First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Dharmesh Khandelwal is currently an LL.M. candidate at Penn State Law, where he is the recipient of a full scholarship. Completing his law degree from Nirma University in 2019, Dharmesh chose to enrol for the LL.M. for a number of reasons. In this FPA, he discusses his decision to enrol right after the undergraduate degree, his experiences representing Penn State Law in the Vis moot, and a lot more.

Dharmesh Khandelwal is currently an LL.M. candidate at Penn State Law, where he is the recipient of a full scholarship.
Dharmesh Khandelwal

(Edited excerpts)

You opted for an LLM right after your undergraduate degree. Did you ever consider working for a few years before an LLM?

This was the source of a lot of confusion before deciding to go for an LL.M. I did consider working for a few years before pursuing masters as it gives an individual knowledge about the practical aspects of law and also gives clarity on the field of law in which a person wants to pursue masters.

In my case, I was always interested in arbitration and was certain that I want to pursue do an LLM in this area of law. Just after my graduation, Penn State offered me a great opportunity to learn from very experienced scholars in this field.

Therefore, after consulting with a lot of people I realized it’s also equally important to grab an opportunity when it’s at your doorstep.

How did you go about selecting where to apply? What got you to narrow down on Penn State?

My interest was always in doing an LLM in International Dispute Resolution. Therefore, at first, I listed down all the good universities in this field.

I opted for Penn State because it has got some great faculty such as Prof. Catharine Rogers and Prof. Thomas E. Carbonneau who are very experienced scholars in the field of international arbitration. In addition, I also contacted people who have already did an LLM from Penn State and they gave me a positive feedback.

Apart from all this, the University also offered me full scholarship which was also an important consideration.

Any advice on how to approach the application process? How much time do you think applicants should spend on the application? 

After you’ve selected the universities, the application process in any university usually has three important components which is the letter of recommendations, Statement of Purpose and the CV.

Penn State and some other universities also take personal interview of the candidates.

Applicants preparations should start as early as possible especially in terms of letter of recommendations. A letter of recommendation, by a faculty or professional who knows you personally and can give insights about you is always better that a LoR by someone who may be a big name but doesn’t know you personally and can only write a general LoR.

“A letter of recommendation, by a faculty or professional who knows you personally and can give insights about you is always better that a LoR by someone who may be a big name but doesn’t know you personally”

Statement of purpose is one of the most important and tricky components of an LLM application. One should spend a decent amount of time in writing an SOP. An SOP should be something which, in form of a story, convey three things to the admission committee which is, why you’re applying, why you’re a good candidate, and what you want to do in the future.

It is very important to be yourself while writing an SOP. The admission officers can easily spot a true applicant from a false applicant with just one reading. This same advice goes for the Personal Interview as well. In terms of CV, apart from grades and publications, some universities really value all the leadership work you’ve done throughout the law school.

Did you apply for/receive financial aid?

Yes, I was the recipient of a full scholarship from the Pennsylvania State University Master’s tuition Waiver Program.

How has the LLM experience been thus far? What have been some of the more challenging aspects of the course?

The past year at Pennsylvania State University was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. It not only developed me as a legal professional but also as a human being.

The faculties here are very helpful and dedicated towards helping the students. The classroom lectures and discussions were of high quality. Reading before the class in order to understand the lectures and participate in the discussion was also very important.

Apart from my specialization, the other variety of courses offered by Penn State were equally great. You can opt for any subject from other schools such as the International affairs and Business School. For example, I took few courses related to business finance which were really interesting subjects and gave me lot of understanding related to business valuations and financial aspects of a business. It also offers its students LLM students other opportunities like working in a legal clinic or research assistant positions.

I also represented Penn State in the 27th Willem C Vis moot which was a great experience. It gave me the opportunity to work with the J.D. students and also interact with law students from other universities all around America at various events.

The diversity of our batch was amazing. I had batchmates from more than 30 countries. It was a great experience discussing different legal concepts and learning about so many different cultures. This really helped me to understand life from different perspectives and be a better individual.

“It was a great experience discussing different legal concepts and learning about so many different cultures. This really helped me to understand life from different perspectives and be a better individual.”

Further, the campus of Penn State is one of the most beautiful university campuses in the US. It has got all the resources and infrastructure one could need and beyond. The University also has a great sporting culture and a great sense of belongingness which makes this LLM a completely different experience altogether.

How has Penn State Law dealt with the Covid pandemic? How has the shift to online teaching been?

In my opinion, Penn State has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic very effectively.  They were one of the first few universities in the US to shift the semester on a virtual platform. The classes have been running smoothly through Zoom.

The University has also adopted different mechanisms for finals like projects submissions instead of written exams in some subjects to adopt to the present unprecedented circumstances.

It is also paying attention to each student individually and providing medical as well as financial support to all the students.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad? 

It is very important to start preparing your application as soon as possible. Choose your university very carefully, don’t just follow the rankings and do your research carefully according to your own long-term goals.

Also, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

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