Law School Application Fee Waivers: Part 3 (Need-Based Fee Waivers)

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 2 discussed how to solicit merit-based fee waivers. Part 3 talks about how to asked for need-based fee waivers.


To recap from Parts 1 and 2: as of 2018, a little more than half of the 203 accredited law schools charged an application fee, usually $50-$90. Some schools may waive their application fee on the basis of “merit” which usually involves a strong LSAT and GPA combination and maybe some other desirable characteristic, too. Many schools use an LSAC database called CRS to automatically identify candidates for fee waivers or, in some cases, applicants can ask for a fee waiver by emailing the school directly. If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver based on merit, then you might be able to ask for a fee waiver based on financial need.

Note, in Parts 1 and 2, we stressed that merit-based fee waivers were only for the law school’s application fee and didn’t cover fees charged by LSAC. Well, on a need basis, it is possible to get LSAC to waive their fees, too, and we’ll explain how that works in this post.

LSAC’s need-based fee waiver

LSAC’s need-based fee waiver is the best thing going because it includes so much, but the catch is that it is hard to qualify. It’s no secret that LSAC’s fees have increased over the years. Most 2019-20 applicants will pay $650 for the LSAT, Credential Assembly Service (CAS) registration, and their first 6 Law School Reports—plus $200 if they sit for the LSAT again, and another $45 for each additional Law School Report. Add to that $50-$90 in application fees charged by each law school, and the average applicant is well over $1,000 before they even see their first tuition bill.

LSAC’s need-based fee waiver covers a huge portion of those costs. For U.S. citizens, that includes: up to 2 LSATs, 1 LSAT Writing, CAS Registration, and 6 Law School Reports. Additionally, many law schools will automatically waive their own application fees for LSAC fee waiver recipients so all of the sudden an LSAC fee waiver recipient can go from over $1,000 to apply to law school to maybe $0.

So how do you qualify for this great fee waiver? First, LSAC’s fee waiver is only available for U.S., Canadian, and Australian citizens, permanent residents, DACA recipients, and a couple of other resident categories. Most international applicants are excluded.

Next, you have to have low income and assets. There’s not just one criterion that LSAC looks for, but as an example, we’re talking about applicants who are around the poverty line and/or receiving public assistance, welfare, Pell grants, etc.

If that is you, then you should absolutely apply for LSAC’s fee waiver. If you don’t qualify, then read on, because you may still be able to apply directly to law schools for a need-based waiver of the law school’s application fee.

Law Schools’ need-based fee waivers

Not every law school offers their own need-based fee waiver. Many simply direct applicants to apply for LSAC’s fee waiver program and only offer fee waivers for candidates who also qualify for LSAC’s program. The good news is that if the law school administers their own need-based fee waiver program then they are doing so because they have somewhat looser requirements than LSAC. That’s not saying much since LSAC has such stringent requirements to qualify for a fee waiver, but at least it is something. Law schools’ qualification criteria for need-based fee waivers are completely opaque and may change from year to year, so the only way to find out whether you will qualify is to go through the process of applying.

In most cases, you will need to email the admissions office to ask them for their need-based application fee waiver form. They probably won’t start processing need-based fee waiver requests until September 1 or whenever their application goes live, so if you are reading this over the summer, then you just have to wait. At the appropriate time, you can use an email like the sample below to inquire about need-based fee waivers:

Subject: Need-Based Application Fee Waiver?

Hi,

I am interested in applying, but the cost of the application fee is a financial burden. Does the admissions office offer need-based application fee waivers? If so, would you please send me the instructions for how to apply? Thanks in advance.

Very Truly Yours,

Applicant Name

How much need do I need?

Need calculations are highly variable from school to school. In general, if LSAC is granting fee waivers to candidates at or near the poverty line. then it might still be worth it to apply for a law school’s need-based fee waiver if you are a recent graduate with an entry-level job that is relatively low-paying (but still above the poverty line). Law schools also may give you a chance to explain your circumstances in detail, so that is the place to talk about your student loan debt or your obligations to support family members that may not show up on the tax forms that LSAC asks for. Finally, sometimes law schools have developed their own specific criteria which are just different from the questions that LSAC is asking.

I’m actually doing pretty well with my finances, but I’d still prefer not to have to pay application fees. Should I apply for a need-based fee waiver?

There are a few instances that I’m willing to say categorically disqualify you from a need-based fee waiver:

  • You have a six-figure salary. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a high-cost of living city like San Francisco or Tokyo. If you are making more than $100,000 then you make twice as much as the administrative assistant who is processing your need-based fee waiver request and they won’t take pity on you.
  • You don’t have a high salary, but your spouse does. Every need-based fee waiver application that I have seen asks for information about spousal income. (But, many do not ask any questions about parental income.)
  • You own substantial assets. Like a house. Not every need-based application form asks detailed questions about assets, but the admissions office is going to assume that if you can pull together the money for a down payment, then you can find $75 for an application fee.
  • You leave inconvenient questions blank. If all you do is write your name and email address on the need-based fee waiver application and decline to provide detailed information about your income or assets, then the admissions office is just going to send it back to you to redo. If you are lucky. More likely, they will deny your request because you didn’t follow instructions and fill out the form completely.

There you have it! The three ways to apply for an application fee waiver from law schools: unsolicited merit-based fee waivers through CRS, solicited merit-based fee waivers, and need-based fee waivers. If you have questions about fee waivers or any other part of the law school application process, then please call the Spivey Consulting Group. All of our consultants are former admissions officers, and one of us would be happy to guide you through your law school application process.


Written by Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School.