Tackling Shaffer & BOAF Essay #3

This blog post is the last of several blog posts written to guide candidates for the Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation fellowships through the application essay writing process.  Specifically, this post will discuss essay question #3 in the Shaffer and BOAF fellowship application in detail and feature past essays from successful candidates. You can read the blog post on how to write essay #1 here, the blog post on essay #2 here, and the blog post on Bank of America Foundation fellowship essay #4 here.

First of all, you can access all 7 components of both fellowship applications, see a summary of every single former fellow’s project, read a history of the fellowships, and get more application specifics on both fellowship websites. You can access the Shaffer Fellowship website here and the Bank of America Foundation website here. The application is due on Friday, September 22 at 5 PM eastern and your application is considered complete when all 7 components, including both letters of recommendation, are emailed in PDF format to Heidi Baguer and cc’ed to me, Katelynn McBride.

Shaffer/BOAF application essay #3

The format of this blog post is as follows:

  1. Lists the essay question
  2. Describes my approach to the question
  3. Provides examples of actual past successful essays and why they are effective

Shaffer/BOAF Essay #3: State briefly (300 words) how your experiences at Notre Dame Law School shaped the person you currently are and the lawyer you plan to be.

My approach to this question:

This essay gives you another chance to show why you will make a great public interest attorney. You can use this space to showcase another great public service project you worked on while in law school, further highlighting how you have worked in the practice area your project proposes to work in. Or you can use this space to underscore your passion for public service generally.

However you use this space, be sure to tell a specific story and to show the committee why you are dedicated to public service.

You can reflect on the “educating a different kind of lawyer” theme, point out specific opportunities that Notre Dame offered you and how they made a difference as you worked to enter a public interest career, or discuss catholic social justice and how attending a Catholic school helped shape your perspectives.

Be sure to point to a specific thing about Notre Dame that made a difference for you. It can be an externship opportunity, deposition skills class, volunteer opportunities through a student organization, or almost anything you can think of. It can even be the morality and integrity of your classmates, staff, and professors. But the key is to point to something specific.

Below, I look at three successful responses to this question and discuss why they were effective.

Successful response #1 to Shaffer/BOAF essay question #3 from a real successful applicant

The words on my acceptance letter were instrumental in my decision to attend Notre Dame: “Welcome Home.” For the 10,000,000 refugees in the world, the lack of a home is the core component of their identity. As a result of persecution, civil war, or famine, millions have fled their homes, only to languish in refugee camps for years or move to a foreign country and seek asylum. I came to law school committed to equipping myself with the education and skills needed to represent these refugees and asylum seekers.

My education and training at Notre Dame have increased my dedication to representing refugees and given me hands-on, real-life experience to learn how to do so through the NIJC externship. A particular formative experience in the externship was my representation of a 19-year old survivor of civil war in the DRC. Kept as a slave by rebel forces, she was forced to flee her home and live in hiding. To support her application, I contacted senators for support, Doctor’s Without Borders for medical support, UNHCR for in-country assistance, and USCIS for expedited processes. In an unprecedented grant of approval, my client received a visa. Since her arrival in the United States, I have submitted her asylum application and am awaiting her interview results. This experience taught me more about what it means to be an advocate than any textbook could.

Without Notre Dame’s support of externships, I would not understand that representing refugees and asylum seekers requires far more than knowledge of immigration law; it requires compassion, empathy, and tireless zeal on behalf of your client- traits I see daily in my classmates and professors. Here at Notre Dame, I have been educated and trained to make “home” a reality for the refugee clients I represent.

Why this essay was effective:

The candidate told a specific story about helping a client seek asylum. Her proposed project was an asylum rights project. So this essay further underscored how she has experience in asylum rights law while telling a very memorable story that paints a picture of her at work.

Their story shows her hard at work, contacting a multitude of different groups to help her client. We see how dedicated she is to helping people and so beyond showing how qualified she is to pursue her project, we see how much she cares and the lengths she will go to in order to make a difference in her client’s lives.

The essay is also specific in how Notre Dame shaped her experiences. The candidate specifically points to externship opportunities as something that really made a difference.

But what really makes this essay special is that it calls back to a theme that was discussed in essay #2 in her application (successful response #3 in the linked blog post), where she talks about the importance of home for those who have been forcibly displaced. Here, of course, the essay begins with the candidate’s acceptance letter that said “Welcome Home” while essay #2 discussed a public service project where her displaced refugee clients melted their keys together to symbolize home. The candidate has created a theme that runs through her essays -the importance of home- so all of the essays together tell a consistent story and the application flows wonderfully.

Successful response #2 to Shaffer/BOAF essay question #3 from a real successful applicant

Before coming to Notre Dame Law School I knew I wanted to use my law degree to serve impoverished communities. I grew up with an immense amount of privilege and my father grew up in extreme poverty. From a young age it was made clear to me that not everyone starts on an equal playing field. It was my desire to have a career centered on providing justice to marginalized communities. Since most organizations that serve the impoverished are located in cities, I thought the only way to serve impoverished communities was to work in a city. Notre Dame Law School showed me that poverty was more prevalent and debilitating than I ever imagined. I was caught off guard while participating in the Appalachia Externship through Notre Dame when I realized the crippling poverty that existed in suburbs and rural areas.

I saw the devastating effects of poverty outside of an urban environment for the first time in Appalachia. Legal aid was needed for residents to keep their children in school, escape violent relationships and receive damages for medical bills. There was one family with young children who sought legal help because their water had been contaminated. They had been putting bleach in their water hoping it would kill bacteria. Poverty is exacerbated in suburbs and rural areas because there is a lack of public transportation and public services. This experience inspired me to use my law degree to serve low-income individuals in suburban communities.

It is my desire to be a different kind of lawyer – one that seeks justice for the impoverished and treats all people with dignity. As an attorney, I want to embrace the power of law and use it to benefit underserved communities. I believe that Notre Dame has equipped me to do just that.

Why this essay was effective:

This essay also points to a specific opportunity Notre Dame Law School offers that really made a difference- the Appalachia externship. The candidate tells a memorable story about helping rural clients and seeing the special legal needs rural communities have. The point about putting bleach in the water to kill bacteria really sticks in the reader’s mind and paints a picture of the condition the community was in; far more effective than simply saying “the community really needed legal help.”

Also, this specific story is uniquely connected to the candidate’s project, which involved helping homeless suburban youth get access to quality education. The candidate shows in this essay that she understands that communities outside of cities have unique needs, she has experience interacting with individuals living outside of cities and responding to their needs, and thus the reader has confidence that the candidate can successfully launch a project working with suburban communities and their unique challenges.

Lastly, the candidate points at Notre Dame’s “educating a different kind of lawyer” motto to effectively close out the essay.

Successful response #3 to Shaffer/BOAF essay question #3 from a real successful applicant

I chose Notre Dame Law School because of my desire to pursue a career in juvenile law and Notre Dame’s strong reputation for public service. Notre Dame Law School presented itself as a community of administrators, faculty, and students who would simultaneously encourage me to live out values instilled in me while serving in the Peace Corps and provide me the vocational training necessary to integrate my passion to serve with my future vocation.

Upon arriving on campus for my first year of law school, I quickly found that Notre Dame was everything I had hoped to find in a law school. I participated in GALILEE during my first year and was fortunate enough to be asked to co-direct the program my second year. Through GALILEE, I met other like-minded faculty and students who were passionate about careers in public interest law, and I found mentors who were willing to help me follow my chosen career path.

My experiences at Notre Dame have only solidified my desire to practice juvenile law. During my externship at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), I gained invaluable experience working within the juvenile court system and benefited from the mentorship of a Notre Dame alumnus. While conducting legal research for the director of the JJC, I gained insight into the systematic problems affecting unprivileged youth in the United States. I was also fortunate to intern with individuals committed to reform efforts and diligent advocacy on behalf of juveniles. This experience affirmed my passion for helping those who are most vulnerable.

Notre Dame students and faculty have also been instrumental in shaping my passion and facilitating my vocational calling. Law school can be competitive, but I am fortunate to attend a school where fellow classmates generally help one another to succeed and are able to place their career within a larger context of values. Notre Dame’s commitment to service has further instilled in me a commitment to serving those less fortunate through the practice of law.

Why this essay was effective:

This candidate pointed to two specific experiences at Notre Dame that were particular helpful to her as she embarked down a public interest law path; her externship at the JCC and participation in GALILEE. Her project proposed working with sexually exploited children and she effectively uses this essay to further show the reader her commitment to juvenile law and how she has worked toward building an expertise in that practice area throughout law school.

She also discusses how the atmosphere at Notre Dame, including fellow students, staff, and professors were also supportive of public interest generally.

As you develop your Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation essay drafts, please feel free to send them to a CDO counselor for an individualized review. We are here to help you as you finalize your applications.

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