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SJD Prerequisites and Proposal

Academic Degrees

Applicants to the SJD program must have already earned a JD, LLM or equivalent degree from Penn Law 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 copies of 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, publications, recommendations and English-language ability.  Each applicant must submit a sample, in English, of his/her (research-based) writing on a legal topic. An applicant who has not received a degree from Penn Law 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 to native speakers and those who already have a US law degree.

Successful participation in any of Penn Law’s SJD program requires a high level of English proficiency. Most course-work at Penn Law 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 Penn Law cannot be accomplished without such mastery of the English language.

Note: Penn Law does not have a minimum score requirement. In general, we look for a TOEFL score of at least 100 (IBT)/600 (PBT) or IELTS score of 7.  We also look to the breakdown of the score to ensure satisfactory level of proficiency in the reading, writing, listening and speaking.   However, a lower score does not automatically preclude an applicant from consideration for Penn Law’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, coursework 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 to the SJD programs should plan on taking one of them no later than January of year in which they propose to enroll at Penn Law.

Application forms and further information for the TOEFL and IELTS tests may be obtained online at and For TOEFL registration purposes, please note that:

  • the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s code is 2926
  • the department code is 03.
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