working on differences, expressing our weaknesses and understanding. In high school I learned how to speak, and in college I found what to speak for, and now I am ready to truly communicate.

jdMission Review

Overall Lesson: Do not say you discovered a purpose or learned something important without actually saying what that thing is.

First Impression: I like that the candidate begins her essay by discussing her fear of public speaking. I also like that she describes how she would argue both sides of an issue to practice—an interesting twist.

Strengths: From the candidate’s fear of public speaking, to her finding a reason to speak, to her revising that purpose after arriving in the field, this essay has a solid theme. The candidate has a strong voice, and her reflective nature is clear. The essay includes a great deal of compelling material—too much, in fact. It needs to be shortened. That said, the essay has a powerful beginning, middle, and end, which should somewhat facilitate the candidate’s revision process.

Weaknesses: Although referencing historical people and events can be a very powerful tool in a personal statement, I do not understand how the quotes the candidate highlights in this essay led her to find her passion. Was what these historical figures said the compelling factor or how they said it? Was the feeling behind their chosen words what influenced her or the emphasis the speakers gave those words? How do these quotes serve as or illustrate the link between the candidate’s life of arguing both sides of a debate to her life of advocating for something or finding her “purpose to speak”? The two quotes she has chosen are very different and likewise were spoken by two very different presidents. Although I can envision these statements playing an effective role in this essay, the candidate needs to add a sentence that explains how and/or why these particular quotes motivated her to find her passion.

At the climax of her essay, the candidate writes, “I needed to help them see from my perspective and also see from theirs. In Korea it was no longer just about how to speak, but also how to make the other person understand.” Understand what? She does not say what she wanted to convey—what was her purpose for speaking? The candidate simply needs to add a short phrase or sentence to state what she wished to communicate. Her mention of the project proposal is likewise missing key information. I am impressed that she played such a significant role on a project of that scale, but what exactly was the project? Finally, in the last two paragraphs of the essay, she mentions the importance of people understanding each other, but this section would have more impact and make more sense if she were to clarify what she hoped to communicate when she first arrived in Korea and explained her work there.

Final Assessment

This essay needs more substance yet fewer words—a tricky combination. The candidate should add the missing elements I have noted in this review, but she also needs to go through the entire essay with a fine-tooth comb to eliminate excess verbiage. For example, the essay begins with these two sentences: “As a child the lurking fear of public speaking hid behind every classroom, every ceremonious event, and every solemn funeral. It was a monster that lay in wait for me, patiently ready to pounce—and pounce it did, viciously and often.” Here, she should delete the second sentence, because its only role is to elaborate on the first. By making similar edits throughout the essay, she should be able to create enough space to add the necessary additional material—at which point she will have a winning personal statement!

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! 

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