Demystifying Scholarships

Author: Brooke Zentmeyer

By Jacob Baska

Beyond the actual process of applying and admissions, the most popular area for questions from our prospective students – especially the admitted students! – are about scholarship and financial-aid opportunities. The manner in which you will finance your legal education is very important. Our staff has tried to answer some of the most popular questions on our Financial Aid FAQ page, but we certainly recognize that you may have additional questions. We hope that this post helps demystify our process as well as provide you with further avenues for research as you try to determine not just the best fit for your educational and professional needs, but also balancing your financial circumstances.

Our Process
The Admissions and Scholarship Committees notified Early Decision admits of both their admission and scholarship award (if any) at the time of their admission in December. Such notification is part of our compact with the Early Decision students — we think it is fair to ask for a binding commitment from the student only if the student knows the financial ramifications of their decision.

Regular Decision students who were admitted through the end of January were notified in their admit letter that the Scholarship Committee typically does not start issuing award letters until February. We have this delay for a few reasons, most notably because it allows us to determine our final yield from the Early Decision admits, have the clearest sense of our final scholarship budget, and have our best forecast of the total applicant pool for both NDLS as well as law schools nationally. Based on those present circumstances, we think that these awards will be the best financial offer we can make to our admitted students.

The majority of our scholarship awards are merit-based. A student’s undergraduate GPA and LSAT play an important role in that process but we also consider a host of other factors, our larger enrollment goals, and how a student helps us to shape the best class possible for the Law School and the University.

Some scholarship funds have a greater weight towards financial need rather than merit. In certain cases, we can combine a student’s merit award with some of this need-based funding. There is no additional notification in a student’s letter regarding how much of their award is based on merit versus need.

Award Letters
The Scholarship Committee finalized its initial round of Regular Decision scholarship awards last week and the letters will go in the mail this week. The Scholarship Committee will continue to issue awards throughout the coming weeks.

Our policy is to notify each student of their scholarship status regardless of whether they have received an award. If a student has not received an award at this time, the Scholarship Committee will continue to consider them through the remainder of our enrollment period. We will immediately notify these students if their scholarship status changes.

If a student did receive an award letter, they will notice a few stipulations on the award:
· NDLS scholarships are not conditional. Scholarships are automatically renewed as long as the student remains in good academic standing. You may find a definition of “good academic standing” in the Hoynes Code, which is the Law School’s governing code.
· The total listed on the award letter is the “lump sum” to be applied evenly to your tuition over six semesters. In other words, if your award letter indicates a $30,000 award, you will receive $10,000 annually towards your tuition. We phrase our award letter in this way because of our dual degree programs and also because students sometimes have to take a leave of absence for a semester.
· Our scholarships can only be applied to Law School tuition. If a student enrolls in a dual degree program – such as the JD/MBA program — then the student will not receive their NDLS scholarship for the semesters for which they are charged the other graduate program’s tuition.
· While we do think that these are the most competitive offers that we can make to our admitted students, we recognize that circumstances can change. In order to account for that potential, our office has a Scholarship Appeal Form that students may submit to let us know if there is a truly burdensome cost of attendance differential between NDLS and their other top options for law school. Please note that the relevant point of comparison that the Scholarship Committee may use is the total cost of attendance (which includes tuition, room and board, books, supplies, etc.) minus scholarship as this reflects the “out of pocket” expense that the student can expect. You may find our most recent estimated total cost of attendance on our website. Every law school is required to provide you with this information per American Bar Association regulations. This information should be featured prominently on their website and in their publications. If you cannot find this information — or cannot find this information for the most recent year — please ask the admissions office directly. Admissions offices will update this information for the 2017-2018 academic year in the coming weeks.
· To be fair to all our scholarship candidates, we ask that students who receive awards not provide multiple enrollment deposits to NDLS and other law schools. If a student’s enrollment deadline is approaching and the student needs more time to weigh their offers, we are welcome to discussing a deadline extension. We want you to make this decision with full confidence.

Going Forward
Beyond our scholarship awards, our office encourages students to continue researching other avenues that could provide them with financial assistance for their legal education, whether that be in the form of scholarship assistance now, or assistance after enrollment or graduation. Careful research and planning now will pay dividends after graduation.
· Please take the time to examine the External Scholarship Database. We continue to post new scholarships as we are made award of them by the issuing agency.
· Consider whether you may be a good fit for the Assistant Rector positions for your 2L- and 3L-years on campus. Besides the financial benefits, these positions offer a great opportunity to develop as a community leader and to be engaged in the larger Notre Dame campus.
· For those who are considering public-interest law, you should research our Loan Repayment Assistance Program. This program has disbursed over $1 million to NDLS graduates since its inception in 2001.
· Create a budget and consider how that may affect the amount of loans you will borrow. Access Group offers budgeting tools that can assist you with your estimates. The cost of living in the South Bend-area is very reasonable compared to national averages. You may find that having a roommate (or two) will allow you to take thousands of dollars off your loans over the long term. Read the Insider’s Guide to get a sense of housing options near the Law School. Network with other admitted students on the Class of 2020 Facebook page or when you come to visit campus.
· Speaking of loans, remember to submit your FAFSA in a timely manner. The preferred deadline for submission is February 28. The University’s Office of Financial Aid processes Federal Loans for our graduate students and would be glad to assist you.

We are happy to answer any questions about these programs or about our scholarship assistance in general. Please do not hesitate to let us know how we can assist you!

Jacob Baska is director of admissions and financial aid. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has nine years of experience in both undergraduate and law school admissions.