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How to Pay for Law School

Just how much will you have to pay for tuition at a U.S. law school? In short, quite a lot. On average, the cost can easily add up to nearly $100,000 per year, especially when you include other costs besides tuition, room and board.

To give you an idea of the range of expected annual tuitions at U.S. law schools:

In 2016, the full-time tuition at Ivy League Yale University is $56,200 per year, while Stanford University’s tuition will run you $54,366 per year. At Boston University, expect to pay an average of $47,188 annually, and the University of Buffalo in New York carries a hefty price tag of $67,739 per year if you’re a non-New York state resident.

While a law degree is usually an expensive investment, it generally pays off in the long run — if you gain full-time employment directly after obtaining the degree. (You can check out state-by-state salaries for lawyers here.)

how to pay for law school

Another bright spot: the future is good for lawyers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities will continue to increase for lawyers with an estimated 6% growth between 2014 and 2024.

More than ever, lawyers are necessary for growing fields such healthcare and technology. With some additional specialized training, trained lawyers are also seeking employment as labor and employment specialists, real estate developers, and investment bankers, to name a few careers.

While financial aid in the form of loans, scholarships, and grants may cover tuition itself, it may not be enough to cover all expenses such as transportation, books, and personal expenses. Private student loans may be used in addition to federal loans to help close the gap.

For those who are considering law school, how can you pay for the degree without breaking the bank and putting yourself in debt for years to come?

Where to start?

First, you should visit your school’s financial aid office to begin your search for financial aid and scholarship information. Many law schools offer financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, and student employment.  To receive federal student aid in the form of grants and loans, you must fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).

Scholarships and grants

When a particular school admits you as a student, they’ll offer you a financial aid package. Every school has a different mix of need-based aid and merit-based aid that they offer. Financial aid may be in the form of federal loans, as well as scholarships and grants.

Grants are based on financial need (here’s where your dependency status matters a great deal) and don’t have to be repaid. But, keep in mind that they are very limited.

Scholarships are usually awarded for education achievements. Check with your school to see if there are any additional scholarships you can apply for as well. Many schools have scholarships supported by various sources, and they can point you in the direction of private scholarships you can apply for separately. You will need to do your own research with Law School Scholarship Finder or by looking at each school’s financial aid offerings.

To get an idea of what’s out there, here are a few of the full-ride scholarships available:

Private organizations, such as the American Bar Association, also offer grants and scholarships. Some law firms might also offer scholarships and grants.

Federal loans

Typically federal loans are offered directly through the financial aid office at a university, and repayment generally starts six months after graduation. Federal loan rates are determined by when they are issued and borrowers should check with the Department of Education for exact rates.

Type of loan Rates and costs (through 7/1/16) Maximum borrowing per year
Federal Stafford Loan Fixed 5.84%, with a loan fee of more than 1%. Interest accrues with loan origination. $20,500
Graduate PLUS Loan Fixed 6.84%, with a loan fee of more than 4%. Interest accrues with loan origination. Amount up to the school’s Cost of Attendance minus the amount of all other financial aid you are receiving (including other loans).
Federal Perkins Loan Fixed 5%; no loan fees. Interest accrues with the start of the repayment period. $8,000

These federal loans come with certain repayment benefits, such as the ability to qualify for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness. However, this benefit can be limited in scope and prospective law students should weigh pros and cons carefully.

Private loans

They are usually used by students who want or need an alternative to federal loans. Rates are determined by borrower’s creditworthiness, and can vary widely from lender to lender. For some financially responsible borrowers, rates may be more competitive than even federal loans.

Federal Work Study

While Federal Work Study Programs are not offered to first-year students, second and third-year students can work part-time at non-profit and government legal offices. The program gives legal offices the chance to work with low-cost student workers and offers students valuable public service experience.

Keep in mind that if you have prior loans from an undergraduate or another graduate program, it may be possible for you to defer those payments while you’re in law school. Contact your lenders to confirm the deferment process.

Above all, the most important thing to do when considering how to pay for law school is to make a plan. Whether you use savings or take out loans to pay for your law education, budget your money wisely first and foremost.

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