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 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. Finally, many MSL classes are taught by regular Northwestern Pritzker faculty – the same faculty who teach JD students.  These unique features differentiate Northwestern’s MSL program from 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 STEM disciplines. The curriculum exposes students to patents, contracts, privacy, regulatory policy, licensing and other deals, 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 a variety of interesting functions and opportunities.  

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 fields. The MSL has some of the best aspects of the JD – great Northwestern faculty, interesting classes, a dynamic classroom environment, 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 MSL students find that they enjoy law study so much that they 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 interact with and relate to STEM fields, the MSL is a great option. Many 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 and that are not generally covered in MBA programs.

Will this program help me if I decide to pursue a JD degree?

Though the MSL is not specifically a pre-JD program, completion of the MSL may enhance an application for a JD and it might also provide a head start or leg up on JD study.  MSL graduates who have pursued a JD after completing the MSL report that they are extremely well-prepared for the further study of law.

Will classes count toward a JD if I decide to attend a JD program later on?

Most law schools will not grant credit for any academic work a student does prior to entering their JD program; MSL classes do not usually count for JD credit or substitute for classes in a 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 they bring great energy to their teaching. Many of these faculty members teach in both the residential and online formats of the program (and in the JD program as well). Take a look at our faculty bios (pdf).

Will I be taking regular JD classes in the MSL program?

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 degree 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 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; each regular term MSL course requires approximately 8-10 hours per week.  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. Most regular term (7-week) courses are either 1.5 or 1.0 credits; compressed courses (Power Week, weekend, and intersession) range from 0.5 to 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, weekend, or intersession 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 elsewhere?

No, the MSL program does not count work completed prior to entering the program towards its degree requirements.

Can I switch between the online and residential formats?

Students who wish to switch from one format to the other can usually do so before completing more than 50% of the credits required for the degree. 

If I am a residential student, can I take online classes?

Yes!  Full-time residential students may take up to 9 credits (usually 6 classes, but might be more if some of the classes have a lower credit count) in elective courses in the online format.

If I am an online student, can I take residential classes?

Yes!  Online students may take an unlimited number of residential elective classes.  Please note: online students are required to take at least 2 credits in residential, in-person classes.  

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What kind of students are you looking for in the MSL Program?

We are looking for students who have an interest in STEM subjects and who are attracted to 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, but the Admissions Committee takes a broad view of what it means to have a STEM background.  As to what constitutes STEM, the Committee considers pure STEM and "STEM-adjacent" areas, including fields such as healthcare, architecture, finance, entrepreneurship, and others.  As to how an applicant acquires a STEM background, obviously, having a formal degree in a STEM field or having work experience in a STEM company or setting would be sufficient.  Some students develop their interest in STEM through self-study or other life experiences.  If you are interested in the MSL, but haven’t formally studied a STEM subject, or aren't sure you have the proper background, don't despair!  We encourage you to apply and use the application process to explain your interest in STEM-related fields.  

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 curriculum are designed to give students a foundational understanding of legal concepts. 

If I have a JD, can I come to the MSL program?

The MSL is meant for students who don't have a background in law.  The required curriculum focuses on foundational legal concepts and is not designed for students who have already studied law in a JD program. 

Are test scores required as part of the application process?

No, but students are encouraged to share test scores if they have taken any 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?

Not just an option – a requirement!  When submitting their application, applicants are invited to complete a video interview through an online portal.  An application is not considered complete until the video interview has been submitted.   

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 their deposit. The Law School's Admissions Office handles this process, and it can take a few months. Accordingly, international students applying for the residential format must apply by 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 their required residential study.  

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

If you are interested in learning more, you can connect with the MSL team in the following ways:  

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Funding the MSL

Is financial aid available?

Yes. There are two categories of financial aid: loans (federal and private) and scholarships (see below). 

Shortly after students are admitted to the program, they receive information about the financial aid application process. For more information, check out the Law School's financial aid page and loan information page

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 a full semester equals two MSL terms - Fall 1 and Fall 2 constitute the fall semester, for example). During the summer term, students must enroll in at least 2 credits 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.

Are there any scholarship opportunities?

The MSL awards partial-tuition scholarships on a competitive basis to full-time students; both merit and need are taken into account in deciding the awards. In addition, there is a special scholarship available to PhDs and postdocs who do not receive employer funding. 

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

Typically, the program will notify students of scholarship decisions at least two weeks prior to their deposit deadline.   

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 $2,500 to $15,000, with the average award in the $7,500 to $12,500 range. 

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 am a Northwestern employee. Can I use the University's tuition benefit for the MSL?
Benefits-eligible Northwestern employees are usually able to use the Employee Reduced Tuition Benefit. Several MSL students have used this benefit to cover the bulk of their 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: Part-Time Online Format

When do classes begin?

Students may begin study in the online format program in either the fall (late August) or spring (early January). The exact dates of the academic term vary from year to year; please refer to the MSL Academic Calendar for the current schedule. 

Is there an orientation program and is it mandatory?  

Online students are required to participate in an online orientation program, which requires about 20 hours of work 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?

Online courses incorporate a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, including regular engagement with faculty and peers. Due to the interactive nature of the courses, students must engage on a weekly (or sometimes even daily) 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 would 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 the Zoom 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 format, 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 format?

Students must have regular and reliable access to a laptop or desktop computer and high speed Internet (wired connectivity preferred); mobile and tablet devices will not provide full access.  Because presence on camera is required at the synchronous sessions, students must have a working webcam and the ability to connect to audio.  

Are MSL courses offered during the summer?

Yes, there are usually 2-4 MSL courses offered in the online format in the summer term.  

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

Students enrolled in the MSL online program are required to complete at least two credits in residential, in-person courses.  These can be in the regular term (7-week courses) or in a compressed format (Power Week, weekend, intersession, etc.).  Online students can take as many residential elective courses as they wish, as long as they comply with other applicable MSL rules.

I am an international student – do I need a visa to enroll in the online format?

Yes.  Because the program includes has a residential requirement, international students will still need to obtain an F-1 visa.

As an online student, can I participate in on-campus events?

Yes.  Online students are welcome (and encouraged) to attend any on-campus events that interest them.  In addition, many events held at the Law School are livestreamed or recorded for online participants.

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MSL Program: Residential

When do classes begin? 

Classes for the residential format begin in late August. The exact dates of the academic terms vary from year to year; please view the MSL Academic Calendar for more information.  

When is the MSL program's orientation for residential students? 

Full-time residential students are required to participate in a one-week on-campus orientation program in the week prior to the start of regular classes. There is also a required academic component of orientation that is completed online, requiring about 10-15 hours of work. 

How often do MSL classes meet? 

During the regular terms, classes meet either once or twice per week for seven weeks.  The MSL also offers classes in compressed formats, such as Power Week, weekend, or intersession classes; these might meet over a weekend or for three or four afternoons or days in a row.    

Where do MSL students live? Is there any on-campus housing at Northwestern?

The Law School is located in the heart of downtown Chicago where housing options are plentiful and public transportation is convenient.  Students live in a variety of neighborhoods – some are within walking distance to the law school and some involve the use of easy public transportation.  There is no campus housing in downtown Chicago.  (There is campus housing in Evanston, but the commute is not convenient for law students.)  More information on housing.

 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 events that occur at the Law School, including a favorite, the MSL-DPELC Speakers Series.   

MSL students are involved with a variety of student organizations, including 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 others that include both the Law School and campus communities.  

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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 its governing board produce a newsletter, plan events and activities, and stay in touch with alumni all over the world. The MSL program has regular alumni reunions and often invites graduates back to campus to attend panels, events, and classes of interest.  

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
  • Alumni Reunion 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 designed to provide a variety of services to NU alumni.


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