How to Pay for Law School

Three Parts:Preparing For the Cost of Law SchoolLowering Law School CostsFinancing Law School

When you decide that you are going to attend law school, you should understand that by doing so you are taking on a significant financial burden. While some law school graduates will go on to work at big law firms and earn large salaries, many new attorneys struggle to repay their law school debt. By preparing a law school budget and strategizing how to reduce the cost of law school, you will put yourself in the best position to pay for law school.

Part 1
Preparing For the Cost of Law School

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    Understand law school costs. When calculating the potential costs for law school. You must consider the cost of tuition and fees, room and board, student health insurance and books and supplies.
    • In 2012, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public law school as an in-state resident was $23,214 and for an out-of-state resident it was $36,202. The average cost of tuition and fees for a private law school was $40,634.[1]
    • Room and board costs will vary depending on the location of the law school. Law schools provide this information on their websites. For example, Harvard Law School stated that for a moderate standard of living, students should budget for $21,373 over the course of nine months.[2] UNC School of Law tells students to budget $17,008.[3]
    • The costs of books and supplies for an academic year can run between $1,000 and $2,000. In addition, you may need to purchase a computer which could cost on average between $700 and $1,500.[4]
    • If you already have health insurance through a parent or a spouse, you may be able to avoid this cost. However, law schools often require students to demonstrate that they have health insurance and if not, require them to purchase a student health plan. Student health plans can cost between $1,800 per year to over $3,000.
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    Create a law school budget. Before applying for law school, it is important to consider how much you can afford to pay, strategize on how to save money, and plan how to reduce the cost of law school while continuing to meet your financial obligations.[5] Your law school budget will be similar to a regular budget with the addition of law school related expenses. Your budget should include expenses for three years of law school and the summer after you graduate.
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    Estimate the cost of law school. Your budget must include all of the costs associated with law school. If you know where you want to attend, you can search the school’s website for the schedule of costs and fees or you can use estimated costs based on the amounts set forth above.
    • Calculate the costs for travel and transportation. The cost of travel and transportation will be dramatically impacted by whether you can take public transportation, walk, drive or bike to school. As a guide, Harvard Law School recommends budgeting $1,500 a year for travel costs and UNC Law School recommends $1,442 a year.[6]
    • Calculate the cost of all other financial obligations. When considering this budget item, calculate the cost of cell phone bills, credit card payments, clothing allowances, food allowances and any other costs that you are responsible to pay.
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    Calculate your sources of income. In creating your budget you must also include any sources of income that you may have while a law student including, money from family members, savings, income from a part-time and/or summer job, and student loans
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    Establish a budget based on your costs and sources of income. Once you have calculated your financial obligations and subtracted that from your sources of income, you will have a good idea of how much additional resources you will need in order to pay for law school, if any.
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    Save money before attending law school. By planning for law school as soon as possible, you give yourself the largest period of time to save money for law school. In order to save money for law school consider the following:
    • Get a part-time job. If you are a college student who plans to attend law school right after graduation, you should consider getting a part-time job just to save for law school. This may not be feasible for all students, especially for those already working, but if you can work, you should work to offset your law school costs. If you are already employed full-time, determine whether your schedule permits an additional weekend job.
    • Lower your living costs. Once you have made the decision to apply to law school, you should consider tightening your budget and reducing your overall expenditures. Place any money that you save in a separate account specifically for law school.

Part 2
Lowering Law School Costs

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    Choose schools with loan repayment or forgiveness programs. If you know that you are interested in working in the public interest sector (i.e. government or not-for-profit organizations), you should consider law schools that offer loan forgiveness programs. Over 100 law schools over loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that provide repayment assistance or full repayment of law school debt for public interest law attorneys. While you would have to take student loans out to pay for school, once you secured a public interest position, your school would make your loan repayments for you.[7] Here is a list of schools that offer LRAP:
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    Choose law schools with merit-based financial aid. Merit-based financial aid awards are usually awarded based on the strength of the applicant’s profile including grades, law school essays and other application questions. These financial awards can be used to reduce the overall cost of your tuition.
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    Apply for scholarships. In addition to any financial aid package offered by a law school, you should also consider applying to outside scholarships. First, you should conduct an internet search for “law school scholarships,” and review any relevant scholarships. You should also explore the following scholarship opportunities:
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    Attend a local law school. Another way to make law school more affordable is to choose a law school near a family member’s home. By staying “rent free” at a family member’s home, you can significantly reduce the overall cost of law school.

Part 3
Financing Law School

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    Borrow federal loans. If you need to take out loans to pay for law school, you should take federal loans first. A law student can borrow up to $20,500 per academic year in Federal Stafford Loans. These loans offer students in-school deferment and forbearance options.
    • With subsidized student loans, the federal government pays the interest while you're in school so long as you are registered at least half-time. These loans are not based on financial need and a law school determines the total amount of loans required to pay for its tuition and costs.
    • With unsubsidized federal student loans, the borrower is responsible for paying the interest while in school. If you choose not to pay your interest while in school, the interest will continue to accrue and then “capitalize.” Capitalization means that accrued interest will be added to the principal/amount that you originally borrowed. If possible, you want to pay the interest before it capitalizes.[9]
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    Borrow private law school loans. There are a number of private companies that also lend money to law students. Often, these companies do not offer the same protections offered by federal student loans and may not allow you to “lock in” a low interest rate. If you need to borrow private law school loans, it is recommended that you take out the least amount possible.[10]
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    Borrow money from family. If you're trying to avoid paying interest, you may be able to work out a personal loan with a family member who has the money to finance your education. Over the course of the loan, this may save you a significant amount of money.
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    Get a part-time job during the school year. A part-time job won't cover all of the costs associated with law school, but it can help you pay for the amount not covered by financial aid or reduce the amount of money you take in loans. You should be cautious about how much time you work during law school. Having a job while in school may negatively impact your academic performance and ultimately affect your ability to secure a good job.[11]
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    Use your summer legal job to defray costs. If you are interested in working for a large law firm and you have very good grades, you may be able to secure a summer associate position during the summer after your second year of law school. In 2013, summer associates at top-paying law firms earned $3,156.39 in take-home pay a week. This money could nearly pay for an entire year of tuition.[12]


  • Undergraduates who know that they want to attend law school should set aside a certain amount each month to help offset the initial costs of law school. With four years of saving, a law student can put a nice dent in the overall tuition costs and not have to take out a large loan with interest.
  • When borrowing money for law school it is best to take the minimum amount that you need. This will provide a significant savings when you have to repay your loans.

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Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College