Four things no one tells you about law school

By Alexandra Sumner

1. You’re on your own for bar expenses. Unfortunately, students cannot add the cost of either their bar prep program or bar exam registration fees to the overall cost of attendance. As a result, you are wholly responsible for coming up with financing. (As a ballpark estimate: My bar prep course cost about $3,000, and the bar registration fees  —including driving record requests and other public documents — will be about $1,000.)

I found this out way too late when I attempted to increase my student loans a bit to cover these overhead costs but was told that bar expenses don’t count as an “educational expense.” It was suggested that I take out a personal loan to cover the amount. (No thank you.) No big shock: I wasn’t the only one in the dark on this, as our school then hosted a few loan providers at a “financing fair” to make it easier to apply for personal loans. (Don’t do it.)

If possible, start saving early: put a portion of your student refund away each semester to cover this ridiculously large future expense. If that doesn’t work, sell blood, or hair, or organs. Nobody needs both kidneys, right?

 

2. Stay away from conditional scholarships. When you first get accepted to law school, it’s very exciting to see all of the scholarship opportunities available to help you offset tuition costs. There are more than a few kinds, including: (1) a conditional scholarship where you can only keep receiving if you maintain a certain GPA and/or class rank; (2) a one-time scholarship where the money is directly credited to your bursar account; and (3) unconditional scholarships where you receive the money (usually less than a conditional scholarship) regardless of your GPA.

At first glance, the conditional scholarship seems like the natural choice. After all, you did quite well in undergrad, you figure. But, like Admiral Ackbar once famously exclaimed, “It’s a trap.”

I cannot stress this enough: It is much, much harder to maintain a high GPA in law school than it is in undergrad. It’s not only the fact that the material is more advanced, but the imposition of a curve rarely works in your favor. Don’t believe me? I once ended up with a 94 percent in Legal Research, but because all the students did exceptionally well in that class, my grade was curved down to a “C.” Yep, you read that right. When you accept a conditional scholarship you’re setting yourself up for failure because while the unconditional scholarship may not be as much money, it’s definitely more secure. It’s better to have 50 percent of something than zero percent of everything.

 

3. Your first year determines your future. I didn’t want to believe this one when I first heard it. I mean, your first year can’t be that big of a deal. It is. If you do well in your first year, you set yourself up for success: your grades are high enough to apply for the top internships and on-campus interviews, the internships turn into jobs, and all of a sudden you’re a partner at a Fortune 500.

If you do poorly, it becomes that much more difficult for you to find a summer job, which ultimately leads to you struggling to keep up with your peers and (more importantly) their careers. Who knew two semesters could have such an impact?

 

4. It takes a village. You know the phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, it takes a village to get someone through law school, too. As much as students like to boast that we “did it all ourselves,” we didn’t. One of the heaviest loads you carry as a law student is emotional: the leaden realization of your own mediocrity, the imposter syndrome you feel in comparison to your peers and the crippling anxiety about student debt.

When you have an effective support system you are able to vent and outsource some of this grief. I’ve spent many-a-night on my couch lamenting about how stressful it all is; and each of these times I’ve had an ear to hear me out. Whether it be your significant other, a family member or another law student: having a strong support network the key to keep you grounded when your foundation is crumbling. Your name may be one to walk across the stage, but they deserve recognition as well. So here’s one last bit of advice: Stay humble.


Alexandra Sumner is a 3L at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianpolis.


 

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