Happy Veterans Day!!! I hope everyone enjoys their long, post-Chicago-Bears-win weekend. Unfortunately, Harvard Law students won’t be joining you to celebrate veterans on Monday (and not because they’re all Packer fans). It’s business as usual for us today. Something about billable hours are still billable on holidays?
Okay, not really. I don’t know why we have school but I DO know it’s not because HLS is anti-veteran. The Admissions Office always chooses four 1L veterans to feature for the holiday, and this year I was one of them! I did a short interview, took a few photos, and figured somebody would read that back newspaper page. I had NO idea I’d be the face of Harvard Law School’s website! It’s amazing how many people reached out, and during one of the semester’s toughest weeks. Talk about a great time for affirmation. (If you haven’t seen it and are interested, the article can be found here: https://today.law.harvard.edu/veterans-of-war-and-service-2/)
It was really neat to share my nuclear background and connect with new people through the feature. But mostly, the article reminded me how lucky I am to be here. Before you say WAIT A MINUTE (mom), I know it’s not ALL luck. I kept my grades up in school, did well on the LSAT, and chose to serve in the first place. The rest, however, is due to some very well-aligned stars. I won’t go into all the details, but the biggest of these stars (think, the freaking moon) was securing the funding to actually attend Harvard.
FLEP: Funded Legal Education Program
Before I talk about the title’s other acronyms (BFF doesn’t stand for Best Friends Forever, sorry for the false advertising) let’s back up. I’m in law school through the Air Force’s Funded Legal Education Program, or FLEP. This program is AMAZING. I never have to leave Active Duty status (which means I also don’t have to leave a full paycheck or housing allowance), law school is paid for, and I have a guaranteed job after passing the bar. But I often joke that getting into Harvard Law was the “easy part,” because FLEP came with some pretty strict caveats.
First, FLEP offers limited tuition funds for each person in the program. The amount varies from year to year, but my tuition cap was $25K. Per. Year. Quick side note…THERE IS NOT A SINGLE LAW SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY WITH TUITION UNDER $25K (I looked). Second, FLEP prohibits student loans. The tuition and fees of my chosen school had to be funded through the Air Force or the school itself.
So I went, okay; I need to get working on scholarships. That’s where the third FLEP restriction came in. I couldn’t take a merit-based scholarship, because I could potentially lose it, and any money I did receive had to be guaranteed for all three years of school. Yowza. If you’re wondering what the heck scholarships are left…so was I.
Ultimately, I could get an unconditional scholarship from the school itself, usually offered with the notice of acceptance. I could get a full-ride from a lower-ranked school, based solely on my LSAT score. Or I could hope and pray for something random to come out of the woodwork and save me.
Cue, the third option and the BFFs.
BFF: Black Family Fellowship
Back in December 2018 (after acceptance to Harvard but before getting a FLEP spot) an undergrad friend asked if I knew about the Black Family Fellowship. He said it was a new program through Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL), which sponsored 25 veterans across the school’s grad programs. I said thanks, I’d look into it – but secretly I hoped to get a FLEP slot and be told “heck yea, we’ll fund Harvard!” (I was a sweet, sweet summer child) Besides, I wasn’t sure how much the Fellowship could realistically provide, much less if the Air Force would approve it.
Fast forward to early March 2019, and I was into every school I applied for: Columbia, NYU, George Washington, Boston University, and Boston College. By this time, I knew about FLEP’s $25K tuition cap (if I was given a slot) and was quickly realizing that no one wanted to cough up the spread. NYU flatly refused; Columbia offered me some, but not enough; BU and BC were questionable; George Washington would be tight. Harvard’s financial aid didn’t open until April, but I was getting desperate. I emailed the HLS advisors in mid-March and explained my situation. I needed financial aid, but couldn’t apply for the standard merit-based and need-based loans…was there any way they could help? Unfortunately, it looked like no – not without the GI Bill. But the financial advisor steered me towards the Black Family Fellowship once again, and I realized that might actually be my only road to Harvard Law.
Of course, when I opened the BFF application for the first time since December, it was due in less than a week 🙄🤦🏼♀️
CPL: Center for Public Leadership
In the end, I submitted my app (with only a LITTLE last-minute panic about letters of rec) and heard back immediately from a CPL representative. Members from both Harvard Law and the Center for Public Leadership would conduct Skype interviews on March 26! The email gave designated time slots and asked politely that I sign up for one, as the panel could only convene on that day at those times.
There was just one, tiny problem. The time slots were scheduled during booked flights from Minot to California, EN ROUTE TO MY OWN FREAKING WEDDING. I emailed back and explained the situation, asking if I could possibly interview the afternoon of March 26. The CPL man said unfortunately, that wouldn’t be possible – but what was my flight schedule? I sent him the times, confident United would inspire a change of heart. Instead, his prompt response noted that I had a forty minute layover in Minneapolis – could I possibly Skype during that time?
That is how, at 0740 am on March 26, 2019, I came to be in the Minneapolis Delta lounge; sweaty and red-faced, panting slightly, wearing only the top half of my service dress uniform, with iPad balanced precariously on my wedding dress and praying fervently that the Lounge WiFi would hold as I interviewed for my one shot at Harvard Law.
As you know, it worked out. I got to my wedding and two weeks later, got a call from CPL. I was about to go downstairs for nuclear alert when I saw the Boston number flash up on my phone – my heart JUMPED and I told my crew partner so sorry, but I had to take this. It was the Harvard financial advisor, to let me know I was a Fellow – and that the Black Family was willing to pay whatever the Air Force couldn’t. I remember laughing out loud AND tearing up when I heard him say that, and the overwhelming joy and excitement of finally knowing it was real. I could actually go.
God bless people who support veterans.
I’ve been part of CPL and the BFFs for three months, and we’re off to an amazing start. I was joking about the Best Friends bit earlier, but the cohort really is wildly inspirational and supportive. I meant to discuss our workshops, leadership development, and service projects in this post, but I think some pure gratitude is appropriate for the week. I’ll save that for a later day – in the meantime enjoy the short week, thank your veterans, and God Bless the good ole USA! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸