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Real Law School Personal Statements

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Growing up as the only girl with three older brothers, I developed a strong sense of independence and femininity at a young age. My close relationship with my mother provided sensitivity and comfort, while my brothers and father provided toughness. I have always considered myself a feminist, and my experiences have reinforced that conviction. Throughout my life, I have tried to find the most effective way for me to put my convictions and beliefs into practice. My first thought was politics. In my sophomore year of high school, I founded a political forum, where my classmates met to discuss the most controversial political issues, and everyone was invited to share her point of view. The topic that always brought out the strongest reaction in me was violence against women and the sexual oppression of women—subjects that, in my opinion, do not receive enough attention or outrage. Issues such as child marriage, forced prostitution, and sex –selective abortion are just a few that come to mind.

At Davidson College, I developed a strong interest in the history of women in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. I chose to focus on the suffering of women in these regions, exploring in particular the historical roots of certain heinous practices, such as “honor killings,” bride burning (dowry deaths), sati (widow burning), and female genital mutilation. I wrote my senior thesis about the history of sat, an ancient Indian practice in which a widow throws herself on her husband’s funeral pyre and burns alive with his corpse. Although the practice was outlawed by the British in 1829, it continued on thereafter and even occurs today, although it is rare.

I decided to study abroad in order to witness firsthand what it was like to be a woman in a developing country. For four months during my junior year of college, I traveled around India with ten classmates. My expectations prior to my trip were mixed. On one hand, India has tremendous natural beauty and a rich history. On the other hand, India has a culture that so undervalues girls that there are 914 female children for every 1,000 male children according to India’s 2011 census. Compare that to nearby Thailand, where the male to female sex ratio is a much more even 0.98. While visiting the Indian state of Karnataka, I learned about the devadasi system, which forces unwanted girls into a life of sex work in the name of Hinduism. Although the system was outlawed in 1988, it is still very much in existence. While visiting the Visthar organization in Bangalore, I met a widow who explained to me the horrible treatment and isolation she experienced in society upon the death of her husband. She was no longer allowed to in any way ornament herself, forced to wear a plain white sheet for the rest of her life. Her many bangles were ceremoniously shattered against a rock, a symbolic gesture. I learned about how many young women die in seeming “accidents,” often involving stoves, when their in-laws think their dowry is insufficient.

My experience was not limited to observation. I had some disturbing moments myself as a young woman traveling in India. While visiting the National Museum of Delhi, a major tourist attraction, a group of several young school boys on a field trip surrounded and attacked me, and no one seemed to care, even though I cried for help. No one helped me. No police officers. No teachers. No one. Luckily I was able to break through and get away. I knew that things could have been much worse: rape is a huge problem in India There are horrific stories of girls being gang-raped in public. Often the police do not even bother to search for the perpetrators, and sometimes the rape victim is blamed for “inviting” the attack. These episodes are extremely disturbing, and they are not limited to this one country.

Unfortunately, many cultures throughout the world continue to treat women like second-class citizens. I have resolved to make it my life’s work to stop violent crimes against women. I may not be able to affect whole cultures in my lifetime, but as a lawyer I can help women who have been wronged. In addition, I can make it my mission to prosecute those who mistreat women to the full extent of the law. That is what I plan to do with my law degree, to be a servant of Justice, for women in America and hopefully all over the world.

First Impression
The first few sentences of this essay seem to be pulling in different directions—-the writing is fine, but the focus is unclear. Is she going to talk about her family? Her feminism? Her political interests? If these topics were all clearly related, this would not be an issue, but I do not readily see the connection. Consider how each of these three sentences— three of her first four—read as topic sentences: “Growing up as the only girl with three older brothers, I developed a strong sense of independence and femininity at a young age.” “I have always considered myself a feminist, and my experiences have reinforced that conviction.” “Throughout my life, I have tried to find the most effective way for me to put my convictions and beliefs into practice.” Any of these could be the topic of her first paragraph, but not all three of them.

Strengths
The applicant offers details that are unequivocally hers, deeply personal, and in fact, somewhat alarming : “While visiting the National Museum of Delhi, a major tourist attraction, a group of several young school boys on a field trip surrounded and attacked me, and no one seemed to care, even though I cried for help. No one helped me. No police officers. No teachers. No one.” What is compelling about this is that she is not trying to terrify us as readers, but her frankness in listing those who ignored her cries allows us to empathize with her experience and understand how it led to the passion she claims to feel for gender issues now.

Weaknesses
The applicant tells us in the first paragraph that she learned sensitivity from her mother and toughness from her father and brothers. Since she does not then explicitly link these qualities to feminism, however, the connection is unclear. (Indeed, some might say that “feminism” is not reflected in such expected gendered descriptions at all.) Because “feminism” is a term that has evolved over numerous phases of cultural change and could therefore refer to a wide range of ideas—some of which conflict—being clearer about precisely what she means here would be good.

She could also create a more compelling picture of her emergence as an independent thinker by adding more specific details to her first paragraph. Suppose her first sentence read (we are making this up), “Growing up as the only girl among three football-playing older brothers, I vacillated between being protected, being ignored and being ridiculed. This ping-ponging around traditional female roles shaped how I viewed the world.” In this example, tangible details plus a higher level of analysis make the story fully hers, meaning it could not belong to just anyone with a one –sister, three- brother upbringing. It also reveals her ability to step back from a situation and analyze its dynamic.

Although the chronological structure of the essay works, the applicant’s story could have been presented another way equally effectively. She does not need to start with her family dynamic or childhood. What if she had begun with a more mature vision of herself—such as how she chose to make a study of sati the topic of her major?

Final Assessment
Overall, this candidate has conveyed that she is applying to law school with sense of personal purpose. Her commitment to defending women’s right comes across a s sincere and informed. She could still improve on her execution of this idea, particularly at the beginning, but the final two-thirds make up for the slightly disjointed and overly general start.

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