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. Tony C.,

    Guests will be arriving in 15 minutes so don’t have the time necessary to discuss this issue further but want to very much. Perhaps we may pick it up again tomorrow or Monday?

  2. Elaine sez: “Unfortunately in recent years, the focus in education has become the prepping of kids for state-mandated tests.”


    Bingo! Teachers are scared to death and the administration is under tremendous pressure as well. They dread the numbers coming out at the end of the year with the school rankings.

    So, they teach to the test, not the material. It is all about memorizing and regurgitating. In our area, there seems to be little or no credit given for creativity or innovation.

  3. @Blouise: I think this is the central problem we face in creating any kind of movement, political or charitable. 15% of non-profit charities pay their chief executives over $500K; often with little or no duties. many earn over $1M a year.

    It is simply the law of large numbers: An organization big enough to make a difference is big enough to be an attractive prize to exploit for personal gain, and the smart sociopaths will try to weasel their way in and take what they want.

    On top of that, so many large organizations are headed by sociopaths that nobody trusts large organizations; with a few exceptions citizens assume anything big is corrupt, whether it is or not (because corruption is the way to bet). Personally all my charity donations are limited to small local charitible organizations (and even that has disappointed me on occasion).

    In particular nobody trusts politicians; our voter turnout is low because so few people believe a vote makes a difference. Post-Obama it will be worse; he made people believe (including me) and then betrayed them. It has been one giant training run for “it makes no difference.”

    So as we organize the foundations of your Ohio campaign, I believe these structural trust issues are something we should address first and convincingly.

  4. Otteray,

    Parents should know what kinds of courses are being offered/not offered to their children. I’d say that parents need to be more active in making demands on the schools that their children attend.

    My daughter actually had a mixed bag when it came to her high school teachers. Some were outstanding; some…not so much. She attended the elementary school where I taught. She had fantastic teachers at that school and got an excellent educational foundation.

    I happen to think that elementary teachers tend to look at the “whole” child more than secondary teachers do. Like my fellow elementary teachers, I taught subjects through a number of different approaches. Kids got a variety of experiences. Not all children learn in the same way. Education should be about helping to get kids excited about learning and to help them to study subjects from a number of different perspectives. I always felt great satisfaction when I got kids “turned on” to subjects so much that they went on and became self-learners. Unfortunately in recent years, the focus in education has become the prepping of kids for state-mandated tests.

  5. SwM,

    Two of my grandkids were AP scholars, as was my youngest daughter. I have said this before and I will say it again … I wish I could bottle the excellent public school system my children and grandchildren have experienced and ship it to every district in the country that needs improvement.

  6. kid has a 3.62 GPA at a state school, member of Phi Alpha Theta honor society & Order Of Omaga. Probably looking at U of MN but merit scholarships would certainly induce us to look at more expensive schools. Is this practice limited to less reputable schools or can we trust ones in the top 20?

  7. Tony C.,

    I’m with Elaine on this one. Now, admittedly, I am not in the field of education, nor am I hiring college grads so I know I speak with little authority.

    I have 3 grandkids who graduated high school last year and all three chose relatively small, private universities where the emphasis is on teaching the subject matter but also on teaching the students how to think and reason. (None of the universities give sport scholarships and all offer academic scholarships) They are all three home for summer break with one year under their belts and thoroughly happy with the universities they chose and full of information they want to debate and discuss with we, their elders, and each other. I am quite pleased with their progress.

  8. Both my children were AP scholars. My daughter was a national merit scholar. They went to private schools. My nieces and nephews accomplished the same thing at Evanston Township High School. They have one of the best chem phys programs in the nation. There are good schools out there in many places even Texas.

  9. @Elaine: The grad students I work with are advised by my colleagues; my judgments on their abilities has nothing to do with their financial circumstances; about which I do not inquire.

    Sometimes such knowledge is inevitable; the new $50K sports car with the custom plates is kind of a giveaway for a 23 year old. But professionally I don’t care, and for graduate students in particular, they can’t buy their way into being advised. The offer comes from the professors and nothing monetary is considered; their salary is the standard salary all grad students get.

    However they got here, they are typically better.

  10. Elaine, I envy your daughter. My granddaughter (Reed’s older sister) took all honors courses in high school, but they did not even make her break a sweat. She hated high school. We simply do not have the offerings here that you do in your area. Our Honors courses are no better than average classes when compared to some of the better districts.

  11. “So if we compute the chance that somebody is in the top 5% of IQ (about 125) and also in the top 5% of sociopathy, About 1 in 400 people will meet that definition. Not enough that you are likely to know one personally, but still nearly a million in the USA.” (Tony C.)

    After reading that paragraph I sat back and pondered the number of people I know or have known who might fall within those parameters. I came up with the number 6. I subtracted 2 because I was pretty certain they didn’t fit the IQ requirement. I then moved two others to the sidelines because, although I knew them fairly well, I couldn’t honestly say I knew them well enough to firmly judge the sociopathy. That left me with 2 firm candidates for the category you describe … one was a minister and one was a police chief … “smart frikkin’ sociopaths” and dangerous as hell.

  12. Tony C. We still have the top three engineering schools in the world.

  13. Otteray,

    “Tony C., as a scientist myself, I could not agree more. Our kids are not challenged enough and the gifted are bored to death.”

    My daughter, who graduated form high school in 1998, took more advanced classes in middle school and high school than I ever took in the 1950s and 1960s when I was in school. There are plenty of challenging courses–including AP courses–for gifted students to take in many high schools in Amerca today.


    Tony C.,

    “But it is a sweeping truth on average, one survey after another proves we suck, the USA is behind in education at every level from grade school to grad school.”

    There are plenty of bright American kids who have taken challenging courses in public schools today. I sometimes find the surveys suspect. Too often survey reports provide too little information on who was tested, where the students were from, and the numbers of students tested.

    Another thing: I know a gentleman who teaches at one of the most prestigious scientific/technical universitiies in this country. He has explained one of the reasons why so many foreign students get excepted to the university where he teaches–their parents are rich and they don’t need scholarship money.

  14. As far as the sociopath bit is concerned, it is really just statistics. Sociopathy is scaleable, some people are more or less sociopathic than others.

    So if we compute the chance that somebody is in the top 5% of IQ (about 125) and also in the top 5% of sociopathy, About 1 in 400 people will meet that definition. Not enough that you are likely to know one personally, but still nearly a million in the USA.

    Still, there is a better than even chance (53%) that any group of 300 people contains someone like this: Smart, ruthless, and amoral.

    A 97% chance of finding one in a group of 1000; in fact a few are likely.

    That is exactly what you are looking at when you look at larger organizations of 300 or more; not just sociopaths but smart frikkin’ sociopaths, and in time they betray their way up.

    Our government, military, hospitals, schools, corporations and public institutions are infested with them and they occupy the most powerful roles; they are human parasites on the rest of us.

  15. Tony C., as a scientist myself, I could not agree more. Our kids are not challenged enough and the gifted are bored to death. I deplore the absence of classes in civics in our public schools. I learned more practical information in eighth grade civics than almost any secondary school class I took. Sadly, our government has changed for the worse since then, but I hope one day those who claim to represent us rediscover our precious Constitution.

    A a few years ago, a public school teacher in the Southwest put a PowerPoint show together for a meeting. It was made into a YouTube video and has been viewed by millions of people. Some of the statistics presented have become outdated since this was made, but unfortunately, not in our favor.

    In case anyone is interested, the background music is The Gael, written by Scottish fiddler Dougie MacLean.

  16. And parents expect the school to teach their children everything. I’m up with my kid every night with flashcards, reading, doing math etc. and she’s only four. Society is lazy for the most part. I work 60+ hours a week, go to school part time, and take care of my kids (plural) at night while my wife works (because we don’t want day care raising our kids – no offense to those who have no choice). There are nights I get less than four hours sleep. That’s life. People complain too much and are too soft, in my opinion. My grandfather did twice as much as I did and he never complained.

    Tony is right but that doesn’t mean we’re totally lost…we just have to realize for some things we’re on our own and means, in some ways, we’re on our own. Hit the books, work until your bones ache. What do you think they did back in the day (walked eight miles uphill in the snow for a piece of bread!). I still tell my daughter she can do anything she wants to do when she grows up, and I still believe this. But she’s going to have to work very hard.

  17. @Swarthmore: Okay. I did say I was talking about my scientific field, in particular. But it is a sweeping truth on average, one survey after another proves we suck, the USA is behind in education at every level from grade school to grad school. It is a pretty sad situation when corporations can go overseas and hire engineers with twice the experience and training for less than they pay here.

    Law is a pretty good choice, we probably won’t be offshoring much lawyering I wouldn’t think.

  18. Kids, even at the college level, should not expect their professors to each them anything. I’m in my 30’s and just returned to school. I agree with Tony, for the most part….but I will admit this isn’t universally true. Much of what I’ve learned has been on my own (teaching myself French, for instance). I see complacency, but get what I can from school and look further on my own.

    My neighbor is a math teacher (6th grade). She said some kid came from Korea and the first day he was showing her math that she said was at college level. He said that’s where he was at in Korea. She had to inform him that, sadly, he’s going to be very bored. We’re falling behind because as Tony said people pretend to care. It’s how most of society operates. We pretend to care when we’re really looking out for ourselves. Not all the time, but I would say 85%. Yes, I’m a pessimist.

  19. Tony C., The sweeping generalization I was talking about was “kids graduating with Bachelor’s degrees know less than I knew graduating from high school”. It is simply not universally true.

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