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How to Pay for Law School

Finances
Written by Annika World
Updated: June 12, 2024
12 min read
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Pathward®.

Are you considering applying to law school? Congratulations on taking this exciting step towards your legal career! This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to navigate the financial aspects of paying for law school.

Whether you're already knee-deep in the application process or just beginning to consider the possibilities, we'll help empower you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and set you on the path to law school success. Drawing from our expertise as a prominent scholarship platform, we're well-versed in the intricacies of college costs and are eager to share our insights. Let's get started!

Here at Bold.org, we are committed to helping students find ways to afford college. Apply for our exclusive scholarships for law school today!

Understanding the Costs of Law School

Before we dive into the various financing options available, it's essential to have a clear understanding of the costs involved in pursuing a law degree. Law school costs typically fall into three main categories: tuition and fees, living expenses, and books and supplies.

living expenses and tuition and fees for law students

Tuition and Fees

Tuition and fees are undoubtedly the most substantial costs you will encounter during your law school journey. According to the Law School Admission Council, which conducted a study from 1985-2023 on law school tuition, the average tuition in 2023 for public law schools was around $30,554 per year for in-state residents and approximately $43,590 per year for out-of-state students. Private law schools, on the other hand, seemingly have significantly higher tuition rates, with $55,963 per year for the 2023 school year.

However, it's important to note that tuition costs can vary widely depending on the specific law school you attend. Some prestigious law schools have tuition rates well above the average, often exceeding $60,000 per year. On the other hand, there are also more affordable options available, especially for students who choose to attend public law schools within their state.

Tuition costs have been steadily rising over the years, outpacing inflation rates. This trend has put a significant financial burden on law students, leading to increased reliance on loans and other forms of financial aid. It's essential to consider these fluctuating expenses when planning a career as a legal professional.

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Living Expenses

The average annual cost of living for law students is estimated to be anywhere from $12,600 to $47,832, according to the Law School Admission Council, which analyzed the “school-set budget for ABA-approved [American Bar Association-approved] law schools” in the 2023-2024 school year. Living expenses can vary depending on the location of your school and the lifestyle you lead. Rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and other daily expenses can quickly add up.

If you choose to study in a major city with a high cost of living, such as New York or San Francisco, you can expect to pay significantly more for rent and other necessities compared to studying in a smaller town or rural area. Speak with other law school graduates or graduate students at the school you are attending or wish to attend to get a better idea of the cost of living. Many law schools also include estimates of the cost of living on-campus and off-campus on their website.

Law school is a demanding and time-consuming endeavor, leaving little room for part-time employment. As a result, many students rely on student loans to cover their living expenses, further adding to the overall cost of their legal education.

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Books and Supplies

Law school requires a multitude of textbooks, study materials, and supplies. According to the College Board, the average law student can expect to spend approximately $1,200 per year on books and supplies. Keep in mind that this figure may vary depending on your specific course requirements.

Law textbooks are notoriously expensive, with some individual books costing over $200. In addition to textbooks, law students often need access to online research databases, legal software, and other specialized materials. These additional expenses can quickly add up, further straining the financial resources of law students.

Some law schools offer resources to help students offset the cost of books and supplies. For example, some schools have book loan programs or provide access to online resources at no additional cost. However, these programs may not be available at all institutions, so it's essential to research and consider these factors when evaluating the overall cost of attending law school.

Financial Aid for Law School

Now that we have a clearer picture of the costs, let's explore the various financial aid options available to assist you in paying for law school. Pursuing a legal education can be a significant investment, but with the right financial aid, you can make your dreams of becoming a lawyer a reality.

Federal Student Aid

One of the most common forms of financial assistance for law students is federal financial aid. This aid includes grants, work-study programs, and, most notably, student loans. To determine your eligibility for federal student aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This comprehensive application gathers information about your financial situation, allowing the government to assess your need for assistance.

There are two main types of federal student loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are need-based, meaning the government pays the interest on the loan while you're in school. Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, accrue interest from the moment they are disbursed. It's important to carefully consider the terms and conditions of each student loan type before making a decision.

federal aid for law school

In addition to loans, federal student aid also offers grants, such as Pell Grants, which can help cover tuition. Unlike loans, grants do not need to be repaid, making them an attractive option for many law students. The amount of grant money you receive depends on your financial need, cost of attendance, and enrollment status. Your school's financial aid office will usually handle your federal assistance and loan disbursement after you fill out the FAFSA.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are another avenue worth exploring. Numerous organizations, both private and public, offer scholarships specifically tailored to law students. These scholarships may be based on academic achievement, minority status, financial need, or other specific criteria. It's crucial to conduct thorough research and apply for as many scholarships and grants as you are eligible for since this is free money.

To begin your scholarship search, sign up and check out these top law school scholarships!

Some law schools also have their own scholarship programs, which can provide significant financial support to pay for law school. These scholarships may be merit-based, meaning they are awarded to students with exceptional academic achievements, or need-based. Other scholarships may be geared towards students of diverse backgrounds or with specific experiences, such as a history of public service. Additionally, some scholarships may require you to maintain a certain GPA or participate in specific extracurricular activities. Check with your school's financial aid office to find out what law school scholarships are available.

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Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs provide students with the opportunity to work part-time while earning their law degree. These positions are typically located on campus and offer a variety of benefits, such as flexible scheduling and valuable professional experience. A work-study job can help you offset some of your living expenses and other expenses while also allowing you to gain practical skills relevant to your future legal career.

Law schools often have work-study opportunities specifically geared toward law school students. These programs may offer positions within the law library, administrative offices, or even research opportunities with professors. By participating in a work-study program, you not only earn money to help cover your expenses but also develop important connections within the legal field.

It's important to note that work-study positions are typically limited, and the application process can be competitive. Your work-study funds are generally also fixed and limited. Therefore, it's advisable to start exploring these opportunities early and submit your applications in a timely manner.

Taking Out Student Loans

If you find yourself still needing additional funds to cover your law school expenses, taking out student loans may be a viable option. It is common for law school graduates to complete their degrees with some form of student loan, which is paid off over time as they progress through their careers. If you already have undergraduate loans, you may be hesitant to take out law school loans or concerned about the impact on your credit report. Pursuing a legal education is a significant investment, and understanding the different types of loans available can help you make an informed decision.

There are two primary types of student loans available: federal loans and private loans. Each option has its own set of advantages and considerations that you should carefully evaluate before choosing the right path for your financial needs.

Federal Loans

Federal loans, such as Direct Stafford Loans and Direct PLUS Loans, are offered by the U.S. Department of Education. These loans are designed to provide financial assistance to students pursuing higher education. One of the significant advantages of federal student loans is that they often have lower interest rates compared to private loans. Additionally, federal loans offer more flexible repayment options, making it easier for borrowers to manage their debt.

Before making a decision, it's essential to understand the terms and conditions of federal loans. This includes familiarizing yourself with interest rates, repayment deadlines, and any potential loan forgiveness programs. Loan forgiveness programs offer partial or full forgiveness of your student loans according to the career path you follow. If you are interested in a career in the public sector or pursuing a degree in public interest law, this option is worth looking into. However, these programs are subject to change in the future, so take that into consideration when choosing to rely on a loan forgiveness program.

Private Loans

If federal student loans are not enough to cover your law school expenses, private student loans can be another option worth exploring. Most students graduate with some form of debt, which is then paid off as they embark upon their careers as legal professionals. Private loans are typically offered by banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. Unlike federal loans, a private student loan is not backed by the government. As a result, they may have higher interest rates and fewer repayment options.

When considering a private student loan, it's crucial to carefully evaluate the terms and perform thorough research. Compare interest rates, repayment plans, and any additional fees associated with the loan. Law school debt can be steep, so compare all your loan options carefully before choosing a federal or private student loan. Try to choose the lowest interest rate possible or a loan with a fixed interest rate since a lower interest rate ensures that you pay lower monthly payments over time.

loan repayment options

Loan Repayment Options

Once you've completed law school and are ready to enter the workforce, you'll need to consider how to manage repaying your student loans. For federal loans, the government offers various repayment options to help borrowers navigate the repayment process effectively.

One popular repayment option is income-driven repayment plans. These plans allow you to make affordable monthly payments towards your federal student loans based on your income and family size. By tailoring your repayment schedule to your financial situation, you can avoid undue financial stress and ensure a smooth transition into your legal career.

Alternative Financing Options

While federal and private loans are the most common financing options, there are alternative methods worth considering.

Employer Tuition Assistance

Some law firms and other employers offer tuition assistance programs as part of their employee benefits package. If you are already employed or plan to work while attending law school, speak with your employer about potential tuition assistance opportunities. This can significantly reduce your financial burden and ensure a smoother transition into the workforce after completing your law degree.

Crowdfunding and Personal Savings

Crowdfunding platforms have become increasingly popular in recent years as a means of raising funds for various purposes. Consider creating a crowdfunding campaign to share your law school aspirations with friends, family, and potential supporters. Through compelling storytelling and showcasing your passion for the legal field, you can inspire others to contribute to your educational journey.

Additionally, personal savings can provide a valuable contribution towards your school expenses. Start saving early to alleviate the pressure of relying solely on loans. Consider setting up a dedicated savings account specifically for school and explore ways to maximize your savings, such as budgeting, cutting unnecessary expenses, and exploring additional income streams.

Income Share Agreements

Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are an innovative financing option. With an ISA, an investor agrees to pay your tuition in exchange for a percentage of your future income for a predetermined period. ISAs offer a unique alternative to traditional loans, as your repayments are directly tied to your eventual income.

ISAs provide a flexible and potentially more manageable way to finance your law school education. The repayment structure is designed to align with your financial circumstances, ensuring that you are not burdened with excessive debt early in your career.

It’s important to note that with an ISA, your payments will go up as your salary increases. However, there is usually a limit on the repayment period and the total amount you need to repay. This limit represents the most you'll ever have to pay back. In many instances, though, this cap can be as high as twice (or more) the amount you originally borrowed. Unlike traditional student loans, an ISA carries uncertainty about the total cost of the loan. Often, an ISA might end up being more expensive in the long term compared to federal or private student loans.

We recommend you thoughtfully consider your options and speak with a financial advisor to best address your unique situation.

As you embark on your journey to law school, keep in mind that managing your finances effectively is crucial. Seek out financial aid, explore loan options carefully, and consider alternative financing methods. With the right approach and a solid financial plan, you can confidently pursue your dreams of becoming a lawyer without overwhelming debt. Good luck!

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paying for law school

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Pay for Law School

How do you pay for law school without loans?

Law school tuition can be steep, but scholarships and grants can lower the cost of attending these schools. Plus, these awards are free money! Using Bold.org, you can hone your scholarship research to those most relevant to your goals and background by searching for scholarships by major or searching by state, age, and demographic information.

To begin your scholarship search, sign up and check out these top law school scholarships!

How to get into law school?

Getting into law school may seem like a daunting task. However, the steps required to get into the school of your dreams can be broken down into a much more manageable list of tasks. Check out our handy guide to getting into law school for more details.

What are the best law schools?

Choosing the best school of law depends on your professional aspirations, core values, and legal interests. For example, if you are interested in entertainment law, you may prefer to attend law school in an urban hub for the entertainment business, like New York or Los Angeles, where you will have significantly more networking opportunities in the businesses of film, TV, theater, and music. But, if you are interested in politics, you may prefer to study law in a political center like Washington, D.C. Check out our guide to the best law schools in the US for more.

At Bold.org, we are committed to helping students reduce their student debt. Check out our Scholarship Blog for more information and learn how to apply for scholarships today!

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Annika World

About Annika

Annika is a talented and versatile writer and researcher. She has extensive expertise in researching and applying for scholarships and grants, as well as the process of navigating financial aid. 

As a senior at NYU, Annika is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree at the intersection of film, psychology, philosophy, writing, and visual arts, with a minor in film production. During her time at NYU, she completed a number of interdisciplinary research projects and is currently working on her thesis film.

Experience

Through Annika’s coursework, she has engaged in a number of writing workshops and intensive seminars, honing her writing craft under the guidance of acclaimed authors and poets. Within the entertainment industry, she has fulfilled a range of diverse roles, working in film and TV development, production and distribution, sustainability consulting, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She also has experience working in educational services, tutoring, and libraries.

Since joining the Bold.org team in 2023 as a Content Writer, Annika has utilized her extensive background as a scholarship recipient to guide others through the complexities of financial aid, scholarships, and grants. Her expertise also extends to securing internships in the creative arts and entertainment fields.

Motivated by a desire to make a meaningful impact, Annika's work at Bold.org is driven by her passion for assisting fellow students and combatting the student debt crisis. Through her compelling writing and advocacy for educational and financial empowerment, Annika is dedicated to uncovering funding opportunities and providing students with the resources they need.

Annika is no longer with the Bold.org Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

Quote from Annika

“Knowledge is power.”

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