American U's Law Scholarship Fine Print is Draconian, Hilarious

By William Peacock, Esq. on September 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Dear Future Law Students:

Here's your first (obvious) lesson in the law: always check the fine print.

American University's Washington College of Law offers a scholarship, ahem, "tuition discount" to incoming 1Ls who are focused on public interest. But, as Prof. Paul Campos points out, there are some pretty significant strings attached, strings that could leave you owning six figures to the American Washington Bald Eagle Patriotic Adjectives School of Law.

Don't Quit. Or Transfer. Or Go Into Private Practice. Or Else.

Here's the fine print:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will be required to pay back the full amount of tuition within 30 days of the end of the last semester of enrollment plus any other WCL grants or scholarships. As a condition of receiving the scholarship, incoming PIPS Scholars will be asked to sign a form indicating their understanding and acceptance of the foregoing terms and conditions of the award.

In short: if you drop out, or transfer, you owe sticker price, which is $49,542, due within 30 days. Wait until 2L and you're on the hook for six figures.

Professor Campos also traces the interesting history of the scholarship, which originally had no repayment obligation but did have an expectation of public service. In 2006, the "withdrawal or transfer" condition was added, though the penalty was a loan. Now it's immediate repayment within 30 days. He's wondering what their plan is: are they going to sue law school dropouts?

They are usually not the most solvent group. So, good luck with that.

The Lesson: Read the Fine Print on Your Conditional Scholarship

Here's an example from when I was a pre-L:

  • School A offered a near-full ride for 1L, with 2L and 3L scholarships contingent on being top-third, GPA-wise;
  • School B offered a near-full ride, so long as my GPA stayed above a 3.0. The vast majority of the class finished above 3.0, and if I didn't, the scholarship would be reduced, not completely eliminated.

All other things being equal, the latter is the better choice, right? That's the lesson: investigate the conditions on the scholarship as much as possible, paying particular attention to:

  • GPA requirements (as compared to the curve);
  • Class standing requirements;
  • Percentage of students who lost their financial aid after a year;
  • Any nonsensical "due in 30 days" stuff like the American Washington Jefferson Madison Eagle Law School includes in their scholarships.

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