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complex scholarship negotiations - conditions?!?

jrafert
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Greetings,

I have received a conditional scholarship from Tulane. Although I got two more generous scholarship offers from higher ranked schools (not in the same geographic area/ not competing schools, unfortunately), I am willing to take on some debt (it would end up being about $10,000 per year) to go to Tulane because I REALLY want to go there (for reasons specific to the school but also because I am a nontraditional student with a family and we want to avoid leaving the city where my husband has a job).

This said, I am not comfortable with the conditions - I hope I will do well in law school but there are no guarantees and as someone who has managed to avoid taking on debt thus far I am extremely cautious about putting myself at risk of suddenly taking out 100,000 dollars in loans.

I have a few questions about the process and was wondering if y'all could help.

- Have you heard about anyone negotiating away the conditions on a scholarship before? Is there any particular approach to this? I am not going to ask for more money - Tulane specifically states that their scholarship AMOUNTS are firm. But they do not mention the conditions.

- I am in the lucky position of living in New Orleans, so I can negotiate in person. I was wondering who I should negotiate with. Sorry if this is a dumb question but I'm not really sure - I set up a visit and Tulane offered to schedule a meeting with 'an admissions counselor' or a 'financial aid officer.' But am I supposed to speak with the dean?

- Is there an ideal time to negotiate? Before or after the first deposit? Obviously before if I want to avoid unnecessarily paying one, but I was wondering if they might be more willing to play ball if I had already put down my first deposit, confirming my genuine interest?

- Is it appropriate to discuss my desire to remove the conditions because of my future employment path? My spouse is European and we plan on moving abroad after law school (Tulane's appeal revolves in part around their international opportunities). I also have a strong public interest focus. I know for a fact that I will not go into biglaw or have a huge salary and I cannot benefit from public service loan forgiveness if I work abroad (even if I'm working for a nonprofit or a government entity). I kind of want to just be open and honest with them: I doubt I will violate their conditions but I also know for sure that I will not be in a position to pay back large loans if I do, and this is why I'm so cautious; I'm not just negotiating to see if I can get a better deal but because I have a very clear picture of my future career prospects and my (in)ability to realistically take on more than 50K in debt. My interest in international work and public interest law was discussed at length in my personal statement, so this will not be new information.

Wow. Sorry this is so long. Thank you so much for any input you might have.

//
Adam Tyson
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I'll answer here, jrafert, starting with a disclaimer - I have NO experience with negotiating with law schools, or counseling others on how to do so. Everything I know on the subject I have learned, and continue to learn, from folks like Dave Killoran and a few other outside sources I follow on social media. That said, here's my advice: EVERYTHING is negotiable if you haven't yet made a commitment to them.

It sounds to me like the offer, as presented, is not acceptable to you, so don't accept it. Don't put that sort of pressure on yourself, not with so much on the line. Go meet with them (and I would start with an admissions counselor, not financial aid, because this really is an admissions issue to start with, and they can loop in the financial folks if needed) and tell them what you told us: your plans to go into public interest, where you expect to make very little money but do tremendous good in the world, enhancing Tulane's reputation overseas in the process. Your more generous offers from higher ranked schools, proving that you REALLY want to be at Tulane despite the better offers elsewhere. I think you are in a stronger position to negotiate BEFORE you give them the deposit - afterwards, they will feel like they have a slightly better edge since you have already put some skin in the game there.

I'd avoid mentioning again your desire to stay local for family reasons, or if it comes up you should downplay it. You want to go there, if they make the right offer, but you are willing to relocate if that is the best choice for your future prospects. Give them the opportunity to adjust their offer to remove those conditions, and when they do, give them that deposit. If they do not, don't - take another look at those other offers, talk to your husband about what that would look like for your family, and then make the best decision for your ultimate success, whatever that means to you.

Good luck! Keep us posted!

(and Dave, if you want to chime in here, that would be awesome)
Adam M. Tyson
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Dave Killoran
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There's so much to unpack in here that the best approach I can think of is to split apart your post and reply directly to the relevant pieces. But as a preface, this isn't that complex and is actually close to typical. I'll explain below:

jrafert wrote:Greetings,

I have received a conditional scholarship from Tulane. Although I got two more generous scholarship offers from higher ranked schools (not in the same geographic area/ not competing schools, unfortunately), I am willing to take on some debt (it would end up being about $10,000 per year) to go to Tulane because I REALLY want to go there (for reasons specific to the school but also because I am a nontraditional student with a family and we want to avoid leaving the city where my husband has a job).

This said, I am not comfortable with the conditions - I hope I will do well in law school but there are no guarantees and as someone who has managed to avoid taking on debt thus far I am extremely cautious about putting myself at risk of suddenly taking out 100,000 dollars in loans.

I have a few questions about the process and was wondering if y'all could help.

- Have you heard about anyone negotiating away the conditions on a scholarship before? Is there any particular approach to this? I am not going to ask for more money - Tulane specifically states that their scholarship AMOUNTS are firm. But they do not mention the conditions.

Don't be swayed by what Tulane says about it being "firm." Every school says that, and it's simply not true. They will negotiate anything, but mainly amounts. The conditions, less so, because the last thing they want is to hand out money to someone who then is not a good student. I'd focus on getting the amount down, which is a decent possibility because you have better offers from higher-ranked schools. That alone is leverage. And don't worry about them "not competing." All law schools are in competition with schools higher-ranked than them. So, from that angle, this turns into a classic negotiating position you have: bigger offers form better schools used to coerce this school into improving their offer. Make sure you clarify your priorities, and even offer to sign an agreement immediately if they meet your demands. Schools will move more if they believe they are your top priority and that you aren't going to use their offer to negotiate a better offer elsewhere.


jrafert wrote:- I am in the lucky position of living in New Orleans, so I can negotiate in person. I was wondering who I should negotiate with. Sorry if this is a dumb question but I'm not really sure - I set up a visit and Tulane offered to schedule a meeting with 'an admissions counselor' or a 'financial aid officer.' But am I supposed to speak with the dean?

Talk to the Director of finances/financial aid at the school, or the Dean of admissions. Do not speak to a regular counselor.


jrafert wrote:- Is there an ideal time to negotiate? Before or after the first deposit? Obviously before if I want to avoid unnecessarily paying one, but I was wondering if they might be more willing to play ball if I had already put down my first deposit, confirming my genuine interest?

Immediately—do it sooner as opposed to later. The more time that passes, the less money they have that hasn't been given out.

jrafert wrote:- Is it appropriate to discuss my desire to remove the conditions because of my future employment path? My spouse is European and we plan on moving abroad after law school (Tulane's appeal revolves in part around their international opportunities). I also have a strong public interest focus. I know for a fact that I will not go into biglaw or have a huge salary and I cannot benefit from public service loan forgiveness if I work abroad (even if I'm working for a nonprofit or a government entity). I kind of want to just be open and honest with them: I doubt I will violate their conditions but I also know for sure that I will not be in a position to pay back large loans if I do, and this is why I'm so cautious; I'm not just negotiating to see if I can get a better deal but because I have a very clear picture of my future career prospects and my (in)ability to realistically take on more than 50K in debt. My interest in international work and public interest law was discussed at length in my personal statement, so this will not be new information.

Sure, you can discuss it. I'm not sure how much of an impact it will have but you never know :)
Dave Killoran
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jrafert
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Greetings Adam, Dave,

Thank you for the input as always - this is very helpful!

I'm in a bit of a pinch because I'm not willing to go there if there are conditions (other than good academic standing) - the amount of the scholarship doesn't bother me (although of course I'd like a bigger one) so much as the feeling that I would be playing "russian roulette" with debt if I took on conditions - LSN reports that nearly 1/5th of the students who get scholarships from Tulane lose them, and presumably those students are good students too. I just don't think I want to take the risk of unexpected debt; I'd rather pay extra upfront than have that hanging over me during finals. Again, I doubt I would violate the conditions, but you never know - any number of life stressors can derail academic performance temporarily, and I don't want one misstep to jeopardize my financial future.

All that to say I'm disappointed to hear that it may not be advisable to ask them to remove or at least lower the conditions. I guess the best I can do is try, since that's the issue that means the most to me. Duly noted that I should not necessarily mention my family wanting to stay here but rather focus on my desire to attend the school (that makes sense - and I do want to attend the school, it's not just about my family).

Thank you thank you!

//
Dave Killoran
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jrafert wrote:All that to say I'm disappointed to hear that it may not be advisable to ask them to remove or at least lower the conditions. I guess the best I can do is try, since that's the issue that means the most to me. Duly noted that I should not necessarily mention my family wanting to stay here but rather focus on my desire to attend the school (that makes sense - and I do want to attend the school, it's not just about my family).


It's not that it's inadvisable, moreso that they will likely balk at dropping those conditions. However, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, so there's no reason not to ask :-D

Let's hope that in this case they feel good about it, which perhaps they will when you explain your reasoning!
Dave Killoran
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