Beware: Law School Rip-Offs

Last Updated May 2, 2011 3:22 PM EDT

If you're thinking about attending law school, beware of the bait and switch.
Eighty percent of law schools offer merit scholarships to incoming law students, but an alarming number of those scholarships disappear after the recipients finish their first year of law school.

Many law schools have apparently designed their scholarship programs to ensure that a certain percentage of these awards will vanish. Once that happens, stunned law students are faced with paying full fare for the last two years of law school.

On Sunday The New York Times did an expose on this outrageous bait-and-switch practice at law schools.

What would prompt law schools to lure students to their institutions knowing that many of them will not keep their scholarships? US News & World Report's law school rankings. Law schools are obsessed with their rankings since families mistakenly assume that these rankings mean something.

Buying Better Students

Schools bent on improving their rankings will try to buy their way up the reputation ladder by offering scholarships to college graduates with high enough grade point averages and test scores on the LSAT, which is the standardized test for law school. Grades and LSAT scores weigh heavily in the rankings.

Offering scholarships to high-achieving students will bring these lambs in the door, but schools often have no interest in maintaining all these scholarships. Consequently, the schools usually require that students maintain a certain GPA such as a 3.0 to keep them. That GPA requirement might not sound too tough, but law schools often grade on the curve, which means that there can only be a certain number of students who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher.

A Closer Look at the Odds

Here is an example from the article in The New York Times:

This year 57% of first-year students at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco received a scholarship, but in recent years only a third of the school's students could earn the requisite 3.0 GPA or higher to keep the money flowing.

If you are considering law school, be sure you understand an institution's scholarship policy before you do something you'll later regret. According to an article in The National Law Journal, the American Bar Association is considering requiring schools to disclose the percentage of students who lose their scholarships after the first year.

Skip Law School

Even better, stop dreaming about attending law school. For many, many students, it's an expensive dead end. If you need convincing read this post:

5 Reasons Not to Get a Law Degree

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Golden Gate University School of Law image by telmo32. CC 2.0.

Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:

8 Reasons Not to Get a Business Degree
5 Ways to Boost Your Financial Aid Award