Understanding law school scholarships

It’s no secret that law school is expensive, and the thought of how you’re going to pay for it may cause you to lose sleep at night. But have no fear — scholarships are here.

When it comes to scholarships, our best advice to incoming law students is to start applying for as many of them as early as possible.

The first step to applying for scholarships is to understand the difference between the three main types of scholarships and grants.

The next step is to download the Law School Scholarship Organizer and start applying ASAP.

Types of law school scholarships

Law schools offer three kinds of scholarships/grants: (1) need-based scholarships; (2) merit-based scholarships; and (3) criteria-based scholarships.

Most law schools provide at least one of these scholarship types, with need-based scholarships being by far the most popular.

These scholarships are funded directly by law schools themselves, indirectly through endowments, or funded by third parties and third-party organizations.

Need-based scholarships

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on a student’s financial need.

The determination of a student’s financial need is made by the law school’s Financial Aid Department once a student has completed at least two forms: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”) and a law school-authored financial aid assessment form.

It’s generally (but not always) true that the most prestigious law schools and the oldest law schools offer the most need-based scholarships because they tend to have the largest endowments that permit need-based aid.

Need-based scholarships are the most popular and most lucrative scholarships awarded.

To learn more about how to apply for need-based scholarships, contact your law school’s Financial Aid Department.

Merit-based scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are awarded on the basis of prior academic achievement.

Some of the most prestigious law schools do not offer merit-based scholarships. Their reasons for not doing so vary, but one reason undoubtedly is that they have no strategic need to do so.

Schools outside of the top tier, however, may offer merit-based scholarships as a way to woo students into choosing their school over others. These schools often offer merit-based scholarships to students with UGPAs or LSAT scores above the median, since those two data points impact the U.S. News ranking formula. This, in turn, helps the school achieve a better ranking and better national visibility.

Keep in mind that some schools also reserve money for merit-based scholarships for transferring 2L students. If you didn’t get into your first choice, focus on getting to the top in your 1L year and you may qualify for a merit-based scholarship at your dream school.

So, understand that even if you weren’t offered money to attend — perhaps your UGPA/LSAT are far below your school’s median — there’s still hope because merit-based scholarships for second- and third-year students are based upon your academic performance during law school (not before).

Consider signing up for a Law Preview 1L Prep Course to get the tools you need to land top 1L grades.

Criteria-based scholarships

Many law schools offer scholarships based on certain criteria that a student meets.

Here are some examples of criteria-based scholarships:

  • Scholarships from universities that fund current undergraduates who are now considering attending its law school.
  • Scholarships awarded to law students who intend to study a certain kind of law.
  • Scholarships sponsored by a specific organization for the benefit of its employees and their children.
  • Scholarships from outside organizations/law firms with the intention of recruiting students in the future.

The different categories of criteria-based scholarships are only limited by the imaginations of those who endow them. While such scholarships are more common at the college level, they also exist at many law schools, and the admissions and financial aid offices at each school almost always promote them as a tool to attract students to their schools.

Search hundreds of law school scholarships

Looking for a place to start? Create a free account on AdmissionsDean.com and start searching hundreds of law school scholarships today.

AdmissionsDean helps incoming law students understand the law school application process, scholarship process, and financial aid process. Take advantage of free tools including the Law School Scholarship Finder and the Law School Cost Calculator.

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