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Meeting Need

The Financial Aid Program at Harvard Law School is need-based. We do not award any merit-based financial assistance to JD students. To help law students who demonstrate financial need pay for their education, we provide funding to reduce the annual cost of attendance based on our assessment of each student's resources. A particular student's financial need is determined by subtracting our assessment of family resources from the total cost of attendance, as shown on our Sample Aid Packages page. 

Every student enrolled at Harvard Law School receives an implicit subsidy from the School's endowment and the annual gifts made to the Law School by generous benefactors. The tuition fee covers only about 60% of the total cost of providing a full range of educational services to each student. Over one-third of the Law School's annual operating costs are paid from non-tuition sources, such as the earnings from endowment funds and the annual gifts from donors. In other words, the income from these non-tuition sources reduces the tuition cost for every student, whether or not additional financial aid is awarded. Endowment funds also generate virtually all of the institutional financial aid (grants and loans) that we award to eligible students. As stewards of these funds, we take great care in awarding them in the most equitable manner possible.

We use a national, standardized set of need analysis guidelines to measure each family's financial strength and ability to contribute to the cost of education. These guidelines are reviewed annually to comply with current federal regulations and institutional policies and priorities.  We use both student and parent income and assets in the determination of need for all institutional grant and loan assistance. For the purpose of awarding our institutional funds, parent resources are considered for all students up to the age of 29, in order to ensure that we are targeting our limited grant aid dollars to students with demonstrated need based on personal and family resources. You can learn more about why HLS considers parent resources here

Financial Aid Officers are charged with the critical responsibility of applying these standards equitably and consistently across all students and families seeking financial assistance. This process involves reviewing and analyzing the information we collect about each family's financial resources. Some of the critical factors that drive the outcome of this analysis include, but are not limited to: family size, number of family members in college, cost of living in a particular region or country, overall savings and assets, and current income potential. The product of this comprehensive review is an expected student contribution and a parent resource assessment that we use in determining the student's level of financial need.

It is always important to keep a few things in mind about student and parent resource assessments. First, a resource assessment does not necessarily measure the ability of a family to make a contribution from current income alone. It is a relative measure of a given family's financial strength when compared to all other families applying for the same pool of financial assistance in an academic year. In addition, a resource assessment should be more accurately thought of as a measure of an ability to finance the cost of education over time. It is an evaluation of not just a family's current resources from present income earned, but also an evaluation of a family's past resources in the form of the overall savings and investment levels achieved to date, as well as the family's ability to borrow against the value of these resources relative to families who lack similar resources. Finally, we make no assumptions about how or whether a family will actually contribute the resources assessed in our determination of need. This is a personal and a highly individual decision. Some students may receive financial support from their families, while others may choose to borrow through education loans to meet the cost of attendance, with the intention of repaying those loans from future income.

No formula or uniform standard is without its limitations. While a standardized formula enables us to treat all applicants equitably, there are many special situations and individual circumstances that cannot accurately be reflected by financial data alone. These situations require professional judgment on the part of a Financial Aid Officer in order to arrive at a fair and accurate determination of financial need. Students with personal circumstances that need special attention are always encouraged to call, email or make an appointment with their Financial Aid Officer to discuss their situation. We make every effort to hear students' and families' concerns objectively and when possible to make allowances in our standard review to take account of individual circumstances.

Once financial need is determined, it is met by awarding some combination of loan and grant assistance. Harvard Law School's policy is to reserve institutional grant assistance for those students and families who demonstrate the greatest financial need as determined by our current need analysis practices. About 50% of aid applicants (42% of the overall JD population) qualify for grant assistance, while the remainder qualify for support in the form of federal and private loans. Although many students receiving financial assistance graduate with a large loan debt, the substantial salaries available within the legal profession adequately support the repayment of loans. For those who choose to work in a lower-paying position in the non-profit or law-related private sector, we offer one of the nation's most comprehensive loan repayment programs in the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP). Taken together, the HLS financial aid and LIPP programs seek to level the financial playing field, ensuring equal access to legal education and preserving the full spectrum of career choices for all students admitted to the Law School.

Last modified: September 29, 2014

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