The cost of college is high in general, but when it comes to law school it can get even higher. In 2018, the average cost of public, in-state tuition for law school was $27,160 — and private law school was $47,754.
So if you’re planning to go to law school, you’ll need to first make a plan for how you’re going to afford it.
How to pay for law school: Make a plan
Paying for law school can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. There are a number of ways you can cover school tuition costs and living expenses.
- Apply for scholarships and grants. It’s always a good idea to use free money first (money you won’t have to pay back). This includes scholarships and grants, as well as seeking out assistantship positions.
- Find a less expensive law school. The top law schools can be pretty pricey. Seek out a more inexpensive law school that has a good reputation and you can save money without sacrificing your education.
- Take advantage of federal student loans. After all of that free money, you’ll want to apply for federal student loans by filling out the FAFSA.
- Consider private student loans. If you’ve exhausted all free aid from scholarships, grants, and federal loans, you can consider taking out a private student loan.
- Get a job. Making some extra money to help you pay for law school and living expenses is a great last step. You don’t have to take on a full-time position — every little bit helps.
1. Apply for scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants should be your first step in finding money for law school. That’s because these are all free money — money you won’t have to pay back like you would a loan. Here’s the difference between them:
- Scholarships: These are merit-based and typically determined by academic performance.
- Grants: These are need-based and usually awarded based on your family’s financial situation.
Scholarships and grants are available at federal, state, and local levels. You can even find law-specific grants and law school scholarships. To get an idea of what’s out there, you can start by checking out Scholarships.com and search for what’s available to you.
2. Find a less expensive law school
Attending one of the top law schools might sound prestigious, but if you’re trying to avoid more student debt — or just struggling to afford law school in general — it isn’t always the right choice.
It’s a good idea to look at data for law school costs and find a school that’s more moderately priced. For example, U.S. News & Report compiled a list of the 11 law schools that make it easier to pay off your debt based on the salary-to-debt ratio:
- University of Texas—Austin
- Brigham Young University
- Yale University
- Boston University
- University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
- Boston College
- University of California—Los Angeles
- Stanford University
- Georgia State University
- University of Arizona
- Duke University
Consider one of these schools or do some more research and find a school of law that fits your budget and your individual needs.
3. Take advantage of federal student loans
Once you’ve figured out which law school you want to attend, and you’re accepted, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the next step to helping you afford college.
Not only is this how you qualify for federal student loans from the government — like federal direct loans and PLUS loans — you might also qualify for work-study programs. Here are your options when it comes to federal financial aid for law school:
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Law school students can borrow up to $20,500 each academic year from the U.S. Department of Education in federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Because these loans are unsubsidized, interest begins to accrue as soon as the loan is disbursed to you. These loans are eligible for deferment and different repayment plans, such as income-driven plans.
- Federal Direct PLUS Loans: If you don’t have an adverse credit history, you might qualify for a federal Direct PLUS Loan. If you have issues in your credit file such as bills that are more than 90 days late, or a bankruptcy or foreclosure within the last 5 years, you will need to find a cosigner. With PLUS loans, you can borrow as much as you need to cover your school expenses, minus other forms of financial aid or grants you receive. PLUS loans for law school graduates also have a grace period, but begin to accrue interest as soon as they are disbursed.
- Work-study programs: Your financial aid award letter will let you know whether you qualify for work-study, but you’re usually responsible for finding a qualifying job (typically on campus). With a work-study job, you’re guaranteed to make at least the federal minimum wage.
4. Consider private student loans
If you’re not eligible for federal loans, are looking for more competitive interest rates and options, or need postgraduate loans while you study for the bar-review, private loans can be a great option. With some of the best private student loan lenders, you might be able to get a more competitive interest rate, saving yourself thousands of dollars over the life of your loans.
Terms for law school loans made by private lenders can vary widely regarding grace periods and repayment terms, so consider all of these factors before choosing a lender. Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple student loan lenders by filling out just one simple form instead of fussing with many.
5. Get a job
It can be hard juggling school and a full-time job — we get it. But consider getting just a part-time gig or working a side hustle on the weekends.
You could pursue working as a clerk at a law firm to give you some applied experience. Or even just work a part-time job, apprenticeship, or another type of work-study program at your school. Even just a little extra income can really go a long way when it comes to covering the cost of college.
Repaying student debt after law school
You probably thought your biggest challenge would be acing the Bar Association exam and finding the perfect job at a law firm. But tackling your law school loans can be just as challenging — if not more so.
So before heading off to school, research your options, including what school you’ll attend, what kind of loans you’ll need, and how you can make some extra income. Just be proactive and have a repayment strategy in place.
If you’re already a law school graduate and you’re having trouble paying your student loans, it’s a good idea to consider refinancing your law school loans. This could get you a lower interest rate, saving you thousands over the life of your loan.