Tutu Okusaga is a lawyer qualified in Nigeria and she received 80% funding to pursue an LL.M at the University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign. This article therefore mostly focuses on the USA, with an additional focus on the LLM school application process. However, the lessons from this article are useful no matter where you intend to study. Click here to read Tutu's inspiring story.
Another school application cycle awaits us!
The questions mostly asked by people desiring to pursue a graduate or post graduate degree are “How do I start?”, “Where do I start from?”, “Where will I get the money?” I have heard people say they do not know how to get the application done primarily because of the fees associated with the school applications.
For the “how do I start?” question, my answer always is for the United States, “Start by opening a Law School Admission Council (LSAC) account and ensure your transcripts are at least sitting pretty in an LSAC account.” This is also an expensive process for most, but you can hardly apply to most schools in the U.S without having an LSAC account. Thus, as a prospective applicant, you need to cross this hurdle prior to requesting for application waivers. The good news however, is that an LSAC account is valid for 5 years, and an applicant can keep using the account and the same transcripts to apply to schools every application season.
Anyway, back to the subject. According to US News & World Report, the average college application fee in 2017 was $43, while $50 was the most common application fee amount. The most expensive schools have fees around $80 to $90, including Stanford University, Duke University and Columbia University. I should mention that this is in addition to LSAC’s $30 transmission fees that an applicant must pay for each school the applicant is applying to. Convert these amounts to your home country currency and multiply the amount by the number of schools you want to apply to - I bet most of us will be discouraged. So, unless you're applying to primarily fee-free schools, the costs of applying can seriously add up - especially if you're looking at 8 or more colleges. Fee waivers can be a huge help, but they aren’t available to everyone. Fee waivers are given only to applicants who are eligible by proving special circumstances.
As the saying goes “Ask and you shall be given.” Therefore, never be afraid to write to the school’s contact to ask for a waiver based on financial hardship. You will be surprised how many of them will respond to you. Some might require that the applicant provide proof of financial hardship, but most schools do not. Many Africans come from developing or least-developed countries, and many schools are aware of some of the financial hardships faced by even the most promising candidates? Furthermore, many schools are very eager to have a full mix of international students to ensure that students with different experiences and from various backgrounds can enrich their programs. You are not at a disadvantage even if you cannot pay the application fees. Reach out and you may be surprised at the warm reception.
Do your due diligence. Prepare a list of schools that routinely grant application waivers and those that do not. That way, you can spend your application budget on schools who are less likely to give you a waiver, while you can submit your applications for free to schools that grant you waivers.
Here are a few practical things to consider when sending an application fee waiver request.
First, it is important to be clear about your request.
For instance, your subject should read “Request for Application Fee Waiver.” This prepares the reader for the content of your email or letter. Your waiver request to the admissions representative at the school should also include information on why you require a fee waiver. Information on ‘special circumstances’ that will qualify you for the waiver should be provided.
In the letter or email, the applicant should explain his/her personal situation and the difference between how things look on paper versus how they are in real life. For instance, the applicant should state any applicable foreign exchange restrictions in the home country and how this limits the applicant’s access to foreign currency at the bank rate. Furthermore, the applicant may also provide the school with details of financial support currently being provided to the applicant’s immediate family. It is advisable to provide figures you earn and how much you contribute as family support (be sure to put the currency equivalent in the School’s home country). If you are a recent graduate, fresh out of law school, let the recipient of your email know this and that you either do not have any earnings or that you only earn a base salary as a young associate.
Finally, any additional information which does not involve financial hardship will be useful. I remember receiving a warm response (with an application fee waiver of course!) after I mentioned in my email to the school that my Dad is an alumnus of the university.
Finally, just go all out in your request for a waiver. However, do not bore the reader with irrelevant information. I have heard of how an applicant mentioned that he lived in a shared apartment and has no car! I usually suggest a 3-4 paragraph email setting out the applicant’s special circumstances that should qualify the applicant for a waiver.
Now go get ready to conquer the next application season. All the best!
Are thinking of pursuing graduate studies? Join our Graduate School Application Bootcamp! to learn even more about application fee waivers and how to ace the graduate school application process!