Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A primer on law school price cuts

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Law schools around the country are beginning to cut their sticker prices in response to declining applications.  Here are some of the schools that have taken the plunge.

By Ben Feuer


Admit it.  You thought the day would never come.  Nevertheless, here it is.  The number of applicants to law school has slid from more than 87,500 in 2010 to about 54,500 as of this month, according to the Law School Admission Council.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on how law schools are finally cutting their tuition in response to a dearth of applications year after year.  As more and more students flee to the seemingly more lucrative pastures of the MBA and Medical degrees, Law school is (belatedly) trying to make itself more competitive again.

And now, for your further edification, here are some of the programs that have cut tuition recently -- see if any of them look like a fit for you.

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News #27 -- Cut 16.4% to $21,965 for residents or
$39,500 for non-residents.

ROGER WILLIAMS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 28% to $42,130

UNIVERSITY OF LA VERNE SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unranked -- Cut 22% to $39,900

UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #140 -- Cut 13% to $17,900 in state,
$31,074 out of state.

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA JAMES E ROGERS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #40 -- Cut as much as 39% to $24,381 per year (in-state) and full-time: $38,841 per year (out-of-state)

OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY'S PETTIT COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 21% to $33,684


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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Most indebted MBAs 2014

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US News published a short list today of the top ten MBA programs ... in terms of student debt.  Probably not the ranking you want to reach the summit of.

Fuqua, Darden, Sloan, Ross and Johnson occupy the top five slots.  All are top 20 ranked b-schools nationally.  The only low-ranked school with a high debt load is the anonymous USF Masagung school.

Overall, what is perhaps most striking about the list are the size of the numbers involved, with AVERAGE student debt topping $100,000 at all three of the top ranked programs -- this for a two-year graduate degreee, no less.  Those numbers suggest that students are shouldering nearly all of the cost of the degree themselves, and are financing their degrees almost completely through debt.


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Friday, August 15, 2014

ABA Changes Standards for Law Schools

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The ABA has introduced new standards and altered some old ones. Here's how it might affect you.

By Ben Feuer

With law schools more embattled with each passing year, the ABA met on Monday to discuss possible changes to the way schools are accredited.

Students are now required to take a minimum of six hours in a legal clinic or other “experiential” environment.   50 hours of pro bono service are encouraged.  Students may take up to 15 credit hours of distance courses, up from 12. Students won’t be limited to 20 hours of outside work per week anymore.
To protect accreditation, law schools will have to shift toward assessments that focus on student outcomes—including bar-exam results and employment—rather than simply evaluating incoming students.

All of these changes are designed to help with the underlying issue of ballooning debt at top law schools.  Law students graduate with more debt than anyone, except med school students.  One long-sought after change that has not been implemented this go round is the option for law students to get credit for paid internships.  The board concluded it was too large of a conflict of interest.

While all of these developments are good news for students trying to finance a legal education, at the end of the day they are just a drop in the bucket.  While it would be a gross overstatement to call any field with 85% employment numbers struggling, the downturn since the credit crisis has certainly encouraged a shift to business, science and medicine, one which does not seem likely to reverse anytime soon.



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Thursday, June 12, 2014

So-Fi Student Loan Refinancing

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Now THIS is how to exploit a great business opportunity.

By Ben Feuer

For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, or reading our book, or working with me personally on applications, or really doing anything at all with me, you know that I am a stickler for having a strong, unique and useful professional goal to go with every application.  Why do I always come back to this point?  Because it is the first, and arguably the most important, thing you do when you attend a business school.  You pursue your professional goals.

So where are we to find these goals?  Simple.  We look for the intersection of opportunity and expertise.  To have a great goal, you need two things -- an underserved group or an inefficiency in the marketplace, and a person (you) with an idea about how to make it better or do it better.

We all know the student loan market is completely bananas.  We all know that tuition is too high.  But most of us don't know WHY.  There are several reasons, but the main reason is extraordinarily simple.  It's a mismatch of supply and demand.  Easy access to student loans has driven 4-year-college attendance through the roof, but not all colleges and majors are equally adept at job placement -- an engineer from Stanford does not have the same job opportunities as a University of Phoenix graduate in Communications.  But the federal loans are deliberately blind to these distinctions.

Enter So-Fi.  This company, created by Stanford graduates, is offering to refinance Stanford loans at a very low rate.  You see, Stanford students default at very low percentages (2% or so) vs the national average (14% or so), so they ought to have less risky loan pricing.  Plus, of course, it puts So-Fi in the very appealing position of having done a financial favor for a bunch of future industry titans, and it's a sustainable business model going forward -- there will always be another incoming class!

So if you're banging your head against the wall trying to come up with a goal, remember this blog.  An opportunity and an inventive way to bypass the problem is all you need.


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It's Obama vs Scalia as the debate rages about whether to limit law school to two years.

By Ben Feuer

After Barack Obama suggested that law schools reduce student debt by cutting the time required to earn a degree down to two years, Justice Scalia fired back not just at Obama but at the entire institution of Law school.  His position is that constitutional issues are underrepresented and too many 'frilly' courses have taken their place.  The law schools he was criticizing then fired back at Scalia, insisting that everything they do is right and good.

So how does all of this hullabaloo affect YOUR application to law school, be it this year or next year?  You are unlikely to benefit from any substantial reforms, so why worry about it at all?

Simple.  Because it has a direct impact on what kind of lawyering you want to do when you graduate, or  indeed, whether you want to be a lawyer at all.  Do you want to study theory, become a constitutional heavyweight, perform intricate deals and corporate transactions, or maybe start your own non-profit or business?  There's no wrong answer -- unless your answer is not to think about the problem at all.

Consider how this factors into your choices of extracurriculars and essay topics.  Are you using all the available space to really set yourself apart from the pack?  If the reader isn't coming away with a pretty good guess as to what kind of lawyer you will turn out to be, you're not doing your job.  Remember, it's not a contract, but it is a way of helping admissions get to know you better -- and that's a good thing.

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As the cost of attending an elite business school continues to rise, MBA students are shouldering the burden without increasing their personal debt ... for now.

By Ben Feuer

Remember how a couple of weeks ago, we took note of the rising costs of medical school, and, concurrently, the rising amount of debt held by medical students?

Turns out that is not a universal problem.

MBAs are more than happy to pay the increased fees for attending top business schools around the country, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.  This is a little depressing, but not really surprising -- after all, MBAs earn more than their pre-med counterparts, and some of them even solicit employer contributions to their education.

On a somewhat more disturbing note, the guys who commissioned the study claim that this should help policymakers distinguish between undergraduate degrees, which the study calls “a must for anyone who wants to secure a middle-class income,” and graduate degrees, which usually aren’t “the foundation for economic opportunity.”

Excuse me?  How do you get that from this?  We here at Forster Thomas see the exact opposite trend developing.  As college degrees become nearly universal, a graduate degree from a top school is THE distinguishing factor in allowing you to have the career you want.  All this proves is that some careers will always be more lucrative than others.


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To reveal or not reveal other awards? That is the question.

During this time of year—and more and more, during this economic climate—my accepted students revisit, meet with, and ultimately follow-up with financial aid appeal letters to their top-choice colleges and universities, asking for more financial assistance. And why not? It never hurts to ask—especially if you are a top, sought-after candidate at that college. Right?

Maybe. All too often, the request from the college-of-your-choice is the same:  “Please attach the offers you have received from the other schools to which you were accepted.”

So what should you do? Is it ethical for your first-choice school to see what other institutions have offered? Is it anyone’s business? Should you ignore the request?

Let’s work through these questions for some peace of mind.

Recently, a student of mine who was accepted to her first-choice private university, and offered $10K per year. Nothing to sneeze at, but not enough. What she needs is $15K to make it possible for her to attend without taking a job. After her second visit to the campus, the financial aid office asked her to reveal the other colleges’ offers. That’s when my student asked me, “What should I do?” After all, no one had offered her $15K. Her second and third choices offered her $11K and $13K respectively. She was worried she had boxed herself in.

Are you in a similar situation? Have you already met with the financial aid office? If so, here are a few questions you might be asking yourself:

If my first-choice college—the one I want the $15K from—sees the lower offer from another school, are they likely to meet it or beat it? What is the benefit of showing them a better offer? Isn’t it like showing your poker hand?
Should I reveal the lower offer, but explain that although my first-choice college is A, I will have to go with College B—a great school, but not the one I have my heart set on?

Since it’s my number one choice, should I just take the 10K offer and figure out a way to make up the difference? Work at Starbucks or the bookstore?

Obviously, you get that all of the questions depend on how bad you want to be at your number-one choice, here are some responses from the wisest colleagues in the admissions biz.

First off, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples—make sure the tuition is frozen for the next four years—meaning the colleges you received financial awards from are similar in rank and style…

1. Go ahead and show your number-one that better offer from the other schools. All colleges base their calculations on the same federal methodology, but alter their offers based on their particular financial policies. So, seeing a higher offer just might get you the extra $ you need. If the margin is small, my colleagues assure me, your top-choice will adjust their original offer to match the other schools.  But make sure you’re only sharing the letters of “comparable” schools…for example, a highly selective college won’t care that you got a full ride from a local “suitcase school.”

2.  When you’re sending in that “please, sir, I want some more” request, make sure you do it with grace and respect. Express your regret at even having to make the choice between your number-one and the other schools.

3. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. If your number 1 is really your number 1—has the programs, the people and the professors you want—then rise to the occasion and don’t let a few thousand dollars come between you and dream school. Who cares if you spend a few hours a week in college asking “would you like fries with that” if you’re set up for the career you’ve wanted?

Finally, I’d go with what Nirav Mehta, the associate director of admissions at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, said when I asked him the above three questions:

“I believe the other offers should be revealed, as requested by the Financial Aid Office. But it's equally important to highlight the real financial need without an adversarial approach. Financial aid officers are interested in helping young people realize their educational dreams, but they're making decisions with limited information. Helping financial aid officers get an honest picture of the situation will be the most effective approach. I have seen modifications in the financial aid package with this kind of approach that focuses on the need, especially if [you’re] academically stellar.”

Thanks, Nirav!

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Bottom line: It never hurts to ask, and honesty is the best policy.

Auntie Evan

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by Ben Feuer

In which Forster-Thomas takes a very serious look at the problem of medical school debt.  Ok, maybe it's not that serious of a look.  But hey, why solve a problem when you can point out how ridiculous it is?



Here's a shocker: medical school debt continued to climb in 2013.  In fact, according to the AAMC, the typical student owes $175,000 upon graduation.  Here is a list of things you could buy with $175,000 right now on eBay.

1.  "A Primitive, 17th Century Parisian Islamic Leather Hammock".

For your primitive, 17th century Parisian/Islamic baby.  I guess in Renaissance Paris, brown was the new brown.

 2.  A Super-Expensive Sony 4K Digital Movie Camera Package

To finally create your unsung masterwork, My Degree is Going to Cost me More Than the Gross Domestic Product of 17th Century Paris.

3.  The actual suits worn by Will Ferrell AND John C Reilly in the movie "Step Brothers".

Because after dropping almost $200k on your medical school degree, you will be very, very lucky if you can still afford to pay the rent on your stepmother's loveseat.

So yes, your education is very, very expensive.  More so, in relative terms, than it has ever been before.  But of course, you already knew that.  So what's the takeaway from all this?

Simple.  Don't short-change your application process.  Research your schools, both reaches and fits, and figure out which campus cultures and teaching hospitals serve your needs the best.  Not to do so would just be a waste of a dollar.  Or 175,000 of them.


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