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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

May 03, 2008

Adcom Q&A: Fletcher's LL.M. Program

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy has long been known as one of the great institutions for studying international relations. I had the chance to visit Fletcher last year and was deeply impressed with the intensity, internationalism, and good humor of the Fletcher community. Its most well known degree is the two-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD), but it recently introduced a one year Master of Laws in International Law (LL.M) program. Ian C. Pilarczyk is the Associate Director of Fletcher’s LL.M. program and he was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the program.

Ian C. Pilarczyk has a B.A. from McGill University, with a major in Moral Philosophy and Applied Ethics, a J.D. from Boston University School of Law, and a LL.M. and D.C.L. from McGill University’s Institute of Comparative Law, where he specialized in comparative Anglo-American legal history.

Adam: Why create an LL.M. program now?

Ian: With the increasing globalization inherent in the world today, it is apparent that issues transcend national boundaries. Legal practice today reflects a greater need for immersion in international law and international affairs. In the 21st century, modern international lawyers will also require a broader contextual understanding, not only of the law but also of the disparate societies and institutions in which it is made, interpreted, and applied. Given Fletcher’s wide-ranging expertise in the areas of international relations, including the superlative strength of our international law faculty, we felt that a LL.M. program was a logical fit. The LL.M. students, taking classes alongside master’s and Ph.D. students in other fields of international law, business and relations, will have a truly multi-disciplinary and global perspective on the issues they wish to study.

Adam: Why would someone want to go to an LL.M. program that is not conducted at a law school?

Ian: For individuals interested in international law, the Fletcher School offers an environment that is simply unmatched by any other institution. The expertise of our faculty, our international networks, and the breadth of our international offerings in fields such as law, history, politics and economics make this an inspired, and inspiring, place to study and do research. Fletcher also has cross-registration agreements with Harvard Law School, ensuring our students also have access to one of the country’s premier law schools—not to mention our joint degree programs. Fletcher may not be for everyone, but there is no finer place to obtain an LL.M. in international law. We are the only accredited international affairs graduate school to offer an LL.M. program. Fletcher is used to being a pioneer—we were the first graduate school of international affairs in the United States, and the first such school to offer a Masters in International Business (MIB) degree. Our LL.M. program is further proof of Fletcher’s progressiveness. But we were also committed to ensuring that this program would not be merely another LLM program, but would be one of the ‘gold standards’: academically rigorous and pedagogically-innovative-; small class size with an extremely attractive faculty-to-student ratio; wide-ranging course offerings; very competitive admissions; an overwhelmingly international cohorts of students; alumni and career networking; opportunities for internships; and program characteristics that are defining components of the program, such as our weekly High Table luncheons with guest speakers, and the ending symposium that takes places in Talloires, France which we call the “Talloires Capstone.” We’re especially proud of that last feature: a three day symposium in a former 12-th century monastery owned by Tufts University, located just 45 minutes from Geneva. Our students will be meeting with Fletcher alumni working in Europe: ambassadors, officials from the European Union, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, United Nations, and many others. It will be a marvelous way to end the academic year!

Adam: Who attends the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy? Not everyone is from or intends to enter into public service, but how common is that? How many come from the private sector? What do your graduates do?

Ian: Fletcher graduates work in virtually every field. Graduates of the MALD (Master’s in Law and Diplomacy) are well-represented in diplomatic circles around the world, but Fletcher graduates work in law, academics, business, politics, international agencies, diplomatic missions, foreign and defense ministries, media, and in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), among others. For the LL.M. program, our applicants have a diversity of experiences and backgrounds: they have taught, worked in private law firms, worked in government ministries, served in international agencies, clerked for judges, founded businesses, done research in science labs – really, anything you can think of. Of course, there will always be public service-minded students at Fletcher, but we appeal to a wide range of people.

Adam: When I visited Fletcher in the spring of 2007, I was impressed by the sense that Fletcher is a real community and not just a place where students take classes. To what extent are you looking for applicants who demonstrate that will contribute to that community? Are there any particularly common characteristics of those who best fit Fletcher?

Ian: You’re right, Fletcher has a very strong culture of community. It is reflected in the esprit de corps of our students, faculty and staff—and certainly in that of our alumni (referred to informally as the ‘Fletcher Mafia') who constitute a wide-ranging and passionate network of Fletcher supporters. You see it at all stages of the process, from the time before you even apply, to the time that you graduate—and beyond. Applicants to our programs are intellectually gifted, passionate people who strive to contribute to a better world. There is no particular type of person who best fits Fletcher – it is a truly diverse place—except that Fletcherites have a sense of intellectual curiosity, engagement with the world, and a dedication to ideals. I would add that it my experience it is a very friendly place to study and to work. I find my colleagues very congenial, and the students are driven but have a strong ethos of community. I think it’s a bit of a self-filtering process: if you are attracted to a place full of type-A personalities with a harshly competitive atmosphere, you will probably find other places that appeal more. All of our students could have studied at their pick of institutions, and they chose Fletcher. And I think the fierce commitment that Fletcherites show to their school is reflective.

Adam: As you know, the new iBT TOEFL is simply more difficult than the CBT, to what extent are you taking that into account when reviewing the files of applicants who are required to review the TOEFL? What is the minimum iBT you will take? Is conditional admission an option for strong candidates who have yet to reach score minimums?

Ian: Fletcher sets minimum scores for admission, which we follow in the LL.M. program. Non-native English speakers must be fluent in English if they are to succeed in the face of our rigorous program. As such, we would do them no favors if we admitted applicants who had weak English skills. Fletcher requires an iBT score of 100, or a 250 on the CBT, or a 600 on the paper-based TOEFL and it considered that these provide minimal evidence of English-language ability sufficient for our program. Our faculty, when making admissions decisions, takes the candidate’s entire file into account. A strong candidate whose scores are close to (but below) our minimums may be conditionally accepted subject to additional ESL or Legal English classes, but in any event this would be a threshold issue involving borderline scores. English fluency weighs heavily in the admissions process. There is no time within the confines of a one-year program for a student to radically improve his or her English skills.

Adam: If an applicant’s undergraduate GPA is lower than 3.0, what do you suggest they do to demonstrate their academic potential to succeed at Fletcher?

Ian: I can speak only to our program. Admission to the LL.M. program is highly selective, and while every application is considered on a case-by-case basis, an applicant with a GPA of lower than 3.0 or its equivalent is unlikely to be a strong candidate in the absence of other circumstances. Applicants are always free to comment on their academic achievement in their personal statements, and the admissions committee also makes note of grades that improve over time, the academic rigor of coursework taken, the caliber of the institution, etc. For a candidate with undergraduate or law grades that are unexceptional, submitting a transcript of solid grades in graduate-level coursework may strengthen the application. Taking summer classes, including Fletcher’s summer program, can be an effective way of complimenting weak areas in an application. Addressing academic weaknesses would be a must, at any rate. If you know the Admissions Committee is going to ask the question, you might as well as give us some answers! With a class of only 20 or so students, it is obvious that many talented applicants are not going to be accepted. However, we have a rigorous admissions process, and that includes two admissions committees: the Admissions Office has several readers read every file and make recommendations, and then all the members of the Admissions Committee for the LL.M. program read each file and make a collective final decision. It is a consensus-based model, and ensures that each applicant is given a thorough review and has multiple opportunities to demonstrate why he or she is a good fit for Fletcher. There is no appeal process for rejected applicants, as a result, although we will give feedback if an applicant is not accepted but wishes to reapply in the future.

Adam: Do you have any advice for applicants about how to answer Fletcher’s Personal Statement: Why are you interested in studying at The Fletcher School? Describe your career objectives, and explain how graduate study at Fletcher will help you achieve your professional goals.
If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.
(500-700 words, Times New Roman font, 12 point, single spaced.)

Ian: Speak to something that resonates with you, and that will give the admissions committee additional insight into you as a candidate. I don’t like to give too much advice, as I think it’s important that applicants have the opportunity to express themselves free of perceived constraints. And anyway, my opinion might not coincide with the opinions of other people making admission decisions!

Adam: I know you give applicants the opportunity to choose between telling you something about themselves and discussing a time when they had influenced others, any advice on those two questions:
Choose and answer one of the two following questions
(300-400 words, Times New Roman font, 12 point, single spaced)
  1. Share something about yourself to help the Admissions Committee develop a more complete picture of who you are.
  2. Describe a situation in which you have influenced the views of a person or group. What was the impact?

Ian: Candidates should obviously pick the essay with which they feel most comfortable. There are no wrong answers here, but obviously trite, formulaic, or uninspired responses will not stand up well. We’re looking to get a better sense of the applicant, to ‘hear their voice’ in a way that resumes and transcripts cannot provide. Essays can give us a great deal of insight into what motivates an applicant, what their life experiences have been like, what their career aspirations are—and why Fletcher might be a good fit for them. The admissions committee can tell when an applicant has been thoughtful about the essay. Conversely, poorly-written essays about why coaching a soccer game made them a better person, for example, will probably not strengthen an applicant’s chances. I know that some people have observed that our applications are more involved than other LL.M. applications from other schools…I don’t think people should view this as a burden, but rather as an opportunity to have a greater range of ways in which to show their potential to succeed at Fletcher.

Adam: How important are recommendations? What constitutes a great recommendation?

Ian: Recommendations are very important. We take into account all aspects of an applicant’s file, so I can assure you that recommendations are read very carefully. A recommendation that shows in-depth knowledge of the applicant is best. Short, vague, generic recommendations that suggest only a cursory knowledge of the applicant—or a lack of interest or enthusiasm on the part of the recommender—will not help the applicant. Recommendations are most helpful when they are based on first-hand knowledge of an applicant’s achievements, and can provide additional context. Applicants should choose recommenders carefully. Sometimes applicants choose them solely or primarily based on their perceived prestige, which can be misguided. You can learn a great deal about a recommender’s relationship with an applicant—or lack thereof—through these letters. A letter that essentially borrows facts from an applicant’s resume does not add anything meaningful. Since applicants don’t read these letters, they obviously don’t know for sure what the recommenders will write—even more reason to ensure that you asking someone who has first-hand knowledge of your background and is supportive of your professional aspirations.

Adam: I know interviews are not required, but how strongly would you suggest applicants do so? How important is the interview? Does it have to be on-campus?

Ian: All interviews are on-campus. I would highly recommend that any applicant who is able to come for an on-campus interview should do so. It is a wonderful opportunity for the admissions office to see a more rounded picture of the applicant, and for the applicant to ask one-on-one questions about the program. Interviews are unlikely to harm a strong candidate except in unusual circumstances, and can provide another opportunity for a slightly-weaker candidate to make his or her case. In short, they have real potential upside with no real potential downside. And they’re a great way to show you’re deeply interested in Fletcher! While interviews are not expected, especially given that most of our applicants are international, the admissions committee will certainly take note of whether an interview was given—and certainly a local applicant who has not made the effort to come in for one will be doing himself or herself a disservice as it may be viewed as a lack of commitment.

Adam: Who is the program really targeting? When I took a look at your new LLM program, it appeared to me that it was ideal for Japanese government sponsored applicants who had already completed an LLM at a law school and needed another program for their second year. Am I correct?

Ian: There is no specific target demographic, and it would not be limited to, or largely directed towards, Japanese government-sponsored applicants. Certainly, government ministries the world over will continue to send their best and brightest candidates to Fletcher, and we will see some of them in our program as well as in Fletcher’s other degree programs. That will include Japanese government-sponsored applicants, but also applicants from all over the world. For our inaugural class, more than 85% of applicants came from outside of the United States, and they represented nearly 40 countries (Of the 20 students in the incoming class, they represent about 15 different countries). Moreover, most of our applicants do not already have LL.M. degrees. While some do—and in rare instances, had several master’s level degrees or higher--applicants who already have an LL.M. will still have to make a compelling argument as to why Fletcher is the right school for them. Members of our admissions committee aren’t impressed by ‘degree collectors’; they want to know why this degree, at this school, is right for this applicant at this time.

Adam: Can applicants get in touch with faculty members who they have a strong desire to work with?

: Absolutely! Our faculty are extremely gifted and accomplished people, but also extremely accessible. They’re delighted by the opportunity to meet people who are potential Fletcher graduates. I think anyone who approaches them will be impressed at how receptive they are.
I want to thank Ian for taking the time to answer my questions.

Question? Comments? Email me at adammarkus@gmail.com
-Adam Markus
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