With its infamously high tuition, attending law school seems like a pricey ambition. Now, with students applying to six to eight schools on average and application fees up to $100 each, even admissions may be pushing financial limitations.
The numbers seem notably high, with students potentially spending $1,000 on applications alone. However, the cost-benefit of applying to law school is affected by other factors as well.
To start, there are several ways to waive application fees. Attaining a certain GPA can also result in free applications to certain schools. Furthermore, many students prepared to pay or take out loans to pay law school tuition are reasonably confident in financial security after receiving his or her degree.
“I think the assumption is if you feel like you can afford law school at all, the $80 to $100 application fee isn’t going to stop you,” said Brian Walters, a UC Davis alumnus and current student at McGeorge Law School. “Over three years, my law school is going to cost $150,000, and that’s about what the average school costs.”
At the UC Davis School of Law, there is a one-time nonrefundable application fee of $75, which is the same as UC Davis’ sister law schools, Hastings, UCLA and UC Berkeley.
“Our application fee is essentially a processing fee,” said Sharon Pinkney, assistant dean of admission and enrollment at the UC Davis School of Law, in an email interview. “It covers the cost of, among other things, application processing in the admissions department. A portion of the fees collection [also] goes to the main UCD campus or UCOP.”
Pinkney stated that this distribution of the application fees is standard practice for pretty much all colleges and universities with admissions application fees. With the convenience of the law school application process, however, it is easy to see how one might be tempted to apply to more schools than one can afford.
“The application for law schools is actually really awesome,” Walters said. “They have this organization called the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). So you put together all your information in one general application for pretty much all the schools — your cover letters, your letters of recommendation — and you send them to LSAC. Then you can go online and check the boxes for which cover letters you want to go to which school, and they can distribute everything for you.”
Pinkney does not believe that piling up fees prevents students from applying to as many schools as they might wish to, though.
“Almost every school has in place some sort of fee waiver option,” Pinkney said. “The LSAC provides need-based fee waivers. [At] the UC Davis Admission office our application fee is automatically waived for anyone who has been granted an LSAC fee waiver.”
The UC Davis School of Law also waives the application fee for anyone who’s been involved in Teach for America, the Peace Corps or other select organizations, provided that they participated within one year of their application.
“We also provide some merit-based fee waivers to encourage students with excellent academic records to apply,” Pinkney said.
Walters is an example of this, in fact, having received many offers to apply to law schools for free.
“For a while, I was getting [an offer] every two weeks — for schools that I had absolutely no desire of going to, but it was nice, and I only had a 3.5 GPA,” Walters said.
Walters said he applied to 11 schools, and on average the application fees were about $80 each.
The issue of application fees is not limited to law schools alone. Medical schools have a similar application process with the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
“Medical school applicants apply to one facility, so they fill out an AMCAS application, [which is] an application service that most medical schools subscribe to,” said Joanna Garcia, UC Davis School of Medicine admissions coordinator. “They fill that out and then choose which schools they would like it to go to. Then that service sends it out to the different medical schools.”
After the AMCAS application has been submitted, applicants may be invited to submit secondary applications to particular schools. Right now, the UC Davis School of Medicine secondary application fee is $80, and like the law school, there are no immediate plans to lower it.
Despite these fees now, and of course tuition later, Walters, who has been interested in politics since middle school and has shadowed lawyers and studied international law since, said that he thinks law school is worth the price.
“The higher pay over my lifetime will be generally worth it,” Walters said. “And it’s worth doing what I want to do. There are so many different kinds of law to go into, and in most you can make pretty good money. So while at first it’s going to be a little restrictive, after a few years I’ll have by debts paid and I’ll be on my way to financial security. If you’re willing to be in that kind of debt, I don’t think an $80 application fee is going to stop you.”
NAOMI NISHIHARA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.