By LLMbyM on Mar 18, 2014
Hello future LLMs,
Let me introduce myself – I am a 2013 LL.M. graduate from a California law school, having previously completed my law degree in Europe.
As I’m typing this blog post, I remember myself applying for LLM a year ago, and looking all over internet for any information about the LLM admission process. LLMGuide was one the most helpful resources to me, and thus I decided now to describe my journey here. Hopefully it helps someone else.
I have graduated from a law school in May 2013, and it’s been quite a challenge to get there. Back in 2011 I was in my last year of law school, and I decided to get an LL.M. in the US. It was very hard to find anything about the admissions process – no one was volunteering any information. Moreover, all I could find was “follow the requirements.” And, what goes without saying, requirements were very confusing.
So this is why I’m writing this blog. I want to help those who are currently applying for LLM in the US, and try to navigate the admission waters for those who need it. Please PM me if you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them.
By LLMbyM on Mar 18, 2014
Hello my dear reader!
With no introduction let me dive into a topic I most eagerly wanted to share - THE admissions process (honestly, I was trying to come up with an adjective that could possibly be close enough to describe these torturous procedures, and yet I couldn't come up with one). This post is an introduction to the upcoming series of those dedicated to the peculiarities of the admissions from my personal perspective, and I will try my best to keep you interested.
At first I would like to point out, that I hadn't found any blogs regarding the process of admissions - and that's a pity! I asked a friend about it, and he said that admissions cycles make people feel the competition. to an extent where they become simply scared to share any bits of information regarding their status in order not to have it used by a third party, or worse, a fellow applicant. For example, any time I asked a specific question on LLMguide.com, it was rarely answered in a specific manner; and once another user actually provided me with completely wrong info!
What I am trying to convey, is that it is NOT an applicant-eat-applicant kind of world out there, and law school admissions is a hard process to go through without at least some support from fellow applicants. Commiserating together won’t hurt anyone, and we, fellow LLMs, have got to stick together.
When I myself was a prospective, I wanted to know everything about GPAs, essays, diploma evaluations, LSAC, and any other application elements. I believed, that if any part of your application is in any way weak, your whole application is weak. I still think that is true. So, let me share the steps of the process itself.
By LLMbyM on Mar 18, 2014
Hello my dear readers!
This post will be dedicated to how I selected a law school, which I happily attended last year. Why is it absolutely crucial? Because whether you like it or not, you will spend up to 90% of your time in that law school - studying (and sleeping:)) in the library, snacking at a law cafe, attending various events... so trust me when I say that you want to make sure you select a good fit. LLM is hard, and you don't want any extra misery there!
Here are some tips for those of you who are currently selecting.
Tip #1. Narrow Things Down.
They say, narrow down your choices. I say - select a continent at least. The globe isn't just a little ball with markings for 6th grade geography lesson - use it! When I first sat down to look up law schools, I got honestly lost. Do you know how many educational institutions are there in the world? A lot. It's good when you are narrowed down to one exact country (for instance, I quickly realized that I wanted to pursue a degree in the United States based on my field of study). But if you aren’t, things may get very complicated.
Tip #2. Let Go of the Advice Books.
If you are applying anywhere, I bet you have read (or maybe you even have in stock!) books and brochures which promise "to get you to educational institution of your dreams" or that tend to "select what place is better for you." (Something like “How to Get Into a Top Law School of Your Dreams.”) I had those too, a bunch of those actually; and eventually I found them completely useless to myself, mainly because their authors seem to know very little about international students. They disregard the difference in backgrounds and tend to make everyone use same criteria when selecting a dream school. Here I will take most popular of those criteria and explain how those can be useful (or useless) to prospective LLMs.
Many begin with location. You need to find a comfortable place to live! - they say. Ok, that's true. But how on earth can one know, whether an exact place would be a perfect fit? Impossible. You may love Southern lifestyle (watch Heart of Dixie much?), but hate the absence of real winters. You may adore skiing in Bogus, Idaho, and yet dislike the little town life typical for that state. You maybe a socialite back home, a party person - and yet, is that a reason enough to go to New York or L.A.?
So that's the first catch - you are blindly dating your future in regards to it's location. What I realized during my search is that location isn't that crucial - eventually, good friends will add color to any place. A friend of mine attended college in a city somewhere in suburbs of California. For the first year she dreamed of transfer, but a Christmas party made her reconsider - and now she is a happy accountant in San Francisco with a great friends to meet with every weekend or so. And isn't that what most of us eventually want?
b. Costs and tuition.
Yep, that's important. But don't let it overwhelm you, it's not crucial. Also, its always going to be ridiculously high – that’s something we all know. Again, experience shows, that if one wants an education, one will get it one way or another. Personally I believed in scholarships and grants, and I turned to be right ;)
P.S. Seriously, Google grants for LLMs – there are quite a few depending on your qualification and background. But they usually have earlier deadlines then your regular law school admissions, so be aware.
c. Curriculum and Professors.
Professors. Yes and no. Knowing about professors turned out absolutely useless for me at the point of searching for the right law school. They were all just smiling faces on websites, and a Ph.D. degree doesn't make a person exclusively qualified. Yes, of course it's good to have an amazing professional to lead your class, but how can you tell how great is one or another person just by looking at their photograph and bio? Also, you may not even get into their class because of limited space or some unsatisfiable/unwaivable prerequisites! Of course you may search the web or find current students and talk to them (ratemyprofessors.com is one good resource), but that is a time consuming task which at the point of simply searching for law schools made no sense to me.
Curriculum. At the same time curriculum is crucial. Personally I found it the most important thing. It is easier when you are pursuing an LL.M. - you definitely know what you want to specialize in. And when you know what you want - you know where to find it. LLMGuide is a good resource to search various specializations.
I don't see a reason to mention any other criteria. My personal experience shows, that these above are absolutely enough to narrow down a list of law schools from approx. 3000 to 8. This is how I did it:
Step 1. I knew I wanted to study in the United States and get a specialization in Medical (Health) Law. So I typed those two criteria in a search engine, and it returned with 68 law schools.
Step 2. I narrowed my choices down to 30 by selecting that I want to attend an LL.M. not a J.D.
Step 3. I narrowed it down even more by selecting NY or CA only – these are the only states that allow a foreign attorney to sit the bar exam, and if you are planning to do so, you really want to attend a law school where you can have access to studying state specific subjects.
Step 4. I crossed out those law schools that did not offer scholarships to international students - and VOILA! – I had exactly 8 educational institutions to try myself at.
Tip #3. Reach Out to Alumni.
It may sound strange to some, but reaching out to LL.M. alums is a very good idea. You can find them by going on the law school’s website, through LinkedIn or even Facebook. It’s a good idea to talk to people who have real insight on things all the way across the globe.
Alums are a great source of information on many things like general amount of support that LLMs get at a particular law school, rent issues, good student organizations to join and networking events to attend, general employment perspectives, and so on.
Of course, alums are busy people, and sometimes they don’t reply as fast as you would want them to. But then, more often than not they are very happy to talk to a prospective student and tell them the nuts and bolts of the program they attended.
This is all at this point. My next post will be dedicated to all the paperwork that it takes to file an application.
Take care and stay tuned!
By LLMbyM on Mar 18, 2014
This post will be full of some excrutiating pain, as I am getting closer to talking about THE PAPERWORK.
Six months prior to my first deadline I became certain of my selection of law schools, and started writing down their requirements for an application. It helped to make a table of those, because many schools tend to require same things (personal statement, LSAC evaluation, TOEFL scores - you can make tables and mark them off as you get done with them. I found this practice to be very convenient).
An application, an essay, and open-ended question, a scholarship essay - all these needed to be crafted, and fast. No difference how good of a writer are you - you will write and rewrite your essay as much as it will be needed, until it becomes a well-(g)rounded piece of applicative art. So here come the peculiarities of paperwork.
a. Essay/ Personal Statement.
Should I even begin the explanation? I had several books about "good admissions essays" and "100 best essays", but they only made me scared. I read so many different essays and personal statements, that every time I wrote a sentence I immediately feared plagiarism. I kept looking through those books in order to find a piece that my essay corresponded to, and when I couldn't, I started fearing misplaced commas… As an applicant I was someone, who kept freaking out all the time, and this process was simply unstoppable :)
My Art teacher in high school used to say "Be productive". So every time I failed to be creative, I was productive. Eventually, it helped - I had several variants of application essay, that I could combine them into one good well-rounded piece that would suit the admission committees. They aren’t kidding when they say that your essay is the most important part of your application – it truly is. Conveying your point may not be simple under restricted word count and other style limitations. Therefore – always start early ad rewrite your essay as many times as possible. Another good technique is to read it outloud for general mistakes and misstatements.
NB: [It goes without saying that your essays should be tailored to the particular law school you are applying to. Mention it's name, what you like about that particular place, you know the drill. This is one thing that can show that you did your homework and will allow you to stand out above other applicants. But when I say this, also note, that you shouldn't be telling "I want to attend XYZ law school because of it's amazing library." They know they are amazing. What you need to show, is how all that amaziness is specifically tailored to you.]
Here's a tip: No one is EVER satisfied with their essay. You simply won’t be, and that’s something you’ll have to learn to deal with. When I filed my applications, I realized, that I could have added this and that... But what’s done is done, applications can’t be recalled, so just stop overthinking it right there.
- Scholarship essay.
"Tell us why you are a qualified candidate for our highly selective grant (scholarship, loan, etc.)". The trick is usually the size. Sizes vary - often it should be no more then one-page essay, though my personal favourite was the one with a 150 words limit. Do you know how to put your life in 150 words? No? Better start practicing!
Have you ever tried to channel your inner Puss in Boots from Shrek when he does his eye thing? This is how one looks when asking for a letter recommendation :) And while a professor will find no problem with those (they usually have them templated and stacked up for every upcoming school year), people who worked with you may have other stuff to attend to. On howtogetintoharvardlaw.com I found a post from a girl, who was telling how to write recommendations for yourself. I bet Admissions office can tell the difference, but if it’s something you have to resort to – it appears to be quite a common practice.
- TOEFL scores.
You need to take the test at least 2 months before applying, because you need time to redo it in case you fail to get the desired (required) points. I didn't take any prep classes, just studied for 3 weeks using PrincetonReview, and that did the trick for me.
- Transcript Evaluations.
Law schools require international transcripts to get evaluated by Law Student Admissions Council (LSAC). My experience with them wasn't the best one, and I surely would have avoided using their services if I possibly could.
In my particular case I submitted my documents to them in full in mid-September. They sent me back a confirmation receipt, and said that my case will proceed to evaluation. I contacted them a few times via email in October and November, and every time I was told “your case is being evaluated.” However, 45 days past the evaluation still wasn’t complete. When I called them again (mind you, 70 minutes on hold to get through), and pressured to give me a specific date when the report will be ready, I was told that they will not issue my report because they’ve lost my files, and they have nothing to work with! And the reason they never mentioned it to me before was “because we have high work volumes.” After a lot of talking, I finally had to send them another set of documents and pay expedited fees, then they completed the evaluation 24 hours before my first deadline.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get out of using LSAC. So when working with them, make sure you send your documents via courier services (for instance, I used FedEx), and do call them seventyfivetrilliontimes(!!) to make sure they got them and that your documents will get evaluated by the time of your application deadlines. Do all this in well advance of your deadlines, at least three months prior.
*A little note here: a friends' experience with WES Evaluating Services was awful too – for all same reasons (documents lost and no notification). I am sure that negative situations are not that common with those firms, but do learn how to calm your nerves down fast when you begin your evaluation proves with any of those firms.
Finally, Her Majesty itself. Applications aren't hard as long as you keep reading the questions attentively. Check it seven times before submitting - no kidding here! - poor grammar is nothing to be proud of, and failing to read the exact question on the file may result in a wrongful answer on your app. Seriously, don't be lazy, check and re-check - it won't save your life, but will save your admission. Also, failure to spell your name correctly as it is in your passport (if your country uses an alphabet other than Latin) = a lot of trouble in the future.
On the other hand, do not check the contents of your application AFTER submission. I learned the hard way - I read my apps after deadlines, and some of them had stuff I would present differently at that point. That was terrible, because my application did not seem good enough to me anymore, and that's a depressing thought. Avoid it by any means.
While writing this post, all this seemed so straightforward to me, so simple and understandable. But back some year ago all these apps accounted for a lot of sleepless nights. Whoever said that application process is when you run on coffee and pure initiative is damn right!
Stay tuned, and PM me with any questions you may have!
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