Most law students rely on student loans to finance their education. Nonetheless, acquiring scholarships should be a priority when applying for or during law school in order to decrease this financial dependence.
Most applicants are aware of scholarships given during the admission process based on merit, financial need, and diversity. Some of these scholarships require a separate application (if so, make sure you’re aware of submission deadlines and all of the requirements) and others are decided by the admission committee. These scholarships may last throughout the entirety of the student’s education, but most need to be renewed and have requirements to maintain a certain rank or GPA each semester or year. There are many students who have difficulty meeting these high standards and unfortunately lose their scholarships. Now, students have more opportunities to find financial assistance outside of loans and without stringent contingencies.
There are scholarships available to help stimulate different practice areas in demand. To students who want to practice law in the public sector, schools and the government are aware that you are less likely to go into the public sector because the salaries no longer sustain the cost-of-living and loan repayments. Therefore, some schools offer scholarships to students who demonstrate an interest in the public sector for a career. Additionally, the government may forgive your federal loans after practicing in certain public sector jobs after ten years.
Another growing trend is the availability of scholarships in specific areas of the law. For instance, New Jersey offered a limited amount of criminal law scholarships for those students seeking a career as a prosecuting attorney. In Washington, the McKinley Irvin law firm offered three scholarship opportunities to those interested in practicing family law. Be sure to research and apply for practice-specific scholarships in which you take interest. Not only are you decreasing your future loan debt by borrowing less, but you are entering a practice area in demand, meaning you’re more likely to obtain a job during a time when this is difficult to do.
Where you are willing to practice also can open doors to scholarships. In Ohio, there is a scholarship offered for those with a preference to practice in a rural location within Ohio. And, in South Dakota, the demand for rural lawyers is so much so that the state recently passed a law to offer lawyers a subsidy to live and work in rural areas. This makes practicing in a rural area a trifecta – scholarships (less loans), subsidies (more income), and a guaranteed job (income, income, income!)! Plus, you can make your dollar stretch much farther in a rural area.
Check with your local and state bar associations and local law firms (or where you are applying/attending law school or both) for these hidden gem scholarships. Do your research, meet the deadlines and then you can snap the shackles and free yourself from the heavy burdens of student loans!