Financing Law School
Financial Aid: An Overview
Legal education is an investment in your future and is a serious financial investment as well. As with any investment, it is important to consider the pros and cons of entering into such a large expenditure of effort, time, and money. Particularly in uncertain financial times, a realistic assessment of why you are seeking a legal education and how you will pay for it is critical.
The single best source of information about financing a legal education is the financial aid office (or the website) of any LSAC-member law school. LSAC.org provides links to many law schools, as well as several good sources of financial aid information.
The cost of a law school education could exceed $150,000. Tuition alone can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000 a year. When calculating the total cost of attending law school, you also have to include the cost of housing, food, books, transportation, and personal expenses. Law schools will establish a “Cost of Attendance” that includes both the fixed costs of tuition and fees and allowances for your living expenses. It represents the maximum financial aid you may receive from any source.
Today, a large majority of law school students rely on education loans as their primary, but not exclusive, source of financial aid for law school. These loans must be paid back with your future income, and the more you borrow, the longer the debt will have an impact on your life after graduation.
Federal student loans offer the most flexible repayment options and provide more opportunities for payment relief than loans funded by private or institutional sources. Although private and institutional sources of loan funding may be available, these sources typically are used primarily by students who are not eligible for federal student loans. The amount and type(s) of loan funding you are eligible to borrow will be determined by financial aid staff at the school you attend based on cost of attendance at that school, federal regulations, and institutional policies. When borrowing student loans for law school, it is best to
- borrow the minimum amount possible to attend the law school you choose;
- borrow federal loans first; and
- avoid private student loans, unless you are an international student and therefore not eligible for federal student loans.
Scholarships, grants, and fellowships exist, but are limited. Some students are offered part-time employment through the Federal Work-Study Program in their second and third years of law school. First-year students are expected to concentrate fully on schoolwork with an ABA-mandated limitation on the number of hours full-time law students are permitted to work.
Changes in financial aid rules and regulations are ongoing, and law school policies vary. Therefore, it is your responsibility to stay current and to educate yourself about financial aid in much the same way that you research law schools when deciding where to apply.
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