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Hindsight Is 20/20: Reviewing My Own Personal Statement


Today we’re bringing back a classic post from the vault. This post was originally published on October 18, 2011 – and, much like a fine wine, has only improved with age. Matt Shinners is a Harvard Law graduate who taught and provided application counseling for Blueprint LSAT Prep. His application clearly turned out *okay*, but nevertheless, we can all learn from his successes (and failures, such as they are).

I applied to law school in October/November of 2006 with a 3.7/180 and the following law school personal statement. It was not even close to the strongest element of my application package.

I’ve annotated it in the many, many areas where I messed up. However, I didn’t really say anything in my law school personal statement. I ramble a bit about being lost in my academic career, then I start talking about law. You should be more concrete in your law school personal statement. Have a clear focus, theme, or passion.

If there’s anything good about this law school personal statement (although, screw you, you can’t argue with results!), it’s that I feel it encapsulates my personality fairly well. I’m funny, but I’m not as funny as I think. I like taking risks. I’m mostly fluff. I’ve got an almost-schizophrenic level of areas of interest. Personalizing yourself is the most important part of the law school personal statement — make sure that the reader knows you better than they did before they first read your law school personal statement.

So, without further ado, paragraph by paragraph, here’s my law school personal statement:

I had no way of knowing it at the time, but all of those long hours in the gym were about to pay off. The pain, the sweat, the tears…I mean, all those times there was something in my eye; these were all about to come together to make something possible that would change my life forever. The culmination of all of that time spent pushing my body as far as it would go was sitting right in front of me. I flexed my muscles and picked up my 15 pound, 1300 page copy of The Brothers Karamazov; by the time I put it down, I would be exhausted both mentally and physically, and my future would be radically different.

Matt’s note: I’m trying way too hard here in this first paragraph to distract the reader from what I’m trying to say. There’s no reason for this long of a misdirect/intro – I should have just jumped into it.

My life had become rather uncertain right before I embarked upon a literary quest that could only be rivaled by the Old Testament. I had spent the majority of my first two years studying the varying aspects of the physical sciences, having come to Boston College with the idea that I was going to find a cure for some terrible disease. My degree would get me a job at Pfizer, Merck, or some other big name in the pharmaceutical industry, and my work would be directly responsible for alleviation of the pain of millions of people throughout the world. I loved science, and I loved learning about the ways that both the body and the chemicals it contained work. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Then, I started independent research in a lab.

Matt’s note: This paragraph does a good job of setting up where I was in my life at this time, I guess. However, it’s rather boring. As such, it could do with some trimming.

As a sophomore in the Honors Chemistry program, I was entitled to start my independent research a semester earlier than most. I eagerly showed up for my first day, wearing my excitement like a lab coat. I introduced myself to my faculty advisor and set myself up on the undergrad desk, ready to solve whatever problem came my way. As the weeks went on, and the experiments continued, I slowly realized that the work I imagined was not what I believed it to be. At first, I chalked it up to the lab I was working in. However, as the weeks became months, it became more and more apparent that, for whatever reason, research was not my calling. I simply did not enjoy what everyone else in the lab was dedicating their life to. The thought of spending countless hours in the lab, experimenting as I had been doing, caused me great distress. This moment is when The Brothers Karamazov came into my life.

Matt’s note: You know what rivals lab work for tedium? Doc review. It probably wasn’t the best move to admit that this type of work bored me. However, I’m sure the lawyers at the admissions offices like to think that legal work is more interesting than scientific research. Or not – I mean, they’re not practicing anymore for a reason.

I realized as I was reading it that the advice of Father Zosima to Alyosha was just as relevant to me. I learned that I should not continue spending my life pursuing a goal that did not make me happy. I should not do what I think I should do; I should do what I enjoy doing. The dilemma was that I still enjoyed learning about the sciences. However, I took a frank assessment of what I did in my free time. I was a prominent member of the College Democrats, filling the position of Vice President. I was also in the process of starting my own student newspaper, “The Patriot”, to foster intelligent political discussion on campus. I spent time with my friends debating ethical issues, politics, and the ways in which the world should be run.

Matt’s note: Ugh, self-aggrandizing rèsumè-listing. Cut this, please.

I started to think back to my childhood in an attempt to find answers there. I remembered the week that I had desired to be a fireman; however, I remembered my crippling fear of Dalmatians, so I decided against that. Then I asked myself, “Why not be an astronaut?” I latched on to this for awhile until I realized that not only am I deserving of a better profession than one NASA could offer, but they also wouldn’t accept me because of “physical standards.” Psychologist, doctor, World War II reenactionist… all of these ideas went as fast as they came. My friends and family always told me while I was growing up that I should be a lawyer because of my propensity for debate. I had considered it for awhile, especially when my high school “American Government” teacher, a woman I have a great amount of respect for, recommended it. All of these options were floating through my head when I decided to finally sit down and figure out what I liked to do, and which careers would line up with that conclusion.

Matt’s note: Humor’s a gamble – you never know if it works (because you’ll always find yourself funnier and more clever than others do), and even if it does, it won’t work with everyone. I’m a risk-taker, though.

Also: Don’t do this. Don’t talk about how everyone always thought you’d be a great lawyer, or how it’s what you always wanted to do.

This process showed me why I enjoy science so much; it is the problem-solving aspect of it. I love taking a set of rules and applying them to situations where the answer is not clear. I love working out the answer to a logical question based on a seemingly sparse amount of information. I love the process of debate, a process present even in the scientific community, and the development of new ideas by refining old ones through discussion with others. I love a good Scotch, but that did not get me anywhere. In short, I love all the aspects of science that have to do with the discussion of the ideas, and not the researching of them in a lab.

Matt’s note: It’s true. I do love a good Scotch.

When I realized that problem solving was a strong interest of mine, I reconsidered the profession of law. The whole profession is built around unraveling complex situations and finding a resolution. It also involves much reading and writing, both of which are hobbies of mine (my senior thesis is even a creative writing project). Finally, it would afford me the opportunity to apply my problem solving abilities to any field that I desire, be it the sciences, politics, or another area that may catch my interest. To me, the study of law will give me the problem solving skills to work in whatever field interests me. It will open up many different opportunities for me, and, at this point in my life, that is as important as knowing what I am going to do.

Matt’s note:This is the right place to relate what you’ve talked about to law. However, there’s really not a good connection here. I’ve rambled for a few pages, now I’m talking about law school. Have your connection be more concrete.

This is about as weak as a reason as you can have. I might as well have just written, “I don’t want to enter the real world yet, so law school why not?” Which, you know, was the truth. But don’t write that!

Oh, and I ran the Boston Marathon. That was fulfilling.

Matt’s note: I’m a cheeky bastard.

Congratulations if you made it this far. Feel free to discuss in the comments.