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Paying for Law School: Everything You Need to Know

Pursuing a career as a lawyer can set you up for a rewarding future in the legal field, but the path to passing the bar requires a significant investment of time and finances. Paying for law school might seem like a big hurdle, but you can still achieve your dream with preparation and research. Understanding the cost of your education and finding the financial aid that works best for you is crucial to your success. Continue reading for some tips and cost breakdowns to get you on your way to paying for law school. 

Calculating the Cost of Law School: What Your First Year May Look Like

If you’re ready to become a lawyer, understanding how you plan to pay for law school should be your first step. Remember, law school expenses extend beyond tuition; costs like textbooks, living expenses, and bar exam preparation can add up. 

The first step in your financial planning should be to calculate the total cost of your law school education. Tuition can vary widely depending on whether you attend a public or private institution or are an in-state or out-of-state student. Be sure to include other expenses like books, supplies, and living costs such as rent, utilities, and food.

Sample Budget for the First Year of Law School

Here’s a sample budget for what the first year of law school might look like, broken down by category:

Yearly Tuition and Fees

  • Public School Tuition (in-state): $13,000 – $40,000
  • Private School Tuition: $45,000 – $69,000
  • Student Fees (library, gym): $1,000 – $2,000

Books and Supplies

  • Textbooks: $1,000 – $1,500
  • Notebooks, pens, and other supplies: $100 – $200

Living Expenses

  • Rent: $800 – $1,200 per month ($9,600 – $14,400 per year)
  • Utilities (electricity, water, internet): $150 – $250 per month ($1,800 – $3,000 per year)
  • Food: $300 – $500 per month ($3,600 – $6,000 per year)

Transportation

  • Public Transit: $70 – $120 per month ($840 – $1,440 per year)
  • Car (if applicable): $200 – $400 per month ($2,400 – $4,800 per year)

Health Insurance

  • Student Health Plan: $1,500 – $3,000 per year

Miscellaneous

  • Personal Expenses (clothing, entertainment): $100 – $200 per month ($1,200 – $2,400 per year)
  • Emergency Fund: $500 – $1,000

Total Estimated Cost for the First Year

Public School (In-state): $45,000 – $68,000

Private School: $65,040 – $90,000

These figures are just estimated ranges, and the actual costs for your specific program can vary based on your location, personal spending habits, and other factors. 

How to Pay for Law School: 4 Tips

After budgeting for school and living expenses, it’s time to get hands-on with the best tips to pay for law school.

Utilize Financial Aid Resources

Using all the financial aid resources available is crucial to determining how to afford law school. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine your federal grants and loan eligibility. 

After assessing your FAFSA eligibility, make an appointment with your law school’s financial aid office. They can usually provide students with personalized guidance and may know of school-specific scholarships or grants you can apply for. Other sources of financial aid, such as private loans or employer tuition reimbursement programs, may also be available if you’re currently working and meet other eligibility criteria.

Note: Stay up-to-date on the latest FAFSA deadlines here.

Research Grants and Scholarships

Scholarships and grants are invaluable resources that you don’t have to pay back. Scholarships are often merit-based, while grants are usually need-based. Your first stop for both should be your law school’s financial aid office, which can provide information on institution-specific opportunities. 

Legal organizations like the American Bar Association (ABA) and local bar associations also offer valuable scholarships to law students. Don’t overlook your school’s alumni network; many alumni groups fund scholarships for incoming students.

In addition to federal grants, state governments offer grants, especially for residents attending in-state law schools. Law schools also offer need-based grants, so consult your financial aid office for details on your eligibility. 

Lastly, it’s a good idea to check with private organizations and foundations, such as the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and your local, regional, or state bar association to see whether you qualify for grants based on either need or merit.

Using Student Loans to Pay for Law School

Utilizing student loans is a great option to pay for law school if you notice a gap in your financing. When considering using student loans, it’s crucial to understand the terms and conditions of your loan and select a repayment plan that fits your budget and financial plans to maximize your financial wellness. Here are some tips for navigating the process:

  • Research graduate school loans: Before embarking on your law school journey, understand the impact of attending law school on your financial future and carefully review the terms and conditions of potential loans. Graduate school loans are a great option for many. 
  • Explore all options: There are two main student loan options: federal and private law school loans. Federal loans often have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options, but they may not cover all your educational expenses. Private law school loans can help fill the financial gap left by federal loans but may come with higher interest rates and less flexible terms.
  • Plan early: After securing loans, plan your repayment strategy. Private loans offer grace periods and deferment options so you can focus on school and start paying off your loan after graduation, but it is still helpful to start budgeting for this as soon as possible. At Ascent, students can get up to a 1% discount when they sign up for automatic payments. Plus, when you enroll in auto payments, you never have to worry about missing a payment and what that may do to how much you owe. 
  • Be proactive: To minimize interest payments over the life of the loan, consider paying more than the minimum if your loan provider and budget allow it. Proactively planning your loan repayment can alleviate future stress and result in long-term cost savings.

Learn More with Ascent

From paying for college guides to undergraduate loans, Ascent is here to provide the tools and resources to make informed decisions about your education. Whether you’re an undergraduate considering law school or already knee-deep in law study, explore our financial wellness resources for more tips on achieving your goals.

FAQs

Will FAFSA pay for law school?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the gateway to federal financial aid, including loans and grants for law school. While FAFSA itself doesn’t pay for law school, it enables you to apply for federal financial aid that can help cover tuition and other expenses. 

It’s important to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible to maximize your eligibility for federal aid. Law students often qualify for Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans, which can substantially amountsto cover your school costs. Make sure to review the terms and conditions carefully to understand your repayment obligations.

How do I waive my LSAT fee?

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) fee can be expensive for some prospective law students. However, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) offers fee waivers for those who can demonstrate extreme financial need. The waiver covers the cost of two LSAT exams, the Credential Assembly Service fee, and a set number of law school reports.

To apply for an LSAT fee waiver, you must provide detailed financial information to LSAC for review. This often includes tax forms and other financial documents. Approval can take several weeks, so try to apply before your  LSAT test date to ensure you receive the waiver in time.

What is the maximum federal loan for law school?

The maximum amount you can borrow through federal student loans for law school varies depending on the type of loan and your circumstances. For Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, the maximum annual limit for graduate or professional students, including law students, is $20,500. 

However, you may also be eligible for a Graduate PLUS Loan, which can cover the remaining cost of attendance after other financial aid has been applied. There is no fixed maximum amount for Graduate PLUS Loans; instead, the limit is determined by your school’s calculated cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive. Remember that both types of loans come with different interest rates and repayment terms.

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