Masters at Harvard Law School - Noura Saket
Updated: May 19, 2020
Hometown: Amman, Jordan
Undergraduate: Bachelor’s Degree in Law - University of Jordan.
Masters: #LLM, Harvard Law School
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
As a child, I was always interested in learning more about how the world works while attempting to be of service to other disadvantaged individuals and communities. I was doing community service work by the age of 10 including tutoring orphaned children, renovating classrooms, and engaging with abused children. I also enrolled in many debates, model UN conferences, and leadership training. I was trying to make sense of the world. For that reason, I went to law school. I realized law was a powerful tool to change the status quo.
I started my career as a corporate lawyer, working on the first rounds of renewable energy projects in Jordan, among other very interesting projects and transactions. Following my #LLM, I decided it was time to use my knowledge and skill set to empower women and communities in Jordan and the region. For that reason, I co-founded a legal awareness initiative that aims to provide the public with information on their basic legal rights and responsibilities as citizens or denizens of Jordan. After that, I left my job at the law firm and dived right into work on gender and women economic empowerment. First offering a free online course on womens’ rights in the region, then working on creating a legal framework addressing issues of violence and harassment in the world of work, which was formally adopted by the Ministry of Labor and several employers by the end of 2019.
Reflecting back on your experience, what do you think are the main advantages of studying in Jordan?
For a lawyer practicing in Jordan, the most important knowledge needed is that of the country’s laws, legislation, and legal system. Getting my undergraduate degree in Law from the University of Jordan had many advantages including:
Creating a very solid foundation in the legal system in Jordan which I can later build on as a successful lawyer.
Proficiency in legal and professional Arabic. To better understand laws, it is very important to have proficiency in the legal terminology in its original language.
Establishing connections with the upcoming legal community, including lawyers, judges, and prosecutors which will prove to be very useful in the future.
Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to universities abroad?
Honestly, at first, I wanted to study law abroad and not in Jordan. I then sought out the advice of practicing lawyers; who all agreed that I should get the undergraduate degree in Jordan and then apply for graduate degrees elsewhere if I still want to study abroad after graduation. And that is exactly what I did. I always advise people to seek out successful individuals in the career they aspire to have, before making a decision on their studies.
Mmm.. the reasons for wanting to study abroad? I can't clearly rationalize why I wanted to study abroad right after I finished high school. I remember wanting to live alone, experience something new, while also assuming the education system in Jordan is not good enough. The first two reasons are very important for every person to grow and they do justify traveling abroad. As for the quality of education, I feel this really depends on the program you intend to apply to, the relevant university, as well as the personal effort you are willing to put forth during your studies. The educational experience of a person can really vary for every student, and it really depends on whether or not he/she is willing to invest in their growth. If they do, they will get an excellent education wherever they go. Anything after high school depends on personal effort. Going to Harvard doesn’t necessarily mean you get an excellent education if you don’t want to continue learning.
For me, applying for a #master’s degree at Harvard was always a dream and a goal that I wanted to achieve. A few years after practicing law, I knew it was time to pause and work on my personal and professional development and Harvard was the place. I wanted to be in an environment where everyone around me is much smarter and brings along a very different experience – a place where I can learn inside and outside the classroom. I can safely say that it was a very good decision to have a few years of experience down my belt before getting my master’s. I went there knowing what I want out of the #LLM and the classes, in contrast with students’ experience during undergraduate studies, where a student should ingest everything they are given.
When did you first start preparing for the application process? How did you prepare for the application process?
It took me two years to apply. I wanted to apply in 2013. I knew I wanted to apply to Harvard. I started filling out the online application form with my basic profile; name, age, degree, class rank etc., then I got to the personal statement and stopped. At that point I questioned whether or not I’m good enough for Harvard. Who am I? why would they accept me? Have I achieved anything that’s worthy of them? Also, I wasn’t sure I could afford Harvard or even living in Boston. Self doubt, coupled with financial instability, led me to exit the application that year.
In September the following year, I decided I was going to continue my application. I sat for the #TOEFL exam. I remember they wanted a score higher than 100 (or 110) out of 120. To prepare for the exam, I used free online sources that walk you through past exams. After reviewing all exam prep materials, I made sure I did timed exams. The trick in these tests is to make sure you can manage your time well.
Third part of the application is recommendation letters. Schools usually request one or two from professors at the school, and one from the employer/direct supervisor. These are really important to show who the applicant is academically and professionally. I reached out to my professors at the university to have them prepare recommendation letters ahead of time. I also asked my boss to write one. I told them how important and competitive this process is, and that it is important that they take the time to write one that really describes me well.
After all these steps were finished, I came back to the most important component of the application - the personal statement - , which I felt was my means for communicating with the admissions board. I wasn’t sure what they were looking for in a personal statement. I sought the advice of an alumni that used to interview prospective students from the region. When he read the first draft of my personal statement, his feedback was very honest and harsh, he said: “biggest mistake is to repeat what’s in the #CV – they already have it” and “this shows that you are trying too hard”. His most useful advice was “be genuine, show them who you are beyond your #CV and what value you will bring to their program”. When I sent him the new draft for review, he said “Aha, this shows a leader in the making. If I was reviewing the application, I would surely admit you”. I did rip out several drafts and start over many times. I also ran the drafts by many friends and colleagues that know me well. Their feedback was very important. They highlighted certain qualities, achievements, and events that were pivotal in my life and career that I had completely forgotten.
Since I had all the applications filled out, I decided to apply to other law schools in the U.S. Although I was determined to apply to one school, it is always wise to have other options. Preparing the application for one school will allow you to apply to other schools with minimal additional effort. In the U.S. they have a platform for applying to law schools – it's called #LSAC (Law School Admissions Council). I uploaded my #TOEFL scores, resume, transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal statement to my LSAC profile. I also had to send original copies of the transcripts to LSAC’s designated authentication service (CAS) to have all documents authenticated. The fees involved with applying for a master’s degree are the CAS (Credential Assembly Service) fees as well as the fees for each Law School Report (around 45$ for each report).
How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?
I wanted to find ways to get financial support because I surely cannot afford getting a masters degree in the US on my own. I talked to a few Harvard alums who better explained the financial aid process, and also did my research on that. In the process, I discovered that Harvard students get different forms of financial aid, including grants and student loans, and financial means are never a hindrance to admission to Harvard. Unlike other schools, student loans are facilitated through the university and no guarantor (American or otherwise) is needed. I got financial aid in the form of a partial grant as well as a student loan.
Since I was in a very demanding Job, I could not plan ahead of time or conduct enough research on other sources of funding, such as Fulbright, the Harvard Arab Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, or the Emirates Leadership Initiative Fellowship. The Fulbright scholarship has a unique application process that starts before a prospective student applies to any university, which means you have to prepare all credentials at least a year in advance.
What do you think students often get “wrong” about the US application process?
From what I have heard, some of the misconceptions are:
It’s too difficult to get admission
Grades are the determining factor
The process is too complex
Certain universities are the only options available (for example, they have heard of Harvard and Georgetown. They would think these are the only good schools out there. Also, they don’t even know if they are top ranking in their fields of study).
What tips do you have about how to write a compelling recommendation letter?
I asked my professors and boss to support the qualities they are attributing to me with examples from class/work. For instance, if they say I’m a team player, I asked that they reference a situation that has shown them how I can work well within a team.
How can a candidate assess whether they are a “strong” candidate?
I think this has to be two folds, a person’s assessment, and the feedback from people who know him/her well. Getting feedback on the personal statement is very important. Be genuine and show your value. This is a great chance to communicate directly with the admissions board. You get to portray what a great candidate you are. They have your #CV so don’t restate what’s in there. You can explain your path (educational/professional) and why you feel this next step (applying for their universities) makes sense to you personally and professionally. Show them what is special about you (and yes everyone is special) and of course you have to slightly touch upon the reasons for choosing that specific school. Be creative and know there is no right form for a personal statement.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?
Do your research beforehand. Don’t wait until its two weeks to the deadline to start assembling the application documents.
If you’re applying for a master’s degree, get some work experience first.
Look at the program, not the university. I was told to check if the program suits my interests and aligns with my line of work/career aspirations, because the purpose of a master’s degree is to help me grow as a lawyer and I need courses that are relevant.
Don’t apply to certain schools because you have friends there. Meeting new people is an integral part of the experience.
Don’t hesitate to apply even if you feel you might not qualify. Not applying brings down your chances of admission to Zero.
Seek out people who have the same career path you aspire to have and truly understand what steps they have taken to get to where they are.
If you feel you still don’t have the profile the school seeks in its students, then build your profile. do internships, get engaged with volunteer work, all extracurricular activities strengthen your application.