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In your opinion, what did a winning personal statement consist of?

Mr. Fong-Sandoval:
Consistently, the personal statements that grabbed my attention, and in my opinion, other readers' as well, had a THEME. These personal statements had a structure that clued me in quickly as to the applicant's experience, traits, and potential. Thus, the winning statement laid a solid foundation in the first paragraph. The winning personal statement needs to build on that foundation and demonstrate that the applicant has direction in life and has the drive, ambition, and motivation to make it in law school and beyond. The personal statement is a window to the personality of the applicant and should be crafted carefully. Indeed, one should leave an impression that one is confident but not arrogant. A little modesty helps as well. I wasn't that interested in the list of an applicant's accomplishments. I was more interested in their character and potential.

So, would it be fair to say that the use of themes like "overcoming adversity," "personal growth, " or "family history," as well as the use of analogies help make a personal statement stronger?

Mr. Fong-Sandoval:

At the other end of the spectrum, what, in your opinion, makes a personal statement a loser?

Mr. Fong-Sandoval:
Disorganization. A bad personal statement forces the reader to dig into the statement to even get a faint idea as to the personality and potential of the applicant. Writing a statement that asks for effort from the reader is a nonstarter.

Another problem area is lack of enthusiasm. I liked to see a little passion from applicants as to why they want to become lawyers. I wanted to see some drive. I also wanted to see how they contributed to their community or their school. Another concern is whether the applicant appears conscious of his/her identity and accomplishments.

Another indicator of a poor personal statement is typos. I believe that everyone on the Admissions Committee sees typos as red flags. Typos show that the applicant clearly did not take the personal statement seriously.

Avoid long paragraphs and run-on sentences. Don't get too complex. Don't get too fancy either. Stay away from nontraditional formats or gimmicks--like writing your personal statement as a legal memo, printing it on legal pleading paper, or formatting it as a legal declaration/affidavit. I thought that such gimmicks were pretentious and the other committee members thought that the gimmicks discounted the content of the personal statements.

AdmissionsEssays.Com often recommends employing different voices, you know: third person, second person, first person, to describe the applicant's attributes; do you think this enhances the personal statement?

Mr. Fong-Sandoval:
Yes, because one of the most memorable statements I read started with a third person description of the applicant, and then switched into a regular first person voice. The use of different points of view by a skilled writer can be engaging and can make an essay more revealing as to the applicant's character. On the other hand, the use of differing voices, or perspectives, can sink to the level of gimmicky writing if the writer is not skilled.

Exactly how competitive is the law school application process?

Mr. Fong-Sandoval:
Very competitive. Most people's GPA and LSAT scores are pretty much the same--they fall within a tight range. Everyone, in terms of interests, is pretty much the same: similar clubs, similar schools, similar classes. The only area, in my mind, where you can really set yourself apart and shine is in your personal statement. Of course, stellar academics are always going to put you into a positive light. However, good numbers do not excuse the applicant from taking the application process seriously.
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