No matter where you live and where you plan to study, the average cost of law school is high. Many top institutions charge a sticker price of over $70,000 per year for tuition and fees only, not including housing, books, supplies and transportation. Over three years, the cost of law school can stretch well into six figures.

Before pursuing a law degree, it’s important to understand how much you might be paying overall and how you can fund your education.

What is the average cost of law school?

The most recent data from Law School Transparency shows that in 2019, the average cost of tuition at a private law school was $49,312 per year. Out-of-state students at public law schools paid an average of $41,628, while in-state students were charged an average of $28,186 per academic year. Law School Transparancy also shows how tuition has increased annually for a long time.

Given that law school takes an average of three years to complete, it’s no secret that the average law student has a hefty amount of student debt upon graduation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to attend private school to earn a law degree, and plenty of schools charge students considerably less. However, just like with undergraduate institutions, you can expect to pay considerably more if you decide to earn your degree from a top law school.

The chart below lists tuition costs for some of the top law schools in the country. Remember that these totals exclude additional costs, such as fees, books and supplies, housing, meals and health insurance.

Law School Estimated Tuition (2023-24 Academic Year)
Columbia Law School $78,278
Cornell Law School $74,183
Duke Law $72,632
Emory Law $64,504
Fordham University $69,166
Georgetown Law $71,996
New York Law School $60,866
Stanford Law School $68,997
University of Notre Dame $65,936
Vanderbilt Law School $68,816

How to calculate the total cost of law school

Tuition is the largest expense you will likely incur while attending law school. Most students attend law school for three years, and the overall average tuition cost is about $220,000. But tuition won’t be the only thing that you will have to worry about.

In addition to tuition, you will have to consider the cost of housing. This will vary considerably depending on where you live and what your living arrangement is, but can typically range from $10,000-$25,000 per year.

You will also have to account for transportation. This can vary depending on whether you need a car or if public transportation is available. Additional costs include school materials, books, membership dues, and entertainment. In general, the average cost of living expenses for law school students comes to about $25,000 per year.

How can you pay for law school?

Don’t let the cost of law school give you sticker-shock and stop you from achieving your goals. There are plenty of ways to finance your law degree, from scholarships and grants to need-based financial aid.

Scholarships and grants

There are specific scholarships and grants geared toward law students that can drastically reduce the total cost of attendance. Plus, many law schools offer their own school-based grants and scholarships.

Generally speaking, scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid. Therefore, law school students should strive to apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible. Students can search for specific awards with a scholarship search engine or look for offerings from local bar associations, fraternities, sororities, social clubs, religious and business organizations and more. You may also qualify for scholarships and grants based on military service.

Student loans

After applying for scholarships and other free aid, law students typically take out law school loans, including federal student loans, private student loans or both. Federal student loans come with fixed interest rates that aren’t based on creditworthiness, many hardship programs and alternative repayment plans. Private student loans can come with fixed or variable interest rates, though rates are tied to your credit score.

Federal relief programs

Many loan forgiveness and repayment programs are available to law school graduates. For example, you may be able to repay your student loan debt on an income-driven repayment plan that lets you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving the remaining student loan balances. If you plan to work for a nonprofit or in a government job, you could also explore requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which lets applicants with eligible loans have their remaining balances forgiven after they make 120 on-time payments on an income-driven repayment plan.

Is the cost of law school worth it?

If you’re considering an advanced degree, the average cost of law school should be on your mind. However, a law degree’s return on investment (ROI) could very well make the hefty price tag worth it. On average, lawyers in the U.S. make more than $160,000 annually.

If you’re on the fence due to the costs, compare school costs and consider attending a public in-state school or an accredited online institution to cut down the cost of attendance. A law degree is a prestigious honor and takes years of hard work and dedication. Regardless of costs or future salary, you may decide pursuing your goals and dreams is worth it. With some careful preparation, maximizing financial aid and scholarships can increase the ROI of a law degree.

The bottom line

Law school can be a costly endeavor, driven primarily by the cost of tuition. But the potential return on investment of a law school education is high, with lawyers making $160,000 a year on average. Consider the full cost of law school, including housing and other expenses, when deciding whether attending law school is a worthwhile investment for your future.