LL.M. programs can be very expensive. Even when you know the benefits will outweigh the cost as your career progresses, coming up with the funds on the spot can deter many potential LL.M. students.
Here we look at the common ways LL.M. students are gathering their funds, as well as a new loan scheme for international students that might be able to help fill some gaps.
The Associate Dean for International Studies at Duke University School of Law, Jennifer D’Arcy Maher, says, “the majority of our students are self-funded, but that means many things. I would say that many of them are cobbling together a basket of funds.”
Aside from scholarships, which can come from both within a school and externally, Maher says she sees students saving money themselves, getting loans from their family, or sponsorship from their employers.
“And some of them are doing all of those things.”
Tuition at Duke is currently around 58,000 USD, with living expenses in North Carolina totaling around 20-25,000 USD per year. In order to get student visas, Maher says students have to show that they have around 80,000 USD.
Scholarships for LL.M. students
[See related article: How to Apply for an LL.M. Scholarship]
Like most law schools, Duke offers a range of LL.M. scholarships in different categories.
At Duke, like at many schools, scholarships usually cover part, but not all, of tuition, and there is no set proportion of a cohort that will receive scholarships.
These scholarships can take many forms.
Maher says one of Duke’s major scholarships is for students from developing countries who are hoping to work in the public interest, who, without a scholarship, would not otherwise be able to fund their studies at Duke. This scholarship is funded by graduates.
Then there are scholarships for LL.M. students focusing on particular specializations, like environmental law, as well as scholarships for students from specific countries.
“And then we have a kind of general scholarship pool,” says Maher. “We allocate that both by need and merit, looking at students with high achievement and high potential, and students who have that also, but are unable to fund themselves.”
At the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Recruitment Officer Stewart Coubrough says the majority of their law students fund their studies from at least one scholarship.
Like other schools in the UK, at Strathclyde the tuition costs depend on whether you are a student from within the European Union or not.
As an example, an LL.M. in human rights law will currently cost an EU student 6,300 GBP, but 13,000 GBP for an international student.
“A lot of our scholarships are geared towards international students who are having to pay considerably more,” he says.
The faculty offers dean’s international excellence awards of 2-3,000 GBP.
“So if a student has got the equivalent of a 2.1[upper second-class honors] in their undergraduate degree, then they will automatically be eligible for 2,000 pounds. And if they’ve got the equivalent of a first class degree, we’ll offer them 3,000 pounds.”
Coubrough says there are also university-wide scholarships for international students and memorial scholarships, as well as school-specific scholarships, such as the law school’s post-graduate scholarship, available to both home and international students applying to an LL.M program. Each year there are 12 of these available for 1,000 GBP each.
Both schools keep a running list of possible scholarships on their website, however both Coubrough and Maher said it was hard to keep track of all the external scholarships, so students need to do their own research as well.
External scholarships can come from sources as varying as the Fulbright Scholar Program, to research institutes with specific specializations they would like to see a recipient focus on. Funding can also come with cultural affiliations from sources like the Jewish Vocational Service Scholarship Fund for Jewish people, as well as funds for students with disabilities or students from particular countries or states.
Getting sponsored by your employer to do an LL.M.
If you don’t manage to earn a scholarship—or if you need more money to cover the cost of your LL.M.—there are other options, but it pays to plan in advance.
Maher at Duke says it’s surprising how often students carefully prepare their law school applications, but forget to think about how they will pay for their studies.
“I think students need to seriously think about where the funding’s going to come from, in addition to, ‘how am I going to put myself forward in the best light in my application’.”
One option to consider is sponsorship from an employer.
The usual arrangement is that a firm will pay for an employee’s tuition, and maybe even living costs, with the expectation that the employee will return to work with new skills stay with the firm for an agreed amount of time. If they choose to leave earlier, they might have to pay back some of the sponsorship – this should all be agreed upon in advance.
Maher says this arrangement can be worth it for employers who reap the benefits of an employee with improved English skills, advanced writing skills, and connections to a global network of alumni that a student makes while studying for an LL.M.
However, Maher says she has seen a decrease in the number of LL.M. students being sponsored by employers.
“It’s definitely gotten harder, and yet people seem to figure out how to do it because the value added to their lives is such that it is worth it,” says Maher.
Loans for LL.M. students
Another option is of course, loans. For US citizens and permanent residents who want to study in the US, there are federally-funded loans schemes like Stafford loans, which generally have better rates and more lenient repayment schemes than loans from private organizations.
Residents of the United Kingdom and other countries also have their own form of federal loans.
However, many loans come with a hitch: they require LL.M. students to either be a permanent resident of the country where they are studying. For international students, this can be problematic.
One way that international students are able to fill their LL.M. funding gap is with a loan from a platform like Prodigy Finance, which began offering loans to international LL.M. students this year.
After seven years supporting international MBA students, Prodigy, which was started by a group of MBA graduates, added students of LL.M., engineering and policy programs this fall.
Michael Hollis from Business Development at Prodigy Finance says securing funding “seems to be particularly difficult for international students”, creating a need that Prodigy is able to fill.
Currently Prodigy is able to lend to international students who attend the top 15 US law schools, as determined by to the US News & World Report rankings. This includes Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School and Duke University School of Law.
Hollis says they are hoping to include top-tier schools from the UK in the future.
To check for a student’s loan eligibility, Prodigy looks at their current salary and projected post-study earnings.
Prodigy can loan up to 80 percent of attendance costs (this includes tuition and living costs), but “students needs to have themselves at least 20% of attendance costs from non-debt sources of funding”, says Hollis.
The loans are usually set on 10-year terms, with a minimum loan of 15,000 USD.
Aside from Prodigy, there are other private loan sources for international students studying in the US, such as IEFA, which offers loans to international students if they are backed by a US-based cosigner.
It’s all about timing
The best advice for those short on funding for the LL.M. is to start early.
Stewart Coubrough from Strathclyde says that funding can be a major barrier to starting an LL.M.
Strathclyde’s internal scholarship application deadlines are generally in May, with results posted in June. Coubrough says if students haven’t found their funding by then, they generally aren’t able to start studying when the LL.M. program begins in September.
Many schools have separate deadlines for their scholarships, which are often earlier than the final deadline for application materials.
Image: Money by Mike Dunn CC BY 2.0 (cropped)