It’s no secret that law schools are expensive. The New York Times releases an article every other week about how Stupid Student X, who just graduated from Shitty School Y, is screwed because he can’t find a job or pay back his ridiculous student loans.
Top tier law schools can have a total cost of attendance of over than $200,000 (including living expenses) and lesser-ranked schools aren’t too much cheaper. For some reason, many prospective students either don’t know that it’s commonplace to negotiate the cost of law school tuition and scholarships, or are simply too lazy to try. But unless you’re stupid (in which case you probably shouldn’t be going to law school in the first place), or fairly wealthy, you should hesitate before agreeing to pay full tuition at any law school. So for the 99%, avoid getting featured in the NYT as Stupid Student X by negotiating your law school tuition before committing to a school.
Why You Should Negotiate
The fact that students can negotiate their scholarships with prospective universities is…to be quite honest…unique. Until this point, the art of negotiation has played a small role in the life of the average law school applicant. The etiquette and knowhow of approaching the subject is foreign, to say the least, which is why Law School Advice is hear to help.
Understanding the laws of supply and demand are integral to the success of your negotiations. Lets assume that you are a bright and engaging prospective law school student. Because you’ve done well on your LSATs and have maintained a high GPA, you have a pretty awesome law school portfolio. And since you’ve done comparatively better than the majority of your peers, you are obviously of limited supply. Law schools, which are constantly trying to climb in the rankings, are in demand of bright and engaging prospective students. Because there are so few students who have your scores and so many law schools that seek people with your scores, you control the bargaining power.
Once you start to see yourself as a wanted commodity, you will become infinitely more successful in your negotiations. As a commodity that is in high demand, simply being admitted to a university should be more of an expectation than something to celebrate. Again, you are a smart and engaging student who will make an excellent lawyer. There are many law schools out there that need students with your credentials, but there aren’t too many students who have your credentials. They need you more than you need them.
This is the mindset you need to have when going into the negotiation process. Of course you should be happy that you were accepted and excited for what’s to come. However, you should also be confident in yourself and recognize that you have acquired tools and skills throughout your preparation that are actually quite valuable. By utilizing the nature of supply and demand for prospective law students, you will have law schools fighting over you in no time.
Note: Negotiating with law schools is commonplace, so there is no reason to feel uncomfortable when approaching admissions committees about the subject. Plus, assuming you’re respectful, the worst that could happen is the school politely refuses to negotiate and informs you that their original offer is final. With nothing to lose, negotiating is simply a no-brainer.
Research Before Negotiations
Once you have heard back from the majority of the schools you’ve applied to, you should be ready to start the negotiation process. But first you’ll need to do a little research to decide how you should go about the process.
Start With a Self Evaluation – Take a good look at your numbers and compare them to the schools you’ve been admitted to. Below median applicants, in most cases, should just be happy to get admitted. But if one or both of LSAT and GPA scores are above a school’s medians, you will most likely be offered a scholarship at some point throughout the admissions process. In fact, you deserve one! These are the schools you will focus on throughout the negotiation process.
Evaluate The Schools You’ve Been Admitted To – The majority of law schools (other than the top ranked schools) are local in reach, meaning that they only compete with other law schools that are in their own geographic area. Furthermore, law schools tend to only compete with other law schools that are somewhat close in ranking, or at least in the same tier. So, for example, USC probably would compete for a student who also applied to UCLA, because they are close in ranking and are close in proximity. However, USC would not care to compete with George Washington, because although they are similar in ranking, they are on opposite sides of the country, and are most likely competing for different students.
Tools Used to Negotiate Scholarships
Once you’ve evaluated your own position and found which schools consider each other peers, you’re in prime position to start your negotiating. But first, lets go over the tools you’ll need to be successful.
The absolute best thing you can bring to the negotiation table is a higher scholarship from a higher ranked and superior school. Lets say Harvard offers you a $20,000 while Boston College (a lesser-ranked school) only gives you $10,000. Both schools are highly respectable, although it is clear that Harvard is higher ranked and considered a “superior” school. Additionally, both schools are in the same geographic region, so its safe to say that Boston College is fighting to steal a few students from Harvard’s class. In this case, you will more than likely be successful if you ask Boston College to give you more money.
The next best tool you can have is a higher scholarship from a peer school. Sticking with the Boston area, a typical example of schools that are peers are Boston College and Boston University. The differences in rankings are more or less negligible, and they are situated in the same city. Job prospects coming out of either school are more or less identical, so it’s a fair assumption that they are, in fact, peers. If you get a scholarship offer from Boston College for $15,000 but Boston University only gives you $10,000, you will be able to use the offer from BC to boost your offer from BU. Most students who apply to either of these schools also apply to the other, because like we’ve established, they are peers in the same geographic reason. In this situation, if left alone, most students would choose to take more money at Boston College. In order to stay competitive, Boston University, who is fighting for the same students as Boston College, would be more than willing to negotiate their cost of tuition. Usually peer schools tend to match higher offers, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for BU to up their scholarship offer to match BC’s offer of $15,000.
Other tools to use, although much less effective, are admission to higher ranked schools (without a scholarship offer), higher scholarship offers from lower ranked schools, and acceptances at peer schools (without a scholarship offer).
How to Negotiate Law School Scholarships
Note: There are sample law school negotiation e-mails at the bottom of the page for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to modify and use these examples.
For simplicity, lets say you get into these four schools:
– School A: Rank = 25, Scholarship = $5,000
– School B: Rank = 32, Scholarship = $10,000
– School C: Rank = 40, Scholarship = $15,000
– School D: Rank = 42, Scholarship = $20,000
Step 1) Start by contacting the admissions office of School C
Always contact Admissions (not the Financial Aid office) by e-mailing a specific person instead of sending it to the general Office of Admissions e-mail. If you can’t find a specific e-mail address for someone in Admissions than sending it to the general e-mail will work.
To begin your e-mail, describe to School C how excited you were to gain admission to such a prestigious institution. Attending School C has always been a dream of yours because they are amazing at Blah, will give you many opportunities to do BlahBlah, and feature tons to BlahBlahBlah that will help you throughout become the lawyer you’ve always known you could be.
The introduction should look something like this:
I was thrilled to learn of my acceptance to School C earlier this year. Since I began looking into potential options for my legal education, School C has been near the top of my list for a multitude of reasons. Besides School C’s ideal location in the heart of Random City, the school itself maintains a nationally recognized prestigious reputation while offering graduates unparalleled networking opportunities. The sheer number of clinics offered by School C is impressive when compared to its peer schools, and the extremely low class size and student-faculty ratio ensures that I will have the opportunity to get to know my professors while learning in a more personalized environment.
The purpose of this introduction is to lead up to the all-important However Sentence. You butter them up with a bunch of I-Love-Your-School and then lay on the seriousness of the conversation with something like:
School C is my number one school for a multitude of reasons however, the costs associated with living in such a vibrant, up-and-coming area are comparatively high, and because law school is an incredibly large investment, I need to weigh my options carefully.
The combination of the I-Love-Your-School introduction and the However Sentence is supposed to convey to Admissions that the only reason you are even considering other schools is because the cost of tuition at your school is too high. Even if that isn’t the case, it will be the argument that you are trying to make in your e-mail.
After telling School C it is a perfect fit, and including a However Sentence, tell them that you’ve received a scholarship from School D in the amount of $20,000, and that you’re contacting them today to see if they would reconsider your scholarship award.
Although School C seems like the perfect fit for me personally, as well as professionally, the financial implications of such an investment are obviously a concern, and I need to give consideration to other offers from peer schools. I received a scholarship of $20,000 per year from School D, a scanned copy of which I have attached to this email.
Assure them that you would still much rather attend School C, but the financial implications of such a large decision will affect the better part of your future, and anything they could do to make your decision easier would be welcome.
Even though I would much rather attend School C for all of the reasons I have expressed and more, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the scholarships awarded by peer schools, especially with uncertain job prospects in a seemingly shifting legal market. Still, after countless hours of research, School C is simply where I want to be for the next three years of my life.
Leave a brief “Thank you for taking the time to take a look at my e-mail,” sign it, and make sure to attach a copy of your scholarship letter from School D as proof.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my e-mail and I look forward to your response. If you have any questions, concerns, or anything at all, please feel free to message me at any time at NegotiatingStudent@gmail.com or call at 123-456-7890.
Step 2) Move on Up the Ladder and Contact School B, and then School A
After the Office of Admissions has reviewed your amazingly eloquent and persuasive negotiation letter and responded with notice that they’ve decided to match School D’s Scholarship to the tune of $20,000, it’s time to contact School B.
In this e-mail you’ll be doing the exact same thing as you did before, but revising the scholarship amounts to include your increased award. Remember to tailor each letter to the specific school and not just replacing “School C” with “School B.” Do some research about the university and the city in which it’s located and make sure to put your newfound knowledge on display.
Once School B has responded favorably and increased your scholarship offer, you’ll do the same thing with School A. If you’ve gotten into more than four schools, moving up the ladder with your negotiations will take a bit more time so make sure to take this into consideration.
Step 3) The Final Offer
So you’ve moved up the ladder, negotiating your law school scholarship award like a champ, constantly feeling drunk with success. School A has finally increased their scholarship award to $20,000 and now it’s time to send out your last negotiation e-mail: The Final Offer.
Before you commit to your dream School A, you might as well try to squeeze the last bit of generosity out of them.
Again, you’ll start off with an Introduction paragraph similar to the first, describing how great School A is how much you appreciate the increased scholarship award. But instead of your normal However Sentence, you’ll include a Reiteration Sentence.
An example Reiteration Sentence would look something like: Although I’ve expressed this to you before, I want to reiterate that School A is my undeniable top choice, and the only thing that is stopping me from sending in my deposit today is the monumental financial obligation of this decision.
The purpose of the Reiteration Sentence is to once again show that the only reason you haven’t already sent in your deposit is because of the cost of tuition.
Follow this up with another set of I’m-Poor-But-I-Still-Really-Want-To-Go-To-Your-School paragraphs, and conclude by ensuring that before you stop negotiating you want to know if you have received their final scholarship offer.
The first seat deposit deadline is a few weeks from now, so before I make my final decision I want to make sure that I have School A’s final offer. Although I have received scholarship awards that equal or exceed School A’s from School B, School C, and School D, I still feel that School A will give me the best chance to succeed both in law school and as a practicing attorney.
Step 4) Sit Back and Relax
Because you deserve it….and because your done. You will most likely not be a hundred percent successful during your law school scholarship negotiations, but don’t let that deter you! Remember, the worst they can say is “No.”
Sample Scholarship Negotiation Letters
Initial Sample Scholarship Negotiation Letter:
Dear Specific Person in the Office of Admissions,
I was thrilled to learn of my acceptance to Boston College Law earlier this year. Since I began looking into potential options for my legal education, Boston College has been near the top of my list for a multitude of reasons. Besides Boston College’s ideal location in the suburb of Newton, the school itself maintains a nationally recognized prestigious reputation while offering graduates unparalleled networking opportunities. The sheer number of clinics offered by Boston College is impressive when compared its peer schools, and the extremely low student-faculty ratio ensures that I will have the opportunity to get to know my professors while learning in a more personalized environment.
Although Boston College seems like the perfect fit for me personally, as well as professionally, the financial implications of such an investment are obviously a concern, and I need to give consideration to other offers from peer schools. I received a merit-based scholarship of $40,000 per year from Washington & Lee University, a merit-based scholarship of $25,000 per year from Fordham, and a merit-based scholarship of $26,000 per year from Emory University, scanned copies of which I have attached to this email.
Boston College Law is located right outside of downtown Boston, an amazing city that provides invaluable resources to future lawyers. However, the costs associated with living in such a vibrant, up-and-coming area are much higher than that of Lexington, Virginia and even Atlanta, Georgia. The scholarship that you have already offered me in the amount of $20,000 per year is generous, but because law school is an incredibly large investment, I need to weigh my options carefully. That being said, the location, prestige, and opportunities afforded by Boston College Law are advantages that still make it my top choice.
In light of everything, I am reaching out to you today to see if Boston College would reconsider my current scholarship offer. The financial burdens placed upon many recent law school graduates, along with declining job prospects across the board, have been well documented over the past several years. Anything that Boston College Law could do to make my decision easier would be welcomed.
I am convinced that this university will give me the best opportunity to thrive as a student and as a professional, and the only thing keeping me from sending in my deposit today are the financial differences between attending Boston College and a peer school that has offered a more lucrative scholarship. Washington & Lee’s offer of $40,000 per year will save me a combined $60,000 over three years, not including cost of living expenses and interest accrued on additional debt. Although I would much rather attend Boston College for all of the reasons I have expressed and more, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore that amount of scholarship money, especially with uncertain job prospects in a seemingly shifting legal market. Still, after countless hours of research, Boston College is simply where I want to be for the next three years of my life.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my e-mail and I look forward to your response. If you have any questions, concerns, or anything at all, please feel free to message me at any time at NegotiatingStudent@comcast.net or call at 123-456-7890.
Final Sample Negotiation Letter To Top Choice School
Dear Specific Person in the Office of Admissions,
After spending all of Friday, April 5th participating in Boston University’s Admitted Student Day, I was thrilled when I opened my inbox to find the letter you had written notifying me of my additional scholarship award. It is hard to put into words how much it means to me that Boston University views me as a valuable investment, and I plan on proving to you throughout my three years in law school that I am worth every penny. Although I’ve expressed this to you before, I want to reiterate that Boston University is my undeniable top choice, and the only thing that is stopping me from sending in my deposit today is the monumental financial obligation of this decision.
It’s no secret that the professional landscape for new lawyers is at a crossroads, and the future outlook for freshly minted attorneys is uncertain to say the least. The fact that I am committed to law school shows that I do, in fact, view this degree as a worthwhile investment. However, the opportunity cost of choosing one school over another will, in my case, be a matter of thousands upon thousands of dollars.
According to Boston University’s website, the estimated total cost of attendance for all three years of school is $192,617, not including interest. Even after scholarships are taken out, I will still be left with an estimated debt of $114,617. Considering the currently shifting market for legal professionals, incurring over $100,000 worth of debt is a daunting proposition, one that I am trying my hardest to avoid.
Even so, after visiting Boston University, talking to the professors, touring the tower and hearing how passionate the student panel is about their school, I know that BU is where I’m meant to be.
The first seat deposit deadline is a week from now, so before I make my final decision I want to make sure that I have Boston University’s final offer. Although I have received scholarship awards that equal or exceed Boston University’s from Boston College, Fordham, Washington & Lee, and Emory, I still feel that BU will give me the best chance to succeed both in law school and as a practicing attorney.
I look forward to your response, and hope that you will be able to make this decision an easy one for me in the coming week. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to message me at any time at NegotiatingStudent@comcast.net or call at 123-456-7890.