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The best value law schools have four things in common: high bar passage rates, hefty financial aid packages, lower-than-average borrowing rates and quality education that allows alumni to secure high-paying jobs. Here’s what to know about each one.
Top 9 best value law schools 2022
Penn State Dickinson Law: Best value public law school
- Average bar exam pass rate: 81.16 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: None.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $54,503.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.29.
Penn State Law is the most affordable public law school in our list. According to data by Law School Transparency, none of its students paid full tuition in 2019-20 and its graduates took on less debt than any other graduates from public schools. The school features state-of-the-art facilities, a vibrant community and a privileged location just a short drive away from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Students can choose from three in-house clinics: a community law clinic, a children’s advocacy clinic and a medical-legal partnership clinic, as well as externships. The latter allows students to work with federal and state court judges, or at public interest or nonprofit organizations, among others, so students can graduate with relevant legal experience under their belt.
Washington and Lee University School of Law: Best value private law school
- Average bar exam pass rate: 86.72 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 4.2 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $98,982.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.47.
Located in the historic town of Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee is one of the smallest law schools in the country. Still, the university has one of the most successful alumni in our list, with roughly 91 percent of the class of 2021 managing to secure long-term jobs in the legal field. The school has six clinics to choose from, including a civil rights and racial justice clinic and an immigrant rights clinic. Students can also participate in off-campus externships, where they get to gain experience working with state and federal judges, city, and county attorney’s offices, U.S. attorney’s offices and more. We selected Washington and Lee as the best value private law school due to its varied academic offering and affordability, in addition to its impressive alumni outcomes.
University of Alabama School of Law: Best for public interest law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 89.29 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 14 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $64,271.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.
The University of Alabama School of Law is located in the charming city of Tuscaloosa, near historic sites, antebellum homes, restaurants and more. The school has an ample curriculum, which includes a variety of dual programs, such as a J.D./M.S. in civil engineering and a J.D./M.S.W. in social work. However, the school’s most notable feature is its various public interest law clinics in areas like civil law, domestic violence law and criminal defense law. Additionally, the children’s rights clinic works with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program to provide free legal counsel to disabled children in West Alabama. In 2020, the University of Alabama School of Law was ranked as the 10th institution with the highest number of alumni working in federal clerkships by the American Bar Association.
University of Houston Law Center: Best for environmental law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 85.78 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 14.4 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $91,014.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.1.
The University of Houston Law Center is one of the most diverse schools in our list, with almost half of its students being first-generation law students, college students or Americans. The Law Center is home to a few prestigious programs, but when it comes to environmental law, the school has plenty to offer. It has an Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Center, where students learn to handle legal and policy issues surrounding energy production, transportation and use. The campus is located in the city of Houston — which has been dubbed the Energy Capital of the World. This, combined with its comprehensive environmental law curriculum, makes the school an excellent choice for aspiring environmental lawyers to learn their craft.
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law: Best for legislative law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 93.71 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 6.4 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $89,946.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.51.
Ohio State University may be the second-largest university in the United States, but its Moritz College of Law is actually a close-knit community, with under 600 students. The school is located in OSU’s Drinko Hall, which also happens to be the home of Ohio’s largest law library. Moritz has eight clinics to choose from, one of them being its legislation clinic. This clinic offers students the opportunity to work directly with legislative leaders of the Ohio General Assembly, assisting them with research, analysis and the monitoring of the lawmaking process. Moritz’s more than 11,000 alumni include justices of the Supreme Court of Ohio, U.S. senators and representatives, in addition to governors and other pillars of the legislative community.
Wake Forest School of Law: Best for business law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 94.27 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 5.6 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $99,277.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.66.
Wake Forest School of Law offers students a combination of learning opportunities through six clinics, three journals and nine pro bono projects. The school is our top pick for business law for a couple of reasons. First, it has a comprehensive business law curriculum that teaches students the transactional aspects of nonprofit organizations, small businesses, start-ups, and more. Wake Forest is also home to a North Carolina Business Court. That means students get a front-row seat to corporate hearings and commercial law disputes. Additionally, the school is located in the city of Winston-Salem in North Carolina, a place well-known for its diverse business environment in areas like financial services and technology, which gives students plenty of opportunities to practice business law first-hand.
University of Cincinnati College of Law: Best for criminal law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 85.59 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: None.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $66,163.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.12.
If you have a thirst for justice and litigation, the University of Cincinnati College of Law is a great place to follow your call to action. The school criminal law program offers a comprehensive curriculum, which includes computer crime law, civil rights litigation and trial practice. Additionally, UC College of Law is home to the Ohio Innocence Project. Each year, the Project selects 20 fellow students to work closely with their team of advocates, whose mission is to free innocent people who’ve been wrongfully convicted by the Ohio prison system. The school offers students volunteering opportunities in the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, where they can put their skills and knowledge to the test.
William & Mary Law School: Best for appellate law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 93.82 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 0.3 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $91,816.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.5.
Founded in 1779 at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, William & Mary was the first law school of our nation. The school is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, a town surrounded by history, as well as natural beauty. It has 11 research centers and a total of eight clinics, one of them being its Appellate and Supreme Court clinic. This particular clinic focuses on the study of criminal litigation, as well as on the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments. As part of the clinic, students get to practice appellation at Virginia’s Court of Appeals, in addition to working closely with Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General. The best part about this program is that students get to polish their briefing and oral skills and get to work on real-life cases, changing lives and gaining meaningful legal experience that can further their careers.
University of Minnesota Law School: Best for labor and employment law
- Average bar exam pass rate: 95.67 percent.
- Students who paid full tuition: 9.4 percent.
- Average graduate loan disbursement: $95,274.
- Median alumni debt-to-income ratio: 1.66.
The University of Minnesota Law School has it all: a great location in the Twin Cities, the nation’s largest clinical education program, 11 concentrations for students to choose from and plenty of employment opportunities for graduates. The school’s labor and employment law concentration allows students to learn all about the American Disabilities Act in the workplace, employment discrimination, alternative dispute resolution and more. Students can also participate in the Employment Law Clinic, where they get to counsel small business owners on employment issues or represent low-wage workers in compensation claims. For those who want to stay in the city after graduation, there’s plenty of opportunities to do that. The school not only offers a variety of externships within the city, but prospective employers frequently visit Minnesota Law looking for candidates.
How to pay for law school
According to data by Law School Transparency, in 2019, resident students at public law schools paid an average of $28,186 a year in tuition and fees, while non-resident students paid an average of $41,628. Students at private schools paid even more, with an average of $49,312. Needless to say, paying for law school can be a tall order. Still, there are a few options you can explore to make the costs more manageable, including:
- Scholarships or grants: Both scholarships and grants are a form of gift aid, meaning that you don’t have to pay them back. Because of this, they should be your first option to help you pay for school. You can find many scholarships and grants for law students on the Law School Admission Council website or by using a scholarship search engine.
- Fellowship or assistantship programs: Most law schools offer outstanding students fellowship or assistantship opportunities. This allows students to work a certain number of hours in exchange for monetary compensation, or other benefits, like reduced tuition. However, these are highly competitive, and require a big time commitment, which is something to keep in mind.
- Federal student loans: Law students are eligible for Grad PLUS loans, which have a fixed interest rate of 7.54 percent for the 2022-23 academic year. Unlike Direct Loans, Grad PLUS loans require students to pass a credit check, but if you’re approved, you can borrow an amount equal to your full cost of attendance. If you need to borrow money for school, federal student loans should always be your first choice, as you’ll have access to benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs, which aren’t available for private student loans.
- Private student loans: Private student loans can have fixed or variable interest rates ranging from 3 percent up to 14 percent. Although the rates can be lower than federal student loans, you’ll need to have excellent credit or a creditworthy cosigner to secure these. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a hefty interest rate.
To find the best value law schools of 2022, Bankrate evaluated over 190 law schools in four key areas: alumni debt-to-income ratio, bar pass rates, percentage of students who paid full tuition and student debt.
We did this using data from Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization that does consumer advocacy and education research about the legal profession in the U.S., as well as data from the American Bar Association.
Alumni debt-to-income ratio
Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) compares the total outstanding debt of graduates compared to their median earnings. This measure is important as it reflects the students’ true return on investment on their law degree.
Using data from Law School Transparency, we eliminated schools whose graduates had a DTI of 1.85 or higher, as this was the average we got from all 197 law schools. It’s worth noting that although the ideal DTI would be 1 percent or lower, DTIs that are slightly higher than that are also acceptable, as law school graduates tend to have higher salaries than most graduate students.
Bar pass rates
Bar pass rates are directly linked to good alumni outcomes. According to Law School Transparency, roughly 74% of the class of 2021 is employed in full-time, long-term jobs that required them to pass the bar exam. That’s why, using data from the American Bar Association, we eliminated schools whose graduates had an average passage rate below 79.86 percent, which is the average pass rate of the class of 2021.
Percentage of students who paid full tuition
In a recent survey by the American Bar Association, roughly 90 percent of respondents said they had to borrow money to pay for their J.D. degree and owed over $100,000, on average. That’s why we prioritized schools where most students don’t pay full sticker price, eliminating those where less than 86 percent of students receive some form of financial aid.
Additionally, we selected schools located in cities where the average cost of living is less than $21,500 a year, to maximize students’ savings.
How much you borrow to pay for school can have long-lasting effects on your future finances and hinder you from achieving important milestones like buying a house or starting a family. For that reason, we favored schools where less than 72 percent of students have to borrow money to pay for school, as well as those where students borrow less than six figures.