You’ve decided that law school is the right choice for you. You took the LSAT and have the grades and referrals to qualify you for admission, but there’s still another challenge you need to overcome before you start your legal training: paying for law school. How you go about financing your education can impact your career choices and lifestyle for decades to come. By making wise decisions at the outset, you can ensure that your legal education opens doors for you without becoming a financial albatross.
Limited Scholarships and Grants
Nearly all law students will need to rely on at least some loans as a source of financial aid. This is particularly true since rising tuition costs have resulted in a total debt commonly in excess of $150,000. Although there are grants, scholarships, and fellowships available, they are less common at law school than they are in undergraduate programs.
The Federal Work-Study Program is another potential income source. Work-Study provides eligibility for on-campus part-time employment for students in their second and third years of study. However, limitations on the number of hours students may work and the kind of work available generally means that this program does little to reduce the total expense of a law school education. While work-study and scholarships or grants can help cover key expenses and reduce the number of loans you need, paying for law school will typically require more money than these sources are capable of producing.
The Right Kind of Loan
If you come to the conclusion that you’ll need a student loan to make law school a reality, there are some basic concepts that can help keep paying for law school manageable. It’s always best to seek out loans that charge lower interest rates and that carry fixed rather than variable rates. If you can make the required payments, a shorter term is better than a longer one. Finally, you should borrow as little as you can manage in order to avoid paying interest on unnecessary amounts.
The source of the loans is also important in determining the loan’s long-term implications. Law school loans are typically federal, private, or institutional in nature. Read on to learn more about each type of loan:
- Federal loans: Federal loans tend to carry better interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than can normally be found through private sources. Some kinds of federal student loans may also be discharged or forgiven under certain circumstances. However, it should be noted that federal loans are typically not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
- Institutional loans: This type of loan occupies a space between private and federal loans. Institutional loans are provided by the educational institution itself. Institutional loans may have lower rates and greater flexibility than many private loans, but also tend to have stronger legal protections against borrower default.
- Private loans: Due to their sometimes draconian repayment terms, shifting interest rates, and relative inflexibility if you fall on hard times, private loans are often a last-resort option for many law students. Depending on how they are structured, private loans for your education may or may not be dischargeable in bankruptcy.
It’s important to note that international students generally aren’t eligible for federal student loans. However, lawful permanent resident students may still qualify for federal financial aid.
Private loan providers often look at a loan applicant’s credit report in order to determine the amount the lender is willing to make available as well as the rate and repayment terms offered to the borrower. Before applying for financial aid it can be helpful to request a copy of your credit report and examine it for errors or issues that can be resolved in order to ensure that you receive offers with the best possible terms.
Before deciding on a student loan, it’s important to do your research. Check out the resources below to learn more:
- Federal Student Aid - An office of the U.S. Department of Education. Information and help with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Financing Law School - From the Law School Admission Council, Inc. Discusses various options for funding law school.
- Funding Your Education - Student Financial Aid Information Center as well as general information about the U.S. Department of Education's federal student financial aid programs.
Paying for law school can be nearly as challenging as the classes and exams you’ll tackle. Student loans will, in all likelihood, have a dramatic impact on your financial life for decades after you finish school. Since most students will need to obtain financial aid from a variety of sources, early preparation and careful consideration of the different forms of aid available can help ensure you don’t find yourself saddled with debt by a decision that was meant to open up opportunities.