Writing The Free-Form Personal Statement

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald's book

An excerpt from Jeremy Shinewald’s book

The free-form essay allows the law school admissions committee to learn more about you as a person, aside from your career path thus far and your aspirations to attend law school. The committee basically wants to know whether you are, first, likeable, and, second, interesting; in other words, will your potential future classmates enjoy seeing you in class, and do you bring any unique elements to the classroom and the school as a whole?

This is not the time to reiterate what the admissions committee already knows about you from the other portions of your application, particularly your résumé and your recommendations. Instead, this essay is your chance to “wow” your admissions reader with a uniquely personal and passionate story that will convince him or her that you possess qualities that would make you an asset to the incoming law school class.

Understandably, candidates tend to worry about making the “right” topic choice for this essay, because the questions are often so open-ended, but if you carefully think about the impression you want to make and feel that what you have written provides this impression to the best of your ability, and reveals depth of character, you are probably on the right path.

In the following sample free-form essay, the writer describes his passion for soccer and the way he used that passion to change the lives of some teenagers born to poor Colombian immigrants in America.

Sample Free-Form Essay

“GOOOOOOOL! GOL! GOL! GOL!” Every day for two years, at exactly 4:00 a.m., my father would wake me with this unique alarm, so that I would be on time for my morning soccer drills with America de Cali, a professional soccer team in Colombia with whom I had the privilege of training when I was young. Although my dreams of playing professionally ended after I later suffered a serious knee injury, I continued to play for the joy of the game, the companionship and the pride it brought, and I was fortunate to share these benefits with the teenage children of Colombian immigrants I met when I first arrived in the United States.

Growing up, my friends and I imagined the United States as a place where anything and everything fortuitous could happen to us immediately upon arrival. When, at the age of 25, I first visited my aunts and their families in Union City, New Jersey, however, very little in their lives resembled the images from my youthful imagination of what life in America was supposed to be like. Instead of the big, beautiful houses we had conjured in our dreams, their “houses” were actually just single rooms, each one occupied by a large family, with all the families sharing cramped amenities. My relatives worked long hours just to pay the bills, and my cousins rarely left their apartments, let alone Union City. I understood struggle, having experienced it firsthand, but I could not accept the despondency and defeat I saw in the eyes of my aunts, their family members, and their neighbors. I wanted to give my cousins and their friends, who were also the children of immigrants, a window into a different world, and I did so using—of all things—a mere soccer ball. A quick pick-up game with my cousins slowly turned into weekly lessons/practices with them and a group of their peers, and they would regularly play late into the night. With America de Cali, I had learned how to run clinics that were practical yet fun, and I was able to use these skills to coach my cousins and their friends. In time, I began to see a new light in these young people’s eyes.

The teenagers I found myself coaching had grown up immersed in U.S. culture—they were fans of American football and rooted for the New York Giants, they barely spoke their native Spanish, and for them, soccer was but a newborn pastime in the United States. Their interests and experience in America thus far had created a separation between them and their parents, who did not share the teenagers’ appreciation for American football and lamented the loss of a connection with their children that the language bar- rier had caused. However, as they watched their children learn and develop a passion for the sport of their youth, this gap began to close. My insistence that we all speak only Spanish during practice aided this process. We also “adopted” a soccer team from Pereira, Colombia—my hometown—and followed its games enthusiastically throughout the season. These games not only allowed me to point out complex soccer moves in action but also re- inforced the teenagers’ connection to their native language and their roots in Colombia. As a result, the kids gained a sense of belonging to something larger than their isolated immigrant community in Union City. Once this initial connection was established, I was able to also teach them about Pereira’s remarkable coffee culture, about Colombia’s distinguished heritage, and about their own great cultural inheritance. I now saw pride in their faces—pride in themselves and in their community.

Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.