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Law School Financial Aid Timeline and Checklist

At least one year prior to enrollment:

_____ Review financial aid procedures for all schools to which you will apply.

_____ Consider law schools that offer a night program, if you need to work during the day to support your family. But pay attention to tuition and job placement statistics, because that’s the bottom line.

_____ Reduce credit card debt.

_____ Check your credit reports and correct any errors.

_____ Save what you can.

_____ Ask for birthday and holiday gifts in cash, for the law school tuition fund.

_____ Begin researching scholarships and grants.

December before you enroll:

_____ File your law school applications as soon as practicable, preferably in early to mid-December. You will not be considered for admissions or aid until your file is complete.

_____ As you file your applications, also file your financial aid forms or scholarship/grant forms required by the school.

January before you enroll:

_____ Obtain and file the FAFSA as soon as possible. FAFSA’s may be filed starting January 1st of any given year.

_____ Prepare your income tax return as soon as possible.

_____ Have your parents/guardians/spouse prepare their income tax as soon as possible. (Note: for the purposes of most federal aid, such as student loans, a graduate student is automatically considered independent. But for private aid, such as a school’s own scholarships and grants, it may be necessary to provide their tax returns. You’ll need to check with each school.)

Spring before you enroll:

_____ When you receive aid packages from the schools that have accepted you, compare and contrast them. Are some only loan-based? Do some include free money? You may, at this point, begin to bargain diplomatically with the law schools you are most interested in. Send a letter to the Director of Financial Aid requesting more money (be tactful). Point out that other schools may have offered you a better aid package, but you really want to attend his/her school. Ask if there is anything they can do for you.

_____ When you have chosen your school, write to a few professors, particularly those who run institutes or clinics. Ask for a part-time job, explaining your financial need. Many schools strongly discourage students from working during their first semester or year of law school, but do not really enforce this rule.

Summer before you enroll:

_____ You need to live like a starving student to save as much money as possible. If your parents/guardians offer free housing so that you can save money for school, you should strongly consider it. Work, save, reduce debt.

When you enroll:

Some law schools discourage students from working in their first year. I for one started working during my second semester of law school, and found it a nice break from the law school environment. Today, the reality is that many students must work just to pay their bills, and it is increasingly unrealistic for a law school to expect that its incoming students will not work. If you can go at least the first semester without working, do it. After that, you might try to find a law-related job with flexible hours, such as working as a research assistant for a law professor.

The old pre-law advising adage is: “Live like a student now, or you will live like a student later.”


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