More on Law School Scholarships

Paul Caron of TaxProf links here to various reactions to the purported scandal that not all 1Ls who receive scholarships can expect to maintain a high enough GPA to retain them.

Let me throw my two cents in. I think part of the problem is that incoming law students are unaware of how law schools use merit scholarships. At one time, a law school that threw a merit scholarship at you would likely have done so because it was dying to get a student well above the school’s median entering student. If so, the recipient of the scholarship could have a reasonable expectation that he would do well enough first year to retain the scholarship.

U.S. News has changed the calculus. Let’s say a law school has a 155 median LSAT, and for U.S. News purposes wants to raise that median to 157. Will the law school chase after students with scores in the mid-160s? Probably not. A 157 or 158 is worth just as much to the school as a 165. Thus, a dean trying to use his scholarship resources efficiently will offer money to the 157s and 158s (who can be lured easier and for less money), and may not even admit the 165s (so as to improve the school’s acceptance ratio, another U.S. News criterion).

These 157s and 158s will be at or only slightly above the law school’s new median, and taking into account GPA, work experience, difficulty of college major, and so on, in some cases may be expected to perform below the class average.

So I suspect that some incoming law students see a merit scholarship as a vote of confidence that they are significantly academically superior to their classmates, when in fact the are likely very close to the median. And it is that disconnect that likely accounts for much of the regret that kicks in when a “merit scholar” student realizes that he is studying just as hard as his classmates, but is struggling to maintain the above-average GPA he needs to retain his scholarship.