9 must-know scholarship tips

By Rachel Margiewicz

What’s better than finally being able to pursue your dream of going to law school? The answer is receiving a scholarship to do it!

It’s no secret that a legal education is very expensive. Here are nine law school scholarship tips you must know to help finance your dream and receive the financial support you deserve!

1.  Understand the scholarship review process.

It’s imperative that you know howto be considered for merit- and need-based scholarships. Every school has different scholarship procedures. Are the schools you’re applying to considering you for scholarships automatically upon admission or is more information needed from you? Do you need to write additional essays or show your financial need (possibly by filing your FAFSA) prior to consideration?

These are questions you must know the answer to. Understanding the details of how the admissions office awards scholarships and what they require from candidates is an imperative first step in obtaining scholarship awards.

2. The early bird gets the . . . money.

While every law school’s scholarship structure is different, it’s generally true that if you apply early you give yourself the best chance of admission AND a scholarship. Many schools are capped on the amount of scholarship money they can award to students. With a finite pool of funding, you want to be sure that you get your application in early to receive consideration for all possible funding opportunities. Set yourself up for financial success by applying early.

3. Do the math.

This sounds simple but some law school scholarship offers may be confusing (or even unintentionally misleading). Law school scholarships come in one of two forms. The first is a percentage (e.g., a 75% tuition scholarship). The other is an exact amount (e.g., $40,000 a year). Even if one may sound better than the other, do the math! Figure out what each scholarship actually amounts to and the difference you will be responsible to pay.

You must consider the scholarship in the context of the total cost of attendance. In addition to tuition and fees, this figure includes books, room and board, transportation, and other personal expenses associated with living and studying at the school. You might end up taking out fewer loans to live in the Midwest where you received a $30,000 scholarship than if you attend a law school in New York City where you received a $40,000 scholarship. Even though the latter is a larger scholarship amount, you might be left to pay more at the end of the day because of the cost of living in that location. (Caveat: Money isn’t everything. You’ll still need to consider the opportunities afforded by a particular school and where you ultimately want to practice after graduation.)

4. Know whether your scholarship is secure in your 2L and 3L year.

A large scholarship offer is wonderful and exciting. You should feel very proud that your hard work is paying off. But, is it too good to be true? Be sure to get the details on whether the scholarship is guaranteed for all three years of your program or if there are conditions to renewal. A $20,000 a year law school scholarship that is guaranteed for all three years may ultimately be a better option than a $40,000 scholarship that you may lose in your second and third year.

Do your research and find out what your chances are of keeping your scholarship for your second and third year. One of the best resources for this is to check out law schools’ ABA 509 required disclosures. You can see the number of “conditional scholarships” awarded each year and how many students were able to renew their full scholarship, lost it altogether, or had it reduced the following year.

You should be asking the following questions: Is the scholarship for one year or guaranteed for all three years? Is there a specific GPA you must maintain in order to retain your scholarship? If so, what is the scholarship retention rate (i.e., the rate at which students keep their scholarships from 1L to 2L and 2L to 3L year)? Is there the chance to earn your scholarship back if you lose it? These are all important questions that should play a critical role in your decision-making process.

5. Negotiate your offers.

For better or worse, negotiating law school scholarships is a reality of today’s admissions process. Some schools openly negotiate with students and 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.

Save all your offer letters and always 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 to document the offer. Send other schools your competing offer letters and ask if they’ll be able to match it. It may be an uncomfortable conversation for you, but you won’t get anything unless you simply ask.

6. Understand admissions timelines for renegotiation.

Make your request for more scholarship money a few weeks or a month before your first seat deposit is due. When the deposit deadline passes and students who previously were awarded scholarships do not submit a deposit to secure their seat, that money may become available again.

If money for an admissions office is tight and it’s late in the admissions season (late spring and early summer), it’s possible that the school can’t give any additional funding until it has been “released” back into a funding pool by other students.

For schools that don’t need to be so cost conscious, they may still be more willing to offer you additional scholarship funding only after deposit deadlines pass if they notice that a large amount of their top students did not pay a deposit to commit to their school. They might try harder to get their remaining highly qualified students to stay with additional financial incentives.

7. Know your “number.”

If there’s a specific amount of law school scholarship support you need in order to attend a school, figure that out! Know exactly what it will take to cover the cost of attendance. Share this with admissions officers and explain the breakdown of where you need to be financially to be able to attend their school. Abstractly trying to receive as much funding as possible is not as compelling as detailing why extra funding should be given to you instead of someone else.

8. Be professional.

Conduct yourself with integrity and treat the admissions officers with respect. Admissions and financial aid representatives are usually willing to work with you, but understand that their hands may be tied in some situations. Keep in mind that if you become a thorn in their side, they might be less likely to offer you additional funding even when it becomes available. (If you’re difficult to work with as an applicant, it doesn’t bode well with how you’ll conduct yourself while in law school and in the legal profession.)

Your professional conduct should extend to your interactions with other applicants, including conversations at admitted student events and also your posts to social media.

9. Apply for private scholarships.

Often, law school scholarships fall into two categories: merit-based awards and private funding. (Need-based awards often are considered to be grants and not necessarily scholarships.) The merit-based awards will be granted based on the contents of your application. Privately funded scholarships, however, often require a separate application or short essay. Don’t ignore additional money. Too many students think it’s too much of a hassle to write any additional essays. Consequently, the pool of applicants for private funding tends to be smaller.

At the end of the day, you are entering a profession that conducts itself with the highest ethics and integrity. Remember this when applying to law school and negotiating scholarships. It might feel great to receive large offers from multiple institutions. However, if you have no intention of attending a particular school, don’t needlessly engage in negotiations.  Keep in mind that any scholarship given to you is money taken away from another deserving candidate who may really need the extra help in order to attend their dream school.

Rachel Margiewicz is the director of Pre-Law Services with JD Advising, a law school and bar exam preparation company offering services ranging from LSAT tutoring and application assistance to bar exam tutoring, courses, and seminars. She is a licensed attorney who spent five years working in law school admissions, successfully coaching applicants through the admissions process.

You can follow her and the JD Advising team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Additional resources, including daily blog posts, are available at www.JDAdvising.com