This post was first published on Dec 20, 2019
Harsh Mahaseth completed his undergraduate degree in law from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad (batch of 2019) and is an LLM candidate from the National University of Singapore (class of 2020).
Along with his studies, he is also currently working on research projects involving the justice legal education in the South Asian Region, constitutionalism in Nepal, the recent international law developments in the Southeast Asian Region, and the juvenile justice system in the State of Telangana in India.
1. How was your law school (UG) experience?
My law school experience had a rough initiation. As a Nepalese student coming through the SAARC admission process, I was not required to give CLAT and thus was clueless about basic laws as well as the contemporary affairs of the sub-continent, which the other students were already introduced to.
I constantly progressed away from that complex and managed to get on par with my batchmates around the second year, after serving on editorial boards as well as having a few publications. They gave me confidence and helped me strive for better results which eventually led me to excel in my academics as well as extracurriculars. Like everything else that is challenging in life, I have had my ups and downs but my overall experience was very satisfying.
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2. What are the activities/internships that you did in law school (UG)?
Basketball was a huge part of my NALSAR life. From the first basketball game I had with the seniors on the first day itself, to the late-night games I played my batchmates, basketball held an important position for me.
Another activity that remained constant in the last 2 years at law school was football. My batchmates and I played football on the mess lawn for nearly 2 hours every day and finally improved on our skills enough to win the inter batch football tournament in our final year!
Apart from sports, I spent a huge amount of my time in the library working on my extracurricular activities such as academic writing as well as socializing with many people. The library is an extraordinary place that, in a unique way provides for a balance between play and work, and somewhere between those intensive research sessions and light-hearted socializing, you find yourself.
I have interned with a broad range of organizations – from law firms, litigation offices, to more research-based and even some marketing organizations. My internships have been with some of the top law firms in the country, UN organizations, and other international organizations.
3. When and why did you decide to pursue LLM?
I have always been fascinated by the world of International Law and International Relations. The one major hurdle was obviously the inevitable ‘there are no career prospects in International Law’ from everyone I met. There were a lot of times that I took up corporate or litigation internships and also started building my CV in those areas due to my fear of not being able to work in the area of international law. It took a lot of reassuring myself over the past 5 years for me to actually continue pursuing this field of law.
There is no ideal time to set your mind on pursuing an LLM. I had decided to pursue one in my second year itself! I decided on NUS due to the best course structure combining my interests. Also, NUS had been a dream college for me since my undergraduate applications itself. I had made it a point to come to NUS, in some capacity sometime in the future, as soon as I had been rejected for my undergraduate application.
4. What were the reasons behind choosing an LLM abroad than India? What differences did you find between law schools in India and abroad?
The top universities abroad are quite different in terms of the quality of education, opportunities available, and different cultures. I had actively tried to pursue education and attain knowledge under different social obligations and cultural contexts, which I personally believe opens up one’s horizons. This attitude actively pushed me towards applying for LLM abroad.
5. How was your application experience? How important is approaching a consultancy?
I loved my application experience. I spent hundreds of hours going through different university profiles, courses offered, and scholarship opportunities.
The application process depends a lot on the idea that you have in your head. I already had an idea of what to write for my SOPs so it did not take much time. I had already finished writing all of my application answers before the opening of the application itself!
I think that a good consultancy should focus on the applicant rather than fitting them into some colleges that they already have ties with. I have seen a lot of consultancies send students to universities where they have already cut a deal and get a hefty sum for each student. I think a consultancy should groom a student and help them develop their interests and then help them get into the college that they want to get into. This requires a huge commitment as it cannot be done within a month. I think consultancies are really important and that the students should register early as it helps them develop as well as gives them ample time to prepare and apply for the applications and scholarships.
6. What are the major things one should keep in mind for a foreign LLM application?
First, one needs to decide whether they want to pursue a Master’s or not. I directly started my LLM after my bachelors and I chose the subjects that interested me and not just subjects that are relevant for my future work.
At the end of the day, this may be the last degree for nearly everyone so it doesn’t hurt to do a degree in say public international law yet take up a module in insurance law because it interests you. You never know, you may actually work in the insurance sector.
Also, there is no compulsion to do an LLM for law students. I have seen many LLB graduates pursue their Masters in International Relations, Economics, an MBA, etc. There are several possibilities and exciting career avenues that open up after doing a bachelor’s in law for branching out.
All that one needs to do is to explore their options. I’d say that when one is certain about their decision to pursue a Masters, they must extensively research and shortlist their colleges well in advance.
One needs to prepare their CV, find referees, write a separate Statement of Purpose for each college, prepare for each scholarship application (if you plan on applying for scholarships) and extra application questions (depending upon the needs of each individual university). It is imperative to treat all these questions separately and write different answers.
Most of the applications open up around October or November. There may, however, be some that open in February as well. I had received my Oxford and Geneva application decisions by January/February while I had received my other acceptances in April or May. Speaking about commitments I’d say that it’s more about the idea in your head that matters. I already had an idea of what to write for my SOPs so it did not take much time.
Equally important is to not leave things for the last minute. What significantly helped me with my applications was the fact that I had all of my applications ready around the start of the application procedures itself!
7. Did you secure a scholarship? What are the requirements to secure a good scholarship for a foreign LLM?
I had applied for financial aid but did not receive any at NUS. I had however received scholarships, even full scholarships, at other universities. I chose NUS as it had a better course structure for a combination of both Asian Studies and International Law, and NUS is one of the best law schools in the world.
I think the requirements for a good scholarship is that you need to show that you deserve it. It should come from experience more than need is. If you can prove that you are the best from the lot then generally the university gives you the scholarships, unless they have some need-based scholarship policy.
8. What are the job prospects after a foreign LLM in India and other countries?
The job prospects really do widen after gaining a foreign LLM. Even though I was in the top law school in India there was not much recognition of the law school abroad; however, NUS is one of the best law schools in the world and has a huge name worldwide. Now if I do work in India then I think there is that advantage that I have degrees from top law schools, India as well as worldwide. It also opens up my job prospects in Singapore to some extent as I do have the opportunity to work in law firms or under lawyers there too.
9. What is your specialization? Should students pick a general or specialised LLM? Pros and Cons of both?
I have always been fascinated by International Law, the different Asian systems and how they interact. Most of my research as well had been around these areas of law. That is why I applied for the Asian Legal Studies programme at NUS.
A general LLM does help that you get to choose from a huge range of courses, but then again, I get to do that in my specialization too as have a requirement of only 24 credits from my specialization and the rest I can choose from any department, be it public policy or science or any other subject that interests me.
A specialization does help in grooming a forte and that’s the reason I chose to specialize in an area that I see myself working on in the future. If you already have such a specialization then you can go for that or you can go for a general LLM and select different courses to see what suits you the best.
10. What is your advice for students who want to pursue LLM abroad but have financial limitations?
There are several scholarships for students who want to pursue LLMs. To be honest you need to start searching early as the scholarship deadlines are quite early. I actually think this is one crucial place where consultancies can really help.
You need to research every possible scholarship opportunity. Not just that, you can talk to your previous employers and other recent graduates regarding possible funding.
There are lots of scholarships out there from both university and third party resources such as Aga Khan Foundation, Inlaks Foundation, Tata Foundation, etc.
11. Parting advice to our readers.
Do start thinking about the colleges and applications well in advance. Even if you are in the fourth year there is no harm in researching different postgraduate programs and scholarship opportunities. As I said before you should go to a consultancy from the early days as they can help you develop your skillset and also help you find the colleges and help you apply to them. Also since scholarships open quite early it is important to start the application process early.