Law School Discussion

Is there such thing as too "personal" a statement(in explanation of a low GPA)

Hey everyone

I'm hoping I can get a little feedback on my particular situation as I approach the admissions process this year, and I'm a little torn as to how to go about explaining my early undergrad performance/upward grade trend. Basically (and I'm sure this is a common issue around here), my GPA in my first several terms was terrible. What probably sets me apart from most GPA anxious applicants is how terrible it was. Here I'm talking more failed courses than passed, until I was pushed to the brink of expulsion. 

What also probably sets me apart is the circumstances surrounding my grades. After graduating highschool, during the summer before university, I had a severe depressive break (failed suicide attempt) and as a result I was diagnosed with clinical depression and hospitalized in the adolescent mental health unit for about a month. I deferred my first semester of university in an effort to recover but in many ways my depression worsened over the course of my first several semesters due to a few factors, not the least of which is abruptly quitting all counselling (due to financial reasons) and medication without doctor supervision (note to anyone on antidepressants....even if they aren't your thing DO NOT quit a high daily dosage overnight, cold turkey. Trust me on this lol).

I'm not going to really get into a sob story (any more than I already have) but there were a lot mornings I didn't want to get out of bed out of fear of running into a roommate or having to deal with the outside world and school really wasn't a priority in my life in the slightest. I had no ambition for the future outside of getting myself out of bed.

This continued to the point of academic probation where I was told another failed course and I'd be expelled. Long story short, this was really a crisis point for me but also one of the most powerful growth experiences of my life because the more I started to feel cornered into making the same awful mistake I had years earlier, the more I realized that it there was no way that it was really a legitimate solution to my problems nor could I put my family through that torture after seeing how broken it had left them the first time around. I began seeking (non-clinical) help, and renewed my focus on changing my life for the better.

Since that point, over my 2-4 academic year (though I had completed several terms, I had failed so many courses I was still academically in my "first year") I have generally maintained an A/A- average with a scattering of B+'s and A+'s. I've also increased my participation in extracurriculars and have been a writer for my school paper as well as an executive on school clubs.

I'm not clear on a final GPA number as I'm in the process of filing a not accountable petition for my first two terms and am In the process of retaking as many failed courses I can fit in but retaking more than a few at this point in my academic career is both prohibitively expensive as well as very difficult considering that I'm turning 23 and am pretty adverse to prolonging my undergraduate any longer than I have to. I'm not writing the LSAT until october, but I'm aiming for a 170+ score (I've consistently scored between 165-168 on self timed practice and given an additional month of focused study I think 170 is an ambitious yet realistic goal), and I'm hoping that will offset my GPA issue as well.

Now this long winded explanation of my situation (thanks for bearing with me if you have) leads me to this question: How much of this information is really advisable to share on a personal statement in an attempt to give context for my transcript? It's not so much embarrassment that's holding me back (though I'll admit, if it wasn't for the anonymity of the internet I wouldn't be sharing this information. Some of my closest friends don't know much of this about me) as it is worrying about whether admissions will view my history with depression as a liability.

I know without doubt that I am mentally prepared for the stress, rigor and pressure of the first year law school workload. As a matter of fact, I think my personal experience makes me more prepared than many others. In many ways I don't regret what I've been through at all, because from my weakness I've learned the value of strength and I feel as if the uphill battle I've had to fight to put myself in a position where post-grad is even an option has prepared me more than just coasting to solid but unspectacular 3.3 arts major over 4 years or something like that.

My concern is that the admissions committee won't see it that way and will say to themselves "well if that's what happened to this kid going from highschool to university, imagine how he'll adjust to law school" 

Again, thanks for bearing the wall of text but I guess the reason I've been so longwinded is that I'm curious if anything I've just said will be looked on favorably by an applications committee, of if I should just stick to a standard, non-descript "I wasn't focused as a kid" and forgo the whole sob story about my past issues

What kind of schools are you targeting?  For a lot of schools, a 170 is pretty much all you'll need provided your GPA isn't just totally cratered.  With several years of As and B+s, you should have something over a 3.0 or so.

In my decidedly non-expert opinion, I'd write something general about "health issues" and leave it at that.  Your personal statement is not going to be a factor for most schools you go to.  On the one hand, descriminating against somebody for depression might run afoul of some sort of policy, unless you want to categorize yourself as somehow disabled (and thus gain protection under the ADA... a dicey proposition at best), there are no legal protections for people with severe depression that I'm aware of.  Because of that, an admissions official could, quite frankly, consider that a black mark on your personal statement.  Basically:  I think this COULD work against you and I really don't see how it could work for you.  Law Schools (or at least the one I go to) are aware that 1Ls frequently have difficulty with the stress of law school.  So, they may not want to admit somebody who in their (decidedly non-medically based) opinion might be a person who will be on the phone with the dean for student affairs begging to postpone their final exams.


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GPA is always an issue; check Law School Numbers to get a sense of places that are willing to take a chance on a big LSAT/GPA split. Don't throw money away on applications to places that won't take the risk. Writing an addendum is only recommended if you are able to say "everything is great now because of XYZ"; a good addendum (on any topic) doesn't just explain, it reassures. - Dani

Be forewarned:  cynical/grumpy late-night posting follows.

My concern is that the admissions committee won't see it that way and will say to themselves "well if that's what happened to this kid going from highschool to university, imagine how he'll adjust to law school" 

They won't think that.

What they WILL think, after reading the first couple of sentences in your personal-statement-that-resembles-your-post is "oh look, another applicant with a sob story about how depressed he was during college.  NEXT!" 

Heck, I couldn't even read it all myself.  I started skimming at "depress..."

Honestly, even though it was obviously unique and horrible from your perspective, versions of this story show up in a whole bunch of applications - not surprising, because a whole bunch of people had similar issues.  Sure, your situation might have been more extreme than most, but "srsly d00ds, I was WAY sadder than those other guys" is not only not convincing, but almost as standard as the underlying sob story.

This approach will not serve you well - not because it is too personal, but because it is too common and boring, and - perhaps more importantly - because it amounts to an excuse, despite your protestations to the contrary.  And if there is one thing lawyers (including law professors) dislike, it is excuses.

Or, as my old boss used to say:  "No whining!" 

Anything that has even a whiff of "woe is me" is a huge negative.  Don't do it.

Instead, own your screw-ups and turn them to your advantage.  The last part of your post starts to do this.  It didn't kill you; it made you stronger.  Summarize your travails as briefly as possible ("I faced some personal challenges during the first year of college that adversely affected my grades"), just enough to set up the powerhouse part of your statement, where you can talk about how a stint in the psych ward makes you uniquely prepared for the practice of law.  But make it positive, and no whining.  Admit that your GPA is bad, and there is nobody to blame but yourself - but suggest that your GPA perhaps does not fairly represent your capabilities, as shown by your 178 LSAT score.  (Because the best way to prove your point is by kicking the LSAT's ass.  So make damn sure you do really well on the LSAT.)

Law schools look for discipline, initiative and leadership.  Show them some.

(And then keep that personal statement handy for bar admission, when you will most likely have to discuss being committed.)