November 18, 2011

Applying for a Masters of Law abroad

Applying for a Masters in Law (LL.M) in a foreign University can be a tiring process, demanding more
patience that academic points. To put it more specifically, for an impeccable LL.M application, one has to normally spend months and months of time and effort, some times at the cost of one's present assignments, including but not limited to classroom coursework. However, the rigors of an LL.M application can be minimized to some extent if one treads the less thorny roads. This post underlines the important things to focus, and not to focus, on LL.M applications.  

#1. BUILD YOUR 'LL.M-SPECIFIC' CV - A majority of those interested in doing LL.M start to work on their applications in the final year at law school. There is also a category of law students who contemplate LL.M as an option after some work experience in their areas of interest. Both of these paths have their own merits and demerits, and I  do not intend to run that -benefits-of-LL.M- debate here. The first oft-neglected step in any LL.M application is the idea of building one's CV. Besides a First Class Hons, what the Selection Committee seeks from a prospective student is a host of skills, both academic and non-academic. It is obvious that the thought of LL.M would have not tickled your mind till the third/fourth year at law school. It therefore becomes imperative to bridge the gaps of CV-points considering the fact that your application will require some unique skills in your CV to give an edge, which is not limited to law school mooting and research. To illustrate, is it surveyed that almost a majority of LL.M candidates have mooted, and published quality papers. The idea, therefore, is to employ some tactics while building your CV, and ensure you can include achievements which very few can boast of. 

#2. TARGET UNIVERSITIES - Register yourself at LLM-GUIDE. This is the first visible demonstration of your interest in pursuing LL.M. Browse through the websites of the leading Universities across the world offering programs of your choice, and do not be biased to the US & UK ones only. While is it okay to familiarize yourself about Universities from the international ratings, they should not inform your choices. Oxford has been the ideal place for all law students, but the fact remains that UCL presently has the UK's best law professors, and offers matchless post-graduate programs in certain areas of study. Read through the law school websites in general, and the alumni notes + information on application in particular. Try to gather as much information as possible as to what the University expects from you and vice versa. Only after this exercise, you can be sure of your choice. 

#3.TARGET PROFESSORS IN TARGETED UNIVERSITIES - Once you have the Universities in mind, start approaching the Professors who teach subjects that you are interested to pursue your Masters in. This would help you in building contacts with the Professors - do not ask for a Research Assisantship as it won't work - who can guide you on your applications later. A polite and candid note asking for information about the subjects and law school in general will be of some use. Please note that this is not a PR requirement, but it is healthy for your final application where you can actually the write the name of the Professors you want to be involved with. No, this is not the privilege of Phd students only.

#4.FINALIZE STATEMENT OF PURPOSE/PERSONAL STATEMENT - Nothing much for me to say. Read on some sample SoPs online. Borrow SoPs from your friends and seniors. Forward your SoP to as many people as possible for their reviews. Just a few caveats -
       1. Don't be late (start well in advance)
       2. Don't duplicate your CV
       3. Don't show off vocabulary
       4. Don't ignore the rules (every University has its own SoP rules)
       5. Don't copy.

#5.ENGLISH EFFICIENCY TESTS - Appear for the English efficiency tests before you ask for recommendation letters (LoR). If you score good, this can be something to highlight in your LoR when requesting for scholarships. Moreover, this would also give the referees a feeling of your commitment to pursue Masters. Applying for Waiver Certificates is a terrible idea!

#5.1.ARRANGE THE LAW SCHOOL TRANSCRIPTS - Too obvious to mention.

#6.LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION - LoRs constitute an integral part which can either make or break your application. To win a seat in your college of preference, you need to observe some LoR etiquettes. The most important things to focus is - who should write + what to write. The best LoR is the one written by a famous academician, who had had the opportunity to judge your performance, no matter how short period of involvement that might have been. For instance, if you have undertaken a credit course offered by a foreign professor, it will we worth writing a formal e-mail to her asking for a recommendation. It is always advisable to have someone at the Professor level, which increases the credibility of the reference significantly. Normally, two references suffice for the purposes of application, but more than two are not discouraged. So far as the content of the LoR is concerned, it should be an objective assessment of your abilities. Try to make it neutral, and showcase a balanced picture of your merits and demerits. Cover discreetly as many "my-cv-sucks" feelings as possible. For example - "He may not be in the top 10% of his class, but..." Include mitigation factors if applicable. Don't duplicate your CV! It is dishonest to write your reference letter and make some meek Professor sign it, but if you prefer dishonesty over failure, go for it! It works, big time!

#7.SCHOLARSHIP CHASING - Once you have finalized your English proficiency, SoP, LoR and Universities - it is high time for you to look for scholarships. Almost all scholarship applications will require your English scores, objective of study and references. If they do not have any specific requirement, now that you have a ready-made LL.M file, it is advisable to send everything that you think is worth showcasing. The most important part is meeting deadlines - tricky deadlines like in cases of Fullbright Scholarship - so that you don't frustrate yourself in the last hours. Talk to those renowned in your area of LL.M, tell them about your intentions and see if they help you in securing private funding. Universities have their own scholarships, some cater to Indian applicants only, and it should be clarified in your SoP if you desire to avail of the scholarship offer. Keep trying and you will get one.

#8.LOOK FOR CO-APPLICANTS - The idea is to first complete your application with full focus, and once everything is completed, look for those who are also applying for LL.M for the same academic year. There will be many. Don't restrict your search to your college only but exhaust as many contacts you have to make a list of some ten bright aspirants. Talk to them, share some tips, and cross-check your application. A great starting point is again the LLMGUIDE.

#9.APPLY ONLINE + SUBMIT HARD COPIES - Be an early bird. Apply as fast as possible to get a secured admittance with scholarship. Devote a significant deal of time on the online applications, read all pdfs, every minute thing that you would likely ignore has a suraag to success! Don't just apply online but also send a proper application in hard copy. This will expedite your application process and the Admission Committee is likely to repay your efforts with early confirmation. Most Universities would require the referees to do some online work - just stay awake.