A friend asked me at the end of last semester to proofread an essay that he is submitting in his law school application. The stress in his voice was obvious, and at first, I assumed he was staying up too late trying to force-feed his brain information for finals. Instead, the cause of his stress was something else entirely.
“These law school applications are killing me,” he said. “They don’t even use a centralized application system.” Now this surprised me. My friend has been preparing his law school applications for months, carefully selecting the six schools he would be spending the time and money on, and just a few weeks ago, he finished combing through their disparate application systems. He showed me the grand total: $1,055. That is an unrealistic application cost for low-income students and adds an extra barrier to their pursuit of higher education. An application cost of more than $1,000 is not a likely deterrent for students who can afford counselors and LSAT prep books. However, for students who can’t afford luxuries such as these, an application cost of over $1,000 is a likely deterrent.
Law school applications become available between the end of August and the beginning of October, and often enroll students on a rolling basis. In a world that already caters to wealth, putting one more boundary in the way of less privileged students is not the way to ensure equal access to higher education, especially when applications are predicated on a rolling admission cycle. When a student must work or save up money in order to send applications into schools, this can increase the amount of time the student must wait before submitting an application. Students who already have access to the necessary funding for their applications have only the content of the application in their way.
To make $1,055, my friend would have to work 105.5 hours at his work-study job, and, considering the fact that Penn only allows work-study students to work 20 hours a week while classes are in session, he would need to work for six weeks for the maximum time allowed in order to pay a bill of this expense. This is assuming my friend has the money to pay his rent, buy food, and cover transportation costs without spending any of his paycheck. It sounds ridiculous when I put it like this, right? But that’s the reality of seeking higher education. I haven’t even gotten started on the actual cost of law school.
Another example of application costs being an unnecessary barrier hits closer to home, for my twin sister also wishes to apply to law school next year. When I told her that it cost my friend over $650 simply to send his LSAT score to the schools to which he applied, she immediately said, “Well, guess I have to start saving now.” My twin sister, an avid participant of UCLA’s Model United Nations, A student, and work-study at UCLA Hillel, makes $15 an hour. In accordance to how much my friend’s applications cost, she will need to work 43 hours, or make over two weeks pay, in order to have the money necessary to send her LSAT scores to law schools. My sister also needs to eat, pay rent, afford gas for transportation purposes, and will likely have to work double this amount in order to pay this price.
Both my sister and my friend are amazing students who work hard both in and out of classes in order to ensure that they are viable candidates for the prestigious law schools of their dreams. They are the kinds of people that law schools would be lucky to have. However, the financial barrier that exists simply within the school’s applications are grossly skewed to deter low-income candidates, giving wealthy applicants an even starker advantage. Additionally, if law school is going to be so expensive to apply to, there should at least be a centralized application system, similar to the Common Application, instead of all schools being able to maintain their own individualized systems, which, to applicants, is confusing at best and infuriating at worst.
Low-income students are no less qualified than wealthy students. However, they are less likely to have access to the education they deserve. Applications to higher education highlight this unfortunate truth. My sister wants to become a lawyer to help people and make money. But it seems as if to make money, she has to have money. Working to detangle this paradox could make for a brighter future full of people who have access to the kinds of careers that will help ensure these contradictions don’t continue to persist.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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