An Artist's Personal Statement (Ep. 303)

Nathan Fox's headshot.

Nathan and Ben have reviewed hundreds of personal statements from law school hopefuls. Their goal is always to provide students with constructive criticism. In most cases, the first step to construction is demolition. After a lengthy discussion of Dre’s personal statement, their recommendation to her is clear: Start over. Or, better yet, reconsider applying to law school. It sounds like art is her real passion. The guys also hear another frustrating ProctorU story following the June LSAT and discuss whether it’s worth cancelling or complaining. They share some updates on the international LSAT. And car-guy Jake (from episode 300) checks in.

3:00 – ProctorU Problems

First up, Natasha from Tampa shares her frustrations with ProctorU on the June LSAT. Stories about problematic proctors have become an almost regular segment on the show. But Natasha’s experience sounds more extreme than usual. Her proctor was switched four times while she was in the middle of a timed section. Each felt the need to interrupt her test and introduce themselves (as if Natasha cared). One even took control of the mouse and started messing with her computer settings while she was trying to read an RC passage! With these unnecessary distractions slowing her down, she knows she didn’t do her best.

Natasha asks Ben and Nathan for their opinion. She doesn’t want to cancel over something stupid, but she knows this wasn’t her best performance. The guys agree that there’s not much value in canceling her score. But she should explain the situation to LSAC—if they get a lot of complaints about the proctoring, they’ll be more motivated to fix it. Natasha seems to have the right mindset: Move forward and get a better score on the August test.

11:32 – Update on the International LSAT

Listener Jasmine writes in from Berlin, Germany. She took the international LSAT in June and has some input. She agrees it’s bananas that the August and November tests are not open to international students. Considering that it’s proctored remotely and that there are so many U.S. students abroad, it would make sense to offer it internationally. Jasmine plans to fly back to the U.S. to take the November test if she doesn’t reach her goal score by October. What a hassle!

Our producer, Annalisa, also has an update on the VPN idea the guys discussed in last week’s episode. In short, it doesn’t work. She tried to take another test while she happened to have a VPN on her computer, and ProctorU would not allow it. So scratch that idea. You won’t be able to take the LSAT using a VPN.

17:32 – Update from Car-Guy Jake

After heeding Nathan and Ben’s advice, Jake submitted one of the best personal statements they’ve ever read on the show. (Listen to the guys break it down in episode 300.) In a follow-up email, Jake summarizes the lesson he learned: “The minute I started spinning some bullshit, my personal statement turned to garbage. Be authentic.” Nathan says this is an important point for all of our listeners to hear. Tell the reader a story from your life. Stick to the facts. Talk about who you are and what you do. Don’t write about your grandiose plans or try to sound lawyerly because you think it will impress an admissions committee. It’s blatantly obvious to the reader when you’re “spinning some bullshit,” as Jake so eloquently puts it.

26:32 – Dre’s Personal Statement

Now to our feature story. Dre has been listening to the show for three years and says that Ben and Nathan have changed her life. She brought her LSAT score up from a 147 to a 161 on record and plans to retake in August. She’s shooting for a full-tuition scholarship at a regional school, and she plans to apply on the day applications open. Dre’s got the right idea! She says she needs to toughen up if she’s going to be an attorney, and she’s ready for the guys to tear apart her personal statement. Nathan reminds her that their criticism is constructive, but the first step to construction is often demolition—and that’s their recommendation here.

Dre’s first sentence clearly tells the reader who she is in the world: She’s a full-time legal assistant, and she runs an art business on the side. Great so far. But then she falls into a familiar pattern that the guys try to rectify. People often feel that they have to be humble and describe themselves overcoming struggles. That’s not the point of a personal statement. You’re supposed to sell yourself. Show yourself winning. That doesn’t mean you should brag, but you should put your best foot forward. Don’t lead with negatives about yourself that make the reader see you as timid and naive. Get to talking about your accomplishments sooner.

Specifically, the reader doesn’t need to hear about the nascent point in Dre’s career when she was working for free. It undercuts the point of her story. She makes herself look like someone who undervalues her work and easily gets taken advantage of. There’s also too much jumping around in the timeline. It’s confusing. Besides the content, the reader at the law school is also judging grammar and writing style. There are many grammar mistakes throughout the essay. The guys recommend running it through Grammarly.

Worst of all, Dre’s story doesn’t give the impression that she’s a future lawyer. It leaves the reader wondering why she is telling them all about her side project and nothing about her full-time job working in a law office. Dre may think that’s a boring topic, but law is boring. That’s the business. If she wants to be a lawyer, she should talk about that stuff. Right now, her statement may convince the law school that she’s good at painting, but no part of it screams lawyer.

Nathan and Ben suggest that Dre may even want to reconsider law school. It sounds like art is her real passion, and maybe she works in a law office to pay the bills. If that’s the case, she should think about redirecting her efforts away from law school and into her art business. Get rid of the worst clients that are wasting her time, double her prices, and pursue art as a business. It sounds like the last thing she’d want to do is go to law school. If she does, she needs to start over on her personal statement. They’d love to hear about what she does every day at the law office.