Law school is an important investment in your future. Consider the financial aid process as seriously as you do the law school application process.
Think about your post-law school goals. Salaries for lawyers vary widely, depending on the type of practice and region. Law school debt will claim a significant portion of your income as a lawyer.
To keep debt to a minimum, consider state-supported law schools, or schools that offer merit-based aid. If you are considering a career in government or public interest law, investigate loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that help law school graduates repay their education debt.
Sources of Funds
Personal Savings/Family Support
- If possible, set aside your own funds to help pay for law school. Talk with family members about whether they can help with law school expenses. Some students choose to live at home during law school to avoid paying rent.
- Many students rely primarily on federal loan programs to finance law school. Total federal aid is available to cover (but not exceed) the law school’s student expense budget, which includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses. Because you are applying for graduate study, you are considered independent of your parents for these loans.
- Law schools participate in the Direct Loan Program, through which the U.S. Department of Education is the lender.
- The following federal loans are available to law students:
- (Unsubsidized) Federal Stafford. A student may borrow up to $20,500, which begins accruing interest at the time of disbursement. There is a 6-month grace period before repayment begins.
- Graduate PLUS Loans for Law Students. Law students with an absence of bad credit may be eligible for these loans. Many law students are choosing Graduate PLUS instead of private loans to cover their remaining financial need beyond the $20,500 available through Stafford loans. Students can borrow up to the school’s cost of attendance, minus all other financial aid.
- Credit is an important factor in securing private loans. Interest rates, fees, and terms of repayment vary significantly.
- Before you apply to law school, spend money wisely and pay your bills on time to ensure a good credit record. Bad credit will affect your ability to borrow money. If possible, pay off credit cards and other consumer debt before law school.
- Beware of direct marketing from private lenders. It is possible to finance your legal education entirely through Federal Stafford and Direct Loans along with Graduate PLUS Loans, which are regulated by the federal government and typically have more borrower protections.
Grants and Scholarships
- Grants and scholarships are offered by law schools based upon criteria set by the school, which can include academic merit, financial need, ethnicity, specific talents, residency or other qualifications. Check with each law school early in the application process for more information.
- Law schools may offer merit scholarships to highly qualified applicants with an offer of admission. When law schools consider your financial need, they may require family income information even if you are considered independent for tax purposes, or for federal education loans.
- Some states provide limited grants for law school; there are no federal grants for law students. Certain national foundations and organizations offer grants and scholarships for law school through a competitive application process.
- The American Bar Association sets limits on the number of hours a first-year law student can work per week. After first year, many law students obtain summer employment and part-time employment during the school year. This can help reduce the amount of money borrowed.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
Check your credit.
- If you will be using Federal Grad PLUS or private loans for law school, order a free copy of your credit report and verify the information. These loans may not be available if your credit history does not meet minimum standards.
Apply early for financial aid.
- Check each law school’s website to learn financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money.
Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.
- Completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA also is used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid. Because the FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, it cannot be completed before October 1.
- Some schools have separate applications for financial aid, while others use the law school application or the FAFSA. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own funds.
- If you have special circumstances, provide this information to the law school financial aid office. This can be critical for law students who have been working full-time in the prior year or who have unusual medical or family expenses.
- Do NOT wait to complete the FAFSA until after you are admitted to a law school. You can list up to six law schools where you want reports sent, and update this list with additional schools.
Making the Decision
Once you have provided all required information, law schools can offer you a financial aid package. To determine your financial need, schools take the estimated contribution calculated by the federal government on your FAFSA and subtract it from the school’s student expense budget.
In deciding which law school to attend, it is important to balance your financial considerations with other criteria, such as reputation, location, size, faculty, programs and placement success. Compare the net of your projected costs at each school you are considering, offset by any offers of grants or scholarships from the school, to determine the amount you will need to make up through loans or personal funds.
Applying for Loans
Once you have chosen a law school, expect to receive important additional financial information from the school. Even though you have already completed the FAFSA and law school financial aid forms, you must still apply for the loans.
Your law school financial aid office will help you identify the correct process for securing federal loans, and, private loans if needed. Do your homework to compare fees and repayment terms for all of your loans, using loan calculators available on financial aid websites (see below). Keep good records of all loan transactions. Borrow only what you need, and not more, to keep your debt low and your monthly repayment amount manageable.