Law Schools’ Use of Merit Scholarships

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The U.S. News law school rankings are very important in attracting the best and the brightest students. Another incentive is the awarding of merit scholarships to the candidates with higher LSAT scores. The median LSAT score accounts for 12.5% of the school’s ranking. The median LSAT score can be adjusted by providing merit scholarships to those with higher scores. This can get expensive for the school. But, luckily, the schools have an out: the scholarships are usually based on maintaining a minimum GPA which is determined on a curve. If the school does not make that abundantly clear, it’s in the fine print.

It’s a win-win for the school. They get their median LSAT score increased while voiding most of the scholarships.

Another possible trick is the alleged practice of “section stacking“, wherein the school aggregates 1Ls with merit scholarships into the same section. The more merit scholarships under the same curve, the more scholarships are eliminated. The practice of “section stacking” may be an urban myth since it would be almost impossible to prove or disprove.

There is no loss to the school’s ranking because it lost in the median GPA category, with a weighting of 10%. This is because the curve guarantees that the median GPA remains constant. If the school’s student population suddenly got dumber, the curve would just shift left and the median GPA wouldn’t change.

Approximately 80% of law schools use merit “stips” (stipulations). The students who lose their scholarships often seek loans as a method of continuing their education and feel gamed by the law school.

Catering to the U.S. News rankings has had the unintended effect of reducing the number of need-based scholarships.

H/T: VC, NY Times, Brian Leiter, PrawfsBlawg.

41 thoughts on “Law Schools’ Use of Merit Scholarships”

  1. And lets not forget what is happening to school funding. One of the ‘true lies’ being told is that school funding has increased 180% since 1970-something, usually followed by “What are they doing with ALL THAT MONEY?

    But the rate of inflation since those years is around 560% so in real terms schools have much less money per student. Also, they have to provide special education in the classroom. That means teachers and assistants hired for one or two students reducing the money available for the general population.

    I believe the goal of these efforts is to end public education. But even if that is not their actual goal it will be the result, along with America firmly ensconced in third-world status.

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