Hurst Horizon Scholarship Gives Students Freedom in Law School and Beyond

This year, the program is covering 75 scholars — or one in eight Yale Law School students — who are attending tuition-free.
illustration of an archway at Yale Law School

As the Soledad ’92 and Robert Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program turns two years old this month, the first-of-its-kind program has already expanded to remove cost as a barrier to law school for even more students — a total of 75 for this academic year. Since Yale Law School launched the program, several peer institutions have followed suit, sparking a new trend for financial aid in legal education.  

First launched in February 2022, the Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program covers the cost of tuition, fees, and health insurance for students with the greatest financial need.

When Jack Sollows ’26 found out he was accepted to Yale Law School, his elation was immediately replaced with dread. How could he afford it? He knew that the Law School had a reputation for providing ample need-based financial aid. But Sollows, who grew up in a family that struggled to make rent at times and often lived paycheck to paycheck, wondered if that would be enough. Then he got the email explaining that the Hurst Horizon Scholarship meant that he could attend Yale Law School tuition-free.

“When I received the scholarship, I felt even more elated than when I was admitted to Yale. But more than that, I felt relieved,” Sollows said. “With Hurst Horizon, all the doubtful possibilities in my head became real. I could seriously consider the possibility of going to YLS — and after that, it wasn’t a real choice at all.”

In the program’s first year, 51 students received the scholarship. Since then, the Law School has expanded eligibility to include students from families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line. This year, the program is covering 75 scholars — or one in eight Yale Law School students. In the class of 2026 alone, there are 33 Hurst Horizon scholars — about 15% of the current 1L class.

“This program sends a clear message that we recognize the many challenges faced by students from lower income backgrounds, and we understand the urgency of trying to level the playing field,” said Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Miriam Ingber ’04. “I am proud every time I have the opportunity to discuss the Hurst Horizon program with applicants, and I am confident it is making a difference in terms of who applies to and, ultimately, who attends Yale Law School.”

My only job right now is to be a law student, and that is incredibly exciting.” 

— Daniela Alvarez ’26  

A Transformative Work Experience Leads to Law School

Growing up with financial hardship made Sollows interested in work that helps families like his. After graduating from the University of Texas at Dallas, he took a job at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau working in market research. In his role as analyst, Sollows set out to learn as much as possible about payday lending and other high-cost loans. It was a familiar topic — his mother had turned to payday loans to make ends meet while he was growing up. 

As part of his job, Sollows looked through complaints from people who took out high-cost loans. In the agency’s database, he read the words of people who sounded almost exactly like his mother, an experience he described as surreal. The people behind those words were “hard pressed for options and turning to a predatory product out of desperation,” he said. 

Looking around his workplace, Sollows realized that most of his colleagues who were trying to regulate these loans and enforce laws about them were lawyers, including his own boss and mentor. 

“I saw the work they did and thought I could be good at it while having a positive impact on an issue I care about,” Sollows said. “It was a truly transformative place to work. I left feeling more excited than ever about the idea of law school.”

Jack Sollows stands in the law school courtyard with tree and shrubs in the background
Jack Sollows ’26 said, “When I received the scholarship, I felt even more elated than when I was admitted to Yale. But more than that, I felt relieved.”

Thinking About the Law Early On

In her own telling, Daniela Alvarez ’26 always knew she wanted to be a lawyer.

Alvarez immigrated to Miami from Cuba at age four with her mother and sister. Her father, who did not have a visa to join them, stayed behind. Throughout Alvarez’s childhood, talk about immigration policy was everywhere: “at the dinner table, friends’ parties, and even at the mall, and it instilled in me a keen awareness of the cultural, economic, legal, and political challenges of migration very early on,” she said. 

First in the honors program of community college in Miami and then at Princeton, Alvarez focused on building skills for an eventual cross-border career in law. She learned everything she could about national borders, interned at a migrant shelter in Mexico, and wrote her thesis on the U.S.–Mexico border crisis. After graduation, she worked as a paralegal at a Washington, D.C. law firm, which reinforced her desire to be a transnational litigator.

When it came time to apply to law schools, however, Alvarez did not consider Yale — at first. It wasn’t only about cost. Before she heard about the Hurst Horizon Scholarship, Alvarez doubted she could fit in. 

“I was not going to apply to Yale because applying to law school is a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor and I didn’t think that I could belong here,” Alvarez said. “But I do remember reading the Hurst Horizon launch announcement while studying for the LSAT, and thinking that maybe I do belong here, and that this is an institution that is not only interested in, but values my experience as a first generation, low-income student.”

When she was admitted, the scholarship was also a deciding factor in Alvarez ultimately enrolling at Yale Law School. 

“For me in choosing a law school, one of the most important factors was attending an institution that would support, nurture, and elevate my unique perspective as a first-generation, Latina student — a vital but usually absent perspective in law school classrooms,” Alvarez said.

Now that she’s at Yale Law School, Alvarez is finding that her fellow Hurst Horizon Scholars contribute to her sense of belonging.

“It is incredibly empowering to be in community with people who come from similar backgrounds,” Alvarez said. “To have a community that can so intuitively understand and share concerns, hesitations, and excitements about the law school experience is really affirming.”

Daniela Alvarez sits in the law school courtyard with greenery and a window in the background.
Daniela Alvarez ’26 is finding that her fellow Hurst Horizon Scholars contribute to her sense of belonging. “It is incredibly empowering to be in a community with people who come from similar backgrounds," she said.

Starting a Trend in Legal Education

The Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program is part of Yale Law School’s efforts to redefine the future of legal education, including expanding who sees themselves as a potential law student, building the infrastructure to support students throughout their time in New Haven, and launching them into fulfilling and impactful careers. 

“We are committed to opening our doors to those students who have the most to gain from this School and the most to give to the world, regardless of their means,” Dean Heather K. Gerken said. “The Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program frees students with the greatest need from financial strain during law school and opens up a world of possibilities so that they can go out and change the world.”

One goal of the program has been to inspire other peer schools to follow suit with similar need-based programs of their own. In the last two years, that trend has quickly started to grow. Harvard Law School recently announced a new tuition-free program for low-income students. Similar need-based tuition scholarships have also begun at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, Michigan Law School, and Stanford Law School. In 2022, Harvard Business School began providing scholarships for tuition and course fees to MBA degree students with the greatest financial need.

The movement to strengthen need-based scholarship in legal education comes in the wake of more than 60 law schools withdrawing from participation in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Many of the schools that no longer participate cited the detrimental impact the rankings have had on financial aid as a primary reason for their decision to walk away.

“It has been wonderful to see other schools join in this effort to rethink financial aid from the bottom up in legal education,” said Gerken, who led the movement away from the U.S. News rankings in large part to advocate for a shift to more need-based aid across the board. “We hope this is just the start of a national trend.”

Yale Law School continues to be one of only two law schools in the country to provide financial aid based solely on need. Under Gerken’s tenure as Dean, the Law School has bolstered every major financial aid program, including strengthening its loan repayment program, the Career Options Assistance Program (COAP). Over the last seven years, the number of Law School students who are the first in their families to attend graduate or professional school has increased by approximately 50% and the number of first-generation college students has gone up by roughly 80%.

In addition to these efforts at YLS, the School has launched two pipeline programs to help pull in and support a wider range of applicants to all law schools: Access to Law School and Launchpad Scholars.

“Together, these programs enable us to pull in talented students from across the world, break down barriers that limit access to the profession, and equip the next generation of leaders with an ability to effect meaningful change in every community they occupy,” Gerken said. 

Law School Without Holding Back

In her time at Yale Law School so far, Alvarez said she particularly enjoys her small group class in criminal law, which has her considering international criminal law as a possible area of study. She has already joined the International Refugee Assistance Project, conducting research for the clinic’s lawsuits against the U.S. government for its delays in processing family reunification petitions.

With the Hurst Horizon scholarship, Alvarez can focus entirely on school, a significant change for her. For the first time since she was 15, Alvarez isn’t working to support herself or help take the strain off her mother. Instead, she’s using the time to get to know her classmates and the faculty.

“My only job right now is to be a law student, and that is incredibly exciting,” she said.

When he’s not in class, Sollows sometimes finds himself pausing in the Courtyard to admire the architecture or taking a moment to think while walking the hall of Sterling Law Building late at night. One thing he isn’t thinking about: his own money woes.

“I feel so free as a Hurst Horizon Scholar. I still worry about those I care about, particularly financially, but with Hurst Horizon, I don’t have to worry about myself,” Sollows said. “My mindset can shift from personal survival to long-term stability for my family. Having the scholarship frees up mental space to truly enjoy the academics of law school, meet my amazing classmates, and make the most of my experience at Yale Law School.”

Dean Heather Gerken speaks to a group of people in a dining room at a commencement dinner
Hurst Horizon Scholars attended a commencement dinner hosted by Dean Heather K. Gerken in May 2023.

Allowing students who receive the scholarship to fully experience Yale Law School with fewer worries is exactly what the scholarship is intended to do. In a video introducing the program, founding donor Soledad Hurst ’92, who grew up below the poverty line, recalls the stresses of paying for law school and having loans.

“If I could have had somebody give me a hand, it would have lifted a huge burden that was on my shoulders for not just years but decades,” Hurst said. “It would have meant so much to me to not have debt, to not have had to struggle all the time.”

Through the generosity of Hurst and other alumni donors, Yale Law School has endowed the Hurst Horizon Scholarship Program, ensuring that future Yale Law School students will benefit from the initiative for generations to come. The founding donors include Soledad ’92 and Robert Hurst, David ’78 and Patricia Nierenberg, and Gene ’73 and Carol Ludwig

“I think to make a more equitable society, we need to bring in people of all different backgrounds,” Hurst said. “They have as much to offer as the students who have gone to elite schools their whole lives, and when they get out there in the world, they are going to relate to the vast majority of Americans.”

Lasting Impact

Both Alvarez and Sollows said they will continue to feel the impact of the Hurst Horizon Scholarship immediately after law school and well beyond. For Alvarez, that means being able to seek work in international human rights and immigrant justice.

“To not have law school debt looming over me affords me much more freedom and flexibility than I originally had on the kinds of employment I can pursue immediately after law school,” she said. 

Sollows said the scholarship means that money won’t be the only factor in what jobs he takes or what his career path looks like after graduation. He will now be able to pursue work related to a cause close to him: economic justice and fair economic policy. He described what drives him.

“Poverty demands impossible choices from those it affects,” Sollows said. “I firmly believe that no one, in a society as prosperous as the United States, should have to contend with the demands imposed by these circumstances.”