Past Imperfect: Personal Statements Can Renew Motivation, Improve Learning
2 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 10, 2010
Students submit as part of their law school application a personal statement that explores life-changing events, describes the influence of key people, and explains why the applicant wants to become a lawyer.
Revisited effectively by a law teacher, a student’s personal statement can be an excellent motivational tool and a powerful educational resource. In the former capacity, it keeps the student mindful of original ideals; in the latter role, it prompts the law teacher to turn diverse life backgrounds into a new source of instructional material.
On the first day of class with my second- and third-year law students, I distribute to them a copy of their personal statement and announce that the first paper assignment is to write an updated personal statement. They are to carefully examine the discrepancy between how they imagined law school would deal with their ideals and what, in fact, law school has done in that regard. As they critically reflect on written promises made to themselves, will the person they once were recognize the person they have become? Why have they gone back on their word – and at what price?
Students report that engaging in this introspective exercise is so unexpected and strange that they do not know how to proceed initially. They tell me that they feel disoriented, as though pulled away from a myopic focus on legal rules to once again behold a broad social vision. Taking this sobering look at where they are in light of where they thought they would be, most students discover that they would apply themselves eagerly to academics if deeply felt convictions instead of mere concepts were at stake. They would study harder and take classes more seriously if law school instruction were tied to something more important that a final course grade.
The personal statement exercise jump-starts a semester-long commitment to integrate student ideals into the learning enterprise.
Keywords: Law school personal statement, motivation, renewal, introspection, legal education, integration
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