Be sure to Understanding Your Law School Scholarship Offer
You should feel very proud of yourself if you received a law school scholarship offer! It’s a great accomplishment and can dictate the trajectory and flexibility of your law school career by ensuring you won’t be anchored with large amounts of law school debt. However, not all scholarship offers are created equal! It’s important that you read the fine print of yours to truly understand what is being offered to you. In this post, we discuss what you should be looking for when reading your law school scholarship offers and share resources to inform and negotiate your awards!
Understanding Your Law School Scholarship Offer
1. Carefully read the conditions on awards
Sometimes law school scholarship offers come with no strings attached. Other times, there are a lot of strings! If your scholarship is NOT 100% guaranteed to renew every year at the full rate of tuition, then you need to dissect your scholarship closely.
Conditions for many scholarships include GPA requirements (e.g., must have a 3.0 or higher) or class standing (e.g., must be in the top 20%) in order to renew for your second and third year. This means that you are never “safe” and must fight to keep your scholarship each and every year. We know that type-A law students would never slack off but without having the financial security of a guaranteed scholarship, the stress and pressure put on law school exams increase exponentially. It also means that you must seriously consider attending the university at the full cost of attendance when accepting your initial offer just in case you lose your scholarship in your 2L and 3L year.
2. Inquire about regaining a lost scholarship
Not only do you need to be aware of the conditions attached to your law school scholarship offers, you also need to understand whether you can regain the scholarship back if it’s lost.
Always prepare for a worst-case scenario, which is that you lose your scholarship after your first year. This means you won’t have support in your 2L year but what does it mean for 3L year? If you knock it out of the park in your 2L classes, can your scholarship be regained in your 3L year? See what your offer says. If it doesn’t speak to this option, ask the admissions office what their policy is and make sure that you get their answer in writing. (It’s perfectly fine to discuss this in person but just make sure you follow up with an email to confirm your conversation and this policy.)
You can also find the information you’re looking for in ABA 509 reports discussed below. Every year schools report how many scholarships they retained, reduced, or eliminated altogether! If a school isn’t forthcoming about your chances of losing an award, analyze this data and make a decision about what’s best for you.
3. Determine if your award is fixed or variable
When reviewing your law school scholarship offers, check to see if it covers a fixed amount (e.g., $40,000 per year) or if it’s a variable percentage of tuition (e.g., 75% of tuition each year). It might not seem like a big difference and may even work out to the same exact amount at the time you apply to school but there’s one important distinction: the second scenario accounts for inevitable tuition increases each year and the first one does not.
According to FinAid.org, tuition increases by about 8% each year on average. When given a scholarship award with a fixed amount, you’ll be required to pay the difference in any tuition hikes in your second and third year. This could amount to thousands of dollars you didn’t account for in your initial acceptance of the award. However, if your law school scholarship offer covers the full amount of tuition, you won’t need to worry about these price hikes!
4. Ask if you’re eligible for private scholarships
Even if you received a full-tuition scholarship for all three years of school, there are still questions you must get answers to. Inquire if you’re eligible to receive private scholarships through the law school. In an effort to spread the wealth, some law schools will not award privately funded scholarships to students already receiving full tuition coverage. Others, however, might let you. If you are eligible to apply for private scholarships then that money can be put towards living expenses and book fees.
Even if you are ineligible from applying to private scholarships through the school, be sure to explore other outside funding options through local and federal bar associations.
5. Check out other available book and housing stipends
Once you have an answer to whether your law school scholarship offers disqualifies you from other funding, ask if you are eligible for book or housing stipends. These are characterized differently from scholarship awards that apply to tuition but impact your bottom line all the same.
Books are incredibly expensive in law school. Though you may have digital or rental options available, books could still cost you thousands of dollars per year. Read your law school scholarship offers to see if there’s any mention of supplemental stipends.
6. Use ABA 509 reports to negotiate scholarships
Savvy law school applicants may already be familiar with the American Bar Association (ABA) 509 Required Disclosures (509 reports). If you haven’t heard of these reports or aren’t regularly using them in your law school research, you need to start!
These reports provide almost all of the information you’ll need to analyze and negotiate your law school scholarship offers. They provide critical data such as the number of students that were able to renew their scholarship from year to year. Likewise, the reports chart how many scholarships law schools reduced or eliminated each year.
Understanding these reports will allow you to better understand where your scholarship offer stacks up to other applicants and the likelihood of keeping it for the duration of your program.
Check out our article in the National Jurist to learn everything you need to know about 509 reports, how to interpret the data, and why it’s important to use them when deciding where to go to law school.
7. Always negotiate offers
Last but certainly not least, we discuss negotiating your offers. Negotiating your law school scholarship offers is a critical, albeit potentially uncomfortable, part of the admissions process. You must at least attempt to negotiate your offers for a higher award!
To do this, you need to save all your offer letters. Always be sure to get additional offers in writing! If you have a phone conversation with a law school representative offering you additional scholarship money, follow up in writing. Send other schools your competing offer letters and ask if they’ll be able to match or exceed it.
It may be an uncomfortable conversation for you, but you won’t get anything unless you simply ask. Always be respectful and never pushy. Know that some schools are quick to negotiate with students. Some even expect it when they make you an initial offer. Other schools have a strict policy of no negotiations. Know what the policy is for the schools you are considering and set your expectations accordingly.
Check out our 8 tips for law school scholarships that include applying for private scholarships, knowing your “number,” and understanding negotiation timelines.
Rachel Margiewicz, Director of Pre-Law Services, wrote this post. Rachel is a licensed attorney with years of admissions experience across three law school programs in different markets of the country. She knows what schools are looking for and how to make your application stand out. Contact us with questions and for more information on our application assistance services! We look forward to hearing from you!