May 14, 2020 By College Ave Student Loans

How to Pay for Law School

How to Pay for Law School

If you’re considering a career in law, then you know that going to law school can be expensive– over three years you can expect to pay over $84,000 for in-state schools to over $148,000 for a private institution. One of the first big tasks of any aspiring law professional is gaining familiarity with options to help you lower and cover the costs of law school.

The best ways to pay for law school will vary based on your budget. But the best way for you to pay for law school should fit your means and enable you to focus on your studies. We’ll take a closer look at the available options, including specific payment assistance programs for law school, where to find free money, understanding loan options, and other strategies you can use to pay for your law degree.

What to Do Before You Go to Law School

There’s a lot that goes into applying for law school and what you’ll need to supply during the application process will often vary by school. Aside from the application itself, you’ll often need to submit exam scores. One way to help lower law school costs before school is to apply for a fee waiver for the LSAT exam. The exam costs $190 (which includes one free LSAT score report) but there are other required fees such as a $195 subscription to the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) which is required for most law schools and $45 per each additional score report.

Many schools and organizations will consider your LSAT score in their decision to offer you financial assistance so think about investing in prep classes if you have the funds available. If you don’t have funds for a prep class, use free online resources, Khan Academy, or study with a group of friends and other aspiring lawyers. A high LSAT score not only improves your chances of getting into law school, but it could end up paying off in the form of a scholarship or grant.

Choose a Law School that Fits Your Budget

It’s perfectly fine to reach for your dream schools like Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, but ask yourself if the price of a well-known private law school is the right path for you to achieve your long-term career goals. If going to your dream school leaves you with too much debt, you may regret your decision.

Be cautious of deciding based on any scholarships you are offered. You may only get the awarded money for one year, which could leave you on the hook for more than you can afford. It’s okay to apply to an expensive school and hope to receive enough financial aid to pay for it, but don’t make it your only strategy.

There are many other universities you would be proud to get a law degree from that may not cost as much as others. And your law degree will still get you through the doors of many law firms or other businesses where you wish to practice. Make use of each school’s net price calculator, so you can understand all costs involved.

Learn more about the costs of going to law school.

How to Pay for Law School with Scholarships and Grants

The competition for law school scholarships and grants is intense. Prioritize looking for scholarships and grants an early part of your financial aid strategy. Here’s a roundup of law school scholarships and grants.

  1. Non-profits and private organizations. Some great organizations provide scholarships specifically to law students. BARBRI Law Preview has several scholarships including free admission to one of their law school prep courses. UpCounsel awards scholarships to aspiring and current lawyers who agree to help small businesses. The NAACP awards two “Earl Warren” scholarships every year worth up to $30,000 over 3 years. The Federal Communications Bar Association has scholarships for 2nd or 3rd-year law students. And, of course, check out the American Bar Association, which has a list of scholarships and grants specific to the study of law, as well as the Law School Admission Council, which also has a detailed list.
  2. Your school. Many law schools have their own scholarship programs. For example, Vanderbilt Law School offers more than 80% of its students scholarships and grants, and The Law School at the University of Chicago automatically enrolls admitted students for scholarships. Be sure to ask about grants and scholarships from the schools you are considering and fill out appropriate forms.
  3. Public service scholarships and fellowships. Some schools and organizations will award scholarships if you commit to working in the public sector once you graduate. The American Bar Association maintains a list of fellowships and offered by schools and other organizations. You can use Profellow.com to find even more fellowships. Ask about service-related scholarships at your potential school.
  4. Look locally. Some state associations, such as the Rhode Island Bar Association and Alabama Law foundation have scholarships for residents.
  5. Law firms. Many local law firms offer scholarships. Even if it’s only a $1,000 here and there, these can still help cover some costs associated with law school.
  6. Military. The Funded Legal Education Program selects 25 active duty army officers who study law for a full-ride scholarship. While not specific to law school, many law schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which waives school fees up to a point for military vets.
  7. Traditional scholarship search engines. You can also use traditional scholarship search engines to find free aid for law school. Start at Fastweb.com, CollegeBoard.org or Cappex.com, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s site, careeronestop.org, GoCollege.com, and Collegegrants.org can help you find need-based grants.

Learn more about finding scholarships for graduate students.

Federal Financial Aid for Law School

To get financial aid from the U.S. government, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as it becomes available in October each year. FAFSA qualifies you for federal scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans. The federal work-study program sends funds to your school in return for your part-time work. However, not all schools participate in the federal program and some may have their own work-study opportunities, so be sure to ask your law school’s financial aid advisor.

There are two main types of federal loans available to law school students.

  1. Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans (also called Stafford Loans) are federal fixed-interest student loans for undergraduate and graduate students you can apply for through FAFSA. Stafford loans offer a low fixed interest rate and you can borrow up to $20,500 per year.
  2. Federal Direct PLUS Loan (also called a Grad PLUS Loan) is exclusively for graduate students or parents. It tends to have a higher interest rate than Stafford Loans. It also requires a credit check (unlike Stafford Loans). You can apply through the FAFSA but some schools have their own application process, so be sure to ask. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance at your school minus any other financial aid you may have received.

Use our Student Loan Calculator to plug in the federal student loan interest rates to estimate what your federal student loans may cost.

How to Pay for Law School with Private Student Loans

Private student loans, which are issued by banks and other private lenders (like College Ave), can also be used to help cover the costs of law school. They come with fixed or variable interest rates and each lender has its own repayment terms. For example, College Ave’s private student loans for law school has flexible repayment options.

Typically, federal student loans have lower interest rates, but there are a few times when aspiring lawyers should consider taking out a private student loan.

  1. To close a funding gap. If you cannot pay for law school even after you’ve hunted down scholarships and grants, taken out federal student loans, and asked your family for help, a private student loan can make all the difference.
  2. Change in circumstances. Maybe a required course is getting in the way of a job you planned on holding and now you need more funding. Sometimes a private student loan can be a better way to cover these costs than a high-interest credit card.
  3. When you or a cosigner has great credit. Lenders determine your interest rate in part based on your credit score. If you or your cosigner has great credit, it could secure you a lower interest rate than some federal loans, PLUS loans specifically.
  4. Bar study private loan. Once your coursework is over, you still have to study for and pass the bar exam. A bar study private loan is designed to help you pay for your studies and living expenses during this time.

Learn more about private student loans for law school.

Consider Working Part-Time

Law school can be extremely demanding so carefully consider if you will have the time and energy to work a part-time job and what kind of part-time job is feasible for your schedule while in school. Until 2014 the American Bar Association prohibited law school students who had over 12 hours of classes per week to work full time. (Some law schools may still honor this restriction).

But working part-time while going to school (or going to school part-time so you can earn money), are viable strategies for paying for law school. Many law school students sign up to become LSAT tutors, work for online legal services companies, or work at a local law firm several days a week. You can always check your school’s job board for law-related teaching or research assistantships. Lawyerexchange.com is a gig-based job search engine for lawyers.

Learn about the differences between federal work-study and part-time jobs.

Paying Back Loans for Law School

If you took out student loans to pay for law school, it’s important to have a strategy in place to repay them. Here are a few options to help reduce the burden.

Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

If you are employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization, you might be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer in the public sector. Note that if you make 120 consecutive monthly payments it will take you 10 years before you qualify this program.

State Loan Forgiveness Programs

According to the American Bar Association, there are 23 statewide loan repayment assistant programs (LRAPs) providing assistance in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska (two programs), New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Kansas has an LRAP that operates in 50 of the state’s 105 counties. And Washington D.C. also has a loan repayment assistance program. Most require that participants work in public interest law.

Refinance Your Law School Loans

Refinancing can help you manage your loans by lowering your interest rate and simplifying the billing process. You might consider refinancing if you have multiple student loans, high-interest rates, or if you want to release a cosigner from the original loan. You’re a good candidate to refinance your law school student loans if you have a good credit score, strong credit history, and do not have a high debt-to-income ratio (how much you pay in debt each month vs. how much you make each month). Just be careful if refinancing federal student loans as you will lose some benefits such as the ability to make income-based repayment.

Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program

The ASLRP is an incentive program designed to recruit and retain top attorneys for hard-to-fill positions in the Justice Department. Any Department of Justice employee serving in or hired to serve in an attorney position may request consideration for the ASLRP. To be eligible, you must have at least $10,000 in student loans and commit to serving in the Justice Department for three years. The program pays up to $6,000 per calendar year directly to your loan servicer.

Here are six more ways to reduce your student loan costs.

To keep costs down, start early by getting the best score you can on the LSAT and finding scholarships and grants. Fill out the FAFSA and take advantage of financial aid the federal government offers, then investigate private student loans if you still need additional funding for law school. Finally, make sure you have a plan to pay back what you’ve borrowed.

If you think you need a private student loan to pay for law school, get an estimate and prequalify today.