Sources of funding for your LLM (Master of Laws) program
An LLM program can represent an important financial commitment on your part, so what are the ways you can meet them?
Work before starting the LLM (Master of Laws) program
As many LLM students are admitted straight from their first-degree programs, you may have to think about whether you should work before starting your LLM. There are some benefits to doing this:
Part or even all of the LLM program may be paid for by your employer.
You will be able to save some money to help meet the cost of the program.
If your tuition payments will be tax-deductible, it may give you some income against which you can deduct them.
It may give you a clearer idea of what you want from an LLM program.
It’s worth looking into the option of working before starting the LLM program, as the experience you’ll have in a work environment may help you to get through the LLM.
Some forms of financial assistance are available to anyone, while others are granted only on merit, financial need or citizenship – and some are based on a combination of these.
Merit-based: Determined by the level of achievement or any unique contributions you may make to a school.
Needs-based: Determined by the level of financial need (or the difference between the total cost of your education and the amount you can contribute to it). Each country (for government funds) and school (for private, school-based funds) calculates need differently. The formulas generally take into account your income, savings and assets (and your partner’s if applicable). Some schools may also take into account your parents’ assets and financial resources.
Citizenship-based: Granted only to citizens of a particular region, country, province or state. Aid from government sources is often citizenship-based.
Main types of funding
Scholarships and grants These financial aid awards do not have to be repaid, so competition for them tends to be fierce. Law schools, national education endowments and a wide variety of organisations offer grants and scholarships to qualified applicants.
Working part time
Full-time students generally do not have enough time available to work at outside jobs for more than 10 or 15 hours per week. Part-time students may manage to continue to work at their current jobs on a more or less full-time basis or, more manageably, at a part-time job. The biggest problems arise when trying to work abroad. In numerous countries, visa restrictions require that foreign students enrol in full-time programs, thereby limiting possible work options. Further limitations based on visa status may be more direct: in many countries, foreign students may work only on a highly restricted basis. This often means that only work for a student’s university is permitted. A few LLM programs offer students part-time employment opportunities, so they can earn money to offset their educational costs. Many of these jobs are low-paid, but others, like graduate assistantships and other career-enhancing activities, may be better paid.
Tuition reimbursement by employers
Some firms offer special funding to employees to help them acquire postgraduate education. Many require beneficiaries either to continue working for the firm during the program or to return to the firm after the program is complete (or both). You should always consider whether tuition reimbursement by your employer will be worth any limitations to career mobility.
Funds borrowed to finance the cost of your education. Special educational loans offer students lower interest rates and the option of delaying repayment until after their degrees are complete. If you have insufficient funds, you will probably have to rely on loans, whether from the school, the government, a special education loan program or a bank.
Going your own way to fund your LLM program
Most LLM students fund their studies independently. This can be done in one of several ways:
Following a part-time program while continuing to work full time.
Working part time during a full-time program.
Relying on the support of a partner (or other family members).
Saving money from prior work.
If your partner plans to move with you, do investigate local visa requirements and enquire whether your program can help with finding suitable employment.
Manage the debt
For most LLM students, loans play at least a part in their funding strategies. Fortunately, there are numerous low-interest loan programs for graduate students, so you may not have a problem finding one that suits your needs and repayment plans.
Still, you’ll need to determine how much debt you can reasonably take on to finance the degree. The general rule is that the better the school you attend – and the more commercially oriented your degree – the more you can expect to earn from your next job and throughout the remainder of your career. This makes a higher level of debt more affordable.
The question of how much debt is appropriate, however, will ultimately depend upon your individual circumstances, such as whether you have a family, must meet mortgage payments, can count on working in a highly paid position upon graduation and so on.
The costs and benefits of an LLM program
As a rule, it’s easier to find funding for your studies at home than abroad, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stay at home for your LLM. Similarly, attending a lesser LLM program for a reduced price is not necessarily wiser than paying more to attend a better school.
You are making a long-term investment, so think in terms of value rather than cost. Indeed, the more likely it is that you will be able to enter a high-paying legal field, the less heavily debt should influence your decision.
Is it tax-deductible?
In some countries, funds paid toward an LLM degree are tax-deductible. In France, for instance, tuition fees can be deducted from your personal income tax if the courses ‘improve your own professional profile’, which is arguably the case for all LLM graduates. In the US, it is relatively easy to deduct fees for part-time coursework, and generally difficult to deduct tuition for full-time study.
The more expensive the program and the higher your marginal tax rate, the greater the value of deducting your expenses. Your earnings are likely to drop during a full-time program, so find out whether or not the tax benefits can be carried forward (or applied retroactively).
Check with the school’s financial aid office for information, but bear in mind that a reputable accountant (or lawyer) is the best place to go for detailed knowledge of tax issues.
Financial aid applications
To prepare for your future LLM and for gaining financial assistance, begin by familiarising yourself with the financial aid application procedures and need-determination methods at your chosen schools.
Your financial situation should be organised well before you begin a program. If you can do so about two years in advance, you will have time to arrange your finances in the most beneficial way before applying for financial assistance (your financial need is likely to be based on calculations of your financial situation a full calendar year before you begin).
When it’s time to apply for aid, read all the materials thoroughly. Make appointments to speak to financial aid officers at your target schools and be prepared to explain your financial situation in order to find the best funding options at their schools. Keep track of what forms you need to fill out and their deadlines. Some scholarships have very early deadlines; other financial aid forms and scholarship applications must be submitted with your application; and still other materials may not be due until after a decision about your admission has been made.
When investigating your LLM options, remember that the benefits almost invariably outweigh the cost: improved job expectations, a network of contacts, greater career mobility and flexibility, and an increased income.
Sources of financial aid
In most developed countries, nationals have access to various grants and loans, whether from banks, governments – or indeed law schools.
Although foreign students do not have as many funding sources available to them, there are a surprising number of grants available from charities and foundations, as well as the law schools themselves. Due to space constraints, this article cannot detail all of the many possible sources of funds.
The easiest way to determine the aid that might be available to you – whether you are a national or foreign student – is to check the websites of leading law schools located in your target country. Not all will provide good listings of possible sources of aid, but some almost surely will. Another useful source of information is The Grants Register, published annually by Macmillan (UK).