Finding the LLM program that’s perfect for you is not the end of the process: you still have to get accepted onto it. Don’t assume that this is a formality; the application process can be tricky and you will have to get it right to succeed.
Getting onto an LLM program will require time, care and preparation. As the first step, you should research the law school and the program that you are interested in, and make sure that you fit its requirements. If you don’t meet these, for instance in terms of first-degree grades, then you will be wasting your time.
Read top tips from Admissions Directors on how to succeed in the application process for some great insiders' advice.
Effective marketing requires that you not only maximise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses, but also show that you will fit in at the school while also standing out as a unique individual. Start by learning as much as possible about the programs best suited to your needs – you should know what these schools look for in their candidates. When applying, you have the opportunity to present your objective data – credentials and experience – in their most favourable light.
You will also include important additional material for the admissions committee to look at:
Essays demonstrate not just your interests and desires, successes and failures – they can also reveal your writing skills and ability to sustain a tightly reasoned argument.
References are of paramount importance as these reveal the extent to which you’ve impressed people with whom you have worked and studied.
Interviews show not only your oral communication skills, but also your personality and interpersonal skills.
Pay attention to how you present yourself in the basic forms and data sheets, including those where you describe your career and educational history, and respond to short-answer questions. Take care that what you say here is consistent with how you are presented in the essays, interviews and references.
Similarly, don’t overlook the opportunity to advance your case by showing, for example, the steady increase in your responsibilities and accomplishments. Show, for instance, that you are now taking major depositions on your own rather than providing back-up for a senior partner.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that your numbers – undergraduate GPA, TOEFL, IELTS (or other language exam) score, salary and so on – are all you need to gain admission to a high-quality LLM programme. Most LLM applications require that you write one or more essays, with at least one requiring you to explain where you are headed in your career, why you want to do an LLM and why you have chosen their particular programme. These essay questions are the heart of applications. In fact, the better the school, the more likely it is that your essays will heavily influence the final decision. Your essays can serve multiple purposes. Use them to reveal your honesty, maturity and uniqueness in addition to your understanding of what the program offers and requires, and how well you would contribute to it. They should show who you are, how you are unique, what you have accomplished, why you want an LLM and where you are headed.
Schools generally ask for references from at least two referees, at least one a professor. If you have substantial work experience, by all means have your supervisor or manager write on your behalf. This can be a useful addition to a professorial reference. If you have been out of university for a long time, consider obtaining both references from employers rather than from former professors, who will likely add little to the picture that emerges from your university transcript if they hardly remember you.
There are three cardinal rules for choosing your referees:
Choose people who know you well. Don’t choose people who are famous or important if they won’t be able to discuss your candidacy and performance in detail. Instead, choose people who can make the reference credible by illustrating their points with anecdotes that show you at your best.
Choose people who genuinely like you – they will take the time to write a polished, carefully considered reference.
If you are limited to one or two referees, choose people who can address more than one of the key subjects: your intellectual ability, your leadership potential, your personal attributes, and your career plan.
It’s often worth scheduling a formal meeting with your referees, and providing them with written information about your goals and reminders of your accomplishments. At a minimum, you should explain why you are seeking an LLM, why you have chosen the schools you have, and your strategy. You might also give them an outline of what you want discussed, including the examples that you think best demonstrate your capabilities and performance.
Interviews offer schools an ideal opportunity to learn much more about you. Some things are not readily apparent without a face-to-face meeting, such as your charm, persuasiveness, presence and business manner. Interviews also provide an opportunity to probe any areas that were insufficiently explained in the application. Although only a minority of LLM programmes interview applicants, the interview can often be a make-or-break situation for them.
Most applicants underestimate the amount of time that a successful LLM application requires, thinking that they can do one in a long weekend. The reality is that many of the necessary steps are very time-consuming. For example, contacting a referee, briefing him or her and allowing time to write a reference will take weeks (or months) rather than days. Timing is even more important when applying to several schools rather than one. You should begin the application process at least a year before you would like to start your LLM program. Therefore, if you hope to start a programme in September, you would be wise to start getting yourself organised the summer of the preceding year.
Law schools generally require that applications be submitted from five to ten months before the start of the program. Apply as early in each school’s application cycle as you can, unless you expect your credentials to improve dramatically later in the application period. If you expect a top bonus, for example, consider waiting until it occurs before submitting your application.