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 MSL program is unique in that it is the only law master’s program specifically designed for students with STEM backgrounds. Moreover, it is the only program in which all classes have been created specifically for the students enrolled in this degree program – courses from the JD program are not re-purposed for the MSL degree. These unique features differentiate Northwestern’s MSL program from the master’s programs at other law schools. 

What are some of the skills I will gain from MSL study? 

MSL students are introduced to a set of business and legal topics that relate to a variety of disciplines – technology, science, engineering, and medicine, to name a few. The MSL curriculum exposes students to patents, contracts, licensing deals, IP portfolios, regulatory submissions, and many other real-world concepts and processes. MSL students also improve their writing, presentation, quantitative, negotiations, and communication skills. This particular combination of integrated legal and business concepts is not available in any other program. When combined with the STEM skills that MSL students bring to the table, MSL graduates emerge uniquely prepared to take on work at the intersection of STEM, business, and law.

I already have a job as an engineer, technology professional, or scientist; why should I get an MSL?

Many professionals, including those who are very accomplished in their fields, 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 filling this gap and providing this missing perspective, the MSL can open the door to better job performance and to additional career advancement opportunities. Scientists and engineers who want to branch out beyond bench and research jobs or who aspire to work in more cross-functional positions are better positioned to do so with an MSL degree.

If I am interested in law, shouldn't I just get a JD?

The JD is the appropriate degree for individuals who know they want to be lawyers and/or practice law. For those who don’t want to become a lawyer, the MSL is an ideal way to learn the essential aspects of law and regulation that relate to work in a wide variety of STEM fields. The MSL has some of the best aspects of the JD – great Northwestern faculty, interesting classes, a dynamic classroom setting, and the opportunity to learn legal thinking – but it is also more streamlined and focused than a JD program. Upon graduation, MSL alumni often take on “intersectional” – rather than purely legal – positions. All that said, some of our MSL students find that they enjoy law study and do go on to pursue a JD.

If I am interested in the business side of things, shouldn't I just get an MBA?

An MBA is a good choice for a student who wishes to have an established business credential. But for students interested in an interdisciplinary approach to business study, or those wanting to develop a nuanced understanding of how legal and business matters relate to STEM fields, the MSL is a great option. Some of our MSL students come into the program with an MBA, and some go on to earn an MBA after finishing the MSL Program; these students report that the MSL exposed them to topics that are essential in business – topics that are not generally covered in MBA programs.

Will this program qualify me for law school?

The MSL is not a prerequisite for a JD, though it may enhance an application for a JD program. Those who decide to pursue a JD after completing the MSL will have gotten an amazing introduction to the study of law!

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.

I’m interested in working in healthcare and/or possibly attending medical school at some point; will this program help me advance my interests? 

An understanding of law and regulation is essential for healthcare professionals, who frequently find themselves interacting with a myriad of legal and regulatory structures, complex bureaucracies, and situations requiring sophisticated risk assessment. The MSL program has enrolled many medical professionals, including nurses, doctors, insurance professionals, research administrators and medical entrepreneurs. In addition, numerous MSL graduates have gone on to medical school and other successful healthcare careers after completing the program.

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Who teaches MSL classes?

The MSL Program has a fantastic faculty, consisting of Northwestern’s distinguished residential law professors, and a select group of renowned adjunct professors, including business leaders, government officials, regulatory professionals, and also lawyers. These scholars and practitioners have developed their classes specifically for the MSL program and bring great energy to their teaching. Many of these faculty members teach in both the residential format of the program and the online format of the program. 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 MSL program, just as JD students take classes that are specifically designed for them. There are a few classes that are specifically designed for both populations to take together, thus providing the opportunity for MSL students to mix with JD students in the classroom.

Will the MSL Program prepare me for the patent bar?

The MSL is not a patent bar preparation course; while patent subjects are covered, the MSL curriculum includes coverage of other intellectual property areas, and also focuses on the intersection of IP with business. That said, what students learn in the MSL Program is certainly helpful in preparing them to take the patent bar; MSL graduates who have taken the patent bar have had great success.

What can I expect in terms of workload in my MSL classes?

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 credits are required to earn the MSL degree?

Students must complete 28 credits to earn the MSL. This equates to about 17-22 total courses in the program, with the exact number of courses depending on the specific number of credits associated with each course. Residential courses range from 0.5 - 2.5 credits; online courses are generally 1.5 credits.

How are MSL classes graded?

Generally, courses offered in a regular MSL term (half-semester) are graded using a traditional letter system (A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, D, F) and courses offered in a compressed format – either in a Power Week, intersession, or Friday/Saturday format – are 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 work completed prior to entering the program towards its degree requirements.

Is there an online option for the MSL?

Yes! The MSL program has both a residential and an online format. The degree requirements and the degree earned are exactly the same, no matter the format.

Can I switch between the online and residential formats?

Students are admitted to either the online or residential format, and they must complete all of their required courses in the specified format. Students who wish to switch from one format to the other can apply to do so before completing more than 50% of the credits required for the degree. Students in a given format are allowed to take some of their class in the other format – with approval, part-time students may take up to 6 credits of their coursework in the alternate format, and full-time residential students may take up to 3 credits in the online format.

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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 develop their careers. Our students have included recent graduates and early-career professionals looking to enhance their professional marketability, mid-career professionals positioning themselves to take on more responsibility, accomplished executives who want to fill in missing pieces of their knowledge sets, and entrepreneurially-minded individuals who wish to work in a startup environment, create their own companies, or launch a new product.

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. If you are interested in the MSL, but haven’t studied a STEM subject, we encourage you to apply and make the case for your STEM background.

I do not have any background in law. Am I at a disadvantage with respect to earning admission to the MSL Program?

Most MSL students enter the program without any background in law; you won’t be at a disadvantage if you don’t have a legal background. The required classes in the MSL program are designed to give students a foundational understanding of legal concepts. 

Are test scores required as part of the application process?

No, but students are encouraged to share test scores if they have taken any of the entrance exams, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, DAT, or any others.

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?

Applicants for the online format are required to complete a video interview as part of the application process.  Applicants for the residential format may be asked by the admissions committee to supplement their written application with a video interview.

How are admissions decisions communicated to applicants?

Admissions decisions are communicated through an email posted on the online admissions portal. 

If I am accepted into the MSL Program, how much time will I have to decide whether to enroll?

Deposits are required within 3 to 4 weeks of the admission 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, and it can take a few months. Accordingly, international students applying for the residential format must apply by the second round deadline – April 1 – to ensure that the visa process can be completed before classes begin in the fall. International students in the online format will need a visa for the residential "Power Week" component.

What opportunities are available for me to learn more about the MSL Program?

If you are interested in learning more about the program, you can connect with the MSL team via the following events:

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Funding the MSL

Is financial aid available?

Yes. There are two categories of financial aid: loans (federal and private) and the MSL Scholarship Program (see below). 

Shortly after students are admitted to the program, they receive information about the financial aid application process. 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 credits 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 credits during the Summer term to be eligible for federal loans to cover any summer costs. Students who are taking fewer than the minimum requirement may still be eligible for private loans. For more information, please see Tuition & Financial Aid.

Are there any scholarship opportunities?

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. 

When will I find out if I have been awarded an MSL scholarship?

Typically, we notify students of scholarship decisions at least two weeks before the deposit deadline for that round. 

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; 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 reimbursed in any given year. There are also tax consequences related to employee tuition benefits – applicants should do their research!

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 dates of the academic term vary from year to year; please refer to 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 an online orientation program, which requires about 20 hours total and is conducted in the two week period prior to the start of classes. The orientation includes substantial academic content, provided through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities. 

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 faculty and peers. Due to the interactive nature of the activities, students must engage with the course materials on a weekly basis – it is not possible to save up work and do it all in one sitting or at the end of the course.

In a typical week, there will be required reading, video content to review, asynchronous discussion boards, and assessments (e.g. assignments or quizzes). Each course also includes 2-4 synchronous sessions, during which all students are required to be in “class” (via a video platform) at a designated time. (Dates and times of synchronous sessions are posted in advance.) Many classes also include group projects and/or regular knowledge-checks. To be successful in the online program, students need to be self-motivated, organized, and willing to regularly communicate with the instructors and other students. 

What are the technical requirements for the MSL online?

Students must 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, there are MSL courses offered in the online format in the summer term. Learn more about the MSL online schedule

Is there a residential component to the online program?  If so, is it required or optional?

Students enrolled in the MSL online program are required to attend a residential "Power Week" once during their time in the program. The "Power Week" is typically held mid-May and takes place at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in downtown Chicago.  Students are welcome to attend more than one Power Week if they wish.

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, many events held at the Law School are live-streamed or recorded 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?

Full-time residential students are required to participate in a one-week on-campus orientation program prior to the start of classes. Part-time residential students must also participate in an on-campus orientation; part-time orientation runs for 2.5-3 days. 

How often do MSL 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, the Law School is located in the heart of downtown Chicago where housing options are plentiful and public transportation is convenient. More information on housing.

Are MSL courses offered during the summer?

We offer a few summer classes through the online format of the program; part-time residential students can enroll in summer online classes to maintain continuity 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, do public service work, and attend the many speaker and panel events that occur at the Law School. 

MSL students are involved with the Entrepreneurship Law Center, the High Tech Law Society, the Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, the Advanced Degree Consulting Alliance, 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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MSL Alumni

What are the benefits of being an alumni of the MSL program? 

The MSL alumni network is tight-knit and active – graduates stay connected with the program long after they graduate. The MSL Alumni Club and it's governing board plan events and activities and stay in touch with our alumni all over the world. We also have regular alumni reunions and we often invite our graduates to attend panels, events, and classes of interest to them.

MSL alumni also have access to the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law network, with more than 16,000 graduates, and to the larger Northwestern University alumni network around the world.

The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Office of Alumni Relations and Development offers a myriad of services for alumni including:

  • Industry and regionally targeted events
  • Reunion and alumni weekend
  • Industry and regional alumni clubs
  • Career services
  • Northwestern Law Reporter Alumni Magazine
  • Northwestern Alumni Magazine
  • Access to Our Northwestern, the University’s login-protected information hub

Our Northwestern provides alumni with the ability to update their personal University profile, search the full Northwestern directory, set email preferences, manage alumni club affiliations, and access fundraising tools for volunteer fundraisers.

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Can prospective students come to campus for a tour? 

At this time, there is no on-site admissions programming; we hope to resume visits and tours soon. Interested applicants should check with MSL Admissions for updates to the schedule. 

In lieu of in-person programming, the MSL Program will be hosting virtual admissions events during the spring term. In addition, the program hosts a monthly information session; register for our next monthly information session here. For more information, please complete our Request For Information form.

For more information on Northwestern University’s CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19 response, please visit the website

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