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Step 2: Reviewing and Understanding Your Preliminary Financial Aid Award Offer

Once we complete our review of your financial aid application, we will send notification to you via email (on a rolling basis for admitted students and in early July for returning students). This email will direct you to log back into your financial aid account in "My HLS Financial Aid" and view your preliminary financial aid award information. Upon authentication back into our system, you will see that both the "Awards" and "Messages" tabs have now been enabled. On these tab, you will be able to view detailed information about the following: 

  • your student budget,
  • your student contribution form income,
  • our assessment of your parents' assets resources (if not applying loan only), 
  • your specific financial aid awards, and 
  • the total amount of your potential borrowing which will be eligible for loan repayment assistance under the Law School's  Low Income Protection Plan.

We suggest that you use the "print-friendly" link provided on the page to print a hard copy of the "Awards" tab and that you keep it in a secure place so you have a record of your initial award to refer back to later when various changes occur to your award data.

After reviewing your specific award information in "My HLS Financial Aid, please read through the following frequently asked questions about HLS Financial Aid Awards. If after reading through this section you still have general award questions, or if you would like to discuss the specifics of how your particular award was determined, please contact your Financial Aid Officer within Student Financial Services. 

  • If your last name begins with the letters A-K, your financial aid officer is Susan Chin
  • If your last name begins with the letters L-Z, your financial aid officer is Janie Rangel
  • You can also reach Susan or Janie by phone at (617) 495-4606 or set up an appointment to come speak with them in person.

Frequently Asked Questions about Financial Aid Awards

What are the common types of financial aid awarded?

Financial aid is more than just grant assistance. Education loans are a large percentage of the total financial aid available (and needed) to finance the cost of graduate/professional education. These grants and loans come from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Government, HLS institutional funds, Harvard University funds, outside awards & scholarships sources, and supplemental education loan funds. Here are some of the major categories of funding available through our office:

  • U.S. Federal Loan Programs - All U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens are guaranteed $20,500 from the Federal Direct/Stafford loan program. This money is awarded according to need guidelines set forth by the Federal government. International students, who are not eligible for these funds, will receive Harvard Law School loans comparable in rate and amount to those available to U.S. citizens. A more limited set of students qualify for assistance from the Federal Perkins loan program. This money is reserved for the highest need students and is typically part of our base-loan package for those who also qualify for HLS grant assistance.
  • Institutional Funds - HLS awards need-based grant assistance to all students that qualify based on our institutional need analysis guidelines, and also offers a more limited amount of its own need-based loans generally to international students to replace federal loan funds.
  • Outside Awards & Scholarships Sources - Students can receive funding from a wide variety of outside sources. You can learn more about outside scholarships by visiting the Outside Resources section of our website. Harvard University (not HLS) also has a pool of restricted scholarships awarded by the University-wide Committee on General Scholarships via an annual nomination process which typically occurs in February for awards made in the following academic year. We encourage all students to search for outside award and scholarship opportunities from both within and outside of the Harvard community, as this is a great way to reduce borrowing. Students who secure outside awards and scholarships are required to report them to our office so that we can add them to the financial aid package; however, these awards are used to reduce borrowing and do not ordinarily reduce HLS Grant eligibility.
  • Supplemental Education Loans - Students may borrow supplemental funding from either the Federal GradPLUS Loan Program or from any number of private education loan sources. This type of funding can be used to replace assessed student or parent resources. While there are many sources for both of these types of funding and you are free to borrow from the lender of your choice, we list a few programs that we feel offer the most competitive rates and the highest quality of service.

What is the "base loan package" and how does it relate to grant assistance?

The base loan package is the amount of required borrowing that accompanies any offer of HLS Grant assistance. In order to be eligible for need-based grant assistance, a student must have financial need greater than the base loan amount. For more information about how this works, please refer to the section of our web site that deals with our financial aid packaging procedures.

The base loan package is typically made up of a combination of the most favorable loan funds we have available in a given year to offer to students. If you have the base loan package as part your preliminary award, we will notify you of the specific composition of that loan package in June or July. Generally, we require students to borrow the full base loan amount as a condition for receiving any grant assistance. However, in cases when a student documents that s/he can live more frugally than the standard student budget typically allows for, we will allow a small (usually no more than $4000) reduction in base loan borrowing without any change in grant eligibility. Such reductions are granted by going through our appeal process described below which requires the submission of a detailed budget showing how the student intends to live on less than the standard living expense allowance. These appeals will not be considered until after fall registration once students have returned or arrived on campus. 

What is the "optional supplemental loan" in my award and how do I receive it?

You can, at your option, apply for a supplemental loan to bridge the gap between your federal and/or institutional aid and the total cost of attendance. For entering students,  we have listed an optional loan in the preliminary award package to demonstrate this point. Many students use their own resources, such as savings from summer income and assets, to reduce the amount of supplemental borrowing required. Some students also receive help from their parents, apply for outside scholarships, or work during the academic year to reduce their supplemental borrowing.

Do I need to do anything to accept my award?

You do not need to do anything to accept your preliminary award. You will, however, have to make specific borrowing decisions about loan types and lenders. The loan selection process is described in Step 3 of the Application Process which begins in mid-June for new admits and mid-July for continuing students. We will email you more detailed information about this process at that time.

Why is the word "preliminary" used to describe my award offer?

We use the word preliminary when describing your award because HLS financial aid awards are not considered final until the completion of our fall award review process. We review and recalculate all financial aid awards using actual summer income and asset information, which we collect via a web form that will be made available to you in late summer. Please refer to both the Application Overview for information about the overall financial aid application process at HLS and Step 5: Finalizing Your Award and Getting Your Aid Disbursed for more details about the fall review process.

Does HLS offer merit-based or need-based financial aid?

Harvard Law School Grant and Loan assistance is awarded solely on the basis of demonstrated financial need. The School does not award “merit” or “full-ride” scholarships (which typically are not need-based) because these would necessarily reduce the resources available for need-based aid and increase the debt burden of every financially needy student. For students whose demonstrated financial need does not reach the threshold for Law School Grant eligibility, Federal Direct Stafford Loans and supplemental education loans are available to meet education expenses. For international students, Harvard Law School Loans are offered in place of Federal Direct Loans.

Need-based aid, by definition, assumes that the student and his/her family have primary responsibility for financing the cost of education. The role of institutional financial aid is to close the gap between the cost of education and the potential level of contribution from the family resources as determined through a uniform and consistent system of need analysis.

Unlike merit aid programs, need-based aid applies a consistent, equitable set of awarding policies to every aid applicant. What truly distinguishes Harvard Law School's financial aid program from most merit aid programs, however, is that it measures financial need not just over the three years of law school, but potentially over the decade or more that graduates are repaying loans. Many graduates who do not qualify for need-based HLS Grant assistance do qualify for substantial grant assistance from the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP), Harvard Law School's loan repayment assistance program. In this way, Harvard Law School helps make education accessible to every student through need-based financial aid, and preserves the broadest range of career options for graduates through need-based LIPP assistance.

What is the process for determining financial need?

Financial need is the difference between the total cost of attendance (the student budget) and the assessed student and parent resources calculated by Student Financial Services. There are two standardized formulas used to determine family resources. The first is called Federal Methodology. HLS is required by law to use this formula, established by the U.S. Congress, to determine a student's eligibility for federal financial aid (for graduate students, this means eligibility for federal loan assistance). Federal Methodology is limited in scope, ignores some key forms of income, and eliminates some substantial types of assets from the need consideration. The data used to complete this analysis is collected via the FAFSA. Graduate students are always treated as independent for the purposes of determining eligibility for federal aid and do not need to submit any parental information on the FAFSA.

The second formula is known as Institutional Methodology. This formula is nationally accepted, developed by the College Board, and governed by a committee of advisors made up of representatives from colleges and universities. Most institutions that have a substantial amount of their own institutional aid dollars, like Harvard Law School, use this formula, or a variation of this formula, to determine a student's eligibility for institutional need-based grants and loans. Institutional Methodology is more robust, incorporates a more extensive array of data points, and therefore more accurately and equitably reflects a family's financial strength. The data used to complete this analysis is collected via our internal parent web forms and from required Federal tax form data.  Parent financial resources are always considered by HLS when applying for need-based grants and loans, unless a student reaches the age of 29 by September 1st of the academic year for which he/she is seeking financial assistance. When completing Need Access, all students who will not reach age 29 by September 1st of the academic year in question should be sure to provide all detailed financial data for both of their biological parents (and any step-parents if their parents have are divorced and remarried). See the Assessed Parent Resources section of our website for more information about our policies on the consideration of parental resources.

Will my financial aid award change from one year to the next?

The HLS Financial Aid Program applies the same need analysis and packaging guidelines to all students. In a given school year, students with similar financial circumstances will receive similar aid packages, regardless of their year in school. However, it is not unusual for a student's financial aid award to change over the three years while enrolled at HLS. There are three primary factors that could precipitate this:

  • Changes in either the student's or the parent's financial circumstances. Students apply for financial aid each year while enrolled at HLS and students answer financial questions based on different tax years. Therefore, changes in your financial circumstances from year to year will result in changes in the assessed student and parent contributions and the financial aid package. Information on how we calculate contributions is available in the Assessed Family Resources section.
  • The type of summer employment opportunities a student chooses to pursue while enrolled at HLS. Ordinarily, students who are not engaged in public service work will find that their summer earnings, and thus their student contribution, will increase as the years progress, lowering their financial need. Conversely, students working full-time in low-paying summer jobs may find their student contributions decrease in response to the lower summer income.
  • Changes in our annual awarding policies and procedures. Each year the Law School’s Financial Aid Committee – comprised of faculty, students, and administrators – sets annual financial aid policy in response to a range of internal and external factors such as tuition costs, increases in the local cost of living, and the amount of revenue available from the School’s Grant endowment funds. These factors in turn influence the annual base loan amount, the average Grant awarded, the expected minimum student contribution, and other aspects of the School’s need analysis. It is not uncommon for the base loan amount to increase from year to year, as the increase in available endowed Grant funding typically is insufficient to cover the full increase in tuition, fees, cost of living, and other student budget expenses.

What type of changes in my own personal circumstances am I REQUIRED to notify the Student Financial Services Office about and how do I initiate this notification?

There are certain changes in your personal circumstances that you are required to notify Student Financial Services about should they occur at any point during an academic year for which you have a financial aid award. These changes include, but are not limited to: 

  • changes in your marital status, 
  • changes in your number of dependents (normally due to the birth of a child), 
  • changes in your summer employment plans, 
  • changes in your spouse's summer or academic year employment, 
  • changes in your spouse's full-time enrollment status in a post-secondary education program, 
  • changes in the status of a sibling's full-time enrollment in post-secondary education program, 
  • any increase or decrease in outside funding from any source (this includes, but is not limited to, grants, loans, government assistance, etc) and 
  • changes in your assets from any source (this includes, but is not limited to, inheritance, prize winnings, large monetary gifts, etc.).

If any of the status change(s) listed above apply to your situation over the course of time you receive aid at HLS, you are REQUIRED to notify us of the change(s) by submitting one of our online Appeal/Change of Status web forms found on the financial aid forms page of our website.

Your submission will be reviewed by your Financial Aid Officer and any aid adjustments will be communicated back to you in a timely fashion. If you would like to talk to your Officer in person before submitting the form to understand the impact the change will have on your aid, you should always feel free to call the office and make an appointment.

Does HLS have a financial aid appeal process?

YES! HLS does have an appeal process.

 We have an Appeals Committee that meets weekly to review student appeal requests. You may appeal your financial aid award if you experience significant and/or unforeseen changes in your financial circumstances that affect your ability or your family's ability to contribute towards the cost of your education. You may also appeal if you believe that some important financial information was either not included with your original application or missed in our review of your original application. It is advisable that you discuss your appeal request with your Financial Aid Officer prior to submission so that we can give you guidance on how to proceed. If your last name begins with the letters A-K, your financial aid officer is Susan Chin. If your last name begins with the letters L-Z, your financial aid officer is Janie Rangel. You can reach Susan or Janie by phone at (617) 495-4606.

While we must conform to federal and institutional guidelines and enforce HLS Financial Aid policy consistently to ensure equity and fairness to all applicants, we are also committed to factoring in an individual student's extenuating circumstances whenever possible and appropriate. Please know that while you do have the right to question policies enforced by the office, this is not the intent of the appeals process. The appeals process allows you to ensure that we have taken everything into account in your personal financial situation when determining your eligibility for aid according to existing policy; it is not the place to challenge policy. If you wish to discuss a policy related matter, the Assistant Dean of Student Financial Services would be happy to speak with you; your input on policy matters is welcomed and appreciated.

Generally speaking, appeals must focus on financial circumstances related to the cost of education. Appeals based on discretionary expenses external to direct education-related costs -- for example, high credit card debt, car payments, wedding expenses, discretionary travel, and financial support by the student of anyone other than the student's children -- can not be considered.

To initiate an appeal you need to submit one of our online Appeal/Change of Status web forms found on the financial aid forms page of our website. On the form submit as much detail as possible about your appeal. In addition, after submitting the form, please submit a hard copy of all supporting documentation you would like us to consider when reviewing your case. This supporting documentation should be submitted directly to your Financial Aid Officer. Generally, your appeal request will be brought to the Financial Aid Appeals Committee for consideration within two weeks of the date you submit our web form; however during our peak processing seasons (March - June, September and October), due to the large student population we serve, appeal requests may take longer to review. During those times, we appreciate your patience as we try to provide thorough consideration to each appeal request.

Is there a simplified aid process if I don't expect to qualify for Grant assistance in the future?

If you do not qualify for Grant assistance in your first year because of a substantial parent resource assessment, you may wish to apply under “Loan Only” status in subsequent years. The application process is simplified for loan only applicants, because only student information is collected in accordance with Federal Direct Loan eligibility requirements. However, even if you do not qualify for Grant assistance in your first year, we encourage you to apply again in the future if your family circumstances change. Such changes could be additional siblings in college, a reduction in parent income and/or change in employment, or your eligibility to have your assessed parents contribution reduced as a result of your age. We can answer any questions you have about your particular award decision or our analysis of your family's ability to contribute, and the Financial Aid Committee considers appeals for aid recalculations in response to changed circumstances at any time during the academic year.

I'm worried about my projected loan debt. Will I be able to repay my loans?

Many students, especially those who need to replace a parent resource assessment, borrow a significant amount to finance their legal education. The average HLS-related debt for 2013 graduates was about $125,000 plus an additional $15,000 accrued interest,  which translates into a monthly loan repayment amount of about $1,650. Although many students graduate with education loan debt well above the average, salaries available within the private sector of the legal profession can ordinarily support these debt levels. For example, the median private firm starting salary ($154,000) for 2012 HLS graduates would result in a net monthly income (after taxes) of about $8,650. In other words, an HLS graduate with an average private sector salary and an average education loan debt would have over $7,000 in take-home pay left over after taxes and education loan payments. A graduate at the same salary with $180,000 in debt would have a monthly loan repayment $2,150, leaving about $6,500 in monthly take-home pay after taxes and loan payments. It is also worth remembering that the increased income potential provided by a JD remains in effect for the remainder of one's career. In most cases, income will increase over time while education loan payments remain relatively static.

For graduates in lower-paying public service and law-related private sector jobs, the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP) reduces debt repayment to a manageable level. The expected monthly contribution to loan repayment for a LIPP-participating graduate earning $50,000 annually (the median public interest starting salary for recent graduates) is about $67, an amount equivalent to the monthly payment that would be due on a total education loan debt of about $6,000. The remainder of that LIPP participant’s eligible monthly loan repayment would be met through LIPP assistance. Please see our LIPP Scenarios page to view some examples demonstrating the potential value of LIPP to you, and try our LIPP Benefits Estimator to create some scenarios of your own.

While education borrowing is likely to be a wise investment in your own future earning potential, it is also wise to borrow only what is necessary to meet the basic education expenses covered in the financial aid budget, in combination with your own resources, your available family resources, and any alternate funding sources such as term-time employment or outside scholarships. Even though the LIPP program stands ready to help lower-income graduates repay loans, you should always think of education borrowing as your loans, since you as the borrower are responsible for their repayment. Many graduates choose a different career path than the one they expected to pursue upon entering law school, and indeed the financial aid program at Harvard Law School is designed to allow students and graduates to explore the widest variety of career options. Because it is difficult to know what kind of work you will want to do after law school, it is sensible to make borrowing decisions carefully and take on no more education debt than is necessary. The key to this is living within the means of your budget while you are a student. By doing so, you can maximize the financial value of your educational investment once you begin to repay your loans. Student Financial Services will offer workshops during the academic year to help you develop your own basic budgeting skills. We encourage you to use our Take-Home Pay Estimator to help you estimate the impact of loan debt on your take-home pay after law school.

Last modified: August 28, 2014

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