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SJD Prerequisites and Proposal

Academic Degrees and Admissions

Applicants to the SJD program must have already earned a JD, LLM or equivalent degree from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School or another comparable institution. All applicants must have a well-stated scholarly agenda, with an area of research and appropriate research methodology clearly outlined. Candidates must, in addition, provide links to scholarly work published in the English language. 

Admission to the program is based upon the evaluation of a candidate’s past record and future promise as a legal scholar. Consideration is given to an applicant’s proposed research project, academic record, professional experience, recommendations and English-language ability. Each applicant must submit a sample, in English, of his/her (research-based) writing on a legal topic of approximately 10-20 pages.  This may be a work that has already been published and/or an excerpt of a longer work so long as the candidate is the sole author of the submission.   An applicant who has not received a degree from the Law School must submit at least one recommendation from a faculty member at the institution that granted his/her prior law degree.

Dissertation Proposal

An applicant must submit an SJD proposal setting forth the scholarly project the applicant intends to pursue in the SJD Program, including a preliminary list of primary and secondary materials. An application will be successful only if an applicant’s proposal indicates a strong likelihood that, upon completion, the project will make a significant contribution to legal scholarship and will satisfy the dissertation requirements.  The proposal should thoroughly describe the anticipated dissertation topic, the goal of the project and how the applicant will achieve that goal, as well as the research methodology and the relevance and significance of the topic. There is no specific requirement regarding the length of the proposal, but most submissions are 15-20 pages in length.

English Proficiency

All applicants must submit a TOEFL or IELTS or seek a waiver. Applicants seeking a waiver of the English language requirement, should do so by submitting a request here. This applies even if you are a native English speaker and/or attend or attended a law school in the US. Failure to do so will delay consideration of your application.

Successful participation in any of the Law School’s SJD program requires a high level of English proficiency. Most course-work at the Law School centers on dialogue between the instructor and members of the class.   In addition, an SJD student must be able to communicate effectively with his or her adviser.  Consequently, a student should be able to understand rapid, idiomatic English as spoken in class and in seminar discussions. Students must be able to express thoughts clearly in both spoken and written English and must read the language with ease. The quantity and quality of academic work required at the Law School cannot be accomplished without such mastery of the English language.     

The Law School does not grant conditional admission to applicants with insufficient English language skills and all applicants must have achieved the language proficiency noted above by the time their application is submitted. Prospective applicants who may need more substantial English language instruction prior to applying may wish to consider the courses offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s English Language Programs.  These are described at              

Note: the Law School does not have a minimum score requirement. In general, we look for a TOEFL score of at least 100 or IELTS score of 7.  We also look at the breakdown for listening, speaking, writing and reading to ensure that all indicate a high level of English proficiency. However, a lower score in one area or overall does not automatically preclude an applicant from consideration for the Law School’s LLM program. Applicants whose test score(s) falls below the targets set forth above, should feel free to highlight any specific issues in the personal statement portion of their application they feel might strengthen their application in this regard, such as time spent in English language environments, work done in English, English language publications, etc. It is also recommended that applicants with scores lower than those set forth above, submit at least one recommendation that addresses, at least in part, their English language ability.            

Both the TOEFL and IELTS tests are administered at testing centers throughout the world. Applicants should plan on taking one of them no later than November of year before which they propose to enroll at the Law School.  Application forms and further information for the TOEFL and IELTS tests may be obtained online at and             

Applicants who have a listening or speaking score below 24 on the TOEFL or 7 on the IELTS should consider utilizing “InitialView.”  These interviews are not required and the applicant bears the cost.  For further information and to schedule an interview, please contact InitialView directly at Please note that this is in addition to submitting a TOEFL or IELTS score and not a substitute for either.