How much does law school cost?

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No matter where you plan to go to school, the average law school cost is high. While figures vary dramatically across schools, data from Law School Transparency shows that future lawyers who attended a public, ABA-approved school in their state paid an average of $28,186 in tuition and fees in 2019, while out-of-state students paid an average of $41,628. Meanwhile, those who attended private law schools paid an average of $49,312.

Keep in mind that these numbers represent the cost per year, and many students are in law school for three years after they earn a bachelor’s degree. 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?

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that the average law school debt reached a staggering $145,500 at last count. It’s not surprising; Law School Transparency shows that law school tuition has continued to increase year after year, even taking into account inflation.

For instance, the data shows that attending private school in 1985 would have set you back $7,526 in 1985 dollars, which would work out to $17,871 in 2019 based on inflation alone. Instead, private school tuition actually costs $49,312 in 2019, meaning that private law school is almost three times more expensive than it was in 1985.

You don’t have to attend private school to earn a law degree, and there are plenty of schools that charge students considerably less. However, you can expect to shell out a pretty penny if you decide to attend a top institution.

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

Law School Estimated Tuition and Fees (2020-21 Academic Year)
Columbia Law School $72,352
Cornell Law School $70,188
Duke Law $66,000
Emory Law $60,626
Fordham University $64,832
Georgetown Law $66,872
New York Law School $54,352
Stanford Law School $64,350
University of Notre Dame $63,090
Vanderbilt Law School $62,230

How to pay for law school

The good news about the average cost of law school is that few students pay the full sticker price. Many qualify for scholarships and grants that can drastically reduce the amount they pay in tuition and fees, and some law schools may offer their own school-based aid that can make attending law school more affordable.

Keep in mind that, generally speaking, scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid. For that reason, law school students should strive to apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible. This type of aid may be offered by 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.

In order to fund the rest, law students typically take out law school loans, which may include federal student loans, private student loans or both. Federal student loans come with fixed interest rates and many hardship programs, but private student loans can help fill in funding gaps, often with low interest rates.

Also be aware that 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 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 all their balances forgiven after they make 120 on-time payments on an income-driven repayment plan.

The bottom line

If you’re thinking of earning an advanced degree, the average law school cost should be on your mind. After all, the amount you need to pay will impact the amount of student loan debt you may have to take on, and debt can hinder your ability to live how you want and build wealth for years to come.

That’s why, on top of researching the average cost of law school and how to pay, you should also take the time to compare schools. Where the top law schools in the country can charge $60,000 or more per year in just tuition and fees, a public school in your state might charge a third of that or less.

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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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