Thinking About Where to Apply
There are many schools, in the US and elsewhere, offering a wide variety of LLM programs. To help you select the most suitable places for you to consider, we wanted to offer some general observations drawn from years of conversations with LLM students and graduates. We are not trying to make the case for why you should apply and come to Chicago, if you are admitted here. We are simply providing this input since deciding where to study is an incredibly important decision and we feel it important to help in any way we can.
For some of you, the decisions are easy: you apply to schools based on subject matter specialization, rankings, cost, or proximity to friends or relatives. For others, however, the decision will be more difficult because you are trying to predict where you are most likely to really enjoy your experience and be intellectually engaged with your studies. The schools provide you with lots of information about their programs for a reason. They know some of you will be happier at their school than others will be. The last thing the school--and you --want is a graduate who had a disappointing experience at a school because his or her expectations were not met. You should see your LLM year, to quote the famous last line from the film Casablanca, as “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Schools expect that to be a 50 year+ relationship! They recognize that satisfied students become enthusiastic graduates who support them financially and promote them when they return to their countries.
One of the best ways to get a sense of what a school is like is to communicate with current students and recent graduates, if you know them. Most schools will provide contact information for that purpose once you have been offered admission, and we encourage you to take advantage of that. Less useful, we think, are contacts with people who did not attend the schools you are considering or graduates whose experience at schools may have been from many years ago. When someone makes a comment about a particular school, don’t be afraid to ask for the basis of that observation. That’s just good due diligence!
In trying to distinguish among various schools, prospective students, or those giving them advice, will make broad generalizations like “this school is a factory for Wall Street” or “that school is more theoretical” or “they teach you how rather than why.” Beware of such generalizations since they miss the point that each of you will be able to create the kind of academic experience you want as you select from the vast range of courses and faculty that will be available to you wherever you go.
Unfortunately, most of you will not have the opportunity to visit schools to see what the atmosphere is like in the LLM community or judge for yourself what it will be like to live in the area for a year. While schools will provide you with information about location and facilities, your best source of information about such matters is to talk with someone who is currently living there or did so recently. In thinking about location, some of you may be drawn to a place because you already have friends or family there or know others who will attend the same school. That may provide some built-in “comfort” for you, but understand that one of the most rewarding aspects of doing an LLM degree is the opportunity to really get to know your classmates and be a part of the social and academic community such a program can provide. When our LLM graduates come back to Chicago for their reunions, they often tell us how meaningful they have found the ongoing associations that began with the other students they met at the Law School. If you spend much of your time outside of class with people you already know, such relationships are less likely to develop.
Program size is another factor some of you may be considering. As a general proposition, small LLM programs are located in small law schools and large LLM programs are part of large law schools. The virtue of a large school is that there will be many more course offerings and more courses in any particular area of specialization. Smaller schools generally offer more of a sense of community among students and faculty, and more flexible administrative structures. One other aspect of LLM program size is the number of students you will encounter from your own country. Some of you will like the fact that a larger program will provide a comfort level of more students with similar backgrounds while others will see the advantage a small program offers of being thrown together with a diverse student body.
Many of you may come from academic backgrounds with fewer course offerings and much larger classes. In those programs, students usually are able to enroll in each course they select. In this country, faculty members often prefer to teach smaller classes so it is not unusual for schools to ask students to rank the courses they wish to take and then use a lottery system to allocate spaces in classes. While most LLM students wind up with most of the classes they want, understand that you are unlikely to get all the classes you want wherever you go. Schools may also have curriculum restrictions that limit which courses and how many courses LLM students may select.
The course offerings posted on school webpages now are for the current academic year. The offerings for each upcoming academic year are usually posted in July or August. While there will be substantial overlap from year to year, there will also be some changes. You should think of the coming LLM experience as an opportunity to take a number of courses and not focus on one or two courses that you “definitely” have to take while you are here. Such a narrow focus may leave you disappointed at whatever school you decide to attend.