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The United States of America is one of the top destinations for German law students and their Masters of Laws. A lot of students dream of completing their education abroad, but most of the time, law students conclude "only wealthy people can afford an LL.M. in the U.S." – they couldn’t be more wrong!
We had the honor of interviewing the Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs of Washington University School of Law. Dean Cramer is a native German and finished his studies at LMU Munich. After several degrees, such as a Ph.D and an LL.M., Dean Peter K. Cramer worked as a teacher and administrator at universities such as Indiana University, Georgetown University and Harvard University before taking on his responsibility at Washington University. As the responsible Dean for the LL.M. programs and other Masters programs, he told us all about tuition and the possibility of affording an LL.M. at WashU (Washington University).
How affordable is an LL.M.? Isn’t studying in the U.S. way too expensive Mr. Cramer?
Because studying in Germany is relatively inexpensive, anyone planning to study in the USA gets a big “sticker, or price-tag shock” once they see the tuition rate.
In reality, it is relatively easy to finance your studies either through a sponsor, through a U.S. university, or a student-friendly loan agreement.
The only major barrier in case you receive a scholarship from a university, is the cost of living, especially if you plan to live on the East or West Coast. WashU, as a high-ranking law school, offers a viable and cost-effective alternative.
Before we get into the details. Can you break down the cost of an LL.M. program in the U.S.?
The largest cost is tuition, which amounts to $56,810. The cost of living is estimated to be $23,100 over the duration of 10 months. You have to show proof of this sum in order to receive your visa, but keep in mind that you do not have to spend it all. Saint Louis has a much lower cost of living index than other cities, so you can save quite a bit by living here.
Just like other U.S. universities, WashU charges international students a health insurance fee of $2,253. They don’t waive the insurance for students who have an “Auslandskrankenversicherung” because they cannot verify every single country’s claim of insurance coverage. However, you are in good hands with this insurance, and the healthcare system in Saint Louis is excellent, with WashU care ranked even higher for primary care than Harvard.
Where do you see potential for savings besides tuition? Is it worth living off campus? Is it difficult to look for an apartment?
As with some other U.S. universities, WashU does not offer on-campus graduate housing, but it is easy to find a place off-campus right in the vicinity of the university. Many off-campus buildings in the neighborhood belong to WashU are rented out to graduate students. Additionally, there is housing offered through the private-sector, ranging from small apartments to fancy lofts. You can expect to pay around $600-800 for a 1 bedroom 1 bath apartment. Electricity, water, and gas range from $75-100 a month.
Once you are admitted, we can put you in contact with current students, who may actually lease their apartment to you when you arrive.
For your time in Saint Louis, you do not really need a car. Public transportation is quite well-organized, and there are shuttles which take you to your apartment if you live close to campus. These shuttles even run in the early morning hours so that students who study late have a convenient transport option to their home. At the beginning of the semester, you will receive a U-Pass, a ticket that lets you ride all public transport in Saint Louis for free. Should you need a car, you can always rent one on campus for 5 dollars an hour (60 dollars per day).
Buying books can easily run up a bill of several hundreds of dollars - that’s why you should look for bargains before you start your semester. Students rarely buy new books. You can get used books at a reasonable price at the campus bookstore, or you can rent books for the semester at a discount of about 50%. Additionally, you can buy books from graduating LL.M. students, and sometimes even get a better price than through the options mentioned above.
There is a rumor that you will have to share rooms offered by the university. True or false?
There are off-campus university apartments for graduate students, but students are not required to share if they do not want to.
Sharing is an option for students who want to save.
The university and private housing offer share options and can reduce rent to an average of $400-500 for a shared unit.
Are there any rebates on tuition or any other kind of scholarship offered by your university?
We award scholarships that cover a substantial part of tuition. The process is complex and based on what university you graduated from, which grade you received, your TOEFL score, financial need and other factors.
Additionally, you may be able to receive our Detjen scholarship. It is funded by a WashU alumus, whose German family roots in Saint Louis go back several generations. David Detjen is a Board Member of the National Board for WashU, and he and his family want to show support for German–speaking students.The Detjen scholarship is traditionally awarded once per year and is tied to an additional tuition discount, reducing the actual tuition amount to 0 dollars. What remains to be paid by the student is the health insurance cost, cost of living and study materials.
To close financing gaps, you can take out loans under very favorable conditions with German lenders such as Brain Capital. Back-payment is due after a certain time after graduation, but only if you exceed a certain income threshold.
A good “Examensnote” is definitely helpful, but what are the chances of admission with a lower grade, Mr. Cramer?
Even if you did not get a high score on your “Staatsexamen”, your background as a German student still makes you attractive as an applicant. German students often speak English quite well and are avid participants in class - something our professors like and encourage. That will definitely increase your chances for admission. Even though we regularly have German applicants, we would like to increase their number.
Unfortunately, German law students don’t know much about us.
Inform yourself now: Washington University in St. Louis School of Law
They know the big names on the East or West Coast, but they don’t know that Washington University is one of the best U.S. law schools; we currently rank at 18 in the national rankings. WashU - the entire university with all of its departments is actually ranked #20 in the Shanghai World Rankings and at #19 in the Wall Street Journal.
How about cost of living? Is Saint Louis cheaper in comparison to other cities in the West or East given its smaller size?
As I said before, German law students often apply to universities on the East or the West Coast, because they are well-known in Germany. However, these law schools are not always the best choice since they are situated in expensive cities and their programs are sometimes quite large.
Keep in mind that as thrilling as it sounds to be in New York or Los Angeles, for most of your time including weekends, you will be working on your law school assignments probably at the library or in your home. Ironically, you might be better off in Saint Louis where you can save on cost of living, and visit New York or Los Angeles during spring or fall break or on a weekend where you have a bit of time.
How about leisure activities that might not necessarily be offered in Germany?
There are many ways to spend your time in Saint Louis. Forest Park, one of the biggest city parks in the world, is directly adjacent to the WashU campus. You can find an Art Museum there, the Missouri Historical Museum, a lake with a boat house, picnic areas with shelters and grills, a golf and tennis courts, and a multitude of biking and running paths. Additionally there is a large Open Musical Air Theater, the Muni, that shows Broadway productions every summer, an annual hot air balloon race, an annual Shakespeare festival, and a large concert with fireworks on the 4th of July. Right along the border of Forest park, you will also find Saint Louis Zoo, free of charge, just like the venues mentioned above, voted best zoo in the U.S. by the readers of USA Today. Last but not least there are many more weekly outdoor events in the park all year long.
Since its renovation in 2017, the Sumers recreational complex has been equipped with cutting-edge sports equipment. It offers a variety of courses and group sports activities for WashU students. The building at the western end of campus has been standing since 1904 when Saint Louis hosted the first Olympic Games in the US.
Visa Issues : Even though it does not involve big expenses, it does stress people out. What kind of visa do you need for an LL.M. in the U.S.?
Students who support themselves financially or are sponsored by a family member or friends have to apply for an F-1 visa. As soon as they receive a letter of admission from a U.S. university, they can start the process. They have to send an official financial statement to the university that shows that they have the financial means to study in the U.S. If supported by family or friends, the sponsor has to fill out an affidavit that they are financially responsible for the cost of the studies. Once the university has processed the statement, the student will receive a so-called SEVIS number, with which he or she can apply for a visa to the U.S. In most cases, students have enough time to arrange for a visa interview at the American Embassy, but even when you are under a tight time-line, the embassy will probably arrange for an interview on short term-notice.
If you are being sent by an organization such as the DAAD or Fulbright, you will not have to worry about issuing the financial statement. The sponsor will do so. Your visa will be a J1 visa.
How much time should you give yourself for planning, application and preparation of all relevant aspects of your LL.M. studies in the USA?
If you are planning on being supported by a governmental sponsor such as DAAD or Fulbright, you should submit your application to the sponsor well ahead of a year before you plan to start your studies. The application process may contain several stages and at least two interviews: one at your home university and the other at a central location for final interviews, probably in Berlin or Bonn.
The deadline for DAAD applications is at the end of March, and the deadline for Fulbright is at the end of June.
If you are self-supported, you should also start as early as possible. Most law schools in the U.S. have April or May deadlines for admission, but they start admitting as early as November or December.
In conclusion, we may add a bit of a warning: What is the most common error or omission you see happening in the application process?
Students should custom-tailor their application to the university they are applying to. Too often, we see a "cookie-cutter application", where the only difference between two applications to two different schools is the name of the institution.
More about Washington University in St. Louis:
In conclusion studying in the U.S. is definitely feasible with the necessary know-how and possible scholarship opportunities. Students should apply as early as possible in order to manage all deadlines. We also got the feeling that Washington University in St. Louis is happy to work with German applicants and to help them sort things out.
Thank you for the interview Dean Cramer!