- Please introduce yourself, your area of interest and the programme that you pursued at the University of Oxford.
I am Devi Jagani, a first-generation law student. I graduated from Institute of Law, Nirma University in 2018. Still in the process of discovering both the potentialities of life and myself, I can’t do without whole-heartedly committing myself to the tasks I undertake. I actively look for challenges to engage myself in and seek to maximise my potential by outdoing my own self. My intellectual side is broadly drawn towards the study of legal philosophy, constitutional law, human rights law and social theory.
At the University of Oxford, I pursued the Bachelors of Civil Law (BCL), which is considered to be their equivalent of the masters of law (LLM). The BCL stands apart from other masters’ courses in law considering its unparalleled academic rigor, extended engagement with distinguished professors in small-group tutorials, a vast array of subjects to choose from, and, a healthy range of extra-curricular activities to choose from ranging from pro-bono groups such as the Oxford Human Rights Hub to being a member of the world-renowned Oxford Union. As a part of the BCL one is required to either study four-taught courses, or in the alternative, study three taught-courses and write a dissertation. For my degree, I took the courses on Philosophical Foundations of the Common Law, Comparative Equality Law, Comparative Human Rights Law and Children, Families and the State.
- What was your motivation behind pursuing higher studies? When did you decide to opt for higher studies? How did you decide for college?
It was sometime towards the end of the third-year of my undergraduate degree that I decided to apply for my masters immediately after my graduation. Pursuing a masters’ degree for me was not just an added qualification on my curriculum vitae, or a step to increasing my employ-ability. Rather it was a step to academically explore the nuances of legal concepts and to hone my research and writing skills with an aim to strengthen my ability to reason as a lawyer in future.
I spent a considerable time, say about 3-4 months, to shortlist the colleges that I wanted to apply to. Country of location, subjects offered, course-structure and academic ranking were the four main factors I considered in choosing the places I wanted to apply to.
- Do grades matter in the selection process? What are the most important aspects where the applicant should focus during his law school life? Please share your ideas about how one should shape their profile during law school for higher studies from some of the world’s top universities?
As you may have heard, Oxbridge is known to be stringent on its requirement of good grades. Usually they tend to accept candidates who are amongst the top five percent of their graduating class. However, this is no inflexible rule, but rather a marker of ability to engage with academic material in a critical manner.
Frankly, I don’t think there is any straightjacket formula to get accepted into a top law school. Most of us, like me, make the mistake of analysing the class profiles of previous batches to generalize factors that help in getting admissions – such as mooting, debating, research publications, being from one of the top NLUs, clerkship with judges and so on. Although these generalisations may hold some water, I believe that a successful application must at the foremost be a truthful depiction of your interests, abilities and ideas. Therefore, in law school do what draws out the best in you; follow your own passion rather than mimicking the CVs of people who you think have succeeded. To standout in the pool of applicants, it is essential to believe in yourself, embrace the uniqueness of your journey, and to develop your skills authentically, and to a level of excellence that speaks for itself.
- Please tell us about how should an aspiring student go about the application process? Tell us about the timeline of the application.
Applications for most colleges in the UK and USA are due starting sometime from November to January of the penultimate year of your law-school. Some colleges like the London School of Economics also have applications on a rolling basis. Once you have shortlisted the colleges you want to apply to, I suggest you start working on your application process about 4-5 months before the deadline. It is good to start as early as possible so as to avoid any delays considering other conflicting deadlines in the form of college submissions etc.
It is best to prepare a checklist of the application materials required for each college, both in terms of the documents required and any specifications on its content, to avoid any confusion in terms of what is expected. As most of you may be making applications to several colleges simultaneously, it is very important to personalize your application to suit both the course and college you are applying for.To successfully prepare your application, closely adhere to the expectations outlined on the website of each college. Study what they are looking for in a prospective candidate and try to highlight in your application how you fulfil these requirements. It is advisable to take your English-language qualifying tests well ahead in time, as these are valid for a considerable period, for instance, two years in case of TOEFL.
- How did you plan your Statement of Purpose? Please share some tips for a successful application.
Planning a Statement of Purpose (SOP) that works can surely be daunting for sure. But, the trick is to keep it authentic and simple. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when writing your SOP is to ask previous applicants for a sample. It is best not to get a sample SOP that you consider as a standard because we don’t know why the board of selectors chose a particular candidate or what aspect of their application they found appealing or weak. Also there is always a chance that we subconsciously emulate the sample in ways that may not truthfully represent who we are both personally and professionally.
Simple but important tips to writing a successful SOP are to adhere strictly to the word limit and to express yourself through clear words. Ensure that the idea that you are trying to communicate through your SOP is both profound and authentic, and, communicate it in a manner that interests your readers, whether by using humour or stories in your writing. Do not hesitate from writing multiple drafts. Do not be too technical; try to establish a humanistic connect. Your SOP is the only part of your application where you get to showcase your creative and non-academic side, so use it to highlight aspects of yourself that are not clearly visible from other application materials. But, at the same time do not stray away from the purpose of writing a SOP, which is to judge your suitability for an academic course. Therefore, it is advisable to get your SOP proofread from someone who knows you well. Often colleges outline on their websites what they are looking for in a SOP – make sure to make all those points covered. All in all, in your SOP, build an engaging narrative that showcases your personality, abilities and aspirations in an authentic light.
- Did you overcome any hurdles while pursuing your course at the Oxford University?
Nothing worth having in life comes easy, they say. This was duly exemplified by my time at Oxford. There were numerous difficulties I faced – both in adjusting to the environment and in catching up with the academics. BCL is regarded as one of the toughest academic qualifications in UK for centuries now, and considering its rigour it is one of first degrees to be awarded at the graduation ceremony. However, the grandeur doesn’t come without any struggle. Students who complete the BCL choose to call themselves survivors for a reason. I faced difficulties in almost every step – from realising I can’t ever get through my entire reading list before class to struggling to understand what professors demand in your tutorial essays.
The University, your college and the Law Faculty are all very accessible and provide great support on both academic and non-academic matters. On a personal level, one of the biggest tricks that helped me cope up and overcome these multiple challenges was to take things as they come and not to worry about what challenge is waiting next. The greatest relief in these grim times was always the realisation that everyone on the course was going through the same phase. My close group of friends with whom I shared everything from meals to trips, did not only lift my spirits but also made the learning process easier by closed study group sessions. All the difficulties I faced have been the foundation of the greatest lessons I have learnt in my life – I have emerged as a more independent, humble and courageous person.
- What according to you, law schools and legal system in our country need to improve? Tell us about your experience at the University of Oxford?
My time at Oxford has been life changing in that it put into perspective the opportunities that exist out there in the world and the pool of talent that exists amongst the youth. The most enriching experiences I have had are from interacting with my professors and peers, which made me realise the importance of being grounded and learning to accept, and respond to dissent. Law schools in India have the potential to imbibe great many practices from universities abroad. Most importantly, we need to encourage our learners to be independent readers, critical thinkers and ready to raise questions. Our system needs to move away from its complacent mode to appreciating quality research and focusing on learning the fundamentals well rather than aiming to study all subjects at a superficial level.
- What are your future plans?
I would love to explore the academic and policy-making spheres in India. I plan to contribute to the field through my research work and writing. It is too early to predict how all of this will span out, but I am in the process of learning everyday.
- What advice would you like to give to an aspiring Masters student?
Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospects of a successful application and the rigours of the course to follow. As Babe Ruth has said, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” Never undermine your abilities whether through the process of writing a SOP or in tackling the pressure to build a perfect CV. There is no perfect recipe to get accepted in one of the top universities abroad – all you need is for your excellence to shine through in whatever you’re passionate about. Believe in yourself and only then the world will believe in you. Good luck with your applications!