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Financing Law School

Currently, the average cost of attendance for three years of law school is $225,000. Law school tuition ranges from a $10,000 to more than $40,000 per year. Add living costs to tuition and total expenses greatly increase. It's a good idea to determine a budget before entering law school.

Pre-law students should review their own finances, examine the expenses associated with obtaining a law degree, and consider the resources available to pay for their legal education. Students need to research their financial aid options and establish a budget early so that they will be able to attend law school.

Most law students finance their legal education through loans, work-study, scholarships and grants. To be eligible for these types of financial assistance, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Since financial aid rules and regulations are constantly changing, students must research current financial aid options. Each law school to which a student applies calculates a financial package for the student. Most government and private loans are based on the law school's estimate of the student's financial need (tuition, books and supplies, room and board, personal expenses and transportation) and the overall cost of attending their school. So, financial aid package (awards and need) can vary from school to school.

While researching financial aid, students may also want to contact the financial aid office of the law school to which they are applying. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) site links to various law school websites. Individual schools can provide insight and information about how their students typically pay for their legal education.

Develop a Budget

Candidates should determine education costs and living expenses for law school, then develop a budget to determine current resources and how much money is needed to save and/or seek when applying for financial assistance. Keeping a log on all expenses, including trivial ones, for a month may prove helpful. The expense log will provide a realistic sense of current finances. The following are expenses to consider:

Education

  • Books and supplies
  • Fees
  • Other related educational expenses
  • Tuition

Living

  • Clothing
  • Child care
  • Food
  • Insurance (health, life, car, home)
  • Rent/mortgage
  • Transportation
  • Utilities

Miscellaneous

  • Entertainment
  • Personal expenses

Establish Good Financial Habits

The following are some tips on what can be done before going to law school to reduce the cost of loans:

  • Payoff any outstanding debts (including credit cards).
  • Work part-time and save some of the money. Putting just a little away while pursuing an undergraduate degree could save a lot of money while going to law school.
  • To reduce the amount of loans taken out as an undergraduate, inquire about work-study.
  • Maintain a good credit history. Pay bills prior to the due date, and pay the full amount each time.
  • Charge only what can be paid back in full when the bill arrives.
  • Having multiple credit cards increases chances of overspending, so set a limit of one or two cards.
  • Avoid buying expensive cars, cell phones and pagers. Such products have extra costs attached that can add up quickly.
  • Ask for financial assistance from family.
  • Check into entertainment/activities at the school that may be relatively inexpensive.

Good Credit Is Important

Many people do not realize the importance of establishing and maintaining good credit when trying to seek financial assistance for their legal education. When applying for private student loans, many lenders will check credit history. Credit history contains payment performance for the last seven years. Poor credit history may result in the denial of a private loan. Good credit is vital for establishing loan eligibility and for receiving a loan with low or moderate interest.

Students should obtain a credit history report each year to check for accuracy. Mistakes can be costly and interfere with the process of financing a legal education. A copy of one's credit report can be ordered from a variety of credit reporting agencies, such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

By maintaining a good credit history throughout one's undergraduate education, one can optimize chances of securing the lowest possible interest rates for law school loans. Subsequently, upon graduation from law school, a lower monthly loan repayment assists in achieving financial goals more quickly as one begins a legal career. Candidates should avoid unnecessary borrowing as an undergraduate. As legal educators caution, candidates should not live like a lawyer while being a student, or they will live like a student when they're a lawyer.

Loans, Scholarships, Grants

Federal Loans

Developed by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA is required by all students who wish to receive federal financial aid. Usually, students need to submit the FAFSA before completing additional applications for institutional aid. Students can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) electronically or mail in the hard copy version, available at any school's financial aid office.

The three types of federal loans (subsidized, unsubsidized, and Perkins) are based on student "need criteria." 

When applying for financial aid, remember to read the application instructions carefully, complete all of the required forms and questions, apply early, and keep copies of all forms. Adhering to these important reminders will make the financial aid process go faster and reduce possible frustrations later on. Incomplete forms will delay notification of possible financial aid for law school.

Institutional Loans and Work-study

Law school procedures can vary regarding guidelines and deadlines for applying for institutional loans, and schools may require a separate application in addition to the FAFSA. Grants and scholarships also exist, but they are limited. Students should check with each law school regarding their specific procedures. The same goes for determining independent/dependent status. While a law school could consider student status as dependent for consideration of institutional grants, scholarships and loans, the federal government may consider the student independent in determining federal financial aid. Students should inquire with the law school's financial aid office about their guidelines for determining independent/dependent status.

Federal work-study programs may be offered to second- or third-year law students but generally not to first-year students, due to the intense curriculum. Check into the types of work-study available to forecast future costs of law school beyond the first year.

Private Loans

Students who are considering private loans need to take into account their credit history. Conditions for private loans, application processes, deadlines and terms vary with each program. Read each loan brochure for details.

Scholarships and Grants

Many law schools offer scholarships awarded on merit, financial need or both. Students should contact the schools to which they are applying to find out about available scholarships and application criteria. Additional scholarships and grants are offered by fraternities, sororities, religious groups, business organizations, veterans' groups or other social clubs. Candidates should find out about these possible sources of aid through online research, at ASU, local libraries and by contacting clubs and organizations directly.

Students who are considering going to law school must not only complete the necessary financial aid paperwork, but also need to consider how much they should borrow once they receive their financial aid package. In determining how much to borrow, consider budgetary factors such as cost of attendance, loan limits, current financial status and future earnings. Ultimately, students should should try to minimize what they borrow by exploring non-loan resources to finance their legal education.