LLM at the University of Cambridge (2017/18)


nikif3
The LLM program puts a student into the middle of highly qualified and motivated people which is a great thing and due to the reputation of the institution. The reason why I chose to accept the offer of Cambridge (and not the others: Oxford, Berkeley, Cornell, Columbia, NYU, Georgetown) was that the courses sounded more interesting to me.
I came with very high expectations of the education and teaching we would get as Cambridge is one of the highest ranked institutions. Overall, these expectations were not fulfilled. I chose to get back my fees and withdraw from the course.

Of course, it is an amazing experience to be around with smart people from all over the world in one town especially for those who have never been away from home for a longer time. That’s the reason why most of the LLM students appreciate their time in Cambridge in the end and I miss the people I got to know there.

But:

If you compare the education that an undergraduate law student gets over an academic year with that one of an LLM student the difference is horrific. Undergraduate students get exclusive teaching sessions with the professors each week for their courses (one professor and one/two students). That’s why Oxford offers more with their tutorials for their MJur & BCL students. You are not aware how much is missing at Cambridge unless you are within the program yourself. The face time with academic staff is so low that it almost could not be less.

That’s what you get:

The length of the ’taught course' program is 9 months = 3 terms à 3 months but what you get is basically 2x 8 weeks lecture sessions (8h/week). You choose 4 courses that you have over your whole academic year.

- 1st term: 8 weeks of lectures = 8 h of lectures per week: one 2h lecture per course / week & maybe 1 workshop per course if the student number in one class is over 15

then: 6 weeks break on your own

- 2nd term: 8 weeks of lectures = 8 h of lectures per week: one 2h lecture per course / week & maybe 1 workshop per course if the student number in one class is over 15

then: 6 weeks break on your own

- 3rd term: basically 3 months on your own and your exams —> no more lectures or anything new anymore, you get maybe 1-2 revisions per course


The LLM does not offer the education for what Cambridge is ranked on the top of the rankings. In my opinion, it basically makes students sitting in the library for 8 months in order to prepare for their 4 final written exams and you could do that anywhere in the world.

Professors have to rush through the broad contents in the lectures, there is no time for anything as the lecture numbers are so low. They are aware of that and apologise sometimes. They also admit that in the US they would spend around 3-4 weeks on the topics that are covered within 1 week (in 2 h) at Cambridge.

Overall, the lecturers themselves were no better than what students used to know from their home countries. Some of them were excellent while the teaching of some post-docs was quite poor - all together it was just average quality, but not what you would expect from a high class institution. A professor and Supreme Court Judge in my home country told me that the universities in London are luring the best professors away. I don’t know what is true about that but my feeling is that he could be right.

As an LLM student you are likely to get pooled into one of the poorer postgraduate colleges outside the city center of Cambridge. The wealthier and more beautiful colleges are not too interested in accepting LLM students to join their exclusive communities - of course, as they only stay for 9 months. The consequence of living in a poorer college is that you get worse accommodation, unhealthier food in the dining halls and poorly equipped sports facilities at hand (but there are also other disadvantages eg. no financial support for language classes etc.). Again, you feel degraded being a second class student at Cambridge. But, this is not the fault of the Law Faculty of course.

Another disappointment was that the Faculty announced the curriculum with the available courses for the academic year in September (1 month before the start of the program). Students were expecting to have the choice of a range of courses (4 to choose) that was published on the Faculty’s website of the program. In September they informed us that a significant number of courses (eg. Corporate Insolvency, International Commercial Tax, International Environmental Law ...) are not available anymore. Some people chose Cambridge just because of two specific courses that should be on offer. Firms sponsored people for pursuing these specific courses. In September, everything (visa, flights, withdraws from other universities applications) was already arranged for everybody. Finally, people ended up having chosen Cambridge for specific courses that were not on offer anymore, but it was too late to change one’s decision. In my opinion, this is not acceptable. Oxford managed to announce their available courses earlier (they seemed to be organized much better as a whole).

Many of my colleagues shared this criticism with me, saying that they expected more and didn’t know what they are paying that much money for. I think I am the only one who finally decided not to pursue the program. Some of the others told me that they are very unhappy about the program but they don’t have an alternative plan and they want to continue the program for the title that would be useful one time in their career.

When I asked people from the previous year they were all telling me that from the academic perspective the LLM does not offer enough and something should be changed. Many of the people were still happy to stay in Cambridge for all the other great things Cambridge itself has to offer (the international community, the speeches of Stephen Hawking etc.), but the program itself did not get good marks. Some said that they ‚developped‘ themselves and 'learned to work more efficiently' at Cambridge as they overload you with pre readings for each lecture that you cannot finish on time even if you spend every free minute on it - personally I don’t think that just overloading students with material makes an education any better.

For me personally, it felt like you are paying an excessive amount of money for having the brand of Cambridge to the right of your name - a program that seems to be the Faculty's cash cow. I used to be a highly motivated law student during my undergraduate studies. This was not the case at Cambridge anymore. What they do have, is a generous withdrawal policy. I am thankful that I did not have to continue a program I could not identify myself with.
The LLM program puts a student into the middle of highly qualified and motivated people which is a great thing and due to the reputation of the institution. The reason why I chose to accept the offer of Cambridge (and not the others: Oxford, Berkeley, Cornell, Columbia, NYU, Georgetown) was that the courses sounded more interesting to me.
I came with very high expectations of the education and teaching we would get as Cambridge is one of the highest ranked institutions. Overall, these expectations were not fulfilled. I chose to get back my fees and withdraw from the course.

Of course, it is an amazing experience to be around with smart people from all over the world in one town especially for those who have never been away from home for a longer time. That’s the reason why most of the LLM students appreciate their time in Cambridge in the end and I miss the people I got to know there.

But:

If you compare the education that an undergraduate law student gets over an academic year with that one of an LLM student the difference is horrific. Undergraduate students get exclusive teaching sessions with the professors each week for their courses (one professor and one/two students). That’s why Oxford offers more with their tutorials for their MJur & BCL students. You are not aware how much is missing at Cambridge unless you are within the program yourself. The face time with academic staff is so low that it almost could not be less.

That’s what you get:

The length of the ’taught course' program is 9 months = 3 terms à 3 months but what you get is basically 2x 8 weeks lecture sessions (8h/week). You choose 4 courses that you have over your whole academic year.

- 1st term: 8 weeks of lectures = 8 h of lectures per week: one 2h lecture per course / week & maybe 1 workshop per course if the student number in one class is over 15

then: 6 weeks break on your own

- 2nd term: 8 weeks of lectures = 8 h of lectures per week: one 2h lecture per course / week & maybe 1 workshop per course if the student number in one class is over 15

then: 6 weeks break on your own

- 3rd term: basically 3 months on your own and your exams —> no more lectures or anything new anymore, you get maybe 1-2 revisions per course


The LLM does not offer the education for what Cambridge is ranked on the top of the rankings. In my opinion, it basically makes students sitting in the library for 8 months in order to prepare for their 4 final written exams and you could do that anywhere in the world.

Professors have to rush through the broad contents in the lectures, there is no time for anything as the lecture numbers are so low. They are aware of that and apologise sometimes. They also admit that in the US they would spend around 3-4 weeks on the topics that are covered within 1 week (in 2 h) at Cambridge.

Overall, the lecturers themselves were no better than what students used to know from their home countries. Some of them were excellent while the teaching of some post-docs was quite poor - all together it was just average quality, but not what you would expect from a high class institution. A professor and Supreme Court Judge in my home country told me that the universities in London are luring the best professors away. I don’t know what is true about that but my feeling is that he could be right.

As an LLM student you are likely to get pooled into one of the poorer postgraduate colleges outside the city center of Cambridge. The wealthier and more beautiful colleges are not too interested in accepting LLM students to join their exclusive communities - of course, as they only stay for 9 months. The consequence of living in a poorer college is that you get worse accommodation, unhealthier food in the dining halls and poorly equipped sports facilities at hand (but there are also other disadvantages eg. no financial support for language classes etc.). Again, you feel degraded being a second class student at Cambridge. But, this is not the fault of the Law Faculty of course.

Another disappointment was that the Faculty announced the curriculum with the available courses for the academic year in September (1 month before the start of the program). Students were expecting to have the choice of a range of courses (4 to choose) that was published on the Faculty’s website of the program. In September they informed us that a significant number of courses (eg. Corporate Insolvency, International Commercial Tax, International Environmental Law ...) are not available anymore. Some people chose Cambridge just because of two specific courses that should be on offer. Firms sponsored people for pursuing these specific courses. In September, everything (visa, flights, withdraws from other universities applications) was already arranged for everybody. Finally, people ended up having chosen Cambridge for specific courses that were not on offer anymore, but it was too late to change one’s decision. In my opinion, this is not acceptable. Oxford managed to announce their available courses earlier (they seemed to be organized much better as a whole).

Many of my colleagues shared this criticism with me, saying that they expected more and didn’t know what they are paying that much money for. I think I am the only one who finally decided not to pursue the program. Some of the others told me that they are very unhappy about the program but they don’t have an alternative plan and they want to continue the program for the title that would be useful one time in their career.

When I asked people from the previous year they were all telling me that from the academic perspective the LLM does not offer enough and something should be changed. Many of the people were still happy to stay in Cambridge for all the other great things Cambridge itself has to offer (the international community, the speeches of Stephen Hawking etc.), but the program itself did not get good marks. Some said that they ‚developped‘ themselves and 'learned to work more efficiently' at Cambridge as they overload you with pre readings for each lecture that you cannot finish on time even if you spend every free minute on it - personally I don’t think that just overloading students with material makes an education any better.

For me personally, it felt like you are paying an excessive amount of money for having the brand of Cambridge to the right of your name - a program that seems to be the Faculty's cash cow. I used to be a highly motivated law student during my undergraduate studies. This was not the case at Cambridge anymore. What they do have, is a generous withdrawal policy. I am thankful that I did not have to continue a program I could not identify myself with.
quote
Thank you for this insight!
The crucial question now, of course, is whether the programmes at other top universities differ significantly in these points. After all, the LL.M. is most of the time an one-year degree that is specifically designed for foreign students. Therefore one should not expect too much in my opinion, even if this often does not do justice to the high quality of the participants.

[Edited by AdmissionLLM on Dec 31, 2017]

Thank you for this insight!
The crucial question now, of course, is whether the programmes at other top universities differ significantly in these points. After all, the LL.M. is most of the time an one-year degree that is specifically designed for foreign students. Therefore one should not expect too much in my opinion, even if this often does not do justice to the high quality of the participants.
quote
LegalLife
This is not meant to take anything away from your experience and I will apologise in advance if any divergent view makes it look like that.

I was personally quite happy with my overall experience at Cambridge. I stayed the entire course and I would do it all over again.

My college was amazing. It was not wealthy or located in the city center but the support was amazing. The food was great. The pastoral care was good and I felt that I had a very good support system around me. My accommodation was very nice and I lived in a good residence with quite a number of LLM students nearby in similar accommodations. Obviously living with strangers can have its ups and downs but for me, it was a good experience I would gladly do all over again.

I credit Cambridge for my post LLM work choices. It added a lot to my body of knowledge. I learnt so much more than I knew going into the LLM. They were a lot of many firsts, [and note I came into the LLM with some considerable work experience as an international student] I had excellent lecturers; I personally had nothing bad to say about those who taught my electives.

The one thing I totally agree with you however is on course selection. Yes it is understood and declared from the very beginning that course availability is not guaranteed. This is because sometimes lecturers go on sabbatical etc. What is not acceptable is telling students so late into the process when they have already decided to come to Cambridge. That is deceit in my view!! This information needs to be provided before hand so people can make informed choices. It looks like they learnt their lesson as in this application cycle, this information has already been provided. I hope this will become the norm going forward.

My only other grievance with Cambridge is the workload! The LLM workload is a class apart! It is too much! It is a lot. The author talks about those long breaks but trust me, there are no breaks. You spend time reading. I appreciated those long breaks while in Cambridge because they enabled me try to catch up on the workload. For example,you would have about 20 readings overall in a week for the different modules. Obviously you couldn't complete these all yet the lecturers were referring to them in the class so the breaks helped you to catch up on the workload. Those readings were not preloaded for the fun of it; they were needed. Cambridge expects you to analyze the readings and form your opinion of them. You wont be able to do the latter if you don't do the former.

The other issue that certain LLMs will agree with you is on supervisions. Certain LLMs preferred that they get supervisions just like in Oxford. I remember in my year, we had a poll on this and were split on the matter. I personally see no use of supervisions for a masters course, reason being it is not foundational but rather meant to allow you form your own opinions on things. I felt like supervisions tested knowledge rather than critical analysis which the LLM is all about. So I was one of those who voted for no supervisions. However, there are people who like the supervision system. I guess to each their own. By the way, supervisions are mostly with post docs and PHD students and sometimes a professor but the default setting is actually not a professor.

Can Cambridge do better? Absolutely yes. But so does every human being. So does every institution. So does everyone. I feel like Cambridge sometimes is so stuck to a certain way of doing things that any change makes them uncomfortable e.g. why exactly does the College President confer the LLM on me in Latin? I did not even understand what he said other than just bowing my head like a slain cat. I am still aggrieved up todate.
This is not meant to take anything away from your experience and I will apologise in advance if any divergent view makes it look like that.

I was personally quite happy with my overall experience at Cambridge. I stayed the entire course and I would do it all over again.

My college was amazing. It was not wealthy or located in the city center but the support was amazing. The food was great. The pastoral care was good and I felt that I had a very good support system around me. My accommodation was very nice and I lived in a good residence with quite a number of LLM students nearby in similar accommodations. Obviously living with strangers can have its ups and downs but for me, it was a good experience I would gladly do all over again.

I credit Cambridge for my post LLM work choices. It added a lot to my body of knowledge. I learnt so much more than I knew going into the LLM. They were a lot of many firsts, [and note I came into the LLM with some considerable work experience as an international student] I had excellent lecturers; I personally had nothing bad to say about those who taught my electives.

The one thing I totally agree with you however is on course selection. Yes it is understood and declared from the very beginning that course availability is not guaranteed. This is because sometimes lecturers go on sabbatical etc. What is not acceptable is telling students so late into the process when they have already decided to come to Cambridge. That is deceit in my view!! This information needs to be provided before hand so people can make informed choices. It looks like they learnt their lesson as in this application cycle, this information has already been provided. I hope this will become the norm going forward.

My only other grievance with Cambridge is the workload! The LLM workload is a class apart! It is too much! It is a lot. The author talks about those long breaks but trust me, there are no breaks. You spend time reading. I appreciated those long breaks while in Cambridge because they enabled me try to catch up on the workload. For example,you would have about 20 readings overall in a week for the different modules. Obviously you couldn't complete these all yet the lecturers were referring to them in the class so the breaks helped you to catch up on the workload. Those readings were not preloaded for the fun of it; they were needed. Cambridge expects you to analyze the readings and form your opinion of them. You wont be able to do the latter if you don't do the former.

The other issue that certain LLMs will agree with you is on supervisions. Certain LLMs preferred that they get supervisions just like in Oxford. I remember in my year, we had a poll on this and were split on the matter. I personally see no use of supervisions for a masters course, reason being it is not foundational but rather meant to allow you form your own opinions on things. I felt like supervisions tested knowledge rather than critical analysis which the LLM is all about. So I was one of those who voted for no supervisions. However, there are people who like the supervision system. I guess to each their own. By the way, supervisions are mostly with post docs and PHD students and sometimes a professor but the default setting is actually not a professor.

Can Cambridge do better? Absolutely yes. But so does every human being. So does every institution. So does everyone. I feel like Cambridge sometimes is so stuck to a certain way of doing things that any change makes them uncomfortable e.g. why exactly does the College President confer the LLM on me in Latin? I did not even understand what he said other than just bowing my head like a slain cat. I am still aggrieved up todate.
quote

Reply to Post

Related Law Schools

Cambridge, United Kingdom 574 Followers 668 Discussions

Hot Discussions