This week’s blog post comes from Jenny Maxey, author of the incredibly helpful money-saving law school guide, Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.
As you might imagine, taking multiple exams and applying to multiple schools is quite costly and, if you are a full-time student or unemployed, it can be financially difficult to meet this burden.
There is a waiver program, to “assure that no person is denied access to law school because of the absolute inability to pay for the LSAT and other essential applicant services.” This standard is strict, however: to be considered for the waiver, you must, among other qualifications, have an absolute inability to pay for the LSAT and other necessary LSAC services.
The “absolute inability to pay” is not defined on the LSAC website and requires some evidence to support your request: tax forms and other detailed documentation including income and assets. One can assume that, to receive a waiver, one must have an income below the poverty line, with nominal assets and likely zero or near-zero cash. The fee waiver is extremely difficult to get: even full-time undergraduate students have trouble securing the waiver. It’s worth it if you believe you qualify. (In such a case, however, you really need to think about the economics of law school.)
A waiver for the costs of two LSAT exams, one registration for the Credential Assembly Service, four law school reports, and one copy of the LSAT Super Prep (a study aid) are waived for up to two years. Many law schools will waive their application fee if the applicant receives the LSAC waiver.
Budgeting for the LSAT is important, but don’t forget to also plan your study preparations.
It is not possible to overstate how important it is to do well on the LSAT: that single number will make an outsized difference in your application. There’s not much else that will make you stand out for the admissions committee. Your LSAT score will be a large percentage of the admission decision for each school. And for those schools that are “reach” schools—the ones you really want to attend—having a strong LSAT score becomes an absolute requirement. This is important because career options (via law firms and government offices) are tied closely with those reach schools: as a rule, the opportunities drop off steeply as you descend from “top” law schools to others. In a bad market, this is true even for “not-quite-top” law schools. These options can drop to pretty much zero for graduates of the bottom 100 law schools, which makes the LSAT score anything but merely academic.
Okay, so you’re going to prepare for and take the exam. There are options, and knowing which is best for you will help you with the LSAT, and also help you avoid costs for late registration or test date changes.
One option is to study on your own. This may be the only choice if you have limited funds. It will, moreover, test whether you have the self-discipline required of a law student. As the flip side of that, you must have the self-discipline if you take this route and if you are intent on maximizing your career chances. (Keep in mind that the opportunities tend to be available to only a relatively small group: top graduates of top law schools are likely to have the lion’s share of opportunities at firms and agencies and non-profits and corporate offices. Thus, the better you do on the LSAT, the better school you can get into, the greater the opportunities.)
There are many resources if you choose to study alone. A few are free. For instance, LSAC provides sample questions with explanations as well as an old LSAT exam. In addition to these materials, LSAT prep courses offer free trials of their online services that you can take advantage of before enrolling. You can also ask friends who have taken the exam for their prep books, if they are not marked. You can search your local library for LSAT prep books. (No need to mark in them. Leave them clean for someone else.) Also, the political science or pre-law department at your local campus might carry old LSAT exams.
You should, however, not rely on only these. The LSAC offers a veritable army of official LSAT test booklets, which you can buy via Amazon or elsewhere. They’re not too expensive, and you should plan to buy and use many of these. Constant practice will help you, and might, again, be worth tens of thousands of very real dollars in the future. (If you add the net present value of a better-paying career, it’s not unreasonable to write “hundreds of thousands” or even “millions” of dollars.)
If your personal study habits are not stellar, or you want additional preparation to coincide with your self-study, then you should consider a commercial LSAT-preparation course. Five popular LSAT-prep courses were reviewed (as of this writing, in September 2014) to give you an idea of what is available:
|Blueprint||$1,350||$850||30 hrs: $3,500
60 hrs: $6,000
On demand: $649
|Starts at $2,599|
|Full Length: $995
|Starts at $150|
|Starts at $1,550|
|Testmasters||$1,450||Full Length: $950
|Starts at $100 – $150 per hour|
Talk with each service, look for blog discussions, and talk with friends who have taken the LSAT to find which course will work best for your needs. Each offers live and online classes. Some also offer private tutoring (small group or one-on-one), which can be helpful to those who prefer to study alone. These courses are expensive, and not all of the prices are easy to find.
Also, the internet offers a wide variety of self-study alternatives. An example is Steve Schwartz’s LSAT Blog, which offers free video explanations for the Logic Games portion of the exam, free and low-cost guides for an effective self-study plan, and articles with free tips on how to take the LSAT successfully.
Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble among other venues. Visit JennyLMaxey.com for more information.
Thanks, Jenny, for all your helpful and frugal LSAT prep tips!
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