This is a three-part series on fee waivers from Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School. Part 1 discussed how to get unsolicited merit-based fee waivers for your law school applications, and Part 3 covers need-based fee waivers. Part 2, below, discusses how to solicit merit-based fee waivers.
To recap from Part 1: as of 2018, a little more than half of the 203 accredited law schools charged an application fee, usually $50-$90. It’s possible to get that application fee waived, and this post discusses how to write an email to a law school asking for a merit-based fee waiver. “Merit-based” basically means that the applicant’s LSAT score and/or GPA are taken into account, and sometimes other relevant factors are, too.
Note: the kind of fee waiver that we are talking about here is just for the application fee charged by the law school and, if received, you would still have to pay fees to LSAC for Candidate Assembly Service (CAS) registration and to generate a CAS Report for each school to which you apply. It’s possible to get LSAC’s fees waived in certain circumstances, and it is also possible to get law schools' application fees waived on the basis of financial need, but those will be subjects for a future blog post.
TL;DR: Just give me that template for how to write an email soliciting a merit-based fee waiver.
There’s another sample text floating around the web that uses the phrase, “I have a quick question…” There’s nothing wrong with that sample, but I think that I must have seen it 100,000 times when I was in charge of Michigan Law’s email inbox.
There are no magic words that will make a school give you a fee waiver, and law schools don’t publicize their criteria for evaluating merit-based fee waiver requests, but based on Spivey Consulting Group’s years of experience working as law school admissions officers, we can say with confidence that the basic information that you want to include is in the sample merit-based fee waiver request for law schools below. Add the bracketed information or any other information if it is relevant to your situation, personalize with your information, and send to the main admissions office email address.
Subject: Application Fee Waiver?
I am a prospective applicant, and I’m writing to ask whether you give merit-based application fee waivers?
[I have been told that I may not show up in queries to LSAC’s CRS database because I am an international applicant from Antarctica and I do not have a reportable GPA, but according to LSAC my academic evaluation is “Above Average."]
[I attended Spivey College and Culinary Institute, which exclusively uses narrative evaluations instead of letter grades, so I don’t have a traditional GPA.]
[I am a U.S. Army veteran / Teach for America alum /returned Peace Corps volunteer, etc.]
In case you need it, here is my information:
LSAC No: L1234567
Undergraduate Institution: Spivey College and Culinary Institute
Very Truly Yours,
That’s it. Short and sweet. The admissions office will likely send you a canned response back either giving you a fee waiver, very nicely telling you no, or directing you to some other resource like a need-based fee waiver application (which is also a no on the merit-based fee waiver).
Good Reasons to solicit an application fee waiver:
(1) You didn’t get a fee waiver through CRS, but you think that you should have.
If you didn’t get the fee waiver through CRS because you didn’t opt-in to CRS, then the easy solution is to opt-in now and it might not be too late. Law schools don’t necessarily run their queries every day, so you might have to wait a week or two for the fee waiver emails to start pouring in, but if you are at or near a school’s LSAT or GPA medians then there is a good chance that you will qualify for a fee waiver. Most schools that use CRS run their queries at least through December when the late fall LSAT scores come out, and some run their queries year-round.
If for some reason you don’t want to opt-in to CRS, but your LSAT score and GPA are at or near the school’s medians, then try sending an email with your LSAT and GPA to the main admissions email address for the law school.
(2) You don’t have a reportable LSAT score or GPA.
Many schools only query CRS for candidates who have LSAT scores and GPAs that meet their thresholds. GRE applicants who don’t have a reportable LSAT score may get missed in those CRS queries, but if you email the school, then they might give you a waiver on the basis of a strong GRE score.
(N.B.: There is a tool called the GRE Search Service that is similar to CRS for GRE candidates. GRE candidates should opt in to GRE Search Service, but we still recommend that GRE candidates solicit fee waivers directly, too, since we have only heard of a few law schools using GRE Search Service at the moment.)
Similarly, applicants educated outside the United States and Canada won’t have a reportable GPA in the CRS database. They may have a description of their academic achievement like “Superior” or “Above Average” but schools are looking for a hard number, like: 3.50 GPA. Applicants who attended institutions that use narrative evaluations in place of letter grades are in the same situation.
Email the school and ask for a fee waiver.
(3) You are an under-represented minority.
Many schools use race or ethnicity as a factor when distributing merit-based fee waivers. The reasons why are a discussion for another blog post, but suffice to say an African-American or Hispanic candidate might score a fee waiver with a certain LSAT and GPA combination when another candidate might not. Schools can use race/ethnicity as search criteria in CRS, but if you declined to include your race or ethnicity in your CRS profile or your self-description was limited by the checkboxes available on the form, then email the school to explain and ask for a fee waiver.
(4) You are a splitter.
Traditional high LSAT and below median GPA splitters have better luck with this than reverse splitters with high GPA and below median LSAT scores because there are fewer high LSAT scorers out there than there are high GPA candidates. But, a well-written appeal just might get a fee waiver on the basis of a qualifying LSAT score when the GPA does not quite make the cut for an automatic fee waiver through CRS (or vice versa).
(5) You have a relevant affiliation.
In some cases, the school will automatically grant a fee waiver to members of certain organizations. In other cases membership plus a certain LSAT or GPA will do the trick. Admissions officers have wide discretion in how they award fee waivers, so even if the schools doesn’t have a formal policy stated on their website sometimes you might just catch someone in a good mood.
Affiliations worth asking about:
- U.S. military service member or veteran
- AmeriCorps: Teach for America, VISTA, City Year, Justice Corps, or other AmeriCorps programs
- Peace Corps
- Faith-based social justice or community service programs (particularly for religiously-affiliated law schools)
- Prelaw pipeline programs
- Undergraduates from the law school’s university
- Residents of the law school’s state (for public law schools)
There you have it. Hopefully this advice will help you to solicit a merit-based fee waiver from your law school of choice. Of course, this won’t work for everyone, and some law schools don’t even offer merit-based fee waivers. If this doesn’t work for you, then there is still one more avenue to try. Check out Part 3 of this series, which covers how to seek a need-based application fee waiver for law school.
Written by Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School.