How to Get Into Law School as an International Applicant

Find out what you need to know if you're considering coming to the United States for a J.D. or LL.M.

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In this installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in Law Admissions Lowdown that provides expert admissions advice to readers who write in with their questions, I will focus on queries from international students who are looking to enroll in law school in the United States.

Dear Shawn: I graduated from Cairo University's Faculty of Law. I am currently working as a lawyer in Egypt, and I need to take the LSAT exam so I'm able to apply to law school in the U.S. to continue my studies. I have some questions concerning this process.

1. What is the suitable time to take the LSAT exam?

2. How I can study for this exam?

3. Can I take this exam in Egypt or USA?

Many thanks. -Questions from the Middle East

Dear Questions from the Middle East: The best time to take the LSAT depends on when you are applying to law school and when you begin preparing for the exam. If you want to apply this fall to start law school in the fall of 2013, you should start preparing today in order to hopefully be ready to take the exam in October, or December at the very latest. Generally, you should start preparing for the LSAT about six months before the exam date if possible to maximize your score.

[Find out how to best prepare for the LSAT.]

When developing your LSAT preparation strategy, you should keep in mind the quality of the preparation and not just its physical proximity to you. Especially for international applicants, the very best LSAT preparation may not available in your home city. Do your research and consider virtual tutoring with true LSAT experts in the United States as an alternative to potentially sub-par, in-person courses.

The LSAT is offered in hundreds of testing locations across the United States and around the world; however, keep in mind that not every international location gives every exam. For example, there is one testing location in Cairo, but that location only offers the June and December exams. Here is LSAC's full list of all international testing locations (outside of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean).

Finally, if you are already a practicing lawyer abroad, you may want to consider applying for a one-year LL.M. program which typically does not require you to take the LSAT. Depending on the country where you have been practicing, the extent of your experience, and where you completed your first law degree, an LL.M. may allow you to take the bar exam in the state of your choice while saving time and money in terms of tuition and LSAT preparation. However, carefully research if an LL.M. will serve your needs before deciding to undertake such a program as an alternative to a J.D.

[Read about international and U.S. law student interaction.] 

Dear Shawn: I am studying law in Thailand. I hope to continue my studies as an LL.M. candidate in the United States and then [take] the bar examination. I will be graduating from my home university in 2013, and I am applying for LL.M. right after graduation. 

My GPA is average (between 3.25 and 3.5), but I do not have a TOEFL score yet. I believe the LSAT is not required for an LL.M. I am involved in school activities, and I have completed a summer internship program at a law firm.

I am having problems selecting the right law school in the United States. I am especially interested in Stanford. Do you think that would be within reach? Thank you. -Attorney Hopeful in Thailand

Dear Attorney Hopeful in Thailand: You are correct that you do not need to take the LSAT for an LL.M. program and that means your grades are even more important. Since you still have one more year of school, do everything you can to increase your GPA. 

Since you did not attend college in the United States, you will also need to take the TOEFL. As you can see on Stanford Law School's website, for example, they require a minimum TOEFL score of 100 for the Internet-based test or 620 for the paper-based test.

[Get TOEFL test prep tips.]

Stanford's website also mentions that "except under unusual circumstances, candidates must have at least two years of professional legal experience before commencing the LL.M. program." Your one summer internship likely will not be enough to waive this requirement. In order to improve your chances of admission to top LL.M. programs, you should work in law for a couple years after graduation and then consider applying in 2015 or 2016.

Keep in mind that Stanford, in addition to Harvard Law School and Yale Law School, are the most selective and competitive law schools in the United States. I would never tell anyone not to apply to a certain school just because it is a "stretch" school, but you might also consider other LL.M. programs as well. Good luck!