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Author Topic: Patterns I've seen  (Read 33396 times)

angmill08

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #90 on: January 10, 2006, 02:15:52 PM »
Great thread, wish I'd seen it earlier!

I'm suprised to hear people take issue with the tactic of starting with an image/idea and coming back to it at the end of the essay. Read most published essays, speeches, or listen to those autobiographical essays on NPR, and you will notice that most employ this tactic -- it's a convention of the genre, kind of like a novel having one narrator. You don't have to follow conventions -- groundbreaking writers often don't -- but the adcoms are reading quickly, and too much subtlety may be lost on them. They are hoping for "a good essay", not a groundbreaking piece of writing. I think competently using the standard format will help them recognize your PS as what they are looking for.

Along those lines, one adcom at an open house I went to said something to the effect that the most frustrating experience for her was to get through a PS and at the end not know what the writer was trying to tell her. I don't think they spend much time thinking about the meaning of your essay, so I would try to avoid being too artsy or subtle.

That said, my first PS had only a small "find Jesus" element and did not explicitly address why I want to go to law school. I felt good about the essay, but everyone who read it -- my friends who were applying to ls, one who was already attending ls, and a few non-law writers I know -- told me this was a problem.  I ended up throwing in some stuff at the end to try to bring law school into the essay and not feeling too good about it... then writing a much more "why law school" focused essay for some schools which I felt a lot less satisfied with. Everyone I talked to -- including a Kaplan essay coach -- insisted that for a non-traditional student, your PS must make the case that law school is the place for you at this point in your life. If you are fresh out of undergrad, maybe this doesn't matter much, but everyone told me that for an older student, it is imperative.
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Applied: UT Austin (ED), Univ. of Houston, George Washington U & American U.
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redemption

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #91 on: January 10, 2006, 02:32:22 PM »
Great thread, wish I'd seen it earlier!

I'm suprised to hear people take issue with the tactic of starting with an image/idea and coming back to it at the end of the essay. Read most published essays, speeches, or listen to those autobiographical essays on NPR, and you will notice that most employ this tactic -- it's a convention of the genre, kind of like a novel having one narrator. You don't have to follow conventions -- groundbreaking writers often don't -- but the adcoms are reading quickly, and too much subtlety may be lost on them. They are hoping for "a good essay", not a groundbreaking piece of writing. I think competently using the standard format will help them recognize your PS as what they are looking for.

Along those lines, one adcom at an open house I went to said something to the effect that the most frustrating experience for her was to get through a PS and at the end not know what the writer was trying to tell her. I don't think they spend much time thinking about the meaning of your essay, so I would try to avoid being too artsy or subtle.

That said, my first PS had only a small "find Jesus" element and did not explicitly address why I want to go to law school. I felt good about the essay, but everyone who read it -- my friends who were applying to ls, one who was already attending ls, and a few non-law writers I know -- told me this was a problem.  I ended up throwing in some stuff at the end to try to bring law school into the essay and not feeling too good about it... then writing a much more "why law school" focused essay for some schools which I felt a lot less satisfied with. Everyone I talked to -- including a Kaplan essay coach -- insisted that for a non-traditional student, your PS must make the case that law school is the place for you at this point in your life. If you are fresh out of undergrad, maybe this doesn't matter much, but everyone told me that for an older student, it is imperative.


Bookending a PS with an image can be effective if the image is interesting and if it holds the PS together. I did that in my own PS.

Nontrads need to address "why law?" somewhere in their application. Many schools give you the opportunity to write an additional optional essay on either "why law?" or "why our law school?". It is generally more effective to address the issue there than to try and force-fit it into a Personal Statement. I have only seen a force-fit work once, and in that case she was a terrific writer: it didn't feel like a force-fit at all.

For people straight out of undergrad, it seems to me that before Adcomms ever pick up your file they know at least three things for sure: a) you want to go to law school; b) you think you'll make a good lawyer some day; and c) what the practice of law involves. Many people spend an inordinate amount of space in their PS telling adcomms a), b) and c). Having to wade trough thousands of those kinds of essays, more than anything else, would make my eyes roll to the back of my skull.

redemption

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #92 on: January 10, 2006, 03:21:05 PM »
Yup, makes more sense.

I still think, though, that it is no so much that adcomms want to see what kind of writer you are as what kind of person you are. Writing well reveals you at your best and dstinctive: who you are will  come across in sharp relief and if you choose your theme/story well you'll come across as likable and/or admirable.

I have read statements by people who have led remarkable lives or had remarkable experiences that have fallen completely flat - I didn't learn much about them (although I may have learned something about what it's like to do what they did or to go through what they went through); or I didn't much like them (whining about minor obstacles).

Through one's writing one can have one's personality come through. They'll feel like they've met you, that they know you and that they actually kinda like you. If you're on the borderline in terms of your numbers, that can help and it surely can't hurt.

SolarysBlue

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #93 on: January 10, 2006, 03:58:22 PM »

When I say mediocre, I am speaking of writing style. (To some degree the subject matter) Throwing in "totally" and "awesome" really brings a ps down to a high school level. 

As for the jaw droppingly good essays - 2 of them weren't Indiana Jones type personal statements - just ridiculously good writing.

Yes, there are Indiana Jones type personal statements floating around but I cannot stress that it isn't necessary for having a great ps.

Burhop

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #94 on: January 10, 2006, 04:08:47 PM »
Did it ever occur to any of you that the reason everyone's PS's sound the same and are so 'mediocre' is because at the end of the day, most people simply do not stand out in many ways?

I started my PS in my childhood, because we had no money and lived in a poor area surrounded by drug addicts.  I now close loans for people in poor areas, surrounded by drug addicts.  My parents worked hard and are no longer poor, in large part by removing themselves from their then-peers (directionless, under/un-employed drug/booze people).  I want to advocate to build better communities now and work on affordable housing issues because I think that's what made the difference in my family -- living in better communities led us to a better life.

This does not make me unique, but it makes me someone who has use for going to law school.  Of course that's what I wrote about.

Most people don't have great stories.  The PS is not about making yourself out to be Indiana Jones -- it's about making sure you are a competent writer (being a lawyer involves copious reading and writing), and making sure you've got some logical reason for wanting to pursue a ~$100k undertaking for the next 3 years.

Distinguishing yourself as something truly great/special is only important when applying to a school your numbers don't line up for.

I somewhat agree with your last sentence - if your numbers are at the high end of the index for a particular school, then the job of your PS is not to screw up: not to write so badly that they are appalled & not to write something so inane/offensive that they just can't bear the idea of inflicting you on their student body.

I disagree, though, and in a way, about the idea that "most people don't have interesting stories". You don't have to have had a life that approximates Indiana Jones' to have a great story, and I can very well imagine Indiana writing a PS that would bore me to tears, and perhaps appall me, too .

From my experience in reading several statements, the problem is not so much that people don't have the raw material, but that they leech what is interesting about themselves, about their lives, and about their perspectives out of the piece. And they do this by using an ingenious array of poor writing techniques. In the end, it is not the story (there are only 7 stories in the world), but how it is told. Who you are comes out not so much in the narrative as in the writing style.

If your numbers are dodgy, the PS could be important and would presumably have to be somewhat above average. Dani says that they've "got to want your ass", and I agree.

Everyone stands out. Not every PS does.

I'm with my pal redemption--kevdog, no one in here has advocated for having the world's most amazing anecdote--we're just pointing out common patterns one can choose to avoid if they know *everyone* is using the same essay pattern. A good story can have the crap beat out of it by poor/uninspired writing technique.

I'm not a believer in "good enough"--never have been--and most aspiring law students seem to fall in that category. Writing can be revised, stories can be told with more verve. One just has to commit to the process.

~Dani
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magnumalv

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #95 on: January 10, 2006, 04:45:29 PM »
I'm suprised to hear people take issue with the tactic of starting with an image/idea and coming back to it at the end of the essay. Read most published essays, speeches, or listen to those autobiographical essays on NPR, and you will notice that most employ this tactic -- it's a convention of the genre, kind of like a novel having one narrator. You don't have to follow conventions -- groundbreaking writers often don't -- but the adcoms are reading quickly, and too much subtlety may be lost on them. They are hoping for "a good essay", not a groundbreaking piece of writing. I think competently using the standard format will help them recognize your PS as what they are looking for.

I think the problem arises when you reuse the image in the exact same way as when you began with it... to use the technique effectively, you have to present the image in a different perspective--something new to show that you've progressed in your essay... at least, that's my opinion.

maggs

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #96 on: January 10, 2006, 08:08:26 PM »
I think the problem arises when you reuse the image in the exact same way as when you began with it... to use the technique effectively, you have to present the image in a different perspective--something new to show that you've progressed in your essay... at least, that's my opinion.

maggs

Yes, there should be some progression, as though reading the body of the essay gives additional meaning to the initial image or puts it in a new light, not a feeling of, "hmm, after two pages of narration, I find myself right back where I started. where did I go?"
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Burhop

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #97 on: January 11, 2006, 03:08:38 AM »
I think what we've got here is a formulaic vs organic dichotomy--does the initial idea naturally come full circle, or does the writer cram it back in there because "that's how it's supposed to be?" It's like the 5th grade 'hamburger essay'--you remember--bun, lettuce, tomato, beef, bun--this simple structure can be used beautifully, but it can also serve as a crutch to poor writing--as if connecting these basic dots is *all* it takes to create an essay. One doesn't have to write a three-sectioned iambic tetrameter montage in second-person to stand out, but it would behoove a candidate to do a little strength-searching & acknowledge the most common essay patterns before committing to a PS wholly.

We're not all brilliant writers, but I'd argue we all have our moments of brilliance. It's the right energy, the right tone, the right story--all those intangibles. I'd rather help writers find their own moments of brilliance than say to everyone "well, you'll never be all that brilliant, so just do the basic essay tango and call it a day." We know we're not Ken Keseys and Toni Morrisons. But you don't have to be, to be fairly interesting and engaging for two pages.

I'm so pleased there's so much input in this thread! Y'all are gonna be some kickass lawyers.

best,
~Dani
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www.northwestessay.com

redemption

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #98 on: January 11, 2006, 10:54:00 AM »
I think there is another reason why these things tend to be formulaic --

It's such an important piece of writing for most people, as it affects LS admission, and probably most people don't want to branch out and get "too cute" with it.  Which isn't to say that more people couldn't write more gracefully, but that a majority of people who could be more adventurous probably play it safe.

Plus, law students come from all academic and professional backgrounds.  Some are English, Poli Sci, and Journalism majors who can write, sure.  Others are engineers, bio majors, professional economists, and for lots of people in this category, they have maybe only written 2-3 pieces of this nature in their whole life to this point -- they may not be capable of anything much more complex than something like the "hamburger" style essay.

And that, I think, is the partly the point of the personal statement - to identify these applicants. Law school involves writing.

magnumalv

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Re: Patterns I've seen
« Reply #99 on: January 11, 2006, 11:38:47 AM »
Which, I think, ties back into my original point that it's at least as much about writing as it is about what you're writing.

ooo, lookit. we just went full circle. :)