The essay told an epic tale about a student who struggled to achieve passing grades – moving on and off of academic probation, and through a myriad of stops, shifts, and re-starts, from one college to another – for the better part of a decade following his graduation from high school. For a time, it appeared that he was destined to be a college drop-out. To make matters worse, as the student floundered academically, he bounced around from one retail job to another. Then, one day, he took a position as a grassroots worker on a local political campaign. He quickly realized that he had found something that he loved to do, but just as importantly, he was very good at it. His life soon changed in dramatic ways. He almost immediately became a star local operative for a major political party, and in a very short time period worked his way up and into state-wide and national campaigns. His confidence ultimately inspired his academic career. He transferred any grades that he could (i.e., not the bad ones) to a new university, changed his major to political science, and revamped his study habits. For his final two years of college credit (which were required to attain a degree from the institution to which he had transferred), he aced nearly every course that he took and set his sights on a career in law.
As compelling as the above storyline is, it is important to always keep in mind that an outstanding story counts for little without an effective organizational structure and proper literary execution. Toward that end, the applicant in this case sought to engage the reader by presenting a scene in the opening paragraph which depicted one of the happiest moments of his life – his triumphant college graduation. It was as he moved toward the end of the first paragraph and into the second that he added the engaging twist which showed that his academic success story was far from the norm: it had been ten years (and many failures) in the making. Most importantly, the applicant did not harp on the lengthy, negative period in his life that I described above. Rather, he took a straightforward and succinct approach in recounting the great challenges that had stymied him for so many years. From there, it was off to the heart of the essay – how the applicant overcame his struggle and succeeded, ultimately setting a clear and direct course for law school along the way.
Finally, in the concluding paragraph of the essay, the applicant brought the reader full circle – back to the opening story. There he was, still standing at graduation, but instead of thinking simply about his past and how he had made it to this point, he was now looking toward the future and thinking about how he was fully prepared to conquer the challenges that lay ahead in law school and beyond.
I will never forget the excitement that this applicant felt when he received three acceptance letters from top law schools over three consecutive days. One of these letters came with a handwritten note from a law school dean who praised him for doing such an outstanding job on the personal statement. I should mention that this applicant ultimately ended up declining each of those three offers in favor of an offer from one of the most renowned and oldest law schools in the United States. While these successful results certainly help to keep this applicant’s memory in my mind, it is the personal statement that he wrote which most stirs my recollection.
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve advised on thousands of application essays over the years and been a part of success stories that are far too numerous to mention, but this was one of my most special cases because it showed not only how an applicant can overcome years of struggle, but also how in two double-spaced pages, he can demonstrate his success in a powerful way.
Every once in a while, somewhere out there, a law school applicant does something in the application process that can be described as a real game changer. The personal statement that this particular applicant wrote would probably best be described as a life changer.
Personal Statement Examples - Sample Law School Personal Statements
It requires a lot of effort and thought to write a personal statement that effectively captures your greatest qualities and stands out to admissions committees. While we have an entire article on writing personal statements, one of the best ways to assist and inspire your writing is reading and learning from several personal statement samples. Although writing personal statements requires that you reflect upon what is unique and exemplary about your background, the following personal statement samples will provide insight into how other applicants have successfully crafted their statement. Below you can find 31 personal statement examples found in the TLS Guide to Personal Statements book, which has sections on why these personal statement samples are strong and also how they could have been improved upon. More personal statement samples can be found in the personal statement forum.See the following articles for more information:
31 Example Personal Statements
- Chapater 8: The Personal Narrative (Structure)
- Silicon Valley Start-Up
- Senior Design
- Stay-at-Home Dad
- Happy Camper
- Coming Out
- Belorussian Lawyer
- Mormon Conflict
- New York Artist
- Chapter 9: The Organizing Quote (Structure)
- PR Agency Builder
- Alice in Casinoland
- Kentucky Governor’s Scholar
- Chapter 10: The Character Sketch (Structure)
- South Dakota
- Magazine Industry
- Russian Grandfather
- Chapter 11: Overcoming Adversity (Topic)
- Kenyan Immigrant
- Gordie Day
- Surviving Rape
- Parental Disability
- Chapter 12: Diversity Candidates (Topic)
- Resisting the Label “Muslim”
- Muumuus and Moving On
- Hurricane Katrina
- First to Attend College
- Chapter 13: Chronological Growth (Topic)
- High-Stakes Law Experience
- Uganda and Cambodia
- UK Study Abroad
- Delmarva Shorebirds
- Chapter 14: The Mentor (Topic)
- Debate Skills
- Korean American
Below are 2 of the 31 Personal Statement Samples
Sample Personal Statement #1 - Silicon Valley Start-Up
Eighteen months ago, I was sitting at my computer, wedged between a dripping coffee maker to my left and the company’s CFO five feet to my right. Every keystroke shook the flimsy foldout card table that served as my desk, on loan to the company from another employee’s garage. We were packed in the largest of three rooms in a 2,500 square foot space baking in the heat generated by ten co-workers in close quarters, fifteen running computers, and an abnormally warm summer. On the glass doorway was etched the ghostly lettering of the former company occupying the space, serving as a grim reminder of the ever-present possibility of failure.
Two weeks earlier, I had been in my company’s small conference room sitting at the table surrounded by familiar faces from my last employer. Silicon Valley is incestuous: teams migrate from one company to the next, so I was not surprised to find myself recruited to join my old boss’s newest project. They were selling another David versus Goliath story, featuring a small rag-tag team of engineers defeating a seemingly insurmountable industry leader. Despite my skepticism, I still had a free-running imagination fed with nostalgic thoughts of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard working on their first audio oscillator in a Palo Alto garage. But at my last start-up company, we had challenged a corporation for a piece of the industry pie, and nine years and $330 million dollars later, the company was a hollow shell doing mostly engineering contractor work. I was lucky enough to join that company late in the game and sell my stock options early, but many others spent a significant portion of their career at a company that came close to glory but ultimately fell short: Goliath 1, David 0.
This time they were telling me it was going to be different; they were always saying this time would be different. I asked them how a small, poorly funded start-up company could go against a giant corporation, which was also the undisputed king of our market, with nearly $400 million in quarterly revenue. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, I was let in on the big secret, the meaning of the “C” in the company name: we were going to use recent innovations in carbon nano-tubes to revolutionize the industry. These nano-scopic cylindrical fibers that allow unparalleled circuit density would be David’s tiny, secret sling.
With the financial incentive of stock options and the confidence gained by working with a crack technical team, everyone was working at full capacity. There were scribbled drawings with names and dates taped up on a wall. These were the jotted ideas from our team of electrical engineers and physicists with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T. One posting was my recent workings of a carbon nano-tube electro-mechanical configuration bit, an idea that a co-worker and I had developed that I would write up and the company would push through the patent process. By packing a dozen well-caffeinated physics and electronics geniuses into a pathetic three-room rental that resembled a low-budget movie studio, we had created the primordial soup of intellectual invention. As a result of our collective ideas, our seasoned team, our innovative ideas, and nano-technology being the latest buzzword in investment, we were soon funded by venture capitalists for $10 million. It was immensely exciting to be the tenth employee in a growing start-up company that would have to upgrade offices and dramatically expand staff in an up-scaling war against the industry titan.
The increased design responsibility and unbounded architectural creativity that comes with working for a start-up is unparalleled. However, the necessity of sidestepping our competitor’s patented intellectual property, which covered all aspects of our design, from manufacturing to testing, placed a heavy burden on the design team. This danger was extremely real, as a similar start-up had collapsed following an infringement lawsuit related to unauthorized reproduction of a bit stream. As the designer of three different components, I examined our competition’s sixteen patents related to the memory aspect of the device. It was immensely satisfying to study, absorb, and then circumvent patent claims as I designed a conceptually similar but un-patented version of three memory blocks.
I am interested in serving as general counsel for a corporation focused on advanced semiconductor technology. My diverse work experience and master’s degree provide a perfect foundation to tackle the issues faced by a general counsel. I am drawn to the challenges I will find at the intersection of intellectual property, product liability, and corporate law. At this juncture in my life, I seek more challenge and personal growth in a field that calls on my written skills, attention to detail, and love of technology. My background in nano-technology will bring a unique perspective to the NYU classroom and will make me extremely marketable upon graduation. By pursuing a law degree, I intend to enter a profession that aligns with the interests and aptitudes I have discovered and developed through real work experience. It is through deep personal reflection that I have decided that law is the natural extension of my training, personality, and talents.
Commentary 1: Silicon Valley Start-Up
Structure: Personal Narrative
Topic: Internet Start-Up
Thesis: I led a multi-million dollar design team; I can succeed in law school.
Elements of Style: Comparison to David & Goliath
Committee Appeal: Tangible Impact, Real World Experience, Pro-Active Starter, Good Leader
Success Rating: A/9
This is an excellent personal statement because it shows this candidate has had a tangible impact on organizations, and probably on the global economy. The statement keeps the reader engaged by giving a meaningful story with background, context, conflict, and resolution. It also provides a peek into the mysterious and increasingly legendary world of Silicon Valley start-ups. This is a good model for someone who has been out of college for a while, but who hasn’t been working in a law firm. The essay is focused on career goals, with career history to back up the writer’s plans. This person is a doer, not a dreamer. The writer shows a depth of technical knowledge and strong analytic reasoning skills that go far beyond linear thinking, especially in the description of finding new solutions to highly technical problems that do not violate patents. The statement creates desire in the admissions committee to admit this person because other companies seek to hire the applicant and venture capitalists are willing to support the applicant with substantial funds. This statement will inspire members of the admissions committee to act on the applicant’s behalf because he has successfully reached beyond the safety net of college.
This applicant demonstrated his strong written communication skills by writing a compelling statement that uses several kinds of rhetorical appeals. Logic is used to show how his analytical ability helps to keep the company afloat in the same waters where others have foundered. He uses touches of pathos when he describes the “primordial soup of intellectual invention” inside the cramped office. The analogy in which he compares his small start-up and the industry leader to David and Goliath uses both pathos and mythos to excellent effect: The story is one everyone knows, and so just by invoking the names, the writer brings a powerful story into his narrative without using valuable space. This mythic story becomes a theme woven throughout the essay. It is a rhetorical device that establishes a connection in the reader’s mind between this candidate and David, a leader known for his compassionate ethos. This writer has also composed the statement so that he comes across as an authoritative, competent, thoughtful, and honest leader. This statement helped earn the applicant acceptance to NYU and Columbia Law Schools.
This essay is too focused on the details of the story and fails to give sufficient evidence for why this person is a good candidate for law school. This essay is structured as a personal narrative, and the topic is the applicant’s professional experience. The first paragraph is well written but is wholly descriptive prose that has very little to do with why this person is a good candidate for law school. The first paragraph lacks a thesis or a direction for the essay. Ideally, the reader should find a microcosm of the essay in the first paragraph.
The second-to-last paragraph packs in the most value to the admissions committee for the space used, but the background story is important for this paragraph to be so powerful. To make the background story do more work for him, the writer could plant more indicators of his positive qualities and characteristics in the early part of the essay. For example, he could mention how he used his oral communication skills to communicate with his design team and supervisors, so that the admissions committee knows he feels that mastery of oral communication skills is important.
The last paragraph is where the applicant draws together his themes with his self-assessment and goals. He should mention what his master’s degree is in. This writer commits the common error of throwing in the name of the school receiving this statement as a token. Any law school program could fill that place. The writer doesn’t appear to have done research about the law program at NYU. Does the applicant feel that being in New York City will put him in contact with East Coast technology specialists who will give him an edge up in his career? Or, is the applicant focusing upon NYU because of their strength in intellectual property law? The writer needs to persuade the NYU admissions committee that NYU is the only school for him, and he can do this by interpreting how the school’s particular strengths will advance his goals. Despite these quibbles, though, this is overall a fantastic personal statement.
Sample Personal Statement 2 - Minimalist
I am a thinker, but not one to think out loud. I love myself, but am not in love with the sound of my own voice. I want to be loved, but not at the cost of not loving myself. I want to know everything, but realize that nothing can ever be known for sure. I believe that nothing is absolute, but I can absolutely defend my beliefs. I understand that chance is prevalent in all aspects of life, but never leave anything important to chance. I am skeptical about everything, but realistic in the face of my skepticism. I base everything on probability, but so does nature...probably.
I believe that all our actions are determined, but feel completely free to do as I choose. I do not believe in anything resembling a God, but would never profess omniscience with regard to such issues. I have faith in nothing, but trust that my family and friends will always be faithful. I feel that religion is among the greatest problems in the world, but also understand that it is perhaps the ultimate solution. I recognize that many people derive their morals from religion, but I insist that religion is not the only fountainhead of morality. I respect the intimate connection between morality and law, but do not believe that either should unquestioningly respect the other.
I want to study the law and become a lawyer, but I do not want to study the law just because I want to become a lawyer. I am aware that the law and economics cannot always be studied in conjunction, but I do not feel that either one can be properly studied without an awareness of the other. I recognize there is more to the law than efficiency, but believe the law should recognize the importance of efficiency more than it does. I love reading about law and philosophy, but not nearly as much as I love having a good conversation about the two. I know that logic makes an argument sound, but also know that passion makes an argument sound logical. I have philosophical beliefs informed by economics and economic beliefs informed by philosophy, but I have lost track of which beliefs came first. I know it was the egg though.
I always think very practically, but do not always like to think about the practical. I have wanted to be a scientist for a while now, but it took me two undergraduate years to figure out that being a scientist does not necessarily entail working in a laboratory. I play the saxophone almost every day, but feel most like an artist when deduction is my instrument. I spent one year at a college where I did not belong and two years taking classes irrelevant for my major, but I have no regrets about my undergraduate experience. I am incredibly passionate about my interests, but cannot imagine being interested in only one passion for an entire lifetime.
I love the Yankees, but do not hate the Red Sox. I love sports, but hate the accompanying anti-intellectual culture. I may read the newspaper starting from the back, but I always make my way to the front eventually. I am liberal on some issues and conservative on others, but reasonable about all of them. I will always be politically active, but will never be a political activist. I think everything through completely, but I am never through thinking about anything.
I can get along with almost anyone, but there are very few people without whom I could not get along. I am giving of my time, but not to the point of forgetting its value. I live for each moment, but not as much as I worry about the next. I consider ambition to be of the utmost importance, but realize that it is useless without the support of hard work. I am a very competitive person, but only when competing with myself. I have a million dreams, but I am more than just a dreamer. I am usually content, but never satisfied.
I am a study in contradiction, but there is not an inconsistency to be found.
Commentary 2: Minimalist
Structure: Personal Narrative
Thesis: I am a clever risk-taker.
Elements of Style: Literary play with contradiction and a variety of verbal punning
Committee Appeal: Intellectual Excellence, Multiple Perspectives
Success Rating: A-/8
This personal statement is constructed like a poem: there is a rhythm to it that draws the reader in; there is also verbal play and the construction of a somewhat mysterious self-portrait. This applicant had an impressive 4.0 GPA and 178 LSAT, so he could be a risk-taker with the personal statement. This essay stands out because it is more artfully designed than other statements. This is a good strategy if you are sure of your standardized scores or if you are applying to a reach school and so are trying to get yourself noticed. An experimental personal statement such as this is just as likely to succeed as to flop, because some admissions committee members value creativity while others will be put off by the lack of specific details. In its uniqueness, it is unclear how difficult this statement was to write; most admissions committee members will probably give the candidate the benefit of the doubt and see it as highly original rather than a series of clichés.
This statement works by a clever rhetorical trick: The author will repeat a word in the same sentence but shift the meaning to a different, often contrary, usage. For example, the author writes, “I believe that nothing is absolute, but I can absolutely defend my beliefs.” Most of the sentences are linked in a daisy chain of associative ideas. For example, the first paragraph moves through the author’s views on thinking, loving, and doubting. The author then gestures towards interests in philosophy, morality, law, economics, music, sports, and politics. In the third paragraph, the applicant tells us he is good at synthesizing diverse information. The admissions committee will like this ability, as well as the humor that concludes the paragraph with the chicken-and-egg joke. The statement ends with a character sketch indicating the author is friendly but ambitious and complex. And finally, there is an important punch when the piece ends: “I am a study in contradiction, but there is not an inconsistency to be found.” This statement worked for the applicant because this person was accepted everywhere, including Yale and Stanford, and was offered a $63,000 scholarship to NYU.
Although this statement is put together like a poem, it lacks the internal logic and consistency that would make it an outstanding example of the personal statement genre. The author starts out very well, linking each sentence to the previous one, but upon close analysis, the chain link falls apart rather quickly. In the first paragraph, talking connects quiet thinking to self-respect, and then love connects self-respect to healthy relationships, but after this, the author enters stream-of-consciousness mode. We learn the author is not religious. He or she writes, “I know that logic makes an argument sound, but also know that passion makes an argument sound logical.” The problem with a sentence like this is that it does not give the reader specific evidence that this person is either logical or passionate. This personal statement encases the author behind a rhetorical wall that does not allow his personality to emerge. We do not have a sense of whether this person is trustworthy because we have no specific stories or examples to evaluate for the author’s ethical appeal.
The fourth paragraph is somewhat damaging to the author when we learn, “I spent one year at a college where I did not belong and two years taking classes irrelevant for my major.” The admissions committee will wonder: Why didn’t you belong at that college? Why did you take random classes for two years? Can you be trusted to maintain your focus in law school? The word play at this point waffles between clever and stale. This statement would do better to begin and end with the verbal play, but to have a solid paragraph or two in the middle of personal narrative, in which the admissions committee really get to know the person behind this rhetorical show.
Closing Remarks on Sample Personal Statements
We hope the free personal statement samples with critique assist you with creating your masterpiece. But for more direction on how to write a personal statement please read our article on Writing Personal Statements and the complete TLS Personal Statement Book. While these resources convey information on personal statements for law school, they can also apply to other graduate programs. For even more free personal statement examples, visit the personal statement forum with over 200 personal statement samples.
Just how important is effectively writing personal statements? So critical that the personal statement is the first item in an application that is read by Ed Tom, the Dean of Admissions at U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. In our exclusive interview, Dean Tom states that “[P]utting together an entering class is like organizing a choir; we want distinct voices. There are hundreds of similar applicants, but only one of you; so take the opportunity provided by the personal statement to let us hear your voice.”
What else did Dean Tom say about how to write a personal statement? “Personal statements for law school are the applicant’s opportunity to distinguish himself from hundreds of other applicants who have the same numbers, and the same major, and come from a similar school. The personal statement is an applicant’s opportunity to describe the distance they’ve come in their lives.”
“Most everyone is a very different person now than they were in high school and along that journey they develop a voice that they will be bringing into the classroom. I want to learn about the journey that developed that voice, and to the decision to apply to law school. We are looking for intellectually curious people, and we are looking for people with a diverse array of experiences. So, the ideal personal statement would bring all of that out.”
For editing of your personal statement, you can either swap your statement with someone on the personal statement forum for free or pay to have your statement edited by a professional editing service.