Harvard Law School

Application Essays -DASHA WISE

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

The large room was beginning to feel like a cramped interrogation chamber as we stood anxiously awaiting the next set of difficult questions. We did not have to wait long. Why were there discrepancies in our members? Wasn’t the retreat expense unnecessarily large? Not to mention that the submitted documents were not only late but complete! I could not help but steal a glance at the outgoing treasurer standing next to me—as a newly elected executive board treasurer for Community Impact (CI), Columbia’s largest service organization, I had been invited to accompany her to CI’s annual presentation to request funding from the student councils. There was no doubt that she had stayed up most of the night completing this presentation, attempting to patch up holes in the financial records. I could not blame her for the mistakes— everyone at CI was overworked and stretched well beyond their capacity, too busy keeping up with the activities of each day to step back and tackle the organization’s underlying problems.

As she became visibly more flustered, I knew that I needed to assume responsibility for the remainder of the presentation. Standing there in defense of the organization that I had come to love, I managed to remain calm, fielding critical questions to the best of my ability while swallowing the all-too-well-founded criticism along with my pride. As the presentation came to a close I began to understand the systematic change that was necessary, and that I would be responsible for making this change a reality.

I began immediately that summer. Learning as much as possible about the current system and its flaws enabled me to discover that CI’s largest impediments were operational inefficiency and improper communication, the combination of which was contributing to internal frustration, ineffective resource management, and a tainted reputation. To establish both fiscal accuracy and efficiency I reconstructed treasury procedures and devised an automated budget-tracking and request processing mechanism that would be administered through CI’s online platform. Working closely with our webmaster, I designed a treasury section for CI’s website that would enable coordinators to request funding, monitor their budgets, and access key forms as well as the instructional manuals that I had written over the summer. To reposition CI’s public image, I insisted on transparency, persuading the staff of its importance and holding a board meeting to update important documents such as our constitution and spending guidelines. Reflecting CI’s core principles and procedures, they would now be publicly displayed on our website.

In pushing for large-scale change I knew in advance that over-seeing the process would be no easy task and that I would need to hold numerous trainings, respond immediately to student inquiries, and continue to work throughout the year to make further corrections based on feedback and my own observations. All this I was prepared for, and with input from my peers and CI’s staff along the way. I arrived at a product that would provide the CI treasury with structural support for years to come. CI’s records were finally accurate and we were able to cut costs, monitor our spending, and receive approval from our volunteers, for whom the elusive red tape had now given way to simplicity and predictability. A system that responded to the needs of students, board members, and staff alike eliminated needless frustration, established procedural efficiency, and improved both internal and external communication.

When I found myself in front of the student councils exactly one year later I was not met with the same mistrust and quizzical expressions. Our presentation, whose supporting documents had this time been submitted well in advance and verified multiple times, resulted in open gratitude for the effort that we had put in to establish fiscal accuracy and procedural transparency and to maintain open communication with the councils, informing them of the changes that we were making in light of their concerns. Unlike the previous year’s penalty and subsequent funding shortage, this time we received preciously what we requested. Yet perhaps most importantly, we received respect, not only from our own coordinators, volunteers, and other constituents, but from the university as a whole.

Although I had encountered numerous difficulties throughout my life, what I had decided to tackle as CI last year was my most significant challenge yet—not merely for the amount of effort that it required, but for the fact that my decisions now affected, whether directly or indirectly, hundreds of others, from CI’s staff and student executives to our nine hundred volunteers and the nine thousand individuals that they served. In some quantifiable sense, this was my largest accomplishment, the most rewarding and among the most memorable, but it was not the first and it will not be the last. I would not have it any other way. For to survive difficulties is one thing, but to excel in spite of them is another. Overcoming the most seemingly insurmountable yet worthy challenges is, for me, the primary means of obtaining respect from the one person that truly matters and is at the same time the most difficult to please—myself.

Dasha Wise’s essay manages to convey not only her personal qualities that would make her a good lawyer but how she was able to harness these character traits in the face of adversity. She starts out with a compelling hook, setting the scene with a description of the interrogation-esque defense of her service organization’s budget she was faced with as a newly minted treasurer. While also highlighting her involvement with an organization and a position that are helpful training for lawyers-to-be, she also opens up the opportunity to show the admissions officers how she deals with difficult situations.

Wise continues by demonstrating her ability to step up and fill leadership positions as well as her passion for the organization she is involved in. Through the narrative, she relays her tenacity and her willingness to delve to the bottom of the problem, do her research, and address the root of the issue, rather than attempt to treat only the symptoms of the problem. Furthermore, Wise makes apparent her ability to address all facets of the problem, at once exemplifying her holistic view of the problem as well as the way in which she works with others to enact the change she has determined needs to be made. All of her hard work comes together at the end of the narrative, where, at the next year’s review, the effects of her labors of the last year are very clear.

Wise does make some grandiose statements, but for the most part she supports and enriches all the character traits she wants to convey to the admission board with a real-life example that also serves as the backbone of her essay.

When writing about a challenge you’ve faced, try to pick an example that shows off many different sides of your personality. Wise picked an example where she could not only describe her role as a leader but also her ability to put in hard work and enact real change in something she is passionate about.
Wise may have wanted to include some statements about why she wants to be a lawyer in this essay, and connecting her desire to go to law school with the passion she had for bettering her organization is one path she may have wanted to consider. However, her narrative about her time as treasurer for Columbia’s Community Impact served as an excellent vehicle for conveying the character traits that would make her a prime candidate for Harvard Law School.

—Layla Siraj

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