A guide to law school scholarships


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So, you’ve been accepted to law school — congrats! You’re well on your way to embarking on a career that could help you fight for others’ rights and further the public good.

These are all laudable motivations, but chances are there’s something stronger weighing on you: How to pay for law school? It’s not necessarily clear how to find (or negotiate) scholarships for law school.

Related: Do
student loans count as income?

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The Cost of Law School

A guide to law school scholarships

According to The Association of American Law Schools, on average, law school students paid $49,567 in tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 academic year to attend a private, out-of-state school — and, that amount doesn’t even include living expenses and other non-school costs that could pop up during graduate school.

U.S. News & World Report notes that the average annual cost of a public, out-of-state law school is $41,726, or $28,264 for in-state. (Even the lower cost option here comes to $84,792 for a three-year law program.)

Because students aren’t yet racking up those billable attorney hours, it can be helpful to research law school scholarship opportunities before applying.

Here’s a broad overview of potential law school scholarships — plus some links to resources for students thinking about going to law school.

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Crunching (and Swallowing) the Numbers

A guide to law school scholarships

On the whole, according to non-profit organization Law School Transparency, law school tuition has been steadily rising over the last 35 years for all American Bar Association-approved law schools.

Per the numbers mentioned above, there might be a fair amount of sticker shock for those who haven’t yet applied for graduate school and are only thinking of someday going the lawyer route. (Here’s our guide on how to apply to law school.) Fortunately, there are a range of options for aspiring attorneys seeking to fund law school.

In some cases, there are full-ride tuition scholarships and need-based grants out there. Full-rides of course, are not available at all law schools. If a law school doesn’t explicitly advertise or highlight information regarding full-ride opportunities, interested students can contact the school to ask. 

To offset the cost of attending law school, some school applicants may opt to apply only to programs that offer full- or partial- rides. One simple way to figure this out is old-fashioned Googling.

Students deciding whether to apply to law school may want to familiarize themselves with the language universities adopt to explain these scholarships. In some cases, specific scholarships are designated for particular students.

Here are a few examples of how law schools describe their full-ride law school scholarship offerings— including, the University of Chicago Law School (which has several such opportunities), NYU’s Latinx Rights Scholarship and Duke Law’s Mordecai Scholars. 

Magoosh, the higher education test-prep and study counseling company with the silly-sounding name, has published a 2018 list of a handful of others (along with suggestions on how to strengthen one’s resume when applying for such scholarships).

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Scholarships and Tuition Assistance

A guide to law school scholarships

Full-ride law school scholarships can be highly competitive—with some schools offering as few as two to four per enrollment year. One potential tip for the search for scholarships is to target law schools with more tuition help.

U.S. News & World Report has organized and tabulated a list of 10 law schools that offer the most tuition assistance, reporting that “at least 77.8% of students who received grants at these schools got enough to cover more than half of tuition.” 

Some of the schools listed in U.S. News & World Report , like Pennsylvania State University-Carlisle, go as high as 93.2% of full-time students receiving aid in that amount.

If all of this is starting to sound like alphabet (and number) soup, there are dedicated resources like Fastweb to help prospective students find scholarships for which they may qualify. Fastweb is an online resource to help students find scholarships, financial aid, and even part-time jobs in support of college degrees.

The American Bar Association’s law-student division also has a running list (along with deadlines) of law student awards and scholarships. Additionally, the Law School Admission Council offers a list of diversity scholarships available to students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Here’s another guide on finding and applying for scholarships and one on unclaimed scholarship money.

Another resource that could be useful in factoring living expenses is this student loan calculator for aspiring law school students. Tools like this can, usually, auto-load the tuition and cost-of-living breakdowns for specific law schools. From here, it’s possible then to compare how much degrees from particular schools may end up costing.

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Negotiating Wiggle Room

A guide to law school scholarships

Doing all this research and the math around law school scholarships could put applicants in a more informed position when evaluating which program to attend — and, potentially, help them to identify schools more likely to be interested in their application.

A reality of today’s admissions process for law school is negotiating scholarships. Some schools have a strict policy against negotiating, but others fully expect their initial offer to be countered. That’s why it can help to save acceptance letters and anything in writing from schools that offer admission.

Offer letters could then be shared with competing schools, asking if they’re able to match another university’s aid. It might be uncomfortable asking for more tuition assistance upfront, but a little discomfort now could help applicants shoulder less law school debt later on. 

If arguing a position makes an applicant uncomfortable, it might be worth pondering whether to become a lawyer.

Doing research on law schools (and figuring out the likely cost-of-living expenses at each institution) could help applicants to determine which scores or grades to aim for in an effort to make law school more affordable for them.

 Tabulating expenses (and having them on hand) may also demonstrate to universities that the amounts being negotiated are based in well-documented expenses.

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Law School Scholarships

A guide to law school scholarships

There are lots of options for law-school hopefuls to find potential scholarships. The nonprofit organization Law School Admission Council (LSAC) has compiled a list of the many law school scholarships available to applicants.

From the LSAC’s list, the Attorney Ken Nugent Legal Scholarship ($5,000) and the BARBRI Law Preview’s “One Lawyer Can Change the World” Scholarship ($10,000) are worth pinning, due to the sizable chunk of change they offer.

Many law schools themselves offer competitive scholarships to attract stronger candidates. It might be helpful to check if a school also offers in-state residents specific tuition reductions or grants — especially if the applicant is considering a public school in their home state.

Similarly, some law firms offer scholarships. Usually applying is a straightforward process: Many, like the Rise To Shine Scholarship, only require a short essay to be considered. On top of this, there’s the rising trend of law firms helping new hires to repay a portion of their student debt once onboarded.

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Federal vs. Private Loans for Law School

A guide to law school scholarships

Students wanting to apply to law school could consider the differences between federal and private student loans. Federal loans come with certain benefits not guaranteed by private ones (such as, forbearance or income-driven repayment).

Private loans can also help applicants to cover the expense of graduate school. So, it might be a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of both federal and private student loan options for law school.

For example, Direct PLUS loans for grads charge 7.08% in disbursement fees for the 2019-2020 academic year. (2020 numbers aren’t out yet.) Another great resource in understanding federal loans can be found over at studentaid.gov.

It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same benefits and protections afforded to federal student loan borrowers, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). 

If a law school applicant is interested eventually in becoming a public defender or pursuing non-profit legal work, forgiveness and forbearance perks may play a role in their decision.

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