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How to apply for scholaarships and LLM in the UK
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How to apply for scholaarships and LLM in the UK

Bar & Bench

Navajyoti Samanta, presently a student at the University of Kent discusses the process of application of a scholarship to universities in the United Kingdom with emphasis on ranking, the statement of purpose, recommendations and test of English through IELTS.

The process of LL.M. application in UK (United Kingdom) universities can be divided into four major stages. First is selection of the universities to which one would apply to. Various factors can be taken into account like reputation, courses offered, course content, entry requirements, location, employability etc. Unlike Indian law schools, UK universities are known to provide enormous amount of information online on every conceivable issue and it requires a fair amount of research to shift through this data deluge. The academic year at UK universities start in September, and in most cases the application process starts in October/November of the previous year. Thus an ideal time to start researching for choice of university would be early in fifth year (July-August) of a five year law degree. By September an applicant should be clear as to the universities he/she is going to apply. There are a couple of reputable rankings of UK law universities from Guardian, Complete University Guide but they focus primarily on LL.B. The only ranking available on UK LL.M. is at Guardian PG ranking, it offers interactive ranking based on the preference provided by the user on factors like expenditure per student, student staff ratio, tuition fees etc., however it does not take into account reputation, employability and other such subjective or objective factors which have a lion’s share in ranking in UG level. One may also look at the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) ranking which comes out every ten years and focuses primarily on ranking research capacities of individual universities. Based on the rankings, perceptions and own research on the prospective universities one should choose between 4-6 universities to apply to.

The second part of the application process is to prepare the statement of purpose (SOP) which forms a major portion of the application. The SOP question is usually in the garb of a simple statement like ‘reason for wanting to undertake the course’, most universities want only one essay while others may want a supplementary essay on ‘future career plans and intentions and explain how proposed studies in XYZ university will help achieve these aims’. Let us focus on a single SOP essay, there are many models of SOP available on the internet, one good advice would be not to copy from them. One may read them (though I found most of them useless) to understand the pattern that is being followed and try to write an original SOP, the admissions director at the top UK universities have been doing their job for decades and they can easily discern if a candidate has been using Google searches as the primary method of writing SOP.

The first advice for a wannabe LL.M. applicant would be to personalise the SOP as far as possible. One traditional way of starting is to give a reason as to why one studied law, the motivations in LL.B.; a more adventurous beginning would be to start with an incident or spark of inspiration which influenced you to take up law as a career. Once this basic premise is established one would need to delve into the academic, curricular, co-curricular, extra-curricular, leadership achievements and work or research experience, if any. Many make the mistake of concentrating too much on this portion, while this is a significant section, one needs to note that information on exact grades will be given in the transcript section of the application. Just stick to highlighting the major laurels like say a medal, highest marks in any subject, moot court wins (even honourable mention), some noteworthy deal that you worked on in the law firm etc., but don’t replicate your entire bio data. After this comes the most important part of the SOP, you need to explain why you want to pursue a LL.M., It may be because you want to gain more experience after some years in the industry, or that you worked in a NGO and now want to gain some theoretical knowledge, if you are a fresher you may say that you want to become an academician or want a degree to increase the depth of your understanding of law and thereby increase job prospects etc. Try to link this part with the previous section, your aims should commensurate to the experience that you have outlined. It is always advantageous to outline in the SOP if one is interested in a particular LL.M. branch like commercial, banking etc. it shows clear and advance thinking on part of the applicant. After this the SOP may talk about need for scholarship, many universities do not have separate scholarship applications and they treat the application SOP as a scholarship essay. One needs to be tactful while writing about scholarship, many UK universities have full or partial tuition fee waiver scholarships, thus the universities expect you to bear the living expenses. Hence if you say that you don’t have any means to sustain yourself in UK, although the reviewer may think that you would be an appropriate candidate for a tuition fee scholarship, but would ignore you as he concludes from the application that even if the university gives a full tuition fee waiver you would not be able to attend the university. So ask for a full tuition fee waiver (if available at the university) and say that you may be able to scrape up the living costs and have a vague statement that other generous contributions from the university towards living costs would be welcome.

Finally, conclude by saying that you would bring diversity and independent thinking etc. to the class and that as you come from a culturally and economically distinct country you would bring variety in the deliberations etc. Basically, show what you have to offer. Best way to start writing a draft would be to pester anyone you know who had previously applied for LL.M. in the UK or US, read their SOPs and try to cull out the best points, don’t blindly copy them. After you have come to a tentative draft send it to as many people as possible for scrutiny, use the recommendations wisely and polish your SOP. Before the final submission of your SOP, ask a friend to go over it and have him/her check for grammatical errors and remember to follow UK English and not US English so it is ‘Colour’ and not ‘Color’.

Once the SOP is done you have reached the halfway point of the application process, after that you need to get recommendation letters, which is the third step in the application process. Most UK universities require two recommendation letters, many only accept online letters from the referee, in those cases the referee must have an email address which would end in .edu, so if your referee does not have an email address which ends in .edu, make sure that either he/she gets an .edu email address or change the referee. Another way of tackling this issue would be request for a paper recommendation letter and then simply scan it and upload it during the application process. Many universities (most notably Oxbridge) have the application process split into two parts, first you have to submit your SOP and other details online and then you have to send the recommendation letter by post. At any stage of the application if you have any queries (and you are too tired or lazy to try and find out the answer from the website) send an email to the international office of the university, they usually reply soon. As for the contents of the recommendation letters, the referees usually have a boiler plate, try to convince the referee to use a more personalised approach. It is mandated that one referee must be a subject teacher who had taught you at UG level, try to influence this teacher or professor as much as possible to write in favour of your application, give him/her your CV, SOP and also chat up on your future goals (if you buzz the referees enough they may get irritated and ask you to write your own reference, don’t be shy and grab the chance, but make sure that it doesn’t sound like your second SOP).

The fourth and final step would be to clear any exams or other requirements set out by the university. As most Indian students are well versed in English, majority of UK universities tend to waive any language requirements, however some UK universities would insist on 7+ grade in International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the test is bitterly expensive and try every trick to not take this useless test (if you have studied at a National Law University you should be able to achieve 8+ without any trouble). One way of trying to bypass IELTS would be to write to the university that you pursued your UG degree program in English, and that the medium of instruction at your school level was also English. After this email very few universities would demand an IELTS score, but if you take the exam and score say 8.5/9 then it greatly helps your chances in the scholarship application.

An ideal time frame for a LL.M. application may look like below:

Time

Action

July-August

Preliminary research on which universities to apply

September

Finalise the list of universities in which to apply

September-October

Write SOP

October-November

Get the recommendation letters

November-January

Apply to the universities

February-March

Conditional/unconditional offer

April-May

Reply to the offer

As part of this write up, I emailed around 60-70 universities in the UK who offer LL.M. courses and requested them for data on the number of Indian LL.M. students who studied there in last five years, here is a snapshot of the data:

Name of Institution

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

London School of Economics

12

34

11

16

28

Oxford

14

9

7

11

21

Birmingham

0

3

4

6

2

Cardiff

13

20

11

20

14

Warwick

7

20

19

10

4

Southampton

6

5

7

4

11

Glamorgan

1

4

1

2

1

Brunel

4

4

7

6

5

Middlesex

0

2

8

3

3

Newcastle

3

7

8

7

5

Sheffield

3

2

4

3

1

Hull

0

0

2

1

N.A.

East Anglia

0

0

3

2

1

Dundee

1

4

3

1

0

Anglia Ruskin

0

0

0

2

3

Sheffield Hallam

<5

<5

<5

<5

<5

University College London

13

16

33

18

20

* NA- Not available

Navajyoti Samanta is a LL.M. (International Commercial Law) student at the University of Kent and had received LL.M. scholarship offers from five different universities in the UK.