Law school applicants with international transcripts can turn their experience overseas into an advantage.By Gabriel Kuris|Aug. 16, 2021, at 9:00 a.m.
Written application materials like the personal statement may worry non-native English speakers, but they can also be opportunities to show the unique experiences and perspectives that foreign applicants bring to the table.(Getty Images)
Because the U.S. is a global hub of legal education and practice, American law schools attract many foreign applicants. Most commonly, applicants come from countries with similar common law legal systems, like Canada, the United Kingdom, India and English-speaking nations in Africa and the Caribbean. But growing numbers of applicants from Asia, Latin America and other regions also want to practice law in the U.S.
International applicants may find the law school application process a bit baffling. In other areas of graduate education like science and medicine, international applicants can demonstrate technical competencies that cross barriers of language and culture. The law school application process relies more on subtle nuances in reading and writing, from the reading comprehension section of the LSAT to the personal statement. Non-native English speakers may find themselves at a disadvantage.
Foreign applicants may also be disappointed to learn that nearly all J.D. programs in the U.S. require applicants to possess a four-year or equivalent undergraduate degree, while many legal education tracks abroad start earlier.
Thus, international applicants tend to prefer one-year programs to receive a master of laws degree, or LL.M., over three-year J.D. programs. LL.M. programs typically do not require an LSAT or GRE score. They do require international applicants to have a law degrees, but not necessarily a J.D. or bachelor’s degree.[
The percentage of foreign students in J.D. programs in the U.S. has been growing rapidly, so international applicants should not feel too disheartened. Before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign students reached 3.3% of aw school students in 2019 and 7% among top-tier law schools, according to a recent report published by the American Bar Foundation.
Here are four tips for foreign students applying to J.D. programs in the U.S.:
- Consider a two-year J.D. program.
- You can master the LSAT without flawless English skills.
- Turn your cultural differences into an advantage.
- Your GPA may be better than you think.
Consider a Two-Year J.D. Program
An increasing number of law schools also offer two-year J.D. programs designed for graduates of foreign law schools, which can save applicants time and money. Many such programs do not require the LSAT, which can make applying even simpler.
While an LL.M. degree is insufficient to take the bar exam in most U.S. states and jurisdictions, graduates of two-year J.D. programs are typically eligible for the bar. So this option makes sense for international applicants who plan to practice in the U.S.
You Can Master the LSAT Without Flawless English Skills
Because the LSAT is fast-paced and detail-oriented, it can be difficult for non-native English speakers. In particular, the reading comprehension section of the LSAT includes lengthy passages with convoluted syntax and specialized vocabulary that can intimidate readers.
However, reading comprehension passages are not written to be readily absorbed like newspaper articles. Rather, it is more important to grasp each passage’s overall subject and structure and to highlight critical information, then focus on retrieving the specific answer to each question.[
Non-native English speakers may find the language barrier to be less of an obstacle on the other two scored sections, logical reasoning and analytical reasoning, which both involve less reading and more deduction.
Turn Your Cultural Differences Into an Advantage
Written application materials like the personal statement may worry non-native English speakers, but they can also be opportunities to show the unique experiences and perspectives that foreign applicants bring to the table.
Law schools highly value diversity, so show how you stand apart from U.S. applicants in your personal or diversity statements. Also, if you come from an immigrant background and are the first person in your family to pursue higher education, consider the many opportunities available to first-generation applicants, from fee waivers to scholarships.[
Ultimately, if you are concerned about deficiencies in your English, simply hire an admissions consultant or have a trusted mentor or friend look over your essays for any errors or other issues before submission.
Your GPA May Be Better Than You Think
Different countries vary widely in their grading system. The Law School Admission Council, or LSAC, has experience translating such systems to an American context for fairer comparison. While the LSAC does not publicly release these conversion systems, they do account for international variance.
Nevertheless, if you submit an international transcript, be sure to include an addendum explaining the grading system and putting your grades in proper context.
Applying to law school can be difficult for anyone, but foreign applicants face extra challenges. Still, getting in can be within reach with the right outlook, advice and support.