The Art of Negotiating Law School Scholarships
What do income tax, credit card fees, salaries, and cars have in common?
They’re all negotiable, of course.
As a quick Google search will show you, there are lists on top of lists of things that can and should be negotiated – because who doesn’t like to haggle? Whether it’s furniture, jewelry, bulk purchases, phone, TV, or Internet service, it’s clear that a “nothing is set in stone” mindset is applicable to, well, pretty much anything.
And anything, believe it or not, includes law school scholarships. While it’s no secret that law school is expensive, the fact that scholarships are negotiable doesn’t seem to be on most people’s radar.
Tuition may have been set in stone in years past, but over the last five years, law schools have become more open to haggling over money. That’s not to say students have never tried to negotiate price tags with law schools. Rather, it seems law schools are simply listening to student pleas now more than ever. Why you might ask? After the recession of 2009-2010, law school application rates have fallen, as many would-be law students have decided to opt out of a legal education due to hiring cutbacks.
Many law schools have resorted to new methods in an attempt to attract students and fill seats. Negotiating scholarships, along with tuition adjustments and accepting applications long after the official deadline, is one such tactic.
So, you were accepted into law school and received scholarship money. Congrats. But what’s next?
Scholarship negotiation is relatively simple. While it may be annoying to draft and send out all the emails, the juice is worth the squeeze, as they say. It’s best to wait until you’ve heard back from all the schools you’ve applied to – or at least all the ones you’re seriously considering – before starting the process. Once you’ve secured at least one scholarship, make a list of other schools you’ve been admitted to that are comparable in ranking and region. It’s important to be realistic – leveraging a top-tier school with a scholarship offer from a bottom-tier school probably won’t work. If the schools are in the same league though, you have a much better chance of success.
Now that you have your list of schools you’d like to haggle with, start drafting emails. Don’t rule out schools that haven’t offered you any money. This process can be effective in increasing scholarship offers as well as generating them. Although it’s not essential, it helps to make a phone call to the admissions office before sending out any emails. That way, the office will be at least familiar with who you are and your situation. Typically, the admissions staffer you speak to will not only tell you who to email, but will also provide some guidance regarding what exactly to say.
Once your foot is in the door with the admissions office, send out your emails. There are some good templates and sample letters available, but the general idea is to be confident and assertive, all while remaining professional and polite. While LawSchoolAdvice will provide you with some very detailed instructions, here are the fundamentals of a solid negotiation email:
Dear Admissions Office (emailing a specific person is preferable),
Tell them you are an admitted student and give some basic information about yourself (Name, year in school, college you currently attend…). Say how thrilled you are to have been accepted and that this school is your first choice, even if that’s not entirely true. Tell them why you are writing – either to be considered for a scholarship or to have an existing scholarship offer increased.
List other scholarship offers you’ve received, if any. Also list the names of comparable schools you’ve been admitted to, even if no money has come your way yet. Some schools will ask that you send them your other scholarship offers as email attachments.
Write a little blurb about why this school is the right fit for you – whether it’s location, prestige, or job opportunities. Be careful here, you don’t want too much fluff – make your point and move on. Finish this section by giving the admissions committee a candid look at your decision making process. With law school as expensive as it is, you cannot simply ignore other offers from peer schools – even if this particular school is your top choice.
Conclude by making it clear that finances are the only factor preventing you from accepting their offer of admission. Ultimately, you need to choose a school that makes sense not only personally but financially as well.
Thank the admissions committee for their time and consideration.
Prospective Law Student
You should hear back in a week or so from someone at the admissions office. Most likely they won’t offer you money right away – they’ll probably tell you that your application is being considered and that the review process is underway. Sure, some schools will flat out shut you down, but most will, at the very least, make a note on your application – and that can be the difference between being passed over and being awarded money.
Once you’ve sent your initial email and started a dialogue with the admissions office, sit back and wait. If you receive any subsequent scholarship offers, it’s worth it to let schools know. If it’s getting close to the day your deposit is due, send one last email – regardless of whether or not you’ve heard back – inquiring if what you’ve been awarded is the school’s final offer.
In the end, there’s no guarantee that negotiating scholarships will work for you, even if it has worked for other students in the past. But given the relative ease of the negotiating process, there’s really no downside to trying. After all, who wouldn’t want free money?
Matt DiCenso (@mdicenso24)
Featured image courtesy of [2bgr8 via Wikimedia]