Harvard Law School

Application Essays – NICOLAS SANDSONE

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

I have spent the last three years in a master’s program for English at the University of Massachusetts, which has been simultaneously enriching and frustrating: enriching because I have been equipped with a variety of analytical lenses through which to view the social and historical implications of literary texts, and frustrating because I crave an opportunity to apply my interpretative skills to a discipline with a more immediate social impact. A career in international law is an opportunity to couple my aptitude for textual analysis with my desire to take active, concrete steps toward a more just world.

Throughout my education, I have focused on global inequalities. At Sarah Lawrence College, I studied heterodox economics, with a focus on the ways in which national policies shaped by adherence to the neoclassical model of capitalism have impaired equitable development both within and among countries. Puzzled and disheartened by the extremes of wealth and poverty I witnessed during a semester abroad in Moscow during my junior year, I was inspired to undertake a thesis paper for a macroeconomic theory and policy course I audited the following semester in which I attempted to understand this inequality through an analysis of Russia’s transition to capitalism. The process of researching and developing this paper highlighted the ways in which flawed theory can result in flawed policy and, consequently, the importance of a consistent, logical, and humane theoretical foundation in ensuring social and economic justice.

In graduate school, too, I have been drawn to questions of international justice. In particular, I have gravitated toward postcolonial studies: the project of analyzing literary texts in light of their assumptions about national identity, cross-cultural exchange, and global capitalism. One of the texts I regularly elect to tech in my college writing classes is Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place – an indictment of the role Antigua’s colonial past has played in shaping its present dependence on an inequitable and exploitative tourist economy. My goal in teaching this essay is to inspire my students to think about the ways in which we passively reinforce historic injustices unless we actively fight against them.

Recently, however, I have been asking myself how I, personally, have worked to fight against global exploitation. I encourage my students to take up the battle, and I hope some of them will, but I have to admit that up to this point my approach to the questions of international justice has been purely academic. How can I take my students to task for being the passive beneficiaries of ongoing inequity when I myself have done nothing concrete to address it?

My inability to answer this question has been the primary motivation in my decision to apply to law school. Although global justice has consistently been one of my academic interests, it holds deep personal interests as well. As a lover of culture, landscape, and languages, I travel extensively and am therefore haunted by the figure of the tourist that Jamaica Kincaid’s essay presents: a spoiled Westerner who blithely crosses international boundaries, heedless of his own position of privilege. I attempt to be sensitive to the impact I have on the places I visit, and I do remain aware of international events by reading The Economist and The New York Review of Books. Sensitivity and awareness alone, however, do nothing to address injustice: Concrete action is required as well.

The sort of concrete effort that will most satisfy me will take place at the level of policy. In the two years I spent working as a volunteer in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, I experienced the satisfaction of direct, hands-on service in national forests, disaster zones, and low- income neighborhoods throughout the country. While immediate service work can go a long way toward alleviating individual instances of privation, however, it does not typically address the underlying structural roots that create and maintain social ills. I have been fortunate in my education and my volunteer experiences, but I am ready to take the necessary practical steps that will put me in a better position to engage directly with the social circumstances that generate and reinforce injustice.

I am entering the law school application process without the quixotic fantasy that I can single-handedly “save the world” over the course of a brief lifetime. However, although I don’t know what the results of my anticipated involvement in international justice will be, I do know what the results of a failure to get involved would be: continued passive complicity with the status quo that has privileged me at others’ expense. In light of this, I simply do not see how I can allow my interest in global affairs to remain exclusively academic.

Nicolas Sansone quickly gets to the point in his application essay for Harvard Law. He states that he has spent the past three years in a master’s program for English and how he now desires a way to apply his skills to “a discipline with a more immediate social impact.” The rest of his essay explains why he views a career in international law as a way to benefit society and use his skills.

In his second and third paragraphs, Sansone explains how he has focused on global inequalities and matters of international justice in his undergraduate and graduate education respectively. He provides compelling examples of these experiences, such as his research of Russia’s transition to capitalism and his teaching of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place to his college writing classes.

Sansone could have strengthened the essay if he had structured the essay more fluidly; perhaps he could have interwoven his academic achievements with his self-exploration and made both more compelling in the process. As it stands, the essay slips into resume-imitating. Sansone jumps from a macroeconomics paper to his teaching to his time with AmeriCorps. He touches on important themes, but the examples he uses feel too forced at times to fully examine them.

The latter half of the essay is more personal, focusing on Sansone’s self-exploration regarding how his work—or lack thereof—to fight global exploitation. The essay is strongest in these parts since his frank and self-aware style paint a portrait of the applicant. He admits that he is unable to answer the question “How can I take my students to task for being the passive beneficiaries of ongoing inequity when I myself have done nothing concrete to address it?” and is thus applying to law school. In admitting that he lacks perfection, that he doesn’t hold all of the answers or experiences he needs – while showing that he does seek them—Sansone crafts a nuanced, thoughtful self-portrait. Ultimately, his sensitivity toward his lack of experience makes the essay an intriguing read.

– Hayley Cuccinello

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