Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Personal Statements

I’m finding writing a personal statement really difficult, which is really odd given that some might argue I write them in another form just about every day right here.

They are a particularly troublesome yet ephemeral part of life. Most of the lawyers I’ve talked to about law school haven’t even remembered what they wrote about. Yet for a somewhat borderline student (quite low GPA as first tier law school applicants go, nice-looking LSATs even as first tier law school applicants go) admissions officers say a good personal statement can make all the difference.

I have an idea that I know I will never get around to accomplishing that somebody should put together one of those “Essays that got people into law school” books for lower-first tier and second tier schools. I’ve bought several books of successful personal statements and the are all from folks who went to Ivy Leagues. Thus most of them have a certain “and then when I got out of the peace corps, I decided to go for a master’s degree in math…” quality. My life just hasn’t been that impressive and when I write a statement along the same lines as those, I feel I sound like a poor man’s version of a real law school applicant.

I can’t write about my current planned legal direction because I am interested in working for legal aid as a divorce lawyer for the poor. I don’t know how or why I got interested in divorce law, but I did. At least part of it is seeing that badly-done divorces can ruin in some cases both parties’ finances, even more so for the poor. That, and divorce law is an unusual but quite valid argument for gay marriage. And yes, a lot of it is growing up in a house where taking care of society’s less fortunate and doing it yourself was a focus of life. (CC’s mom is in the low-income housing business, theChalicerelative has worked for the Presby church or for the poor for most of her life. The ChaliceDad admittedly doesn’t care about anything but music and perhaps not that at this point. Every family has one...) But my advice books by law school admissions officers are unanimous that admissions officers are pretty cynical about people who want to work for the poor and you’re usually best off not writing about the law unless asked to because you can’t help but come off as naive.

I think that I have a comparatively successful blog is a pretty interesting thing about me, but writing about your religion is an admissions no-no and my blog does focus around my religion.

I have a month and a half to solve this one, so I’m nor particularly worried about it. But it is odd to see that the writing is so far the most difficult part of the admissions process for me.


Doug Muder said...

Be yourself. If you can't get into law school as yourself, don't go.

The best thing about your blog is that you have an authentic voice. If you get that authenticity into your statement, it will work in your favor.

I'll bet the reason admissions people are skeptical about applicants who say they want to work with the poor is that most of them sound phony. They can't just say they want to get rich and/or go into politics, so they say they want to help the poor. They don't, and that dishonesty comes through in their statements.

Epilonious said...

*shrug* To be honest... I think the entire point of any other higher education (law, masters, phD, etc) should be because you want to get certified in The Methods Of The Field so that you can make contributions to said field and fit neatly into a niche you have researched or are otherwise acquainted-with.

What you have just described is a long list of things you want to do immediately after getting certified to practice law and why... so I am sort of baffled why you are feeling what looks to be ashamed of not going after silly hot-yet-boring fields (copyright-and-patent law) or soul-selling fields (high power corporate make-me-some-money law) to pursue oppurtunities where you have discovered both a need and personal interest.

The "after I left the peacecorps to get a big-scary-equation PhD" sounds like the jackass who sailed through hi-po college on some benefactors hi-po dollar and just felt like it was "the next step" as opposed to a desire to do something useful after going through the rigours.

I think your life is quite impressive as you have wonderful and interesting friends, are always a delight and an asset in any conversation, and you are bright and witty. Just because your life lacks a certain level of ostentation doesn't mean it lacks prestige... and the perceived humbleness of your true post-school intentions doesn't detract from the fact that you are brilliant and have a good plan.

Besides... There is nothing to say that you won't get halfway through law-school and find some other topic that just clicks with you better. One of the points of this Law school excercise is immersion for better understanding and research opportunities.

To wit: I think you are the real-world law school applicant. The books are merely snobbery and you shouldn't let them get you down.

PG said...

As someone who was in the same position (low GPA, high LSAT, hadn't worked in the Peace Corps), I agree with the previous two commenters. Write a statement that expresses you and something you're interested in. Talking about your specific interest in helping low income people through divorce is fabulous. I'm not sure what drives law school admissions, but law firms like to hear about people with unusual, specific interests in law. Very few people come to law school saying "I'm really looking forward to taking bankruptcy because it will help me with what I want to do with my life." I told a friend who is applying for law school to go ahead and talk about how interesting she finds ERISA, if she sincerely does, because God knows no one else does and the law school can feel virtuous in accepting someone who genuinely wants to be an ERISA hottie.

I wrote my long personal statement about how I felt about a Jasper hate crime (the black man who was dragged to death; his kids went to my high school). It was not about how I wanted to work for the NAACP or my nonexistent history in combating racially motivated violence. Instead, it was about how much it bothered me to have my area of the country portrayed as some hotbed as racism when that was not my experience, when black and Latino people seemed more likely to get killed by cops in enlightened places like NYC and LA, etc. There probably were some people who didn't like my essay, and I got rejected by lots of schools, but I also got accepted and waitlisted at many schools. Basically, I wrote about geography, about what it was like to grow up as a Hindu in Baptist country, about my conflicting sense of loyalty and displacement with regard to where I came from. Now that I'm in law school, I'm the reliable lobbying voice to get country music into the Law Revue show :-) (This fall we're doing "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.)

As for the question of whether to put a blog on the resume: I put the group blogs I posted on, but not my personal one, because there's just so much random crap on it, whereas with the group blogs I felt more like I was presenting ideas and arguments. I don't know if you'd want to separate yourself out like this, but maybe you could go through your archives and move the really personal posts (like pictures of relatives) to a livejournal and keep this as a public platform. Having a strong religious identity is not at all problematic -- my school is overrun with Mormons, Catholics and Orthodox Jews, all of whom have funded student organizations. It also makes you identifiable. If you think you'll be one of the on-the-cusp candidates, then it's very important for the admissions committee to be able to remember you quickly (I wouldn't be surprised if my nickname was "redneck Hindu"). If being Unitarian, or anything else, is important to you, you should highlight it rather than hide it.

Doug Muder said...

A practical suggestion: As a warm-up exercise, try writing on the theme: "The Law Needs People Like Me". Don't try to impress anybody, just be honest. When you're done, look at what you've said about yourself. Put those things in your statement.

Cerulean said...

Good luck on the LSAT, CC!

Anonymous said...

just wanted to encourage you to write what you want now and then put it away for a few days and think about it. Have someone else look it over and give you feedback. But for goodness sake, don't edit yourself BEFORE you write.

My college Ohio State son wrote about his Eagle Scout project for our UU church that involved a racial justice/atonement for past UU prejudice issue that was connected to a member of our congregation. In a very weird moment (synchronicity), our interim minister preached about history of black UU ministers and how the denomination embraced (or didn't) them. Turns out the grandson of one of the ministers was in the audience, and this led to an apology to the family for the way he had been treated. To make the story even weirder, turns out grandpa minister was buried in a historically black (segregated) cemetary next to the church- right next to our church property line. My son's project involved building a path so that church members and family could more easily visit the grave site. I thought the whole thing made a fantastic essay for a future Engineering student and reflected a lot of his values.

Be yourself! But get help editing.

The Happy Feminist said...

I think I was one of those people who couldn't remember what I wrote about. Now that I ponder it, I think I did write about wanting to be a public defender and how my interest in this stemmed from seeing what happens in other countries when there aren't protections for the accused. Pretty hokey, now that I look back on it.

My husband shamelessly exploited his disability as his law school essay topic -- the slant being "something difficult I have overcome." Also hokey.

I have no idea how law school admissions people think, but it seems to me that this blog might make a good topic. You write about a lot of topics besides religion, and the blog showcases your ability to argue, analyze, and discuss. (Besides, most people don't think Unitarianism is a real religion anyway! :))