US law schools are opening the spending taps, with far more scholarship dollars flowing to star LL.M. students who have a strong academic and professional track record. This reflects robust law school applications amid a strong US economy, and increased competition to recruit prospective LL.M. students.
The scholarship honeypot at Cardozo Law, in New York, has risen in recent years to reflect a growth in applications to the LL.M. degree, according to Val Myteberi, associate dean of graduate and international programs.
“I have seen an upward trend in applications as well as scholarships,” says the corporate law professor. “It moves with the market: when the economy is good, more applicants come to law schools and you get more money from tuition fees.
“The mission of the school is to educate more high quality people, so we are willing to throw more money out there. Even if we earn less money, it works better for the school because there is an increase in application quality.”
How do you get an LL.M. scholarship?
Law schools often talk about broadening diversity, but most scholarship dollars flow to candidates with strong academic profiles and work experience that can indicate likely success in the LL.M. and on the labor market.
“Scholarships are awarded to students on a variety of factors, primarily grade point average, financial need, special group membership and early admission commitments,” says Amit Schlesinger, executive director of Kaplan Bar Review.
“Some students receive a full ride, while others receive smaller scholarships of between 25 percent and 75 percent of tuition fees.”
[See LLM GUIDE's Scholarship Directory]
Berkeley Law in California has increased its scholarship budget over the past decade in order to attract top candidates, says director of admissions, Erin Weldon.
The scholarships are merit-based and each has a particular requirement, such as demonstrated interest in a particular area of law, such as social justice, or citizenship in a certain region, like Latin America.
Students are considered for scholarships at the time of admission and do not apply for them. “Candidates can make themselves stand out by making their application materials the best they can be, including a clearly articulated personal statement and an organized CV,” says Weldon.
“This is not the time for candidates to be shy; if they do not share with us the cool things they have done, awards they have won, and work that they are proud of, we may have no other way of knowing.”
A scholarship is not just a means to study: it can significantly boost a student’s confidence, says Myteberi at Cardozo Law. “Lots of overseas lawyers come with doubts about whether they will be employable in the US, or adjusting to a bustling city like New York.”
She adds that students who secure a merit scholarship are more likely to pass the New York bar exam, a passport to working in one of the biggest US legal centers, and have a higher GPA in the LL.M. course.
Cardozo Law scholarships are available for candidates who demonstrate they are exceptional, for instance by leveraging offers from other selective law schools to get a more competitive admissions offer. Cardozo Law also guarantees scholarships to graduates of certain law schools in Europe, such as Sorbonne Law School in Paris.
Overcoming a “mountain of tuition”
Myteberi faced her own financial challenge coming to Cardozo Law as an LL.M. student from Albania, a relatively poor country. “I did face that mountain of tuition. When you come from a culture where you don’t see these prices for education, it takes some getting used to,” she says.
“My own experience has shaped how we approach recruiting international students: we track currency exchanges and political instability to see if people need financial aid, in addition to our merit-based scholarships to attract the best legal minds.”
Many law schools also value prospective LL.M. students who have significant work experience and membership of professional associations, which shows engagement and commitment.
Schlesinger, of Kaplan Bar Review, adds that students will need to look hard to find financial aid: not all scholarships are on a school’s website. Speaking with admissions officers, current and former students can be helpful to see what funding is available to get tips on winning it.
“Financial aid is an important recruitment tool that programs use to attract the strongest students,” says Schlesinger. “Most LL.M. candidates cannot think about getting their degree without thinking about how to pay for it.”
However, there is a risk that scholarship funds, along with LL.M. applications, could dry up if the US economy takes a downturn. “Banks are less willing to extend education loans and people get instinctively more protective of their money. They try to stay put and postpone their degrees,” says Myteberi from Cardozo Law.
For the time being, she adds, the legal job market is robust and so is demand for LL.M. degrees. Scholarship dollars will keep flowing for the foreseeable future.