Parents of law students, this one’s for you.
If your child is considering law school, embroiled in the admissions process, or getting ready for their first semester, you may be wondering how you can help them. Well, we’re here to help you.
Angela Cheung, senior admissions counselor at New England Law | Boston, has worked with plenty of parents (and thousands of students!) over the years. Below you’ll find her top advice just for parents of law students, from talking about money to finding housing to navigating the admissions process and more.
As a parent, you’re obviously emotionally invested in your child and their law school plans; you love them and want what’s best for them. But you might be financially invested too, paying for some (or all!) of their law school tuition and/or living expenses.
If you are contributing financially to your child’s legal education, it’s important to have frank discussions, set realistic expectations early on, and make sure you’re both on the same page. “Talk to your child about what they want, what you want, and what you can afford,” Cheung recommends. “Sit down together and come up with a budget you both are comfortable with.”
If you have questions about payments, your top resource on campus will likely be the law school’s bursar or student accounts office (not the financial aid office, as many think!). But you can always reach out to the admissions office as your first step, and they can point you in the right direction.
Housing is a particularly big concern for parents, Cheung says, especially if their child is moving for law school. “Parents are worried about sending their child out there into the world,” she says. In these cases, maintaining open lines of communication and exploring housing options together can make all the difference.
“Talk to your son or your daughter realistically about what they should look for in housing—something between a palace and a shoebox!” Cheung says. “Sometimes what parents think is realistic the child might not think is realistic.” Cheung also encourages parents to visit the law school area with their child. “Look at the neighborhoods, feel out what the different price ranges are, and then go from there,” she says.
Cheung recalls one of the most productive conversations she ever had with a parent, a father from Hawaii looking for information about housing in Boston. “He called and said, ‘We’re paying for my child's housing and we have no idea what it's like off of the island,’” she says. “He had some really good questions about what would be a good budget for his child, what should he expect in the city, how should he go about getting to and from school, if he needs to commute, and things like that. It was just a very easy conversation.”
Related: A Simple Guide to Finding Graduate Student Housing in Boston
Parents of would-be law students often turn to the admissions office when they have questions, and Cheung encourages them to do so. But she also says it’s important to remember that there are limits to what admissions folks can share.
General info about the law school—e.g., application deadlines, academic programs, housing options, etc.—is fair game, and admissions folks are happy to answer parents’ questions about such things. But anything regarding your child’s personal information requires the student’s consent.
As a parent, this can be an unexpected roadblock. You’re probably accustomed to having access to your child’s educational records (through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). But once your child turns 18 years old, they control who can access those records. Law schools cannot share this information without the student’s permission. A student can grant permission by submitting a FERPA release form, indicating which people and/or organizations can access their educational records, if they wish.
At New England Law, admitted students are given the opportunity to fill out a FERPA release form before enrolling. This is especially helpful if parents or others are involved in paying for law school. But without that form, admissions folks are prohibited by law to discuss the student's application. Not even with their parents.
Not sure what’s allowed? Here’s a short list of questions law school admissions folks cannot answer without the requisite FERPA release form:
- What's my child’s GPA or LSAT score?
- Was my child accepted to the law school?
- Why was my child rejected by the law school?
And here are some examples of questions parents can ask, regardless of the circumstances:
- What do require from my child as part of their application?
- What are the application deadlines?
- What kind of student housing is available?
Cheung notes that there are other ways to for parents to empower themselves during the law school admissions process, like using the resources provided by law school websites. They can also stay connected to their child throughout the process by doing things like going on campus visits together.
All this being said, just because you can have a conversation with your child’s would-be law school doesn’t necessarily mean you should. “A lot of times parents call without having their child's consent,” Cheung says. “The child may not be comfortable with it.” A legal education (and career) is incredibly demanding, and law schools expect a certain level of maturity from their students. That starts with the admissions process.
Other Ways to Help Your Child in Law School
Law students will be the first to tell you: law school is stressful. Between the academic rigor, workload, and professional expectations, it can be amongst the most challenging times of a person’s life. A strong support system at home is crucial.
As a parent, you can support your (future) law student in many ways. For example:
- Familiarize yourself with the law school experience. This will make it easier for your child to explain what they’re going through to you—and learning more about law school can make you feel more empowered too.
- Lighten their load. The law school admissions process, not to mention law school itself, takes a lot of time and effort. You can support your child by giving them one less thing to worry about. That might mean doing them a favor like walking their dog or simply giving them some extra space. However…
- Check in from time to time. Give your child an opportunity to vent if they need it and remind them that they’re not alone. A short text can kickstart a meaningful conversation.
- Take a break with them. To succeed in law school, rejuvenating breaks are as important as study sessions. Help your child by suggesting they do something relaxing, like taking a walk or watching a favorite movie. Even better if you can do it together.
- Help financially if you can. This doesn’t have to be covering three years’ worth of tuition. Every little bit helps, like buying your law student a cup of coffee.
- Give them a treat. From a blazer they can wear to interviews to a relaxing massage to buckets of highlighters, there are plenty of gifts law students are clamoring for when those gift-giving occasions roll around!
You helped your child get this far in life. Before you know it, they will be walking across that law school commencement stage. We hope these tips help you both along the way.
Learn more about student life and support services for law students.