20 Best Law Schools for Avoiding Six-Figure Student Debt

most affordable law schools

If you’re considering a career in law, you’re probably looking at the most affordable schools to minimize law school debt – and you should.

A new Student Loan Hero study found that by the time law school students graduate, they owe an average $111,752 in student loans.

The question of whether law school is worth it or not comes down to your ability to minimize student debt in school and land a high salary after graduation. That way, you can afford to repay your law school loans without living on a shoestring budget.

For this study, Student Loan Hero surveyed 116 law schools to find the top 20 that give graduates a leg up on repaying student loans. Find out if your top choice ranks among these most affordable law schools.

Study: which law schools make it easier to avoid and repay student debt?

To rank these law schools, we looked at the cheapest law schools and compared tuition costs, indebtedness, and post-graduation employment rates and salaries.

This gave us a list of the law schools where graduates leave with excellent career prospects, as well as a healthy ratio of lower student debt to higher income.

For instance, according to our survey, a typical law school student faces annual tuition costs of $36,096 and an average of $111,752 in student debt.

Although the average law school employment rate is 87.1 percent, a typical law school graduate earns a starting salary of $73,710. That means for every $100 borrowed for law school, they will earn only $66 in the first year.

How does this compare to our survey rankings? Here’s what graduates of the 20 most affordable law schools can expect on average:

  • Annual law school tuition: $25,421
  • Student loan balance at graduation: $83,195
  • Post-law school starting salary: $78,569
  • Employment rates: 90.7 percent
  • Debt-to-income ratio: .94

Compare the top 20 affordable law schools to the bottom 20, and the differences are staggering. Student and graduates of the worst law schools for avoiding student debt can expect to face the following:

  • Annual law school tuition: $43,935
  • Student loan balance at graduation: $144,189
  • Post-law school starting salary: $63,810
  • Employment rates: 77.7 percent
  • Debt-to-income ratio: .44

Top 20 most affordable law schools in the U.S.

It’s no wonder the phrase “choose wisely” comes to mind when deciding which law school to attend. After all, it can mean the difference between a balance of $144,000 upon graduation – or law school debt that’s just half of that.

It’s also central to the pay you can expect to receive. Remember, income will directly affect how much student loan debt you can afford to repay, and whether you can take advantage of options such as refinancing law school loans.

So before you make your final decision, consider the following 20 law schools. Perhaps a few of your top choices already rank here.

1. Brigham Young University (Clark)

  • Annual tuition: $12,310 (for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $58,113
  • Average starting salary: $75,872

Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School is a bargain for students who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with tuition costs of $12,310 annually. Non-members pay $24,620 a year.

This low cost allows around 31 percent of students to avoid law school debt altogether. Meanwhile, those who do borrow can expect smaller balances now and higher incomes at graduation by earning 1.31 times more than they owe on average.

2. Georgia State University (GSU)

  • Annual tuition: $16,858 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $64,384
  • Average starting salary: $83,427

Georgia State University College of Law’s tuition for in-state students beats the average by more than $19,000 a year, making it easier to limit student debt. This adds up to $47,368 less in debt at graduation than the $111,752 average.

GSU graduates’ law school debt is also more easily paid off with starting salaries that are about $9,700 greater than the average. However, out-of-state tuition is significantly higher at $36,456 annually, making this school less of a deal for out-of-state residents.

3. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

  • Annual tuition: $27,269 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $56,173
  • Average starting salary: $64,604

Graduates of the Rutgers Law School have the lowest student loan balance of any on this list. They owe about half of the typical debt for most law school grads in this study.

What’s more, the typical Rutgers law school graduate’s debt is $8,431 less than their starting salary, even with the school’s below-average starting pay.

4. University of Iowa

  • Annual tuition: $24,930 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $74,128
  • Average starting salary: $74,903

University of Iowa College of Law’s average debt level is the eighth-lowest, coming in at about $37,600 less than the average in this study. That’s matched with a salary on-par with the overall average for law school grads.

When you add up both those factors, you’ll find that University of Iowa alumni will have it easier than most to repay law school debt.

5. University of Houston

  • Annual tuition: $30,401 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $97,246
  • Average starting salary: $102,153

Large starting salaries over six figures are the biggest factor that help University of Houston Law Center grads repay their student loans.

Essentially, with starting salaries that are about $28,450 higher than the average, plus law school debt around $14,500 below the average, student loans are easier to manage for these alumni.

Further, more than a third (35 percent) of graduates leave University of Houston’s law school with no student loans at all.

6. University of Texas at Austin

  • Annual tuition: $33,995 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $103,417
  • Average starting salary: $105,647

Next up is another Texas law school. The University of Texas in Austin’s Texas Law school is in the top 10 with starting salaries over $100,000.

In fact, this law school’s high starting salary makes it easier for alumni to afford the average six-figure law school debt. What’s more, U.S. News & World Report ranks Texas Law as number one for having the highest ratio of starting salaries compared to annual tuition costs.

However, this is the last law school on the list for which starting salaries beat typical law school debt.

7. University of Arizona (Rogers)

  • Annual tuition: $25,525 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $84,601
  • Average starting salary: $76,664

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law has the lowest rates of student debt of any law school in this top 20 list.

Just 62 percent of graduates leave with law school loans. They also owe around $27,150 less in law school debt, while earning slightly-above-average starting salaries.

8. University of Nebraska – Lincoln

  • Annual tuition: $15,036 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $62,888
  • Average starting salary: $58,614

In-state residents will benefit the most from Nebraska College of Law’s low law school tuition. With low tuition, it’s no surprise that this law school carries the third-lowest average student loan balance.

However, out-of-state students, beware: You’ll pay more than twice as much at $34,192 a year.

9. University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW-Madison)

  • Annual tuition: $21,450 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $77,555
  • Average starting salary: $72,089

Below-average tuition helps law school students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison keep student loan balances low.

In fact, University of Wisconsin Law School alumni owe about $34,200 less than an average law school graduate. Repaying this while earning near-average starting salaries put these graduates ahead of the curve on law school debt.

10. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill)

  • Annual tuition: $23,551 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $95,365
  • Average starting salary: $88,781

Choosing the UNC School of Law can be a smart choice to kick start a law career.

Grads earn above-average starting salaries and have higher employment rates. Plus, UNC-Chapel Hill law school alumni have a high salary compared to their student loan debt, making it easier to quickly pay it off.

11. University of North Dakota (UND)

  • Annual tuition: $11,434 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $66,917
  • Average starting salary: $55,470

University of North Dakota has the lowest annual tuition of any law school on this list. Even out-of-state students pay about average tuition at $25,423 a year. This gives University of North Dakota School of Law graduates the sixth-lowest student law school debt in this study.

However, while law school debt is easier to avoid at UND, grads should expect lower starting salaries and an employment rate of just 46 percent.

12. Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge (Hebert)

  • Annual tuition: $22,520 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $83,919
  • Average starting salary: $71,065

LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center graduates earn their J.D. with nearly $28,000 less in law school debt than the average. They also pay lower tuition rates in school, and after graduation, earn starting salaries on par with the average law school graduate.

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, graduates also enjoy higher employment rates at 93.7 percent.

13. George Mason University

  • Annual tuition: $25,351 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $118,056
  • Average starting salary: $83,669

Graduates of Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University are among the least likely to have student debt at all, with just 63 percent borrowing for law school.

Even though the average student loan balance is higher than the average in this survey by about $6,300 for alumni, George Mason University still ranks among the most affordable law schools.

Additionally, a high employment rate of 96.7 percent means graduates will easily find a job. Plus, they out-earn the average law school graduate’s starting salary by about $10,000.

14. Ohio State University (Moritz)

  • Annual tuition: $29,668 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $88,301
  • Average starting salary: $74,820

Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law has the highest post-graduate employment rates of any of the top 20 law schools, at 97.7 percent.

They also earn just above-average starting salaries and get a head start on repaying law school debt by limiting it to $88,301 upon graduation.

15. Boston College

  • Annual tuition: $50,620
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $108,873
  • Average starting salary: $103,147

The only private university in the top 20, the Boston College Law School carries the highest tuition costs among these law schools.

Despite annual costs that top $50,000, graduates tend to limit debt to a relatively low figure. Plus, since Boston College law school grads net large starting salaries, even this six-figure debt can be managed and repaid in time.

16. University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)

  • Annual tuition: $45,338 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $118,291
  • Average starting salary: $109,030

UCLA Law has the highest average starting salary among the top 20 law schools, with the average graduate earning well over six figures. In fact, that’s nearly 50 percent more than the average post-law school salary.

This high salary also lags just about $9,000 behind the typical debt of a UCLA law school graduate. That makes this law school a great deal despite its high in-state tuition.

Combined with high employment rates of 95.5 percent, UCLA law grads are well-positioned to maximize post-law school earnings.

17. University of Florida (Levin)

  • Annual tuition: $22,299 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $82,480
  • Average starting salary: $69,032

The Levin College of Law at the University of Florida has some of the lowest tuition rates, with three years of law school costing just under $67,000. The average student loan balance of Levin graduates is about $15,000 higher than that, and salaries are below average.

However, the average law school debt for graduates of this school still beats out the average by just over $29,000.

18. Wayne State University

  • Annual tuition: $30,727 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $81,738
  • Average starting salary: $74,879

At the Wayne State University’s law school in Michigan, graduates get a high starting salary compared to their student debt. In fact, they’re in the top 10 percent of law schools surveyed.

Borrowers make it out of this law school with less in student loans than the combined costs of tuition for three years at just a little more than $92,000. What’s more, out-of-state students won’t pay significantly more, with tuition costs at just $33,509.

19. University of Arkansas – Little Rock (Bowen)

  • Annual tuition: $15,121 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $65,931
  • Average starting salary: $57,420

In-state students at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock pay $21,000 less a year than the average law school tuition.

This helps keep borrowing low and student loans manageable – even with a starting salary that’s about $16,300 below the average.

20. William & Mary Law School

  • Annual tuition: $32,000 (in-state)
  • Average law school debt at graduation: $90,028
  • Average starting salary: $82,945

Rounding out the list is the William & Mary Law School in Virginia, where graduates leave with $21,700 less debt, on average. These law school graduates also earn higher starting salaries, which go a long way in keeping up with student loan payments.

Top 50 most affordable law schools

Wondering how other law schools in the U.S. stack up?

Here’s a list of the top 50 law schools we found to be the best options if you’re looking to avoid six-figure law school debt, based on our methodology listed below.

See how your school measures up in terms of average law school debt and average starting salary graduates walk away with.

Ranking Law School Average Law School Debt Average Salary (NALP)
1. Brigham Young University (Clark) $58,133 $75,872
2. Georgia State University $64,384 $83,427
3. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey $56,173 $64,604
4. University of Iowa $74,128 $74,903
5. University of Houston $97,246 $102,153
6. University of Texas – Austin $103,417 $105,647
7. University of Arizona (Rogers) $84,601 $76,664
8. University of Nebraska – Lincoln $62,888 $58,614
9. University of Wisconsin – Madison $77,555 $72,089
10. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill $95,365 $88,781
11. University of North Dakota $66,917 $55,470
12. Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge (Hebert) $83,919 $71,065
13. George Mason University $118,056 $83,669
14. Ohio State University (Moritz) $88,301 $74,820
15. Boston College $108,873 $103,147
16. University of California – Los Angeles $118,291 $109,030
17. University of Florida (Levin) $82,480 $69,032
18. Wayne State University $81,738 $74,879
19. University of Arkansas – Little Rock (Bowen) $65,931 $57,420
20. William and Mary Law School (Marshall-Wythe) $90,028 $82,945
21. University of Cincinnati $75,512 $70,099
22. Vanderbilt University $127,434 $110,384
23. Temple University (Beasley) $86,937 $73,085
24. University of Tennessee – Knoxville $80,445 $70,029
25. University of Tulsa $76,988 $64,919
26. Northwestern University (Pritzker) $154,923 $131,503
27. University of Oklahoma $83,433 $65,874
28. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign $99,782 $91,753
29. Cornell University $158,128 $131,742
30. Columbia University $159,769 $136,512
31. Cleveland State University (Cleveland-Marshall) $83,484 $70,518
32. University of Nevada – Las Vegas $97,361 $72,654
33. University of Hawaii – Manoa (Richardson) $82,510 $66,926
34. West Virginia University $82,683 $62,897
35. University of Missouri $80,138 $61,127
36. Washburn University $81,528 $61,204
37. University of Kansas $88,809 $64,171
38. University of Minnesota $106,436 $82,027
39. University of Mississippi $67,539 $51,530
40. University of New Mexico $75,277 $57,951
41. University of Memphis (Humphreys) $76,997 $56,404
42. Indiana University – Bloomington (Maurer) $99,895 $78,880
43. CUNY $78,523 $58,009
44. University of Utah (Quinney) $91,982 $68,155
45. New York University $167,646 $125,457
46. University of California – Berkeley $145,260 $112,935
47. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor $146,309 $114,928
48. University of Idaho $86,022 $45,500
49. Southern Methodist University (Dedman) $126,172 $95,049
50. University of Colorado – Boulder $100,499 $65,550

 

Methodology: This study surveyed 116 law schools using data from the U.S. News & World Report college rankings and employment data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

This study ranked colleges on four factors:

1) The ratio of the average post-law school starting salary (from the NALP report) to the average indebtedness (from the U.S. News & World Report), weighted at half

2) Annual in-state tuition weighted at one-sixth (sourced from U.S. News)

3) Percentage of graduates leaving law school with student debt weighted at one-sixth (U.S. News)

4) Employment rates of recent law school graduates weighted at one-sixth (NAPL)

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