Law school finaid is worse than expected

Jan 26, 2008 • Karen

Your financial aid application will not be evaluated unless the required parental/spousal information is provided. This is so even though all graduate students are technically "independent" under federal guidelines. We will take an estimated parental contribution into account when awarding financial aid, but students can make that contribution up in the form of an additional loan - therefore, parents are not obligated to contribute the estimated parent contribution. [lol, great justification there]

--UPenn Law website

This post will probably be incredibly boring to anyone who's not in/thinking about law school. Or related to me.

So a while ago I was reading about MichLaw and the financial aid section came up. Most of it was the usual bullshit:

Students and their spouses are expected to commit their own [entire??] incomes and a portion of their own assets toward meeting their living expenses and the student’s educational expenses each year.

Okay, so I should "live in sin" so I don't leech all of Hypothetical Partner's money. Gotcha.

But then this graph came up:


Along with the following statement:

The calculated parental resources factor will be adjusted based upon the number of years that you have been declared as a dependent or were eligible to be declared as a dependent in the five years from 2002-2006 (see chart). The percentage factor used in your first year will remain constant each of your three years of Law School.

If I shift that forward to when I'll be going to law school, that means the tax returns of 2004-2008. Unless Dad can somehow fudge me as an independent for 2007, that means my parents are responsible for 80% of the Expected Family Contribution, which is explained by Harvard Law as "roughly 22% to 47% of a family’s income after subtracting taxes, a living allowance based on family size and state of residence, and other allowances" plus "roughly 3-6% of their adjusted net worth."

Uh, what?

1.) This would be after I've been living two years out of the house, on my own, with (probably) no parental financial support. (Not to mention two summers of living on my own paychecks and a year of paying my own education through loans.) Dependence isn't phased in the law, or (often) in reality. Other than only wanting to give financial aid to 30-year-olds, why are they doing this way?

2.) My experiences with the FAFSA have not been good. In fact, they've consistently been completely unrealistic. Like, 'expecting to raid my parents' retirement fund and sister's college savings' unrealistic. 2010 is the year my sister will be starting college, so maybe then it'll let up on the college savings raiding. But still. I have no expectation that the share expected of my parents would be reasonable. In part because...

3.) My parents have no obligation to pay a dime! They paid enough for Scripps! I'll be on my own by then, for Christ's sake! Possibly marriedcohabiting! And saying that it's okay, that "parents have no obligation" for the "Expected Parent Contribution" because students can just take out yet another private loan is bullshit. The *point* of finaid is to make up for students' need through subsidized loans, some grants, and other tools. So we *don't* have to do the whole thing through private loans. By adding an unrealistic and unjustified EFC, law schools are basically penalizing some independent students just for being too young. Trust me, Wells Fargo is getting enough of my money. They don't need any more.


So I looked around at various other competitive law schools to see if the Michigan system was the case everywhere. It is. If anything, Michigan's generous. I'd have either a 75% or 100% EFC at Stanford (it's really vague how they count years). Harvard doesn't seem to phase out at all, and only reduces it if you're 29 or older.


Buried in this is, I think, a somewhat more reasonable standard. Even if you're an independent on your tax returns, Stanford and Harvard can still get you if you receive a certain amount of financial support from your parents in a given year ($5000 at Stanford, $10000 at Harvard). That, I think, is a much more representative assessment of whether a student is independent or not. Hang the tax returns--is a student paying their own bills (whether through their own income or loans)?

But of course it still penalizes you if your parents *ever* supported you in the last 5-7 years... regardless of how things have changed.

Fuckin' finaid. Why can't they just be honest and say, "We want to offer financial aid to students so that we look good and people are fooled into applying, but we're a bunch of cheap bastards that can't, or won't, support [and by "support," I mean "give slightly less expensive debt to"] all the students who actually need it. So we find every possible exception to deny you money that you need, and in the end we just raffle off the grants! Wheeeee! *falls drunkenly off desk*"