Funding Sources for International LLM Students

You’re a foreign student. You’ve finished law school. You’ve been accepted to an LLM program and have conquered some pretty tough hurdles along the way. But hold on, there’s one more to go.
Financing an education presents an array of challenges for international students in the United States. Money is tight and sources, though available, are competitive and not always easy to find. Additionally, some law schools do not give scholarships or grants to students from other countries encouraging them to go to their home country or to investigate other sources.

Foreign students should carefully study their options when considering LL.M schools and funding. Look at its location, financial capabilities and any restrictions that might impact their situation. For example, some schools do not permit LLM students to work full time. (There are also some VISA restrictions regarding employment) Other schools do not permit its LL.M enrollees to work outside the campus.

Federal and state loans are almost never available to non-US residents. Foreign governments do have scholarships, grants and loans available for various disciplines, including graduate schools, but the money is often earmarked and comes with stipulations, such as – tuition only, commitment to work with government agency after graduation, academic excellence, nationality-geared, age limitations, and/or two or three years of work experience.

Students from foreign countries entering the LLM program face an unusual set of circumstances, beginning with the LLM itself. The LLM, short for a Master of Laws, is an internationally recognized postgraduate law degree.

The program primarily attracts foreign lawyers most of whom hold an LLB degree (Bachelor of Laws earned in the UK) and not the traditional JD (Juris Doctor earned in the US). Many foreign-trained attorneys use the LLM  – a shorter, less expensive avenue – as a way to get a license and practice law in the U.S rather than using the only other option – attend a traditional US law school, which takes three years and costs far more money. Attorneys, both foreign and U.S., also obtain the LL.M to gain expertise in a specific area of law.

There are several ways foreign students should go about finding education money. Most importantly, they should be vigilant and early. Some financial aid offices have a wealth of resource information – books, foundations, private companies that may help. There are also free scholarship sites that give the who, what, when for education money for international students.

It’s important to know that students should never have to pay to find or apply for scholarships. If a scholarship search engine or form on line asks for a credit card or other financial information before you can use it, stay away. Reputable scholarships never charge to apply, and there are plenty of excellent free search engines specific to international students.

A review of LLM websites show some schools  have stronger funding sources and are fiercely committed to helping all students find funding sources, regardless of their status. Many schools are forthright on their website stating that funds for foreign students are either nonexistent or minimal. Some schools provide useful information for students giving them resource websites, urls for organization that give scholarships and an open-door invitation to consult its financial aid offices and staff.

Overall, foreign students entering an LL.M program have a lot to consider. Searching for funds to underwrite their education involves complexities that other students are less likely to face but it’s not insurmountable. Below is a recap for all LLM students to consider, as well as some important issues to review:

  • Schools with robust financing for foreign students
  • Schools with online LLM programs
  • Schools with shorter LLM programs
  • Schools flexible with working enrollees
  • States’ bar entrance requirements
  • Living expenses – can be substantial differences state to state
  • Loan forgiveness program of LL.M school
  • Restrictions of scholarship or grants
  • Acceptance tied to ability to pay-some programs require a Financial Certificate
  • Schools that have waiver fees
  • Preparation of a working budget sheet
  • Extension of F-1 student Visa
  • Employer assistance
  • Number of dependents
  • Getting an OPT (permission to work off-campus due to hardship)

Each student’s budget will vary according to personal circumstances. LLM schools generally provide a budget guide for students to use for preparing documents for VISA approval as well as for financial aid requests.

Below is a Program Costs and Expense list from the website of Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney Law School.

Program Costs and Expense List
Expense Cost
Tuition (24 Credits) 2011-2012 $32,000
Mandatory Fee (per semester) $315
Books and Supplies (estimate) $1,100
Housing and Living Expenses (estimate for 9 months) $11,340
Health Insurance (mandatory for foreign students) $1,038
Total $45,793

Other additional costs to consider:
1. Travel expenses between home country and U.S. during vacation periods
2. Large purchases (such as computers, furniture, etc.)
3. Medical expenses not covered by health insurance (eye care, dental care, medical problems developed before arriving at the university)
4. Additional summer expenses (if any) including tuition and fees, room and board, and books
5. Additional expenses such as travel during vacation periods and off-campus transportation
6. Other personal expenses (such as entertainment, social outings, etc.)
7. Additional family members (if any)

Some LLM programs only provide the annual tuition charges on their website.  Some also provide the approximate costs of books and associated school fees and let the student budget the cost of living and personal costs. If students can show they have personal health insurance, many schools will accept that in lieu of making the student purchase it locally or from the school itself. A line item for transportation and miscellaneous expenses should always be included in estimating annual costs.

Below is a list of useful sites regarding LLM programs and related information.