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If you have done everything well in your journey to attend law school, you should be well suited to receive multiple acceptances, and maybe a few wait-list responses.
If this is the case, congratulations, you are almost done with the application process! The final step is to choose which school to attend. This is often complicated by being on the wait list at one or more schools.
Choosing Between Multiple Acceptances
If you have multiple acceptances, it is time to break out your ranking list. You would think that choosing your law school would be an easy process—just take your highest ranking school (from your personal list). Unfortunately, it may not be that easy.
First, you probably have a school or two that has wait-listed you that ranks above the ones that have accepted you.
Second, you may have scholarships offered to you at schools that are not at the top of your list.
Finally, some schools will send you a letter to tell you that they are going to take longer to review your application. So, you might still be waiting on some answers.
Law schools give you a time limit for responding to their offer. There may still be several applications in play when you must decide. Accepting a spot requires a non-refundable seat deposit. The deadline is never before April 1, and usually is during the last two weeks of April. If you can afford the non-refundable deposits, you can accept spots at more than one law school (unless accepting a scholarship offer binds you to the school).
How Financial Considerations Factor In
Accepted students are usually given forms for the registrar, financial aid, and student housing. If financial aid plays a large role in your decision, you should complete and return the paperwork as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for the deadlines. Filing on time ensures that you have information about the financial aid you qualify that a school is offering you in time for your decision.
Your financial aid package will often weigh heavily on your decision about which school to attend. If you have a great package at a lower-ranked school, you can call the financial aid office at your preferred schools to see if they will increase the offer. Make this call as soon as possible. Be very polite. Explain that you would prefer to attend their school over the school that offered you a better aid package. Ask if they are able to reconsider your award.
You will invariably be faced with a choice between paying more money to go to a higher-ranked school, or taking a scholarship at a safety school.
First, consider what restrictions are placed on the scholarship. Scholarships vary from no restrictions to tight restrictions based on GPA. If there are grade requirements for keeping your scholarship, you should understand what your class ranking needs to be in order to keep your scholarship. You might think “What’s the big deal about a 3.0, I kept that all through undergrad with no problem!” But it can be a big deal if a 3.0 means that you must stay in the top 15% of the law class. Always compare GPA requirements with the class rank you must achieve to maintain it. If a school puts uncomfortable limitations on your GPA, express your concern; sometimes these restrictions will be relaxed if you agree to accept.
Next, consider the quality of the expensive school. If you are offered a spot in a top 5 school, you probably want to figure out how to pay for it and get there. But if there are only slight differences in ranking, it might be better to take the scholarship. Also, if you can attend a really good school while borrowing less than $20,000 per year, you should strongly consider going into debt.
The key debt distinction is between federal Stafford loans and private loans (though law schools will sometimes offer some great loans). If you have a federal loan, there are a couple of advantages. First, you can qualify for income-based repayment. Under this program your payments can be based on your income if you take a public-service job. At the end of 10-25 years (depending on the job) any remaining balance is forgiven. But, even if you don’t qualify for income-based repayment, you can consolidate all your federal loans. Federal consolidation can make your payments very low and spread them out for as long as 30 years. It is not unusual for people with $60,000 in debt to pay around $300 a month.
$300 a month may be a small price to pay for going to the best law school possible. A top school can make a big difference in your job prospects, and thus can pay for itself in the long run.
Notifying Schools of Your Decisions
Once you decide not to attend a law school that has offered you a seat, or has not given you a decision, send a letter to the school withdrawing your application. This way, another student can get your seat. This common courtesy will allow other students who are waiting to solidify their plans as soon as possible.
Conditional or Alternative Acceptances
Some acceptances come with certain conditions you must meet. For instance, schools sometimes offer you a seat in a program other than which you applied for like the evening, mid-term, or part-time program. The school will send you a letter saying that you are admitted, but to an alternate program. Other times, admission is conditioned upon attending a head start program, or you may have been given a trial acceptance.
A trial acceptance is not a real acceptance. It is the chance to take a couple of courses as a non-matriculated student and gain admission if your grades are high enough. You should carefully consider your options and your chances if you are offered this program. Some schools only offer seats to a handful of students from this program. You will also have to pay for your classes, and they will not count towards your law degree.
Some schools offer acceptance conditioned upon attending a head start program. These are usually offered to minority and disadvantaged applicants. Some of these programs are simple orientations. Others are actually a first-year class that you receive credit for. If this is the case, you have a lighter load and reduced tuition in the fall. If offered, you should attend this program. These programs offer you an advantage both in the summer and the fall. In the summer, you are competing against other “disadvantaged” students instead of the full class. In the fall you compete against everyone, but you have one less class than they do.