Skip to Main Content
The Semester Abroad Program is a wonderful opportunity for Harvard Law School students to receive a semester of ungraded credit towards the Harvard J.D. degree for study at a law school overseas. The study abroad program is intended to afford students an educational experience not available at Harvard Law School – immersion in a foreign legal culture. This includes exposure to what makes the legal system function as it does – its underlying assumptions, how local lawyers think about law, what law is designed to do, and how it relates to the society more broadly.
Immersion in a foreign legal culture is only one of many educational benefits of the study abroad experience. For some students, there may be particular substantive areas of law that are covered in greater depth abroad than is the case at HLS. Other students may be contemplating a career with substantial ties to a particular country or region, and therefore may wish to learn as much as possible about the legal system(s) of that country or region. Others may desire a broader exposure to the civil law system than is available at HLS. Each student has his/her own specific constellation of reasons for wanting to study law in a foreign setting. Accordingly, each student designs a semester abroad that meets his/her specific academic goals.
Study abroad participants consistently report that the semester abroad experience gives them several advantages in their job searches and careers. In particular, they cite the value of first-hand knowledge of another legal system and culture; foreign language proficiency; and an extensive network of contacts around the world. (Click here to read some perspectives from study abroad alumni.)
There are two categories of semester abroad programs:
In recent years students have developed individualized programs of study abroad that have enabled them to explore commercial and capital market regulation in Argentina; rights of indigenous people in Australia; environmental law in China; and European take-over law, among many other issues.
Harvard Law School has exchange agreements with this select group of 11 foreign schools. Each of these law schools reserves a designated number of places for HLS students to spend a semester abroad, subject to acceptance by the foreign school.
University of Sydney Law School (Sydney, Australia)
Fundação Getulio Vargas Schools of Law (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil)
University of Chile School of Law (Santiago, Chile)
Renmin University Law School (Beijing, China)
Fudan University Law School (Shanghai, China)
Sciences Po Law School (Paris, France)
University of Tokyo, Graduate Schools for Law and Politics (Tokyo, Japan)
University of the Witwatersrand School of Law (Johannesburg, South Africa)
Seoul National University School of Law (Seoul, South Korea)
University of Geneva Faculty of Law and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva, Switzerland)
Admission to these schools under these exchange agreements begins with the same application process as the general study abroad program. As such, each student will need to gain approval from both the HLS study abroad committee and the host institution.
HLS also has a joint degree program with the University of Cambridge that involves spending a year in the United Kingdom reading for an LL.M. degree.
The semester abroad program does not limit students’ options to a specific school or country. According to the American Bar Association criteria, “the foreign institution will generally be one that is government sanctioned or recognized, if educational institutions are state regulated within the country; recognized or approved by an evaluation body, if such an agency exists within the country; or chartered to award degrees in law by the appropriate authority within the country” (ABA Criteria Section I.C.1.). In addition, the school should be one that is generally viewed as offering one of the top law programs in its country or geographic region. HLS students may not enroll in programs of U.S. schools given abroad, or in programs designed expressly for American students or for students from countries other than that in which the school is located.
In the past, HLS students have studied abroad for a semester at:
In order to identify an appropriate school for a semester abroad, students are encouraged to read other students' evaluations of past semesters abroad; to obtain names and contact information, please e-mail the International Legal Studies office. Also, many HLS faculty members, LL.M. and S.J.D. students have contacts at foreign law schools and are willing to make suggestions to J.D. students contemplating study abroad.
HLS maintains a list of foreign law schools recognized as strong institutions and/or which HLS graduate students have attended in their home countries. This list may be especially helpful to HLS J.D. students who are considering where they might study abroad.
There are a number of other resources that can be useful for students contemplating a semester abroad:
Students who are considering how a semester abroad might fit in with a job search can contact Marni Goldstein Caputo in the Office of Career Services. Advisors from OCS and the Office of Public Interest Advising are also able to counsel students by phone, e-mail or Skype during their semester abroad.
For additional information, please see Frequently Asked Questions and Planning Tips.
The opportunity to study abroad is available to students in either semester of the second or third year. Please note that students wishing to study abroad in spring of their 3L year will not graduate at the end of that semester but will receive their HLS diplomas the following year once all graduation requirements are met. This can have ramifications for taking the bar exam and starting employment, so students should consider the timing carefully.
HLS students may not study abroad during their first year, but they can begin the application process for a semester abroad that occurs in their second year. Students who transfer to HLS after completing their first year at another law school are eligible to study abroad in their 3L year. J.D. students who are foreign nationals will not be approved for study abroad in the country in which they have received a first degree in law. J.D. students who are enrolled in joint degree programs may not be eligible for the semester abroad program.
Potential participants in the program initiate the planning process for their own program of study. The International Legal Studies staff is happy to work with students in order to help them develop an appropriately tailored application that meets the program’s requirements. This involves thinking through educational objectives, identifying the country and school for study, and developing a preliminary list of courses.
Students considering a semester abroad are encouraged to meet with a member of the International Legal Studies staff as needed, but all applicants must do so at least once prior to, or shortly following, the submission of an application.
Application materials for semester abroad (independent semester abroad and exchange programs) are due by:
Applications should be submitted to Sara Zucker in Suite 5005 of Wasserstein Hall or by e-mail to email@example.com.
The Study Abroad Committee, which consists of faculty and staff, reviews the completed HLS application and takes into consideration the student’s academic record at Harvard Law School to date and his/her motivation for study abroad, including educational objectives and the “fit” between those objectives and the proposed program of study and the selected institution abroad. If 25% or more of the credits a student has earned at HLS have been graded LP or lower, the presumption of the Study Abroad Committee is not to approve the application.
In evaluating applications, the Study Abroad Committee considers each proposal on its own merits. There is no advantage to applying for an exchange program as opposed to an independent semester abroad; both types of programs are regarded equally.
The Study Abroad Committee will select students in accordance with the designated number of HLS places for each exchange program. If there are more applicants whose proposals are approved than there are designated places, the Study Abroad staff will determine whether the exchange partner school can accommodate additional HLS students. If not, the approved HLS students may choose to be placed on a waitlist in case a spot becomes available, or to pursue a second choice.
Please note that students applying for designated spots in the HLS exchange programs (listed above) must be recommended by the HLS Study Abroad Committee, but ultimately selections are made by the foreign law schools. Students applying for the independent semester abroad program must receive approval from the HLS Study Abroad Committee, then apply directly to, and be accepted by, the host institution in accordance with the foreign school’s application process.
Once students are approved for a semester abroad, they will be notified of the date by which they must make a firm commitment to the program.
Students who would like to discuss the possibility of obtaining disability accommodations for study abroad should contact Lakshmi Clark-McClendon, Assistant Director of Student Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 496-2437.
Students participating in the Study Abroad Program can earn up to 12 HLS credits, depending on the courses they select. To comply with HLS degree requirements, students must earn a minimum of 10 credits, with at least 8 of those credits in law, during the semester abroad. A student must be enrolled at the foreign school for a minimum of 13 contiguous weeks.
It is the student's responsibility to have a clear understanding of how a semester abroad will affect his/her overall credit count and ability to meet HLS degree and American Bar Association requirements. (In addition, state bar associations may impose specific requirements.) Students planning a semester abroad should consult with the Registrar’s Office to confirm the number of credits they have earned to date.
Please note that HLS credits are based on classroom hours; the credits that a course carries at a foreign school may not be comparable. According to the ABA, “Law schools on a conventional semester system typically require 700 minutes of instruction time per ‘credit,’ exclusive of time for an examination.” HLS calculates credit equivalencies by totaling the classroom minutes for each course taken abroad and dividing by 700.
Students are required to select and work with two faculty advisors—one at HLS and another at the foreign school—to develop and obtain approvals for an appropriate, individualized course of study:
Please review the Study Abroad FAQs for more information on faculty advisors.
In order to ensure that the proposed course of study is a rigorous one, students must submit a list of the courses they intend to take (with descriptions and reading lists if available), and an updated statement of educational objectives, soon after their arrival at the foreign school, with confirmation from their faculty advisors, for approval by the Study Abroad Committee.
The course selection process should begin before departure and continue upon arrival. It is important to remember that the purpose of spending a semester abroad is to take law courses that are different from what is offered at HLS. In selecting courses abroad, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Students who are studying abroad at an institution where courses are taught in a foreign language should be aware of the challenges this can entail. Previous study abroad students have found it helpful to arrive in the foreign country early for language acclimation and/or to take a language training course before law classes begin. Some institutions may even offer a short orientation program for international students.
Students are typically required to fulfill the HLS “Written Work Requirement” (see HLS Handbook of Academic Policies 2013-2014) while in residence at HLS. Permission to register for written work while studying abroad is granted only in special circumstances and approval must be requested from Sara Zucker, Director of International Legal Studies Programs, in advance.
In the semester following semester abroad, students may choose to write an independent one-credit paper, supervised by the student’s HLS faculty advisor and written for a grade. This paper should be thematically related to some aspect of the student’s academic work abroad. As with any paper submitted for a Harvard Law School grade, the paper should be a substantive effort involving analysis, synthesis and research. In order to develop the topic and clarify expectations for this paper (including length), the student should consult with his/her faculty advisor before the semester abroad as well as during the time away. This one-credit paper will appear separately, like any other independent one-credit paper, and must receive a passing grade, which will be noted on the student’s HLS transcript.
In order to receive Harvard credit for work overseas, a student must earn the foreign law school’s minimum passing grade for all of his/her courses and provide HLS with an official version of his/her transcript from the foreign school. The student also should retain copies of all of the written work done at the foreign school and be prepared to submit that work to his/her HLS faculty advisor for review after return if requested.
Finally, following return to Harvard (by March 15 if abroad during the fall semester or September 15 if abroad during the spring semester), the student must submit and receive approval for a 4 to 5-page study abroad report. This report should recount and reflect on the student’s experience, providing a description of the country’s system of legal education and information about the foreign school, including manner of instruction and workload, composition of student body, library facilities, student services, ease of assimilating, housing, and other information that may be useful to students interested in studying at that school in the future.
If a student successfully completes all of these requirements, his/her HLS transcript will reflect 10 to 12 credits (depending on the course load), graded "credit,” for the semester abroad. These credits will be considered classroom credits and therefore not count against the HLS allowable maximum of non-classroom credits (unless express approval has been granted for classes taken abroad in a discipline other than law). The particular courses taken overseas will not appear on a student's HLS transcript, nor will the grades for those courses. No credit for the coursework abroad will appear until the student submits and receives approval on the evaluation report and his/her foreign transcript is received. It is the student's responsibility to submit his/her foreign transcript to Sara Zucker, who will forward it to the Registrar's Office. If a student fails any of his/her courses overseas, the number of credits received for studies abroad will be reduced proportionately. Students should be aware that grading systems in some countries are quite severe and that many local students fail one or more examinations on their first attempt. The awarding of HLS credit for courses taken during semester abroad is ultimately subject to determination by HLS.
The Law School will charge each student going abroad regular Harvard tuition for the period abroad; tuition costs for the foreign school should be billed to Harvard rather than to you. During your first month abroad, please make arrangements for your host institution to forward the tuition invoice to Sara Zucker for payment. This is not necessary for HLS students participating in semester abroad programs at schools with which HLS has a formal exchange agreement. (Students who are approved to be away for winter term will have HLS tuition pro-rated.)
You will be fully eligible for regular Harvard financial aid and student loans for the period of study abroad.
You are responsible for making your own visa, travel, and living arrangements (including health insurance) in the foreign country, and for all associated costs. Please note that living and studying abroad can be expensive and you should plan and budget accordingly. Additional costs, and those that may be higher than what would be incurred during a semester at HLS, may include plane tickets, short-term housing, food, local transportation, and course materials. You will receive a budget increase of $1,500 to defray these costs for the semester you are away. This increase is eligible for grant assistance if you qualify.
A student is responsible for making his/her own visa, travel, and living arrangements (including health insurance) in the foreign country, and for all associated costs. The visa application process for many countries can be very long, and students often need to begin the process several months prior to departure. Living and studying abroad can be expensive and the student should plan and budget accordingly. To help defray these costs, the student will receive a budget increase of $1,500 as part of his/her HLS financial aid package.
A student must obtain adequate health insurance coverage from an approved provider before departure. The student may also wish to waive the Blue Cross Blue Shield and University Health Service fees. If, after reviewing all of your options, you choose to waive one or more of these fees, you must take action by submitting a waiver application to the University Health Services Office. Please review and consult the UHS staff and website for detailed information regarding this decision and process. After you have applied for a waiver, the University will submit your name to the Law School Registrar’s office for verification of eligibility. The Registrar will then notify UHS that you are eligible to waive these fees as a Traveling Scholar/Study Abroad student studying outside the country.
Harvard Travel Assist provides medical and security advice and referrals and emergency evacuation services to Harvard travelers abroad. It is a supplement to (not a substitute for) health insurance and can provide medical information and evacuation services, emergency assistance including translation services, legal referrals, and general travel advice, among other things.
Prior to international travel, HLS students must register the trip in the Harvard Travel Registry. This enables the University to locate students quickly and provide assistance in the event of an emergency (i.e., natural disaster, civil unrest, etc.). Registering is required for all students traveling under Harvard auspices and strongly recommended for everyone. Students should record their information as soon as their trip is booked and then make sure the information stays up-to-date. They should also review the services provided by Harvard Travel Assist and relevant health and safety information and take appropriate steps. Further information can be found on the HLS International Travel web page.
A student’s spouse may accompany him/her while studying abroad, but it is the student’s responsibility to make all necessary arrangements to accommodate the spouse (e.g., housing, health insurance, etc.), bearing in mind any rules and restrictions of the foreign university.
Students should be sure to review the U.S. State Department information sheets prior to participation in their semester abroad program. HLS will advise students of any changes in the safety of the country or travel warnings either prior to or during the semester in question.
Should there be any significant changes to a semester abroad program that HLS determines would significantly diminish its quality, or in the unlikely event that the program is cancelled, students will be allowed to modify their plans. If such changes occur in advance of the intended semester abroad, students will be able to remain at HLS without penalty or possibly make alternate study abroad arrangements. If such changes occur during the semester abroad, students should speak with Sara Zucker about possibilities for alternate arrangements.
Please review the FAQs and Planning Tips for additional information, including timing, financial aid, and faculty advisor selection.
For questions that are not covered in the FAQs and Planning Tips, please contact Sara Zucker, Director of International Legal Studies Programs, at email@example.com or (617) 495-9030. Sara is available to talk to students by appointment as well as during office hours on Tuesdays from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m when HLS classes are in session. Sara’s office is located in Suite 5005 of Wasserstein Hall.
Back to Top