Lessons in How to Pay for Law School
- Law school provides extensive career options in private practice or public service.
- Consider the costs of law school against your future earnings as an attorney.
- There are many ways to manage the cost of law school, including federal and private loans, scholarships, and forgiveness programs.
Thinking about going to law school? It certainly has its benefits. With a law degree, you can gain valuable critical thinking skills, increase your earning potential, and make a difference in the lives of others.
Plus, you can choose where you want to work – for a law firm, in your own practice, or for the government or the private sector.
But as any law student can tell you, law school is costly. In fact, according to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of law school is more than $220,000.
Attending law school will cost you your time, too. On average, law degrees can take three years for full-time students and up to five years for part-time students. Studying full-time and forgoing income represents a considerable “opportunity cost,” since that is time you are not earning or saving money. So, you’ll want to make sure the investment is worth it.
Ways to pay for law school
If you’re willing to make the time commitment, you must answer an important question: How can you pay for it?
Fortunately, there are multiple programs and ways you can finance the cost of school. Here are some common ways:
- Look for scholarships and grants. When you receive scholarships or grants, you’re directly reducing the short- and long-term costs. Scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid, meaning no interest accrual or looming loan payments. Wondering where to start? Check out our guide to finding scholarships and grants.
- Take advantage of employee benefits. Many employers value the importance of education and provide employees with financial support to continue their education. Tuition assistance, tuition reimbursement, and other employee programs can greatly defray the cost of your law school education.
- Check eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). The PSLF program forgives portions of direct student loans for those who work for an eligible government or not-for-profit organization. After you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working for an eligible employer, the program forgives the remaining balances. Learn more about the program and see if you’re eligible.
- Explore graduate or teaching assistantships. Graduate students often can apply for a graduate assistantship while pursuing an advanced degree. Assistantships may entail teaching or supporting a professor in their work, doing research, or performing other specialized tasks.
- Apply for work-study programs. Often, financial aid packages for law school include a work-study component. Some work-study programs will place you in a job while others will require you to find a campus position on your own. Either way, work-study is a great way to defray your costs and help your college or university.
- Plan for budgeting and frugal living. Graduate school is often a time for belt-tightening. That may mean having a roommate or two, living at home, forgoing some streaming services (there’s not a lot of time for TV, anyway!), and having a few staycations. It’s a temporary way to reduce costs and save funds for law school.
- Consider part-time or evening programs. Many law schools offer flexible programs since not all students can commit to attending full-time. Part-time and evening programs allow you to continue law school while working to pay for it. While it may take you longer to complete law school, it will make school more affordable and give you valuable work experience too.
- Explore federal student loans. There are two core federal law school student loan programs. Both provide financial flexibility and potential relief for the costs of law school. The federal direct unsubsidized loan program is a good choice. Under this program, you can borrow up to $20,500 each academic year.
- TheGrad PLUSprogram provides for unlimited borrowing up to the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, fees, rent, food, transportation, and personal expenses. It does carry a higher interest rate and fees than other law school loans.
- Research private loans. Private student loans for law school are an excellent option and often offer lower rates than federal loan programs. If you’re a law student with good credit or have a creditworthy co-signer, you can qualify for low-rate loans with no origination fees.
Understand that not all private lenders are the same. Interest rates vary widely, so be sure to shop around for the best rates and repayment terms. Look for a non-profit lender in your state, as they usually have lower interest rates than for-profit competitors, which can save you money over the life of your loan. Also, note that private loans are not eligible for federal repayment plans, so be sure to consider your options before taking out a private loan.
- Discuss refinancing your loans. Are you paying high-interest rates on undergrad student loans? Refinancing is a great option after you graduate and start earning money as a lawyer. It allows you to reduce interest rates and monthly payments and consolidate your loans into a single monthly payment. You can refinance both federal and private student loans by combining or replacing them with a more favorable loan program.
- Learn about Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs). The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) offers a generous loan repayment assistance program. If you agree to work for an LSC grantee organization and have at least $75,000 in outstanding law school loans, you can receive a $10,000 loan which will be forgiven if you remain employed in good standing by the organization for 12 months.
Doing your homework before going pays dividends. In short, if you’re planning to end law school, you’ll need to make a strong case for it by balancing your educational goals with your budget, debt, and your future earnings as a lawyer.
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