Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Law School Financial Aid: Ease the Wait

I thankfully haven't had long turnaround times in my law school application cycle--still waiting on Stanford, though, Faye--but some people sometimes face waits of up to 6 months to hear back from their top-choice schools.

Although my decision to apply later in the cycle was made for personal reasons--I wasn't sure if I was going to teach a third year or not--I still had two months between sending my applications and receiving an admissions decision from most of the law schools (Harvard included).

During those months, here's what I should have been doing to ease the law school application process
post-acceptance: the nebulous financial aid package.

1) Need Access
  • A non-profit used by many of the top-20 law schools to better gauge your financial need than the information required by the FAFSA

  • You'll need the documents listed at this link, mainly IRS forms 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ etc, for the current financial year for you, your parents if you're under 29, and your spouse (if appropriate)
  • Pay a $28 fee, which covers your application to any schools this year--this is important because you can submit all the information and then add schools as you are accepted!
2) FAFSA
  • The form used by the federal government (and almost all undergraduate institutions) to calculate financial need... click this link to see the questions asked, which basically follow the IRS forms
  • If you are still claimed as a dependent by your parents, you have to have all their IRS forms and financial information for the current financial year
  • You will NOT need your parents information if you aren't claimed by them as a dependent
  • The FAFSA is free, but you might run into trouble if you don't have the electronic PIN you used in the year prior or forget to fill out a new one for the next academic year--i.e. even if you're currently enrolled and filled out a FAFSA for this year, you'll need a new one
3) Scans of your parent's tax forms and W2s!
  • This one surprised me, too, but Harvard independently verifies your parental tax and income documents
Thankfully, my brother-in-law was able to assist my scanner-averse father in turning his hand-written tax forms into .pdfs. This just goes to show you that you should carefully read the financial aid document requirements for each school.

I had received a full scholarship and need based aid package from UCLA in 2 weeks with only my law school application, Need Access, and FAFSA. At USC, I would have had to submit a lengthy application to be considered for scholarships--so I withdrew, instead--and Harvard expects a wait-time of 10 business days between all the above-mentioned forms plus a panoply of online forms you can only access after receiving your Harvard Law School e-mail address.

In short, this guide and others like it might be helpful, but nothing beats thoroughly reading the school's financial aid website and following up with lingering questions.