Personal Statement Blitz (Ep. 311)

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By popular demand, the guys spend yet another episode shredding listener personal statements. It’s that time of year. This week, six brave participants will each have their personal statement read and critiqued for 10 minutes—on the clock. Nathan and Ben remind our listeners that, often, the first step to construction is demolition. Learn what to do and what not to do on your statement by listening to their feedback.

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7:15 – Ben’s Personal Statement

Listener Ben S was inspired by the recent personal statement-stravaganza episode and is ready for the guys to grill him on his first draft. Nathan sets the timer for 10 minutes. Ben reads the first sentence and immediately recommends dropping it. Don’t tell the reader that you’ve put yourself through difficult physical challenges—that’s a conclusion. Say what you actually did. The next sentence is better because it states some facts about his athletic achievements. But, as Nathan points out, the numbers listed there are meaningless to anyone outside the weightlifting world. The guys continue to critique the overselling and unprofessional tone of the next few lines.

If the first paragraph weren’t enough to send this applicant to the reject pile, the next part certainly goes over the line. Dropping an f-bomb in a professional document is wildly inappropriate. Ben and Nathan may swear on the podcast, but they’re not applying to law school. No one should have to be told not to swear at faculty and staff.

17:46 – Anthony’s Personal Statement

Nathan hates the choice of “plagued” in Anthony’s first sentence. It’s bad writing when the reader can see how hard you’re trying to write. There are several more mistakes in the first paragraph. But the biggest problem is the topic. Anthony describes something bad happening to someone in his family as a child—a common naive reason for wanting to go to law school. Both Ben and Nathan say they’d stop reading at that point. They make it about halfway through the statement and find mostly complaints and grandiose claims.

30:07 – Jason’s Personal Statement

Jason’s statement focuses too much on his mental states. Nathan and Ben advise him to omit phrases that start with “I knew,” “I thought,” “I felt,” “I learned,” etc. His sentences are generally too long. It also seems to go backward in time. They guys recommend that Jason spotlight his professional experience with Green Corps and tell the story chronologically.

42:20 – Anonymous's Personal Statement

Anonymous tells the reader that she’s an associate at a local boutique and that she used her experience as a model to improve sales and social media presence. Nathan says it might be safer to avoid the casual mention of modeling in the first sentence. It’s not immediately clear how this experience relates to working as a sales associate, and you don’t want the first image that comes to the reader’s mind to be someone like Paris Hilton. But the rest of the first paragraph shows Anonymous working and achieving something. It’s a lot better than many personal statements that are all about thoughts and feelings.

The guys read her essay all the way through and point out that it’s easy to read because Anonymous uses mostly “I” statements. She sticks to the facts, telling the reader what she did and what the results were without drawing any grand conclusions. She’s on a roll up until she starts talking about her mental states in the second-to-last paragraph.

Anonymous is off to a good start. She just needs to clean it up a bit and focus more on the business side of her experience to help the reader understand why she’s transitioning from sales and marketing to law.

53:28 – Breanna’s Personal Statement

Breanna introduces herself as a mom. That fact, by itself, isn’t the best way to start a law school personal statement. Having a child doesn’t make you more likely to succeed in law school or as an attorney. If anything, the reader might worry that you have bigger priorities and may be more likely to drop out. Talk about your professional achievements first.

The rest of the essay is meandering and brings up multiple personal hardships. The whole thing reads as a plea for sympathy, which is not what law schools are looking for. Nathan repeats his simple advice: Include good facts about yourself in your personal statement. Don’t include anything that could be interpreted negatively.

1:07:35 – Hadley’s Personal Statement

Despite a few minor problems, Hadley’s first paragraph gives the impression that she can do intellectually rigorous work. She uses short “I” statements with active verbs. So far, it is easy to read and invites the reader to continue. But the next paragraph is vague and comes off as overselling. Her statement devolves into a wordy rehash of an academic report. Nathan and Ben aren’t even sure what the problem is that Hadley’s research is meant to solve. She uses a lot of military jargon. The Army War College is central to her statement, but she never explains what it is.

The guys close out by recapping their advice to each of this week’s six personal statement contributors.