International students navigate Pritzker admissions, programs


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Pritzker’s Two-Year J.D. program for international lawyers has been in existence for more than 20 years.

Kimberly Espinosa, Photo Editor

Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law typically admits about 250 international students across its programs. Students from across the globe and administrators in Pritzker say it’s important to  create a shared, global community. 

Mary Beth Busby, Pritzker’s director of graduate and international program admissions, said Pritzker aims to attend to international students’ needs.

“They’re leaving their home country,” Busby said. “They’re paying tuition. They’re leaving their family behind.”

During the Fall 2020 admissions cycle, Pritzker did not admit any international students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last August, the school admitted 238 students, with 13% of students hailing from international countries.

The pivot to virtual options introduced some positive changes to the international student admissions process, Busby said. It made students more comfortable with online appointments and webinars that cover the visa process, financial aid and curriculum overviews to help international students familiarize themselves with the programs offered. 

Busby connected with prospective students virtually before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, but she and other officials further developed virtual programming with the onset of the pandemic. She said being online allowed her to connect with more students.

“This really opened a more personal way to communicate with incoming students,” Busby said.

Still, she recognizes face-to-face communication is irreplaceable. As an admissions director, Busby visits the home countries of some prospective students, including countries in South America, Europe and Asia.

Pritzker has a Two-Year J.D. program, in which admitted students who have received a law degree in their home country can receive credit for one year of that training. Then, they are able to graduate after two years of training at NU.

The program has been in existence for more than 20 years. 

Pritzker first-year student Francisco Andres Troconis Parra, who is from Venezuela, is one of three students in his Two-Year J.D. program cohort. In 2017, Andres finished his law degree in Venezuela, and initially came to the U.S. to complete his Masters of Law at Duke University –– which he earned in 2019. While in the U.S., he was employed at an international law firm and a Venezuelan law firm and later did work in immigration law.

He said he knew he couldn’t return to his home county due to unrest, which influenced his transition into corporate law.

“I thought the J.D. is the best way to achieve that,” Troconis said. “I saw that Northwestern had this Two-Year J.D. program specifically designed for foreign lawyers.”

Troconis said his experience applying to Pritzker was great and added he was glad the school considered his prior law experience. 

He said Pritzker walks students through the employment process before they come into school. Other law schools offer on-campus interviews for students to talk to potential employers after their first year in law school, but Pritzker’s Two-Year program begins even earlier.

“Hopefully, other people will apply and not give up,” Troconis said. “I think international students sometimes may… think about giving up. But keep fighting. I think things will work out.”

Adi Altshuler, Pritzker’s assistant dean and dean of international programs, said she feels connected to the students she works with because she was also an international student. 

She came to the U.S. from Israel to pursue her J.D. and her Master of Law Degree at the University of Chicago. 

“Based on my personal experience and understanding of the stages that international students go through when they come to study in the U.S., it helps me design the kind of support and programming that is very helpful for them,” Altshuler said.

Altshuler, who has been working at Pritzker for more than 20 years supporting international students, said she works to build programming to integrate international students into the larger community.

With the goal to bring Pritzker’s international community together, Altshuler helped establish the Global Village, an annual community event for students to celebrate their identities and cultures through food, cultural performances and more.

During her time at the University, she said the school has become more attuned to challenges of international students. The faculty aims to provide services that will help students transition to a lifestyle away in a new city and academic career at the University, she said. 

“(We) also look at the programs that we offer in a very holistic way, that is not just looking at the academics but looking at the whole student development and personal development that students can get from coming to these kinds of programs,” Altshuler said.

Altshuler and Busby emphasized the importance of the international student body. 

The expansion of resources to assist with their adjustment to integration is something that Altshuler and Busby are actively working toward, they said. 

“International students add so much to the student life and the student culture here,” Busby said. “The fact that they’re all integrated—the LLM (Masters of Law) students, the JD students—together, I think really enriches the classroom in ways I can’t even express.”

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