Interview with Allen Rostron, Former Associate Dean for Students and the William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
Interview with Allen Rostron, Former Associate Dean for Students and the William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Allen Rostron (AR), Associate Dean for Students and the William R. Jacques Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about UMKC School of Law. What would you most like applicants to know that they can't glean so easily from U.S. News rankings or from your law school's website?
AR: I always like to say that UMKC Law School strikes a great balance. The school has some special areas of emphasis in its curriculum, like advocacy and entrepreneurship and family law, but it tries to maintain a good balance across all areas, not putting all of its eggs in any one basket. As the only law school in a relatively large city, we must produce lawyers who do all kinds of law. And Kansas City itself strikes a nice balance, being a city that is large enough to have all sorts of lawyers doing sophisticated and interesting things, but small enough to have a close knit legal community of people who know each other.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend UMKC School of Law, what do you think applicants should consider when choosing a law school? If you had a son or daughter applying to law school this year, how would you advise them to choose between schools?
AR: There are a lot of law schools and there are obviously many factors to consider in choosing one. For many applicants, the location of the school is crucial. They want to be in a particular place while they're attending school, or they know where they want to be after they graduate and they'd like to be there for law school as well. Law school is a big investment of time and effort as well as money, so applicants must consider the costs involved. And for law school to be a good value, you have to take into account what you get out of it as well as what you put in, and that means paying close attention to how the school prepares you for the bar exam and your career. I'd also recommend that applicants visit the schools that interest them the most and get a chance to see what it's like. Schools vary a lot. Some are very warm and friendly, and others might not feel that way. Talk to people who attend the school or who attended it in the past. And see how interested the school seems in talking to you. For example, will they make faculty available to meet with you as an applicant? If not, you might wonder how accessible they will really be for you when you're a student there.
TLS: What is your view on the role the U.S. News and World Report rankings play in the law school recruitment and admissions process? How do the rankings affect UMKC School of Law?
AR: The rankings are an odd thing, because virtually everyone agrees they are deeply flawed, but they're a reality that law schools nevertheless cannot ignore. I'd say that the primary effect they have on admissions and recruitment is that they give schools an incentive to over-emphasize LSAT scores. Test scores are a useful piece of information, but they're just one part of an application, and the large role they play in the rankings makes many schools focus way too much on them. For applicants, it's certainly not absurd to use the rankings to get a very rough sense of how various schools are perceived. But again, it's just one piece of information, and it should be considered along with all the other factors that should affect the choice of a school. For example, if there are applicants who are convinced that one school is "better" than another because it is ranked a few places higher, that is giving way too much credit to the rankings.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
AR: I think that the more information, the better. To the extent that other types of rankings provide alternative perspectives and diminish over-reliance on any one ranking method, that's a positive thing.
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at UMKC School of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you'd like to share with our readers?
AR: For the most part, UMKC is looking to stay the course and keep doing the good things that we've been doing. The advocacy program continues to expand, with teams competing and finding success in more and more competitions across the country every year. Opportunities in the entrepreneurship and technology area continue to be a special source of excitement. And internship opportunities are remarkable - there are more of them all the time, the variety of the work is remarkable, and the students in them do more and more interesting things.
TLS: How would you describe the students at UMKC School of Law?
AR: I've always I always felt that our students strike a great balance. They want law school to be challenging and rigorous. But they also don't want to be miserable for three years. So they achieve the right balance of working hard, learning a lot, and gaining great experience while being nice to each other and creating an atmosphere that is genuinely warm and supportive.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
AR: The UMKC Law Review takes on about 50 new staff members each year. About 5 to 10 students each year are editors for the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which is located at UMKC. So overall, nearly half of our students get journal experience during their time in law school. There are some schools where journal participation is a very limited thing, for only an elite few of the students, but we have always strived to have relatively broad participation here while still making a prestigious accomplishment to be involved.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of UMKC School of Law?
AR: Students are involved in a wide range of law-related extracurricular activities. Students volunteer to work on projects like income tax preparation, youth court, and immigration assistance. Many are involved with one of the competitive teams, like trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, business negotiations, and client counseling. Just yesterday, we had a special celebration for our latest national championship, which was in Transactional Lawyering.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics UMKC School of Law is especially proud of?
AR: The areas covered by our clinics include child & family (where students represent the interests of children in the legal system), entrepreneurship and intellectual property (where students assist people starting businesses), tax (where students represent taxpayers in federal, state, and local tax controversies), abandoned housing (the nation's first clinic dedicated to the work of freeing up abandoned properties to be converted to productive uses), and wrongful convictions (where students work to exonerate innocent people who were wrongfully convicted for crimes).
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Kansas City?
AR: I have yet to meet anyone who has been to Kansas City and come away with a negative feeling about it. The people who live here really love it, and people who visit are always impressed. Kansas City is not the sort of trendy place that gets a ton of national attention, so it's a sort of "hidden gem" or "under the radar" treasure. It's big enough to have lots of things to do, but small enough to not be too crowded or complicated or expensive. It's also one of the largest cities in America that only has one law school in it, which maximizes students' opportunities to take advantage of all the opportunities for jobs, internships, and clinics.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has UMKC School of Law taken any steps in this direction?
AR: UMKC has always had the reputation for being a very practice-oriented school. So that approach is nothing new, but we continually build on it. Two aspects of it that have multiplied in recent years are the number of different teams competing and winning in skills-based competitions, and the number and variety of field placements (internships) available for students.
TLS: What role do you believe law schools should play in preparing students for the bar exam? And how have your graduates fared with bar passage in recent years?
AR: UMKC prides itself on being a good value. And just like any investment that is a good value, that depends not only what you put into it, but also what you get out of it. And so maximizing students' success on the bar exam has always been a priority here. We have one of the top-ranked bar pass programs in the nation, led by Professor Wanda Temm, a leading expert who literally wrote the book on bar exam preparation. Students who participate in the UMKC program pass the bar at dramatically higher rates. Overall, UMKC's bar pass rate in 2017 was in the top twenty percent of all the law schools in the nation. And that is particularly remarkable since all but two of the schools ranked above UMKC had students with higher average LSAT scores. Schools that have extremely high average LSAT scores inevitably have a big advantage in achieving high bar pass rates. For instance, a lot of Harvard students are going to pass the bar exam, no matter what Harvard teaches them, just because Harvard tends to be full of students who are really good at standardized testing. And so what you really want to look at is how much value a law school is adding for its students. In other words, how much is the school increasing the odds that its students will pass the bar exam. And on that measure, UMKC always ranks at or near the top.
TLS: Most law schools have a core 1L curriculum requiring civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, criminal law, and legal writing. Does UMKC School of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
AR: We cover the traditional subjects in the first year: Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, and Lawyering Skills (legal research and writing). First year students also can take one-week "mini term" classes, in January and March, on a variety of more specialized topics of interest to them. And students who start law school in the Spring or Summer semesters (rather than the Fall) get an unusually early opportunity to start taking elective courses during their first year of law school. The other courses that students are required to take before graduation are Evidence, Business Organizations, Federal Taxation, and Professional Responsibility.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
AR: It really depends on a student's interests and goals, but I often recommend taking the courses that introduce a student to a significant area of law. That way, a student can learn the basic foundations of the area and decide if it's something the student wants to explore in more depth with other courses. For example, a student who takes Intellectual Property can determine if that's something the student wants to know more about. It is the same for courses like International Law, Family Law, and or Estates & Trusts. These courses can be a stepping stone to more advanced courses in the area, or just give the student a basic foundation of knowledge about an important field.
TLS: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student's application, such as GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation?
AR: The LSAT and undergraduate GPA are important factors in admissions at every law school, and we are no exception. But we have an unusual admissions process because we have faculty members who conduct personal interviews, in person or by phone, with applicants. No one is admitted without first having an interview. As far as I know, we were the first law school in the nation to do this. A few others have followed our lead on this, but it's still very rare. The interviews give us an opportunity to go beyond the application itself and actually get to know applicants in a more personal way. We pride ourselves on being a school that has a highly personalized approach all the way through law school, and it starts with this. Personal statements are very important too. But for us, they tend to be a way for us to get to know someone before the interview, rather than being our only chance to get to know each applicant.
TLS: The personal statement seems to be the part of the application a prospective student can most independently influence. Can you offer applicants any advice regarding writing the personal statement?
AR: If you had a brief opportunity to introduce yourself to someone, what would you want them to know about you? The range of ways to write a good personal statement really is virtually limitless. You can talk about an experience you've had, a person you've known, or a characteristic that you have. One bit of advice I often give is that the topic of your personal statement doesn't have to be some "big" dramatic event. I've read great essays about those types of life-changing moments, but I've also read great ones about seemingly minor things. For example, some people write about being from a small town where nothing much happens, or about the things in life they haven't had the opportunity to do yet. If you're sincere and open and genuine about what you write, it will come through. Also, I'm often surprised how seldom people write about academic things. Perhaps students think that so much of an application is about academics, so they want to cover other things in the personal statement. But if you want to write about a course you took that was particularly enlightening, or a teacher that was especially inspiring, go for it. You're applying to go to a school, and often the people reading your essay will be teachers, so don't shy away from talking about academics if you want to!
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
AR: I've read thousands of them, but it's remarkable how many actually do stick out in my mind as being very memorable. When students are graduating, I can often remember exactly what they wrote about in their personal statements. There's no particular topic or approach that makes them the most memorable. When someone is very genuine and candid about themselves and their experiences, that's what makes the most impression and sticks with you.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
AR: There are certain subjects that are more common than others. For example, many applicants write about volunteer work or about foreign travel (or both, such as writing about traveling abroad to do volunteer work). But there's a reason why many applicants choose to write about those topics. Volunteering to help others is a wonderful thing to do and it often has a dramatic impact on those who do it. Same for studying or traveling abroad - it's often such an eye-opening and even life-changing experience. So don't be afraid to write about those topics, but just keep in mind that you won't be the only applicant writing about something like that. So just be sure to make it personal and open and honest. The other advice I have is that it's ok to write about something that is a subject of great political or other controversy. Just be sure to do it in a way that is respectful of those who may disagree with you. I tell applicants that you should assume the person reading your essay is going to be someone who totally disagrees with your perspective on the controversial issue, and you should aim to write about it in a way that will make that person say "I have the other point of view on this, but I really respect and appreciate what you've written about it."
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
AR: It is pretty rare. I'd say the weakest personal statements that I ever see are ones that are very short and basically are more of a cover letter, just essentially saying "I'm interested in attending your law school." I wouldn't say that hurts the applicant's chances, but it's just a missed opportunity to say something that would be helpful.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a "diversity statement" separate from the personal statement. How does UMKC School of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
AR: It's fine if someone wants to submit a diversity statement, and I'd say they are becoming more and more common. Sometimes they address the types of characteristics that come to mind whenever we think about diversity, like race or sexual orientation or physical abilities, and sometimes they address unusual things like a unique life experience or an obstacle the applicant has overcome. Sometimes these statements are very interesting and helpful, and I can't think of any that were problematic or not appropriate.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in UMKC School of Law?
AR: Everyone likes to be liked, and law schools are no exception. So if you personalize your essay to talk about a special interest in a particular school, that's great. At the very least, I would recommend at least customizing each of your personal statements a little bit, to at least mention the name of the school and something that you like about it (location, a certain program, a teacher that you've heard about - it could be anything). Just be sure to keep track of which version of the personal statement goes to each school you're applying to! Every year, I read a handful of personal statements that are addressed to some other school. It doesn't kill your chances of admission, but it doesn't particularly help you either!
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT?
AR: The GPA and LSAT are definitely important factors. If your numbers help a school on its statistics for these things, you have a huge advantage in getting admitted at that school. But every year, we admit a fair number of people who would not get chosen based on GPA and LSAT alone. Sometimes you read an application, and you think, "Forget about the numbers, I'd love to have this person attend our school."
TLS: How does UMKC School of Law view applicants who apply with multiple LSAT scores? Do you only look at the highest score, or do you consider all scores in the aggregate?
AR: We tend to focus on the applicant's highest score only. If someone's score is a weak spot in their application, and they've only taken it once, we often might recommend trying it again. If it took someone multiple tries to get the score they were aiming for, I don't hold that against them. I appreciate their persistence in taking it again and working to improve their score.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
AR: It would be fine to submit an addendum, but I don't think I'd really notice it if there wasn't one.
TLS: What is the latest LSAT administration an applicant can take and still qualify for admission during the admission cycle? If an applicant is placed on the waitlist, can a new summer LSAT score help his or her chances?
AR: We try to save a few spots every year for applicants who take the LSAT in June. Sometimes we just run out of room, but in most years we are able to take a few from the June test. If an applicant is on the waitlist, an improved LSAT score can definitely make the difference, but it just varies from year to year, depending on how close we are to filling up all the available seats in the class.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does UMKC School of Law look at when reviewing applications?
AR: We look for people who have connections to Kansas City and the region around it, people who have some particular reason why they really want to be at UMKC. We also look for people who seem like they'd be great to have as students in ways that go beyond academics. I always say that we look for those who will immerse themselves in the overall life of the law school, enriching the experience for themselves and others by simply getting involved in everything. And the best sign that someone will be that sort of student is that they have been that sort of student in the past.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
AR: Being a school in a large city, we get more than our share of nontraditional students. And although I like all our students, I must admit that it's hard not to especially like those who are coming to law school after having done other things in life. They are often the most enthusiastic and interesting students. And in almost every course, it means there is a student with real experience with the topic, like a police officer in your criminal law course, or an insurance adjuster in your torts class, or a real estate agent or landlord in your property class.
TLS: What can "K through JD" applicants do to stand out in the application process?
AR: Although we have many students who have done other things before law school, we have many applicants who come straight through to law school, and they're great students. While an applicant coming straight through may not have work experience or life experience to the same degree as a nontraditional applicant, they often have done a wide range of interesting things, from part-time or summer jobs to internships, extracurricular activities, travel, arts, athletics, volunteering, and leadership in their schools.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
AR: When I was a student, I was always terribly afraid to bother professors by asking them for recommendations. But now that I'm a professor, I realize that was silly. Professors are happy to help by providing recommendations. It's part of their job. So we recommend that applicants get at least one of their recommendation letters from a teacher or other academic source. Aside from that, I advise finding someone who knows you well and can talk specifically about what you've done, but not someone who will seem like a mere personal connection. In other words, don't submit a recommendation letter from a parent or other relative. Don't submit one that comes across as being from someone who just knows you because they are a friend of your family. Even if that person has some very important position (like being a judge, a politician, or a successful lawyer), it's not helpful to have a letter that basically just says "I've known so-and-so ever since he was a child, and I really like him and his family." And a letter from a high ranking government official, like a Senator or Governor, isn't helpful if it seems like just a form letter from someone who doesn't really know you. Get a letter instead from whoever can give the most concrete, specific description of what they've seen you do. What really matters for recommendation letters is not how positive they are. It's how specific they are. The most lavish praise is not as helpful as concrete details about what someone saw you doing.
TLS: Tell us how UMKC School of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
AR: We have an average of about 8 transfer students joining us each year. They come from a wide variety of schools and transfer for a wide variety of reasons. Some of them are people who applied to UMKC before, but weren't admitted, and so they went somewhere else and did well and want to transfer over to UMKC. But others transfer for various personal reasons. Some are drawn by a particular program at our school, some decide they really want to be in Kansas City after graduation so they want to get started on making connections here while still in school, and some transfer for personal reasons like wanting to be closer to family or a spouse or partner who is in Kansas City.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
AR: The most important factor for transfer applicants is law school GPA. We also consider the LSAT and undergraduate GPA, but they matter much, much less for transfer applicants than they do for new 1L applicants.
TLS: How many students transfer out of UMKC School of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?
AR: We typically have an average of about 1 or 2 students who transfer each year. It's very rare. Most students who come here really like it and want to stay. When someone does transfer, it's often for a very specific reason, like having a spouse who has to be in another part of the country for some reason such as a job transfer or military service.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Missouri. What's the outlook for the next few years?
AR: The legal market in Missouri has experienced stability and growth in the past few years. The largest area of growth seems to be in firms with 2-10 attorneys. Due to the nature of these firms' recruitment strategies, networking plays an integral role in graduates securing these positions. The large firms in our state, primarily based or headquartered in Kansas City and St. Louis, actively recruit at UMKC Law and other schools in the Midwest in addition to their national recruitment outreach. All firms are increasingly focused on practice-ready graduates and large firms devote significant resources to recruiting diverse candidates (particularly in terms of race and ethnicity). Attorneys in small towns and rural areas of Missouri have expressed concern about both a current and anticipated lack of attorneys in these areas. With uncertainty about the state of public service loan forgiveness and increasing student debt, government and public interest employers - particularly in small towns and rural areas - are also experiencing some challenges in filling high-need positions. JD Advantage positions, or positions for which a law degree is advantageous, but for which bar admission/licensure is not required, in the areas of business, healthcare, technology, and public policy, have experienced growth. We anticipate the trends we have seen during the past few years will continue during the next few years.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of UMKC School of Law?
AR: The majority of our graduates practice law in a traditional bar admission required role. Typically at least half of our graduates go into private practice as associates within 10 months of graduation. Primarily these graduates go into firms with 2 to 10 attorneys. The second largest employment category tends to be business & industry. The third and fourth largest categories are government and judicial clerks (primarily in the state courts, and sometimes in federal courts). We also have some graduates who go into public interest work or education.
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
AR: About 20 to 30 percent of graduates leave the state for work. Not surprisingly, the majority of the students who leave the state for work go to Kansas, as Kansas City straddles the Kansas-Missouri border. Usually 10 or fewer students each year move to a state other than Missouri or Kansas.
TLS: How many students get paid law firm jobs - ones that turn in to full-time employment after school - through the on-campus interviewing process?
AR: Around 10 percent of students get paid law firm jobs - ones that turn into full-time employment after school - through the on-campus interviewing process. These tend to be jobs at the larger law firms. The hiring for many other types of jobs (such as judicial clerkships, government positions such as being a prosecutor, and associate positions at smaller law firms) tends to be done in ways other than through on-campus interviews. These employers may hire based on interviews that are not part of the on-campus interview process, or they may be most likely to hire students who already have work experience with the employer, such as through internships or part-time work during law school.
TLS: What about a student who graduates in the middle of the class - the true "median" student, so to speak. What sort of work can they realistically expect to have in 2018/2019?
AR: A student who graduates in the middle of the class in 2018/2019 - the true "median" student - can realistically expect to have a lot of options. While large and mid-size firms will likely expect and desire higher credentials, firms of 2 to 10 attorneys are very realistic options and firms in the 11-25 attorney range are possible depending on a graduate's connections and prior experiences and skills. These graduates are often also very well positioned for JD Advantage positions and state or local government positions, as well as public interest positions. Judicial clerkships at the state level - with a circuit court - are also very feasible. A clerkship at a Court of Appeals might be feasible - again, depending on the graduate's connections and prior experiences and skills. One factor that can impact this type of graduate's success is bar passage. These students can maximize their chances of success by actively participating in the UMKC Law Bar Prep Program. Not passing the bar can limit options for employment.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does UMKC School of Law do to help them get on track?
AR: UMKC Law supports graduates in finding permanent, full-time, meaningful legal employment beginning with 1L orientation. The Professional & Career Development Center, in addition to UMKC Law faculty, facilitates networking opportunities and programming to help students make connections and understand how to navigate the job search process. Additionally, the Professional & Career Development Center requires a resume approval process to ensure all students develop a compelling resume that adheres to employer expectations. Each 1L is assigned to a member of the Professional & Career Development Center. This advisor will meet with them in person about their resume and will continue to build a relationship with them during their law school career. The CONNECT system, powered by 12Twenty, houses online resources and job and on-campus interview opportunities. The goal is for students to develop relationships and skills throughout their three years at UMKC Law in order for them to effectively navigate both the visible and hidden job market upon graduation. Upon impending graduation, the Professional & Career Development Center hosts a 3L exit session to promote job search resources and collect at-graduation employment information. Those who do not attend the session meet with or communicate with their assigned advisor electronically. Communications continue minimally during bar prep and then outreach increases after the bar. Advisors identify tips and tricks about the search process and opportunities that align with what each graduate is looking for in their first post-graduate position. There are many factors that contribute to success and challenges in the job search. UMKC Law finds that factors that contribute to unemployment or underemployment are: not passing the bar exam, not communicating with or following the advice of faculty or Professional & Career Development staff, and no/limited practical experience during law school.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
AR: The students who transfer to UMKC law school do not seem disadvantaged when it comes to seeking employment. No transfer applicant would be admitted without first being interviewed by a faculty member, which allows us to determine which students are the best fit for our school. Many transfer students come to UMKC because they have a new goal of working in the Kansas City area. The Professional & Career Development Center reaches out to transfer students as soon as they are officially committed in order to integrate them into the CONNECT system and to facilitate a strong working relationship. Every transfer student from the Class of 2017 was employed within 10 months in a bar admission required, full-time, long-term position.
TLS: What is the median (not average, but median) debt for a graduate from your law school who finished school this year? Given the employment opportunities for the average graduate, is this debt load tenable?
AR: The average student debt is currently about $96,000. I don't know the median, but I doubt it is substantially different from the average. We strive to keep our tuition as low as possible, so that a law school education here is a good value. The average debt has actually decreased a little bit in recent years, as we continue to emphasize to students the importance of being as financially knowledgeable and responsible as possible. We partner with Access Lex through their MAX program, which provides financial education and consultations for students on things like making a budget and sticking to it, and understanding the impact of interest rates. Law school is a substantial investment but it is certainly a reasonably sound one at UMKC, given the inputs (low cost) and outputs (bar pass rates, job placement) here.
TLS: Are law schools doing enough to ensure that prospective students get enough information to decide whether to go a quarter-million dollars into debt for a J.D.?
AR: Law school is a significant investment of time and effort as well as money. Fortunately, UMKC is a school that is a great value. We keep the tuition as low as possible. The tuition is currently about $19,000 a year. Many schools are more than twice as expensive. For applicants who are not Missouri residents, we have generous opportunities for scholarships to cover the nonresident portion of the tuition. And we encourage students to be as frugal as possible (to "live like students") while they are in school, to keep their debt as small as possible. So at UMKC, the idea of anyone going a quarter of a million dollars into debt for their law degree is simply not something that could ever happen. But even though the cost for our students is much lower than at many other schools, and so the debt that students incur is much lower, the cost of law school is nevertheless an important factor and students should be smart and careful in thinking about it.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
AR: It's impossible to predict the future with certainty, of course. But tuition increases at UMKC have tended to be small. For example, over the past three years, tuition has increased at a rate of only about 1.3 percent per year.
TLS: What sort of financial aid opportunities are available for applicants? How does the school allocate these resources between need-based and merit-based awards?
AR: A substantial number of scholarships are available for prospective students. For applicants who are not Missouri residents, the school is very generous about extending scholarships, whenever possible, to cover the nonresident portion of the tuition. Beyond that, there are a wide array of scholarship opportunities. Some have been created by specific donors, and others are general scholarships funded by the school. The scholarships are primarily merit-based, but need is a factor in some instances. Of course, financial aid in the form of loans is also an important source of funding for many students.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
AR: The process of being considered for scholarships happens automatically, so there are no extra papers or application forms to fill out. As soon as an applicant is admitted, the applicant's file is automatically reviewed and considered for scholarship opportunities. If a scholarship offer is made, the applicant is notified. Occasionally there are special scholarship opportunities that require some extra step, such as submitting an extra essay or having an extra interview, but those are not the norm.
TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
AR: The factors that determine scholarship offers tend to be the same factors that influence decisions about who gets admitted. It always helps to have a strong LSAT score and an excellent academic record, but non-numerical factors can be equally important, such as impressive accomplishments, interesting work or other experience.
TLS: Are scholarship packages for entering students ever contingent on academic performance? If so, why impose restrictions like this? Isn't that putting a lot of pressure on scholarship recipients?
AR: At UMKC, scholarships generally do not come with any conditions other than just maintaining the 2.0 grade point average that is required to remain a student in good standing. There are a tiny number of exceptions, where there is a scholarship that has an additional requirement specified by the donor who created the scholarship. But for virtually all students, the scholarships have no conditions beyond just maintaining the 2.0 average required to stay in law school and graduate. At many other schools, scholarships are conditional. For example, students lose scholarships unless they have a 3.0 average, are in the top 50 percent of their class, etc. These types of conditions are enormously stressful. Law school is difficult enough without doing it under the threat of losing scholarships if your grades are not high enough. And even if you keep your scholarship, imagine what the atmosphere is like when students around you are terrified of losing their scholarships or disgruntled after they lose them. I always strongly advise any student to think carefully about the impact of the conditions on the scholarships they are being offered by other schools. Applicants should look up the statistics about termination of scholarships at any school they are considering. This information is in the "509 data" on every school's website. At many schools, the scholarship offers are very high, because the school is expecting that a large portion of the scholarships (sometimes 25 percent, 50 percent, or even more) will be cancelled. Again, we do not do that to our students at UMKC.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
AR: There are sometimes scholarship opportunities that arise for students after they have started law school. When these opportunities come up, we let the students know about them and they can apply. But these scholarships are not common. Most scholarship opportunities are at the point where students are first applying and being admitted to law school.
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
AR: If a transfer student is not a Missouri resident, the school is generally able to offer a scholarship to cover the nonresident portion of the tuition, so the student will be able to pay the Missouri resident tuition rates. Financial aid in the form of loans is also available for transfer students, to the same extent that it would be to students who are not transfers. There may occasionally be additional scholarship opportunities for transfer students, but these are rare because normally the scholarship funds that are available are devoted to the new 1L students.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs UMKC School of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
AR: We do not have such a program at this time.
TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering UMKC School of Law?
AR: We are happy to answer any further questions that potential students may have, so we encourage them to reach out to us. And we're always happy to have them visit, take a tour, and attend a class.
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