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Would-Be Law Student Quits Tuition Contest Because of Mean-Spirited Blog Comments

Posted May 13, 2010 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The higher-education savings company Upromise released its top 10 finalists in a $10,000 Tuition Tales contest Wednesday, but would-be law student Sarah Allen was not among them.

Allen’s video explaining her pursuit of a debt-free life—and a debt-free legal education—is no longer on the Upromise site. Her blog, Going to Law School Debt Free, is no longer live. "I've just shut everything down," Allen tells the ABA Journal.

Allen withdrew from the contest on Monday because stories about her quest drew mean-spirited comments on several blogs. "When I read certain things, it was just so much hate, and coming from nowhere," she says. "It stunned me."

Allen had hoped that donors would pay the $105,000 cost of her legal education at the University of North Carolina, and had set up a PayPal account for the purpose. She had explained in the Upromise video that she hoped to use any money she raised not only for herself but also to fund scholarships for others. Her thinking was that thousands of donors, each contributing a small amount, could together make a big difference.

ABAJournal.com's Daily News blog was among those in the blogosphere that picked up a McClatchy Newspapers story about Allen. Some ABA Journal commenters talked of their own need for cash and the tight job market for law grads.

At JD Underground, a few commenters went so far as to criticize Allen’s appearance and made snarky comments about other, illegal ways to raise money.

Now Allen is no longer seeking donations and she is reconsidering her decision to attend law school in the fall of 2011. She doesn't want to be in a hateful environment, although she doesn't think UNC has that kind of atmosphere, and she doesn't want to take on tremendous debt.

Upromise spokesperson Debby Hohler tells the ABA Journal that officials there were taken aback when they learned about the online remarks that spurred Allen's withdrawal. “We were surprised and disappointed by some of the comments,” Hohler says.

Allen had been one of the top vote-getters in the first phase of the contest, but it's not certain she would have been among the top 10 finalists released on Wednesday, Hohler tells the ABA Journal. That's because finalists are determined 20 percent by popular vote and 80 percent by Tuition Tales judges, and a decision on the finalists had not been made when Allen withdrew. Now a public vote in the contest's second phase will determine two winners, who will each win $10,000 to help pay for their education.

“I personally feel that Sarah’s video was inspirational and she had a fantastic message, and it’s a shame that this has happened,” Hohler says.

Upromise helps students save money for their higher education by rewarding them with cash deposited in college savings accounts for their purchases with participating merchants.

Earlier on ABAJournal.com:

Would-Be Law Student Sets Up Paypal Account, Asks for Tuition Donations

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