When Is It Appropriate to Start Scholarship Negotiations?

Since you are all going to be lawyers soon, let me start by saying something you’ll be saying for the rest of your lives: it depends.

But, that isn’t very helpful. Nor is really knowing that it depends on the particular school, their deadlines, their number of excess offers to give versus their number to matriculate, their mood (no joke), when you were admitted, and many other variables. But there are some concretes, so let me get to those, because this is a very tricky process. When you think about it, schools have thousands (or more) examples to draw from for how to negotiate a scholarship. You likely have none or very few. My goal with this article is to balance those odds a little bit more in your favor.

Things not to do:

  • Don’t be the first person to ask for more money. How are you supposed to know if you’re first? Well, you are in luck here. I would bet a great deal of money (I mean, this blog is about free money) that someone has asked for a scholarship increase at just about every law school already, sans perhaps the three that do not give merit aid (and even then I would imagine someone has asked). You never want to be the first, but by mid-January, you won’t be.
  • Don’t ask without at least one other admit in hand. Why? You have zero leverage. There are only three ways to get an increase in scholarship amount:

    1. Leveraging offers from other schools
    2. Human kindness
    3. The school undershot their offers and simply needs to offer more (the funding doesn’t carry over to the next year).

    It’s a bit hard to rely on 2 and 3, although there are some ways to do so later in the cycle. But if you have multiple offers, you have leverage. That leverage might look like some money or an admit from a higher ranked school, or more money from a slightly lower ranked school (which, for historical trivia, is how the entire scholarship arms race started — lower ranked schools were picking off matriculants from higher ranked schools by initiating merit offers. This was about 20 years ago, give or take. You are in luck, as said arms race is now at an all-time high).
  • Do not use the word “negotiation.” I can’t stress this enough. This is almost universally the least favorite part of an admissions officer’s job, aside from the crazed stalker or two you get from time to time (see this blog for those stories). Just be chill, cool, professional, and collected. Which is a nice place to segue to the “do”s.

Things to do:

  • Be chill, cool, professional, and collected. I’m not being glib here. I mean this, and it is really important. No one likes talking to Joe Businessperson about this kind of stuff. Don’t tell them how good you are at negotiation (which incidentally, other than not using that word, no one skilled at negotiation would ever say that; they portend the exact opposite, in fact). The best tone to strike is to be casually professional, e.g. something along the lines of, “I thought this might be helpful to know as I am new to the application process, but as I look to make a final decision, I was also fortunate enough to receive $10,000/year from Princeton Law School and $20,000/year from Dartmouth Law School.”
  • Have an ask. That doesn’t mean a specific amount (not early in the process, at least), because if you do request a specific amount, you are essentially negotiating against yourself. This is along the same lines of the principle that you should never be the first to propose a salary number in a job negotiation — if you ask for $5k more a year, they may have been about to offer $20k more. Just think of a way to say that any amount would help with the difficult decision. Don’t say those exact words, because if 10,000 people start saying it, those people will quickly be frowned upon. Use this blog as a roadmap, but I wouldn’t use any exact wording. You are creative. You’re cool and calm. Use the right words that come to mind.
  • Here’s another big one. Schools are likely still offering their first round of admits and scholarship offers. What I personally would do, but this is an individual decision, would be to wait to see the second a school has upped someone else’s offer. What happens (deep inside baseball here) is Dean Loki (if anyone has seen Dean Loki please let me know) says to her dean of admission, “We can offer 20 million and enroll 8 million in merit aid.” So schools keep making offers with merit aid until they hit whatever equation they have for yield. Then they cold stop. But what also happens is applicants start turning schools down. So if I gave you $80k/year and you say, “Buzz off, Spivey, I’m going to Star Fleet Academy,” that money starts aggregating back very quickly. And if you have decided on a final school, please do let the other schools that have admitted you know. It helps your fellow applicants, and it helps the schools. Again, you can ask now, and you might get more money now. I just want you to know the process because you can also wait.
  • Keep net tuition in mind, as law schools will know this. Yes, you may have a $50k scholarship from Princeton Law, but their tuition might be 150k. Westeros College of Law may only be giving you $10k, but their tuition may be just $25k. They are going to know how much that difference is, so you should too.

Need more help? We have availability for this cycle (finally!). You can read more about that here.

With all the calmness I can muster,


We also have space for a few clients for our new lower-cost application coaching pilot program. Under this program, you work one-on-one with our Application & Editing Coach Lauren Brown on crafting the written components of your application. If you feel comfortable with your overall strategy and knowledge of the application process, but want help with your personal statement and other essays from start to finish at a lower price point, this may be the program for you! If you’re interested in learning more, please email us at info@spiveyconsulting.com with the subject line “Application Coaching.”