Attending law school can be expensive. Even paying in-state tuition at a public school costs more than $26,000 a year on average, according to a survey of law schools from U.S. News & World Report. If you pay out-of-state tuition or wish to complete your course of study at a prestigious private law school, the costs are even higher.
Figuring out how to pay for college is a major part of the decision to go to law school. The good news is there are resources available to help you pay for law school and provide you with options when you finish.
Here are some ways to make this career path more affordable as you figure out how to pay for law school.
1. Consider a lower-cost law school
It’s tempting to go for a high-priced private law school. However, Amber Masters — a lawyer and the founder of Red Two Green, a financial education website — decided to go a different route.
“I shopped for a reputable but inexpensive law school,” said Masters. “Law school cost me less than $50,000, which is well under the national average of student loan debt, which still hovers at close to $140,000.”
Don’t choose a school just because it ranks highest on various lists. Instead, look at other data that can help you find moderately priced schools to reach your goals.
For example, the American Bar Association offers law graduate data that shows employment numbers for graduates of various universities. You can get a feel for which schools provide you with a good shot at professional employment — even if they’re reputable rather than prestigious.
As you can see from the above image, it’s possible to find an accredited program that won’t break the bank. And if you can move to another state and get in-state tuition after the first year or two of law school, you’ll see overall savings on your total law school bill.
2. Apply for scholarships
“I should have applied for scholarships,” said Masters. “I never took the time to do that, and I regret it immensely.”
Brenda Resendiz, an attorney with Potts Law Firm, on the other hand, made a conscious decision to get help from scholarships.
“To help alleviate costs, I applied for scholarships both within school as well as through outside programs,” she said. Her total costs weren’t covered completely by scholarships, though. She ended up holding down a job and getting law school student loans.
Finding scholarships is about more than just looking at the school’s programs or searching online, although those actions can help. “Networking also gave me a huge advantage,” Resendiz said. “Often, lawyers would refer me to organizations that were accepting scholarship applications.”
Some of those scholarships come from unlikely places, including individual law firms. “I remember the struggle of funding law school very well,” said Jared Staver, lawyer and founder of Staver Law Group. “That’s why I now offer a $5,000 scholarship through my practice.”
3. Get a job
“I got a job delivering newspapers in elementary school and haven’t stopped working since,” said Staver. “However, I understand that working while trying to get through law school is a daunting task.”
Like Staver, Masters and Resendiz both worked during law school to help make ends meet.
“There are plenty of job opportunities for law students, ranging from becoming a research assistant to a professor on campus to working at a big law firm over a summer,” said Masters. “Working during school and during the summers helped me quite a bit.”
Resendiz began working as a law clerk after she finished her first year of law school. “I worked that job until it was time to start studying for the bar exam,” she said.
In some cases, working as a clerk or at a law firm can give you a leg up when you finish as well as a way to sort out how to pay for college.
4. Borrow using federal student loans
“Loans were a last resort,” said Resendiz. “Unfortunately, they were a necessity.”
Even after applying for scholarships and working for most of her time in law school, Resendiz needed to turn to borrowing.
She started by applying for loans through her school and through the government. Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans can be used by students who are trying to figure out how to pay for law school.
When you apply for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you don’t have to worry about a credit check or having an income. You’re eligible to receive up to $20,500 a year as a graduate or professional student, and your rate is 6.00%.
Direct PLUS Loans are a little different, though. They’re offered through the government, but they require a credit check and have a higher interest rate of 7.00%. However, if you max out your Direct Unsubsidized Loans, the Direct PLUS Loan Program is designed to help you cover the rest of the expenses associated with grad school.
5. Consider private student loans for law school
It’s also possible to get private student loans for law school. If you have good credit, you might be able to qualify for a student loan with a lower interest rate than the government offers.
But before you get private student loans, it’s a good idea to consider your goals upon graduation, especially if you aren’t maxed out on federal loans.
“Once you have finished law school, there are certain career paths that will aid you in repayment of your student loans,” said Staver. “Working in public service can qualify you for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.”
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) provides a way for those who work for at least 10 years in a nonprofit, government, or other public service capacity to receive loan forgiveness for their remaining balance after they make 120 on-time, qualifying payments.
However, you won’t qualify for PSLF — or income-driven repayment, which reduces your monthly loan payment based on your discretionary income — on private student loans. Only federal student loans offer access to these programs.
On the other hand, many law school graduates are likely to be able to afford their monthly payments if they get higher-paying jobs. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for lawyers is $81,439.
If you’re eligible for a lower interest rate on your private student loans, there’s a good chance you can save money in interest over the course of your schooling.
Compare your options to see if you can get a good rate when you use a cosigner on your loans. If you can’t qualify on your own, having a creditworthy cosigner can go a long way toward helping you secure private student loans for law school.
Double-check the terms of the loans, though. Some private loans make you start repayment while you’re in school. If you’re worried about meeting your obligation while trying to get through law school, consider a lender that doesn’t require repayment until after you graduate.
6. Income-share agreements
Finally, some students are turning to income-share agreements (ISAs). With an ISA, you agree to pay a percentage of your income for a set period of time after you graduate. Investors hope they’ll see a solid return on investment when you get a good job.
However, there’s a downside when you have a high income potential. “Students who think they’ll make a lot of money after college may not want to consider the ISAs,” Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, told Business Insider. “They can be an expensive proposition for students who do really well even if the terms are better than for other majors.”
Kelchen told Business Insider that those who expect a higher salary after graduation might be better off taking out federal student loans or private loans and then refinancing them to a lower rate when they finish their degree.
How to pay for college: Use multiple methods
In the end, Staver, Masters, and Resendiz all had to use more than one strategy when deciding how to pay for college. Because law school can be expensive — and some students already have debt from their time as undergrads — it is no surprise some strategies are designed to avoid debt.
However, some debt is likely when you set out to pay for law school. As a result, Staver said it’s a good idea to take a step back and make a plan to help you access as many resources as possible.
“Think of law school as a long-term investment and have a plan in place to take a chance at every opportunity available to you,” Staver said. “There are organizations and programs in place to help you succeed. Take advantage of them.”
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