Financial Aid Information
Law school is an important investment in your future and one that entails significant financial expense. There are several considerations one needs to take into account when considering the financial component of attending law school.
- What is the total cost of attending law school?
- What is the likelihood, given the market in which you will be employed (usually 3-4 years after entering law school), of getting a job in the legal field?
- What kind of debt to income ratio are you comfortable with?
- How long are you comfortable with you debt to income ratio?
- What sources of funding for the cost of attending law school are available to you?
It is important to recognize that going to law school is serious financial investment in your future. As a consequence, the more you know about the costs and benefits of going to law school, the better position you will be in for making an informed and smart decision.
Some sources of funding that can help reduce the cost of going to law school are the following:
Gift money is funds that have been given to you and do not need to be repaid. This includes grants and scholarships. There are no federal grants for law school as there are for undergraduate schools. Some states and certain schools do provide limited grant money.
Loans for law school can be Federal Stafford Loans, institutional loans, or private loans. Currently, the maximum annual Federal Stafford Loan amount (with combined subsidized and unsubsidized loans) is $18,500. This amount may cover the tuition and fess at some institutions. However, most law school tuition will require more than this amount, so you may need to borrow private loans.
During your first year of law school, there are restrictions from the American Bar Association on the number of hours you can work per week. Since your GPA in your first year is crucial for your success in attaining employment after law school, you should probably assume that you will not work this first year. Some students are awarded College Work-Study, which helps them obtain jobs at their school. After your first year of law school, you may obtain summer employment, as well as employment during the school year. This can help reduce the amount of money you will need to borrow.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
- Apply for law school as early as possible. Scholarship and financial aid, like admission, is awarded on a rolling basis. Read information from each school about financial aid and scholarship programs. Some schools have separate scholarship applications for some or all of their scholarships, while others utilize your law school application. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own financial aid funds; many law schools use merit-based criteria (e.g. GPA, LSAT, and other accomplishments) to award their institutional aid.
- Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. You cannot complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) prior to January 1. You will need your income information for the preceding year, and some schools request parent financial information for the state and school programs. Parental income will not impact your eligibility for federal loans. You can input an estimated income for yourself and/or your parents, if the federal tax return will not be completed until later in the spring.
- Know your deadlines. Some law schools have priority dates for submitting the information on your FAFSA. Students who submit their FAFSAs earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money. Information from your FAFSA may also determine your eligibility for certain need-based scholarships.
- Check your credit. If you will be borrowing private loans for law school, you need to order a copy of your credit report and verify that the information contained therein is correct. A private lender can deny your request for funds if you credit history does not meet their minimum standards. It may then be necessary for you to obtain a cosigner for your loans.
Some considerations to keep in mind
- Just because you get a certain amount of money, it does not mean you should take all of it. If you get x, but you only need y to pay for school, you need not take the excess amount offered. Don't go into more debt than is necessary for getting through school.
- Just because you get into a law school and are offered a full scholarship or partial scholarship, it doesn't follow that you should go to the school offering the scholarship. If school x offers you a partial scholarship, but has a poor placement record compared to school y which is not offering a scholarship, that information should be taken into consideration in making a decision. In addition, most scholarships require maintaining a high GPA in order to keep the scholarship. Since many law schools grade on a strict bell curve, it is not easy to maintain the required GPA.
- Just because you get into some law schools and are offered some funding, it does not follow that you should go to those law schools. Suppose you get into two law schools, which are not ranked highly and do not have a good job placement records. It may be the case that it is best for you not to go, but to reapply in a year or two, when competition is lower, and/or you have a better LSAT score or personal statement.
- In general, the decision to go to law school is based on financial factors that make it important for one to separate applying to law school from the actual process of going to law school.