MSL Frequently Asked Questions

You can find answers here to many of the questions you may have about the MSL program. Questions not answered by this FAQ can be directed to the Master of Studies in Law program administrator at or (412) 648-7120.


Are MSL courses regular law school courses?

With one exception, all the courses in the MSL Program are the same courses you would take if you were studying to become a lawyer in the JD Program. The exception is American Legal System, a course designed especially for MSL students. View course descriptions upcoming semesters by going to the Courses and Curriculum page and choosing a semester on the left. Some specialized JD courses (such as clinics) are ordinarily not open to MSL students.  MSL students, with the permission of the MSL Program Director, may take up to 6 credits of coursework in other graduate and professional schools of the university.  

Will the MSL train me to be a lawyer?

No. If you want to become a lawyer, the MSL Program is not for you. You should apply to our JD Program instead. The MSL provides new skills and knowledge to enhance your existing ones rather than to prepare you for a new career. It will not permit you to take the bar examination and so it is not intended for people who want to practice law. If that is your interest, you should apply to our JD Program.

Do MSL courses count toward the JD degree if I decide I want to pursue that degree?

American Bar Association regulations do not permit credits acquired in the MSL degree to be credited toward the JD degree.

Will the MSL degree help me get into a JD program?

The MSL is not intended to prepare students for the JD degree. However, students who successfully complete courses in the MSL program will have a better understanding of law than people who have not. If they eventually do enroll in a JD program, the MSL experience might prove beneficial.

Who will benefit from the Master of Studies in Law degree?

A variety of different kinds of people should find it beneficial.

  • The MSL is for people who work with lawyers. Many professionals in business, nonprofits, and government regularly work with lawyers. If you are in this group, you may have a very good understanding of a corner of the law related to your work, but would like to place it in a larger and more systematic context.  The studies involved in obtaining the MSL can do this for you.
  • The MSL is for people who work with law. Many professionals have little contact with lawyers, but a lot of contact with legal issues.  If you are in this group, pursuing the MSL will help you obtain an understanding of sometimes mysterious rules and help to place them in a larger and more systematic context.  
  • The MSL is for people who want to reorient their careers. Today, anyone who wants to learn about law, even if they don't want to practice law, must attend law school for three years or be satisfied with on-the-job acquisition of knowledge of their area of law. The MSL provides an alternative means of acquiring knowledge about law in a more efficient manner than the JD and a more comprehensive manner than on-the-job training.
  • The MSL is for faculty members on sabbatical. The MSL program offers scholars the chance to broaden their knowledge base by exploring the ways in which law is relevant to their academic field.
If I already have a JD degree, can I get an MSL?

The MSL degree is an ideal means for individuals with a JD who wish to take additional courses in a specialized area of the law to do so, and applications to the MSL program from holders of a JD degree are welcome.

If I have completed part of a JD program and wish to switch to the MSL program, may I do so?

Students who have begun, but do not wish to complete a JD (or equivalent) program at the University of Pittsburgh or another law school may apply for admission to the MSL Program. If accepted, up to 6 JD credits may be counted toward Pitt Law's MSL degree at the discretion of the program director.

What are some examples of people who might want to use the MSL degree to reorient their careers?

Librarians and information specialists may wish to develop a specialty in legal aspects of their field. Nurse-administrators in a health care system with responsibilities for risk management might obtain the MSL degree with a specialization in health law. A professor of economics specializing in the economics of antitrust could obtain the MSL with a specialization in antitrust or commercial law. Administrators of an agency providing geriatric services might obtain the MSL with a specialization in elder law.

May I combine graduate or professional studies with the Master of Studies in Law?

Yes. Graduate and professional students in many fields (medicine, nursing, and other health professions, social work, economics and other social sciences, business, information science, and engineering are some examples) may enhance their primary program with the study of law in general, and the particular area of law that complements their field. You might want to add intellectual property law to studies in information science. Add health law to studies in medicine, nursing and other health professions. Add child welfare law or health law to social work. Add jurisprudence to philosophy. Or add corporate law to business administration. These are just a few of the many examples of how graduate and professional students can broaden their horizons through the MSL degree.

Students enrolled in any American or foreign university, if they are able to take a leave of absence from their studies, may enroll in the MSL program, or they may pursue the degree on the completion of their graduate or professional studies. There is no joint degree program between the MSL and other graduate or professional programs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Can credits earned from Pitt Law Online Certificates count toward the MSL Degree?

A student may apply all 15 credits earned in an online Pitt Law certificate program toward the MSL degree.  However, credits may be applied only if the grade achieved in a particular course is a B or higher.  Also, students must begin the MSL program no more than 4 years after completing the certificate.

I am uncertain about my career goals. Is there any value in my enrolling in the MSL Program?

The MSL is for the intellectually curious, for people who want to learn about law. You may simply want to learn about law for the sake of learning. The MSL provides an excellent opportunity if that is your interest. The Program Director counsels students on career opportunities. However, the Law School's career services office is not available to MSL students.

Is this a generalist program in the study of law, or may I concentrate in an area of law that interests me?

The MSL tailors your education to your needs and interests. There are a large number of Areas of Specialization from which to choose, or you may design your own specialization.The MSL Program Director will work with you in selecting the courses best suited to your needs.

Are there any required courses in the MSL program?

Yes. All MSL students take two required courses -- American Legal System (a course designed specifically for the MSL program), and one first-semester J.D. course, usually Torts. These two courses help place your field of specialization in a broader legal context and help you to understand how lawyers and judges think about and use law.

Required Introductory Courses

  • American Legal System  (3 credits) This course will begin to help MSL students to "think like lawyers." Students will gain experience in reading and analyzing cases and statutes in order to begin to understand how to use the law to predict answers to legal questions. The course will also include a sampling of legal readings and guest lectures in the various areas of substantive law. Grading will be based on short papers and presentations and on one longer paper and a corresponding class presentation.
  • Torts (4 credits) This course explores the methods and policies for allocating losses from harm to one's person, property, relations, and economic and other interests. The course covers the substantive principles of tort claims and their defenses. The course examines the three main theories of tort liability: intent, negligence, and strict liability and analyzes the theoretical and practical aspects of tort liability.
How many other courses do I need to take?

You will take a half dozen or more other courses. Altogether, you will need 30 credits to complete the MSL degree. Most courses are three credits, but some are two and some are four.
You will take at least 12 credits in your area of specialization. The remaining credits may be taken in any elective approved by the MSL Program Director.

Will courses from other schools and/or previous degrees be considered for credit toward the 30 credits required for the MSL Program?

The University of Pittsburgh does not permit credits from prior study to be applied toward the completion of the MSL degree.

May I take courses outside of the law school?

Yes. Students may take up to 6 credits of graduate level courses outside of the Law School with prior approval from the MSL Program Director.  These courses may be at other graduate or professional schools at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University.

Do I have to go to school full time, or may I obtain the MSL degree part time?

You may pursue the in-person MSL degree either on a full-time or part-time basis. The degree may be completed in one academic year (late August to mid-April) if pursued full-time. If you wish to take a part-time course of study, you will have up to four years to complete the degree. Students in the part-time program are required to take two courses in their first semester -- U.S. Legal System and one first-year J.D. course.

When do courses meet?

You will take regular law school courses in the MSL program, which are only offered during the day and not in the evening or on weekends. Some highly specialized courses are given in the late afternoon. There is no summer session at the Law School.

What courses will I take in my first semester?

All MSL students take American Legal System (3 credits), a course designed especially for MSL students, and open only to MSL students. 

In addition, you will take at least one regular first-semester JD course. Most students take Torts (4 credits), unless there is a particularly compelling reason to take a different course such as Contracts (4 credits), or Criminal Law (3 credits).  Courses meet 3 times a week. Part-time students need to have flexibility in their work schedule to attend classes and to successfully complete the MSL Program.

How much work will there be for students in the MSL Program?

All courses in the MSL program require students to engage in rigorous class preparation and study.  The rule of thumb is that students are expected to spend about three hours of preparation each weekfor each credit hour of class. Professors expect that all students will present themselves and their work in a professional manner, regardless of JD or MSL status. MSL students will reap the rewards of their efforts through their mastery of complex legal materials and in their new-found ability to comfortably discuss the law with their professors, JD students, and other colleagues. Attendance is required at a minimum of 80% of class meetings.

What is the grading system for students in the MSL program?

An Honors/Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading system is used. To obtain the MSL degree, students must attain a grade of Satisfactory or better in at least 30 credits of coursework. In courses taken in other graduate or professional schools of the university, for credit in the MSL program, students must attain a grade of B or above in order to receive credit for the course.

What is the tuition for the MSL Program?

Please view the tuition rates for AY 2023-24 here.

Students taking between 1 and 8 credits pay part-time tuition.  Students taking 9 or more credits per semester are charged at the full-time rate.

Books average $200/class.

Is there financial aid for MSL students?

The MSL Program does not offer financial aid in the form of grants to students. We understand that it can be difficult to find the funds to cover your tuition and other expenses. Pitt Law will, however, assist you in processing loans.

Many employers provide tuition assistance to employees. If you are working, you should inquire with your employer. 

What are the requirements for admission to the MSL?

Applicants must submit:

  • Official transcripts of all college, graduate, and professional studies, whether a degree was obtained or not
  • Resume
  • An essay (personal statement) on how you expect to use the knowledge acquired in pursuing the MSL degree

Decisions about admission will be made on the basis of the above information and the applicant's entire academic and employment record. A personal interview may also be required.

Are international students eligible for admission to the MSL Program?

International students are welcome and encouraged to apply. If you are an international student currently living in the United States, please contact the Office of International Services before applying to be sure you are eligible.  They must have completed the equivalent of a US bachelor of arts or sciences degree, and they must submit a TOEFL score or other satisfactory evidence of English proficiency. The minimum acceptable TOEFL scores are 600 paper, 250 computer, 110 internet. IELTS scores (7.0 or higher) are also accepted in lieu of TOEFL. International students are encouraged to apply as early as possible because of greater amount of time needed to process the application, obtain visas, and obtain housing.

What is the application deadline?

There is no formal deadline. We encourage applicants to submit applications in the winter or spring prior to the fall semester in which they seek to begin the program.

When do classes begin and end?

The MSL Program begins in late August and ends in late April or early May.  The exact dates vary from year to year. Students ordinarily may only begin the program in the fall semester. However applicants who already have a JD degree or who have completed at least the first semester of a JD program at any ABA accredited law school may begin the program in the winter semester.

What are MSL graduates doing with their education?

Of the slightly more than a dozen graduates of the MSL Program, roughly half have used their education to enhance their existing careers, and the other half to pursue new careers. In the former category are a health system tax specialist, a manager in an interstate trucking company, a university police officer, a pediatrician in private practice, a nurse practitioner, and a director of a nonprofit agency.

Some of the new careers that MSL graduates have stepped into are as a foreign filing administrator with a law firm specializing in patent and trademark law, a consulting firm specializing in political campaigns, a research assistant in a bioterrorism project, an employee of a firm searching for lost children, and the owner of a retail business.

In addition, some MSL graduates have opted for further education. One is obtaining a doctoral degree in public affairs and two others have applied to and have been accepted in JD programs.