Category Archives: LLM

2013-14 Graduate Applicants: What to Do this Spring and Summer

This post is for those of you who are planning on applying to masters level programs for 2014.

While the majority of deadlines are in the fall and winter, preparation for graduate school admission actually takes place almost a full year (if not more) in advance. Below is a checklist of what you will need to start thinking about and planning this spring and summer:

Study for and take your GMAT/GRE/TOEFL

I probably don’t need to tell you that your first major hurdle will be the GMAT/GRE/TOEFL. If you haven’t already begun studying, you should do so immediately. We have had clients who scored impressively well on their first try, but that is usually the exception. The majority of our clients spend a good 6-8 months preparing for the exams, with some needing more than a year.

The scores are not everything, but they are important. At reputable schools, there are always more qualified candidates than there are seats available. You don’t want to give the admissions committee a reason to choose another applicant over you. When there are 8 or 12 candidates competing for each seat, you’ll want to be in the strongest position possible. And while many graduate programs will provide a range of admissible scores, remember that those who score on the very low end are typically exceptional candidates with extenuating circumstances.

And if you have already taken the GMAT, GRE, and/or TOEFL in the past, check the dates to make sure the scores haven’t expired. GMAT and GRE scores need to be no older than 5 years and the TOEFL no older than 2. I have had clients who found out one or two months before their school deadlines that their scores just missed the cut-off by a week or so, and they had to scramble to retake them. So be sure to check now.

Improve your academic record 

Find out what your undergraduate GPA (grade point average) is, or what your average grade or rank was. Unfortunately, the undergraduate academic record is one part of the application that matters but that cannot be changed. While the admissions committee may be sympathetic to the fact that your 2.8 GPA was due to the 70 hours a week you had spent on the varsity football team, another applicant who presents a straight-A transcript and a pattern of intellectual motivation will have an advantage academically over you.

Or, let’s say, you were a straight A student but you’d majored in literature or history, and you avoided anything related to math. If you are applying for an MBA or a masters in public policy, for example, you will need to convince the admissions committee that you are both comfortable with and adept at analytical work.

To help remedy either of the above situations, enroll in some classes this spring and/or summer if you possibly can. Take classes at a local university. If you are deficient in quantitative skills and your target programs require strong quantitative ability, take (for example) an accounting, calculus, finance or statistics class. If your undergraduate GPA is low, take a class (or more) – conducted in English – and try and earn an A. Give the admissions committee evidence that you have the intellectual prowess necessary to do well in a demanding graduate program in English.

Continue to build your leadership

Top graduate programs across the board are looking for future leaders, whether they’re in business, law, international affairs, education or the arts. In your work do your best to seek out opportunities where you can take initiative or problem solve. If you have an official leadership position, great; if not, you can still find ways to go the extra mile in what you do. We had a client not long ago who was working in a rather low level position. However, because of her passion for the field, she continually did more than she needed to do, both on the job and off. At night and on weekends she attended seminars and took classes. At work she learned as much as she could and eventually initiated a proposal which was accepted. Her company will start up a new division based on her idea and they sent her to graduate school to develop expertise to run the new division.

Research schools

You absolutely need to do more than just read the internet. Join information sessions, network, and visit schools if possible.

Of course, you can begin with the internet. Find out when schools will be visiting your city or offering information sessions. Check out The MBA Tour, which organizes multi-school information events in cities around the world. Sign up and attend different sessions even if you are not 100% sure you want to apply. The purpose is to learn more about schools and to have more options. You may find that 7 months later you do want to apply to Cornell after all but there are no more information sessions to attend.

Connect with current students and alumni of schools you are interested in. If you don’t know anyone, ask friends and colleagues and friends of friends for contacts. You can also check the school websites to connect with students through blogs or clubs. Talk to them. Short of visiting the school, this is the best way to get some close understanding of what it feels like to attend.

If you have the resources, it is always a great idea to visit the school. Nothing can substitute the experience of attending a class, having lunch in the dining halls with current students, or attending a party on campus. When scheduling your visit, however, be careful to check the school calendar first; schools tend to enter exam mode in May and will be very quiet over the summer. At some programs, applicants are not allowed to visit classes during the first couple of weeks that school begins in the fall.

The more research you conduct, the better you will be able to make the right choices for your future. You will also be able to express your interest in the school more convincingly in your essays and interviews.

Look for money

Graduate programs can cost up to $100,000. If you are not receiving sponsorship by your company, it may be worth your time to do some research about scholarship opportunities. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program (for international applicants) and The Rotary Foundation (see District Grants and Global Grants) are two of the most prestigious organizations supporting potential graduate students and they are accepting applications now.

Check also on the websites of your target schools. Many schools offer scholarships; you may need to submit additional essays at the time of application or simply check “Yes” in the box where they ask if you would like to be considered for scholarship money.

This article here lists a few resources as well.

Finally, check with foundations in your own country as well as your country of residence. In Japan where most of our clients are, there is the new scholarship program started up by one of our former clients at the Kamiyama Foundation, and the College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ), from which another former client had benefited with a $2,000 monthly stipend throughout her MBA studies. The Kamiyama scholarship does not require Japanese nationality status – only a commitment to eventually contribute to Japan – so even if you’re an expatriate, it may be worth it to look into scholarship opportunities in your country of residence.

Think deeply about your goals

I’m often surprised at how many people decide on applying for a graduate degree without having first considered what they would like to do once they graduate.

Spend these spring and summer months solidifying your short-term career goal. This may be less difficult if you are company-sponsored and returning to your employer. If you plan to leave, though, think about what you will do after your degree. In what kind of industry do you wish to be? What kind of responsibilities do you hope to have? What kinds of contributions do you wish to make? What kind of position might allow you to do these things? What gaps or needs in society will you be fulfilling? Why is this goal important to you? Do you have some transferable skills for this new position? How easy or difficult will it be to get this kind of position, given your background and the job market? If you are unclear about any aspect of your future target career, do some networking now to learn more about it. Schedule information sessions with individuals doing the kind of work that you would like to be doing. Learn from them. The more focused and realistic you sound, the stronger your applications will be.

Secure your recommenders

You will need 2-3 letters of recommendation for graduate school. If you are applying to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, you will also need a recommendation from a peer (someone who’s worked side by side with you – not a superior and not a subordinate). While they won’t need to submit the recommendations now, consider the best mix of recommenders for your applications and ask if they will support you in your graduate applications. As a courtesy to them get their support early and talk to them about your plans, and let them know of the deadlines so they can plan ahead.


The list is long, but if you start now, you can tackle your applications later this summer/fall with the peace of mind that these other tasks are either behind you or under control.


Cecilia Wu Tanaka is co-founder of Reve Counseling and a veteran graduate admissions counselor with 19 years in the field. Prior to starting Reve 8 years ago she headed up a $1.25 million counseling department at the largest test prep company in Asia. In her previous life, she sat on various admissions committees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted interviews for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School.

Researching LL.M. Programs II: Factors to Consider

Here is Part 2 of Matthew’s article on researching LLM programs:

After you’ve narrowed your search for U.S. LL.M. programs somewhat,
you’ll need to thoroughly examine the different schools and programs.
The following is a list of factors you might use to determine which
schools or programs offers the best fit with your background and

Admission requirements: The elite law schools all have similar
requirements for admission to their LL.M. programs, but slight
differences may be important (e.g., two schools might both require a
score of 100 on the TOEFL iBT, but one might require a minimum of 25
on each of the four test areas, and the other may have no such
restriction). Some schools may consider applicants whose TOEFL scores
are slightly lower than the standard, but require those applicants to
take a summer English course if accepted. Other schools will simply
not make such considerations.

Programs: In addition to LL.M.s, many schools are offering M.C.L.
(Master of Comparative Law) programs and other alternative degrees and
certificates. Some schools offer dual programs (such as Georgetown
University’s M.I.A./LL.M. – MIA stands for Master of International
Affairs -, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business and
Law Certificate).

Tracks and concentrations: Many schools offer only one LL.M. for
international students, and give students basically free reign to
decide which courses to take to to gain the required number of
credits. Other schools offer tracks or concentrations. A “track” can
mean a “course work only” track versus a “thesis” track, but it can
also mean “major”, i.e., a focus on a certain area of law like
corporate governance, environmental law, or taxation. If your purpose
in taking an LL.M. is to increase your knowledge in one specific area
of law, you may want a school that allows you to focus on that area
and that will recognize it as a concentration on your degree. Also, if
a school offers a concentration in a certain area, it is a good
indication that the program is strong in that area.

Research and writing: Most schools require a certain amount of
research and writing as part of the degree, but check that the
requirements and limits are compatible with your interests and goals.
In many programs you can choose a longer or a shorter research
project, or choose to omit the project. If there is a certain faculty
member you would like to work with on a research project, you will
need to check whether the school will allow this and whether the
professor is open to the idea.

Extra-curricular/co-curricular activities: Some schools offer LL.M.
students workshops (not for credit) on legal practice or law teaching
led by J.S.D. students or faculty. Some offer externships that can be
undertaken during the LL.M. (for example, Columbia offers externships
in arts law and to the United Nations). Some schools encourage LL.M.
students to work as research assistants to faculty members,
participate in community programs, or take part in student government.

Courses in other subjects: Do you have an interest in taking one or
more courses outside the law faculty during your LL.M.? Many schools
will allow this (e.g., Northwestern allows LL.M. students to take up
to two courses at Kellogg for credit toward the degree), but check the
limits and details.

Alternative formats: While most LL.M. programs require attendance on
campus on a full-time basis at least from September until April of the
following year, many schools are now offering different formats. The
University of California, Berkeley, offers a summer program where
international students may earn an LL.M. by attending two 10-week
summer sessions over two years. Northwestern offers an executive LL.M.
through its partnerships with universities in Seoul, Madrid and Tel
Aviv. In this 12 month course, classes are offered only in evenings
and on weekends to allow students in those locations to continue to
work full time while studying. NYU now offers an executive LL.M. in
taxation which can be taken almost entirely on-line, and which may
also be taken on a part-time basis over a maximum of 5 years.


Researching LLM programs I: Some Web Resources

While we have been focusing almost entirely on MBA programs on our blog, we are hoping to publicize more information and resources for non-business school prospective applicants. One of our counselors Matthew has a special interest in legal issues although he also works with MBA applicants. He recently wrote an excellent article on how to research LLM programs and we will post it on our blog in two parts. The first part, “Web Resources,” is below and I will publish his second more detailed post next week.

Matthew is currently working as legal editor at one of the top law firms in Tokyo and has interests in international law (general), international transactions, intellectual property, and employment law. He has a Bachelor of Laws from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and is currently in the middle of the Transnational LLM program at Temple University in Tokyo. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
The way you research different U.S. Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs for
international students will depend on your background,
your reasons for pursuing the degree, and other factors. The number of
schools and the variety of programs and courses can be overwhelming,
so in this post, I’ll get you started with some basic Internet
resources you can use to look at different schools and programs.

School websites
If you have a school or two in mind already, the obvious first step is
to read the schools’ websites, which will probably be able to answer
most of your questions. Make the most of this resource by registering
with the site and reading not only information about the specific
program you’re interested in, but also student blogs and any other
information that might give you a greater understanding of the school
and its programs.

If after reading the website you require more information, any school
will be happy to answer your questions sent by e-mail. Although
generally they do not interview LL.M. applicants, many schools
encourage prospective applicants to visit their campuses (see
Cecilia’s blog entry of August 5), and offer varying
degrees of support for this (e.g., providing student-led tours of the
law school, allowing visitors to observe classes). If your plans
include a thesis or other research project with a certain member of
the faculty, or if one or more professors are key in the area you wish
to specialize in, then it is a good idea to contact faculty members
individually with your questions.

Other websites
The International Law Institute (a Washington D.C.-based NPO)
maintains a list of all U.S. law schools offering LL.M. programs for
international students as well as a lot of other useful information on
the study of U.S. law from an international perspective:
You may be looking for the prestige that comes with an LL.M. from an
elite U.S. law school. The US News website
ranks law schools according to a variety of factors, especially
post-graduation employment. An advantage of this site is that you can
adjust the ranking list according to factors like geographical
location and strength of certain program areas. The downside is that
most of the information (including tuition costs and employment rates)
is focused on J.D. programs not LL.M.
The LLM Guide website ( has a wealth of
information on LL.M. programs around the world, as well as articles,
discussion boards (get the inside scoop from students who have applied
to, been accepted/rejected by/graduated from various schools), and

In my next post, I’ll talk about factors to consider when looking
in more detail at the different schools and programs.