Financing a Legal Education
Law school is an important investment in your future. Cost can exceed $150,000 for tuition and all expenses. According to Equal Justice Works, an organization committed to enabling law students to practice public interest law, approximately 80% of law students borrow to finance their legal education. On average, amounts borrowed are more than $80,000 at a private school and more than $50,000 at a public school. Consider the financial aid process as seriously as you do the law school application process. Keep in mind, too, that the days when graduates of a top-tier law school could safely assume that jobs with starting salaries above $125,000 would be plentiful are over. There is a new legal market landscape and employers definitely have the upper hand. For example, starting classes at large firms are not as large and compensation has shrunk. Many public employers are under a hiring freeze. Take some time to familiarize yourself with ACTUAL starting salaries lawyers in your preferred geographic and practice areas can expect, as well as the placement data available from the Career Services offices at your law school.
You should also be aware of two student debt relief programs included in the federal government’s College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program allows qualifying government and public interest employees to earn loan forgiveness. The Income Based Repayment Program helps qualified borrowers keep their loan payments affordable based on their income and family size and may include forgiveness of remaining debt after 25 years of qualifying payments. For more information, visit www.equaljusticeworks.org and click on the Resources Tab. Then click on the box entitled “Student Debt Relief”.
Most students typically finance their legal education through a combination of public and private loans. Scholarships, grants and fellowships are less available, but they do exist. Work-study may also be possible. The best way to finance your legal education depends upon the school which you attend. Therefore, your best bet is to contact the financial aid office at each school to which you apply.
For more comprehensive financial aid information, please see the section on “Financing Law School” in the Bates Pre-Law Guide, available in pdf format on the pre-law home page, or the Law School Admission Council’s website on Financing Law School.
Apply early for financial aid. Check each law school’s website to learn financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money.
Completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA is also used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid. Because the FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, it cannot be completed before January 1.
Some schools have separate applications for financial aid, while others use the law school application or the FAFSA. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own funds.
In deciding which law school to attend, it is important to balance your financial considerations with other criteria, such as reputation, location, size, faculty, programs and placement success. Compare the net of your projected costs at each school you are considering, offset by any offers of grants or scholarships from the school, to determine the amount you will need to make up through loans or personal funds. Access Group, a non-profit organization specializing in graduate student loans has some excellent resources on its website, including a loan repayment calculator which demonstrates your monthly payments based on the amount and terms of your loans and a Financial Aid Award Analyzer which allows you to calculate and compare financial aid awards from graduate schools you are considering. These tools and more information are available at www.accessgroup.org
Financial Aid Resources
lsac.org–Visit their section on Financing Law School in “Services for Prospective JD Students”
fafsa.ed.gov–Standardized financial information about federal financial assistance
AnnualCreditReport.com–Free annual credit report
www.accessgroup.org- Personal finance and other financial aid information
www.equaljusticeworks.org/ Information on public interest law programs and law school loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP)
fastweb.com– Financial aid search engine