There is no getting around it: higher education is expensive. According to the GAO – the Government Accountability Office, median cost for one year of ABA accredited law school ranges between $15,000 and $20,000 per year just for tuition, provided the student is an in-state enrollee. Other education associated outlays, such as: books and materials, transportation, food and housing may double that cost. With today’s economic climate, relying on student loans from private lending institutions is impractical and GSLs – Guaranteed Student Loans, with their strict repayment guidelines and even stricter forgiveness policies may not be the wisest financial move.

Where and who to turn to for money to get through school, and how do you get it?

Scholarships and Grants

Let us first make a distinction between ‘scholarships’ and ‘grants’. Both are free money applied to your education, but each has different guidelines to qualify for and maintain. Grants are often need based and scholarships are usually merit based. Other key differences between grants and scholarships:

Scholarships

  • Contingent on GPA
  • Some based on racial/ethnic and/or gender qualifications
  • Some are based on field of study
  • Not necessarily issued by government organizations

Grants

  • Require details about the project the money was granted for.
  • Can be donated by government or non-profit organization
  • Donated to correct organization’s financial imbalance

Free Money?

Generally, neither scholarships nor grants require repayment. While scholarships might come your way based on exceptional academic or athletic performance, generally you have to seek and apply for your share of the free money available to students. How do you find it?

As a future attorney, you should check the American Bar Association’s scholarship and grant availability. You might also inquire with religious or community organizations such as: the Rotary Club and United Way; local businesses or civic groups, race/ethnicity-based organizations such as UNCF, and your employer or your parents’ employers. Your school’s library or the public library in your city may even have information regarding scholarship and grant availability and application.

When and How to Apply

Scholarships generally have application deadlines. You should start researching your options as soon as you decide what your higher education goals are: where you plan to continue your education and whether you will pursue a masters’ degree or go beyond.

Apply as soon as possible. If you’ve missed some scholarship application deadlines, don’t give up. Scholarship and grant application is perpetual; see what is available to you at the time you apply, all while keeping your eye on future opportunities.

A Word about FAFSA

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a great tool for determining if you qualify for financial aid and if so, how much you can expect. Some scholarships require you to demonstrate financial need. Using the FAFSA tools is a great way to standardize your financial information. You should apply for FAFSA even if you think you don’t qualify.

Caveats

There are literally hundreds of online resources for finding and applying for grants and scholarships. Beware of scams! You should never have to pay for scholarship and grant information, nor should you ever pay an application fee.

Be sure to find out how the funds will be disbursed. Some scholarships pay the school directly while others send their recipients a check for the full amount.

Guard your personal information as you would a treasure. Never enter personal data such as: social security number, birth date, driver’s license number, credit card or bank account data, address or telephone number on an unsecured site – a site headed with ‘http’ instead of ‘https’. Nor should you link your application to any social media sites such as Facebook, Reddit or Twitter.

Several sites offer help in filling out FAFSA for a fee. You should not pay for assistance you can get for free from any of these resources: The Federal Student Aid Information Center or FAFSA.gov, your school’s financial aid counselor and your parents.