It's that time of the year again when we get inundated with emails from applicants letting us know that they have scholarship deadlines and that they "must" receive a decision from Yale or that they will be required to withdraw their application in order to accept the scholarship. I addressed this last year in the wake of a new rule promulgated by the Law School Admission Council, which specifically states that law schools may not require applicants to withdraw from schools from which they have not yet received a decision as a condition of accepting a scholarship or any other type of offer. I thought that this would clean things up in the world of sketchy admissions practices. Sadly, it looks like to the contrary, even more schools have joined the fray this year.
So let's cut to the chase. It is highly likely that the law school offering you a scholarship is a member of the Law School Admissions Council, and has agreed to follow its Statement of Good Admissions and Financial Aid Practices, and benefits from other law schools following those same practices. Therefore, if you are offered a scholarship and have not yet heard from Yale, you do not need to withdraw your application from Yale. Period. So, if you would take the money being offered to you if Yale was not an option, please follow these steps:
1. Accept your scholarship offer by the deadline, and if required, withdraw from any school that has already given you an offer of admission.
2. If you subsequently get into Yale, review our financial aid package and decide immediately whether you will accept. If you choose to accept, contact the law school that offered you the scholarship and explain that you just received an offer from a law school from which you had not heard when you accepted the scholarship, that you are choosing to deposit there, and that you want to withdraw.
3. If you are criticized, belittled, harassed, threatened, or made to feel bad in any way, ask the admissions/financial aid person with whom you are dealing at that school to give me a call. I'll take it from there.
The popular guilt-trip law schools use to rationalize their behavior is that allowing students time to hear from all law schools disadvantages other students who won't get a chance to receive the same scholarship if the first awardee turns it down after the deadline. Yeah -- save the drama for your mama. I've spoken with faculty who have served on the selection committees for some of these scholarships and who have assured me that these schools have A-lists, B-lists, C-lists, and D-lists of alternative candidates for the scholarships. And even if they didn't, are these schools really suggesting that out of the 600-1,500 students they accept each year, there isn't a single qualified applicant to whom they can offer the scholarship after April 2? Really?
Let's take a poll: Readers, how many of you would refuse to consider a scholarship of $150K if it were offered to you on, say, May 1?
That's what I thought.
Before we get bogged down in "the rule" and whether law schools are technically complying with it, let's take a Yale Law School approach to LSAC's Statement of Good Admissions Practices and ask what the purpose of having such a statement is in the first place. Having read through the Statement pretty carefully, I believe that the purpose of the Statement is to encourage law schools to adopt best practices to ensure that their interests are aligned, to the maximum extent possible, with the interests of the applicants. This is especially important when talking about money, especially in today's legal market: with students going to law schools, taking on undischargeable debt (and people, even with a "full ride" you'll be taking on debt unless you have significant assets going in), and often graduating without a job or any way to pay it back, it is in applicants' collective interest to be able to consider the full range of law school choices open to them, compare financial aid packages, employment statistics, and loan repayment plans, and make an informed decision of the place that will be best suited to their interests and talents in both the short and long run. Allowing students to keep active applications from schools that have not yet rendered a decision furthers this goal by giving students a chance to actually evaluate -- and act upon -- all of their options. In short, the spirit of the Statement is to allow students to have -- as the LSAC puts it -- "an uncoerced choice among various law schools."
By contrast, policies that require students -- either explicitly or implicitly -- to prematurely withdraw from schools that have not yet given them a decision reduces the range of options available to applicants, including those that might be better for them individually. Such policies actually go one nefarious step further: they can hurt the students' chances at the schools they most want to attend. The way it works is this: School X tells students that they have to withdraw all of their applications in order to accept a scholarship. In a panic, and thinking that they can get a decision from another school earlier, students contact School Y to say they have just won a major scholarship that they are planning to accept unless they get favorable news. Basically, School X has just forced part of its applicant pool to "out" itself to other, probably more competitive, schools as students who have significant scholarship offers and will therefore be more difficult to recruit. What do you think that does to their chances of admission at School Y? It's not really a factor at Yale, since we have a decentralized (and very transparent) review process: we take the best applicants we can and let the chips fall where they may (and more than 80% of the time they fall in our favor). We also offer only need-based financial aid, so we don't negotiate with money. However, for a school that might be more concerned about its yield, or that offers merit aid and realizes that it will need to match or exceed the scholarship to land that student, outright rejecting the student might be a better option in light of the information the student volunteered up. Basically, the School Xs of the world are banking on the fact that you'll either do what they say and withdraw your outstanding applications, or that you'll shoot yourself in the foot trying to get a quick answer from their competitors.
I have no doubt that my counterparts at other schools will characterize my above advice as "unethical," suggesting that I am encouraging future law students to break promises. Whatever. I personally question the integrity of admission practices that exploit law applicants' fear, anxiety, and vulnerability and incentivize them to self-sabotage in the admissions process. It seems to me that law schools, as gateways to the profession, ought to be modeling professional responsibilty, honesty, and acting in the interests of their client -- in this case, YOU. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing unethical about my advice because there's nothing unethical about acting in accordance with the standards and policies a law school has voluntarily and publicly agreed to adhere to, policies that are in place to protect your interests. Don't let a law school bully you into believing otherwise.
You could, if you are very brave, stand up to the law school yourself. You could let the law school offering you the scholarship know that you are accepting the scholarship, but as per the LSAC's Statement, you will not withdraw your outstanding applications. Then smile sweetly and see what they do. Either they won't do anything, or they'll pull your scholarship. At that point, you should give David Segal from the New York Times a call, or maybe David Lat from Above the Law. Tell them what happened, and forward a copy of LSAC's Statement to them along with your email exchanges with the school (or your secretly recorded phone conversations -- according to The Berkman Center, one-party recordings are legal in New York, but not Illinois, FYI). And ask them to call me for a quote. I would looooooooove to see these scholarship shenanigans exposed on the front page of the Times, or in a legal blog. The Truth is never afraid of the light of day, my friends. Bring it.