Depending on the program, an LL.M. degree can cost tens of thousands. It’s no small amount, and few can support the financial burden on their own.
“We really do appreciate the challenge our students have in funding the LL.M., and we take that very seriously,” says Elise Kraemer, executive director of graduate programs at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
“It’s a lot of money, especially for people coming from countries where the currency and rate of pay is not commensurate to that of the US.”
But the scholarship pool can often be confusing to navigate; there are law school-specific funding options, scholarships from the university, and often joint scholarship partnerships with organizations like the Fulbright Program. With some thorough research and outreach, however, applicants can find good chances of securing a scholarship for their LL.M. education.
“Apply for everything that is open to you,” says Emily Haslam, co-director at the Centre for Critical International Law at the University of Kent. “The criteria are going to be different for each scholarship you’re applying for; there are plenty of opportunities out there, but they need to direct their applications specifically to those requirements.”
Merit- and need-based scholarships
Many schools in the US and elsewhere will offer need- or merit-based scholarships; at American University Washington College of Law, for instance, each LL.M. program offers partial scholarships based solely on “high academic merit.” These grants are assessed during the admissions process, and require the applicant to submit a one-page cover letter indicating qualifications and academic background. The law school also provides need-based scholarships, which cover two to eight academic credits and apply only to tuition charges; they can’t be used towards living expenses.
“Students will only get one scholarship from us, however, whether it’s merit or need-based,” says Meghan Walter, associate director of graduate admissions. “Sometimes people apply for both, and we’ll take both into consideration.”
UPenn applicants have the option of being considered for merit-based aid right on the LL.M. application form itself. “We try to make [the] process of applying for aid as simple as possible,” Kraemer says. “You literally just check a box to be considered for merit aid.”
The committee looks for exceptional academic achievement—which can mean different things in different places, she notes: professional experience, what type is it, how deep, how interesting—”we’re using it to optimize the talent and diversity of the class,” Kraemer says.
Other scholarship options
Beyond need or merit-based scholarships, school often offer various funding options for different specializations or geographic regions. At Kent Law School, for instance, you can apply for a scholarship offered to students from the UK and the rest of the EU, or one offered to international students. It also has a fund supporting students from or who have done an undergraduate degree in Kenya, Nigeria or Thailand; a £2,500 tuition fee discount is automatically awarded to eligible entrants.
American University offers a plethora of scholarships grouped by specialization, including the Alumni Fund, which offers full tuition to newly admitted LL.M. students in the International Legal Studies Program who display “rigorous academic dedication to the advancement of issues in international law.” Around five of the roughly 50 students in the fall intake receive this scholarship, and one for the spring intake, which is smaller—around 20 students, one of which is awarded the full scholarship.
[Related Article: How to Pay for Your LL.M.]
American University also offers one full-tuition scholarship per year to a former Inter-American Moot Court Competition participant, as well as a Summer Program Scholarship for incoming students who have taken courses in one of the school’s summer programs.
“We’re very generous with our scholarships,” Walter says, noting that well over half of AU’s entire LL.M. class receives scholarship aid. “We do whatever needs to happen to get students here. A US LL.M. is expensive, especially here in [Washington] D.C. We understand that.”
UPenn offers one or two human rights scholarships per year to outstanding students with a demonstrated commitment to human rights. “For those, we’re not looking for just stellar credentials and interest, but real experience and commitment to human rights—are they really engaged in that kind of legal work,” says Kraemer.
Applicants are required to write an additional essay for those scholarships, and provide additional paperwork like financial records, in the case of need-based grants.
Kent’s Haslam advises students to also scour the university’s web pages for additional scholarships, not just the law school’s.
“For most students, they’ll need to do a bit more digging—looking in more than one place to find the right scholarship,” she says. “The process is competitive, but every year people get them. A scholarship is also prestigious; it’s something that can help your CV, so it’s really worth trying.”
Nailing the scholarship essay
For scholarships that do require an essay, it’s key to understand how to tailor your own experience and aspirations to their focus. AU’s Alumni Fund scholarship, for instance, asks applicants to describe a current regional, international or country-specific legal problem and offer a solution to the problem in under 750 words. It also asks how the applicant will contribute to the law school.
“The essays that were really strong were ones that had lot of heart behind them,” says Walter. “It was a topic very close to them, and you could tell they did a lot of research or had been living it—you could really just feel the excitement or interest they had. And that really makes a difference.”
Scholarships committees also advise applicants to read the criteria very carefully, and address them substantively as well as formally. If it asks to submit a piece work of a particular word length, make sure you do that; or if the criteria are academic excellence, then address that in your application.
“It all seems obvious in the cold light of day, but sometimes people haven’t had many opportunities to distill their experience in the ways you would when you’re writing those applications,” says Haslam, who authored an informal guide to applying for scholarships, available on Kent’s website.
A majority of students at the schools we spoke with receive some form of financial support, be it law school scholarships or sponsorship from employers, their home country governments, or other third party funds. One hard-earned tip that UPenn’s Kraemer discloses is to plan for currency fluctuations.
“If the student’s hometown currency is likely to be in fluctuation, they should really think about getting money into US dollars earlier rather than later,” she says, noting a few cases in the past. “We’re always able to get students through graduation, but when major currency fluctuations happen, it adds a lot of stress and distraction.”
Walter says that an engaged, proactive approach is the best way to net an LL.M. scholarship. Be vigilant, and don’t be afraid to reach out.
“It never hurts to ask,” Walter says. “In some countries it’s an uncomfortable thing to ask for money—but here, it never hurts to ask. It’s important; it puts you into consideration.”