3 Steps to Maximize Your Chances of Law School Financial Aid

Shawn P. O'Connor

If you plan to apply to law schools this fall, I strongly recommend that you begin to consider your financing options now rather than wait until you have completed your applications. Many clients come to me wanting to put off thinking about money for as long as possible -- which is understandable, given the skyrocketing cost of legal education.

But it is critically important to incorporate financial aid strategy into the application process to maximize your chances of being offered a package that includes a full or near full scholarship. Follow these three steps in the coming months and you could be well on your way to graduating law school with minimal or no debt.

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1. Select schools strategically: As you consider the schools to which you will apply, start by selecting target, stretch and safety schools. Identify your top choice or choices and try to investigate how much aid they generally offer.

Consider applying to schools known for offering generous merit-based scholarships to students who have GPAs and LSAT scores similar to yours. Add these schools to your list and apply to them, even if you are not terribly enthusiastic about enrolling. Later, if you are offered a large scholarship at one such school but not at your top choice, you may be able to leverage that offer to negotiate a substantial increase to your package and end up attending your first choice with a robust scholarship.

2. Improve your LSAT score: As you study tirelessly for the LSAT, you probably have one thing on your mind: getting into your dream school. You desperately want to achieve a high enough score to be accepted, but did you also know that vital stats like your LSAT score and GPA are used, along with the all-important essays and recommendations, to determine merit-based scholarships?

It is easy to think that you just need to get in and that you will worry about finances later, but if you really buckle down for the June or October exams, you may be paid quite handsomely for your efforts.

To compete with qualified candidates both for admission and scholarships, you may wish to consider taking an LSAT class or hiring an expert private tutor. This will almost certainly prove to be a very wise investment, with returns of 50 times or more; just do your due diligence to ensure you are working with a true leader in the LSAT prep field.

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3. Consider consulting a law admissions expert: No matter how high or low your GPA or LSAT score is, you also need to focus on the qualitative portion of the applications, the importance of which nearly all students significantly underestimate. While there is a cost associated with hiring a professional admissions counselor, working with someone who knows which qualities specific schools seek in your essays and recommendations could enhance your law school results and the size of your scholarships.

This year, I worked with an applicant who had applied to law schools last year on his own and got into only one top 100 school in the N.Y.-N.J. area with just $15,000 in merit-based scholarships. We helped reshape his school list to include more schools known for giving generous scholarships as well as assisted him in completely reworking his essays, resume, applications and recommender choices.

With the same LSAT score and GPA but with this new admissions package, the student was accepted at four top 100 schools in the same region with more than $300,000 in total merit-based scholarships. He also got into a top 50 school that he was outright rejected from the previous year.

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Finally, the school that gave him $15,000 the prior year offered him $80,000. This is another reason to think about financial aid early; reputable admissions counselors work with you throughout the entire application process and expect to help with financial aid negotiations.

In your quest to gain admittance to your top-choice school, do not forget to consider how you will pay for law school. You do not want to have to turn down an offer or put yourself in debt unnecessarily because you put financial aid on the back burner for many months. Get started early so you can focus on your studies instead of worrying about money during school.

How are you tackling law school tuition? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.