Paying for an LL.M. in Tougher Economic Times

Law schools are reporting more demand for scholarships and financial aid, but the LL.M. degree often pays for itself over time

An LL.M. degree can deliver a significant boost to earnings and propel your career forward, but they do not come cheap. Funding has always been a key consideration for prospective students, but it has been magnified by the present high levels of economic uncertainty and elevated inflation, creating a cost-of-living crisis around the world. 

Law schools are, therefore, noticing more demand for scholarships and other forms of financial aid such as cheap loans. But there are numerous ways that LL.M. candidates can fund their studies, and the return on investment is expected to be high.

Still, some would-be LL.M. candidates are now looking for lower cost locations and law schools with less lofty fees. “Prospective students are being very deliberate in their approach and decision about pursuing an LL.M.,” says Karen Jones, Executive Director of Global and Graduate Programs at University of Houston Law Center. “In general, they want to find a high-quality LL.M. program at an affordable price.”

Affordability is not just about tuition cost, she adds, pointing to soaring rental prices in private markets. “Candidates are also taking into consideration expenses related to cost-of-living in general during their program, since living in some places can cost as much or more as the tuition,” says Jones.

Houston's cost-of-living is relatively low compared with other similar cities, such as New York, because of private rents. Even so, the full cost of studying for an LL.M. can weigh heavily on prospective students’ minds. “Even a high-quality, lower-cost LL.M. in the U.S. can still be cost prohibitive for many potential students, foreign and domestic,” Jones says.

Bountiful financial support for LL.M. candidates 

As such, she adds that “one of the first inquiries from most of our candidates is often about financial support”. Every LL.M. candidate admitted to Houston’s program is automatically considered for a scholarship. In some cases, the combination of scholarship and a tuition waiver for in-state residents can lower tuition by about a third, which is significant for an LL.M. program. 

Many other law schools in the U.S. and elsewhere are providing financial support for their LL.M. students at a time of economic stress. Alba Vallès, Associate Director of Admissions at ESADE Law School in Barcelona, accepts that the cost of the LL.M. can deter prospective students. “However,” she adds, “we believe that for those who do apply and complete the admission procedure, funding is not the dealbreaker as it might be for other programs.”

She insists that a strong brand is still a huge pull factor for prospective students to the Spanish institution. “We have not been affected by inflation or the current economic landscape,” says Vallès.

Surprisingly, there has been no increase in requests for scholarships amongst students who have applied to ESADE; requests are actually slightly lower than in the same period last year. But the school does offer a generous package of financial aid.

That includes the Talent Scholarship covering 50 percent of all tuition fees for students with a good academic track record but who lack the necessary funds. Eligibility requirements include a high undergraduate GPA. The school also takes into account the applicant’s financial necessity, career background and English proficiency when awarding Talent Scholarships.

Additionally, ESADE has an agreement with Banco Sabadell, the Spanish bank, for loans with lower interest rates for LL.M. students.

Increasing access for students from under-served backgrounds

For other schools financial aid is a necessity for some students. “The high cost of LL.M. tuition has always been a concern for students,” says Oleg Kobelev, the Associate Dean of International Studies at Duke Law in North Carolina.

The school runs a scholarship program that aims to increase access for students from under-represented backgrounds. In the past decade, the amount of scholarship aid available to LL.M. students at Duke has risen faster than the cost of tuition, thanks to donations from happy alumni -- a vote of confidence in the program. 

Kobelev highlights financial difficulties for law schools themselves. “For most, tuition does not actually cover the full cost of attendance. As nonprofit institutions, law schools rely on a mix of tuition, grants, and alumni giving to pay their bills and retain their faculty,” he says.

Furthermore, tuition fee reductions seem unlikely for LL.M. students. “Lower costs will likely translate into lower teaching standards by increasing class sizes and reducing the numbers of faculty. The best way to increase access for underrepresented students is to continue increasing targeted financial aid – which is exactly what many law schools are doing,” Kobelev insists.

In any case, the return on investment is usually high, given that the LL.M. degree has the power to transform a student’s career trajectory. “Our alumni often tell us that, despite its high cost, the LL.M. degree pays for itself many times over,” says Kobelev.

“Its benefits, such as increased employment opportunities, faster advancement, access to a global network of alumni, and personal and professional growth, pay dividends over many decades.”

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