Is Northwestern's MSL Program Right for Me?

Do other law schools have this degree?
Some other law schools have master’s programs in law, but Northwestern's program is unique in that it is only open to students with STEM backgrounds and its classes are specially designed for this population of students.

If I am interested in law, shouldn't I just get a JD?
The JD is the appropriate degree for scientists and engineers who know they want to be lawyers and/or practice law. But the MSL is ideal for technically-trained individuals who are interested in law, or those who want to understand and interact with law more effectively, but do not necessarily want to study law for three years or become a practicing lawyer. MSL students often want to leverage their technical knowledge by working in an “intersectional” – rather than purely legal – position. That said, some of our MSL students find that they enjoy law study and then go on to apply for a JD program.

If I am interested in the business side of things, shouldn't I just get an MBA?
An MBA is great for a student who wishes to have an established business credential. But for students looking for an interdisciplinary approach, or those wanting to develop a nuanced understanding of legal and business matters in relation to STEM fields, the MSL is a great option. Some of our MSL students come into the program with an MBA, and there are some who apply for an MBA after finishing the MSL Program.

What are some of the skills I will get from MSL study that I would not get from other graduate study?
MSL students are introduced to a set of business and legal topics and skills. This includes exposure to patents, contracts, licensing deals, IP portfolios, regulatory submissions, and many other real-world documents and processes. MSL students also improve their writing, presentation, quantitative and communication skills. This particular combination of legal and business skills is not available in any other program.

I already have a job as an engineer, technology professional, or scientist; why should I get an MSL?
Many professionals, including very accomplished professionals, find that they are limited in their careers because they don't have a deep understanding of the legal and regulatory implications of their work. By providing this missing perspective, the MSL can open the door to better performance and/or career advancement opportunities. Scientists and engineers who want to branch out beyond bench and research jobs or who aspire to work on more cross-functional positions will be better positioned to do so with an MSL degree.

Will this program qualify me for law school?
The MSL will not qualify graduates for a JD program, though it may enhance an application for a JD program.

Will classes count toward a JD if I decide to attend a JD program later on?
MSL classes will not count for JD credit or substitute for classes in a JD program; most law schools will not grant credit for any academic work a student does prior to entering the JD program.

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Who teaches MSL classes?
MSL classes, both residential and online, are taught by a combination of Northwestern Law's faculty members and highly qualified adjunct instructors. Many of the adjunct instructors are practitioners in the fields of law, business, and government. Take a look at our faculty bios (pdf).

Will I be taking regular JD classes in the MSL Program?
No, MSL students take classes that are specifically designed for the program (this includes a few classes that have been designed for both MSL and JD students to take together). MSL classes are meant to provide focused training that will be of practical use to engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals.

Will the MSL Program prepare me for the patent bar?
What students learn in the MSL Program will certainly be helpful for the patent bar, but the MSL provides a multi-faceted curriculum and is not a patent bar review course.

What can I expect in terms of work load?

The MSL curriculum covers a wide range of topics and can be a whirlwind of activity and learning. Both the full- and part-time programs are academically rigorous, with students spending approximately 5-10 hours a week per course. Part-time students take 1-2 courses per term, while full-time students take 4-6 courses per term. 

How many courses must I complete in order to earn the MSL degree?
Students must complete 28 credits to earn the MSL.  Most students take between 17 and 22 total courses in the program, but the exact number of courses a student completes depends on the specific courses and the number of credits associated with each course. Residential courses range from .5-2 credits; online courses are generally 1.5 credits. 

How are MSL classes graded?
Generally, regular term and required courses are graded using a traditional letter system (A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, D, F). Power Week elective courses are generally graded on a credit/no credit basis. The grading mode is set in advance by the program. 

Can I be exempted from a class if I have already taken a similar class?
No. The MSL program does not count any work done prior to entering the program towards its degree requirements.

Is there an online option for the MSL?
Yes! Beginning in Fall 2018, the MSL will be offered in an online format.

Can I switch between the online and residential programs?
Students are admitted to either the online or residential program, and must complete all of their required courses in the specified format. With approval, part-time residential students may take up to 6 credits of their coursework online and online students may take up to 6 credits of their coursework in-person. With approval, full-time residential students may take up to 3 credits online.

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What kind of students are you looking for in the MSL Program?
We are looking for students with STEM backgrounds who have a particular interest in the distinctive curriculum of the MSL program and want to use it to launch or grow in their careers. Our students have included recent graduates and early-career professionals looking to enhance their professional marketability, mid-career professionals looking to lead cross-functional teams within their organizations, and individuals who wish to work in a startup environment or found their own companies.

Can I get into the MSL Program if I do not have a STEM background?
The program is designed for students with STEM backgrounds. This includes individuals who have formal degrees in STEM fields as well as professionals who have experience working in STEM environments.

I do not have any background in law. Am I at a disadvantage with respect to earning admission to the MSL Program?
A law background is not required for admission to the MSL Program, and students without a law background will not be at a disadvantage – most MSL students enter the program without any background in law. The required classes that students take early on in the program provide a strong foundation in law.

Will I be at a disadvantage if I do not submit test scores or additional recommendations?
No, students who do not submit any of the optional items are not at a disadvantage in the admissions process.

Is there an interview option as part of the application process?
We rely mainly on the written application for the information necessary to make admissions decisions. Online students are required to complete a video interview. The admissions committee may also request residential applicants to supplement their written application with a video interview.

How are admissions decisions communicated to applicants?
Applicants receive an email through the online portal that communicates their admissions decision.

If I am accepted into the MSL Program, how much time will I have to decide whether to enroll or not?
Usually, deposits are required within 3 to 4 weeks of the admissions decision.

When does the visa process begin for international students? 
For students applying to the residential program, the visa process begins once the admitted student has sent in his/her deposit. The Admissions Office handles this process. International students applying to the residential program must apply by the second deadline – April 1 – to ensure that the visa process can be completed before classes begin in the fall. International students in the online program will need a visa for the residential "Power Week" component.

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Funding the MSL

Is financial aid available?
Yes. There are two categories of financial aid: the MSL Scholarship Program and federal and private loans. 

The MSL Scholarship Program awards partial-tuition scholarships on a competitive basis to admitted full-time students; both merit and need are taken into account in deciding the awards. In addition, there is a special scholarship program for PhDs and postdocs who are not receiving employer funding; both full-time and part-time students who are PhDs or postdocs are eligible to apply. Students will be informed of the financial aid application process within a week of admission to the program. 

MSL students may also be eligible to apply for federal and private loans. Please see the Law School's financial aid page and the page on loans for more information. 

Is there a minimum number of courses I need to be enrolled in to eligible for financial aid?
To be eligible for federal loans, students must be enrolled in at least 4 units per semester (note that one semester is broken into two MSL terms - Fall 1 and Fall 2, for example). Students must enroll in at least 2 units during the Summer term to be eligible for federal loans. Students who are taking fewer than the minimum requirement may still be eligible for private loans. For more information, please see Tuition & Financial Aid.

When will I find out if I have been awarded an MSL scholarship?
Roughly two weeks before the deposit deadline, the Admissions Office will inform students of their MSL Scholarship Program award status.

Are international students eligible for the MSL Scholarship Program?
Yes, full-time international students are eligible to apply for MSL scholarships on the same basis as domestic students.

What is the typical MSL scholarship award amount?
Scholarships generally range from $1,000 to $15,000, with the average award in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. The program does not award full- or half-tuition scholarships.

Is it possible for my employer to cover all or part of the MSL tuition?
Yes, employer reimbursement for tuition is a possibility and several MSL students have used an employer-provided tuition benefit to cover all or part of their MSL tuition. Applicants should check with their individual employers. Of the companies that do assist with tuition payments, some have a limit on the amount of tuition that can be covered in any given year.

I’m a Northwestern employee. Can I use the University's tuition benefit for the MSL?
Benefits-eligible Northwestern employees may be able to use the Employee Reduced Tuition Benefit. Several MSL students have used this benefit to cover part of the MSL tuition.

Am I eligible for an MSL scholarship if I am using an employer-provided tuition benefit?
Generally, applicants are not eligible for an MSL scholarship if they are using an employer-provided tuition benefit.

Does the MSL Program offer any work-study or teaching assistant positions for their students?
The MSL Program does not offer any work-study or teaching assistant jobs for students. Students are encouraged to contact the Northwestern Career Advancement office for more information about campus employment opportunities.

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MSL Program: Online

When do classes begin?
Students may begin the online program in either the Fall or the Spring. The exact date that the academic terms begin varies from year to year; view the Online MSL Academic Calendar for the current schedule. 

Do I need to participate in the MSL Orientation?
Online students are required to participate in a two-week online orientation (about 20 hours total) prior to the start of classes. The orientation will include a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, including substantial academic content. 

How are the online courses organized? Are they self-paced?
Our online courses incorporate a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, including regular engagement with your instructors and peers. Due to the interactive nature of the activities, students will be expected to engage with the course on a weekly basis. Typical weeks include required reading, video content, participating in asynchronous discussion, and completing an assignment or exam. Many classes also include group projects, synchronous live discussions, and regular knowledge-checks or quizzes.  To be successful in the online program, students will need to be self-motivated, organized, and willing to regularly communicate with the instructors and other students.  Each course will include at least two synchronous sessions which will require students to login at a specific time (dates and times will be posted before the start of each term). 

What are the technical requirements for the MSL online?
Students need to have regular and reliable access to a computer and high speed Internet (wired connectivity preferred). Note that mobile and tablet devices will not provide full access; students will need a laptop or desktop computer with videoconferencing capabilities (webcam & headset).

Are MSL courses offered during the summer?
Yes, the MSL online program offers courses in the summer term. Learn more about the MSL online schedule

Is there a residential component? 
Students enrolled in the MSL online program are required to attend a residential "Power Week" during their time in the program. The "Power Week" is typically held mid-May and takes place at the Northwestern Law School in downtown Chicago. 

I am an international student, do I need a visa to enroll in the online program?
Yes - because the program includes a residential component, international students will still need to obtain an F-1 visa. 

As an online student, can I participate in on-campus events?
Yes - our online students are welcome (and encouraged) to attend all on-campus events that are open to Northwestern students. In addition, certain events held at the law school will be recorded or live-streamed for online participants. 

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MSL Program: Residential

When do classes begin?
Classes for the residential program begin in the fall. The exact date that the academic terms begin varies from year to year; view the Residential MSL Academic Calendar for the current schedule.

When is the MSL Program's orientation?
Residential students will participate in a one-week on-campus orientation program prior to the start of classes. Orientation is mandatory for full- and part-time students. 

How often do classes meet?
Some classes meet once per week and some classes meet twice per week. Power Week classes follow a different, more compressed format. Read more about MSL's unique schedule.

When do part-time residential students attend class?
Because most of our part-time students have full-time jobs, they attend classes on weekday evenings and the occasional Saturday. Part-time students also enroll in Power Week classes, sometimes taking time off from work to do so. Part-time students have the option of enrolling in day classes if their schedules permit.

Where do MSL students live? Is there any on-campus housing at Northwestern?
While there is no on-campus housing for law students, Northwestern Law is located in the heart of downtown Chicago – housing options are plentiful and public transportation is convenient. More information on housing.

Are MSL courses offered during the summer?
We generally offer one or two residential classes in the summer session; these are for part-time students who are continuing in the program.

Are MSL students involved with other students in the Law School community?
MSL students are very involved in the life of the Law School and there are many opportunities for interaction between students in different programs. MSL students are encouraged to get involved with student organizations, participate in conferences, and attend the many events and speaker series that occur at the Law School. MSL students are involved with the Health Law Society, the High Tech Law Society, the Advanced Degree Consulting Alliance, the transactional moot court competition, the Law School Global Village, the Public Interest Auction, and many other events and activities that involve the entire student body of the Law School.

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