This is a three-part series on fee waivers from Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School. Part 1 discusses how to get unsolicited merit-based fee waivers for your law school applications. Part 2 will cover requesting merit-based fee waivers, and Part 3 will cover need-based fee waivers (both from LSAC and directly from schools)
First, let’s be clear about which fees we are talking about here: we mean the application fee charged by the law schools themselves, which are generally in the range of $50 to $90. We don’t mean the $195 fee charged by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to register for the Candidate Assembly Service (CAS) or the $45 fee LSAC charges to generate a CAS Report that goes along with each application. There are ways to get LSAC’s fees waived, but that’s a subject for a different post. For this post, we will just focus on law school application fee waivers charged by the law school, and we are just talking about unsolicited fee waivers, i.e. fee waivers where the school does most of the work. For tips on requesting a fee waiver, see Part 2 of this series at a later date.
Why would law schools charge an application fee to begin with? Well, some don’t. In fact, nearly half of U.S. law schools do not charge an application fee. In 2018, there were 203 ABA-approved law schools, and 91 of them did not charge a fee to apply. For the schools that do charge a fee, imagine a hypothetical law school with 1,000 applications charging $50 per application. $50,000 per year is enough to cover the salary of an administrative staff member to process those applications.
So, if law schools need the money, why would they waive your application fee? Simply put, they need applicants, too. As the total number of applicants decreased throughout the mid-2010s, schools started handing out more and more fee waivers, and even though the total number of applicants has leveled off and started to increase over the past two cycles, schools are still offering fee waivers.
Unsolicited Fee Waivers through LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service
First, you must opt-in to LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service (CRS) in order to get unsolicited fee waivers. CRS is a database that law schools can query to contact potential applicants.
You probably had the chance to opt-in when you first registered for the LSAT, but LSAC purges the CRS pool each summer under the assumption that previous participants are now starting as 1Ls. Unless you have done something like register for the LSAT again or recently attended an LSAC Forum, then your CRS registration might have been deactivated. This year, the purge took place on June 3, 2019. It only takes a moment, so in June or July we recommend that every applicant log in to their LSAC.org account to verify that their CRS status is active for the current cycle. We especially recommend that re-applicants, applicants who sat for the LSAT but waited a year before applying, and anyone who did not previously opt in to CRS be sure to check their status. Those last folks definitely need to update their CRS status or schools won’t be able to see them in their queries.
Next, you need a valid LSAT score and GPA in your CRS profile. There are a few schools that will query CRS and hand out fee waivers before knowing your LSAT score, but most schools prefer to wait. If you just sat for the LSAT and are awaiting your score, then sit tight for now. Make sure that your CRS profile includes either a self-reported or LSAC-calculated GPA. It is common for schools to put together complicated queries that consider multiple characteristics in addition to the numbers. Things like race/ethnicity, gender, geographic location, undergraduate institution or virtually any other category of information that applicants have provided to LSAC are all possible fodder for CRS queries. Make sure that information is up to date, but law schools almost always want to know your LSAT and GPA, too, before they will give you a fee waiver.
Finally, wait for fee waiver emails to roll in. Be forewarned, particularly if you have high numbers and/or are an underrepresented minority, you are going to get a lot of emails and probably some glossy brochures in the mail, too. Most schools automatically apply the fee waiver, so even if you don’t read their email, when you go to apply, your application fee will be automatically waived on LSAC’s website.
Schools have access to the CRS database to start running queries whenever they want to, but most schools don’t start processing fee waivers until their application goes live or even later. If you want to apply on the first day that the application opens, then you might have to choose between applying immediately or waiting a week or two into September for the fee waiver process to kick in.
Now, we will address a few questions applicants may have about unsolicited merit-based fee waivers:
If I receive a merit-based fee waiver, does that mean that I will definitely be admitted?
No, not definitely, by any means. There’s really a lot more to a law school application than the data available through CRS. Schools want to read your personal statement, optional essays, letters of recommendation, etc. before deciding whether to admit.
Receiving a merit-based fee waiver does mean that something in your profile caught that school’s attention. Many schools set their search parameters quite broadly, though, and at best it is just a slight indication of their interest; so don’t read too much into it.
I got a fee waiver from a school, but I’m below both of their medians. Is the school trying to scam me into applying just so that they can reject me and inflate their selectivity?
Probably not. It is true that the whole point of sending out fee waivers is to increase the pool of applicants. But, law schools don’t really want tons of applicants who have zero chance of admission. What they want are enrolled students who pay tuition, so a large applicant pool is mostly just a means to that end. You can assume that if you receive an unsolicited fee waiver then you at least have a slim chance of admission.
But even if the school is trying to boost their selectivity: so what? If you decide to apply, then you have to pay LSAC for a CAS Report, but a fee waiver from the school is better than nothing.
LSAT scores were released today, but I don’t have a fee waiver email in my inbox. Should I start calling law schools?
(1) Don’t call about fee waivers. Ever. Schools have the ability to give merit-based fee waivers if you ask for them (we’ll have a future blog post about that), but the easiest way for them to do that is to send you a code with a long string of numbers and letters. No one wants to read that off to you over the phone. Email instead, but not right now (see #2 below).
(2) Give it a week. Or two weeks. LSAC prioritizes informing candidates about their LSAT scores before sending score information to schools, so you are going to receive your score at least a day or two before the school can see your score in the CRS database. Sometimes it may take four or five days if scores come out right before the weekend. Plus, the school might not run their query the instant that the CRS database is updated. Maybe scores come out on a Thursday, but the school runs their query weekly every Monday. So many people send emails the moment that their score comes out asking about fee waivers that law schools aren’t going to hold it against you if you do too, but emailing right away is not going to speed the process along.
I waited two weeks and still no fee waiver. Can I email now?
Ok, yes, but now you should treat it like a solicited fee waiver. See our advice in Part 2 of this series for just how to handle that situation!
Written by Joe Pollak, Spivey Consulting Group admissions consultant and former admissions officer at the University of Michigan Law School.