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.

Disha Bhagwat is a member of the LLM Class of 2020 at the USC Gould School of Law. A 2019 graduate of the School of Law at Christ University, Disha applied to a number of law schools in the US, opting for institutions with a focus on alternative dispute resolution. In this FPA, she talks about the LLM application process, the importance of networking for the foreign LLM candidate, and a whole lot more.

Disha Bhagwat is a member of the LLM Class of 2020 at the USC Gould School of Law.
Disha Bhagwat

When did you start considering a foreign master’s as an undergraduate student? When did you begin the application process itself?

I was  very sure I wanted to pursue a Masters in Law Degree right from the get go once I graduated in May, 2019. During my 4th year is when I started my research about . Most law schools have a priority application deadline around March-April, so to apply within this deadline, I started my application well before hand in the last week of January, 2019!

How did you go about selecting just where to apply? What were some of the other schools that you shortlisted?

I focused on a course-centric research first, then subsequently applying to the top 20 Universities in the United States that offered my preferred program.

USC Gould is well within the top 20 Law Schools in the United States and has a great reputation with respect to training students interested in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Hence I applied and I got in!

I applied to various other law schools such as University of Boston, School of Law, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Irvine, Fordham Law School and Penn State. I got accepted into all of the above but chose to pursue my L.L.M at USC.

When it comes to the application itself, any advice for prospective applicants?

My advice would be to plan ahead because there are a lot of formalities and third party document verification procedures and such, through institutions like LSAC, etc., so getting organized and applying on time will give any applicant an edge over the competition!

While submitting your application documents such as your Statement of Purpose (SOP) , ensure that you do your research on the University, what their mission statement and motto is and tailor every SOP to the particular University you are applying to. Always remember that complicated sentences or using big words and complicated grammar won’t do the job!

Your statement of purpose should convey an essence of “YOU” and what you bring to the table! So personalize it, make it yours! They want to know what makes YOU Unique and why they should pick you over thousands and thousands of applicants!

This is what really did the job for me, so much so that I got accepted into every single University I applied to, even got accepted into University of Berkley’s two year professional LLM but decided to pursue USC because they offered a scholarship, stipend as well as my preferred Master of Laws Major in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Business Law.

Did you apply for/receive any financial aid?

I was awarded the Dean’s Academic Excellence Scholarship by the USC Gould School of Law’s Graduate & International Admissions Committee which came with additional Housing Stipend benefits.

This took care of most of my tuition and housing expenses so I am grateful, fortunate and blessed for the same.

For any Indian students who want to pursue a masters, banks like SBI, ICICI, Axis Bank, HDFC, Etc., have great Education Loans and grants that Indian Citizens can apply for, depending on their policies you might be eligible for additional benefits depending on which country you want to pursue a master’s degree in.

Ask about these policies and research other payment options as well and once you comparatively analyse what best suits your financial needs, only then one should arrive at a decision as to whether they want to apply for financial aid or not.

How has the LLM experience been at USC Gould? What have been some of the biggest learnings along the way?

My overall LLM experience has been an exciting eye opener filled with exposure to new teaching and learning methodologies as well as enriched interaction experiences with peers from all over the world and a rich resource for networking opportunities which helped me land my career expanding internships.

I was able to build strong connections through the USC Alumni network which is a resource I urge every international student to always pursue. Not shying away from introducing yourself confidently will do wonders for students looking for job opportunities and there will always be somebody who will recognize your true potential.

You never know when that could happen, so always bring your “A” game and give it your 100%!

The unprecedented time occurred during the Spring semester when the world was tragically hit with the Coronavirus Pandemic! Post spring break, USC announced a shifting of the teaching platform from in-person to online and this, although reduced the overall masters experience just to an online medium, it paved the way to a wholesome discovery self-reflections and teaching myself how to navigate these tough times away from family.

Despite all the rapid and unexpected changes, I am glad for the short-lived fall-semester I got to enjoy with my peers and professors, during a time when hugs and shaking hands was, in no way, a potential threat to our lives. But all in all, it has been nothing short of a life-changing experience for me here at USC.

At USC, you have taken up a number of roles including that of the Vice President of the Dispute Resolution Society – any advice for future LLM students on how to make the most of the LLM experience?

Networking is the number one skill that all aspiring LLM applicants must take advantage of. It has given rise to a multitude of opportunities in the short span of time within which I pursued my LLM especially because you have hardly 8-9 months to do everything you can to set yourself apart from the crowd!

The best way to do this is to build your network and reach out to alumni and attend luncheons and other organizational gatherings which students can participate in. USC constantly updates the student body about these fruitful opportunities, how you utilize these resources is in your hands! So make the most of it.

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

Like Nike’s motto says, JUST DO IT! It will expand the horizons of what your perceived notion is about the education system, it is not only an exciting journey but it teaches you so much about yourself as an individual!

It would be my sincere recommendation that every Indian student explores the possibility of a master’s degree abroad. It is a once in a lifetime experience and I am glad I was fortunate enough to see myself grow through it all!