These essays were edited by a 7Sage editor. Scroll down to see their comments below each essay.

Example 1: Investing

Before

Three, Two, One, Gong! However, I almost did not hear any applause at the trade opening ceremony. It was all because of the huge 18.38 green figure, a 25% drop of XMan’s offering price, shown at the screen of the Bolsa de Montevideo, Uruguay’s stock exchange. As drafting counsel of the company, I have never imagined it would have such a deep down opening price followed by another 40% drop. That day was May 9th, 2015, another crash came into the casino-like Uruguayan stock markets.

The crash reminded me of my own investing experience five years ago, in a cold October, my first stock plunged likely from USD31 to USD23 in three trading days, which made all my former profits suddenly gone away and I was instantaneously suffering from huge loss.

Now I understand it’s mainly the markets lacking a buffering system, but then I naively thought my loss was all because I did not have a good investment portfolio, cannot figure out the technical sign before a crash and ignored the fact that no stock could go one-way growth. From then on, I decided to analyze the K curves, check on famous investors’ opinions and collected predictions from financial media every day. In the following months, I did short term trades and altered my holdings frequently – I did make some correct decision, which made me feel I was a genius, but for most of the other times, I was terribly wrong. Two months past and it turned out my effort did not work out – I was actually losing more. Tired, vexed and depressed, upon the coming Christmas, I cleared all my holdings to prevent further losses.

But I knew I was not a guy resigned to lose. After Christmas I started to read investment books. I read Buffett, Peter Lynch as well as Graham, hoping to find a universal truth in investments from their works. Many of their theories and techniques are very impressive, but it is the book The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham that gave me the core inspiration, and the most inspiring word to me was probability.

The word dawned on me – there is no perfect operation on stock market – no one can always buy at the low and sell at the high. Investment was all about the likelihood. The motive of go perfect is out of my greed and fear. I suddenly understood investment was not only dealing with the market but also myself. I have to control my emotions to think rationally and make timely response. In the long run, I can gain profits from the circumstances that I am probably sure about where the market is going. For other times, run, wait and most importantly, use the time to learn something new. Learning more can help me to upgrade my strategies and grasp next opportunity, which will ultimately benefit me in deciphering the market.

The Intelligent Investor taught me to grow out of my comfort zone, keep learning new knowledge and wait for the opportunity to strike, which mirrors my wish to apply for a prestigious US law school. Today, I want to go out of Uruguay to learn from the world’s most developed market system, I wish to learn how the US designed and improved its rules and I dream of helping my country in its way towards a more stable and mature market. I hope ___ will give me the opportunity.

After

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.

David’s Comments

Henry,

You’ve made a great start. Your story showcases your financial competence and passion. That said, it’s got a few problems.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Best,

David

Example 2: Domestic Abuse

Warning: personal statements sometimes deal with life-altering, traumatic events, and this essay is about domestic abuse.

Before

Having lived through abuse first as a child and then as an adult I became innately aware of the injustices in the world. Most of which are targeted towards those who are perceived to be weak and are expected to do nothing in response. 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. Not only is violence against women and children still prevalent today, but so is discrimination and other violations against basic human rights. My own experiences have made me unwilling to just blindly accept the status quo, if something didn’t seem right, I would challenge it. This manifested early on with seeing other children being bullied where I was inevitably the defender or the peacemaker stepping in to stop the bullying or fights. Discrimination is something that has always been appalling to me. I remember reading about the holocaust when I was about twelve and just being sickened by what had transpired and being very cognizant of how wrong it was and wanting to personally do something to prevent things like that from ever happening again. My studies further solidified my desire to continue on to law school and try to at least contribute even if only in a small way to prevent injustices from continuing. In the spring of 2013 I had and International Studies class that provided additional inspiration. In class one day my professor played a video of the trial of some leaders being charged with war crimes, specifically rape, torture, and genocide. As I watched an American attorney questioning these men about the crimes they had perpetrated and successfully prosecuting them, it reaffirmed that practicing law was exactly what I wanted to do.

Why now? I’m at a point in my life now where this is possible. Nearly 12 years ago, after separating from my husband, I started to pursue my goal of obtaining a college degree. However, as a single parent and the sole provider for my son, I was forced to put my education on hold. I had a long career in corporate banking, where I was very successful, especially for someone without a college degree. I was determined to return to school. I have just completed my BA in International Studies, with a focus on Global Relations and a minor in Portueguese.
I have always had aspirations to go beyond the norm, beyond what others might think is possible, and unwilling to blindly accept the status quo. I know that through hard work and perseverance I can achieve anything. For example when I was an executive assistant in corporate banking, my manager told me he would like to promote me, but I would need a finance degree. I knew I was capable of much more than the duties in my job description; in fact, I was doing more! For example, I helped save the department over $1.5 million in a renovation project. I made recommendations that reduced demolition costs and used existing workstations during a move. Afterward, I was offered a position as a senior financial analyst in another department and asked to be a panelist at a conference on empowering women in the workplace. My message was not to be defined by a title or by what others think or say you can or can’t do, but to allow yourself the opportunity to rise to challenges and become who and what you want to be. I believe it is up to each of us to be the architects of our own lives.

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. I believe that it is through the clear establishment of laws within society that human rights are protected. I also feel that there is an onus on society to challenge injustices and hold ourselves accountable for letting things just be, for the sake of not disturbing the “apple cart”. I am at a point in my life where I can take a step back and not just see the big picture but see all the parts that makeup the whole of our society and our relationships within the world, and know that there is so much more that we can and must do to bring about positive change. I have completed my undergraduate degree now and have had the opportunity to have some good life experience under my belt. I am fortunate to be able to pursue a career in law with the full support of my family. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life.

I guess it comes down to the fact that I have never been willing to accept limitations on what I can and can’t do; that’s why I can now say confidently that I am ready, willing, and able to go to law school – and to succeed. It has taken me a while to reach this place, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of accomplishing one of my many lifetime goals. I am very thankful that I have this opportunity, and I am dedicated to completing this next step. I am excited about the future. I know firsthand that with hard work and determination I can do anything.

After

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.

David’s Comments

Monica,

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:

Paragraph 1

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.

Paragraph 2

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.

Paragraph 3

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.

Best,

David