These essays were edited by a 7Sage editor. Scroll down to see their comments below each essay.
Example 1: Investing
I was the kind of person who wanted all my pencils the same length and all my waste paper put through the shredder: a perfectionist. A newly hired paralegal at Baker Mckenzie, I was also a novice in financial markets. By buying at cyclical lows and selling at cyclical highs, I expected perfect results. My first quarter only exacerbated my naivety: I managed an eighteen percent gain, which I attributed wholly to my skill.
Then the market tanked. In October of 2011, in a span of just three days, my portfolio lost twenty-five percent of its value. The bitter loss left me sleepless and without appetite. I staggered around in a haze, purple bags under my eyes. It was hard not to take it personally.
I decided to reeducate myself. I read Buffett, Peter Lynch, and many other big names, hoping to find a universal answer, a foolproof trading strategy. Towers of books rose up on my floor, and still I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
Eventually, I came across The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, where I read a simple truth that changed my life: stock trading is a game of probabilities. There is no perfect method.
I realized that I couldn’t control the stock market, but I could control my own expectations. To be a competent investor, I had to regulate my emotions and bet on the percentages instead of chasing huge gains. The optimal strategy was to let go of my perfectionism.
I started investing not only in the market but in myself. I continued to read extensively, do internships, and take classes related to the market. Above all, I practiced being calm. I tried to take every gain and loss in stride.
But even as I became more comfortable with risk, I became more aware of how volatile the Uruguayan markets were. Outdated regulations meant that the markets lacked a modern buffering system. Working on a technology company’s $500 million merger in my capacity as Baker Mckenzie’s paralegal showed me how the American securities system values fiduciary duty and shareholders’ rights. Although America’s system is far from perfect, it could teach the Uruguayans a lot.
I, for one, am ready to learn more. At Universidad Católica del Uruguay, I studied Uruguayan financial regulation and economics, but I’ll need to study in the US before I can fully understand American financial regulations. My career goal is to become a leader of Uruguay’s central bank. I plan to use what I learn in America to make my country’s markets more stable and fair. I know it won’t be easy, but my investing experience has taught me to temper big dreams with modest expectations. I don’t have to make the Uruguayan system perfect. I just have to make it better.
You’ve made a great start. Your story showcases your financial competence and passion. That said, it’s got a few problems.
- You go long on technical details and short on narrative details. A good essay uses details to bring key moments to life: “I watched the numbers plummet, twisting my charm bracelet in distress until the skin on my inner wrist was raw.” (I’m just making this up to give you a sense of what I mean.)
- The lesson you learn—that stock trading is a game of probabilities—doesn’t show how you grew as a person and has no direct application to law.
- You don’t explain why you’re applying to law school. Given the fact that you have a law degree already, it behooves you to explain why you want to continue your studies in America.
I think an admissions officer might wonder why you wrote this essay in the first place. But don’t despair! You already have the germ of a strong theme: the stock market taught me to stop being a perfectionist. The revision might look something like this:
Paragraph 1: Before
When I started trading, I expected to achieve perfect results.
Paragraph 2: The Inciting Event
The market crashed and I had to rethink everything.
Paragraph 3: The Turning Point
I read The Intelligent Investor and realized that you can’t control the stock market, but you can control your own expectations.
Paragraph 4: The Upshot
I started investing not only in the market, but in myself.
Paragraph 5: Transition to Law School
But even as I became more comfortable with risk, I became more aware of how volatile Uruguayan markets were. My work in finance showed me the shortcomings of Uruguay’s financial regulatory system. I’d like to better understand America’s regulatory system so I can improve Uruguay’s.
Each paragraph should have at least one anecdote or supporting detail. In this draft, you do a great job of quantifying your losses: “It was all because of…a 25% drop of XMan’s offering price.” I’d like you to add that kind of specificity—with numbers or visual details—to every paragraph.
In order to make the last paragraph work, you’ll have to do a better job of connecting the dots. Can you summarize some of the problems of Uruguay’s financial regulations? When did you become aware of them? How do you hope to address them with an American law degree?
If you don’t like this direction, I would be happy to discuss other options. Let me know if you have any questions.
Example 2: Domestic Abuse
The second time my husband attacked me, I had just had a double discectomy and was wearing a neck brace. He got angry about something and started choking me while our six-month-old son cried in the background. I managed to push him away and flee to my dad’s house, where I called 911. The police took statements from both my husband and me, but did nothing. Though I still had red marks and handprints on my neck, the officer of the law told me that it was my husband’s word against mine. I was flabbergasted that in a country like ours, someone could be attacked and have no legal recourse.
In January of 2000, I took my first steps towards freedom: I snuck out of the house to seek counseling at a local battered women’s shelter. Although the attacks had continued for many years, it was still difficult to admit that I was a battered woman. No one wants to be judged for staying with someone abusive. It was the thought of my son’s safety that finally gave me the courage to leave. The counselors at the shelter helped me develop an escape plan. I saved money, opened a separate banking account, and began looking for a house to buy. When my husband came home from work at night, I would lock my son and myself up in the master bedroom so that we would be safe. We moved into a new home in June of 2000.
I had fantasized about fighting for abuse victims ever since, as a child, I witnessed my father abuse my mother. But it wasn’t until 2001, while I was going through my divorce, that I realized I wanted to fight with law and policy. My attorney helped ensure that my ex-husband attended anger management counseling before he had visitation rights with my son. Thanks to my attorney, the court also decided that my ex-husband’s visits would be supervised until I felt that my son would be safe. I knew I wanted to help someone else the way my attorney helped me.
At the time, law school wasn’t a possibility. I was working full-time, taking care of my son, and trying to finish my undergraduate education. I did find other ways to help, however. In class, I met a young woman from Nigeria whose American name was Kerry. She was quiet and soft-spoken and only eighteen, already the mother of two little children. Kerry soon confided to me that she was living with an abusive boyfriend and that she was scared. I arranged to meet her after work and explained how I had been in a similar situation. I told her that she didn’t have to live in fear. Later that week, I helped Kerry and her children move into the same battered women’s shelter where I had sought counseling during my marriage. I also helped Kerry write a résumé, gave her some professional clothes, and coached her for job interviews. During that semester, I witnessed Kerry come out of her shell. She began participating more in class, and she was ecstatic when she got her first job at the front desk of a doctor’s office. Eventually, Kerry was able to get an apartment and begin rebuilding her life. I’ve helped a number of other women since Kerry. They have needed housing, jobs, and sometimes restraining orders. I’ve been able to give them advice and sympathy, but I’ve never been able to guide them through the court system.
Now I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve completed my BA and remarried a wonderful man. I feel as if nothing can stand in my way. With a JD, I’ll be able to give women like Kerry more than sympathy and advice: I’ll be able to give them legal aid.
I want to thank you for trusting me with your story. From this point on, I’m going to put on my editorial hat and discuss your essay clinically, but I wanted to start with an acknowledgment of your ordeal.
This draft is a huge step in the right direction. Great work! I feel certain that you’re now writing the essay you’re supposed to be writing. Our task is to make the story more organized.
I think you should write your journey chronologically, beginning the moment you decided to leave your abusive husband and ending the moment you decided to go to law school. I’d urge you to leave out everything else, including your beliefs about the importance of human rights. Although I don’t doubt your sincerity, your essay is most compelling when you write about yourself. Anyone can write sentences like, “It is critical to have established laws to maintain order and provide guidance not only domestically but internationally.” Only you can tell your story.
Start with a blank page. Try following an outline similar to this one:
Sample first sentence: “On __, 19__, I took my first steps towards freedom: I stayed at a women’s shelter in ___.”
What the paragraph is about: the courage it took to leave your husband.
Why it’s important: shows your resilience.
Sample first sentence: “After many false starts, I found a job that allowed me to provide financial stability for my son.”
What the paragraph is about: working at the bank.
Why it’s important: shows that you’re a hard worker.
Sample first sentence: “Ever since I witnessed my father abuse my mother, I fantasized about fighting for the marginalized, but it wasn’t until _____ that I realized I wanted to fight with law and policy.”
What the paragraph is about: your decision to go to law school.
Why it’s important: definitively answers the question in the prompt.
I want to stress that this outline is only a sample. Your finished product may look nothing like it. The important thing is to tell your story.
Try to avoid abstractions as you revise.
Abstract: “The world is so interconnected now through governments, nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofits that it is critical to have established laws to maintain order and provide guidance not only domestically but internationally.”
Concrete (good): “When I worked at the shelter, I met a woman named Georgia…”
Abstract: “It is imperative that those who do not have a voice have someone to advocate for them, someone to fight for them and a system that will enable them to get on their feet.”
Concrete: “When I was in an abusive relationship, I wished that I had someone to advocate for me and help get me on my feet.”
Try to add at least one anecdote or detail to every single paragraph. Tell the big story about yourself through little stories. For example, you might tell an anecdote in paragraph three about how you worked with a lawyer who impressed you.
I hope you don’t feel discouraged. Most people have to revise several times before their personal statement shapes up. I have little doubt that you’re going to be able to do justice to your amazing story.
Let me know if you have questions.