As deposit deadlines are nearing, scholarship negotiation season is in full swing. While some law schools are playing hardball (do check back with them after their first deposit deadline), others are playing quite nicely if you have something they want (particularly if it’s an LSAT above last year’s median). We are getting many questions about the most effective means of negotiating — namely, “what else can I do besides present them with another school’s scholarship offer?” We are also hearing horror stories from law school admissions colleagues regarding applicants’ conduct in the negotiation process. So let’s go over some best practices for scholarship negotiation.
The Top 5 Tips for Scholarship Negotiation:
Be engaged with the school. If your first communication with the school after receiving your admission and scholarship offer is to ask for more money, the answer will likely be no. Why? Because the Dean of Admissions will assume that you are not genuinely interested in attending her school and that you are seeking a scholarship increase solely for leverage at another. If you believe that you deserve a higher scholarship, then connect (and stay engaged) with the school: visit, tour, sit in on a class, reach out to current students, faculty and alumni. And when you do engage with the school…
Be grateful, courteous, respectful, and professional in all your interactions. An applicant I admitted to Penn several years ago attended the Admitted Students Weekend, and a common thread emerged from everyone with whom he interacted: he complained about everything, from the schedule, to the lunch menu (Philly cheesesteaks!), to the comfort-level of his chair. When that applicant subsequently requested scholarship reconsideration, our answer was swift and definitive: No. Law schools want students who are gracious and play well with others.
Be an effective self advocate: persuasive, articulate, and thoughtful. Show them that you will add value to the class, to the law school, and to the greater community, and that you will be a good ambassador as a student and future alum. Don’t expect that just because a peer school offered you a scholarship that you are entitled to a comparable scholarship at the other school; do not expect that just because a higher-ranked school offered you admission that you are entitled to a scholarship at a lower-ranked school. While some schools may be focused primarily on LSAT and/or UGPA when awarding scholarships, many schools (particularly the most selective schools) select scholarship recipients based on more than numbers. And the more qualities that an applicant possesses that are important to the school, i.e., the more she will add value to the community and legal profession (via engagement, leadership, service, diverse perspective or experience), the higher the scholarship is likely to be. Whether you are negotiating in person or in writing, articulate how you will contribute to the law school community; show them why they should invest in you.
Be thorough when comparing schools’ offers; look at total cost of attendance over a three-year period (i.e., full cost of tuition, fees, health insurance, transportation/parking, room, board, and other living expenses plus the school’s average increase in tuition for 2L and 3L year), less the scholarship you are receiving. Additional student fees and cost of living expenses can make a significant difference in what otherwise may seem to be comparable tuition costs between schools. The schools to which you are admitted should be providing you this total estimated annual budget, but you can also find it on the school’s website.
Perhaps most importantly, consider the school’s most recent placement statistics (for the type of job you want) and the median starting salaries, i.e., your Return on Investment. A school’s rank is only one part of the equation when assessing what constitutes a “peer” school. What really matters is how many of their graduates are getting full-time, long-term, bar-passage required jobs, where they are getting them, and what their starting salaries are. (And the percentage of them that pass the bar.) Based on this information, exercise some judgment as to what should be a reasonable cost difference for the schools you are considering. And be sure to look at the data that schools must submit to the ABA, i.e., the ABA Employment Summary Report, not the school’s self-created information or chart, which can be misleading. There is also excellent data available on Law School Transparency and a mechanism that allows you to compare up to three schools side by side in terms of placement and total cost of attendance.
One final note: Schools are required to post their Class of 2016 employment statistics by April 15. While that date unfortunately falls after the deposit deadline for many schools, it is before the deadline for others. Take a close look at these latest placement statistics. The new employment numbers might not “match” the school’s current ranking, which is based on last year's employment data. You might see continuing trends that either narrow or widen the gap in placement success among schools you are considering. And that may give you another card to play in the negotiation game — as long as you’re following the protocol above (and saying thank you for your cheesesteak!).