The TLS Guide To Fee Waivers
Published February 2010, last updated January 2012
Applying to law school costs money – lots of it!
Each submitted law school application requires a hefty fee which varies from school to school – anywhere from $15 (for the University of Tennessee) up to $100 (Northwestern University), with most law schools charging something between $60 and $75. In addition to each school’s application fee, the LSAC (Law School Admissions Council) charges a $16 report fee per school in order to send an applicant’s LSAT report, official LSDAS transcript, and letters of recommendation.
When combined with the price of the LSAT ($132 per administration) and the mandatory LSDAS registration fee ($121), an applicant can easily spend upwards of $500 for just three or four applications. These costs can quickly become a financial burden, often deterring an individual from applying to a school in which he/she would otherwise be interested.
Luckily, individual law schools and the LSAC each take steps to lessen the cost of the law school application process. Qualified candidates can receive “fee waivers” which allow an applicant to submit an application for free. This helps lessen the possibility that a qualified and capable candidate will not apply for mere financial reasons; it also encourages some applicants to apply to schools to which they may not have otherwise given serious consideration.
There are two different types of waivers: those issued by LSAC, and those issued by individual schools.
LSAC Fee Waiver
The LSAC Fee Wavier is a need-based fee waiver awarded only to applicants who can demonstrate a legitimate need for financial aid in the law school application process.
In order to qualify for the LSAC waiver, one must submit an application available on the LSAC’s website. Applicants must furnish detailed financial information, including income and holdings (savings, checking, etc.) data.
It is generally considered extremely difficult to qualify for such a waiver, especially if an individual has a full-time job; most successful recipients have incomes below the poverty line in addition to minimal holdings. Even full-time college students tend to have a hard time procuring an LSAC fee waiver. On its official website, the LSAC asserts that the “[LSAC Fee Waiver] need criterion is considerably more stringent than for other financial aid processes. Only those with extreme need should apply.”
If a request for a fee waiver is initially denied, candidates have the right to petition the LSAC to reevaluate their application. Candidates who can show extremely extenuating circumstances (i.e. a moderate-sized savings account, but absolutely no income and a high expense level) are occasionally able to convince LSAC to issue a fee waiver on appeal.
To those who qualify, however, the LSAC fee waiver is extremely generous, potentially saving candidates upwards of $1,000, depending on how many law school applications they submit. As of 2009-2010, an LSAC fee waiver automatically grants an individual:
- Two LSATs per two-year fee waiver period (normally $132 per test)
- One registration for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS, normally $121), including a total of four Law School Reports (normally $16 per report), the Letter of Recommendation Service, and access to electronic applications for all ABA-approved law schools.
- One copy of The Official LSAT SuperPrep
Perhaps most valuable, though, is the fact that most law schools will automatically waive the application fee of an individual who qualifies for an LSAC fee waiver; this cuts the cost of law school applications down dramatically, especially for applicants applying to higher numbers of schools. Some schools – notably Yale, Stanford, and the University of Texas at Austin – do not automatically waive the fee, instead considering each applicant’s request on a case-by-case basis. However, these schools rarely fail to waive the fee of such candidates already qualified for an LSAC waiver.
Once approved for an LSAC waiver, individuals are required to submit copies of their tax returns to verify their self-reported financial data. LSAC recommends submitting a waiver request 4-6 weeks before the planned LSAT and/or application, due to processing time.
It should be noted that a candidate’s LSAT score release can be “held” until the LSAC fee waiver application is processed; in some cases, these applicants must wait several additional weeks past the original score release date to receive their scores. In addition to being highly frustrating, this can also delay the application process, so those who apply for an LSAC fee waiver are advised to do so far in advance of their LSAT administration.
See http://www.lsac.org/pdfs/USFeeWaiverInstructions.pdf for more information and instructions for completing a request for an LSAC fee waiver.
School-Issued Fee Waiver
Having received a candidate’s LSAT score through the CRS (Candidate Referral Service), individual law schools can opt to waive a candidate’s fee – on basis of scholastic merit – in an attempt to encourage him/her to apply. Most applicants report that fee waivers begin to trickle in during the weeks after an LSAT score release.
Generally, a school will contact an individual, via electronic or snail mail, to inform him/her of the fee waiver. Usually, the candidate needs simply to complete and submit the LSAC e-app (unfortunately, such fee waivers rarely can be applied to a paper application) – he/she will not be charged the school’s application fee. In some cases, the school may also request an applicant submit a fee waiver form, whether electronically or via snail mail.
In some circumstances, however, a “hidden” fee waiver is granted. For reasons which aren’t entirely clear, certain schools choose to furnish some fee waivers without notifying the recipients. Under these circumstances, an applicant will remain oblivious to the fee waiver until the final stage of submission of an electronic application. When it comes time to add an application to the LSAC.org “shopping cart”, a hidden waiver recipient will see that a CRS fee waiver has been issued and that only the $16 report fee must be paid.
Requesting a Fee Waiver
Due to the sheer volume of applicants, schools simply cannot issue fee waivers to every qualified candidate. However, when an explicit request is made, a school may furnish a fee waiver to an applicant who requests one. If you do not receive a fee waiver from a school to which you plan on applying, there’s no harm in asking for one one, provided the inquiry is made politely. A short e-mail will suffice:
To: email@example.com (check each school’s website for the address)
Re: Application Fee Waiver
I have a quick question – I was wondering if School X offered merit-based application fee waivers, and if I would qualify for one. My information is:
LSDAS GPA: x.xx
LSAT SCORE: xxx
LSAC ACCOUNT NUMBER: Lxxxxxxxx
Thank you for your time,
Hopeful Law Student
Schools generally respond to fee waiver requests promptly. Keep in mind, however, that schools tend to provide waivers for more numerically competitive applicants; if your GPA and LSAT score are below a school’s medians, the school may be less inclined to waive your application fee. Regardless, an applicant with strong numbers may be denied as well – each school can only afford to furnish so many waivers per cycle, and each admissions office has its own methodology for determining who receives the waivers.
Fee waivers also may be made available at law school admissions fairs. Oftentimes representatives from various schools will hand out fee waiver forms to individuals who approach them and express interest in their law school.
Do I have to be registered with CRS (Candidate Referral Service) to receive an unsolicited fee waiver?
You must be registered with CRS to receive an unsolicited fee waiver. Schools receive LSAT and LSDAS GPA (if available) statistics from CRS, and since these statistics form the basis of decisions regarding fee waivers, being registered for CRS is imperative. CRS registration is free and available through an applicant’s online LSAC account.
So if I get a fee waiver from a school, I don’t have to pay for my application, right?
Well, not exactly. While the application fee itself may be waived, the LSAC still charges an additional $16 report fee per application submitted. Applicants with an LSAC fee waiver do not have to pay for their first four reports, but any additional applications will require the $16 fee.
When do schools send out fee waivers?
Fee waivers generally start to appear in mid-July, shortly after the release of the scores from the June LSAT. Usually, a candidate can expect to receive a fee waiver from a school within a few weeks of receiving his/her LSAT score. Fee waivers continue to trickle in throughout the application cycle (September – February). There tends to be an upswing around the New Year, anticipating the application deadline.
But what if I took the December LSAT, am I too late?
Definitely not – many test-takers report receiving fee waivers after the release of the December scores.
I received an unsolicited fee waiver from School X encouraging me to apply – does this mean I have a higher chance of admission?
The response by law schools is generally “no,” though this doesn’t tell the whole story. Certain schools, such as The University of Michigan and Duke University, both cite higher acceptance rates for applicants who receive fee waivers. Many others, on the other hand, annually reject a number of fee waiver recipients. Generally speaking, there seem to be two major reasons underlying such rejections:
- Selectivity boost: A portion of the score used to rank law schools is determined by how selective a school is – that is, the percentage of applicants accepted in a given year. Fee waivers generally encourage candidates (both financially and emotionally) to apply to a given school. By issuing fee waivers to candidates unlikely to gain admission, based on their LSAT and GPA, schools can boost their number of rejected applicants, thus increasing their selectivity. An unsolicited fee waiver definitely does not equal guaranteed admission.
- Yield Protection: While the above deals with candidates who are under qualified, occasionally overqualified candidates – who receive fee waivers due to their impressive statistics – can be rejected or waitlisted as well. In addition to selectivity, schools are concerned with matriculation or yield – the percentage of admitted students who decide to attend. For this reason, some schools will waitlist or occasionally reject candidates whose statistics suggest that they will most likely be accepted at and choose to attend schools of higher rank or prestige.
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