Is this PS too military heavy?

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thatscoutpl
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Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by thatscoutpl » Wed Sep 12, 2018 6:16 pm

Help me proof read this and tell me if it's too militaristic. I'm an active-duty Army officer, and I'm so used to writing in 'army speak' that my regular writing skills have atrophied. I also have no idea what schools are looking for in a PS.


Most applicants to law school come from a similar educational background and have similar goals. The vast majority are recent college graduates with degrees that relate to the study of law. Most have never worked at a high-level position or led large workgroups. Most are trying to get into the best law school they can, get hired at a large law firm, and make a lot of money. I come from a different background, have different experience, and have different goals than these applicants. My motivation for applying to your school is a desire to continue my service as an active-duty Army officer. I intend to earn the opportunity to serve as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Officer and provide legal services to soldiers, commanders, and their family members.

The first stirrings of my desire to participate in our criminal justice system are probably very similar to many other applicants. I grew up watching Atticus Finch, Juror # 8, and Jack McCoy do their parts to fight for justice for the wronged, for the rights of the accused, and for the principles that underpin the system. I developed an intense admiration for the justice system, where facts and reason are the golden standard. I can still remember the awe and respect I felt while listening to Atticus say “Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts, all men are created equal” in To Kill a Mockingbird.

I knew I wanted to be a part of this great system, and I knew that earning a degree in criminal justice was a good first step to take. I was, however, struggling to see how I was going to be able to afford a college education. I grew up with a single mother, and did not have the financial means to attend college without saddling myself with a massive amount of student debt. In order to finance my education, I turned to the Army ROTC program. At first, I intended on using the Army as a means to an end; that end being a college education. The Army was an institution that I respected and wanted to be a part of, but I had every intention of using it to pay for school and then serving the minimum amount possible to pay back the government for my education. My plan was to commission as an officer in the Army Reserves and avoid the rigorous demands that active-duty service requires.

The Army ROTC program turned out to be much more demanding than I expected; it also turned out to be the most rewarding and compelling program I had ever been a part of. Right away, I realized that I had underestimated the level of commitment required to successfully participate in the ROTC program and commission as an officer. Grueling early morning physical fitness sessions, Thursday afternoons spent leading other cadets on training missions in the woods, and weeks of field training at Army posts were the norm. The Army sent me to Korea and Lithuania as a cadet to broaden my cultural understanding and to teach me more about Army operations. I went to class and learned about deterrence theory, stare decisis, and the Kansas City preventive patrol experiment. After class, I went to squad meetings where we went over the best ways to lay an ambush, the ideal position for a machine gun to suppress an objective, and how to identify improvised explosive devices. It was a unique experience. I found that I loved the comradery and the structure of military life; more and more, I felt that I should forego my plans to do the bare minimum reserve service and instead commission into the active-duty Army.

As my passion for soldiering grew, so did my passion for law. One of the required classes for my criminal justice major was ‘Criminal Law and Procedure’. I was extremely engaged in my studies in relation to this class, and I looked forward to lectures. I loved the reasoned arguments, the application of logic, and the interpretation of precedent. The class instilled in me a deep reverence for and understanding of the fundamental rights that are protected by the criminal justice system. I loved the subject, and I signed up for ‘Law of Corrections and Prison Rights’ for the next year. Both classes were taught by Professor Dane Miller, a wonderful man who has a gift for education. He is an attorney that graduated from Saint Louis University Law School, and had many years of experience as a lawyer before deciding to apply his talents to educating others. He instilled in me a strong desire to attend law school. He advised me that he thought going straight from my undergraduate studies into law school would be the right move for me to make. This desire to become a lawyer, coupled with my newfound love for the Army, led to a decision point; I had to decide whether to attend law school and serve in the reserves, or commission in the active-duty Army and lead soldiers for a living.

After much deliberation, I decided to serve as an active-duty Army officer. During my studies, I had developed a deep reverence for the rights that our system of government affords the people. I made the decision that the best way to do my part to protect those rights was to serve as a combat-arms officer in the Army. I chose the Armor branch, and prepared to join the fighting force as soon as I graduated from college. I asked my grandfather to exchange my first salute, a ceremony in which a new officer receives his first salute from an enlisted man.

My grandfather, David Turner, was a corporal in the Army during the Second World War. He was a father figure to me while I was growing up, and I saw him as an example to look up to. Even after completing his obligation to the Army, he continued a life dedicated to others. He gave his time and effort to the Boy Scouts, the church, and senior citizen’s organizations in Saint Louis. I am deeply motivated by a desire to follow his example and lead a life of selfless service. This desire to emulate his character was a major contributing factor to my decision to join ROTC and become an Army Officer. My grandfather and I exchanged my first salute on May 08 2015, and three weeks later he died with me by his side. On the day he died, I made a commitment to continue a life of service to this country that he loved so much.

The commitment to service that I made that day molded me into the man I am today. I have found my calling in Army Officership, and I have learned that leading soldiers is a profoundly rewarding experience. I have since graduated Ranger School, Airborne, Air Assault, and Reconnaissance schools, and have led a platoon on a deployment to Kosovo to stop smuggling operations near Serbia. I remain committed to military service, and intend to remain in the Army as an officer.

As rewarding as platoon and company leadership have been, I have harbored an ever-present desire to pursue a career in the field of law. I couldn't help feeling that I was missing out on what could be an extremely gratifying career as an attorney. I feel that the JAG corps is the perfect way for me to continue my military career while pursuing my interest in the field of law.

I am applying to INSERT SCHOOL HERE in hopes of achieving my goal of becoming an attorney so that I can continue serving our country as a JAG officer. I have the work ethic, the job experience, and the drive to stand out; I believe that I will be an asset to your program. Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to attending your law school.

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Platopus
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by Platopus » Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:55 pm

I want to say this kindly, but I also don't want to mince words: this is not the direction you want to take a personal statement. My advice might seem a little harsh, but I promise I have good intentions. I just want to help you maximize your potential. I hope you can take this advice in the spirit that it is intended.

For starters, your introductory paragraph is really off the mark. Law students come from every background imaginable, from petroleum engineers, to architects, to Broadway performers, EMT's, professors, etc. A lot of these people have held supervisory positions in Fortune 500 companies, the military, consulting firms (and on and on). And although less common at the "top schools", many want to pursue meaningful public interest work (which does not pay a lot). I would start by eliminating every reference in your personal statement to "other applicants". Take it as a given that the admissions officer knows way more about the composition of the student body at their law school than you. Even if you are right, it's redundant; if their school is as you say, they know that. Don't waste valuable time talking about other applicants when you should be talking about yourself - after all, it is a personal statement.

Broadly speaking, your personal statement makes the mistake of appealing to the cliche about wanting to work in the law for the intellectual/logical/academic rigor. Likewise, no one really cares that you were inspired by Atticus Finch. It's cliche and tired, and a very poor reason for wanting to attend law school (which is not to say that you don't have a compelling reason). There's also no reason to ever use the words stare decisis in your personal statement. You don't need to show off your legal jargon. Most importantly, your personal statement is NOT a statement of intent (like you might see in other graduate programs). You don't have to spend one sentence explaining why you want to attend law school. It sounds like you have a resume that would make it abundantly clear nonetheless, in which case I would spend this time highlighting some other aspect of your personality/perspective.

To be curt: you should scrap this entire personal statement. Start over, and FOCUS on a single event, a single attribute or a meaningful value you hold that makes you UNIQUE. Your personal statement is very broad and touches on sooo many things that it's impossible to find the focal point. At points it reads like a resume and at others like an entire biography.

In starting over, you want to SHOW instead of TELL. Illustrate to the admissions committee through a narrative or vignette that you possess some attribute that only you possess. The goal should also be to show change or nuance in your view, value or attribute. In brainstorming, I found it useful to write down a list of attributes that I wanted to convey to the admissions committees. I then thought of events in my life where I embodied these attributes. From that even narrower list, I whittled it down to a single event in my life that changed my outlook on the world. It had nothing to do with my academic success, my career, and I wasn't try to demonstrate my intelligence. I was just writing about a meaningful moment in my life that reflected positively on me as a person. I understand the trepidation in taking this approach, since it seems like you should be selling yourself to the admissions committee. But trust me when I say that you don't. You don't need to "sell yourself". Let your accomplishments do their own talking; this is why you include a resume with your application. Don't write "what you think the admissions committee wants to read", write something honest and from the heart.

Use the personal statement as an opportunity to convey something to the admissions committee they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. For example, I wrote about my mother's death and how that subsequently affected my religious views. It's the single most impactful thing that has happened in my life to date, but you wouldn't find it on my resume, which is exactly why I chose to write about it. And to be clear: you don't need to write about some "tragedy" in your life either. In your life it may be a particular event from your time in the military or even a value your grandfather David instilled in you through an interesting story (to date, the best PS I've read was actually about a grandfather's story-telling ability).

In any case, I hope you find this advice helpful.

thatscoutpl
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by thatscoutpl » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:35 pm

That makes a lot of sense. Like I said, I've never had any real advice about what schools are looking for in a PS. I think now I have a much better understanding of what the purpose of the PS is. I appreciate your candor. I'll be scrapping this and focusing on something else entirely.

criticalmetheory
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by criticalmetheory » Fri Sep 14, 2018 10:39 am

Platopus wrote:
Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:55 pm
....
This was a great refresher on how to construct a PS and it got me thinking about ideas I hadn't considered before, so thank you. I am curious now about the best PS you've ever read. Is it somewhere you can link to here?

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Platopus
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by Platopus » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:19 pm

criticalmetheory wrote:
Fri Sep 14, 2018 10:39 am
Platopus wrote:
Wed Sep 12, 2018 9:55 pm
....
This was a great refresher on how to construct a PS and it got me thinking about ideas I hadn't considered before, so thank you. I am curious now about the best PS you've ever read. Is it somewhere you can link to here?
http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... &start=700

It’s quoted a littleways down the page, hope this helps!

thatscoutpl
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by thatscoutpl » Fri Sep 14, 2018 10:32 pm

Thanks for your help, Platopus! The PS about the grandfather's story-telling ability was fantastic!

thatscoutpl
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by thatscoutpl » Tue Sep 18, 2018 1:12 am

I completely re-wrote it with some help from platopus. Anyone have any thoughts?

The next five minutes would determine my fate. The thing I cared about the most in the entire world was going to be either won or lost. I was crouching in the wood line, on the edge of a clearing at two in the morning. Behind me, two lines of soldiers crouched in silence, waiting for me, their platoon leader, to give an order. Ahead of me, in the darkness, was a compound with several enemies. About two hundred meters to my right, my machine gun squad lay in wait, their sights trained on the first buildings and a group of enemy soldiers that were standing in between them. The last eighteen hours had been spent building up to this raid. My platoon had walked all day and all night. We had spent the last three hours reconnoitering the objective. We had re-applied our face paint, cross-leveled ammo, and set in our support-by-fire position. Soldiers checked each other’s gear to make sure nothing was loose enough to make noise, security teams crawled into place to cut off the roads leading into the compound, and I had whispered my final instructions to my squad leaders. I looked at my ‘Assault A’ and ‘Assault B’ squad leaders through the foggy green image produced by night vision goggles, and made a hand motion for ‘Assault A’ to hit the building on the left first. I keyed the hand-mic of my radio and whispered “fire”. To my right, three machine guns roared to life. After 30 seconds of firing, I slapped the back of my squad leader’s head and said “go.” I radioed my machine gun squad leader to shift his fires to the right, and my first assault squad exploded from the shadows of the bushes, assault rifles blazing. The raid was on. I had done my part, and now a combination of luck and the actions of my subordinate leaders would determine if I was to be successful in gaining what I cared about most.

The enemies were play-actors. The cartridges in our rifles were blanks. I was in the swamps of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The thing that I cared about most in the entire world, the thing that hung in the balance, was a two-inch-long piece of cloth that said “RANGER.” This raid was my evaluation as a platoon leader in the third and final phase of US Army Ranger School, the leadership school and crucible that I had begun two and a half months earlier at Fort Benning, GA. The school forces students to march hundreds of miles with rucksacks and equipment totaling over 100 pounds. Food and sleep are intentionally withheld in order to introduce artificially high levels of stress. Ranger candidates typically lose upwards of 30 pounds during the course, and most have stress-related hormone imbalances for up to a year after the course ends. Students are put into leadership roles and evaluated on their ability to conduct ranger missions such as raid, ambush, and reconnaissance. By the time this raid began, I had been in the school for 70 days. As the challenges became more and more demanding, I learned that I could push myself farther than I had thought possible.

This raid would be the deciding moment. I had passed my evaluations in the first two phases of the school; the squad-focused phase in Fort Benning that included a week of hell meant to weed out the weak, and platoon-focused phase in the Appalachian Mountains that included mountaineering and some of the most physically challenging hikes I’d ever been made to endure. This was my third and final evaluation.

As the two assault squads darted from the tree line to the buildings, I started orchestrating the fight. I got to the first building that ‘Assault A’ had cleared and started collecting reports from my squad leaders. As my fellow Ranger students moved from building to building, operating with violence and precision, I couldn’t help but pause in wonder at how far we had come. This group of emaciated, sweaty, dirty men that started the course as individuals had transformed into a team. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We had rehearsed our standard operating procedures and battle drills until they could be done in our sleep (which towards the end of Ranger School is a fairly accurate description of what was happening). We were a well-oiled machine. As my platoon sergeant set up a casualty collection point, deftly handling a radio in one hand and a tourniquet in the other, and the assault squads automatically set up security around the compound, I experienced a profound sense of pride in our abilities.

I didn’t have to be told by the Ranger Instructor that we had passed our evaluation, or that I would be leaving Ranger School with my tab just seven days later. I knew, without a doubt, that we had done well. As we cleared off of the objective compound and faded back into the shadows of the wood line, I met up with my assault squad leaders. I whispered to them that they had been magnificent. I had been able to trust my subordinate leaders, and empower them to make decisions at their level. They had adjusted my plan on the spot during the clearing of the target buildings based on the situation in front of them, showing initiative and leading to our collective success. During the after-action review, when we all took a knee around the Ranger Instructor and received comments about our strengths and deficiencies shown during the raid, I realized that the men in this group would never be the same. Each of us had, through the austere environment of the training we were in, learned a great deal about ourselves. We had mastered our weaknesses and learned how to leverage our strengths.

A week later, in the morning, I marched out onto a parade field at a place called victory pond. In the bleachers, I saw my mother waiting to come and greet me. I was excited to get some real food, excited to get some sleep, and excited to get truly clean. More than any of that, however, I was filled with a solemn pride. As the ceremony ended, and my mother pinned my Ranger Tab on my left shoulder, I knew that I now had the responsibility to uphold the standards I had been made to demonstrate during the course, and live up to the prestige of the badge. I was keenly aware that I was not the same person that I had been when I started the course. I now knew that I could push myself through all of my perceived limitations. I knew that I could lead, follow, and succeed.

It has been two years now since I graduated Ranger School. I have other ambitions and aspirations now. I now hope to go to law school in order to continue my service as a JAG officer in the Army. I have many more challenges in my future. The road is uncertain, winding, and steep. No matter what lays ahead, however, I will always be able to look back at a moment, in the wee hours of the morning in Florida, where I earned my Ranger Tab, and smile, knowing that I can persevere, I can lead, and I can succeed.

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heythatslife
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by heythatslife » Thu Sep 20, 2018 5:15 pm

I think you're headed in the right direction this time. The next step would be to really think about how to make your PS more concise and shave the above down to about half of its length. Some schools have explicit limits, usually around 2 pages double-spaced which is considered the standard length in the law school admissions game anyway, and there's a lot that can be trimmed here.

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stego
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by stego » Thu Sep 20, 2018 10:22 pm

Yeah I think the second PS is a good start but too long. Admissions committees have to read hundreds of these things.

mstng9878
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy?

Post by mstng9878 » Fri Sep 21, 2018 11:05 am

Take this as a sincere attempt to help you improve: Cut waaaaaaaaay back on details of the training evolution and turn the microscope onto you personally. Having served 25 years as a Marine infantryman, I know you want to praise others and build them up, but in your law school personal statement, you need to make it all about you. You you you you you. :) Also, you talk in generalities about

"Each of us had, through the austere environment of the training we were in, learned a great deal about ourselves. We had mastered our weaknesses and learned how to leverage our strengths."

Be specific: What did you learn? What was a weakness you overcame? How did this change you? What is different about you now that you learned this? Focus on the change and the "so what", not the ricky recon details of how cool you were and the tactical actions on the objective. That says absolutely nothing about who you are as a person or what you are going to bring into the law school classroom community.

Also, the last 3-4 sentences are filled with overused platitudes that have no individual meaning to you. Cut them.

ETA: To put it another way, you spend 4 long paragraphs describing the attack. So now the admissions reader knows what a simple block and tackle platoon level attack looks like and that your plt sgt ran your casualty collection point. You could have spent 1 short paragraph summing it up and used the rest of that space talking about who you are, what you are bringing to law school, and why they should admit you. Don't miss the opportunity to talk about yourself in your PS, its the only one you might get.

Warnerdak
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Is this PS too military heavy

Post by Warnerdak » Sun Dec 30, 2018 2:31 am

Hi all,

Id really appreciate some feedback on my intended PS topic. My intent was to write about how as a child I was isolated within a Scientologist church with no education or connection to non-Scientologists/the outside world, until I rebelled against the church and enrolled myself in public school at 14. The idea is that itll be an "overcoming adversity" PS about how I got out of a cult, taught myself everything in school to blend seeing as its pretty embarrassing so I kept/still keep it secret, went on to excel in school and went to college, etc.

The issue is, is this too personal? I didnt write about it for my undergraduate admissions because I felt like it was. Its also potentially irrelevant now since it happened almost 10 years ago. But I dont have much else to write about. Should I figure something else out, or stick with this?

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Sun Dec 30, 2018 11:54 am

Warnerdak wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 2:31 am
Hi all,

Id really appreciate some feedback on my intended PS topic. My intent was to write about how as a child I was isolated within a Scientologist church with no education or connection to non-Scientologists/the outside world, until I rebelled against the church and enrolled myself in public school at 14. The idea is that itll be an "overcoming adversity" PS about how I got out of a cult, taught myself everything in school to blend seeing as its pretty embarrassing so I kept/still keep it secret, went on to excel in school and went to college, etc.

The issue is, is this too personal? I didnt write about it for my undergraduate admissions because I felt like it was. Its also potentially irrelevant now since it happened almost 10 years ago. But I dont have much else to write about. Should I figure something else out, or stick with this?
It's good but you have to make sure it's not a) an attack on scientology generally and b) it ties in to how you've lived your life since then and why you want to go to law school. B can be more or less bullshit, but you don't want the statement to present something you did at 14 as the capstone experience of your life. Rather that's got to be presented as the start of your personal narrative, even if that's the focus.

e. to clarify b, I didn't intend for this to so much conflict with platopus's advice upthread, which I think was excellent. But because you're talking about something you did as a kid, it has to tell the reader something about who you are today. And that something has to at least kind of make sense for law school.

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George Marshall
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Re: Is this PS too military heavy

Post by George Marshall » Sun Dec 30, 2018 6:12 pm

BlendedUnicorn wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 11:54 am
Warnerdak wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 2:31 am
Hi all,

Id really appreciate some feedback on my intended PS topic. My intent was to write about how as a child I was isolated within a Scientologist church with no education or connection to non-Scientologists/the outside world, until I rebelled against the church and enrolled myself in public school at 14. The idea is that itll be an "overcoming adversity" PS about how I got out of a cult, taught myself everything in school to blend seeing as its pretty embarrassing so I kept/still keep it secret, went on to excel in school and went to college, etc.

The issue is, is this too personal? I didnt write about it for my undergraduate admissions because I felt like it was. Its also potentially irrelevant now since it happened almost 10 years ago. But I dont have much else to write about. Should I figure something else out, or stick with this?
It's good but you have to make sure it's not a) an attack on scientology generally and b) it ties in to how you've lived your life since then and why you want to go to law school. B can be more or less bullshit, but you don't want the statement to present something you did at 14 as the capstone experience of your life. Rather that's got to be presented as the start of your personal narrative, even if that's the focus.

e. to clarify b, I didn't intend for this to so much conflict with platopus's advice upthread, which I think was excellent. But because you're talking about something you did as a kid, it has to tell the reader something about who you are today. And that something has to at least kind of make sense for law school.
+1
I think the most effective PS's often span different times / life events. You don't want to spend your entire PS focusing on something that happened in adolescence, but using impactful events from earlier in your life as a background / framework / starting point to explore who you are now and where you're going can be very effective. And yeah, definitely tie in some indication of why law.
Also, I don't think this is too personal at all or remotely irrelevant. It has the potential to make an excellent PS.

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