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English language requirements.

soas llm personal statement

All applicants must be able to show that their English is of a high enough standard to successfully engage with and complete their course at SOAS.

If you have not yet taken an English language test, you can still apply for your degree, but we will include evidence of language requirements as part of your offer conditions. In all cases we consider the most recent test evidence.

SOAS reserves the right to request additional evidence of English Language Proficiency.

You can demonstrate English language ability in several ways.

You do not need to provide evidence of your English language ability if any of the following apply:

  • you are a UK national (we reserve the right to request further English evidence)
  • nationals from a government recognised Majority English Speaking Country (MESC)  who have successfully completed high school or a degree in the respective country
  • you’ve completed a degree in the UK or in any Majority English Speaking Country ( UKVI defined ) within the last 10 years
  • you’ve completed a degree that was taught in English from Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, or South Africa (and from certain recognised English-medium universities) if graduation is within the last 10 years
  • you are a national from a UKVI defined MESC who has successfully completed a high school qualification, including an English language qualification that is equivalent to GCSE.
  • you’ve completed a SOAS Pre-Masters or International Foundation (60% in Academic English) or ELAS programme (70% in Academic English) within 2 years of entry.
  • you’ve passed a Pre-sessional English course at a UK university (2-year validity).

Test scores

Details of many of the English language qualifications that we accept with minimum scores for Undergraduate and Postgraduate applicants are provided below. We consider these qualifications alongside other evidence of English language ability, such as your references, curriculum vitae or personal statement.

  • Foundation Year:  applicants should check the Foundation Year English language requirements
  • International Foundation (ICC ): applicants should check the entry requirements on the ICC programme

Doctoral School Applications

Please see the Doctoral School English Language Requirements for English admissions to research degrees, which are slightly different from those for Undergraduate and Postgraduate entry.

Online testing

We continue to accept the following online English language tests for September 2024 entry only (2-year validity from September 1st 2022):

  • TOEFL iBT Home Edition
  • IELTS Academic  Online
  • IELCA Home (Academic) online
  • Password Skills Plus

Please note we do not accept: Duolingo. Pearson Academic Online or TOEFL Essentials tests for taught programmes. We also are not currently accepting LanguageCert or Skills for English and prefer to see one of the recommended academic English tests.

Direct entry

With 4-week pre-sessional english, with 8-week pre-sessional english, alternative qualifications.

In addition to the tests listed above, we also accept a range of alternative qualifications to demonstrate evidence of English Language proficiency. Generally, these have 5-year validity, but some may have a 2-year validity.

Pre-sessional English

If you do not meet the English Language Requirements for your course in full, you may be offered a 4-week or 8-week Pre-sessional English course (which happens in the summer before the academic year starts).

We also offer In-sessional courses to support you when you start your academic year at SOAS.

In-sessional and Pre-sessional English courses are not available for Distance Learning applicants.

Visa requirements and SELT

Applicants who require a Student Visa must prove their knowledge of the English language when applying. If you are a national of one of the Majority English speaking countries as defined by the UKVI, you may not be required to complete an additional English language test.

As a higher education provider, SOAS can assess your level of English using a variety of tests and qualifications. However, you may be asked to provide evidence of a secure English language test (SELT) as part of your Student Visa application.

For this reason, we recommend all applicants who plan to apply for a Student Visa where possible choose one of the following approved SELTs :

  • IELTS for UKVI  (Academic test)
  • Trinity College London: ISE (Level 3)
  • Pearson: PTE Academic UKVI  

As indicated, as an approved institution we are also able to accept tests and qualifications for exemption from the need to take UKVI SELTS, including for example, IELTS Academic, TOEFL At Home or IELTS Academic Online. 

Additional guidance

  • SOAS provides free, non-credit bearing  In-sessional English and study skills courses which are available to all international applicants whose first language is not English. 
  • Degrees from majority English speaking countries or English-medium universities are valid for a limited number of years before the start date of SOAS degree programme.
  • Where applicants have submitted more than one piece of evidence of English (e.g. an IELTS test and a degree from a majority English speaking country) we follow the most recent evidence.
  • Please visit the IFCELS web pages for details of pathway courses, English language teaching and resources at SOAS, such as In-sessional, Pre-sessional, ELAS (English Language and Academic Studies) or Foundation courses (pre-undergraduate and pre-masters).
  • The information provided on this page is a basic guide to our English admissions and SOAS reserves the right to apply the criteria at its own discretion in all cases.

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LLM (Master of Laws)

Soas university of london, different course options.

  • Key information

Course Summary

Tuition fees, entry requirements, university information, similar courses at this uni, key information data source : idp connect, qualification type.

LLM - Master of Laws

Subject areas

Course type.

Our LLM (Master of Laws) programme gives students the opportunity to study at our vibrant School of Law with its unique focus on the legal systems and legal challenges of the Global South generally and Asia, Africa and the Middle East in particular. The structure of the LLM allows students to create their own programme of study, choosing from a wide array of modules, including those in comparative law, international law, law and development, commercial and trade law, human rights, environmental law, Islamic law and dispute resolution. In addition, students may be able undertake modules outside of the School of Law, opening up SOAS’ array of world-leading options in languages, cultures, arts, humanities, politics, economics and finance, and beyond. Students complete the LLM by undertaking a dissertation, developing an extended research project on a topic of their choice. The LLM may be taken full-time over a period of one year, or part-time over a period of two, three or four years.

Our LLM (Master of Laws) teaching reflects our research strengths in the laws of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and in Islamic, international, human rights, commercial and trade, comparative, and environmental law. Much of our teaching concerns the critical study of law and the ways that law can be used to marginalise or to empower individuals and communities. In today’s globalised environment, our teaching also explores the study of the society in which the law operates, and the relationship of law to other structuring forces such as gender, sexuality, race, and economic status. All teachers on modules offered at SOAS are experts in their designated field, and many have years of experience advising governments, international and non-governmental organisations, or in professional practise. Undertaking the LLM at SOAS brings you into the heart of a world-leading, one-of-a-kind law school to study the world’s most pressing legal issues.

The LLM (Master of Laws) programme is ideal for LLB graduates or legal professionals who wish to expand their knowledge of, and critical engagement with, law, particularly as it relates to the Global South. You will join an international alumni of graduates from the LLM at SOAS, many of whom are now working at the UN, in NGOs, in government, in private practice, in policy work or in academia. Since the LLM may be taken full-time or part-time, many students have been able to successfully combine their studies at SOAS with their existing careers.

Teaching & Learning

All Masters programmes consist of 180 credits, made up of taught modules of 30 or 15 credits, taught over 10 or 20 weeks, and a dissertation of 60 credits. The programme structure shows which modules are compulsory and which optional.

As a rough guide, 1 credit equals approximately 10 hours of work. Most of this will be independent study, including reading and research, preparing coursework, revising for examinations and so on. It will also include class time, which may include lectures, seminars and other classes. Some subjects, such as learning a language, have more class time than others. At SOAS, most postgraduate modules have a one hour lecture and a one hour seminar every week, but this does vary.

UK fees Course fees for UK students

For this course (per year)

International fees Course fees for EU and international students

We will consider all applications with a 2:2 (or international equivalent) or higher in a relevant Social Sciences subject. In addition to degree classification in a relevant subject we take into account other elements of the application such as supporting statement. References are optional, but can help build a stronger application if you fall below the 2:2 requirement or have non-traditional qualifications.

At SOAS University of London, postgraduate students are encouraged to challenge the status quo and think globally. SOAS is the leading higher education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Africa, Asia and the Near and Middle East. Postgraduate courses are taught by respected academics engaged in ground-breaking fieldwork and research. The work of researchers at SOAS influences both government policy and the lives of individuals... more

MA Gender Studies and Law

Full time | 1 year | 23-SEP-24

Full time | 3 years | 23-SEP-24

LLM International Law

Llm islamic law, llm law and gender.

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How to write the perfect ll.m. statement.

How to Write the Perfect LL.M. Statement

ChatGPT has ignited concerns over cheating, but, for now, law schools say the personal statement remans a key piece of the LL.M. application

If you’re applying to an LL.M. program, writing a personal statement to your graduate law school is likely to be one of the first steps on the road to being admitted. The LL.M. statement is an opportunity to showcase what you can bring to your future cohort, which will be finely balanced to include a diversity of perspectives.

Although they may not ask you directly, the admissions committee will be looking to assess your fit with the law school’s unique culture. So, it’s important to show that you have done thorough research into the law school and its LL.M. program. 

It’s a good idea to go beyond the information offered on the school’s website, and speak to current or past students to get a feel for the institution, its strengths and attributes.

“Statements are an applicant’s opportunity to highlight what makes them unique and their fit for a particular institution,” says Maureen Tracey Leo, Director of International Graduate Programs at Boston University (BU) Law School. 

While some experts believe the personal statement will become less important because of advances in technology, others say that the digital era is only going to make authenticity more important in LL.M. statements.  

Make a strong first impression 

They’re one of the earliest interactions that you’ll have with your intended law school, so make sure your first impression counts. Law schools will say they judge each application holistically, paying attention to the application as a whole. But without a strong personal statement, you are unlikely to make it to the latter stages of the process.

“Paying careful attention to detail is critical, so students should make sure the statement is grammatically correct and error-free,” stresses Tracey Leo.

A good personal statement is likely to lead to the admissions interview, one of the final stages of the LL.M. application. The point is to demonstrate insight into your personality, background and ambition in greater detail that your CV will go into -- but in a way that makes you shine.

“It's very important,” stresses Tracey Leo of the personal statement. “It gives admissions officers a chance to see the candidate outside of their resume, GPA or test scores.”

How to structure your LL.M. statement 

In terms of structure, the LL.M. statement would normally start with an overview of who you are, clearly spelling out your past achievements, motivations as well as your short-term and long-term career goals. Crucially, stress how the LL.M. will help you get where you want to go.

“The LL.M. statement allows us to evaluate what the candidate has already done and what they hope to achieve in the future,” Tracey Leo says.

From there, go into more detail about why you have chosen your law school, highlighting specific elements of the LL.M. program that resonate with you and your specific areas of interest.

A personal statement should be around one side of A4 paper, but it’s important to check the admissions requirements with the law school before sitting down to write your statement. 

While some business schools now let prospective students submit other forms of content, such as videos and images, law schools generally still require written statements for admission to their LL.M. programs.

“There has been very little innovation in LL.M. personal statements in the past. Many schools have not changed their questions or prompts for many years,” says Martin Stanford, a Senior Consultant at GoLLM Admissions Consultants.

ChatGPT: will it kill the personal statement?

However, he stresses that law schools may place less emphasis on written statements in the future because of fears over cheating sparked by the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT.

“We know that law schools have recognized the problem and we can expect to see several changes with regards to the personal statement, but also to the admissions process more generally, being rolled out soon,” says Stanford.

In terms of the personal statement, he believes schools will emphasize the “personal” element even more. “It’s easier to let AI write a generic essay about a legal topic but not yet as easy to have it write a truly personal story, which is what most schools want to see,” explains Stanford.

Tracey Leo appears to strongly agree. “Generative AI tools may be a useful resource for students to check for grammatical or language errors in statements they have already drafted,” she says. 

“However, students should avoid using these tools to write the entire personal statement for them because the products generated by these tools often lack character, humor, and all the things that make the best personal statements unique.”

So while law schools may place less emphasis on the written elements of the application in future, for now, prospective students will need to focus their efforts on writing a cracking LL.M. statement if they’re to secure admission. 

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Writing A Law School And LLM Personal Statement

Find your perfect llm program search our database of over 2500 courses.

LLM Personal Statement

A great LLM (Master of Laws) personal statement should be persuasive, concise and easy to read:

Persuasive – you want the admissions board to choose you over the competition.

Concise – you need to compress information about your past, present and future into a limited word count.

Easy to read – you don’t want the admissions board to give up on it halfway through.

Why is your LLM personal statement so important?

Your LLM personal statement is a vital part of the process of applying to an LLM course, and together with your academic record and relevant work experience , it is a key element to the success of your LLM application.

It is crucial that you allow yourself enough time to craft the perfect LLM personal statement, one that showcases all your skills, qualifications, experience and personality.

1. An LLM personal statement explains gaps

If you've got a few spaces in your work history or a job that ended poorly, then the LLM personal statement is your chance to explain what happened and what you have learnt from the experience. An unhappy or bad experience can be a significant learning experience and might have provided you with additional skills or motivations that will make you able to contribute to the course in a unique or significant way. Many law schools encourage students to explain any career gaps.

2. Provides insight into motivation

It's important that your motivations for applying for and doing the LLM course match with the law school's ethics and ethos. Your LLM personal statement is your chance to show that you are a good match for the law school and the LLM course. Explain your reasons for wanting to do this course and why you are passionate about the law or the particular part of the law you are planning on studying. You can show what you will bring to the course and why you will be an asset to the law school.

3. Make yourself stand out

A popular LLM course at a prestigious global law school will receive many more applications than spaces on the course. Everyone applying to that course will have an excellent academic record and a wealth of relevant work experience. Your LLM personal statement might make the difference between being accepted onto the course and not. Make yourself stand out with the language you use, but don't overdo it. Explain the finer details of your experience and why you've chosen to attend this course at this particular law school.

4. Important part of the law school’s decision making

Almost 90% of universities use the LLM personal statement to make their decision about applicants. This means the time you spend on your personal statement is crucial. Try and get some other people to read through your statement and offer their advice/opinion, especially if you know someone who has completed the LLM course recently. Make sure that your personal statement is your own work and that any revisions you make on the recommendation of others don't change your personal statement beyond recognition and lose the essence of you.

5. Proves you can follow instructions

There will be guidelines and advice provided by the law school or university to help you write your LLM personal statement. Use these instructions to prove that you can follow directions. It's also an opportunity to show off your written English skills, this could be particularly relevant if English is not your first language, and your English test scores are not what you would like them to be.

6. The first chance for potential professors to ‘meet’ you

Your LLM personal statement is your introduction to your future law school professors and the people who you might connect and reconnect with throughout your legal career. View your personal statement as the first introduction to this new part of your future network.

What information should you include?

LLM Personal Statement

Key things to bear in mind to achieve success when crafting the perfect LLM personal statement are:

1. Conciseness:  whatever you do, you MUST remain within the institution’s word limit. Legal professionals are expected to be able to summarise masses of information without losing any essential facts, and your personal statement is an indicator of your ability to do this.

2. Language:  don’t use complicated words in an attempt to impress. As a legal professional, you will be working with clients who may not understand technical terms so your ability to communicate in a formal yet simple style will not go unnoticed.

3. Format:  keep your LLM personal statement uncluttered, with lots of spacing and white space, to make it easy to read. It's important for the document to look good as well as to read well.

4. Structure and flow:  your intro could summarise the reasons why granting you a place is the right decision for the admissions board to make. The main body should be broken up into your past (academic, professional and personal info; relevant experience, your interests and motivations and what led you to the point of applying), your present (all the details about the LLM; why you chose it at that particular institution, which modules you’re really keen on) and your future (what you plan to do after you complete the LLM). Your conclusion is a summary of your main points and should end on a memorable note. After you’ve written your first draft, print it out and review it to see if it makes sense, making notes in the margins along the way as if you were an editor editing another writer’s work.

LLM personal statement top tips

Here are some tips and strategies to creating the perfect LLM personal statement.

Academic history

Discuss what you studied as an undergrad and whether the LLM is a natural progression or would represent a change in career path. Do you have a first degree in law and are you working your way towards a PhD in Law and a future in legal academia? If your first degree was not in Law, how would the LLM complement it; do you have a first degree in Economics and want to do an LLM in International Business Law for example?

Make it personal

Mention what interests and motivates you, and what has happened in your life that put you on the path to applying for an LLM at that institution. If you’ve chosen a small college, explain why you prefer institutions with a small population. If you’ve opted for a large law school, let the admissions board know why you thrive in a busy environment. It’s important to explain your preferences so the admissions board gets a sense of who you are and why you fit in with their law school. Include relevant information – like volunteer experience or extra-curricular activities – that have inspired you with your choice. The admissions team want to understand the personal reasons why you want to study their LLM course.

Don’t make claims you can’t support

Since you are applying for a postgrad legal program you should be familiar with making persuasive arguments. As legal arguments are evidence-based, be prepared to apply the same approach in your statement by avoiding unsubstantiated claims. If you state that certain modules are ‘relevant to your career’, state specifically how. Don’t leave it to the admissions board to try to work it out for themselves. If you claim that you are a top student, highlight your grades even though you will submit transcripts as part of your application. Use clichés like ‘leadership skills’ only if you can give examples of instances when you demonstrated these traits. And don't forget that if you are subsequently called in for an LLM interview, this personal statement will probably be used as the basis for the interview, so always tell the truth!

Don’t just write it, craft it

When it comes to the actual writing of your LLM personal statement be prepared to write, edit and rewrite your personal statement several times. Remember all those essays you wrote in your undergrad days? Well, the same rules of presentation, structure and flow apply to your personal statement; the only difference being that this time, the essay is about you. And once you think you’ve written the perfect LLM personal statement get a trusted friend or colleague to read it through to offer you constructive criticism and to pick up any typos or grammatical errors.

Relevant referees

Pick a referee who can provide you with a good academic reference, so choose a tutor and lecturer who will remember you from your undergraduate studies. Including your employer as a referee is a good idea if your current job is relevant to the course, or include someone you did relevant work experience for. You will need to ask potential referees before you submit your application.

10 things to avoid in your LLM personal statement

Here are the top 10 things that you should avoid doing when writing your LLM personal statement.

Including a mini dissertation – you are meant to explain your interest in the area that you wish to specialise in, which doesn’t mean writing an essay on your proposed dissertation topic! That can wait till you start your LLM program and are asked to submit a thesis proposal.

Underselling yourself – rather than blaming yourself later on for missing out on listing achievements from your work experience or undergraduate study, make it a point to highlight all the relevant information; ranging from past work experience on specific projects, skills acquired and applied, publications, moot courts, etc.

Being ambiguous – all your efforts will be futile if you didn’t make your personal statement read clearly with details relevant to the LLM course that you are applying for and clearly stating your interest for that course.

Writing too much or too little – usually universities provide the word count/A4 page limit for the LLM personal statement. Some students will have a tendency to write less hoping that the CV will cover all their academic and career highlights, whilst others may be tempted to write too much describing everything they have done in all possible detail. The sensible approach would be to mention enough to match the word count/page limit and to highlight only what is important to put your case forward.

Obsessing with templates – it might be a common trend to scour the internet for templates on personal statements but be warned that some may have been copied off the others and may all end up looking very similar. Your LLM personal statement should be unique and well drafted to make logical sense to the reader.

Making stupid mistakes – sometimes we tend to overlook minor mistakes that can have significant bearing on the outcome of our application. Things such as addressing the statement to the wrong university (or with a wrong date/address) can give a very bad first (and almost certainly final) impression!

Doing it last minute – our general advice when it comes to university applications is to never leave anything to the last minute. Some students tend to work hard on their personal statement redrafting it a 100+ times, while others only pick up this part of the application on the last day of its submission. Time must be given to this vital part of your application so that any mistakes including ones listed here can be corrected in good time.

Repeating information – although you may feel that you are trying to make a point by explaining a situation in different ways, university admissions staff may see this as a repetition of information that they don’t need to know. Once you make a point about a particular skill/achievement, move on to the next piece of information to show varied experience, knowledge and interest.

Name dropping – in professional services we tend to mention names of high-profile clients or popular legal representatives to get ahead of competition through our application. This may work in a casual networking setting, however when it comes to application processes for admissions, the focus is usually around your contribution to legal matters, your ambition to progress your career further through further studies, rather than just throwing some names in!

Making grammatical errors – although legal eagles tend to be careful on this one, it is best to proofread your LLM personal statement several times before handing it in. Ideally, you should share it with friends or colleagues to spot any noticeable errors.

Writing a personal statement – real-life examples

With all this key information on writing the perfect LLM personal statement – explore our law expert’s analysis of real applications to help you craft the ideal introduction and give yourself the best chance of getting onto your dream LLM program.

Introduction to our law admissions expert

LLM Personal Statement Robynn Aliveri

To help you achieve the success you deserve with your LLM applications we have taken four genuine (and successful) LLM personal statements from four genuine LLM students and asked LLM admissions expert Robynn Allveri to fine-tune them to make them as good as they possibly can be. To put it simply, our admissions expert cast her (very) critical eye over all four law school personal statements – that had already proved successful – and offers advice on how they can be improved. She highlights where the LLM personal statements let the candidates down, and of course also shows where and why they enable the candidate’s qualities to really shine through.

Our genuine LLM personal statements have been written by both international students and home students, applying to law schools in the UK, the USA and Canada. This unique selection of real law school personal statements will give you real insight into how to make you own law school personal statement a success. Armed with our knowledge of the dos and don’ts of LLM personal statement writing and unique admissions tips , you should be just a hop, skip and a jump away from LLM admissions success!

So here is our real-life guide on how to write a law school personal statement to guarantee success with your LLM application .

soas llm personal statement

... And what's not? 

  • The candidate should use shorter, more concise sentences. Admissions committees have lots of statements to read and will get frustrated trying to decipher some of the long sentences – I certainly did!
  • If you are aware of a professor who teaches a course you want to take at your chosen law school, mention that professor by name to show that you really have done your research. Although Anna did well to mention specific courses and module – she didn’t actually name any of the professors.
  • As an international student it is important try and get a native English speaker to read through your LLM personal statement before you submit it to fine-tune some of the language and grammar. 

Aparna Gupta*, from India, applied to study her LLM program in Canada

Dear Sir/Madam,

My fascination for financial and corporate laws began with the Great Recession of 2008 which left Western Governments disillusioned as to why their financial legal system which was falling like a set of dominoes . Conversely, while the Indian markets valiantly survived, leading to economists and jurists hailing the rigid yet flexible financial legal structure of India. Yet locally, the Indian market was looked down upon for its inability in curbing the existing corrupt practices. These made me wonder why analyse only failures and not success and what is the true nature of our financial legal system? [good opening with reference to a historical example]

Specialising in Business and Intellectual Property Laws in my final year of BA LLB (Hons) has enabled me to have a curriculum , which along with all the basic law subjects, has been which is heavily oriented towards corporate, financial and trade laws. This has kindled and furthered my interest in the commercial and financial world of today. Post- bachelors, I intend to do my masters of law in business and corporate laws from abroad.

In my five years of law school, I have put efforts in various activities with equal vigour, and have tried to achieve a holistic development in both academic and co-curricular interests. Academically speaking, I have always maintained a CGPA of over 8.0/10 overall. Within the ambit of academic performance, research has always been my stronghold. The focus of my research work has mostly been towards analysing the changing nature of corporate laws. This was the subject of had been my final research paper, which helped me achieve at college that did get me my final grades in a good position.

Apart from academics and research activities, I have also been involved closely associated with mooting and debating. I have been able to perform admirably in these activities and have earned accolades in multiple national events. I have always given one hundred percent in any competition academic or extracurricular because performing well in these competitions had provided me with an identity, [what identity? – student should explain further]  which acted as an inspiration to grow and extend my knowledge in various laws. Performance and dedication itself have always acted as a catalyst in enabling me to grow better and consistently outdo myself.

My area of interest lies in corporate laws. University of XXXX guides and makes students excel at fields that they aspire to practice in. The LLM in this course structure gives equal importance in understanding these fields of law at national as well as international level. The guidance of Professor XXXX [good to mention a specific professor] will be invaluable to my journey as a corporate lawyer with his course on corporate laws. Every professor, librarian and other faculty at this university aims at focussing a student on achieving their goal. The University, I believe, will provide me the opportunity to extend my horizons of understanding the facets of corporate jurisprudence, which will help me to join the academic circle in the future. [? – too vague] Induction into this course will give me the opportunity to interact with students from various cultural and geographical backgrounds and work with diverse set of people.

As an individual, I am fairly well organised who manages their and manage my time very well – a lesson taught to me by my parents . [nice personal touch] They have inculcated in me the importance of being organised in daily activities. Everything in its place and a place for everything has become my mantra. Apart from academic and co-curricular, I have taken up teaching underprivileged children as a way to spend my evenings at college and have been greatly drawn towards it in the last few years.

I believe this particular LLM from this esteemed university will help me achieve my dreams [what are your dreams?] and the path that I have chosen will only be nurtured and grown by my steps at this university.  

Aparna Gupta

  • Aparna started her LLM personal statment with a historical example to “hook” the reader. This is a great way to get the admissions committee interested in your personal statement from the start. A personal story or example is another good option for the opening paragraph.
  • Mentioning a specific professor in your chosen law department is a great way to demonstrate that you've thoroughly researched the LLM program and that it is right the place for you.
  • The candidate uses clear, concise sentences, which makes her personal statement easy to read.

... And what's not?

  • Aparna should use a tiny bit less formal language as this can sometimes come across as sounding arrogant. However, formal language also shows good English proficiency, which is of paramount importance for international LLM students.
  • She should give more specific information about her career and professional goals to help explain why she set her sights on this particular LLM program.

James Woods* is a UK student who applied to study at a UK law school

I am writing to you today to apply for postgraduate studies at the Faculty of Law of the University of XXXX for the following reasons: to further expand my knowledge in the area of criminal justice (particularly penology), to meet new people, to engaging with explore a topic in different surroundings and experiences, and finally, to increase my employability and stature in the field of criminal justice. To engage in this postgraduate study course will allow me to have a more in-depth understanding of the specific areas of criminal justice systems; this knowledge will allow me to further academic research and practically assist me in a future career in this area .   [this sentence is somewhat redundant and probably unnecessary]

The University of XXXX is an outstanding institution in the field of law, being included in the top 100 in the world. This means ; this prestige is well known, meaning I will be receiving exemplary academic teaching and feedback. For this reason, I am aware that a place in one of the universities postgraduate courses is not something to be taken lightly, requiring hard work on my part; work I am more than willing and capable of doing.

The Criminal Justice LLM is particularly interesting to me for a number of reasons. Although the course centres on criminal justice systems, it has a focus around focuses on penology. This, therefore, makes the course to me and opens up incredibly interesting and diverse field of study available . [what do you mean here?] My work in HMP XXXX and the teachings I have received both at the University of XXXX and Universiteit XXXX in the areas of international, comparative criminal law and penal justice systems gives me not only an avid interest in this area but an existing knowledge base to build on. [good reference to his background] This course will allow me to acquire knowledge and skills to eventually develop a career in penal law or policy, which is a personal goal of mine. I am also looking forward to completing the dissertation attached to the masters. I have a few preliminary ideas as to the questions and topics my dissertation might pose and examine. [good inclusion – shows that he’s proactive and focused] The topic I am particularly interested in is that of the rights of prisoners while incarcerated, the extent of such rights that should be afforded, and how they affect rehabilitation, particularly regarding the right to vote.

There are two qualifying modules of this course that I feel will be particularly exciting to engage and participate in at the University of XXXX. Namely, the Criminal Justice module and the Penal Law & Human Rights module . [great to mention the specific course modules; shows that he’s done his homework on the law school] which I have taken great notice of. The reason for my interest is that they focus on the imprisonment of individuals and the systems in place around them, to protect inmates from harm while detained, either from themselves or from figures of authority. The imprisoned population is a forgotten population and makes for an interesting field of study theoretically and a rewarding profession practically. [good tie-in to a possible future career]

Since studying at the University of XXXXX in England and Universiteit XXXX in the Netherlands, I have engaged with a number of international human rights modules, criminal justice modules, criminology modules, and penology modules. Modules I particularly found interesting were my Prison and Imprisonment Module in my penultimate year at the University of XXXX, looking in depth at the UK prison system and attitudes towards the current prison system, both in and outside the institution. I also found my Children’s Rights and Juvenile Justice module to be particularly engaging while studying in the Netherlands. Examining the differing views and approaches to criminal justice in different jurisdictions was particularly appealing, and provokes curiosity as to why certain ineffective systems remain in place while other systems prosper. [new paragraph is needed here to discuss following practical experience] As before mentioned I have had practical experience with the penal system in England and Wales. Working for the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP XXXX has given me an invaluable insight into the field of criminal justice. Having engaged with members of the criminal justice system in my work, from judges to prisoners, it has really given me a rounded perception of the current climate in the English and Welsh penal system as it stands today.

I have developed a variety of skills throughout my undergraduate studies that will contribute to me achieving success at a postgraduate level. I have developed my paper writing skills greatly over the course of my undergraduate studies; while studying abroad I completed numerous lengthy comparative papers which attained high marks. I developed my ability to present to an audience as many of my modules required presentations to be conducted, taking the lead in seminars, and contributing to the debate. Finally, many modules both at XXXX and in XXXX required me to participate in a team, working as a unit to develop our understanding and improve each other’s knowledge of the module.

Thank you for considering my application, I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

James Woods

  • James effectively connects his interests and experiences to the offered Master of Laws program and to his potential future career plans.
  • He highlights specific course modules of interest, which shows that he's really done his homework on the LLM program he's applying for.
  • Mentioning his potential dissertation ideas shows him to be proactive and focussed, which are ideal qualities for a Master of Laws student. 
  • James's LLM personal statement demonstrates strong writing and good organisation. 

...And what's not?

  • There's not too much I'd change about this LLM personal statement, but I do think James could maybe trim a few words here and there to make sentences shorter and more direct.
  • He should find alternative words for “engage/engaged/engaging” –  it was used five times in his statement!

Emma Williams* is a UK student applying to study an LLM at a UK law school.

Having recently returned from a 3-month placement in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I am unswervingly [odd word choice] determined to enhance my academic development in international social policy, human rights law , and security through the International Law and International Relations course. During my consultancy assignment, I felt privileged to produce d the social justice strategy for an international NGO, and made recommendations that I believe are sustainable and innovative – all based upon personal first-hand research. It is my firm hope that I might receive the opportunity to advance my conceptual thinking and educational experience by continuing my study at the University of XXXX.

Throughout my time in West Africa, I had countless opportunities to implement ideas influenced in part by my undergraduate studies at the University of XXXX. I found further inspiration from global movements that intentionally invest in women and children - as found in reports reported by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, as well as through the development and cultural writings by Paul Collier. The former’s findings that most gripped me centered upon personal story as the most powerful tool for international change, and on the importance of moral responsibility as a global citizen. The latter intrigued me in terms of organisational culture – that successful NGOs possess a supreme ability to communicate with – and invest in – their workforce, who then have the capacity to impact through an internalisation of organisational aims and objectives. [awkward last sentence – maybe break it into 2 separate sentences]

Evolving from current academic concepts such as these, I witnessed and influenced the beginnings of positive, real-world impact upon communities of slum dwellers who are generationally living in absolute poverty. Studying Social Policy provided me with some theoretical framework and understanding that was helpful in the design of localised, empowerment practises in Freetown; extending my studies to the postgraduate level will enhance and solidify my curiosity and insight.

I am particularly enthused   enthusiastic [enthused is too casual – use “enthusiastic”] about the International Law and International Relations course due to its interdisciplinary approach that will enable me to explore the connectedness and congruence of people on local, regional, national and international scales. Of specific interest are the Human Rights, International Security, and Conflict, Security and Development modules, [good mention of specific modules] as each will further my knowledge and capacity to one day influence decisions in those spheres. It is my ambition to pursue a career as an international consultant – with focus on corporate social responsibility and development that aligns with social justice. In completion of my postgraduate study, I hope to broaden my experience of living in developing countries in order to consult the policy [what do you mean?] and best practise of local NGOs. My longterm goal is to work for a UK-based consultancy that is committed to delivering innovative solutions within professional, international, cross-cultured environments. [good clear summary of her chosen career path]

In the two years since completing my undergraduate degree, I have widened my skillset through multiple managerial roles in non-profit not for profit organisations. Positions in the UK, Canada and West Africa have increased my capacity to lead, think critically, and communicate publicly. Living abroad has allowed me to develop an understanding of culture and its impact upon varying worldviews and human rights policy. Working with marginalised groups in unfavourable living conditions has further increased my perseverance, as well as my passion for global social responsibility. Writing a 20,000-word report in 6 weeks has strengthened my ability to meet the demands of postgraduate study. Where my undergraduate dissertation mark may have hindered my overall degree classification [good to acknowledge a low mark – shows candour] , I know that my ability to form research and reports has since matured greatly astronomically , and that this advancement is irreversible as I eagerly anticipate further study.

I am excitedly applying for this combined course because I believe that it provides much credibility, necessary learning and a challenging environment that intentionally calls for students to excel. I believe that it will aid my academic and personal development as I seek to consult professionally in the future. Moreover, I anticipate the rewarding progression of studying at postgraduate level after fieldwork experiences that I am confident will enhance my education. I love the city of XXXX, the University of XXXX, and my involvements in managing XXXX both during and after my Social Policy studies. With International Law and International Relations being of utmost importance to me, I anticipate your consideration and welcome the opportunity of an interview or further communication should you require an expansion of any of the above. I am incredibly hardworking, passionate and wholly committed to producing excellent work as your postgraduate student.

Emma Williams

  • Emma has included interesting and relevant examples of past experiences, and her commitment to social justice shines through. These are both excellent for demonstrating her suitability to the LLM program.
  • Emma mentions specific modules of interest which shows that she's fully researched the LLM program that she's applying to.
  • It's good that she refers to her disappointing bachelors grade as this shows honesty and also the fact that she has learnt from her previous mistakes. 
  • This LLM personal statement demonstrates good overall writing and organisation.  
  • Emma should use less intensifiers and tone down adjectives so it doesn’t sound like exaggeration. For example – use “greatly” instead of “astronomically.”
  • Watch for repeated word use (such as “anticipate,” “influence,” and “enhance”). Find synonyms for these words.

*Names have been changed to protect the students' privacy.

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Personal statements

Read the phrasing carefully.

Different institutions will phrase what they want to see in their personal statement differently, some examples (as of September 2013) and how you could break the wording down to ensure you address everything are below:

Example of application guidance from LSE:

You must submit a personal statement with your application form. This should be between 1,000 and 1,500 words. It should describe your academic interests and your purpose and objectives in undertaking graduate study. 

Suggestions of what to include for this phrasing:

  • Outline what are your academic interests specifically
  • How they are related to the course.
  • How do you see the course furthering these interests?
  • Do you have previous experience of studying these areas?
  • Was your undergraduate dissertation, major project or a group presentation relevant to the course or your academic interests?
  •  Have you attended conferences, seminars or networking events outside your studies to increase your knowledge?
  • What have you learnt recently,
  • and how does this link to the course you are applying for?
  • Perhaps you can link your academic interests to work experience you have gained?
  • Purpose in undertaking graduate study  – Why are you applying for postgraduate study? This could be linked to discussing your academic interests, or perhaps you have a career orientated goal.
  • Objectives in undertaking graduate study  – What do you hope to achieve by the end of your postgraduate study, whether educationally or professionally? If you have professional objectives, how will this course help you move towards your career goal?
  • What else?  – you could also include some of the suggestions in the guidelines below, but make sure you address everything in their description.

Example of application guidance from SOAS:

Your personal statement should be no more than 1,000 words. It should include the reasons why you are interested in the programme, highlight your relevant experience and suitability for the programme as well as future plans. 

  • Why you are interested in the programme  – Look at the course content carefully to decide what it is that most interests you in the programme content-wise. Discuss any relevant research or coursework you might have done in the past, and include technical language or language that shows you have a grasp of the topic.
  • Relevant experience  – think back to your work experience, extracurricular activities and voluntary experiences and reflect upon relevant projects you might have worked on, tasks you were set or research you conducted that demonstrates relevance to the course. You might not feel you have this experience yet, but perhaps you have worked in a relevant sector and you could show your technical and commercial understanding.
  • Suitability for the programme  – Think about the skills you might need to succeed in this programme. What is your experience that makes you suitable for the programme? Perhaps you will reflect on study or research skills that you have gained, or maybe you’ll need strong negotiation, communication or presentation skills which you gained through mooting or as a student representative? If you can show you were engaged with your undergraduate university’s community then this might be a good place to mention what you did.
  • Future plans  – What are your career aspirations and how do you see the course furthering these?

Writing a personal statement

If they do not specify what to include in your personal statement, areas you might want to include are below. There is no set order of when to mention what but starting your personal statement with your most relevant point is advised.


  • Why are you applying for the programme?
  • What do you hope to gain from the programme?
  • What is it that interests you about the subject? Can this be related to your previous education or work experience (see below)?
  • What are your career aspirations and how will this course help you achieve them?

Educational experience and commercial knowledge

  • Do you have past education that gives you the knowledge base you need for the course?
  • Is your undergraduate dissertation relevant? Tell the tutor about it and the research methods you used (especially if applying for a research masters).
  • Perhaps you like to keep up with current news in the sector you hope to go into. You could mention a topical issue and discuss how you see the course furthering your understanding.

Work experience

  • Have you gained work experience in a field relevant to the course or relevant to your career ambitions? Can you link this experience to your motivation to wanting to continue studying in this field?
  • Tell the tutor about this experience and reflect on how this could help with the course or use it as an example of your motivation for continued study in a related area.
  • If you are a mature student returning to study, why are you returning? Are you looking to make a career change? Why, and how, do you expect the course will support your new ambition?

Other experience

  • Include your extracurricular and voluntary experience too. Tutors want rounded people on their course; show that you engaged in university life during your undergraduate course or that you gained some relevant skills or experiences through volunteering.

Anything else

  • You can outline your main achievements, awards or successes in competitions. Think about the course you are applying for and if there is anything they might be particularly impressed by.
  • Mention relevant summer schools, overseas study or conferences/ short courses you might have attended that are related to the course.

Other circumstances

  • Deferred entry – if you would like to start the course the following year explain to the course tutor what you will be doing with the next year.

Final checks

  • Spelling and grammar – this will give the course tutor an idea as to your writing skills, so ensure there are no mistakes.
  • Abbreviations and acronyms – explain any you have used.
  • Content structure – ensure the paragraphs make sense and that the document flows well. Don’t repeat yourself by revisiting an experience or educational point.
  • Don’t write a narrative of your life, from leaving school to current day.
  • Be positive; don’t use negative language i.e. Although I have little experience of…
  • Adhere to the word count (where applicable) or if there isn’t one, keep your statement to two to three pages of A4.

If you are already a student at LSE and would like LSE Careers to check your personal statement before you submit it please  make an appointment for a careers discussion  on CareerHub. It is also advised that if your application is fairly technically subject specific that you get an academic to check the content for accuracy.


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How to Write a Great LLM Personal Statement

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It is a big decision to pursue an LLM or Master of Laws after completion of your LLB. However, the decision to apply is not the final hurdle you have to face. Part of applying is writing the perfect LLM personal statement to persuade admissions tutors at your chosen institution that you are a suitable candidate to undertake the programme. So, to help get started, the following tips will provide you with a helpful checklist to set up the foundation of your statement.

Be Specific

One of the purposes of taking a very specific masters programme such as one in finance law or criminal justice is to allow you to take your knowledge and understanding of the sector to a deeper level. Therefore, in your personal statement you have to be really clear and specific about why you want to spend a year, or two, delving so deeply into one particular area of the law. Fortunately, if you have chosen a very niche masters you probably already have a decent list of reasons for your interest. On the other hand, if you have chosen to apply to a more general LLM programme, you still need to demonstrate to tutors why you want to take your academic study of the law in general beyond your LLB and how the particular LLM programme you have applied to can help you do that.

Provide Evidence

This tip is inextricably linked to the first. You can argue that your passion for X area of the law is why you are the perfect LLM candidate all day long but it is unlikely to mean anything if you cannot provide evidence that this is true. It is vital to point to experiences in your undergraduate degree, in your wider life, relevant work experience or extracurriculars which have contributed to why you want to pursue this LLM. It is also crucial when providing evidence that you are honest about your reasons. This will be much more persuasive than vague or made up reasoning.

Look to the Future

It is really important to include why exactly, in your envisioned career path, an LLM is the vital next step for you. An LLM is not a required qualification for many legal careers, therefore admissions tutors will be interested to know why pursuing their LLM programme is right for you at this stage in your career over and above another route. Also, highlighting your key interests and how they link in with your future goals is really helpful to portray how an LLM can help you achieve them.

Check, Check and Check Again

Like your undergraduate personal statement and any assignment, work experience or job application you have ever written in the past, you need to make sure you go through your LLM personal statement with a fine-toothed comb before submission. You need to go through a checklist of important factors to make sure the content of your statement is not let down by minor errors.

Have other people check it for you. This is vital to prevent repetition, ensure clarity and to stamp out any glaringly obvious spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. Not only this but if, after reading, a layperson is convinced and could explain why you are a perfect candidate for this LLM, then you are well on your way to convincing an admissions tutor of the same fact.

As above – spelling, punctuation and grammar are really important. So triple check you have not missed any errors. This means more than using the spellcheck function on Word. Grammarly is a great tool for this.

Stick to the Word Count

Make sure you do not exceed the word limit. If you have, your statement will not flow as well and it is unlikely that the admissions tutor will read the additional words, that’s if the application portal even lets you submit if you are over. It is always better to remain simple and concise than to overdo it with unnecessary explanations or flowery language.

Words: Alicia Gibson

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SOAS University Personal Statements

These UCAS personal statements have been kindly provided by students applying to School of Oriental and African Studies. You can click on one of the links below to view the entire statement and find out if the applicant was offered a place.

You can also view our entire collection of personal statements or view personal statements for application at other universities .

Economics Personal Statement Example 5 Choosing an undergraduate degree in economics is a result of my deep seated curiosity to know why economies are they way they are; why oil prices in my country, Pakistan, rapidly fluctuate whereas economies like USA and China continue to strengthen despite recessions...

Anthropology Personal Statement Example 2 My fascination with human behaviour and the motivations behind human actions has existed for most of my adult life, to determine a cause however I would accredit this to the voluntary work I participated in with Crisis Single Persons Homeless charity...

Politics Personal Statement Example 5 My background, living in three major metropolises, Lagos, London and Aberdeen bestowed me a very diverse, open, multicultural way of thinking. The cultural shock of Lagos widened my eyes to vastness of the world and prepped my involvement in the Community Development Committee, allowing me to get in touch with all sectors of Nigerian society; here my interest in sociology, politics and government took flight...

Religious Studies Personal Statement Example 1 I find it inspiring to be in the presence of other people who are seeking understanding of themselves, and the most intense experience I can remember is when I attended a Baptism where I witnessed the transformation people would undergo...

History & Politics Personal Statement Example For years I have listened to my family discussing the latest political and historical issues on the news and I have been fascinated and awed by the fact that there was never a wrong or right answer, decision or explanation to a given problem...

Linguistics Personal Statement Example 3 Have you ever heard the Tuvan throat singing technique? Beautiful and intriguing at the same time. The question that's bound to accompany a throat singing performance is how the human voice could possibly produce such a sound...

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Harvard LLM Personal Statemetn

At the same time – and given that each competitive Harvard Law School (HLS) applicant will have stellar grades, references, and other application documents – Harvard’s personal statement gives prospective LL.M. candidates the chance to distinguish themselves by demonstrating both their analytical abilities and critical thinking skills as well as the personal characteristics that make them unique.

What are the Harvard LLM Personal Statement Questions?

a. Briefly describe either an important issue in your field of interest or a current legal problem facing a particular country, region, or the world, and then propose a theoretical framework or a legal analysis or strategy to address this issue.

b. Please tell us something about yourself—in particular, why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with what you have done in the past and what you plan to do in the future.

Details: Formal Requirements

According to Harvard’s LL.M. application requirements, the personal statement must consist of two parts. These parts can be in the same document but should be clearly separated by using “Part A” and “Part B” headings.

As a whole, the Harvard Personal Statement (both parts) must not exceed 1,500 words. Part A, the legal essay, needs to constitute at least half of the total length, that is it should be 750 words or more. Footnotes are not counted towards the overall word limit of 1,500 words as long as they consist solely of sources and citations and are not lengthy textual footnotes.

Tips: Legal Essay (Part A)

The first part of the Harvard LL.M. personal statement (Part A) is the legal essay portion. Here, applicants must describe either an important issue in their field of interest or a current legal problem facing a particular country, region, or the world, and then propose a theoretical framework or a legal analysis or strategy to address this issue.

As the question for Part A already implies, the legal essay needs to be more normative rather than purely descriptive. Ideally, this part will identify a gap in the literature, which demonstrates originality and a profound understanding of the legal issue. It should also offer a novel and unusual approach to a relevant legal issue, which accords with Harvard’s instructions and expectations for this portion of the personal statement.

The ideal personal statement is, in addition, exceptionally well-written and researched. It should contain appropriate references and, where necessary, explanatory footnotes, although these should be kept to a minimum and may count towards the word limit (see our eBook for a successful Harvard legal essay example).

Tips: Personal Statement (Part B)

The second part (Part B) of the Harvard LL.M. personal statement is more akin to a traditional LL.M. personal statement. In this part, applicants are asked to discuss why they wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with past activities and future plans. Part B should offer a compelling personal story. It often makes sense to connect this to an applicant’s interest in specific aspects of law or his or her academic or professional career.

Again, this part should show innovative, out-of-the-box thinking and the applicant’s strong interest in the legal issues in her particular area of expertise. Moreover, Part B should be utilized to emphasize the applicant’s strengths and experience while still portraying him or her as an intelligent and modest individual that would make a great addition to an LL.M. program.

The personal statement can discuss a variety of topics, although most candidates will discuss issues that arose and dilemmas that they solved. Law school personal statements typically revolve around leadership potential, integrity and accountability, intellectual curiosity, determination in the face of adversity, problem-solving skills, dedication, compassion, creativity, and personal skills.

These traditional themes are good choices for the Harvard LL.M. personal statement too, although given that the LL.M. is an advanced legal degree they should be more informed by what the applicant has achieved or wants to pursue in the law. If the applicant has an actual interest in working with a certain faculty member – and perhaps is even familiar with his or her work – or be part of academic or research centers and activities, this may also be appropriately highlighted or woven into the statement. Of course, it goes without saying that unsupported claims, bragging, and exaggerations are unhelpful at best.

Harvard’s LL.M. personal statement is one of the most difficult pieces in the LL.M. application puzzle. Nevertheless, on the positive side, with the appropriate investment of time and dedication, it can be mastered. Harvard’s preferred deadline for LL.M. applications is November 15 (the official deadline is December 1). Thus, get started early and think about how you can master this ivy league’s LL.M. personal statement. Careful planning and researching will be your first step towards a top-notch Harvard LL.M. personal statement.

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First Person Accounts

First Person Accounts: Subornadeep Bhattacharjee on the SOAS LLM

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (an LLM or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Subornadeep Bhattacharjee is a 2018 graduate of the National Law University and Judicial Academy in Assam, and former judicial clerk at the Calcutta High Court.

Subornadeep Bhattacharjee is a 2018 graduate of the National Law University and Judicial Academy in Assam, and former judicial clerk at the Calcutta High Court. In 2021, he enrolled for the the LLM at SOAS University of London . In this FPA, he shares his experiences of applying in the midst of a pandemic, the LLM experience thus far, some advice for prospective LLM applicants, and a whole lot more. 

Were you considering a foreign LLM right after you finished your law degree? Or was this something you decided to take up after gaining some work experience? 

Well, honestly speaking, I was ready to pursue an LL.M. as soon as I had completed my undergraduate studies in law in the summer of 2018.

Early in 2018, I was invited for the interview rounds of the Commonwealth Scholarship that year and I was in the process of applying to my short-listed universities in the United Kingdom.

However, three specific events delayed my plan. Firstly, my mentor, the late Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer, who I had the privilege of working with at IDIA, suggested that I pursue an LL.M. only after I had acquired some qualitative, post-qualification experience.

He opined that the Masters, post the work experience, would provide me with a much more nuanced take on the law, which would also delve into its praxis, and not merely the theory of law.

The second reason, and the more pressing reason, was the moment when my father was diagnosed with terminal illness. Everything (including the processes of applying to universities abroad) took a backseat from that moment on, up until, we as a family, successfully battled the disease head on.

It was during this tumultuous time, that I aligned myself to the idea of a judicial clerkship, in line with the advice rendered by Dr. Basheer.

Eventually, things fell into place; I succeeded in the clerkship exam that was conducted by the Calcutta High Court in 2019 and was assigned as a law clerk to the Mr. Justice Dipankar Datta, who is now the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.

Eight months into the clerkship, when I again commenced with the process of applying to universities abroad, the tsunami that was the Covid pandemic, engulfed all of our lives. However, this time around, I completed the processes of applying to my shortlisted universities in its entirety.

And when you did start the application process, what were some of your expectations from the LLM experience? 

As I’ve made it clear, I was raring to go when it came to pursuing my Masters.

But certain events, in hindsight, gave me more time to reflect on my choices. I was certain that public international law was my calling, and I’d specialise in it. I started preparing for my application towards (what now seems to be) the end of 2019, not knowing what awaited all of us in 2020!

All established notions of what I sought from my Masters experience had to be reconfigured purely because of the uncertainty arising out of the public health emergency.

My foremost consideration was if one of my shortlisted universities was going to provide me with a deferral, if my application was eventually selected by the Admissions Committee.

How did you go about shortlisting just where to apply? Why narrow down on SOAS? 

It was an emotive but a straightforward experience when it came to short-listing my preferred universities. Once I had zeroed in on specialising in public international law, it was a two-way competition between the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies ( Graduate Institute ) in Geneva.

Both are excellent institutions, not only in terms of the faculty members and resources available at their disposal, but also in terms of locational advantages (Geneva and London) when one considers specialising in public international law. However, three specific factors, led me towards SOAS.

First, my guru, and the founder Vice-Chancellor of my alma mater at National Law University, Assam, the late Prof. (Dr.) Gurjeet Singh, had once made a very passionate request to me in my second year of law school; that when (and not if) I contemplated my options about pursuing a LL.M., I should opt for SOAS. In his opinion, alongside the excellent, academic eco-system which was widely known for positively disrupting ‘business as usual’ mindsets, SOAS was also an excellent institution where one ended up ‘forging personal bonds for a lifetime!’

His quote had a profound impact on me, and eventually, SOAS was right up there when it came to making my decision.

Second, SOAS is a niche institution, which specialises in teaching and exposing the subject of public international law from the perspective of the Third World (Third World Approaches to International Law or TWAIL, as it is referred to in academic literature).

It’s at the forefront of challenging the Eurocentric notion of the discipline and that was also a decisive factor in my decision making process.

Lastly, because SOAS is overtly focused on the needs of Asia, Africa and the Middle East and caters to the very realistic needs of students who largely hail from developing economies.

I can’t speak about other universities which might have done this, but the Admissions Office at SOAS had immediately offered students an option of deferring their offers without the stipulation of payment of the GBP 1,000 deposit, to confirm their acceptances of the offers that were on the table.

Faced with a climate of uncertainty because of the Covid pandemic, it ended up providing succour to a lot of students.

Any advice on how to go about the application process? Was there anything specific about the application process that you think prospective applicants ought to know about? 

I chuckle as I write this, but I honestly hope that prospective applicants do not end up applying to their dream universities, in the backdrop of a (hopefully, what will remain to be a once in a century) pandemic.

However, I can suggest two crucial insights, that might prove to be helpful for applicants in the future:

First, please bear in mind that there are universities which do not charge you any non-refundable amounts for the application forms. For candidates from working class families with limited financing options, this is an element that is often overlooked.

Candidates have often crafted their list of preferred institutions which end up charging non-refundable amounts merely for applying, to various degrees, and applicants may, as a result, end up spending a small fortune, given the multiplier effect of applying to multiple institutions.

Instead, you can apply to institutions like SOAS and the Graduate Institute (which did not demand a single penny for applying to them) and you can save the amount for more, meaningful expenses in the future, in furtherance of your LL.M.

Second, please personalise your personal statement to a degree where your voice and identity is omnipresent. It is a daunting task, no doubt, to represent yourself meaningfully before the Admissions Committees in a few hundred words and that is exactly why, you need to get creative!

Please do not feel compelled to write a very ‘formulaic’ personal statement, based on sample statements that Google might offer you!

Be genuine and humane; that resonates with the Admissions Committee.

What have been some of the more rewarding aspects of the SOAS LLM experience? Any memory that you particularly cherish? 

The most rewarding experience, in my opinion, has been how interdisciplinary SOAS is, in its teaching pedagogy. Off the 120 credits that are reserved for taught modules, 30 credits are at a candidate’s disposal to study any module being offered by any department at SOAS!

I’ve had my batchmates dabbling with many diverse modules from different departments – be it development studies, history, politics and international studies, etc.

I ended up opting for one such module from the department of politics and international studies and I was the only lawyer in the class!

The class offered me with a diverse range of perspectives on the issue of global energy and climate policy, with people from the energy sector, mining sector, public sector, construction sector, and banking sector providing their viewpoints on an issue which will prove to be the most defining issue of this century.

Having struggled with the challenges of Covid collectively, I cannot isolate any particular memory that I cherish but the manner in which we’ve had each other’s back, people who waltzed into the classroom as mere course-mates, are now, as Dr. Singh once famously remarked, my friends (at least) for this lifetime!

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad? 

Please ask yourself why you want to do the Master’s degree and be certain that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

For individuals who may be attracted to countries on the promise of a post-study work visa, as is the case with the UK with its Graduate Route, please bear in mind that it comes with its fair share of challenges, considering an extremely competitive economy, which is also plagued by the post pandemic recovery, high inflation, cost of living crises and the consequences of an invasion in East Europe.

As they say, the law does not operate in vacuum to societal realities; your decision to pursue a Master’s should also conform to the same dictum.

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Words are flowing out like endless rain: recapping a busy week of llm news, gemini 1.5 pro launch, new version of gpt-4 turbo, new mistral model, and more..

Benj Edwards - Apr 12, 2024 8:31 pm UTC

An image of a boy amazed by flying letters.

Some weeks in AI news are eerily quiet, but during others, getting a grip on the week's events feels like trying to hold back the tide. This week has seen three notable large language model (LLM) releases: Google Gemini Pro 1.5 hit general availability with a free tier, OpenAI shipped a new version of GPT-4 Turbo, and Mistral released a new openly licensed LLM, Mixtral 8x22B . All three of those launches happened within 24 hours starting on Tuesday.

With the help of software engineer and independent AI researcher Simon Willison (who also wrote about this week's hectic LLM launches on his own blog), we'll briefly cover each of the three major events in roughly chronological order, then dig into some additional AI happenings this week.

Gemini Pro 1.5 general release

soas llm personal statement

On Tuesday morning Pacific time, Google announced that its Gemini 1.5 Pro model (which we first covered in February) is now available in 180-plus countries, excluding Europe, via the Gemini API in a public preview. This is Google's most powerful public LLM so far, and it's available in a free tier that permits up to 50 requests a day.

Further Reading

It supports up to 1 million tokens of input context. As Willison notes in his blog , Gemini 1.5 Pro's API price at $7/million input tokens and $21/million output tokens costs a little less than GPT-4 Turbo ( priced at $10/million in and $30/million out) and more than Claude 3 Sonnet (Anthropic's mid-tier LLM, priced at $3/million in and $15/million out).

Notably, Gemini 1.5 Pro includes native audio (speech) input processing that allows users to upload audio or video prompts, a new File API for handling files, the ability to add custom system instructions (system prompts) for guiding model responses, and a JSON mode for structured data extraction.

“Majorly Improved” GPT-4 Turbo launch

A GPT-4 Turbo performance chart provided by OpenAI.

Just a bit later than Google's 1.5 Pro launch on Tuesday, OpenAI announced that it was rolling out a "majorly improved" version of GPT-4 Turbo (a model family originally launched in November) called "gpt-4-turbo-2024-04-09." It integrates multimodal GPT-4 Vision processing (recognizing the contents of images) directly into the model, and it initially launched through API access only.

Then on Thursday, OpenAI announced that the new GPT-4 Turbo model had just become available for paid ChatGPT users. OpenAI said that the new model improves "capabilities in writing, math, logical reasoning, and coding" and shared a chart that is not particularly useful in judging capabilities (that they later updated ). The company also provided an example of an alleged improvement, saying that when writing with ChatGPT, the AI assistant will use "more direct, less verbose, and use more conversational language."

The vague nature of OpenAI's GPT-4 Turbo announcements attracted some confusion and criticism online. On X, Willison wrote , "Who will be the first LLM provider to publish genuinely useful release notes?" In some ways, this is a case of "AI vibes" again, as we discussed in our lament about the poor state of LLM benchmarks during the debut of Claude 3. "I've not actually spotted any definite differences in quality [related to GPT-4 Turbo]," Willison told us directly in an interview.

The update also expanded GPT-4's knowledge cutoff to April 2024, although some people are reporting it achieves this through stealth web searches in the background, and others on social media have reported issues with date-related confabulations.

Mistral’s mysterious Mixtral 8x22B release

An illustration of a robot holding a French flag, figuratively reflecting the rise of AI in France due to Mistral. It's hard to draw a picture of an LLM, so a robot will have to do.

Not to be outdone, on Tuesday night, French AI company Mistral launched its latest openly licensed model, Mixtral 8x22B, by tweeting a torrent link devoid of any documentation or commentary, much like it has done with previous releases.

The new mixture-of-experts (MoE) release weighs in with a larger parameter count than its previously most-capable open model, Mixtral 8x7B , which we covered in December. It's rumored to potentially be as capable as GPT-4 (In what way, you ask? Vibes). But that has yet to be seen.

"The evals are still rolling in, but the biggest open question right now is how well Mixtral 8x22B shapes up," Willison told Ars. "If it's in the same quality class as GPT-4 and Claude 3 Opus, then we will finally have an openly licensed model that's not significantly behind the best proprietary ones."

This release has Willison most excited, saying, "If that thing really is GPT-4 class, it's wild, because you can run that on a (very expensive) laptop. I think you need 128GB of MacBook RAM for it, twice what I have."

The new Mixtral is not listed on Chatbot Arena yet, Willison noted, because Mistral has not released a fine-tuned model for chatting yet. It's still a raw, predict-the-next token LLM. "There's at least one community instruction tuned version floating around now though," says Willison.

Chatbot Arena Leaderboard shake-ups

A Chatbot Arena Leaderboard screenshot taken on April 12, 2024.

This week's LLM news isn't limited to just the big names in the field. There have also been rumblings on social media about the rising performance of open source models like Cohere's Command R+ , which reached position 6 on the LMSYS Chatbot Arena Leaderboard —the highest-ever ranking for an open-weights model.

And for even more Chatbot Arena action, apparently the new version of GPT-4 Turbo is proving competitive with Claude 3 Opus. The two are still in a statistical tie, but GPT-4 Turbo recently pulled ahead numerically. (In March, we reported when Claude 3 first numerically pulled ahead of GPT-4 Turbo, which was then the first time another AI model had surpassed a GPT-4 family model member on the leaderboard.)

Regarding this fierce competition among LLMs—of which most of the muggle world is unaware and will likely never be—Willison told Ars, "The past two months have been a whirlwind—we finally have not just one but several models that are competitive with GPT-4." We'll see if OpenAI's rumored release of GPT-5 later this year will restore the company's technological lead, we note, which once seemed insurmountable. But for now, Willison says, "OpenAI are no longer the undisputed leaders in LLMs."

reader comments

Channel ars technica.


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