January 29th, 2012

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation


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“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
-Timothy Ferriss

Although letters of recommendation are a mandatory part of almost all applications, many students do not think about them until the last minute. This is a terrible idea because 1) they will not have enough time to personally connect with their recommenders, and 2) their recommender will be rushed to complete the letter in a limited amount of time, which further decreases the personal value of the letter.

Leaving letters of recommendation to the last minute is also troubling because it is the only part of your application over which you do not have full control. Imagine the amount of paperwork, email, and other information that your recommender receives on a daily basis. If you do not give the recommender sufficient time to complete the letter, then it could end up delaying your entire application.

To avoid the aforementioned problems, we have outlined a fail-proof step-by-step method for securing letters of recommendation.

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November 26th, 2011

Law School Personal Statement Ideas


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Join the Crowd

You’re reading this article because you have absolutely no idea what to write your law school personal statement about. Take a deep breath and relax—you are not alone.

For example, take a look at the following tweets about law school personal statements:

  • “This Personal Statement for Law School apps is killing me.”
  • “Writing my law school personal statement for the third time.”
  • “My personal statement is [expletive]. I don’t have any work experience in law firms . . . like other people.”
  • “Personal statement for law school is harder than I thought.”
  • “This personal statement might be the death of me… I hate law school already.”
  • “This law school personal statement will be the death of me. Hands down the most ambiguous two pages I’ve ever written.”

As you can see, for many applicants, the hardest part about applying to law school is coming up with a personal statement topic. It’s hard to write about yourself—we get it.

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November 19th, 2011

Law School Application Checklist: Avoid Becoming a Horror Story


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For the last several months, law school applicants have strenuously studied for the LSAT. Countless hours have gone into learning the specific tips and tricks that will guarantee them an impressive score.

Many have focused so much effort on the LSAT, that they will forget to scrutinize their law school applications for errors.

The Gradvocates Editing Team has compiled a checklist to assist you in this undertaking and to help you avoid becoming an application “horror story” that we too often read about online.

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March 9th, 2011

Engineering Your Personal Statement Topic: Do Something Worth Writing


(Photo Source: Richard Scott)

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Saturday Morning Crisis: “What Should I Write My Personal Statement About?”

My phone rings suspiciously early on a Saturday morning.  After reeling in my Blackberry by its power cord, I finally find the courage to confront the blinding light of the phone’s screen.  Caller I.D. reveals that it is my cousin.  As a junior in college, he is in the process of studying for the LSAT so that he can apply to law school next fall.  I have a feeling that I know exactly why he is calling.

“Mike, I know it’s early, but can I ask you a question?”

“Is it about the LSAT or applying to law school?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

He proceeded to ask me what he should write his law school personal statement about.  He explained that he believed that his work experience wasn’t impressive enough, especially because he had never worked in any legal capacity.  All he had was a strong interest in criminal law, one year of mock trial experience, and a handful of undergraduate “pre-law” courses.

I tried to help him brainstorm ideas; however, he was convinced that he didn’t have enough to write about.  But with over nine months left before he had to submit his law school applications, I knew exactly what advice I should give him.

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August 22nd, 2010

Three Grammatical Errors That Elite Writers Frown Upon


(Photo Source: Carlos Úbeda)

The Gradvocates Editing Team was surprised to find that over 75% of the personal statements that we have edited had at least one of following errors in it. Accordingly, we decided to write a blog post to inform the rest of you of what to avoid.

Please note that all of the “incorrect” words or phrases below are not actually incorrect in everyday use. Most dictionaries will even tell you that it is acceptable to use them in the way that we are telling you not to use them.

So you might ask, “Why even read this article then?” Two important reasons:

1) Although they might be correct in everyday use, they are incorrect in academic writing. As you probably know, your personal statement should be as formal as possible.

2) The audience for your personal statement is composed of, in part, highly educated professors who spend a significant amount of their time writing scholarly pieces. They will easily spot grammatical errors, which may negatively affect how your personal statement is received.

“Although” versus “While”

  • Incorrect: While you may be right on the first issue, you are wrong on the second issue.
  • Correct: Although you may be right on the first issue, you are wrong on the second issue.
  • Proper usage of “while”: While he was on the phone, he missed an important phone call.

If you couldn’t tell from the examples, “while” is a temporal word, meaning that it relates to a length of time. Specifically, it should be used to describe concurrent events—things that are happening at the same time.

In this context, “although” is for giving concessions, and it is the word that you should use.

“Because” versus “Since”

  • Incorrect: Since he needed money, he asked the bank for a loan.
  • Correct: Because he needed money, he asked the bank for a loan.
  • Proper usage of “since”: He hasn’t gone to the library since last week.

As demonstrated by the examples, “since” is a temporal word used to indicate the passage of time.

“Because” is used to introduce a reason why something is a certain way or why something happened. In this context, it should be used instead of “since.”

Bonus: the phrase “due to” should generally be avoided when “because” can be used.

“To” versus “In Order To”

  • Incorrect: He reviewed the course book in order to determine what classes he had to take.
  • Correct: He reviewed the course book to determine what classes he had to take.
  • Proper usage of “in order”: They were lined up in order from shortest to tallest.

The words “in order” are redundant. Simply omitting them gets you a concise and formally correct sentence. As we have indicated in the above example, “in order” should generally be used for sequential or grouping purposes

Hopefully this article has shed some light on these common writing mistakes. Avoid them! Although they are not incorrect, they can undermine your credibility as a writer.

August 15th, 2010

Difference between a Résumé and Curriculum Vitae (CV)


Résumé vs. Curriculum Vitae (CV)
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In the United States, résumé usually refers to a summary document of one’s professional and academic experiences and skills relevant to the type of employment an applicant is seeking.  This employment can be in either the private or public sector but is usually for non-academic positions.  For entry-level positions, the résumé in most cases should be no longer than one page.  A résumé is tailored to each specific position being applied to, leaving out non-relevant experiences and limiting the scope of the document to relevant professional and academic work completed in the past ten years.

In the United States, curriculum vitae (CV) may refer to a document that lists not only all professional and academic experiences but also all published articles, periodicals, reviews, journals, presentations, publications, honors, awards, affiliations, patents, and research experience going back further than the past ten years.  This document is mainly used when applying for accredited, academic, research, scientific and other educational and licensed authoritative positions as well as when applying for grants, assistantships, and fellowships.  The length of this document is usually much longer (three pages or more) as it is a much more all-inclusive document of your academic and research achievements as well as your experience and skills.

In other parts of the world, résumé and curriculum vitae (CV) are used interchangeably.  In other countries when asking for a curriculum vitae (CV), an employer may want you to include your marital status, gender, ethnicity, nationality, date of birth, sexual orientation, religious background, and other information that is considered private, inappropriate to ask for, and against the law in the United States due to anti-discrimination statutes.

Even in the United States, the terms résumé and curriculum vitae (CV) are starting to become more synonymous than in the past, so it is good to check with the employer or institution you are applying to what the specific requirements are for the document in question.  For example, many law schools will not ask for a résumé and some may even tell you not to send one; however, unless specifically asked not to send a résumé, sending a law school résumé is a good idea.  In general, law school résumés should be no longer than one page in length and should mirror the entry-level position résumé format while including as much experience that can be directly related to law school as possible.  Other graduate and post-graduate programs may require the longer, more in-depth curriculum vitae (CV) structure.  The point is different types of educational institutions and organizations will have different parameters regarding what credentials need to be on your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV), so be sure to verify what type of content will be expected with the specific program for which you are applying whether either term is used.  With some research, you may find that even though their website calls for a curriculum vitae (CV), they may only really want a one-page résumé or vice versa.

June 28th, 2010

How to Write a Great Personal Statement: Part One


Make a Good First Impression by Hooking the Reader’s Attention

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
—Source Unknown

Members of admission committees are charged with the responsibility of reading thousands of personal statements. This is both a daunting and boring task. You can, however, use this to your advantage by hooking the reader’s attention with an extremely interesting and well-written introduction. After reading dozens of mediocre personal statements, your exciting introduction will be a refreshing treat and will induce the reader to read the rest of your personal statement with enthusiasm.

Do Not Start or End with a Quote or Cliché

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
—Judy Garland

We are aware that we started this section with a quote; however, we are not writing a personal statement. Admission committee members do not want to hear wise words of wisdom from some author, politician, or celebrity, and using such a quote does nothing to tell the reader about you. This is a personal statement; as such, it is critical that you write your own story in your own words. Furthermore, many schools impose word limits of 500 words or two pages. Do not waste valuable words with a quote that says nothing about you and that will only make the reader roll their eyes.

Be as Interesting and Unique as Possible

It’s pretty damn hard to bring your uniqueness into actual being if you’re always doing the same things as a lot of other people.
—Brendan Francis

This point is best demonstrated by two examples:

A friend asked us to read her personal statement, which was about how a role model inspired her to attend graduate school to pursue international relations. After reading her personal statement, we were perplexed at her topic choice. We asked her why she would write such a dull essay, which wasn’t even really about her, when she has spent much of her life living abroad in Europe and South America. She rewrote her essay, detailing her exciting experiences abroad and integrated them with her desire to study international relations.

Another example involves a client of ours when we were still operating under SimuGator Editing. She wrote a law school personal statement that rehashed her resume and only briefly mentioned that she had worked as a secretary at a law firm. Upon further inquiry, it turned out that she had worked at the law firm for two years where she gained invaluable experience in communicating with clients, handling discovery issues, and researching case law for motions. After advising her that she should write her personal statement about her job at the law firm, the experience that she gained, and why it compelled her to attend law school, our client took our advice and ended up with an impressive personal statement.

Don’t Ignore Word Limits or Write Too Much

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
—Thomas Jefferson

At most schools, word limits are not a suggestion. In addition to showing that you can follow basic rules, obeying the word limit will show that you can write succinctly and effectively. Ignoring word limits needlessly puts your application at risk.

Along the same lines, if your essay’s limit is two pages, then you should not change font size, spacing, or margins to bring your essay into compliance. Such manipulations are incredibly obvious and should be avoided.

Essays can be edited down to comply with the word requirement. It just takes a little creativity and an acceptance that every word you write is not golden.

Don’t Write Your Autobiography; Do Summarize Its Most Interesting Chapter

An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life, and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.
—Roald Dahl

One of the top personal statement problems occurs when applicants rewrite their resumes or try to summarize every one of their life experiences. Doing this is like trying to squeeze your entire autobiography into a short essay. We are sure that admission committee members would love to read your autobiography after you graduate from their school and become highly successful; however, now is not the time for that.

Trying to account for every life experience in a temporal manner is highly ineffective. Admission committee members already have your resume and transcript, which they have most likely looked at before turning to your personal statement. Instead of summarizing what they already know, take the opportunity to impress them with a story that is interesting and exciting to read, and then relate it back to why you would be a great student or good fit for the school that you are applying to.

Get a Professional Opinion

Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.
—David Ogilvy

Your personal statement is one of the most difficult and important pieces of writing you will ever produce. It needs to be absolutely perfect. If you are unsure of whether it is, in fact, perfect, then you need to get a professional opinion as to its content, grammar, and writing style. Because family and friends are too willing to please, their advice will only take you so far.

If you want your personal statement to be perfect, then let us help by purchasing our law school personal statement editing package. We guarantee that we will not stop until your personal statement is truly remarkable.

June 27th, 2010

Stumped? Brainstorming Ideas for Personal Statements: How to Effectively Tap Into Your Inner Creativity


(Photo Source: andymangold)

So you have to write your personal statement, but about what exactly?

“I’m great. The End.” ­­­­If it were only that easy, you wouldn’t be reading this.  First things first:

Breaking Writer’s Block

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We all have it. It happens.  Usually, the time we set aside to finish a task like writing a personal statement or essay isn’t the same time that our creative juices are flowing.  Duly noted, now what? I go into more detail about writer’s block in How to Overcome Writer’s Block; however, now, the most important thing to do is to think about your process for writing.  It is much easier to come up with ideas once you have the groundwork laid out for the structure of your personal statement.

Personal Statement Structures (Examples)

Short Narrative (Single Experience):

Now, I’m not saying you need an outline. It is always helpful, but that isn’t what I mean by structure.  What I mean by structure is the angle at which you approach your writing.  For instance, you can write in a narrative style about a particular situation that demonstrates your best personal and professional qualities.  Maybe a company or firm you worked for, a volunteer organization or a business you started might provide a single set of succinct events that contain all the attributes you want to relay to the readers of your personal statement.

Personal Statements are short, so this approach of using a single set of interconnected events which create a concise narrative really takes full advantage of the limited space provided if done properly.  This method will allow you to give interesting details about a certain experience you would otherwise not be able to tell.  It is also an exceptional method for capturing a reader’s attention because inherently everyone enjoys a good story (key word being “good” in that previous sentence.)  A dull story will not help you.

Brief Experience-Building Chronological Timeline (Multiple Experiences):

Sometimes, you just do not have an experience that lends itself to being made into a short daytime Made-for-TV movie like the previous example, meaning it will not translate well into a narrative about a single situation.  In this case if you want to include multiple experiences in your personal statement, you should try the chronological experience-building timeline approach.  Using this method, you will show the reader what led you to the path you are on now, demonstrating reasons for your intentions along the way.  This timeline will not only include what you have done in the past and what you are doing now but also what you plan to do in the future with your degree while you are in school as well as after you graduate.

You will want to start with the first experience that logically began the path you are on now.  You do not want to start with: “Well, I was born, and then I went to grade school, junior high, high school, had my first job, blah, blah, blah…”  This is not interesting and is too much information.  Your personal statement must be short and to the point.

You also do not want to restate your resume; although, using this method, it might be tempting to do so.  Nevertheless, remind yourself that not everything on your curriculum vitae is relevant to the program you are applying to now.  Nor does it really make clear exactly what you got out of those experiences.  Using a brief experience-building timeline will not only show why you initially were interested in each step and what you got out of it but also how it led to the next logical step (aka your next experience on your chronological timeline).

So you might be asking: “Does this mean I need to include every job or experience that might have happened during that period of time?”  The answer is clearly no.  Realistically, for this type of personal statement, you want between two and four worthwhile experiences that transition into each other in a believable manner and all lead to where you are now in your decision to apply.

An example of this could be as follows in your brainstorming outline:

Experiences to use in personal statement about pursuing a law degree to practice intellectual property law in the maritime industry:

  1. Life Guarding – became interested in people’s safety swimming in the ocean at a young age because I knew someone that almost drowned (or my brother was a life guard, etc.)
  2. Volunteer Coast Guard – wanted to learn more about seafaring vessels while saving lives and doing my part as a volunteer.
  3. Sailing Club – as an undergraduate engineering student I became interested in the design of ships and their propulsion technology.
  4. Law Firm – as a legal assistant I worked for attorneys specializing in nautical technology patents, sparking my interest in law, and leading me down the path to becoming a lawyer to pursue intellectual property litigation in the maritime industry.

This example clearly shows the logical steps in the candidate’s path towards going to law school as well as what he wants to pursue during law school and on into his professional career afterward.  Your experiences might not be as clear cut, but many scenarios can work using this method.  The key is that the experiences mentioned build upon each other and lead the reader to believe not only will you be interested in the program for which you are applying but also that you have some experience in related fields.

Theme-Based Personal Statement (Multiple Experiences):

This type of personal statement is self-explanatory.  It can make use of personal as well as professional experiences.  They just all need to be wrapped together under one theme.  There are many themes to choose from such as: personal perseverance over hardships (e.g. financial, family/friend illness or death, prejudice, handicap, etc.), focus of interest (e.g. particular hobby, volunteer work, industry, craft, idea, etc. that can be related to the program or field to which you are applying in a meaningful way), innovative thinking (i.e. how attending the program you are applying for will help you achieve creating an innovative process, device, business, etc.), and many others.

Themes do not have to have any chronological order to their events; however, you may want to organize your ideas chronologically if that makes the most sense.  If not, you should order your experiences in a way that best supports your main theme.

These are just a few methods for structuring a personal statement.  They are not totally exclusive to each other, and they are not an exhaustive list.  They do and can overlap if the writer wishes so; however, they are a starting point for thinking about ideas to use to build your personal statement.  It is kind of like creating a sketch of a painting with a pencil and then filling it in by painting over it, using the lines as a guide to get you started.

June 27th, 2010

How to Overcome Writer’s Block


(Photo Source: Alun Salt)

Writing isn’t easy many of the times we sit down to write.  Overcoming writer’s block at the time that we have it can seem near impossible.

Here are a few tips to help you conquer your creative woes:

Find the locations where you feel the most creative

Find the times of day you feel most creative and write down ideas

You may not want to write your entire essay while you are in the shower in the morning, but if that is where you think of all your great ideas, you may want to keep a pen and paper on the sink counter.  You may not even be conscious of these times.  If this is the case, try to go through your normal routine one day and make note of all the times you are feeling particularly creative.  The next day you should bring some method of recording your thoughts and ideas during these time periods.  Having a notepad, PDA, smartphone, voice recorder, or laptop readily available during these times can make a huge difference.

With all the ideas you have recorded during these creative peaks of your day, you can now begin the brainstorming and writing process without having to start from scratch. (Note: some examples of these creative peaks are right before bed, right when you wake up and certain idle times during the day like commuting when you aren’t doing analytical or conscious decision-making.)

Ask someone who knows you for help with ideas

This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked.  You may not remember times or events that would make good writing material, but a friend, family member, or coworker might.  Don’t be shy about it.  If writing this essay is important enough to you, you should ask for help at least with ideas.  Thinking of a few ideas does not take much effort on another person’s part, and if they can’t or won’t, try someone else that is familiar with you and your experiences.  You may also want to consult someone that has written the same essay or personal statement for a similar program.

Take a break

If you are tired, burnt out, or just not being productive, taking a break and coming back later can help the writing process.  Not everyone can get their writing done in one sitting, and many times it is preferable to stop work and come back at a time when you can review what you have written with a fresh perspective.  You will be biased towards what you have just written.  Taking a break can help you revise your essay or come up with new ideas to expand upon it.  It will also give your mind time to subconsciously mull over the ideas of your essay.  The term “sleep on that thought” was created for just this reason.

Eat something healthy

There are supplements like Ginkgo Biloba, Siberian Ginseng (also known as Eleuthero Root), Ginger, Fish Oil, Gotu Kola, and Ashwagandha Root that can help with brain function; however, just eating some fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can really help you in the right direction.  Eat a banana, blueberries, or an apple.  The potassium and magnesium in the banana along with the B vitamins in the blue berries and the quercetin in the apple all help with brain function, energy, and alertness.  Eat some salad with various colored vegetables, and eat a piece of whole grain bread.  Ditch the fast food and soda.  Caffeine may keep you awake and the food may taste good late at night, but the crash from the caffeine and your hypoglycemic reaction to sugary soda and starchy take-out will leave you feeling even more tired than before.

It is difficult to think when you are hungry and even more difficult when you feel like you are about to fall asleep.  That’s why eating right while you are writing can make a real difference in the way your body and mind function.  Keep this in mind for those times where a late night snack at a fast food joint may seem both delicious and necessary to keep your writing process chugging along.

June 27th, 2010

When You Should Write an Application Addendum


Update: Gradvocates is pleased to offer Law School Addendum Editing

An addendum is a useful addition to an application when used in the correct circumstances. This short document of one to three paragraphs should only be used to explain legitimate reasons for weaknesses in your application. An addendum is optional but should be clearly titled ADDENDUM if used. This will prevent any confusion between your addendum and your personal statement or essay by the reader of your application. Remember, an addendum is only necessary to explain any weaknesses in your application for which you have a legitimate reason.

The following are examples of weaknesses that would be appropriately addressed in an addendum by a satisfactory reason (See second list below):

  1. Low standardized test score that under normal circumstances would be significantly higher
  2. An undergraduate GPA that does not accurately represent your true academic abilities
  3. An unusually low letter grade in a certain class
  4. A withdrawal or extended absence from school
  5. An extended period of unemployment (if far-removed from undergraduate or graduate school)
  6. Any sort of criminal record

This is not an exhaustive list of weaknesses for which you might want to write an addendum. The key is to pinpoint the glaring holes in your application that if left unexplained would raise significant doubt in an admissions council member as to your worthiness as an applicant. If you are trying to explain away minuscule weaknesses in your application with an addendum, this may backfire. Admissions council members may have thousands of applications to sift through. Not only does this make application readers focus on weaknesses they otherwise may have glossed over, but it also aggravates them for having wasted their time reading an additional unwarranted addendum. Only provide as much information as necessary. Too much information will not make admission board members happy and will most likely be seen as a negative aspect of your application.

You may be wondering: What are some legitimate reasons for having gaps or weaknesses in your application?

The following are some examples of legitimate reasons to write an addendum:

  1. Death or extended severe illness to a family member or relative
  2. Severe personal illness or injury over an extended period of time or that required hospitalization
  3. Documented physical, mental, or social disability or disorder
  4. Financial hardship
  5. Military service (combat deployment, reserve call-up, etc.)
  6. Vehicular accident
  7. Extenuating circumstances regarding standardized tests (e.g. – a history of bad performance on standardized tests that do not act as good indicators of academic success)

These are not a comprehensive set of justifiable reasons for glaring weaknesses on your application. The main point is to recognize what an admissions council member would regard as a permissible reason for a weakness. Also, try to remember that the context of your reason and weakness have to match. Stating that you missed classes for an extended period of time because a relative died might work if you missed all your classes during that period; however, if you just missed one of your classes but was able to attend all others, this may not seem as legitimate a reason as it should be. Also, trying to explain away glaring weaknesses with reasons that seem illegitimate may hurt you even more than if left unexplained, so do not write an addendum unless you have a good reason (in the eyes of an admissions board member) to explain a significant weakness.

Military service (combat deployment, reserve call-up, etc.)