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Harvard Law School makes a significant annual investment to ensure all students, regardless of means, can access the funding necessary to attend and take advantage of the opportunities offered by not only a legal education, but a Harvard Law School education. Through the use of need-based financial aid, which is designed to provide the most support to the students with the greatest need, funding is distributed on the basis of financial need rather than academic merit. This is different from most law schools, and many undergraduate institutions; in fact Harvard Law School is one of only two law schools in the country with a fully need-based financial aid program. Those schools that administer merit-based financial aid programs disregard financial resources and in doing so, divert grant funding from the students with the highest need. At HLS, students are admitted based on their merit and eligible for financial aid based on their need.

Each year the Law School provides grant support to students with demonstrated need in accordance with their income and resources in that particular year. This funding reduces the amount of tuition they are responsible for paying from either their personal resources or through the use of student loans. This calculation is repeated each year resulting in the adjustment of a student’s eligibility for grants over the three years of the program. When a student has fewer resources in a particular year, the school provides more grant aid. When a student has more resources—such as by having larger summer earnings— the school provides less grant aid. The consequence of these need-based adjustments is to provide higher grant aid to students with the greatest need in a given academic year. This means that given two students who otherwise have similar resources to fund their legal education, the one earning less will receive a higher grant compared to the one earning more.

In 2023-24, the maximum amount of tuition a student is asked to pay is $73,600; those receiving the highest available grant assistance, by contrast, pay only $14,600. The average need-based financial aid recipient during the 2023-24 academic year received grant assistance of over $32,000 to offset their tuition and an average grant recipient in the class of 2024 received $98,000 over the course of 3 years.

This reduced cost for students with financial need yields substantial benefits for the students, Harvard Law School, and society. First, it makes it possible for students with the greatest need to attend, ensuring a diversity of experience and voices. Additionally, it results in those students accumulating lower amounts of borrowing than they would otherwise. Second, many students that begin their legal career in the private sector at law firms secure jobs paying an average of $220,000 in the first year after they graduate, enabling them to reasonably pay off their loans in the standard 10-year repayment term, or in some cases even less time. This income, coupled with the availability of the Low Income Protection Program for those earning lower salaries (often because they pursued public interest careers), has resulted in a default rate of less than 0.25%, which is considered an excellent indicator of our graduates’ ability to manage repayment. Finally, the legal profession, the United States, and the world benefit from the work our exceptionally talented students do both while they are in law school (including serving low-income clients in legal clinics and student practice organizations) and as lawyers after they graduate.

Harvard Law School is proud of the strong financial support it offers to students from lower-income backgrounds and continues to examine and adjust financial aid policy to address new challenges that our students and graduates may be encountering.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are student resources and why does HLS take summer earnings into account?

    Each year, the determination of a student’s need for grant assistance is based on the student’s total available resources in that particular year. This calculation is repeated each academic year and adjusted to reflect the student’s actual need during the year under consideration. These annual determinations ensure that each year the students with the highest need receive the largest grants. Typically the greatest beneficiaries are our first-year high-need students and those second and third year high-need students who pursue lower paying positions over the summer, typically in the public interest. Students pursuing higher-paying summer positions will receive grants that are neither as high as those taking low-paying positions nor as high as the grants they may have received in a previous year when their summer earnings were lower.

    A key factor unique to law students is the opportunity to earn significant income during the summer, sometimes upwards of $40,000. This is an opportunity few had the summer before they started law school and it is a level of income not received by those in public service positions over the summer. In our need-based system, those with high summer earnings will receive more modest grants than those with lower summer earnings. Despite these fluctuations in earnings, students receiving need-based financial aid will pay less during their three years at HLS than those students who are not eligible for grant aid.

  • Why do you adjust the amount of grant aid you provide in response to summer earnings?

    Every year, SFS uses a student’s income and other resources from that year to calculate eligibility for grant aid. Summer earnings are regarded to be like any other resource, meaning students who earn less in a given summer have will have fewer resources available to them and therefore a greater financial need which will correspond with their eligibility for grant aid. Similarly, students who earn more in a given summer will have more financial resources available which means their eligibility for grant aid will be reduced.

    In order to provide higher grants to those who earn less and have greater need, grants to those who earn more are necessarily lower by comparison. This combination shifts grant funds to students with greater need in that year, enabling us to always provide the most support to the students with the greatest need.

  • Why don’t you exclude summer earnings from your calculations?

    A fundamental principle of need-based aid is that students are provided with grants to reduce their tuition costs based on their financial need. Need is higher in a given year when students’ available resources are lower in that year. Students with the lowest summer earnings—typically entering students who did not have high-paying summer job opportunities before arriving at HLS and current students pursuing summer jobs in the public sector—have greater need and therefore are eligible for larger grants.  Conversely, students with the highest summer earnings—typically those taking summer jobs in the private sector—have lower need and therefore are eligible for more modest grants. Disregarding summer earnings would ignore these differences in available resources students, and limit the financial aid resources available to students with the greatest need each year.

  • How does the amount of support that Harvard provides its lower-income students compare to that offered by other law schools?

    HLS’s financial aid program is among the most generous of any law school in the country. No other law school surpasses the financial support we offer lower-income students. While the resources available are finite, HLS has continued to expand the financial aid program in recent years in an effort to assist students with the greatest need.

    Additionally, HLS offers a generous loan repayment assistance program, the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP), so graduates who pursue lower paying positions post-graduation, can receive assistance in meeting their loan repayment obligations.

  • How does the student resources aspect of Harvard’s need-based financial aid policy help lower-income students?

    Ensuring that we are always providing the most support to students with the highest need helps keep Harvard Law School affordable for the largest number of students. Summer earnings are a resource just as is any form of earnings. Students in high-paying summer jobs have, as a consequence, less need than students in lower-paying ones, including most of our incoming students. Our student resources policy accordingly provides more modest assistance to the former group, thereby shifting significant additional resources to the latter group. The bottom line is that this approach maximizes the grants that can be given to students with the very highest need.