Congratulations! You have just gotten into an LLM program and can’t stop staring at that glorious acceptance letter! But, you’re not quite done yet. The first step is to make sure you have applied for your I-20. What is that you may ask? Essentially, the I-20 is a legal contract between you, the university and the US Government. Do not put it in your luggage (like I did!). Carry it with you as you arrive into the US. It must have a valid signature on the 2nd page that is valid for up to one year. If you have a temporary I-20, you would need to get a final one from your university upon arrival. Universities can take up to 2-3 weeks to process the I-20 – so don’t push requesting for it all the way in August! Sending in your request by June or so will leave you enough time to allow for it to be couriered to you at your home address. Embassies (especially in developing countries) are overworked and clogged with appointments, so it’s important to start early.
There is also an additional thing to make sure before you receive this document – your funding! Some students will have funds of their own to cover the cost of the program, but for those who are being supported by their family, they need to make sure the amount in their bank statement covers the entire cost of attendance including the cost of room and board, books, etc. I remember thinking one only had to look at the price for two semesters and show that in a bank statement. But actually, the bank balance needs to reflect even the amounts for health insurance and registration fees. If in doubt, always email your school before they message you days later telling you your documentation is insufficient – and you now are pushed back by that many days in the process of getting your I-20. Being pushed back and losing time can be very frustrating, so it’s important to get the documentation right in the first go.
The university has to approve and courier your I-20 to you in order for you to schedule your visa appointment. It can be stressful, but try to stay calm and request your school to send you your I-20 earlier if you think you are running out of time to book a visa appointment. For those looking to apply for a loan, the loan approval letter must also be one where the loan is already sanctioned, and a loan application won’t work for the purposes of the I-20. I showed my financials as 60% financed by my family (with a bank statement) and the other 40% was through the loan approval letter showing clearly the amount that was sanctioned. The ideal time for a loan to be approved would be by at least the end of May/beginning of June such that there is ample time to give the university to approve your loan documents, in order for them to process your I-20, and for you to eventually book that visa appointment.
When you do eventually have your appointment, make sure to smile and speak to the interviewer with confidence. Interestingly, mine was a lawyer too so she understood what the LLM was and the purpose behind my study. But not everyone can be that lucky so you may have to explain your reasons for going, future plans, and most importantly, who is financing your education. If asked for a bank statement, make sure you give an original one and not a photocopy. An entry visa can take up to 2 or 3 working days before it is granted. Travel with all these documents, a spare set of copies, and you should be set to enter the US.
Hopefully I haven’t lost you in all those details. Another often overlooked part is looking up classes effectively. Before you get to bid or email your selection (depending on how your school does it), make sure to see what the requirements are for your LLM. Maybe you want to take the bar exam. That will have its separate set of requirements. Ask your school if they have some designated people who have volunteered to speak to the current class (usually past LLM’s who have gone through the process) as they can guide you on which professors and sections to select. It can also be helpful to email the professors to get a sense of what their requirements are, or to look through a copy of the previous years’ syllabus to get a feel for the readings, and even the textbook!
Eventually if you don’t get what you are looking for, have a few classes as a reserve so that you can still finish your requirements before you graduate. LLM’s that do not have concentrations or specializations are called general LLM’s, and that way you have some more flexibility in terms of designing your courses. However, the process of doing your homework in terms of selecting classes is largely the same.
So, as you can see, the summer before your LLM begins can already be quite hectic. There might be a few moments where there is uncertainty but if you stay on top of your game in terms of the timings and deadlines of everything it should be fine. Of course, keep in touch with your school if you don’t understand something, but most importantly, stay calm and enjoy the process!
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