How to pay for law school

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Pursuing a degree in law is an exciting proposition, but not everyone can afford law school. After all, becoming a lawyer typically requires four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years of law school. Not only that, but Law School Transparency puts the average cost of law school in a public, in-state school as $28,186 annually in 2019, while the average private law school tuition is $49,312 annually.

If you’re worried about paying for law school, then it’s smart to think long and hard about your plans, including which law school loans you can take out. Keep reading to learn what you should consider, as well as potential tools you can use to pay for law school.

How to decide if law school is worth it

Before you head back to school, you should think about whether pursuing a law degree is really worth it. After all, there are significant costs in earning a bachelor’s degree and a law degree, but there is also opportunity cost involved as well.

One factor to keep in mind is how much you’ll be able to earn in your future career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, across all fields of work, lawyers earn an average annual wage of $145,300. However, some fields of law tend to pay more, including the following:

Industry Annual mean wage in 2019
Cable and other subscription programming $224,970
Motion picture and video industries $216,800
Highway, street and bridge construction $215,850
Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing $210,310
Engine, turbine and power transmission equipment manufacturing $207,880

While these numbers look great, some industries with lawyers pay significantly less. If you work for a state government, excluding schools and hospitals, for example, the annual mean wage is just $94,050.

You’ll also have to think about the extra time you’ll spend in school. You could enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree and begin earning money right away, but attending law school will easily delay your career by three years or more.

Before you can decide if law school is worth it, you have to take all of these factors (and plenty more) into account.

How much can you afford to pay for law school?

If you’re wondering how to afford law school, you’ll first need to figure out where you plan to go to school. Elite institutions charge significantly higher tuition and fees than your local state college likely will, and you can only plan out how to pay for law school if you have an estimate to shoot for.

Just keep in mind that it may be possible to work part time and pay for part of your law school education as you go. Also remember that there are specific student loans for law school, which you can use to cover the cost of tuition and fees while you learn.

How much can you afford to pay for law school also depends on the financial aid you can qualify for. Make sure to think over your current financial situation so you can decide how much you might be able to pay for law school in cash each year and how much you’ll need to cover with law school loans.

How to pay for law school

Paying for law school isn’t an easy feat, yet lawyers everywhere make it happen. Most of the time, they do so by paying for some of their schooling as they go and applying for as much financial aid as they can qualify for. From there, law school loans fill in the gaps.

Student loans

Law school loans can be used to pay for this advanced degree program, although the type of student loans for law school you should use can vary. Most experts suggest using all of the federal student loans you can to cover law school, since federal loans come with protections like deferment and forbearance, as well as access to income-driven repayment programs.

Aspiring lawyers may borrow up to $20,500 each academic year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS loans let you borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive.

However, you can also utilize private student loans to pay for law school. Some private law school loans let you borrow up to the cost of attendance for school, and private student loans can come with lower interest rates than federal loans.

Scholarships and grants

Also look for any scholarships and grants you can qualify for, which may be offered privately or through your school. Generally speaking, you’ll gauge your ability to qualify for grants and other aid by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This form helps schools and states help you determine if you qualify for aid and, if so, for how much.

From there, you should look for scholarships you may be eligible for, which could be offered by local bar associations, fraternities, sororities, religious and business organizations, social clubs and more.

Part-time work

Many law students also manage to work part time while they earn their advanced degrees. While you may not be able to work enough to cover the entire cost of school, any amount you earn can be used to cover law school tuition or to pay for living expenses while you finish your program.

Student loan forgiveness for lawyers

Finally, look into student loan forgiveness programs for lawyers, which are traditionally offered by the federal government, state governments and some law schools. For example, you can look into Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which can wipe away your remaining student debt if you work in an eligible public service position for 10 years and make 120 on-time payments on an income-driven repayment plan.

If you don’t want to work in public service, you can also repay your debt on an income-driven repayment plan that lets you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before forgiving your remaining balances.

Also explore other forgiveness options that may be available depending on the state you live in or the industry you ultimately work in. If you wind up finding employment in an underserved or high-need area, there’s a good chance that student loan forgiveness for lawyers could apply to your situation.

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Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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