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Determination of Financial Need

In general, a student's need is determined by subtracting assessed family resources from the cost of attendance (our student budget) in a given academic year.

 Standard Student Budget ($75,800 in 2012-13)
LessAssessed Family Resources

EqualsFinancial Need

The Financial Aid Program at Harvard Law School is 100% need-based. We do not have any merit-based financial assistance available through our office. The programs we offer are designed to help students who demonstrate financial need cover the costs of their legal education. Our goal is always to provide enough funding to meet any gap that may exist between our annual cost of attendance (our student budget) and every student's family resources

It is a well-known fact that the costs of legal education and of overall living expenses for students continue to rise each academic year. Despite rising tuition charges, proceeds from tuition paid cover only a part of the total cost of providing a quality legal education to each student enrolled at Harvard Law School. Over one-third of the Law School's annual operating costs comes from non-tuition sources, such as the earnings from our endowment funds and the annual gifts made to the Law School by its generous graduates. It is these non-tuition sources that generate all of the institutional funds (grants and loans) that we award to needy students applying for financial aid. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as an office to be good stewards of these funds and to ensure that we take great care in awarding these funds in the most equitable and judicious manner possible.

Therefore, to award our institutional funds we use a national, standardized set of need analysis guidelines to determine a measure of a family's financial strength and ability to contribute to the cost of legal education. These need analysis principles are reviewed and updated annually to comply with current federal regulations and institutional policies and needs. For the purpose of determining need for our institutional funds, parent resources are considered for all students except those who reach age 29 by September 1st of the academic year. Consequently, we use both student and parent income and assets in the determination of need for all institutional grant and loan assistance.

Financial Aid Officers are charged with the challenging and very critical responsibility of applying these standards equitably and consistently across all students and families who seek financial assistance from our office. This process involves reviewing and integrating financial information about each family's financial resources provided to us on all of our required application materials. Some of the critical factors that drive the outcome of this analysis include, but are in no way limited to, the following: 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 family resources assessment that we will use in determining one's actual level of financial need.

When reviewing these family resources assessments, it is always important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, a resources assessment is not necessarily equal to the ability of a family to actually write a check at a given moment for the amount being assessed. It is no more than 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, resource assessment should be more accurately thought of as a measure of an ability to finance the cost of education over time. In other words, implicit within the calculation of this measure 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 investments level achieved to date, as well as the family's ability to borrow against future resources by way of one of our educational loan programs. Finally, having said this, it is equally important to note that we make no assumptions about how a family will meet any family resource assessment determined through our need calculations. This is a personal and  highly individual decision. Some families may choose to use some of their assets. Others may borrow to meet educational expenses.

It is important to note that any formula or uniform standard that could be put in place to determine financial need and eligibility for aid would not be without its limitations. Ours is no exception. While using a standardized formula enables us to treat all applicants equitably, it is a fact that there are many special situations and individual circumstances that cannot accurately be reflected by filling out a form and submitting it to our office. These situations require professional judgment on the part of one of our Financial Aid Officers 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 to see their Financial Aid Officer to discuss their situation. We make every effort to hear students' and families' concerns objectively and whenever possible to make allowances in our standard file review to factor these individual circumstances into the overall need analysis results.

Once 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. While many students do qualify for grant assistance, greater than 50% of all applicants for financial assistance only qualify for support in the form of federal and private loans. Although many students receiving financial assistance graduate with large educational loan debts, we find that the substantial salaries available within the legal profession can adequately support these debts. For those who do not choose a career path that leads them to a lucrative private sector job, we have one of the nation's most generous loan repayment programs in our Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP). Taken together, we feel that our financial aid and LIPP programs do an excellent job in leveling 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: April 18, 2014

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