If you’re here, you’re probably wondering what exactly we’re talking about. If you score a full scholarship, congratulations are in order! But we want to make sure you read the fine print, too. Let’s talk about what it takes to keep your merit-based scholarship offer for the duration of your legal education. If you want to pre-read about this topic, we suggest these articles:
- Scholarship vs. Prestige: When to Take the Money and Run?
- A Law Degree is Worth Over $1 Million. Can You Get it for Free?
If you apply early for admissions and have the competitive numbers for the schools you apply to, chances are you will have several acceptances sitting in your lap. Better yet, if your numbers fall above a school’s median, you may receive a full or partial scholarship offer. For most admitted applicants, such financial assistance can help defray the ever-increasing cost of legal education. It’s undoubtedly a good thing. Most offers, however, have a fine print: they are contingent upon the maintenance of a certain level of academic achievement.
The Fine Print
The vast majority of recipients pay little or no attention to the conditional nature of their offers. They naively believe that they can easily meet or exceed the requirements the offer stipulates. However, just because your LSAT and GPA are above the median, does not mean that you’ll be at the top of your class. Law school exams grade on a curve, ensuring that not all student earn the GPA they need to retain their scholarship money. According to Spivey Consulting, they estimate that the average number students that lost their conditional scholarships across all law schools is around 27% as of 2019. That means, one in every three scholarship recipient fails to retain their scholarship!
What to Look For
When comparing the scholarship offers you receive, look further than just the scholarship amount. A full scholarship may be worth less than a partial one if you lose your full scholarship after the first year. While the scholarship amount is an important factor to take into account, it’s also important to find the answers to the following questions:
- What are the exact stipulations for retaining the offer?
- If the school requires you to maintain a certain average GPA, where does that place you relative to your peers? A good way to gauge the relationship between class rank and GPA is to find out more about the forced curve of your 1L exams. If, for instance, your exams are curved to a median GPA of 3.16 and your scholarship requires maintaining a B+ average, then you would need to be way above the median (probably top-30%) in order to retain your scholarship.
- What proportion of the 1L students who receive scholarship offers are able to keep them for the duration of their studies? Generally speaking, higher-ranked law schools have higher retention rates than lower ranked schools.
As a result of the ABA’s revisions to Standard 509, Consumer Information, there is now a much greater universe of publicly available information about law school scholarship programs, specifically conditional scholarship programs and scholarship retention. Consider giving the articles below a read if you are interested in the subject.