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The Penn Law’s Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) is the highest law degree offered by the University of Pennsylvania. The program’s mission is to advance legal scholarship by producing graduates who have made significant contributions to their chosen area of study, and who are prepared to become leaders in the international academic community.  

The principal requirement of the Doctor of Juridical Science is a dissertation that makes an original and substantive contribution to legal scholarship and an oral defense of that dissertation.

This contemplates a book or extended monograph reflecting intensive and creative research with respect to a specific topic, problem, or area of law. The work, both in content and form, must be of publishable quality and normally must have been submitted and accepted for publication either as an extensive article (or series of articles) in a law review or a book.

An LLM thesis may be incorporated into the doctoral dissertation. After the dissertation committee accepts a candidate’s dissertation, the SJD candidate must defend his or her dissertation in an oral examination before the dissertation committee.

Completion of the SJD must be within three years, although the SJD candidate may petition for an extension.

First Year

All SJD students are required to spend the first full academic year of their SJD program in residence at the Law School. During the first year, students are expected to:

  • Secure the consent of a faculty member from among Penn Law’s standing faculty to serve as an adviser. The adviser will also serve as the chair of the student’s dissertation committee;
  • Complete and submit to his/her adviser a revised research proposal and a bibliography that substantially builds on the initial proposal submitted with the student’s application;
  • Complete a specially designated course or seminar offered annually for SJD students; and
  • Complete one-semester course in their area of specialization chosen from among those offered to upper level JD students.
  • In addition, first year SJD students may apply to serve as legal writing fellows who assist LLM students.  SJDs who are accepted to be legal writing fellows typically receive a small stipend.

Second Year 

If the faculty adviser approves the proposal, during the second year the student is expected to:

  • Submit a dissertation outline to his/her adviser;
  • Assemble his/her full dissertation committee, which must consist of three members, two of whom (including the chair) must be members of Penn Law’s standing faculty. The third dissertation committee member may, in appropriate cases, be selected from outside the Law School. Determinations regarding the inclusion of a committee member from outside the Law School shall be made by the student’s adviser in consultation with the Deputy Dean for International Affairs.

Third Year 

If the faculty adviser approves the outline, during the third year the student is expected to:

  • Submit a draft dissertation to his/her committee (target deadline –October 1);
  • Submit a completed dissertation to his/her committee (target deadline– February 15);
  • Orally defend his/her dissertation before the dissertation committee.

USA requirements for international students

Each university in the Unites States of America sets its own admission standards so there isn't the same criteria for all the students and the university can decide which applicants meet those standards. The fee for each application is between $35 to $100. 

After the selections of the universities you want to attend, the best of all would be to contact each university for an application form and more admission information for the international students. Moreover, for a graduate or postgraduate program it's necessary to verify the admission requirements. Some programs require that you send your application directly to their department. 

Admissions decisions are based on students's academic record and different test scores, such as TOEFL, the SAT or ACT (for undergraduate programs) and GRE or GMAT (for graduate programs). Admission decision is based on your academic results and motivation.


Program requirements

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, recommendations and English-language ability.  Each applicant must submit a sample, in English, of his/her (research-based) writing on a legal topic of approximately 10-20 pages.  This may be a work that has already been published and/or an excerpt of a longer work so long as the candidate is the sole author of the submission.   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.

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.

All applicants must submit a TOEFL or IELTS or seek a waiver. This applies even if you are a native English speaker and/or attend or attended a law school in the US. Penn Law does not have a minimum score requirement. In general, it looks for a TOEFL score of at least 100 or IELTS score of 7.5. 

Penn Law does not offer financial aid, scholarships, or paid positions at the law school for the SJD students.

SJD Tuition Fees

Year 1 - 20% of the Master of Law tuition rate set forth above plus a technology fee.

Year 2 and beyond - for students wishing to remain in residence - 8% of the Master of Law tuition rate set forth above plus a technology fee.

Year 3 and beyond - for students not in residence - 4% of the Master of Law tuition rate set forth above plus a technology fee.

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