How To Get The Best Financial Aid Package From A Law School

By Alison Monahan

 

It’s no secret that law school is expensive and that most students graduate with significant student loan debt. But there are things you can do to try to optimize your financial aid package.

If you’re still in the planning stages of the law school application process, it is never too early to think about financial aid. You may not know where you will be accepted, but consider including some “safety” schools on your application list to increase your chances of receiving a nice scholarship offer. Even if you ultimately decline the offer(s), having robust financial aid options can be a useful tool for negotiating with your target schools (more on that later). 

 

Not sure where you’re likely to be accepted? Check out the LSAC undergraduate GPA and LSAT Score Search tool for a realistic assessment of your chances.

 

Applying For Financial Aid 

After you’ve applied, don’t wait for acceptance letters before filling out the necessary financial aid materials. At a minimum, law schools typically require that you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which can be done as early as Oct. 1 of the year prior to your matriculation date. You’ll typically also need your tax returns for your matriculation year to complete the process, so plan to file those as soon as possible.

As a graduate student, you’ll be considered financially independent of your parents for the purpose of federal aid, but many schools still ask for parental financial information. You may need tax returns or other information from your family, as well. Be sure you understand what’s required for each school you’re considering. You can generally find all the requirements and forms on the law school’s website, and LSAC has a useful list of questions to ask law schools about their financial aid packages.

Once you’ve submitted all of your financial aid materials and received an acceptance letter, the school will send an offer of financial aid. Is this offer set in stone? No, it’s not. Many potential law students don’t realize they can negotiate this first financial aid offer.

Here are a few things to consider to get the best financial aid package:

 

1 | A Change In Your Situation

Has something about your situation changed since you submitted your financial aid application? If so, let the school know! Perhaps a parent lost a job, or you got married (or divorced). If these changes make it more difficult for you to pay for school, use them as a bargaining chip for more money.

 

2 | Negotiate Your Financial Aid Offer

Do you have attractive offers from other law schools? Let your dream school know. Even if a school offering you money isn’t exactly a peer institution, many schools will take these other offers into account and give you more scholarship money to encourage you to enroll.

A simple email or phone call saying, “I’d love to attend School X, but School Y has offered me $50,000/year and that’s very tempting. Is there anything you can do regarding my financial aid offer?” can pay huge dividends! Not every school will engage in this type of bargaining, but you never know and it’s worth asking (politely). 

 

Other Ways To Save On Law School Tuition

If your dream school won’t budge on scholarship money, ask if there are school-specific loan repayment options (LRAP programs) that might benefit you on the back end after you’ve graduated. These programs will require you undertake certain types of employment, but can be useful if you plan to do public interest work.

The ABA has a list of schools with LRAP programs here, but be sure to always ask for updated information from the schools you’re considering, as the details of these programs change frequently.

If your school financial aid package isn’t looking so great, don’t despair! You can also research and apply for non-school scholarship funding. Many organizations offer funding for law students, and who knows what you might qualify for! Here’s one list of options.

You might also consider deferring your acceptance and working for a year or more to save money for school (but realize this will cut a year off of your post-graduation earning capacity).

 

Know What You Are Signing Up For

When it’s all said and done, most law students will incur at least some student loan debt. Before you accept these loans, be sure you understand the terms and conditions, and have a realistic idea what you’re signing up for, in terms of repayment.

A student loan repayment calculator can help you see how much these loans will cost over the long term. The monthly cost can be fairly staggering, so be sure you’re comfortable with these payments before committing! You’ll also want to seriously consider a school’s job placement numbers, to ensure you’re likely to find a job that enables you to pay back your loans. The Law School Transparency Project’s school reports can help you understand this information for each school you’re considering.

In the end, law school is an investment, of time and money. Hopefully, with the tips above, you can make it a bit less financially draining by maximizing your financial aid package!

 

Related articles:

How To Get An Excellent Law School Letter Of Recommendation

LSAT Scores: How low should you go?

10 law school application tips that pay big dividends

How To Start Studying For The LSAT

 


Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School®, which is a leading resource for women (and some men) embarking on a legal career. Alison is also a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox® and Bar Exam Toolbox® which provide free resources, tutoring and a variety of courses and tools to help law students and bar exam takers succeed with less stress and anxiety.