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Expanding and Contracting

(from four pages down to two)

  • Some schools allow you four pages for your story.  That's plenty of room to say almost anything you want, as long as you stay focused.  However, it's often broken into two essays.  
  • Others want one essay, and only allow three pages.  Some compromises may have to be made:  shall I delete one topic or cut details on several?  With a little finesse and judicious editing, this reduction isn't too painful.  
  • Once in a great while (most notably at Columbia and Harvard), you are asked to squeeze your life story into two pages.  And at Emory, Hofstra and Pace, you have only 500 words. Ouch!  

Deciding what to cut requires knowing your goal in crafting the original essay.  Perhaps looking at an example will help.  Let's start with four pages of essay, divided into personal statement and diversity statement.

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We Start with a Diversity Statement

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While my parents may not be wealthy, have prestigious degrees, or successful corporate careers, my brother and I love them and respect them VERY much. My Mom and Dad are, quite simply, our biggest heroes. In India, we lived in a beautiful southern city. My dad received a Business degree from a university in India. He became fluent in English only after we settled in the United States. My Mom's educational experience was more restricted than my Dad's. My Mom was the eldest child from a fairly large family. As she entered the 6th grade, my grandmother was diagnosed with epilepsy and was unable to care for the children on her own. My Mom was forced to drop out of school, and along with her grandmother (my Great Grandmother), took care of the household duties and raised her 6 siblings. Unfortunately, she never again had an opportunity to go back to school.  

While living in India amongst countless family members and friends was wonderful, my parents were anxious to immigrate to the US to escape the deteriorating Indian economy. Further, they wanted my brother and I to be educated in American schools and universities. At the urging of a relative living in Texas, my parents decided on beginning our American experience in Houston. My uncle could not have foreseen the severe downturn in the Oil and Gas industry that was about to decimate Houston's economy. Due to the language barrier and the lack of a college degree from an American university, both my parents began working at jobs earning minimum wage. Actually, as bad as the economy was, they were anxious to get ANY job offering insurance and were very appreciative of the jobs they got, regardless of the type of work. My Dad manages gasoline stations and my Mom is a clerk at Wal-Mart.

When I entered college, I felt that I would utilize my education to improve the family business. I never considered building a career. Simply put, my goal was to merely complete the courses and leave so that I can go help my father. I had to regularly drive back and forth to Houston from school; we sometimes made the trip more than twice a week and most of my weekends were spent in Houston working on the business. My grades were erratic because certain classes worked better with my ridiculous schedule than others. I simply wasn't able to spend the appropriate amount of time on my course work. At this point, our family's household income was only $32K per year. Working during school was definitely financially necessary. Between working with the family and the part time job, I consistently worked more than 40 hrs/wk.

Unfortunately, during my Senior year, my parents declared bankruptcy. However, this experience was ultimately a fruitful one. After graduation, I had to rely on my degree to make a living. Being in a position to financially help my parents recover from the loss of their business and emerge from bankruptcy was a special and emotional time for me. For once, I was able to help my parents and support them in the same manner that they had supported me. My parents worked hard and made sacrifices and were back on their feet by recovering from bankruptcy in less than two years. Their incredible display of courage and determination set an excellent example for me.

My experience with the family business taught me that the ability to take a risk is essential to progressing in life. However, diligence is required to ensure that the risk is a reasonable one to take and that the potential reward warrants the taking of the risk in the first place. Above all, stay humble and be eager to work hard and learn from your mistakes.

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Now here we switch to Personal Statement

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My interest in engineering grew from the purchase of my first car while still in high school, a 1974 Datsun 260 Z. I purchased this awesome little two-seater for $800 and restored it piece by piece. Working on the car forced me to get familiar with numerous technical concepts, specifications, and drawings. Eventually, I felt comfortable with the idea of pursuing an engineering degree. My college has a variety of subcultures that I wanted to learn more about. I was fairly conservative, but I was anxious to interact with and learn from people having different perspectives.  

Within the first 2 weeks of school, an art student from one of the roughest neighborhoods in Houston and a self-described "militant Chicano" from Brownsville, TX, were among my closest friends. The three of us had nothing in common other than the fact that we lived in the same dorm and we were eager to interact with people we wouldn't associate with "back home". To this day, they are two of my favorite friends.

Even though it was popular with Engineering students to take all the "right brained" electives at community colleges for course credit, I always heard great things about liberal arts programs, so I insisted on taking all my classes (including English, History, Government and Philosophy)  at my college. It turned out to be a great decision; these were my most enjoyable courses, especially American history.

I thoroughly enjoyed working as a clerk at the Fine Arts Library. Despite the fact that the job paid very little, I loved it because I learned to appreciate art and artists more than I ever had before. I became good friends with many of my coworkers who were art students, and was amazed at how hard they worked and how much they invested of themselves in their art. That job has had a wonderful and lasting effect on me. I hardly ever miss a new exhibition at the various museums and galleries in Houston. Also, my trips to Europe have revolved around visiting specific museums in the different cities. My favorite museums are the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (wall to wall Van Goghs!!!) and the Louvre in Paris.

Just as going to college was the obvious "next step" after completing high school, entering law school has become the obvious next step at this point in my life - primarily because I have a strong desire to be an entrepreneur and build a successful business. My experience with the family business and work experiences after college have shown me that legal knowledge is nothing less than a cornerstone of a viable organization. And just as I used college as a chance to broaden my world, I expect law school to introduce me to even more interesting concepts and experiences.

Analysis of the Two Statements

First of all, notice that the diversity statement comes first.  Since much of it is family history, it comes first chronologically, and since it shows family background, it also comes first logically.  

My client and I had several goals in crafting these essays.  We wanted to show his ethnic diversity as a recent immigrant.  We wanted to explain some erratic grades brought on by a heavy work schedule.  In his diversity statement we wanted to show how traditional his family is, and in his personal statement we wanted to show how much he has broken away from the traditions and stereotypes of his culture.   And we wanted to show that he's comfortable dealing with a broad range of people in a broad range of situations.  We accomplished each of these without having to stretch our editing abilities.  

Next, we had to tell the same story in three pages.

While my parents may not be wealthy, have prestigious degrees, or successful corporate careers, my brother and I love them and respect them VERY much. My Mom and Dad are, quite simply, our biggest heroes. In India, we lived in a beautiful southern city. While living amongst countless family members and friends was wonderful, my parents were anxious to immigrate to the US to escape the deteriorating Indian economy. Further, they wanted my brother and I to be educated in American schools and universities. At the urging of a relative living in Texas, my parents decided on beginning our American experience in Houston. My uncle could not have foreseen the severe downturn in the Oil and Gas industry that was about to decimate Houston's economy. Due to the language barrier and the lack of a college degree from an American university, both my parents began working at jobs earning minimum wage. My Dad manages gasoline stations and my Mom is a clerk at Wal-Mart Stores.

When I entered college, I always felt that I would utilize my education to improve the family business. I never considered building an engineering career. My interest in engineering grew from the purchase of my first car while still in high school, a 1974 Datsun 260 Z. I purchased this awesome little two-seater for $800 and restored it piece by piece. It was a joy to own, despite the fact that it required constant maintenance. Working on the car forced me to get familiar with numerous technical concepts, specifications, and drawings. Eventually, I felt comfortable with the idea of pursuing an engineering degree.  

College didn't disappoint! Within the first 2 weeks of school, an art student from one of the roughest neighborhoods in Houston and a self-described "militant Chicano" from Brownsville, TX, were among my closest friends. The three of us had nothing in common other than the fact that we lived in the same dorm and we were eager to interact with the types of people we wouldn't associate with "back home". To this day, they are two of my favorite friends. Working as a clerk at the Fine Arts Library, I learned to appreciate art and artists more than I ever had before. I became good friends with many of my coworkers who were art students, and was amazed at how hard they worked and how much they invested of themselves in their art. That job has had a wonderful and lasting effect on me. I hardly ever miss a new exhibition at the various museums and galleries in Houston. Also, my trips to Europe have revolved around visiting specific museums in the different cities. My favorite museums are the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (wall to wall Van Goghs!!!) and the Louvre in Paris.

Unfortunately, helping out in the family business took much more of my time than I had anticipated. I had to regularly drive back and forth to Houston; I sometimes made the trip more than twice a week and most of my weekends were spent in Houston working on the business. My grades were erratic because certain classes worked better with my ridiculous schedule than others. I simply wasn't able to spend the appropriate amount of time on my course work. At this point, our family's household income was only $32K per year. Working during school was definitely financially necessary. Between working with the family and the Fine Arts library, I consistently worked more than 40 hours per week.

During my Senior year, my parents declared bankruptcy. However, this experience was ultimately a fruitful one. After graduation, I had to rely on engineering to make a living. Being in a position to financially help my parents recover from the loss of their business and emerge from bankruptcy was a special and emotional time for me. For once, I was able to help my parents and support them in the same manner that they had supported me. My parents worked hard and made sacrifices and were back on their feet by recovering from bankruptcy in less than two years. Their incredible display of courage and determination set an excellent example for me.

Just as going to college was the obvious "next step" after completing high school, entering law school has become the obvious next step at this point in my life - primarily because I have a strong desire to be an entrepreneur and build a successful business. My experience with the family business taught me that the ability to take a risk is essential to progressing in life. However, diligence is required to ensure that the risk is a reasonable one to take and that the potential reward warrants the taking of the risk in the first place. Above all, stay humble and be eager to work hard and learn from your mistakes. My experience has also shown me that legal knowledge is nothing less than a cornerstone of a viable organization. And just as I used college as a chance to broaden my world, I expect law school to introduce me to even more interesting concepts and experiences. I thoroughly enjoy leaving my comfort zone; when something is not familiar to me, rather than it being disconcerting, it becomes a much appreciated opportunity to learn and understand. I'm sure that this aspect of law school will far exceed my expectations.

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Hatcheting the story from just over 1200 words to just under 900 wasn't pleasant, but it was necessary; the easiest way to get rejected is to ignore instructions.

 

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