A 3L’s Advice: To Succeed at HLS, March to the Beat of Your Own Drum

BY ALBERT WU

I got off the waitlist for Harvard Law School on July 4th weekend. I remember the day vividly: my roommate at Penn Law had just forwarded me the lease to sign for our apartment in Philadelphia. For seven months, I had been laying plans to live in the City of Brotherly Love, taking classes at Wharton or maybe pursuing a J.D./M.B.A. Looking back on it now, I am fairly certain I was one of the last students to be admitted into Harvard Law’s class of 2011.

The countless letters I sent to Toby Stock, the Dean of Admissions at the time, over the span of those seven months probably helped. I sent those letters because I was confident Harvard Law was the one place that would open up limitless opportunities and challenge me to compete against the best and the brightest. My scores were right on the cusp, though, so when I went to bed the night after I got the phone call from Toby saying I had been accepted to HLS, I got down on my knees and prayed for the first time in my life.

By mid-September, I was miserable. The passion that motivated those letters and that made me want to be a part of Harvard Law above all else was being snuffed out. Getting an LP when grades were released in February further woke me up that I was doing something wrong, especially because I received it in the course for which I studied the most after begrudgingly attending every class, despite my instincts otherwise. “So really,” I dared to ask, “what is there to lose if I do things differently next year?”

As a 2L, I began to focus on things outside of school, such as my friends and my health, to balance with the habits I had previously thought were necessary for me to be a “successful” Harvard Law School student. It worked. I ended up getting H’s and even a Dean’s Scholar, I joined Student Government and was able to make some minor but important changes, and, most importantly, I began building the foundations for lifelong friendships.

I was actually a little worried before I decided to change my approach to being a law student. In hindsight, my fears were unfounded. I had struggled with the insecurity of thinking I didn’t have what it took to “succeed” at law school, but realized that I didn’t need to shed my identity because of what I thought was success or how others were succeeding. My success at Harvard Law School was part and parcel with retaining my identity.

A professor of mine here at law school once told me that in order to have direction in life, it is not only necessary to know just who you are, but who you are not. Many students here will find and meet their callings by becoming partners, judges, and academics. They will go on to represent our school in extraordinary ways, but that’s not who I am. My vision of success has, and always will be, working across communities to give people faith in their leaders and their government.

My passion shouldn’t have to be put on hold only to be rekindled three years down the line. I need to define my success instead of accepting a definition forced on me by others during my moments of insecurity. I give credit to my friends, for giving me respite from the echo-chamber of anxiety, and I need to remember that Walden Pond is also not too far away. Someone marched to his own beat there. Perhaps I can figure out how to do that here.

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