The semester abroad program is intended to afford students an educational experience not available at HLS – immersion in a foreign legal culture. This includes exposure to what makes the legal system function as it does: its underlying assumptions, how local lawyers think about law, what law is designed to do, and how it relates to the society more broadly. A semester abroad can provide broader exposure to the civil law system than is available at HLS, and enable students to explore particular substantive areas of law in depth or gain first-hand knowledge of the legal system and culture of a particular country or region. The program also offers students a chance to develop foreign language proficiency and a more extensive network of contacts around the world.
A key aspect of the semester abroad program is the opportunity to take courses not offered at HLS. In planning for a semester abroad, it is imperative that students develop a focused program of study, and the presumption of the Study Abroad Committee is that students will enroll in courses that clearly align with their stated educational objectives. Students are able to craft their own, individualized programs of study, bearing in mind the following parameters and requirements.
- Students can earn up to 12 ungraded HLS credits for semester abroad, depending on course selection.
- To comply with HLS degree requirements, students must earn a minimum of 10 credits, with at least 8 of those credits in law.
- Enrollment at the foreign school must be for a minimum of 13 contiguous weeks.
It is the student’s responsibility to have a clear understanding of how a semester abroad will affect their overall credit count and ability to meet HLS degree and American Bar Association requirements. (In addition, state bar associations may impose specific requirements.) Students should consult with the Registrar’s Office to confirm their credits earned to date.
Please note that HLS credits are based on classroom hours; the credits that a course carries at a foreign school may not be comparable. According to the ABA, “Law schools on a conventional semester system typically require 700 minutes of instruction time per ‘credit,’ exclusive of time for an examination.” HLS calculates credit equivalencies by totaling the classroom minutes for each course taken abroad and dividing by 700.
Students are required to select and work with two faculty advisors—one at HLS and another at the foreign school—to develop and obtain approvals for an appropriate, individualized course of study:
- The full-time faculty member at Harvard monitors the student’s activities overseas (including approving the student’s program of study and reviewing any written work) and, for students who choose to write a one-credit paper, supervises that paper for a grade after return. This advisor should be selected early in the application process. Please note that only HLS professors can serve as advisors; faculty members holding the title of lecturer, visiting professor, or affiliated faculty are not eligible.
- Students should seek out a faculty member whose areas of interest and expertise (thematic and/or geographic) are similar and relevant to the proposed semester abroad. Although it can be advantageous for students to work with a professor whom they already know, and who can recommend them, it is especially important for the faculty advisor to be in a position to consider the coherence of the proposed plan of study. Most faculty members are happy to meet with students and provide advice and assistance when possible.
- The full-time faculty member at the foreign school acts as the student’s primary contact while overseas and provides confirmation of the courses in which the student has enrolled and that those courses meet the student’s educational objectives.
- Often HLS students are able to identify excellent foreign faculty advisors simply by determining who teaches the courses at the school abroad that are of the greatest interest to them. HLS professors and students (especially LL.M. and S.J.D. students who have studied in other countries) can also suggest people who might be appropriate advisors. Once students have identified one or more potential foreign faculty advisors, they should contact the professor to discuss the role and determine whether the professor would be an appropriate advisor.
Please note: students applying for a semester abroad at Sciences Po do not need to choose a foreign advisor; accepted students will have Sciences Po advisors assigned to them.
Students must submit a list of the courses they intend to take (with descriptions and reading lists if available), and an updated statement of educational objectives, soon after their arrival at the foreign school, with confirmation from their faculty advisors, for approval by the Study Abroad Committee.
The course selection process should begin before departure and continue upon arrival.
Course selection details
- Students must earn a minimum of 10 HLS credits, with at least 8 of those credits in law, with a maximum of 12 credits.
- Courses on U.S. law will not be approved.
- Students must take law courses that are different from those offered at HLS, and which align with their educational objectives (as stated in their semester abroad application).
- HLS students may not enroll in foreign programs of U.S. schools, or in programs designed expressly for American students or for students from countries other than that in which the school is located.
- Students may not take courses that duplicate or significantly overlap with courses they have taken or intend to take at HLS.
- Credit will not be granted for any course taken abroad that serves as a prerequisite to another course taken abroad, if the prerequisite could have been completed at HLS.
- Students must take courses in the usual language of instruction of the foreign school.
- A student wishing to include courses listed by the foreign school in disciplines or departments other than law—which would be considered cross-registration credits—must receive express permission from the Study Abroad Committee prior to enrolling in these courses. Foreign language courses taken abroad will count for cross-registration credits only if they either 1) are in a language widely used in the country where the semester abroad occurs, and are not substantially similar to a course the student has already taken, or 2) if not in a language widely used in the country where the semester abroad occurs, have a clear and direct relationship to the student’s academic program. Upon approval, these credits will count towards the maximum allowable for cross-registration in accordance with HLS’ academic policies.
- Independent research and study will not count as classroom hours for purposes of calculating credits.
- Students cannot receive clinical credit for an externship undertaken while studying abroad. The HLS Office of Clinical Programs will evaluate in-house clinics at the foreign law school on a case-by-case basis, and students will need permission from the Office of Clinical Programs and the Study Abroad Committee before incorporating a clinical placement into a program of study abroad.
HLS Written Work
Students are typically required to fulfill the HLS “Written Work Requirement” (see the HLS Handbook of Academic Policies) while in residence at HLS. Permission to register for written work while studying abroad is granted only in special circumstances and approval must be requested from Sara Zucker, director of International Legal Studies Programs, in advance.
In the semester following semester abroad, students may choose to write an independent one-credit paper, supervised by the student’s HLS faculty advisor and written for a grade. This paper should be thematically related to some aspect of the student’s academic work abroad. As with any paper submitted for an HLS grade, the paper should be a substantive effort involving analysis, synthesis, and research. In order to develop the topic and clarify expectations for this paper (including length), the student should consult with his/her faculty advisor before the semester abroad as well as during the time away. This one-credit paper will appear separately, like any other independent one-credit paper, and must receive a passing grade, which will be noted on the student’s HLS transcript.
Foreign Language Proficiency
The presumption of the HLS Study Abroad Committee is that students applying for a semester abroad are proficient in the primary language of the destination country such that they are able to navigate university systems and take one or more law classes in that language. If not, the students must explain how they propose to manage these challenges and derive full benefit from a program of study abroad.
If students are applying to an institution at which English is not the language of instruction, their level of fluency/proficiency should allow them to take courses, converse, and write papers in the foreign language in question. Most institutions provide information about the language requirements and it is the student’s responsibility to satisfy HLS requirements regarding the necessary proficiency to study abroad effectively. Although studying law in a foreign language can be challenging, it can also be an excellent way to increase language facility and familiarity with foreign legal terminology.
Students who plan to study in a non-English speaking country, but are able to take some classes taught in English, must nevertheless have some familiarity and proficiency in the local language. This is necessary for navigating administrative systems at universities abroad, as well as other aspects of living abroad.
To prepare for a semester abroad, HLS students may improve their language proficiency and receive credit for foreign language courses at Harvard College in accordance with the HLS cross registration policy. Previous study abroad students have found it helpful to arrive in the foreign country early for language acclimation and/or to take a language training course before law classes begin. Some institutions may offer a short orientation program for international students.
In order to receive Harvard credit for work overseas, a student must earn the foreign law school’s minimum passing grade for all of his/her courses and provide HLS with an official version of his/her transcript from the foreign school. The student also should retain copies of all of the written work done at the foreign school and be prepared to submit that work to his/her HLS faculty advisor for review after return if requested.
If a student fails any of his/her courses overseas, the number of credits received for studies abroad will be reduced proportionately. Students should be aware that grading systems in some countries are quite severe and that many local students fail one or more examinations on their first attempt. The awarding of HLS credit for courses taken during semester abroad is ultimately subject to determination by HLS.
Study Abroad Report
Following return to Harvard (by March 15 if abroad during the fall or September 15 if abroad during the spring), the student must submit and receive approval for a 4 to 5-page study abroad report. This report should recount and reflect on the student’s experience, providing a description of the country’s system of legal education and information about the foreign school, including manner of instruction and workload, composition of student body, library facilities, student services, ease of assimilating, housing, and other information that may be useful to students interested in studying at that school in the future.
If a student successfully completes all of these requirements, his/her HLS transcript will reflect 10 to 12 credits (depending on the course load), graded “credit,” for the semester abroad. These credits will be considered classroom credits and therefore not count against the HLS allowable maximum of non-classroom credits (unless express approval has been granted for classes taken abroad in a discipline other than law).
The particular courses taken overseas will not appear on a student’s HLS transcript, nor will the grades for those courses. No credit for the coursework abroad will appear until the student submits and receives approval on the evaluation report and his/her foreign transcript is received. It is the student’s responsibility to submit his/her foreign transcript to Sara Zucker, who will forward it to the Registrar’s Office.