There are three different essays to consider when applying to law school. Most law schools require a Personal Statement where you tell an interesting, informative and personal story about yourself in 700 to 1,400 words.
Others may allow a diversity statemetn and/or an addendum.
The following statements were written by real UW pre-law students. Their names were changed to protect their identity.
Jamie’s Personal Statement
It was 1992 when my father started suffering from severe alcoholism and depression for then-unclear reasons. Throughout much of my early teen years, I couldn’t understand why he had to be so depressed. It seemed to me that he had just about everything one could wish for: a well-paying white collar job (though he eventually quit), a comfortable house, a car and a good family. My lack of understanding soon turned into feelings of frustration and growing hatred.
It wasn’t until 1999, after almost eight years of living with these feelings, that my father finally revealed to me what had made him so depressed. He said that at some point in his life, it had hit him that what he had been
doing for the last twenty years had yielded nothing meaningful. He had spent almost half of his life reading financial statements and graphs that few people cared about, and couldn’t shake the thought that his life had been wasted and consumed.
After that day of revelation, my hatred toward my father gave way to feelings of sympathy. I no longer saw my father as a burden on my family, but as someone who struggled against the weight of his own disappointments. But it wasn’t long before another feeling began to weigh heavily on my mind—fear. I feared that my life might be wasted too, that I would feel empty like my father if I failed to do something meaningful. That fear and sense of urgency drove me to search for a meaning in my own life.
My family immigrated to the United States from Korea in 2000 with hopes that my father would bounce back with a brand new start. In America, I saw that a lot of students participated in activities such as political campaigns and volunteering to change society. It was something that I had not seen in Korea, where everyone is expected to “fit in” and conform to social norms. I admired this passion of American students, and longed to be a part of it. After all, to me, they seemed to be doing something meaningful.
Nonetheless, I spent the first two years of college studying business, merely to meet people’s strong expectations for me to be financially successful. During those two years, I managed to get good grades and took advantage of internship opportunities, but never found joy or excitement in my studies. Instead, I was often visited by the fear that I was walking the same path that my father had walked.
It was only my junior in college, when I came across two philosophy classes titled Contemporary Moral Problems and Global Justice, that I finally found direction in my search for meaning in my life. In those classes, we read and discussed fascinating topics, such as which ethical principles we might use to redistribute the wealth of the globe, or how we could stop potential genocides and ethnic cleansings. It was a surprising and strange experience to observe myself changing. When I found myself fervently arguing for one method of global distribution over the other, and voluntarily visiting a professor’s office pursuing further questions, I wondered: “Where has this passion been hiding? What have I been doing all these years?”
Studying philosophy has guided me to find my own answer to the question, “What is a meaningful life?” I have realized that I am thirsty for intellectually stimulating experiences, and that I truly enjoy exploring possibilities for making positive changes in people’s lives. I have also realized, more importantly, that there is lots of work to be done in the world—work that sometimes involves facing the dark side of reality, but that somebody has to step up and do.
When I read articles in Korean newspapers about horrific living conditions of North Korean refugees, or Korean “comfort women” going through legal battles against the Japanese government, I read them from a different perspective now. Instead of simply expressing pity, I look at the situations critically and think about what it would take to solve those issues. The fact that I have a genuine understanding of the language and social conditions of Korea and other parts of Asia convinces me that I can contribute to solving these problems more than others.
Philosophy is fun, but I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life discussing abstract ideas. I want to be able to produce tangible influences through my work, witness how these influences cause progress in people’s lives, and find meaning in my life through experiences. Ideas alone cannot achieve this. But with the law, it is possible. I see the law as a powerful framework through which philosophical ideas can be manifested and applied in the real world to address different problems. At Columbia, I hope to confront the problems of human rights violations and global redistributive justice that I learned from Contemporary Moral Problems and Global Justice classes, utilizing the practical power of the law. I am confident that Columbia’s unique Human Rights Internship Program and Human Rights Clinic will help me fulfill my desire to do more practical work on contemporary issues and build connections with international NGOs that will push my career forward in public international law.
My father now runs a small business in Seattle with my mother. He works from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. everyday, 360 days a year. It is physically tiring, repetitive work, but he is not depressed anymore. These days he spends most of his spare time writing his reflections on literary pieces that he cherishes. He has confessed to me a few times, rather shyly, that one day he would like to publish what he has written. He seems to have found
meaning in his life for which he was searching, and I am truly happy for him. I too have found my direction. I hope I will be able to tell my son a different life story from my father’s when I am his age.
Sam’s Personal Statement
Instead of being happy and excited when my youngest brother, James, was born on Christmas Eve, I cried and cried because I thought that Santa would not bring me any presents if my family went to the hospital. 18 months later, I once again cried, but this time for a much different reason. I had inadvertently overheard that my little brother had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Even worse, the doctor had given him only two months to live. I simply could not fathom that my little brother could be gone so quickly, and I found myself repeating that two months was not nearly enough time for such an amazing little boy to live. In fact, I was so consumed by this whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, that I could not even think about how my brother’s illness would completely change my own life. I would soon realize, however, that days of crying over Santa were long gone, and days of cancer, reality, and being a “big girl” had arrived.
Since time was of the essence, James’s first brain surgery was scheduled immediately and he entered a hospital two hours away from our home the day after he was diagnosed. My parents wanted the lives of myself and my other brother, David, to remain as undisturbed as possible, so they arranged for us to live in our grandparents’ home while they split their time between work and the hospital. In the strictest sense, by letting us stay in our school and our hometown, my parents did succeed in limiting the interruption upon our lives. Living in our grandparents’ home, however, was like living in an entirely new world. While I had always lived in a loving home where my mother and father doted on me, my grandparents were neither nurturing nor caring.
For example, when David, who was five years old at the time, developed nightmares which led him to wet the bed at least once a week, my grandmother attempted to “fix” his bedwetting. She did this by waking him up, ripping the sheets off, making him smell his own urine and berating him about how wetting the bed made him a “baby.” Seeing David’s pain, I mimicked the actions of my own mother and took it upon myself to comfort him. I began walking him to school in the morning and home in the afternoon. I checked in with his teachers regarding his status, both academically and emotionally, and I helped him with his homework every night. Somehow, in my grandparents’ home, I had transformed from a typical selfish eight year old child to my brother’s surrogate mother.
Beyond mothering David, I changed in a multitude of other ways. I managed my time as wisely as possible, knowing that the last thing on my parents’ minds was whether my homework was being completed. Since my grandmother was reluctant to do anything beyond providing basic care, if I wanted something, I learned I had to make it happen myself. I also gained a respect for money which most third graders do not encounter. I stopped wanting every “cool” thing I saw, as I had before, realizing that our medical bills had even further limited my family’s meager income. Finally, when I realized just how incredibly tenuous my brother’s health could be, I began to treasure not only every moment my family had together, but also every moment in my own life.
My brother’s life has far exceeded the two months his doctors initially predicted. After seven years of surgeries, chemotherapy and other medical struggles, he has not only survived, but thrived for eight years since.
While my brother’s cancer may be gone, the effect which his disease had on me will remain forever. I look back on this time and realize that it was then that I truly stopped being a child. My brother’s illness caused a growth in maturity from which I can never retreat. Sometimes, I long to know what my life would have been like had I not been forced to become an eight year old adult. More often, however, I am grateful for the lessons I was able to learn at such a young age. Beyond the self-sufficiency, the nurturing instincts and the frugalness which I developed during this time, I have learned to enjoy my life and the time which I have to live it. I do not make excuses if I fail, for I have always had the privilege of good health and a good family. I am thankful for each of these blessings and I work hard with these things in mind. These are qualities which may have never developed had this horrible situation not occurred. For while two months is simply not enough time for an 18 month old to experience all that life has to offer, it was certainly enough time for an eight year old to grow to a maturity level far beyond her years.
These tips are specific only to law school applicants, not graduate school applicants in general.
Courtesy: UW Undergraduate Academic Affairs Advising Office
For more information about applying to law school, visit: www.washington.edu/uaa/gateway/advising/prelaw/