Mistake #1: You are too nice

This was an easy “#1 mistake for 2012/2013″ because while the amount of scholarship money available is on the rise, I have not seen a corresponding increase in the amount of leverage admitted students exercise or sophistication with which they negotiate. Indeed, if anything, I have seen an increase in anxiety this year — perhaps because there is more money on the line.  Even the advice of some of the “experts” is grossly outdated, as one popular law school admissions book tells applicants to not even bother trying to negotiate for scholarship money. This could not be further from the truth — now is the time to negotiate like crazy. What does it take to procure or increase a scholarship offer? Let’s dive right in.

The biggest challenge admitted students face is the simple fact that most prospective students have no experience at all in this area, while the admissions professionals often have a considerable background doing just that. You are likely far out of your comfort zone and they are likely far in theirs. The outcome of this discrepancy often results in a prospective student never asking for an increase in scholarship money, or asking once and never moving past the initial “no, we wish we could, but we have awarded all the funds we have available this year.”  Time and time again, I have received emails or phone calls that run along the lines of “I’d like to ask for more money, but I also do not want to upset the admissions office.”  Upset the admissions office? You will all but certainly cease to interact with them the day orientation ends. This isn’t the time to cultivate friendships — you can do that soon enough with your classmates. What you do not want to happen, when you are cultivating friendships with your classmates on the first day of school, is to find out the person who just bought you a beer at the local watering hole has the same entering statistics as you but is receiving $50,000 more in merit awards. Because once you matriculate and classes start, the scholarship game is over. With that backdrop, here are 5 tips to keep in mind for negotiating.

5 things to remember in your scholarship negotiation:

1. The power equation has shifted 180 degrees. What this means is that while you may have been dying to go to Princeton Law School your entire life, the second you are admitted they are dying to have you. Think about it from the standpoint of a Dean of Admissions. They are likely competing with schools ranked slightly above them and slightly below them for a limited amount of admits. In other words, the schools ranked #14-21 in USNWR are roughly admitting the same pool of students. Each individual school realizes that they need to yield you over fierce competition from (in this scenario) 7 other law schools.  If said school is ranked #17, they also anticipate that the prestige of #14, #15, and #16 will be a strong sell for those schools, while #18, #19, #20, #21 will likely offer more scholarship assistance. Additionally, #17 also has to be mindful that yield rates factor into law school rankings and the metrics of their entering class. If they do not yield you and others like you, they will have to go to the wait-list for candidates with scores or backgrounds that are not as strong as yours.

In the simplest of terms — THEY NEED YOU.  Keep this in mind throughout the process once you are admitted.

2. *Given (1), Entitlement still means you are dead in the water. *

While  point #1 is, in my opinion, the most often neglected phenomena from admitted law students, point #2 is the most problematic. Yes the law school needs you, but they still do not want to deal with entitlement. So a letter seeking an increase in scholarship that sounds like:

“Dear Emory Law School Admissions Office:

Please know that I was recently admitted to UVA. Additionally, the University of Georgia has offered me $75k in merit aid. UVA is ranked higher and UGA has offered me more money. I need for Emory to increase its offer or I will attend one of those two schools

Signed,

Admitted student who will likely see their scholarship amount frozen”

I remember these letters. I have discussed these exact letters with many other admissions officers. Telling a school they should increase you award, telling a school they are inferior to another or they have to match another law school’s award — all of these are bad ideas. You have the leverage now, but be polite and respectful. Put another way, it is much more financially beneficial for a law school to both like you and need you, than to just need you.

*3. Remember, they are not “giving” you money.* **Rather, your tuition price is being discounted, or “remissed” as we say in the world of admissions. This is a minor fiscal point but a considerable psychological one. In all but a very few cases the law school is still getting tuition from you and is not handing you a huge wad of cash to come to the school. For example, if tuition at the school that just offered you $75k in scholarships money is $50k a year, it is still charging you $75,000 over three years just in tuition. Don’t forget this. You are not asking for a handout. Rather, you are negotiating a steep (or perhaps inflated given tuition increases relative to inflation) price down.

4.*Patience is a lucrative virtue.  *The longer you are willing to stay in the game, the more likely you will get some additional money from the school you want to attend. This is a function of two things: (1) they will need your LSAT/uGPA/Softs or whatever it is that got you admitted as they start losing admits to other law schools; and (2) as they lose those admits they continue to get money they awarded back into their pool.

5. Persistence can be just as lucrative.

Stay in touch with each school you are considering. This is similar to trying to get off of a wait-list — you want to be fresh on the minds of an admissions office when they need you. If you have shown interest, shown respect, come across as likable, and stayed on their radar throughout, the day that the school is ready to make a second round of scholarship offers your name may very well surface to the top. Don’t be afraid to call every so often ( every 1.5 months or so) just to say “hello” and let the admissions folks know you are still interested. Visit again now that you have been admitted if you can. Attend the admitted students events and make a point to speak to the admissions folks. All of these points of contact will

I won’t conclude with “so there you have it” because there are many more complexities to scholarship negotiating. Additionally, law schools approach the process with different strategies in mind. Some aggressively push the envelope upfront and offer as much as 6 to 7 times the amount of money they can afford to give away (knowing they will likely yield only a certain percent of admits) while others like to gradually increase their offers throughout the summer. But that said, the most important thing to realize is that YOU HAVE ALREADY MADE A GOOD IMPRESSION…  you’ve been admitted. Keep that impression rolling, of course, but do not worry about asking for more money a second, or third, or 4th or 5th time. You aren’t going to offend anyone by doing so (trust me they are used to it), and you very well may find yourself meeting classmates at orientation with your same numbers except the most important one –you will have the most scholarship (ok, just to be clear don’t go around volunteering your scholarship amount, LSAT, uGPA etc in person day 1 of school. But, these things do tend to seem to come out over time).

Good luck!

Mike

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