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Entering the legal profession can be a rewarding and lucrative career path. In 2020, the annual mean wage for lawyers was $ 148,910, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s 164% higher than the annual mean wage for all professions.
However, a legal education is a significant investment, and you may be wondering how much law school costs. Tuition can cost over $ 100,000 — most graduates leave school with six-figures of student loan debt. But by researching typical law school tuition rates and exploring financial aid opportunities, you can minimize your expenses.
Average Cost of Law School
If you’re considering a career path in law, you may be worried about how much law school costs. The price is dependent on a range of factors, including location, the university and whether you opt for a public or private school.
Most law programs take three years to complete. On average, law school tuition costs $ 84,558 at public universities for in-state students, and $ 147,936 for students attending private universities.
Keep in mind that those costs are only for tuition; living expenses like rent, food and transportation can easily add at least $ 20,000 per year to your total cost.
Average Student Loan Debt of Law Students
Between tuition and living expenses, law school can cost well over $ 100,000. Few people can afford to pay the cost out of their savings or incomes, so many students elect to take out federal or private student loans.
The American Bar Association (ABA) reported that 90% of law school graduates borrowed student loans to complete their education. Worse, law school graduates average $ 108,000 in JD loans and $ 130,000 in total education debt including their undergraduate loans.
How to Reduce Law School Costs
If the cost of law school makes you nervous, there are ways to reduce your expenses and make it more affordable.
- Attend a public, in-state school: Generally, attending a public school in the state you reside is more affordable than attending a private school or one that is out-of-state. By attending an in-state public school, you could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs alone.
- Research local living expenses: Review the average living costs around your desired universities, and consider attending school in a cheaper area if possible. This could save you thousands each year in housing and food costs.
- Ask your employer for help: If you’re employed, you may be eligible for tuition reimbursement from your employer. Many companies will cover some or all of your costs if you decide to get a degree that could benefit the company.
- Get stellar grades: Getting excellent grades and acing the LSATs can help you be a more attractive law school candidate. Many schools give substantial scholarships to exemplary students, so it pays to put in the work to bring up your GPA. For example, Cornell University’s Charles Evan Hughes Scholarship covers the full cost of tuition and is based on academic merit.
How to Pay for Law School
If you’re worried about how to cover your law school costs, you may not have to pay for everything yourself. By researching the following financing options, law school may be more affordable.
1. Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants aren’t just for undergraduate students; there are awards for law school, too. Law schools scholarships range in value from relatively small awards that cover the cost of textbooks to large scholarships that pay for your entire tuition. For example:
- ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund: Available to underrepresented first-year law students, this scholarship provides winners with $ 15,000 of financial aid over three years of school.
- Marshall-Motley Scholars Program: Designed to support the next generation of civil rights lawyers, this scholarship provides selected students with sufficient funding to cover the full cost of tuition, room and board, and incidental expenses.
- One Lawyer Can Change the World Scholarship: This scholarship gives selected first-year law students up to $ 10,000. To qualify, students must submit an essay based on a provided prompt.
You can find scholarships and grants for law school through the Law School Admission Council, American Bar Association and with search tools like FastWeb.
2. Consider Work-study Programs
Another way to pay for law school without taking on debt is to utilize work-study programs. Offered by the federal government, states and some schools, work-study programs allow you to work in your field and earn income to use toward your education costs.
For law school students, that could mean working as a research assistant, clerk or administrative assistant at a law firm. If you’re interested in a work-study program, contact your university’s financial aid office.
3. Explore Alternative Funding Sources
If you previously served in the military or national service programs, you may be eligible to receive funding for your education.
- Military: If you are a military veteran, you could take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers the total cost of tuition and fees for in-state students at public universities, or up to $ 26,042 per year at private schools. As a law student, you may be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which covers some of the costs the GI Bill does not.
- AmeriCorps: If you participated in the AmeriCorps national service program, you will receive an education award for each year of qualifying service. The maximum annual education award is equal to the current value of the Pell Grant, which is $ 6,495 for the 2022-2023 academic year.
4. Apply for Student Loans
If you’re like the majority of law students, you’ll need to borrow some money to pay for school. As a law student, you have the option of choosing federal or private student loans.
- Federal: With federal loans, you can use federal direct unsubsidized or grad PLUS loans to pay for law school. Direct unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates than grad PLUS loans, but there are limits on how much you can borrow per year and over your lifetime. By contrast, there is no cap on grad PLUS loans; you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance of your program, with no lifetime maximum.
- Private: Issued by banks and online lenders, private student loans typically allow law students to borrow up to the total cost of attendance. Some lenders even offer bar exam loans to cover the cost of study materials, exam fees and even living expenses while you prepare for the test.However, you will likely need a co-signer to apply to qualify for a loan unless you have an established credit history and steady income. Private loans also tend to have higher interest rates and stricter repayment terms than federal loans.
5. Research Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Assistance Programs
If you do need to take out student loans, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness or student loan repayment assistance programs after you graduate and start working. As a lawyer, you may qualify for the following programs:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you have federal loans and decide to work for a non-profit organization or a government office, you could qualify for PSLF. To have your loans forgiven, you must work for an eligible employer full-time for at least 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments.
- School-based forgiveness. Some universities operate their own loan forgiveness programs, and will forgive both federal and private student loans. Through these programs, you will receive money in the form of forgivable loans to repay your existing debt as long as you meet certain service and income requirements.
For example, Columbia University’s loan repayment assistance program will forgive a portion of your debt if you enter a public interest field. Talk to your financial aid office to see if your school operates a similar program and how you can qualify.
- State-based assistance. Some states and state bar associations offer repayment assistance to lawyers that choose to work for legal aid associations or public defenders. For example, the Florida Bar Association gives up to $ 5,000 per year in student loan aid to attorneys employed by eligible legal assistance organizations.
The American Bar Association has a database of federal, state and school-based forgiveness and assistance programs.
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