Law school is expensive. Like, really expensive (here’s a cheery article on the subject). Unless you have a treasure trove of hidden cash stashed away somewhere, you are probably going to rely on some combination of scholarships, financial aid, and student loans to finance your legal education. This post is about the first of those financing options—scholarships.
In general, students either receive scholarships from their schools or from outside organizations.
1. School Scholarships
With a few notable exceptions, most law schools are willing to award potentially significant amounts of merit aid to qualified candidates. There are a few ways you can try to maximize your chances of receiving such an award.
First, you should apply early. Merit aid awards—like offers of admission—are given out on a first-come-first-served basis. Consequently, the sooner you apply, the better chance you have of receiving aid. As a result, I would recommend applying no later than Thanksgiving, and preferably sooner, in order to put yourself in the best position.
Second, don’t be afraid to negotiate. When I was applying, I sent out applications to twenty schools. I knew going in that I was very unlikely to attend a school outside of the top fourteen, but I planned to use the larger merit aid awards from lower ranked schools to persuade the higher ranked schools to up the ante. I would recommend following a similar approach for whatever range of school you’re targeting. As long as you’re polite, sincere, and forthcoming, most financial aid officers and admission counselors will have at least have a conversation with you regarding increasing your offer.
Finally, you should be aware of any strings that are attached to your award. For example, some schools will require you to stay above a certain GPA cut-off in order to remain eligible for your scholarship. I would be cautious with an offer of that kind. Having gone through 1L, I can tell you with firsthand knowledge that it is very hard to predict your performance in law school classes based on your past academic record. Law school is a different beast, and you don’t want to lose a significant portion of your funding because you don’t perform quite as well as you would’ve hoped.
2. Scholarship Organizations
In addition to school scholarships, there are a variety of outside scholarships available to students. Yale Law School provides a list of some such scholarships, as does U.S. News and World Report. I would recommend that you run a Google search, either on the basis of some trait or on your geographical location (e.g. “law school scholarships for [state],” or “law school scholarship for [affinity group, personal attribute]”). The key here is to be proactive—there are a lot of scholarship opportunities available, and you should try to seek them out.
I distinctly remember getting extremely burned out by the application process. The last thing I wanted to do was seek out extra scholarship options or write additional essays. As you go through the process, you might feel the same way. Some students don’t worry about it because they expect to make so much money in biglaw that their paltry amount of law school debt will just vanish in no time. I wish that were the case. Take the time now to seek out opportunities that will help you avoid paying off student loans (and interest on those loans) for years to come.