2 Unique Challenges of Applying to Law School as an International Student

Get solutions to common problems students from abroad face.

Visa and passport
Visa and passport

The law school application process, from rigorous LSAT test preparation to time-consuming essay writing and editing, is challenging for everyone. For international applicants, the process can prove even more complex with additional requirements and potential pitfalls.

[Find out how to get into law school as an international applicant.]

Here are two challenges international applicants may face, as well as solutions to ensure your successful application to law school:

1. Demonstrating English language proficiency: If English is not your first language, you will need to demonstrate your fluency in English to the law schools to assure them you will be able to thrive in a reading and writing-intensive academic environment.

You should check each law school's requirements, but you may need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), especially if English was not the language of instruction at your previous educational institutions. If you do need to take the TOEFL, I recommend doing so before you embark on the LSAT, to be sure that your English skills are strong enough to excel on the LSAT. You will not reach your full potential on the LSAT if you are still struggling with English comprehension and grammar.

[Get TOEFL test prep tips.]

Whether or not law schools require you to take the TOEFL, the admissions committees will still pay extra attention to your writing throughout the application process—in your essays and other application questions, and even in any written correspondence you have with the school. Be sure you have friends, family, or even an expert in law school admissions read over anything you send to the school. However, be sure that these individuals do not remove your unique voice from the essays in the process of proofreading them.

2. Obtaining a visa: To attend law school in the United States, anyone who is not a citizen or a permanent resident needs a student visa. You cannot apply for the visa until you decide which school you are going to attend, but there is a lot you can do in advance to prepare for the visa application so that the process goes quickly and smoothly once you decide on a school.

[Find out how to pick the right law school for you.] 

To obtain your student visa, you will need to submit a Financial Affidavit of Support proving that you will be able to fund your entire first year of law school, including tuition, books, and living expenses. Remember that a student visa limits your ability to work while you are in school, so you may not be able to count on extra cash from a part-time job to use toward law school expenses. Start planning now how you will fund your first year so you are not scrambling to line up your financial resources at the last minute.

You will also have to complete a visa interview, unless you are already in the United States studying at another institution. Begin thinking about how you will demonstrate to the consular officer your ties to your home country, such as family, job prospects, investments, and property, and how you can most clearly explain explain why a U.S. law degree will help you accomplish your career goals in your home country. Once you decide on a law school, make sure you are able to articulate clearly to the officer interviewing you why you chose that particular school. 

Most law schools have information on their websites for international applicants, but you should call or E-mail the admissions office if you have questions or need clarification. A delay in getting your visa could mean missing orientation or even the beginning of the school year, which would obviously be detrimental to your law school experience. Try to submit your law school applications as early as possible, so you can hopefully get acceptance letters sooner and start your visa application process early in the year.

Have you run into any obstacles applying to law school as an international student? Let me know what they are in the comments, Tweet at me at @StratusPrep, or E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com. Also, send me your admissions profiles and any general law admissions questions to be featured in next week's edition of Law Admissions Q&A.