While attending law school is a dream for many, the costs of law school can understandably deter some individuals from pursuing a degree. It is important to be informed about the average costs of law school so you can better make a decision about how to fund your degree and what to expect once you are accepted into a school. After all, better preparedness for the costs of law school can save you from the sticker shock that so many students tend to encounter.
In this article, we will discuss the average costs of law school and the other extra costs that you may encounter during your day-to-day life as a law student. We will also give you information on how you may be able to pay for your law degree and lower the costs as much as possible so that you can achieve your legal career dreams without too much debt.
What Goes Into a Law Degree?
A law degree is typically received within three years if you are a full-time student. Some schools may offer part-time programs that take four or even five years to receive the Juris Doctor degree, but this is not as common as the traditional three-year program.
There are two semesters in each year, and you may be required to participate in things such as summer externships, internships, or volunteer work, depending on the school you attend and your career goals. Oftentimes, these summer programs will pay you (unless you are volunteering), which can help counteract the living and tuition costs associated with full-time law school.
For more information on legal studies and the courses that may go into your law degree, you can check out this article.
The Average Cost of Law School
The cost of attending law school varies widely depending on the school you attend, your location, any required course materials, and living expenses. You can expect to pay more for your law degree if you are attending a higher-ranked law school, such as Yale, Stanford, or Georgetown Law.
Also, you may pay higher living costs if you choose a school located in a high cost of living area, such as New York City, Washington, DC, or Stanford. Whether a school is public or private, and whether or not you are counted as an in-state or out-of-state student, also factors into your law school costs.
Below, you can compare the average yearly costs of law school among different school types. These numbers are sourced from US News, one of the most reliable sources of law school rankings and information.
Keep in mind that these numbers are for the 2021-2022 school year. Average yearly costs do change each year depending on the schools, and can either raise or lower.
Overall, if you attend a private school for all three years without any scholarships or tuition adjustments, you can expect to pay around $159,000; for public in-state tuition, you can expect to pay around $88,000, and for public out-of-state tuition, you can expect to pay approximately $128,000 for all three years.
It is important to note that these costs are for tuition only – living costs and extras such as textbooks or campus meal plans (where applicable) will be an extra added cost and are highly dependent on the school you attend and the city that you live in.
Paying For Your Law Degree
When it comes to paying for the cost of your law degree, there are several options available to you. You may use one or all of the options we discuss below depending on your situation, the specific school you attend, and your overall financial status pre-law school attendance.
Scholarships and Grants
One of the best ways to cut down the costs of law school without having to worry about paying the money back or going into debt is to secure as many scholarships and grants as possible. Many of these depend on your undergraduate grades, but law schools also give out scholarships based on your financial status, diversity factors, and the merit of your application.
The best way to secure a good scholarship is to work hard during your undergraduate career and make sure that your application to your top choice law schools is as solid as possible. Apply for as many scholarships as you can, even if they only offer a small amount of money or you don’t think you have a strong chance of winning, because every little bit of free money can help you pay off your law degree.
For more information on getting into your dream law school, check out this guide. You can also learn more about the different types of scholarships offered by your top choice schools by reviewing the information on your chosen school’s website; this information is usually covered in the prospective student or application sections.
Just the word ‘loans’ can strike fear into the heart of students, but taking out loans to pay for your law degree is sometimes a necessity. For the most part, the school you apply to will help you secure loans for attendance.
The amount you are eligible for is calculated after you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and send it off to the schools you have been accepted into. Most of the loans that come from the FAFSA will be given out through government programs, such as PLUS loans or direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans. These are more generous to students and typically have more relaxed payment deadlines that work with your overall degree schedule.
If the loan amount that your school offers you through national student loan programs is not enough to cover your tuition, you can always take out private loans. However, these often come with higher interest rates and stricter payback deadlines. For these reasons, scholarships and loans received through your FAFSA are much more preferable to use for your law school costs when possible.
Out of Pocket
Possibly the most intimidating way to pay for your law school attendance is by footing the bill out of pocket. Most students don’t have the spare funds to cover the entirety of their three years of law school out of pocket, but fronting the cost of your law degree can be helpful in certain circumstances.
For example, if you have a combination of government loans and scholarships that cover most of your tuition, leaving you with a small amount each semester, it may be a better idea to use any savings you have to pay off the leftover amount. This stops you from having to take out private loans and potentially paying more in interest over time.
However, if you don’t have the savings or spare cash to pay leftover tuition amounts, borrowing money either privately or from family members might be your only other out-of-pocket choice. A lot of the time, living costs and textbooks will also come out of pocket, so make sure to factor these in as you calculate how much money you will need for each semester of law school.
Certain schools will offer work-study programs to students that may be helpful in paying down your tuition and starting to make advanced payments on loans.
The specifics of each program and the rate at which you get paid varies based on the school and your responsibilities, but if you can maintain good grades throughout law school all while working on the side, a work-study program might be just the thing to help you pay for your law degree and keep your post-graduation debt to a minimum.
Achieving Success, No Matter the Cost
Attending law school is a dream for many individuals, but sometimes the cost of obtaining a higher education can seem prohibitive. However, there are many ways to beat and manage the higher costs of a law degree if you stay informed of the costs that apply to your dream school and work toward achieving scholarships and securing loans with lower interest.
Keeping these items in mind, you should be able to attend law school with as little out-of-pocket cost as possible and successfully achieve your dream law career.