Negotiating Law School Scholarship Offers: Some Best (and Worst) Practices

Todd Rothman, Senior Associate Director

Merit scholarships to law school seem to be abounding these days and, as a result, more and more admitted students are negotiating the merit-based scholarship package they were initially awarded.  Although there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for how these negotiations ought to proceed, it is becoming an increasingly common practice among scholarship awardees.  And while some law schools make it abundantly clear that these negotiations are unwelcome, many law schools will indeed engage in these conversations to provide admitted students with the most attractive financial package.

Since many admitted students understandably find these conversations to be challenging – and a little awkward – I thought I would provide a few best (and worst) practices as you attempt to navigate the sometimes thorny process of scholarship negotiation.

Best Practices

1. Before you contact any law schools for additional merit-based funding, you should have a full understanding of what the real costs of attending each law school will be.  Rather than merely comparing merit awards, you need to consider the full financial picture of the next three years.  This includes, but is not limited to, analyzing differences in sticker-price tuition costs (public vs. private), overall cost of living (housing, whether or not you will need a car), and the fine print of renewing your merit scholarship each year of law school.  Some law schools will provide the merit-based scholarship without any stipulations, while others might require you to maintain a certain GPA each year or finish in a certain percentile of your law school class.  When you consider all of these factors more comprehensively, it isn’t always the law school with the highest award that will be the most affordable.

2. Since every law school will likely handle these negotiations differently, it is always best to inquire with the law school directly – either by email or phone – about if/how they are interested in proceeding with this process.  In order to make the biggest initial impact, many law schools will start with their best offer and, if that is not substantial enough, their hands are essentially tied at that point.  If that is the case, it is best to find that out before you assume that they are open to further negotiations.  Many law schools will prefer you to start this process in writing – either a hard copy letter or an email – and will often ask that you also send (or attach) copies of the award letters from the other law schools to which you have been admitted.

3. Your correspondence with law schools should be professional and polite, but must also be undemanding and grateful in tone. Remember that applying to law school is the first step in your career as a lawyer and that includes, of course, all of these types of negotiations.  After all, this law school has not only admitted you to their incoming class, but has further incentivized you through merit-based awards.  Clearly, this is a law school that thinks very highly of your talents and potential contributions to their law school, so you should approach this process with care, caution, and appreciation.  Make sure that you reiterate in all correspondence how much you like their law school (and why), so that there is a bigger picture to your financial negotiating.  Keep in mind that you are asking for additional funding and that, much like anything else, you will get more bees with honey.

4. Only engage in negotiations with law schools that you would realistically attend, so that your conversations can be based on honesty and a genuine desire to make your financial package at a given law school work so that you might be able to enroll.  Otherwise, you are wasting everyone’s time, including your own.

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Interning Beyond the Day-to-Day

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Harry Cooperman, CAS ’16

Standing in a small room with seven people but only two chairs, I watched as the prosecutor’s eyes digested the sympathetic expression on the face of the boyish-looking-man who was just 22 years old.

The man had pled guilty to minor drug-related offenses months before. He was on probation now, his behavior supervised by a federal probation officer. The purpose for the meeting was for the man to explain why he had violated the terms of his probation by smoking marijuana.

“You can’t keep doing this,” the prosecutor sternly told the defendant. “You can’t keep screwing up.”

The 22-year-old man was ready with excuses as he began to defend himself. He knew it was a mistake. He said he would stop. He said he was expecting a child. He realized that he couldn’t continue to screw up — he needed to be there for his kid.

“I’ll do anything,” the man pleaded.

In this case, the man’s interests and the interests of justice were aligned. The prosecutor was on his side. She thought there was good in him, and believed that he could reform. She wanted to keep him out of jail for now.

Moments later, when the prosecutor appeared before a judge to discuss punishment for this man, she took his side in open court. She asked that he not be put in the ‘big house’ for his small screw up. In exercising her prosecutorial discretion, she asked only that the conditions of his probation be increased — that his movements be restricted and monitored by the federal probation office — because she believed in him and his ability to reform.

The judge ultimately listened to her arguments and opted not to put him behind bars. But after the court proceedings, the prosecutor reminded the baby-faced man that he couldn’t screw up anymore. This was the last straw. The next time, he would go to jail.


I realize this (the interaction above) is just part of the prosecutor’s job. Working for justice means more than just putting criminals on trial — it means ensuring that the public interest be served not only in convictions, but (where appropriate) for the benefit of the defendants as well. I had never before witnessed a prosecutor use their discretion like this. It was something that I knew that I would remember, but at the time I didn’t realize why.

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How To Wait (And Be Waitlisted) Without Losing It

by Todd Rothman, Senior Associate Director

This is the time of year where, if you’ve submitted and completed your law school applications in a timely fashion, you have likely heard something from most, if not all, of the schools to which you have applied.  Good news (admitted!) is obviously easy to handle and, though it might sting a bit at first, the disappointment of bad news (rejected) can also be managed after a while.  However, I’ve noticed over the years that what seems to stress applicants out the most is the non-news — being on Hold, being placed on the waitlist, and worst of all, not hearing anything from schools at all.  And where there’s stress, there are often ill-conceived, fear-based, and desperate attempts made by unsettled applicants that, in more cases than not, do more harm than good.

With that in mind, I thought this might be a good time of year to provide a bit of information (and perhaps relief) about these various forms of non-news.  And perhaps more importantly, I thought I would pass along some seasoned advice about how to wait (and be waitlisted) without losing it.

1. You have received notification that your application is on Hold.
With the exception of being admitted, this is by far the best non-news that you can receive.  Being on Hold ultimately bodes much better for your chances of admission than being placed on a waitlist because, essentially, this is truly a non-decision.  Your candidacy was so borderline for this particular school that the Committee could not make a definitive decision when your application was reviewed and are taking a wait-and-see approach.  This usually has to do with a Committee wanting to see the full pool of applications they receive before acting on your application and, as a result, you are on Hold until further review.  When you are placed on Hold, you should absolutely communicate directly with the law school upon receiving this news. If this is still a law school that interests you, you must confirm for the law school that you are still enthusiastic about them, as well as thank them for their continued consideration of your application.  You must also do this in writing — either a hard-copy letter or an email — and should not call the Admissions Office to communicate this news.

2. You have received notification that you have been placed on the waitlist.
Although this news can be initially deflating, most if not all law schools will consider — and ultimately pull from — their waitlist at some point in the late spring and summer.  With that in mind, this is also (relatively) good news since, if there was no chance of you being admitted, law schools will not string you along or try to soften the blow with a waitlist decision.  Rejections are a given part of the admissions process and law schools have no reservations about rejecting unqualified applicants.  So if you are placed on a waitlist, you should understand that you are certainly still in contention for admission.  However, time-wise, most law schools will not truly consider the applications placed on their respective waitlists until after their deposit deadlines are closely approaching and/or have passed.  So, even if you are placed on the waitlist in December, you will likely not hear any decision from a law school until April at the earliest.

When you are placed on the waitlist, you should absolutely communicate directly with the law school upon receiving this news.  Again, you should thank them for their continued consideration and reiterate your interest in their law school (and why).  However, do not inundate the law school with correspondence and/or additional materials.  In fact, most law schools will let you know in the waitlist correspondence what, if anything, they would find helpful from you as a waitlisted candidate in the coming months.  Read that material carefully and, if a law school communicates that it doesn’t want any additional information from you (and some won’t), please take the Committee at its word and follow its instructions.  It is important to keep your file active with any updates in the subsequent weeks and months, but if you are contacting an Admissions Office more frequently than once a month, please stop – enthusiasm, not desperation, is valued by law schools.

3. You have not heard anything from a law school since your application was completed.
Unfortunately, this can be a fairly common occurrence and, as I mentioned, it’s often the most frustrating of the waiting scenarios.  If you have submitted and completed your applications on time, you can assume that law schools have already read and evaluated your application and, for some reason, have not yet acted on a decision.  More than likely, you are on some form of an internal Hold and, unlike being placed formally on Hold, that particular law school does not maintain an official, public Hold category.  With that in mind, you can certainly reach out to a law school with any substantive updates to your application (e.g., Fall grades, new job, awards earned, new community service project) in the interim.  But again, keep any communication with Admissions Committees positive, meaningful, and no more frequently than once a month.  I mean it.

So, if you do find yourself in any one of these three situations – take a deep breath, continue to keep your file active, and stay positive.  Especially as the application volume at many law schools continues to shrink, not receiving an immediate acceptance does not at all mean an eventual rejection.  However, it’s important that enthusiastic, proactive heads prevail while you’re waiting and that you resist your frustrated, impatient, stalker-like urges.  Remember, you’re still making an impression on law school admissions committees.  And besides, we both know you’re better than that. 🙂

Converting Your Job Resume Into Your Law School Resume In Five (Relatively) Easy Steps

Your resume is one the several components that ultimately comprise your applications to law school.  Many students (and alumni) at Penn usually have some kind of resume in their possession – some are very up-to-date (for those actively applying for internships, jobs, or fellowships) and others have not seen a substantive update since high school graduation.  While some applications will ask you to list your most significant experiences directly on the application, there are often only a few lines to do so and the expectation is that you keep that brief and prioritized.  With that in mind, your resume is actually a very important aspect of your law school applications since, for many schools, it is the only opportunity to list and describe all of your activities, achievements, and involvements in full detail.  Law school admissions committees are very interested in how you spend your time and energy outside of class, so it is essential that you create a strong, accurate, and flattering portrayal of yourself on your resume.

There are several ways, however, that distinguish a law school resume from the aforementioned resume you might use in job or internship applications.  In addition to the two sample law school resumes I have provided for your reference on our pre-law website (under Law School Application Components), here are five (relatively) easy steps in converting the latter into the former.

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The Path Towards an Education Career has Many Routes

by Elizabeth Leonard

Anyone who regularly reads the New York Times will tell you that law schools have gotten a bad rap recently. It seems like every week there’s another article about how law school is overpriced, graduates have very few “real world” skills and a JD is no longer a fool-proof path to a lucrative career. I disagree.

As someone who practiced law for a measly two years after graduating from Penn Law, I seem to be a walking example of everything that’s wrong with law school. But, I argue (once a lawyer, always opinionated!) that Penn Law taught me a wide range of skills that are useful on a daily basis as I develop The Blue Bridge Project, a small educational company that provides service learning opportunities for high school students.

I started Blue Bridge Project because it is obvious that students who have international exposure are better prepared for professional success. Many high schools are integrating internationally focused classes into their curriculum like “Modern Islam” or “Comparative Political Systems” but classroom attention is not enough. Students who have the opportunity to travel develop a range of skills that cannot be taught in the classroom like: how to exhibit cultural sensitivity; how other people view the American lifestyle; and how political processes impact everyday people. Blue Bridge’s mission is to expose students to these issues so that they develop a more nuanced and well-rounded view of the world and start on the path to becoming global citizens.

  1. Confidence – A significant part of starting my own business was having the confidence to leave the security of a full-time job and quite literally, follow my dreams. In the first week of Civil Procedure, I was asked “what kinds of cases do federal courts hear?” At that point—and I am not kidding—I didn’t know the difference between the federal and state court systems! Despite not knowing the answer, I survived. Plowing through the toughest days of 1L year and enjoying the remaining two years of law school (yes, it’s true, I liked law school!) gave me the confidence that I could build this business. I continue to tap into that confidence during the most challenging times when I feel defeated and frustrated. There is a real emotional component to running a business and I developed an emotional endurance in law school that has really helped me.
  2. Critical thinking – Law school taught me how to thoughtfully sort through a lot of information and quickly distill key points. As an entrepreneur, I utilize this skill daily. On any given day I am thinking through the pros and cons of various insurance packages, writing web content, negotiating with service providers and drafting business contracts. This is not dissimilar from the experience of preparing for class during all three years of law school. I spent hours at the library sorting through cases and concepts; in order to preserve my sanity (and maintain a social life!) I learned to efficiently synthesize all of this material. I could not get through my to-do list every day if I hadn’t honed those skills in law school.
  3. Crisp writing and concise speaking– Law school taught me how to write clearly and speak concisely. I practiced these skills during legal writing seminars, mock-trials in clinical settings and on issue-spotting exams. I use these skills daily in my work as an entrepreneur, whether I am drafting a one-sentence blurb for BBP’s homepage or on the phone with a parent. The ability to clearly and concisely express yourself is critical to disseminate your message and this applies universally, whether you are advocating on behalf of your client in a mediation or making a presentation to parents about summer programs.

While my path towards building an education organization is untraditional, I have acquired so many skills along the way. Each person’s decision to pursue a graduate degree is highly personal and I am certainly not advocating that law school is the perfect choice for people who don’t want to be lawyers. But for me, I have no regrets about my JD and use it to my advantage on a daily basis.


JDandEducationElizabeth is the Founder and President of Blue Bridge Project ( BBP is the first international travel program to partner with local non-profits and offer post-trip guidance to help high school students apply their summer experience to their individual goals and future endeavors. Elizabeth has worked in high school student travel for over 8 years and has led students on trips around the world. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in International Relations and Spanish, and Penn Law School where she pursued public interest law. Elizabeth was the first recipient of the Penn Public Interest Fellowship and used her funding to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.