The #Admission interviews: Prof. Margareth Etienne, Illinois College of Law

Margareth Etienne - professor of law

Prof. Margareth Etienne / Illinois College

The Admission Interviews (AI) are meant to provide prospective LLM applicants with first-hand information on the LLM application process. In this edition of AI, Amicus Partners speaks to Professor Margareth Etienne, the associate dean for graduate and international programs at the Illinois College of Law.

In this interview, Prof. Etienne discusses several aspects of the LLM application process – right from how one should go about choosing a law school, what should one write in the Statement of Purpose, the JSD option, and a whole lot more.

So, let’s start from the start – how early should applicants begin the LLM application process?

Students should start investigating and doing their research into different law schools probably in the Spring (March-June) before they want to apply.

And as for the applications themselves, they should begin that process by September because there is a lot to prepare. They have to, in some instances, take an English proficiency exam, arrange finances or apply for funding, obtain letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers, and so on.

Each school’s application may be slightly different. It is important to find out what the law school requires for the application process, and you should give yourself about 3-4 months for this.

How do you think LLM applicants should choose a law school?

There are several factors applicants should consider. I would focus on the faculty and the curriculum. Too many international students rely on rankings. Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students. These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students.  These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

There are a lot of programs that focus on the JD course and do not really have a good program for LLM students. So, you might have a good experience, but it does not necessarily mean you will.

Take seriously instead the areas of expertise or subject matter concentrations that the law school is known for. I would also look at the faculty to student ratio. It is easy to get lost in a large school.

And I would finally look at the location. This is important for many reasons – for example, the costs of living – do you want an American campus experience or a large city experience? Most international students don’t have cars, so they should know how close they have to live to the school, how is the public transportation etc.

Location is also important because you may want to go to a part of the country that you would not otherwise see. After all, [an LLM] is also a chance to experience a different culture.

What do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement?

I look for the student’s motivation. Why do they want to come to Illinois? Are they familiar with our faculty and our strengths in technology or constitutional law or corporate law? Do they know anything specific about the law school? Or are they writing one generic statement simply because they want to spend a year aboard?

I am much more interested in the student who can connect their decision to seek an LLM to something in their background, or their work experience.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

Is this someone who will go out and do different things? Will she think about new ways of approaching a legal problem? What is her future trajectory? A personal statement that can demonstrate these elements is a strong statement.

How do you think applicants should plan for their finances?

I would say first look for schools that have an application fee waiver. Second, when you are considering the total cost of the experience including the full cost of living and not just the tuition. When you are applying for the visa, you have to show you possess the finances that cover the full cost.

Therefore, students should be wise consumers.

Also, look for a school that has significant scholarships and also what is your likelihood of getting this scholarship. As an administrator I may have to choose between allocating 5 full scholarships or 10 half scholarships. So, you want to look at both the amount and number of scholarships.

At Illinois, over 80% of our student receive scholarships, and many of our scholarships are about 50% but not all of them. We are known for being a great bargain for a great education because we invest in top international students.

Illinois College of Law has an option for students to complete the LLM in three semesters instead of two. How does that work?

One of the things we pride ourselves is the flexibility of our LLM program. Students can begin in fall or begin in January. They can complete the LLM in two semesters or choose to finish in three semesters.

Now, some students apply for the three-semester option at the outset while others come here and then choose to extend their coursework in order to study for the bar or improve their practice or language skills. It really depends on the student.

What do you think are the benefits of an LLM from the point of view of an international student?

First of all, getting an international LLM really opens up opportunities, be it academic or career-wise. The LLM allows students to take the Bar exams in the United States, and in some cases gain employment here.

But whether a student choses to sit for the Bar or not, the LLM degree distinguishes them when they go back home. The American system of legal education is unparalleled and students think differently after they leave here.

The LLM broadens your perspectives. Students learn to think about the different ways in which things can be done about various approaches to solving legal problems.

The LLM also provides important global networking opportunities. One of the reasons I mentioned that students should look at the student faculty ratio is that many students come to the US and study for a year, but after that year, they know no one. You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career.

You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career. And the same holds true for your classmates.

And the same holds true for your classmates. The Illinois LLM is diverse and so students have colleagues from South America, Europe, Africa, and different parts of Asia. In 5-10 years into their practice, it may be helpful for them to know people practicing law in different regions.

And you can’t do this by continuing your education at home.

A lot of our clients are looking at joining academia as a profession. Any advice for those considering the JSD or other doctorate degree?

I would highly recommend the JSD for someone who wants to teach or be in academia.

In many countries, you really need a doctoral degree to join the highest ranks of academia. But the JSD admissions are also very competitive, most schools take 5-10 JSD students a year. So, if we have an LLM class of 70 students, even if they all want a JSD we can’t take them all. It is very, very competitive.

My advice for LLM students who are looking at the JSD is that they should apply to several schools because admission is so competitive.

Any final words of advice for those interested in an LLM in the US?

Do your homework and start early. All law schools have detailed websites, so do your homework and really try to understand the program as much as you can.

The Admission Interviews: Elizabeth H. Woyczynski, Case Western Reserve University

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

In the first interview under The Admission Interviews, Amicus Partners speaks with Elizabeth H. Woyczynski from the Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law. At CWRU, Elizabeth is the Administrative Director of Admissions and Student Services,  Foreign Graduate Legal Services.

In this interview, Elizabeth discusses crucial aspects of the LLM application process such as the personal statements, letters of recommendation, as well as what are the things to keep in mind while applying for an LLM.


Amicus Partners: What do law schools look for in personal statements?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: What’s most important is that your personal statement is well written.

We want to see that you know how to structure a paragraph, and an essay – with introductions, arguments, and conclusions.  LLM students need these skills to succeed in law school. Of course, we want to see good grammar too.

Secondly, we want to get to know you. An LLM is a demanding program of study, and we want to know your motivation to study law in your country, and your motivation to pursue an LLM in the USA.

Thirdly, we like to see that you have investigated LLM programs, and you have a sense about how our LLM program meets your personal interests.

AP: How are letter of recommendations evaluated by the Admissions Office?

EHW: We require two letters of recommendation.  We like to see a least one letter of recommendation from a law school professor.

If you can’t get both letters from law professors, get the other letter from someone who has supervised you in the work place, who can speak to your work ethic and your career ambitions.

AP: When should one start the application process?

EHW: It’s best to start the application process as soon as possible.  Look for application deadlines on the LLM websites.

Make sure that all your admissions documents have arrived before the deadline. Students who apply too close to the deadline, or worse, after the deadline, don’t have as good a chance of getting admitted or, especially, getting merit scholarships.


CWRU LLM has rolling admission. So, whenever you complete your application for admission, one month before the deadline or six months before the deadline, we let applicants know about admission and merit based scholarship within one week of the day they complete their applications for admission.

AP: What are the chances of securing financial aid?

EHW: CWRU LLM awards all merit scholarships on the basis of the application for admission.  I think this is common for LLM programs at many universities.

Just to be sure, you should email each LLM Admission Office to ask if they have any separate applications or deadlines for merit scholarships. The CWRU LLM does not award need-based financial aid. We award our scholarships on the basis of academics and geographic diversity.

The Admission Interviews: Andrew Horsfall, Syracuse University College of Law



Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall is the Assistant Dean of International Programs at Syracuse University College of Law. A lawyer by training, Andrew spent a few years as a legal profession before working for his alma mater. In this podcast, he tells me how admission officers view applications, how scholarships can be negotiated, and what are the best ways to identify the law school (and post-graduate course) that will offer you the most value.


Amicus Partners: We often get asked about the pros and cons of a specialized LLM versus a general LLM. Thoughts?

Andrew Horsfall: It really depends on the goals of the student and what they are looking to get out of the program. In a general LLM setting, you are getting more exposure to a variety of different subjects, perspectives and professors.

That can be very valuable to you.

If you wanted to take an IP class, human rights class or a general business law course, you can position yourself later in job interview as someone who is a generalist and has had broad exposure to a number of different subjects. That can be valuable to certain employers.

On the other hand, a specialized degree provides more comprehensive exposure, a deeper knowledge to a subject, and you can carve yourself out as an expert in some field.

This needs to be something that is really researched. If a school is offering a specialization in IP or in human rights, go further than that and take a look at the curriculum.  Take a look at the requirements that are needed and see if it is truly a specialization.

Is the school just sort of cobbling together all of its human rights courses and saying, “Now we have a specialization”? Or have they actually created new classes or new academic opportunities for students specifically in this track or in this program to pursue?

Another common query is when one should apply for an LLM – right after the undergraduate course or with a few years of work experience?

I get this question all the time!

I have to say that here at Syracuse, and I think with most admission professionals I have worked with, there is no preferred pathway to an LLM program. I think having come directly from an undergraduate program, it is an easier transition into an academic setting.

But also, there is value in taking some time away from your studies, getting some practical experience, and then coming back into an academic setting maybe with a more focused goal.

So those are sort of the personal factors to think about.

From an admissions perspective, we don’t prioritize either. What we look at is how you have spent your time. So, if you are just coming from a bachelor’s program, we are focusing specifically on your time [as an undergraduate]. Have you volunteered? Have you taken leadership roles in certain organizations? Have you done internships?

Likewise, with your practice – have there been gaps in your professional experience that we might need to talk about? Have you had an upwardly mobile progression in your career pathway? Have you been promoted year after year?

How are admissions applications vetted?

 Every admissions officer has their own formula that they have developed along the way. Let me just walk you through mine.

When I get an application, the first thing I do is skim through the resume. That gives me a basic chronology of what the student has accomplished either in law school or in their profession.

So, while the resume is not the most important piece, it is that first look into what that application will reveal later. I will say that for me, a resume has never made or broken a decision.

The next thing I read is the personal statement because I am most interested in hearing, in your own words, what you have accomplished, what you have done in the past and why the LLM program is that next, natural step for you.

That opens a window into your motivation, and what you are looking to accomplish. From there I go into the more technical details – so I will look through your transcripts, not only looking at the final CGPA but also taking a look at the courses you are taking, semester by semester.

And lastly, I will take a look at the recommendation letters either to confirm [what you have written] or reveal something new about you that I had not picked up yet.

Any suggestions on how to go about writing the personal statements?

In terms of the personal statement, I wouldn’t over think it and I wouldn’t make it too long. I have read personal statements that are one and a half pages (double spaced) – you can say a lot with very little space. I would not exceed two pages, just as a general matter.

I would advise the student to really take the space to tell her story. So, walk me through a little bit of your past. Talk to me about what got you motivated to study law [as an undergraduate]. Maybe talk about some of the things you have done during your time as a law student.

And then, end it with a paragraph or two about why this LLM program is the next thing for you. I am looking for information about what is motivating you to apply.

AP: You mention that you should engage with the schools. Do you think professors are also open to the idea of being contacted?

AH: Yes, definitely. Any law school’s website will also have information on professors and the courses that they teach. And if they have a specialization in a subject that you are interested in, you should absolutely feel free to reach out to the faculty members. The admissions office can help make those introductions for you.

I think most foreign students coming to the United States will find that, and this is not to denigrate any other country, our professors tend to be a bit more accessible, a bit more approachable. They really want to know who our students are, they want to know if you have concerns, and just to make sure that everything is going well for you.

AP: By and large, LLMs can be quite expensive. Oftentimes it is a question of whether one should make that kind of financial investment.

AH: Without a doubt. The first or usually the second thing that students are concerned about is the cost. And that is completely reasonable; LLM programs are expensive. I know that, I live in this world, and I talk to students all the time.

I wish they were more affordable, I wish they were more accessible and I know that my colleagues as well share that sentiment.

With that said, I also consider LLMs to be highly valuable in terms of the credentials that they give. There is a way of looking at LLM programs as expensive or valuable, and I think those are two different things.

The reason I look at them as valuable is for what they can unlock in terms of opportunities.

For example, in the US, if you are foreign educated and you come to do an LLM here, you can unlock the ability to write the NY Bar exam or the DC Bar exam. So, having that LLM on its own is certainly great – it is a master’s credential, gives you more exposure, more expertise.

I think it is important to mention when we talk about scholarships, it is very rare for students to pay the full price [of the LLM] as published on the website.

It is quite common, and quite acceptable, to open a conversation with the school and ask for scholarships, and also ask about appealing scholarships. So, if you are offered maybe ten or twenty thousand dollars at the first pass, may be a month or two later, you evaluate and say that you really need or deserve more scholarship funding.

AP: This is common across US schools?

AH: I would say, yes. I think that the trend for scholarships in the US are that schools are giving more and more scholarships. It is becoming increasingly competitive for schools to attract quality candidates. Scholarships are just part of what it is to do business in this field right now.

[Awarding scholarships] is something that schools are willing to do, because they are willing to make that investment in their students.

AP: So, you would encourage applicants to have that conversation on scholarships?

AH: Absolutely.

It is a very fair question to ask. As part of my admission process, I have a Skype conversation with every applicant and it is usually during that conversation that I ask about scholarships, about funding process. And that opens a conversation for students to talk about what their level of need is.

I think most admission professionals will welcome that conversation.

AP: Any final piece of advice?

AH: I touched upon this earlier, but I can’t understate the value of connecting with the school.

So, beyond just going to the website, filling out the application and then waiting for a decision, I really think [applicants] should engage with the school. And that’s not just e-mailing them back and forth. Look for them on their social media channel, start following them, engage.

Ask them if you could speak with current students, with alumni, not only from your own country or your own city, but also in the practice area that you may want to work in later.

I think the best thing you could do is to be informed. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and really make sure you are engaged with the school.