When I told my Harvard educated friend that I got into Stanford, she straight away told me that Stanford is better than Harvard. She than told me that they refer to Harvard to as “Stanford of the east coast” and back in Stanford they refer to Stanford as “Harvard of the west coast”. Pretty modest of her to say that, but that seems to be the fact. At least, that’s what US News suggests. The reason why most don’t usually apply to #1 Yale might be that they generally accept only those committed to a career in teaching law (see https://law.yale.edu/studying-law-yale/degree-programs/graduate-programs/llm-program).
My Stanford journey starts with … money. Lots of money. The very early start would be my IELTS and maths preps back in 2008–2009. After being admitted to Westminster International University in Tashkent, I spent 5000 US dollars each year for my bachelors (well, back in the day, with Uzbekistan’s currency conversion schemes, this amounted to around 2000–3000 US dollars). Why did I mention my bachelor’s degree? Well, because one needs a solid background to get into any university, let alone US T14 law schools.
The happy letter
On March 13, 2020 I received an e-mail from Faye Deal, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid of Stanford Law School, stating that I was admitted to Stanford’s Corporate Governance and Practice LLM program. When one applies to as many law schools in a single year as I did, you get used to receiving tons of e-mails from admission deans of many law schools. Most of them are just USC and Loyola asking to join their LLM.
My admission e-mail started with: “I am pleased to inform you of your admission to Stanford’s LL.M. program in Corporate Governance & Practice. You are one of a very small number of applicants who will be admitted this year (our target class size is 18–20 students).” Pretty flattering, huh? Especially considering that their JD Acceptance rate is 9,12%. Imagine 4000 top rated students from around the world who got their guts and confidence together and applied to Stanford. And imagine being within those lucky 20 accepted. Yeah, I know. My self-confidence sky-rocketed (and we are talking about me, who never had problems with self-confidence).
Let’s get to the boring part now. The application and how I got into Stanford.
The Stanford LLM application requires the following:
1. Application for Admission to Graduate Study
2. Application Fee
3. Resume or curriculum vitae
4. Personal statement
5. Two letters of recommendation
6. Official transcripts
7. TOEFL score report
That’s pretty short list (one might think). But the list is not as important as what’s goes within that list. But let’s first talk the procedure. All application materials must be submitted through LSAC!!! And I’m stressing it because LSAC is just the worst thing that could ever happen to all US law schools. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a nonprofit organization whose members include more than 200 law schools throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. LSAC provides products and services to “facilitate” the admission process for law schools and their applicants worldwide. Maybe one might find it very facilitating if they are not from Uzbekistan. For my LSAC interaction and history I’ll write a separate story and provide the link here: https://medium.com/@aarabjanov/choice-of-law-and-lsac-story-d7d36bec489b
The application form, resume, personal statement, official transcript, TOEFL score, letter of recommendation and the nonrefundable application fee payment must be submitted electronically through LSAC. Required application materials submitted directly to the Office of Admissions will not be accepted. And here the fun part begins. LSAC charges ‘big bucks’ for all of their services. My checkout cart looked like this:
1. Document Assembly Service fee — 85 USD
2. International Evaluation Service fee (bachelor’s transcript) — 135 USD
3. International Evaluation Service fee (foundation year transcript) — 135 USD
4. Stanford University Law School (2020) fee — 125 USD
5. Stanford University Law School LSAC report fee — 30 USD
Total: 510 US dollars
Add this amount to TOEFL application fee of 180 US dollars (twice). Why twice? Because I took IELTS like 9 years ago and TOEFL seemed more universal to me. And despite Stanford only requiring only 100 on iBT, I thought 104 would not be good enough for top law school. Considering that I’m a full-day working legal counsel, I went in the first time to take TOEFL with no preparation at all. The second time, albeit with some preparation, I got … 101. Yes, that’s how stupid exams are. And maybe that was god telling me to stop worrying about my TOEFL mark too much. So, I stopped after 360 US dollar bill.
So, after spending 870 US dollars (well, actually I spent around 1700 USD overall to apply to all those law schools), I was ready to go full on to Stanford. After reviewing tons of LLM websites, application forums and talking on the phone with many of my friends who already aced their application, I got the understanding that there are three most important thing in LLM application: your personal statement (that’s 50% of the luck), your CV (that’s around 30%) and your letter of recommendation (that’s remaining 20%).
Unlike some so-called “top UK law schools” (I don’t like to point fingers, but Oxford and LSE), Stanford wants to get to know the applicant more and the best way to do it is through their personal statement (motivational letter if you may). I took time with mine. Like a lot of time. I actually had 4 different approaches (two of which just didn’t make sense). The first and the most important one that I liked is bragging about my career and going through my CV pointing at each appointment and position. As you can see from my CV (here is the link: https://medium.com/@aarabjanov/a-little-of-my-background-f4bdda800849) I wasn’t actually kangaroo-saving, volunteering-in-Africa, starting start-up kind of guy. I needed money even before starting my bachelor’s and moving out of my parents’ house. I grew up in the furthest part of my country, I had cotton-picking interrupting my schooling every year, and in 2007 my father had the worst income crisis that further went on to his midlife crisis. So, I was working in every possible place that offered just enough money to provide for my little sister, my brother and my parents. So, I didn’t include those quick-cash jobs into my resume. Rather, I concentrated on more law-related experience.
The second option of personal statement drafting was to choose the most important parts of my experience and build it around my motivation of taking part in certain project. The most important thing to note is that your story should add up. If you’re a geologist applying for an MBA, there must be pretty compelling reason for that. Not just because it’s Stanford and would be career-boost to have the paper with Stanford logo on it. Coming from a certain background, evidencing people’s condition, eye witnessing the worst forms of forced labor and corruption, I always thought of my role in life as something more than just being the bread-earner for my family. I took part in major projects within these 9 years since I started my bachelor’s. I build a sparkling water production factory to provide work place for around 50 people, I was part of the legal draft that started the end of child and forced labor. Those are the things that went into my personal statement.
Though work experience is not obligatory for many LLMs, Stanford is pretty clear about it. You must have some work experience, and you must have at least two recommenders: one who can comment on your general capabilities and legal English language proficiency and one who can provide recommendation on your academic skills. I did just that and more. My academic recommender was Mr. Carlos Alberto Martinez, WIUT EU and ADR professor. My legal and professional capability assessors and recommenders were Mr. Eldor Mannopov, WIUT professor, Dentons Tashkent Managing partner and Umid alumni of Durham University and Mr. Utkir Ruziev, Khantex-Group Managing Director, big textile specialist and also Umid alumni of Trier University (Germany). Greatest part of my recommender #2 was that Mr. Mannopov was my university professor, with whom I interacted within my legal capacity even after the university. Hence, there is a feeling that for practice oriented Stanford that was just convincing enough.
Additional notes, tips and stories will follow. I want as many Uzbekistan students to enter top US schools, hence I will be providing as much information as possible. Thinking of a youtube channel to have more in-depth stories.
As always, breath well and stay hydrated!