Sarah Jeon on the Army, imposter syndrome, and life at Yale Law School

Tell us about yourself, Sarah!

Hometown: La Mirada, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: During my days of youth, I broke both of my arms while obsessively playing on monkey bars—on separate occasions!

What did you do in the military: I was an Aviation Officer and an Apache helicopter pilot

What was your proudest accomplishment in the military? Commanding and taking full ownership of my first company; leading, guiding, and mentoring my Soldiers while building unforgettable relationships with my subordinate leaders.

School and Anticipated graduation year: Yale Law School, 2023

Why did you decide to pursue law school? My reason was pretty simple—I wanted to do something in which I could serve and impact the community/world we live in in a positive way.  Similar to my goals in the military. I felt that the law would lead me down that path.

What are your goals post-graduation? Clerk, start out in big law, and work at the US Attorney’s Office.

Sarah’s advice for veterans who are applying to law school:

I’m deployed and am applying to law school. What advice would you give to me? I studied for the LSAT while deployed in Afghanistan. Don’t do that if you can avoid it! It is very hard creating a consistent study schedule due to operational requirements.  With that in mind, do as much prep as you can before you leave: Finish your applications, have at least drafts of your essays done, double check the dates for the different school you are applying to, and get your LORs. If you are going to test or have to test prep while overseas, get the materials before you leave! 

What resources did you use in the application process? To study for the LSAT, I used 7Sage, an online LSAT prep course. It was very helpful actually—all of the explanatory videos were easy to understand and follow, almost conversational. You could also access some, if not all previous, LSAT exams and answers depending on the package you chose. Affordable too.

My dad had a huge role in shaping my essays. Whoever it is, I highly advise having someone close to you be a part of your application process.  Someone smart, who knows you very well, and who can be brutally honest with you. Ensure to look over your essays and other writing requirements (they vary from school to school) early on and throughout with the help of that someone. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to write your essays—you might find yourself needing to change topics/themes once or more, so you do not want to rush it.

Finally, I utilized Service to School. S2S matches transitioning veterans with a S2S Ambassador. I was matched with an old West Point classmate and friend attending Harvard Law School which was super cool. He was pretty much my all-purpose guide throughout my application journey helping me through all of the application material (including actual proofreading, editing, proposing different ideas). I was essentially receiving services, ones that you usually pay for, for free! 

After starting at Yale Law School, I was so impressed by S2S and how big of an impact it had on my law school journey that I signed up to be an Ambassador myself! I am currently an Ambassador for both undergraduate as well as J.D. programs. 

I wish I had known of or had access to some other great resources that are out there. This includes Yale Admissions Youtube videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSvvo53S1II) and the newest admissions podcast by the Yale and Harvard Law School Admissions Deans (http://yalepodcasts.blubrry.net/category/navigating-law-school-admissions/). 

A Yale professor also made an online course for students entering their 1L.  It is free to audit and great from those with little to no law background—https://www.coursera.org/learn/law-student.

What advice do you have for YLS applicants regarding the 250-word essay (or other similar open-ended prompts)? Take it seriously but have fun with it. It may seem daunting—250 words, completely open-ended. You wonder if Yale makes you do this to trip you up. But I really don’t think so.

I think Yale highly values uniqueness, and the 250 (as it is unique in itself) gives you the opportunity to showcase your uniqueness whether that be of your character, your mindset, your inspirations/passions, and/or even the thought-provoking, creative nature of your actual writing! 

From what I hear, professors really have a lot of fun reading the 250s, and it could sway their decisions. So, back to my first piece of advice, take the 250 as an opportunity to engage those reading your application.

 

Let’s talk about being a veteran at Yale Law School!

Why did you apply and decide upon Yale? Funny story. I did not intend on applying to Yale because of my super annoying imposter syndrome (says others). I thought that there was no way I would be accepted. My mother actually convinced me to apply anyway saying “What is there to lose?” So I did. And here I am.  Too many vets self-select out of great schools.  Do not do that! Many of the top institutions value a vet presence in their classrooms.

Apart from the many other obvious reasons, I accepted at Yale because they have a knack for making people feel special. Before acceptance, I took part in some Yale webinars—the panel members were down-to-earth and fielded questions in such a welcoming way. Yale’s friendly vibes extended, especially to the military veteran community. I was pleasantly surprised actually. When I received the phone call that I had been accepted, the Admissions Dean was so sweet, kind, and humble. She also connected me with some amazing mentors off the bat. It was pretty amazing being catered to by the number one law school. It reflected the humble and charming character of the institution.

What was your first semester at law school like and what are you most looking forward to? First semester overall was busy with four “black letter” classes (considered as the most time-consuming and substantive).  While working on getting my feet wet again in an academic environment, I was also learning the lexicon of the legal world, participating in student organizations, and becoming accustomed to the school culture. In the meantime, as a S2S Ambassador, I was heavily involved in assisting veteran applicants with their applications. 

Even with a busy schedule, I am really enjoying my time. And I think I owe part of that to Yale’s no grade policy in the first semester. Yale is the only school that implements no grades in the first semester, just credit or fail. It was a life-saver for me, and I’m sure it was for every other student.  Instead of having to overly stress about a test or compete with your classmates out of the gate, you are given time to learn and think about the law with your fellow students. So shout out again to Yale.

This semester I’m most looking forward to becoming more involved in school organizations and journals, improving my legal writing and research skills, developing mentorship relationships, and believe it or not, the classes themselves! 

Like many veterans, you are a first-generation professional student. Tell us about your journey…

I am living the American dream. And I owe it all to my parents. Both my mother and father immigrated from South Korea to the United States in their young adult years. They went through so much hardship in their nascent years in America – they didn’t know English, they had no capital assets, they were only high school graduates, and they were poor. I remember growing up with my younger brother in a one-bedroom apartment, hearing gunshots in South LA, and going to work with them because they could not afford daycare. And that was only what I saw and remember. 

My parents nevertheless worked relentlessly and overcame what seemed like insurmountable obstacles. They invested all of their money, time, and energy in Joseph and me to give us a chance at bright futures. They did this even when prospects were always futile and uncertain. 

My parents don’t expect me or my brother to give back to them in any way. They tell us to utilize our achievements and successes to give back to the rest of the world; to become impactful people. And I intend on doing that. 

As a minority woman veteran and first-generation professional, I truly believe that if there is a will, there is a way. My dad always yells at me: “No pain, no gain!,” “You only live once, but if you live it right, once is enough!,” and “If you believe it, you can achieve it!” Notwithstanding their cheesiness, they have obviously resonated with me throughout the years. Perseverance, determination, and resilience… just like they got my parents through Hell, they got me to where I am today.

What has your experience as a woman veteran been?

I have a motto: “Carry your own rucksack, and you’ll be just fine.” I have been asked many a time how hard it is to be a woman in the military, what inequalities I face, etc, like these are matter-of-fact questions. I always responded frankly that I never really experienced mistreatment or discrimination from my peers, subordinates, or superiors for the most part. Sure, you’ll have those good ol’ boys clubbers who sneer at you because you’re a woman in a predominantly Alpha male community. But you cannot educate a neanderthal past their ability, so why try? For the most part, no one (at least the people who matter) will bother you as a woman in today’s Army as long as you carry your own rucksack—keep up or run up to the front of the pack. You will not only be left alone but you can also become an inspiration, respected by men and women alike. This was my perspective in the military, and I believe it applies in the outside world too.

For whatever reason, women have a huge vulnerability to imposter syndrome. They underestimate themselves all the time. I know I do. Just keep fighting it, so you do not self-select out of amazing opportunities. With this, I urge everyone (not just women) to apply to their dream college, graduate school, job, etc. “What is there to lose???”

Specifically for veterans, apply apply apply. It doesn’t matter what you did in the military—no one cares about whether you deployed downrange or if you didn’t have a “cool” job description in the military. Go for it because everyone has their own unique story. Don’t underestimate what you have to offer.

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