When you realize that the average tab for law school tuition approaches $50,000 a year (more than double the average cost of other graduate schools) you may wonder — how will I ever be able to pay for law school?
Fortunately, there are numerous programs that can cover part, or even all, of your legal education, including scholarships, grants, and loans. Read on to learn more about how to pay for law school without going broke.
Average Cost of Law School
The cost of law school will vary depending on where you study. According to educationdata.org, the average total cost of law school is $220,335.
Tuition alone runs, on average, $146,484 (or $48,828 per year), while living expenses average $73,851(or $24,617 per year).
And the cost of law school keeps going up. In fact, law school tuition costs have risen by about $5,350 every five years since 2005. Based on that inflation rate, the average yearly cost of tuition for the 2024-2025 academic year is expected to be $51,624.
Private and Public Law School Tuition
Public law schools generally run about $21,130 a year less per year than private law schools. If you attend a traditional three-year law program, the gap between public and private schools increases to around $63,380.
Based on tuition alone, the most expensive law school is Columbia University at $78,278 a year, while the least expensive is University of Memphis at $12,208 a year.
However, when you include living expenses, the most expensive law school is Stanford University, ringing in at $46,233 a year, while the least costly school is Oklahoma City University, at $12,600 a year for tuition and living expenses.
💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.
How to Pay for Law School
1. Apply for Federal Aid, Grants, and Scholarships
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows you to find out whether you qualify for federal grants, work-study programs, federal student loans, as well as student aid from your state or school.
The FAFSA may be a familiar presence since your undergrad days, but now you may be considered an independent student. You may be eligible for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan (current rate: 7.05%), Direct PLUS Loan (current rate: 8.05%), or the federal work-study program.
Keep in mind that the aggregate federal student loan limit, which includes federal loans for undergraduate study, is $138,500 for graduate or professional students.
Law schools also typically offer some form of need-based financial aid based on information you provide on your FAFSA.
In addition to submitting the FAFSA, you may also want to seek out law school scholarships and grants from non-government sources. Grants and scholarships can be particularly helpful because they don’t require repayment. The Law School Admission Council’s website is a good resource for possible scholarship opportunities.
If you’re going into public interest law, you may also want to research the many programs that offer tuition assistance or law school loan forgiveness for working in eligible legal areas.
You can also check whether your school offers graduate student assistantships, which would cover some of your tuition in exchange for helping with research or teaching.
Recommended: Guide to Law School Scholarships
2. Consider a Part-Time Job or Temp Work
It can be challenging to make a side job jibe with your academic responsibilities, but if you can manage it, making some money while you’re still in school can be one of the best ways to reduce the debt you take on.
It might be a good idea to see if you can get a job that also boosts your résumé, such as working for a professor or as a paralegal.
Even if you can’t commit to a consistent job, you might consider temping during breaks, slow periods, and summers. A staffing agency may be able to quickly set you up with work that lasts just a few weeks or months. Short-term work can include customer service, data entry, or serving as an executive assistant.
If you have additional skills, such as a background in accounting or IT, you may be able to qualify for more specialized roles that demand higher pay. Some temp agencies even specialize in staffing for legal organizations.
3. Attend Law School Part Time
It’ll take longer to complete your degree, but working full time while you go to law school part time is another way to support yourself as you go.
Part-time programs usually allow you to earn your J.D. in four years rather than three. The downside is that you might miss out on opportunities such as clinics, summer clerkships, and student organizations.
4. Look Into Military Aid
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has many educational benefit programs. One of the most popular is the Post-9/11 GI Bill program (Chapter 33), which provides eligible veterans and members of the Reserves with funding for tuition, fees, books, and housing.
Law schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program provide additional funding to veterans, or their children, who are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs matches these schools’ contribution, which could potentially help you to attend law school at a significantly reduced price.
Recommended: What Are Student Loans for Military Dependents?
5. Think About Private Student Loans or Refinancing
After grants, scholarships, and federal student loans, you may want to consider a private student loan to fill any gaps. If you have good or excellent credit (or can recruit a cosigner who does), you may be able to get a lower rate than some federal graduate school loans.
If you have loans from your undergraduate education or your first year or two of law school, refinancing your student loans with a private lender may allow you to take advantage of a lower interest rate and, depending on the loan term you choose, could lower your monthly payment or put you on track to repay your loans faster.
Just keep in mind that private student loans don’t offer the same protections you get with federal loans, such as forbearance, income-based repayment plans, and loan forgiveness programs. However, some private refinance lenders provide flexible options while you’re in school or experiencing economic hardship.
💡 Quick Tip: It’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and federal student loans before committing to them.
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Paying for Bar Exam Expenses
Sitting for the bar exam, a two-day affair, requires preparation (and often a bar review course), exam registration fees, and possibly travel expenses.
You may want to hunt around for bar preparation scholarships to help cover these costs. If you’re working for a law firm, your employer will usually cover the cost of the prep course. And many firms will pay review course fees for prospective employees.
Still, if you find yourself short, you could take out a “bar loan” in your final semester of law school or up to a year after graduating. A bar loan is a type of private loan you can use to cover all the costs associated with taking the bar. While rates can be high, they are generally lower than what you would pay with a credit card.
Recommended: What to Do After You Graduate From Law School
While earning a law degree may lead to a lucrative career, figuring out how to pay for law school can be challenging. The good news is that there are numerous programs, including financial aid, work-study, scholarships, grants, and loans that can help you cover the cost of your legal degree.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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