Law School Discussion

My Personal Statement

My Personal Statement
« on: October 27, 2008, 09:36:42 PM »
Hey Guys,

First time poster...I'd appreciate any feedback/criticism. Interested in getting into Public Interest law...
3.61, 164 and applying to BC, BU, Fordham, GW, Georgetown, UNC, Brooklyn

I thought I had experienced a few hardships throughout my life. I liked to think that my journey through childhood, much of which I spent caring for my two younger brothers while my mom worked full-time, was an uphill battle and that my admission to Boston University was an impressive feat. To be honest, I even used to be a little jealous of classmates whose parents could pay the entire $50,000 per year Boston University bill. It turns out I had never seen a real problem in my life. That is, until it ran into me on Waal Street in Cape Town, South Africa during my semester abroad.

It was early on a Saturday morning and my classmates and I had just arrived in Cape Town a few days previously. I was exploring the downtown area by myself in an attempt to defeat my jetlag while most of my classmates slept in. As I turned off Waal Street and onto Long Street, I was abruptly greeted with a shoulder to my lower chest. I stumbled back a couple of feet while a mass of black and tattered blue awkwardly crumpled to the floor in front of me. I looked down at the little boy, a bit frazzled at first, but I managed a smile and asked, “Are you all right?” He stared back at me from his seated position without uttering a word. “Are you ok?” I repeated. This time he stood up and took a step in my direction. “Spare change sir? I’m very hungry,” he croaked. “Uhh yeah sure,” I mumbled, reaching for my wallet. His face brightened. Then, I thought for a second and asked, “Can I buy you a sandwich instead?” A hint of skepticism crossed his face, but he nodded and started walking forward, gesturing for me to follow. Cautious, but intrigued, I kept pace with the boy as he led me to his favorite place to eat with a series of shirt tugs and head nods. He stopped in front of a small sausage stand on Long Street where a full meal costs eight rand (less than a dollar). I bought a sausage and a bottle of water for us both and asked him to sit down with me for a few minutes. We dined atop the stairwell of an upscale café for over an hour as he shared his name and life story, casually explaining how he and his family live in an alleyway off Long Street behind a dumpster. He spared few details. Afterwards, he asked if I could give him a few more rand so that he could buy food for his mother and sister. I only had enough money to pay for my taxi fare back to my home stay so I smiled and told him I had to go home. He scurried off before I could say anything else.   

The next day during our orientation to South Africa we were told that beggars often told similar stories in an attempt to solicit money from tourists and that families usually sent their youngest to do the work. Was his story true? Obviously, I have no way of knowing, but that does not really matter. The boy came from a family desperate enough to have him, their most presentable representative, roaming the streets in search of spare change from generous strangers. Throughout my experience in South Africa, I heard many similar stories and saw people who lived in much worse conditions than the boy I met. The experience transformed my perception of poverty and human suffering, throwing my comfort zone outside of the box. Reading about poverty in third world countries fails to do the term justice. Now that I can attach a face to the word, I at least have an idea of what it looks like. Poverty is not “just making it” from week to week and hardship is not applying for a few scholarships or working a second job to pay off college loans. Poverty and hardship is a malnourished ten year old telling you his favorite place to eat is a sausage stand and that his family lives behind a dumpster.

My home life and upbringing has pushed me to consider a career in law. My academic and service experience in Boston nurtured these aspirations. However, that moment, that sausage, the contrast between the young boy and the upscale café I took for granted, was a moment of clarity for me. In addition to continuing my volunteerism and small-scale efforts, a law education focusing on human rights, education policy, or another public interest field will provide me with a chance to spark change on a macro level. I realize a law degree is not a magic wand that I can use to erase the world’s problems, but I firmly believe that if I dedicate my life and career to improving one or two social injustices, I will be able to affect a great deal of positive change.

Re: My Personal Statement
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2008, 09:00:13 PM »
Joe, this is a good story and a good start for an essay, but I'm concerned that it's long on anecdote, but short on substance.  It tells us a lot about your experience in that moment and then does a good job of connecting that to you in terms of how it transformed you.  But, it's very topheavy.  I would try to cut down the story a good deal and put in more about YOU.  What motivates you, why the law attracts you, etc.  You address this, but not robustly.  I had to cut down my own story drastically.  The first draft had that story taking 500+ words while the "substance" took 300 words.  Now, my story is at about 260 words and the rest is up to 700.  The story is the hook that leads to the real stuff.

There is also, of course, the "Why X" paragraph that I would include.  Some schools have a separate essay for this, but I like to include a bit about it for schools that don't.  Try to leave some room for that.

Good work!

Re: My Personal Statement
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2008, 08:10:34 AM »
I liked your story but unfortunately I just dont think the way it stands that it would be an effective personal statement.

Like the user above me, cut down the story of the boy- i know that you may feel it's the cornerstone of your essay but here's what youre doing wrong because youre spending more time and precious real estate on talking about the boy and not yourself.

Initially when i first started writing my PS i was in the same boat until i decided to make an entirely new one off a different topi.