[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]
Considering Spending 3L Abroad?
A few years ago you sat down and picked a law school, decided on a city to call home, and then set off on your law school journey. Maybe the city isn’t all you dreamed it would be; maybe there’s something missing from the course options at your school; maybe you just love to travel.
If any of the above describes you then it might be time to consider spending 3L abroad!
The Application Process
Generally speaking, study abroad programs are offered exclusively to 3L’s. They range from semester-long programs to full-year programs – with full-year programs often culminating in an earned LL.M., or similar executive law degree.
You’ll need to start researching study abroad options now. Applications are generally due at the end of the fall semester or in early spring, so you’ll want to ensure that you have enough time to complete the application, request necessary documents, and get written letters of recommendation.
The applications themselves will likely vary from school to school, but to give you an idea of what you can expect I’ll walk you through my application for the London School of Economics.
- First, I submitted an application for consideration to my home university. Within this application had to rank a few programs for consideration. I also had to provide a two-page statement of interest, my law school transcripts, my resume, a degree progress report from the registrar’s office, and a pro bono progress report.
- After submitting my applications I was called into my school’s international office for interviews. These interviews took place only for the programs that had limited enrollment capacities.
- Around February, I received my offer to formally apply to one of my ranked programs. I was given one-week to formally decide whether to continue with my application.
- Next, I had to complete the formal application for the London School of Economics. This application once again required my law school transcripts, resume, and a statement of interest. In addition, I had to provide two letters of recommendation, and complete an online application, and submit proof of language proficiency (this is waived if the teaching language is your first language).
- I received my formal offer letter from the London School of Economics approximately three weeks later. I then had to submit a study abroad worksheet to my international office outlining my study abroad plan and goals.
Preparing for the Move
Sooner than later you’re going to need to decide what to do with your current apartment. If you’re studying abroad for one semester then you can choose to sublet or terminate your lease. If you’re studying abroad for a full year you’ll likely want to terminate your lease and find something short-term for graduation.
If you’re subletting then woohoo, all you need to do is find a subletter, confirm with your landlord that you’ve followed the protocol, and move any items you don’t want to be left into your apartment home or to a small storage unit. If you’re terminating your lease, you’ll want to give to your landlord ample notice. You’ll also want to book a moving van, movers and a storage unit at least one month prior to your move date since prices will go up the closer you get. When renting a storage unit, make sure to ask about long-term discounts.
After you’ve figured out housing in the USA, it’s time to find housing for your time abroad. Figure out early on if your school offers on-campus housing for visiting students, and if so, whether you’re interested in living on-campus. Keep in mind, many schools have mixed graduate and undergraduate dorms.
If you’re responsible for finding your own housing, start looking early. It may be tricky to find an apartment that’s (a) furnished, and (b) available for less than 6-12 month leases. Personally, I ended up splitting an Airbnb with a friend for our three months in London – if you didn’t know, Airbnb offers great discounts for monthly stays, and your utilities are included!
While you’re busy figuring out accommodations, don’t forget to keep track of flights. Since international flights can be expensive it’s a good idea to book early. If you’re okay with booking through a third party, you can set up price alerts on sites such as Kayak or StudentUniverse. When booking, make sure to calculate checked baggage if you need more than the allotted amount.
Research how to get from the airport at your destination to your new home abroad. In big cities like London, airports aren’t necessarily located within easy driving distance of the airport. It’s good to know whether Uber is financially feasible (or even available) and/or whether you need to book train and/or shuttle tickets in advance.
Likewise, you’ll want to research internal transportation methods since this may impact where you decide to live. For instance, in London tube fares are based on zones, with zones 4-6 being incredibly expensive.
Lastly, and most importantly, begin to determine whether you require a visa for your study abroad. Visa applications can take anywhere from two weeks to three months, so make sure you give yourself ample time to both apply for and receive your visa.
The Benefits and Downfalls
Before you jump feet first into the whole study abroad experience, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons. Consider what you’ll be giving up at your home university, whether that’s a position on a board, law school events, personal functions, job loss, etc. Likewise, consider what you truly have to gain from the experience, and how it will benefit you personally and professionally.
For me the pros included the following:
- Advanced or specialized courses in areas of interest to me;
- The opportunity to live abroad in a city that I love;
- Increased networking opportunities;
- An opportunity to research Ph.D. programs at UK universities;
- Benefits to my mental health; and
- Increased travel opportunity (also a mental health benefit).
The cons have included the following:
- Limited courses that will assist me on the bar exam and/or in practice;
- Confusing registration process on campus in London;
- Increased living expenses;
- Inability to attend multiple functions/events at home and at my home university;
- Difficulty juggling independent studies, journal, and pro bono / social group responsibilities from abroad.
With that said, nearly one-month into my program, I can honestly say my decision to spending 3L abroad was worth it. The pros greatly outweigh the cons, especially since I have the added perk of being able to embark on cheap European weekend trips! Through my program I’ve managed to connect with so many talented people, including diplomats, practicing foreign lawyers, and academics that I otherwise would not have been exposed to. Plus, the courses I’m enrolled in here aren’t available at my home university, so academically speaking I feel motivated to learn as much as I can.
Deciding to Study Abroad: Is it right for you?
- Have you taken all required courses for your degree program(s)?
a. Not even close
b. They’ll be finished by the end of 2L
c. Most of them, but I know the missing ones are available during 3L
- Does your journal require 2-years’ service?
a. Sure does
b. Nope, I’m free to leave!
c. It does, but they’re flexible
- Have you finished your writing requirement (if required)
a. Haven’t thought about it yet
b. Yes /or/ it’ll be finished shortly /or/ it’s not required
c. I’m planning to do it via independent study or through my journal
- Are you on track for Pro Bono?
a. Ugh, I need so many hours
b. I am a pro bono wiz!
c. A few hours left, but I’m not worried!
- Financially, how are you doing?
a. Law school’s expensive … need I say more
b. I’ve got a fair amount of savings
c. My loans cover my costs and I haven’t fully maxed them out yet
Mostly A’s: A study abroad probably likely isn’t feasible for you. If you’re dead set on doing one you’ll likely need to increase your workload during 2L. Some things you can do to increase your odds of being accepted into a study abroad program include: registering for any/all required courses available in the spring semester; registering for the spring or summer MPRE; cutting back financially or getting a part-time job; completing some major pro bono hours!
Mostly B’s: Looks like you’re in prime shape for an exchange program! Start researching your options now so you can maximize your chances of getting the program you want. To be extra safe, check in with your registrar’s office and your journal to see if there’s anything you need to resolve before applying.
Mostly C’s: Spending 3L abroad seems quite possible for you. To put yourself in the best position possible, you may want to do the following: check off a few more pro bono hours; register for any remaining required courses or papers during the spring semester; register for the fall or summer MPRE; begin financial planning for a study abroad. You may also want to meet with the registrar’s office and your journal early on to get a head start on the application process.