Raushan Tara Jaswal is an incoming LL.M. candidate at the University of Cambridge, and is also the recipient of the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship.
In this LinkedIn post, she provides a very detailed, step-by-step guide on the LL.M. application process, her reasons for choosing Cambridge over other universities, searching for funding, and a lot more.
Given below are some of the highlights of her post.
On Applying to US law schools
The most important thing about applying to the US is that you need to have money to apply. Please make sure that you have an easy Rs. 75,000 (INR) to even start applying to these colleges. This is a fact that is not well advertised, but LLM Programs are highly expensive to simply even apply to. Since I am speaking from an Indian perspective, please keep that in mind going forward. Please read the following steps VERY carefully.
As soon as you have decided to apply to the US Law Schools, (I will list the reasons why I chose to apply to the US and still chose the UK over the US later in this post) please visit LSAC – Law School Admissions Council and make an account. Make sure this is your Step 1. The sooner you do this, the happier and easier this process will be.
After you make an account on the website, you will be prompted to pay 2 different fees. Please also do that immediately. One would be a Document Assembly Service (DAS) Fees– $85 (~ Rs. 6,000) and the other will be International Transcript Authentication and Evaluation (IAETS) Fees – $135 (~Rs.9,500) See more.
As International applicants, for the majority of the schools, you need to pay both these fees. Columbia University is the only university (that I came across) that doesn’t specifically require the IAETS – that is they don’t specifically require an evaluation of your transcript. However, having said that, it is always better to opt for it.
Once you pay for these services, a Transcript Request Form (TRF) will be generated for you with your unique LSAC Number and the details of the University that you have attended. After you receive your TRF, please make sure you get the following documents from the UNIVERSITY (and not the college that you attended – there is a difference in Indian Universities). See more.
- Transcript – this can be a consolidated mark sheet as well and preferably in the original.
- A photocopy/copy of your Degree Certificate – this can even be a Provisional Certificate. If it is a photocopy, please make sure that you get it attested from your University.
- A Statement of Rank – some colleges like New York University and Columbia University requires them. Even if your college doesn’t officially rank students, make sure you get that on the letterhead stating that.
- English Language Proficiency – some colleges grant waivers in lieu of the TOEFL/IELTS. It should just say that your course was conducted in English. You might want to keep this handy, just in case.
Make sure these documents are all assembled in one sealed envelope with a stamp across the flap along with the TRF which is counter-signed by your University officials. I would also personally advise getting multiple of such envelops ready from the University (without the TRF though) if you can, as you will not have to do this exercise ever again – even if it is for the New York Bar and/or after admission requirements in the United Kingdom.
Once you have done this, please post these documents (in the envelope as mentioned above along with the TRF) to LSAC.
You will need to physically mail these documents. The USUAL time taken is 2 weeks for them to process your documents from when they receive it. This USUAL time is when this is done BEFORE OCTOBER. So please please make sure that you do this well in advance. In my case, it took them approximately 3 months to process my documents. It was a nightmare. So please please take this step very seriously.
After this, an additional cost of $30 (~ Rs. 2,100) is charged independently by LSAC for EVERY school you apply to. This is over and above the application fees of the college itself. My advice is to NARROW DOWN your schools and ONLY apply to schools that you actually want to go to. Every college will have an application cost of $80-$90 (~Rs. 5,600-Rs.6,400) and you will need to additionally pay $30 for every school, so please keep that in mind.
You need to send your documents ONLY ONCE to LSAC ONLY for all US Colleges.
On UK law schools
The United Kingdom has a much simpler process. It is just uploading of your transcripts and documents online. There are no hidden things/costs involved.
However, if you do manage to secure admission in any of the colleges, they will ask for a hard copy of your Transcript (Combined Marksheet/Consolidated Marksheet) along with your Degree Certificate/Provisional Certificate/Photocopies thereof as one of the conditions for your complete admission. So make sure you have it ready and don’t have to run around at the last moment.
English proficiency tests
Now, this is a question that a lot of people have asked me. You require only one standardised test for your LLM Applications – no LSAT/GRE/GMAT/MCAT – nothing. Just a basic English Language Test.
Depending on where you want to apply, your test requirements would change. I personally, would, however, recommend you to take TOEFL. The TOEFL is acceptable in the United Kingdom, whereas IELTS is not acceptable in CERTAIN LAW SCHOOLS in the United States of America.
Please study for the TOEFL – my advice is to take the practice test in one of the bundles offered by ETS only. (https://www.ets.org/toefl)
On Letters of Recommendation
PLEASE make sure that you have at least 2 Academic LOR’s. This becomes extremely important when you are applying to UK Schools. UK Schools like Cambridge and Oxford ONLY accept a minimum of 2 Academic LOR’s. In fact, even Columbia requires one of the 2 LOR’s to be academic.
Now, having said that, please make sure you ONLY ask people who know you very well to write/sponsor your LOR’s. If you can just simply get a LOR from your Director, but he/she hasn’t taught you in close proximity and cannot attest to your capabilities, it makes no sense for you to ask them. Also, even though a judge’s LOR will look excellent but if it is based on just one month of internship, then again it doesn’t carry as much weight.
Every University has its own requirements as to minimum and maximum and they type of LOR’s they are looking for. Most schools look for a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4. You should, in any case, would not need more than 4 LOR’s to apply to both countries.
PERSONAL ADVICE – The University of Oxford requires 3 LOR’s. I would personally advise that all 3 LOR’s should be academic. A mistake, which in hindsight I would have rectified.
You need to upload your LOR’s ONLY ONCE to the LSAC portal ONLY for US Schools. LSAC will forward the LOR’s – whichever you select to individual schools. For every UK school you apply, you need to upload them repeatedly.
On the Statement of Purpose
What worked for me is that I took a Google Doc, kept my LinkedIn Profile + Resume opened and started writing everything in a paragraph format. Then you start editing and decide your story.
Fundamental questions need to be answered through your SOP – (not particularly in this order)
- Who are you?
- Why do you want to LLM?
- What have you done in furtherance of wanting to pursue an LLM?
- What makes you different?
- What do you want to do post LLM?
- What makes you, YOU?
- Why this college in particular?
- How will you contribute to the program?
- What will you learn out of the program?
- What are your hopes, dreams and ambitions?
Tips for your SOP:-
- Use simple English. Don’t overcomplicate the simplest of things.
- Use simple words – no need to use fancy words either.
- Get a maximum of ONLY 2 people’s opinions – a) For English and b) A person who has done what you want to do.
- Highlight only those achievements which fit in the course that you want to do. Not anything and everything.
- Be consistent.
- Have one base SOP and modify it accordingly for every college. Do NOT have multiple SOP’s – you will lose your mind.
- DON’T GET IMPOSTER SYNDROME.
- Breathe – it is only the most crucial part of your application. 🙂
Apply for everything in India. Just apply. There are 2 scholarships that have their deadlines before/during the time of major college deadlines. Both are for the United Kingdom:
- Chevening Scholarship – Early November. It is ideally for people who have worked for 2 or more years.
- Commonwealth Scholarship (Nomination by your country of origin) – Mid December.
Other scholarships that you should apply to, usually after your acceptances. (These also include the ones I didn’t apply to/couldn’t apply to) Keep in mind, some of these are also loan/scholarships which have a repayment attached to them.
- Narottam Sheksaria Foundation
- Agha Khan Scholarship
- KC Mahindra Scholarship
- JN Tata Endowment
- Lady Merabhai Scholarship
- Oxford and Cambridge Society of India Scholarship
There are many others. You will need to scrouge till the ends of the Earth and this process is very daunting.
PERSONAL ADVICE: If you are looking for an educational loan, please start the process AS SOON AS YOU GET EVEN A SINGLE ACCEPTANCE. The loan process is another daunting task. HDFC Credila is great – but if you are applying for the UK, they would require collateral. Any other State Banks – like Syndicate and SBI always require collaterals. No matter the amount. So make sure you have enough property to be kept as collateral. SBI and Syndicate give a lower rate of interest if you start paying the interest from Day 1 itself, but personally, I found the entire process with state banks very cumbersome and not worth the 0.5-1% drop in percentage.
If you are looking for funding ONLY to pursue your LLM, it may not be feasible. So, it would be advisable to keep your expectations in check.
On US versus UK law schools
I have been wanting to go to the US for my Master’s and preferred US over the UK. However, after I received my acceptances, I spoke to a lot of people both in the United States and England and these are the reasons why I chose the University of Cambridge over every other school:- (in no particular order)
- Cost – My brother and I are pursuing our Master’s together. He is going to the US for his Master’s and the cost of an LLM in the US is (~) Rs. 1 crore. Either way, that cost made no sense to me unless it was Harvard/Stanford.
- Specialisation – I want to specialise in Public International Law. The University of Cambridge has premier faculty and an amazing centre for the same. Something which is unparalleled and unmatched.
- Doctorate Degree – I hope/wish to pursue a PhD in law and that would be better suited in England and especially Cambridge over the US Schools.
- Ranking – Cambridge currently (last I checked) was Rank 3 as a law school and usually has the most Rank 1 fields.
- Job Opportunities – US and UK both are very saturated/closed markets for LLM graduates. If 2% of the students get jobs post LLM in the UK, 3% get in the US. Hence, it didn’t add up to the cost-benefit analysis.
PRO TIP – If you are applying to UK/US in the hopes to get a job after your LLM in the same country – even if you clear the Bar, there is NO GUARANTEE. Don’t think you will for sure get a job. That is probably not going to happen. Don’t hold your breath and no University and/or country gives you a better chance. So if this is your main criteria, please don’t apply for LLM.
I made a Google Sheet when I was applying. I would advise you all to either write down on paper/do something similar.
Hope this helps!