The Worst Personal Statement I’ve Ever Read

April 7, 2011
Jesse R. Borges PhD

The law school application process is certainly not easy to navigate. After the LSAT, applicants are often most challenged while tackling their personal statement. Last month, our team of Admissions Consultants here at Kaplan share their insights on what makes for the best personal statements in our March series – “The Best Personal Statement I’ve Ever Read.” This month, we turn our attention to… well… less than the best in a series we call “The Worst Personal Statement I’ve Ever Read”. Want the team to help you with yours? Check out our personal statement review package and get unlimited access to any of our top consultants.

How bad can it get? My colleagues and I have been telling you for months that most personal statements are just plain ineffective. As a primer on this subject, you might want to review my earlier blog, Dead on Arrival: The Worst of the Worst Personal Statements. During the next few weeks, we’re going to take the time to show you more of what we’ve been talking about. As you read ourblogs on this theme, I want to caution you against becoming discouraged about your law school applications. After all, once you have had a glimpse at some of the greatest pitfalls, you’ll be better able to avoid them.

I also want you to keep in mind that even some of the best personal statements start out as pretty bad drafts. In fact, I’d have to say that at least 10% of all the essays I’ve advised applicants on over the years have started out in “the worst of the worst category.” Yet, with a combination of persistent coaching and just the right ingredients, they ALL ended up as not only competitive, but more typically, outstanding.

Granted, writing a first-rate personal statement can be enormously challenging. But, always remember this: among the most central ingredients for success in this process are introspection, fortitude, and time. Just (1) open up your mind enough to think through the different key aspects of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you hope to accomplish in law school and beyond, (2) draw upon your inner strength and personal drive, (3) give yourself enough time to work through a large number of essay drafts, and (4) never allow yourself to become discouraged. If you do these things –even if you start out with poor quality essay drafts –the chances are, you’ll eventually get your essays to exactly where they need to be.

As for the worst personal statement that I ever read, I recall reviewing an essay and application that had unfortunately already been submitted by an applicant who chose to take on a highly controversial issue. Now, I have to tell you that as soon as someone starts writing about a controversial issue in an application essay, our admissions warning bells start going off. Writing about a controversial matter that has not been asked about in the applications can carry a high degree of risk. If you do decide to do so, it is critical that you think it through very carefully and very strategically. You’ll need to handle the issue with great sensitivity, keeping in mind that your readers may have opinions which sharply differ from your own.

In this case, the applicant wrote an essay on one of the most volatile issues of our time: abortion. Unfortunately, he was neither careful, strategic, nor sensitive. On the contrary, the applicant’s writing was arrogant, emotional and bitter. His essay did not employ facts or logic, and he failed to connect his theme with his background strengths or his legal future. Instead of building a bridge to law school, this applicant used his personal statement to actually burn the bridge down. The end result was that this student, who had a competitive LSAT score and GPA, was shut out of every law school to which he applied.

There is, however, a silver lining to this story. Following his rejection, this student worked with me on his applications during the next application season, and I can tell you this: he wrote his statement on a theme that made him a much more compelling candidate. As a result, this time around – without any other improvement to his application –he gained admission to a law school of his choice.

Take examples like this one to heart and remember: our expert law school consultants are here to teach you the lessons of the admissions process, so that you don’t have to learn them the hard way.

Jesse R. Borges PhD

Jesse R. Borges PhD During the past 20+ years, including 15 with Kaplan, where I serve as Senior Admissions Consultant & Trainer, I’ve personally advised more than 1,500 graduate school applicants, and helped my clients gain admission to nearly every ABA-approved Law School in the United States. My expertise covers not only admission to law school, but also business, public policy, international affairs and social science programs. I have a PhD from Princeton University, and have previously been honored as Kaplan Graduate Admissions Consultant of the Year, as well as as National Consultant of the Year. When I’m not working with clients at Kaplan, I’m running The MBA Admissions Center, which is my MBA admissions consulting practice. You can find my complete bio at

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