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.
Anusha Ravishankar is an LL.M. candidate at SOAS University of London who chose to defer her admission this year. In this FPA, the SASTRA law graduate (’19) shares her thoughts on a master’s in human rights, why SOAS was good fit for her, and a whole lot more.
Given your focus on human rights, how did you go about selecting just where to apply for an LL.M.? And what were the schools that you shortlisted along the way?
The first step I did is, visit the QS ranking website and shortlisted around ten Universities that offered an LL.M in International law/ LL.M in human rights. After this process, I perused through the website of each course, saw the subjects covered (I placed emphasis on research methodology & refugee rights) and alumni profiles. I connected to some of them on Linkedin, wrote to a few others over e-mail and asked my doubts regarding scholarships, thesis requirements, living expenses, etc.
I am a first generation graduate and I went about searching for Universities knowing fully that I shall not be able to pursue my masters without the support of scholarships. If anyone similarly situated is reading this, I just have one thing to say to them and myself of course, i.e., be persistent, it’s alright if it takes a year or two longer than you had hoped. In fact, having work experience can only enrich one’s learning experience during the masters.
I started writing my Statement of Purpose (SoP) two months in advance and revised it multiple times and I gave my TOEFL test (Noteful videos in Youtube were helpful for preparation). Simultaneously, I tabled a list of colleges, their deadlines and application fee in a google sheet to meet the deadlines without any glitches.
My list of shortlisted colleges include The Graduate Institute, Geneva, Melbourne University, Leiden University, University of Essex, Oxford University, Edinburgh University, Australian National University, the University of Chicago and University of Sydney.
Apart from subjects covered in the course, my second most important criteria was to shortlist colleges based on the scholarships offered by them.
What are some of your expectations from the LL.M. itself? What made you narrow down on SOAS?
My first and foremost expectation from the LL.M experience is to learn the art of research and research writing. I’m also hoping that my LL.M will give me the confidence, much needed momentum and connections to launch some of the impact projects that I have in mind.
To answer the second part of this question, I can’t help but answer it emphatically. In this lifetime, at some point or the other, I wanted to study in SOAS because I’ve learnt from alumnus and professors alike that it is like the JNU of the world. That being said, I think that the process of selecting colleges varies greatly according to what each person is looking for in their masters experience. So, for me, during my undergrad, I felt that I did not have many avenues for critical thinking, dialogue and debate on contemporary issues with my peers.
Therefore, I was earnestly looking for a politically charged atmosphere where perspectives of individuals hailing from different backgrounds collide and get strengthened each day. I chose SOAS because it has a vibrant student culture with over 200 societies and a few that caught my eye includes, “Decolonising our thinking”, “Lawyers without Borders”, “Queer Film Soc” and “Pizza Society”!
If a student is not able to find something that interests them, it’s a very democratic and easy process to create one.
In my law school days, I had focussed on human rights internships, papers and jobs from my third year of college so I identified colleges along the way. Although my interest lies in human rights, my choice for an LL.M is Public International law (PIL) because I believe that PIL will help me understand the various tools, larger Constitutions of the world and geopolitics that form the undercurrent of various human rights issues.
I am greatly interested in stories and naturally inclined towards research in social anthropology as well. I understood that if my LL.M thesis is going to be interdisciplinary (law & anthropology), I better find a place which can offer me both and that led me towards SOAS.
Another important reason why I chose SOAS is the importance given by the University for the perspectives of the developing world. There are many top rated Universities that teach International law but Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) isn’t given much importance. It was evident from the curriculum and the nature of activities that take place in SOAS that whatever I study there shall be relevant for my future work in the development sector in India.
So, when I received a letter of unconditional acceptance from SOAS, that too on my birthday, I felt the stars had aligned it for me!
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? More specifically, how to go about writing a personal statement?
I am no expert in this and therefore, I’ll share what worked for me and areas I could have fared better, hoping that it will be helpful to future applicants.
Firstly, start early and I cannot emphasize this enough. I started my application process only by January and by then many scholarships deadlines had closed. I have deferred my current admit to next year to apply for different funding options and plan my LL.M better. So, ideally, it is best to start preparing one’s CV, personal statement and recommendations letters a year in advance.
If the applicant is looking to start the course by September, the deadline would most probably be in May-June. The application docket consisting of marksheets, degree certificate, CV, recommendation letters, etc have to be ready at least by March, giving buffer time for any pending documents. Of course, students who haven’t received their mark sheets can prepare other necessary documents.
When it comes to writing the personal statement, there’s really no one way of doing it.
A suggested structure of the SoP would be:
- Introduction (you can either start with a quote/ the starting of your journey)
- Motivation (What has been your driving force to do the things that you’ve done?)
- Skill set (This part is crucial, so align their relevance to the course you’re applying for)
- Why the particular course/Why the university (Each University will have something unique, it’s best to research about it and mention why you chose it. For eg., I liked the aspect of law clinics as part of the LL.M course curriculum because it gives a chance to practice and understand the nuances of applying laws.)
- Future Plans
There is plenty of material available online but going through all of them is only bound to create confusion and what’s worse is that it may rob us of our individual writing styles. On a peaceful Sunday evening, I sat on my terrace with my laptop to think about the “Big WHAT” of my life and how this LL.M experience fit into that big picture. I wrote whatever came to my mind and it turned out to be a lot of soap that I wished were profound.
As a salty breeze hit my face, I re-read my draft and calmly closed my laptop because I felt it was verbose and indulgent. I’m saying this so that applicants don’t get discouraged by reading their first drafts. I checked the University requirement for the SoP (be mindful, the structure and content varies according to the course and college) and this was very useful.
I changed my draft by balancing personal and professional experiences relevant to course and tried my best to weave a story that a CV could not tell. The use of transient phrases and verbs strengthened the structure of my statement and gave it a coherent flow. I asked my friends and a stranger to read it to understand what they felt upon reading the statement. Their comments and thoughts helped me to review my statement in an objective manner. I understood that it is equally important to be self-critical as well as kind to oneself while writing the personal statement. After multiple drafts, I arrived at the final SoP.
Did you apply for/receive any financial aid?
No, I did not as the deadlines were over. But I will be applying to them this year. SOAS has a page dedicated to scholarships.
There are two types of scholarships, i.e., merit-based and need- based and the applicants can choose whatever suits them best. Some of the well known funding options/scholarships include Inlaks, Tata Trust, Mahindra Scholarship, Narotam Sekhsaria Interest free loan, Rhodes, Chevening, Commonwealth scholarship, etc.
Lastly, any advice you would have for Indian law graduates who are interested in higher studies in the field of human rights?
I’d say don’t be afraid or shy to reach out to alumnus or professors to help you out with the application process because there is plenty of help available. I’m saying this because the application process can be a bit daunting or lonely sometimes.
Therefore, talking to grad students, attending free webinars, etc can prove to be pivotal. If you are an undergrad or fresher, try to intern/volunteer with human rights organisations (ivolunteer is a good start), read and write blogs and try your best to get an overall idea of the possible areas of employment. When this clarity is reflected in your personal statement, your candidature is viewed in a more serious light.
So, last but not the least, don’t get dejected with rejections (I was rejected by Leiden & Graduate Institute). I learnt with time that different Universities have different parameters for selecting candidates and they are not always a direct indicator of the applicant’s competency.
If your application gets rejected, then take time to submit a more compelling and irresistible application next time 🙂