If your goal is to become a lawyer, you may be wondering how to pay for law school. Luckily there are a few options that will help you with your investment of time and money. The cost of attending (COA) law school includes fixed expenses like tuition and fees. Then there are extras costs such as food, housing, books and travel.
Most people enter law school after earning a bachelor’s degree. Law school takes three years to complete and awards a Juris Doctor or JD degree. Once you graduate with a JD degree and pass the Bar Exam, one option may be to practice law.
According to the BLS.gov, many lawyers today earn from $58,220 to more than $208,000. That’s something to keep in mind when you weigh the pros and cons of each type of aid.
Average Cost of Law School and Average Amount of Financial Aid Received
The cost of law school will vary depending on where you study. Tuition and fees for instance, differ across institutions. The extra expenses like housing, books and travel reflect the cost of living in a state and region.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of law school is $8,698 per year at a public school. Or, $42,227 per year if you earn your degree at a private school. As usual, you’ll find a range of more expensive law schools. There are schools that are more affordable for your budget and keep your debt down.
More importantly the NCES found that 75% of students who completed a professional doctorate (such as a law degree) had student loans. They also report the average total loan balance was about $186,600 per borrower.
Three Common Ways to Pay for Law School
Loans, grants, and scholarships are the three most common ways to pay for law school. Some students can also get part-time employment through the federal work-study program. This tends to be in their second and third years of law school.
First-year students are expected to focus fully on schoolwork. Also, there is an ABA-mandated limit on the number of hours full-time law students are permitted to work. Here is a bit more information about popular sources of funding. Compare these guidelines to your goals so you can make an informed choice.
1. Scholarships and Grants
Both scholarships and grants are “free money”. Unlike loans, you do not repay the money you get from a scholarship or grant. But you may need to sign a contract and agree to any loan terms. To apply for either a scholarship or a grant, you need to first qualify for the award requirments. There are ones for certain groups (minority, women) attending law school. Students who want to practice a specific type of law can apply for specific scholarships.
Apart from your law major, eligibility may also depend on your GPA and test scores. Providers may also want to see your level of financial need and any activities to serve your community.
2. Federal Student Aid
The federal gov’t also offers financial aid. Federal Pell Grants are an example, and these go to low income undergrads and some post-bachelor’s students. Bear in mind though that 12 terms is the max any student can receive Pell Grants. So, if you’ve maxed out on the grants, you may need to think about a loan.
Federal student loans are another type of aid available through the gov’t. Unlike a grant which you do not repay, a student loan is money you borrow and pay back with interest.
There are three types of federal student loans for grad students. One is a direct subsidized loan which is not based on financial need. The second is a direct PLUS loan. Also called grad PLUS loan when referring to professional students.
Grad PLUS loans pay education expenses not covered by other financial aid. While eligibility doesn’t depend on financial need, you must pass a credit check. Last are Direct Consolidation loans. These allow you to meld all your eligible federal student loans into one loan with a single provider.
3. Private Student Loans
Another option if you want to borrow money to pay for law school is to take out a private student loan. Private student loans often help qualified students who are not eligible for federal loans.
These loans tend to be available through lenders such as banks. If this is your preferred form of aid, make sure your provider is credible and has a solid reputation. Then you might shop around for competitive interest rates, grace periods and repayment plans.
When You Go Looking for Funding, You Need to Complete a FAFSA
To find out if you qualify for a grad PLUS loan, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This gives the gov’t a picture of your unmet financial need.
Unmet need is the difference between two things. For example your Estimated Financial Contribution or EFC and the cost of attendance (COA) for college. As an undergrad, your EFC reflects your parental income. But as a grad or professional student, your status is “independent”.
It also explains why lenders look at your credit report before giving the OK on a loan request. That said, law school policies about independence vary and some do ask for family info. Then, with these neccessay info, the financial department is able to figure out how much aid to award you. They can figure out what type of aid you are eligible for.
What Law School Scholarships are Available?
Providers of law school scholarships range from law firms to law schools and many others in between. We curated 5 law school scholarships to give you a head start on your search.
BARBRI Law Preview offers courses to prep students for law school. Each year, they also offer 10 “One Lawyer Can Change the World Scholarships” to help students pay for their first year of law school (L1).
One first place winner takes home a $10,000 scholarship. A second place winner gets $5,000 and 8 runner ups receive $1,000 each. To qualify, you need to be entering L1 and submit a 500 word essay.
The ABA is the American Bar Association. Each year they offer 10 to 20 Legal Opportunity Scholarships. Scholarships pay out $15,000 over the course of three years of law school. They aim to nurture racial and ethnic minority students who want to start law school. The 2020 ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund application period will open Mid-February. It is for student entering law school in the fall 2020 session.
MCCA aims to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of diverse lawyers in law departments and law firms. It's the 15th year of offering the LMJ Scholarship program. The LMJ Scholarship is a diversity pipeline program. It grants scholarships of $10,000 to students for their first year of law school. In 2019, there were six winners. This scholarship is open to men, women and diverse students.
As long as you attend an ABA-accredited law school as a full-time student and have an interest in corporate law. Other things you need are excellent academics, leadership qualities, a record of community service and financial need. Plus, you need to show a commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.