According to Law School Transparency, a reform group, in 2013, the average public law school graduate carried a debt of $84,600. Graduates of private law schools, meanwhile, owed over $140,000. This would all be fine, of course, if you were virtually guaranteed a six-figure salary after graduation. You are not. Nine months after graduating, only 57 percent of law students had full-time jobs that required passing the bar, the ABA reports. For those lucky enough to have a job, the median salary was $61,245—15% below the 2009 median. Yes, starting salaries in the private sector were higher—around $90,000—but they are down 30.8% from their 2009 levels.
As dire as this sounds, Seton Hall's Michael Simkovic and Rutgers's Frank McIntyre conclude that “for most law school graduates, the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.” In other words, the amount of money law graduates make is, in most cases, far greater than the amount they would have made if they hadn’t gone to law school. According to Simkovic and McIntyre, “the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree is approximately $1,000,000.”
One. Million. Dollars.
So here’s an important question: can you get your $1M law degree for free?
Yes, and it’s called merit-based aid - grant money schools offer to admitted applicants in the hopes that such applicants would forfeit offers of admission to other, generally more prestigious schools. But there is a catch, well… three catches: First, you need to get the money. Second, you need to decide whether it's worth it. Third, you need to keep it.
For today’s blog, we’ll focus on the first question: how can you increase your chances of securing merit-based aid?
Generally speaking, most schools – with the exception of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford – are likely to offer scholarship money to an applicant who meets all three of the following criteria:
- The applicant has numbers (LSAT/GPA) that exceed the school’s medians. Contrary to what most applicants believe, their numbers need not be off-the-charts high. Plenty of schools are offering merit-based aid to applicants whose numbers are just slightly higher than the schools' medians. Many of these applicants would have been merely “competitive” a few years ago. Today, some of them are offered a full ride.
- The applicant has demonstrated willingness to enroll in that law school if admitted. We cannot overstate the importance of this point. Just because you have a 4.0/180 doesn’t mean that you’ll get a Levy Scholarship at Penn Law. You need to convince the admissions officers that you have a strong interest in attending their law school. In your personal statement, or a separate addendum, describe why XYZ law school would be a perfect fit. Is there a professor you’d like to work with? A student organization, a clinic, or a journal you can’t wait to join? Do your research, and show them that you have! Law schools seek to protect their yield. If they suspect you’re not into them, you’ll get no love in return. Who said this isn’t like dating?
- Apply early! Money has the unfortunate tendency to run out. If you’re applying for admission this Fall, but haven’t submitted your applications yet, you’re cutting it real close. Do it today!
As with all deals that seem too good to be true, a free ride at a top law school doesn’t come without caveats. Next week, we’ll examine more closely what those might be.
Image courtesy of Simon Davison.