If you are an international, documented applicant looking for information related to visas, immigration etc., it is recommended that you review the information provided by Harvard’s International Office.
Undocumented applicants and those with DACA status are encouraged to review the information and resources listed on the Undocumented at Harvard site.
The Harvard Law School Program
What is Harvard Law School?
The world’s premier center for legal education and research, Harvard Law School provides unparalleled opportunities to study law and related disciplines in an energetic and creative learning environment. A Harvard Law education prepares students for success in various careers, including law practice, public service, business, and academia. Through its faculty, students, and alumni, Harvard Law School is able to contribute solutions to the world’s most complex legal and social challenges.
Our students come from all over the United States and more than 80 countries around the world. Most are pursuing a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree, while many others are earning an LL.M (Master of Laws) or the S.J.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science). Outside the classroom, there is a rich variety of student practice organizations, professional interest groups, social groups, and student journals, which allow students to pursue many interests.
Harvard is home to the world’s largest academic law library. Its collections, numbering nearly two million volumes including international volumes in the Lewis International Law Center, support the teaching and research activities of the School and serve as a resource for legal scholars throughout the world. Harvard Law School’s outstanding faculty and extraordinarily gifted students and alumni, its size and prodigious resources, and its location at the heart of Harvard University all contribute to its leadership role in American and international legal education.
Harvard Law School is one of the 12 degree-granting schools which form Harvard University.
What academic programs does Harvard Law School offer for International Students who have studied law before?
The LL.M (Master of Laws) and the S.J.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science) degrees are intended for students who have previously earned an initial law degree. Most of the students enrolled in these programs come to HLS from other nations. The one-year LL.M program provides students who already have excellent legal training and experience—many have served as practicing lawyers, judges, diplomats, community leaders—with broad latitude to design a course of study that will give them an expanded understanding of law and legal theory. The S.J.D. is a still more advanced degree, intended for students who wish to pursue a career in legal education. Graduates of the S.J.D. program are teaching in the world’s finest law schools and producing scholarship at the highest levels. For more information on these programs, visit the graduate program website.
Please note, students who have already earned an LL.M are eligible to apply to Harvard Law School for a J.D. degree. However, HLS does not offer advanced standing or transfer credits from the LL.M program towards the J.D.
Can I practice law in the United States with an LL.M degree?
Earning an LL.M degree does not qualify international lawyers to sit for the bar exam of every US state or Canadian province. It is important to note that the American Bar Association (ABA) does not accredit degrees of any kind other than the JD. It is incumbent on the individual to contact the state board of bar examiners in the state to which they aspire practicing as a lawyer to determine the requirements for taking the bar exam. Contact information for all the state board of bar examiners is available at Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and in the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
What academic programs does Harvard Law School offer for International Students who have never studied law before?
The J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree is a three-year post-graduate program that first gives students the intellectual foundations for legal study, and then gives them the opportunity to focus their studies on areas of particular interest. The program culminates with a third-year paper that requires students to engage in a rigorous exploration of some aspect of the law or legal system.
In the United States, law is a postgraduate course, so eligibility requires a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) by August of the year of intended enrollment at HLS. The J.D. degree at HLS requires three years of full-time study, and new students begin their studies at the beginning of September each year. Please note, HLS does not offer a J.D. degree through part-time, distance, online, or summer programs.
The J.D. degree is a program in US law, enabling a graduate to become a practicing lawyer in the US, though HLS does offer an extensive curriculum in international law. To practice in the United States, one must first pass the bar exam for a particular state (more details below). Many students do this the summer after they graduate, taking the exam around the end of July.
Where can I find more information about the bar exam?
Please visit the American Bar Association website for more information.
What use would a J.D. degree be to a non-US citizen?
There are many possible and distinct answers to this question. They all stem from the fact that the Harvard Law J.D. degree program is one of the most internationally renowned and respected courses in the world. In addition, the HLS curriculum has generous offerings in international and comparative law. Students interested in comparative and international law may want to explore the International Legal Studies resources for information about course work on campus, as well as work and research abroad.
Outside of the United States, many global law firms practice US law and thus require lawyers who have been trained with a J.D. degree. Also, HLS strongly promotes public service as an integral aspect of lawyers’ training, requiring the completion of at least 50 hours of pro bono work before graduation. Harvard Law School students gain practical experience while serving the public through an extensive clinical program, term-time externships, and several student-practice organizations. Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF) is guaranteed for all students who work in public service during either or both summers between matriculation and graduation. Additionally, there are many opportunities for graduates entering public service, with the support of the Low Income Protection Plan, that are international in nature (e.g. the UN, developmental banks) and encourage applicants with diverse backgrounds with a J.D.
A number of Harvard law graduates pursue careers in business and industry, and the J.D. degree is highly respected in those fields as well.
Application Requirements and Standardized Tests
What are the eligibility requirements for applying to the Harvard Law School J.D. program?
Three types of students may consider applying to the HLS J.D. Program: (1) regular J.D. applicants, (2) Junior Deferral Program applicants (JDP), and (3) transfer applicants.
- Regular J.D. applicants are eligible to apply if they will have a bachelor’s degree by August of the year they intend to enroll at HLS. The J.D. degree requires three years of full-time study beginning in the fall semester of each year exclusively. Please note, HLS does not offer a J.D. degree through part-time, distance, online, or summer programs. For more detailed information on our application requirements, please review our Application Components.
- The Junior Deferral Program (JDP) allows candidates to apply to HLS as a college junior (or the international equivalent) and, if admitted, commit to defer their enrollment for at least two years after completing your undergraduate degree. More details on the JDP program are found in here.
- Transfer applicants must have completed and may not exceed one year of full-time study in a J.D. program (or one third of the total credits required in a part-time program) at a United States law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Students may apply for transfer to begin the second year of J.D. studies in the fall semester only. For more information, please visit the Transfer Applicant FAQs.
What are the chances of admission for an international applicant vs. a domestically-educated student?
Our admissions decisions are based on the Admission Committee’s experienced judgment applied to individual cases, and many factors are considered. The chances of admission for international and internationally educated prospective students are equivalent to those for domestically educated students. Please see our class profile for current information on the number of non-U.S. citizens in the 1L class.
How does Harvard Law School evaluate foreign transcripts?
Each year we receive many applications from international students. The Admissions Committee is experienced in international admissions and has specific knowledge regarding foreign universities. Rest assured that your transcripts will be viewed within the context of your specific university and your country’s grading scheme as a whole.
J.D. Applicants: When you submit your application, LSAC sends a full translation and summary of your transcript in addition to the original copy. LSAC provides HLS an evaluation of the transcript and translates the GPA you received to its US equivalent. This is not done on a 4.0 scale but rather on the basis of US letter grades. This provides us with a comparative scale when reviewing your GPA and course history.
Junior Deferral Program (JDP) Applicants: Please adhere to the specific instructions found on the JDP application. If your transcript is not in English, you will need to provide an official translation.
Do you require the TOEFL?
The J.D. program at Harvard Law School does not require the TOEFL.
Does it matter if my international bachelor’s degree took less than or more than four years to complete?
Our requirements state that your undergraduate degree should be equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree to be eligible to apply.
J.D. Applicants: The duration of program is not an issue so long as you have met the complete degree requirements as determined by the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS). To read more about the LSAC CAS, please visit the following link.
Junior Deferral Program (JDP) Applicants: Please verify your degree is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree.
How should I approach my personal statement?
The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the Admissions Committee a better sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School. In many instances, applicants have used the personal statement to provide more context on how their experiences and strengths could make them valuable contributors to the Harvard and legal communities, to illuminate their intellectual background and interests, or to clarify or elaborate on other information in their application. Because applicants and their experiences differ, you are the best person to determine the content of your statement.
What length should my personal statement be?
We ask that you limit each of your statements to two pages, double spaced, using a font size that is comfortable to read (not less than 11 point).
Please note, while the personal statement is a required component of the application, the optional statement, as the name suggests, is not. The Admissions Committee makes every effort to understand your achievements in the context of your background and to build a diverse student body. To that end, you may choose to submit an optional statement to elaborate on how you could contribute to the diversity of the Harvard Law School community.
Is financial aid available for international students?
All students who demonstrate financial need according to a combination of federal and institutional guidelines receive adequate financial assistance to complete their course of study. International and U.S. citizens alike qualify for the full range of need-based grants. Harvard Law School treats international applicants exactly the same as US applicants for the purposes of financial aid. Any loans which the US government would give to a US applicant, Harvard will match through its own loan program. Harvard does not offer merit-based scholarships. All financial aid is based on financial need.
For more information about financial aid, visit the HLS Student Financial Services Office web site.
The Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP) is one of the most generous loan forgiveness programs in the nation. This program helps relieve the burden of repayment of educational loans for J.D. graduates in qualifying jobs. Qualifying jobs include all full-time jobs in non-profits, government, or academia, and law-related jobs in the private sector. As with need-based aid, international students and US students are treated exactly the same for the purposes of determining LIPP eligibility.