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Paying for Law School

Law school is an important investment in your future. Consider the financial aid process as seriously as you do the law school application process. In addition to the information that follows, there are additional websites and organizations noted below.

Before you apply to law school:


  • Spend money wisely and pay your bills on time to ensure a good credit record. Bad credit will affect your ability to borrow money, because loan companies will review your credit history extensively before granting you a loan. If possible, pay off credit cards, car loans, and other consumer debt before law school.
  • Think about your post-law school goals. Salaries for lawyers vary widely, depending on the type of practice and region. Law school debt will claim a significant portion of your income as a lawyer.
  • Consider how to minimize debt while meeting your goals. Consider state-supported law schools, or schools that offer merit-based aid. If you are considering a career in government or public interest law, investigate loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that help law school graduates repay their education debt.


Sources of Funds

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are offered by law schools based upon criteria set by the school. Most awards are made based on merit, reflecting considerations as GPA and LSAT score. However, awards can also be made on the basis of financial need, ethnicity, specific talents, residency or other qualifications. Check with each law school early in the application process for more information.

Law schools commonly offer merit scholarships to highly qualified applicants with an offer of admission. Be strategic in picking the schools to which you apply. Discuss your school targets with the Pre-Law Office.

  • If you are awarded a grant or a scholarship, be sure to ask the following questions:
  • Will it be renewed automatically every year? If so, will it be renewed for the same amount or will the amount be adjusted?
  • If the amount is adjusted, what are the criteria for making the adjustments?
  • If the award is not renewed automatically, can I reapply for this or another grant or scholarship next year?
  • Will my academic performance affect the amount of my award in subsequent years?
  • Does this grant or award have a service component?
  • Are there any special application procedures or deadlines of which I need to be aware?

Personal Savings/Family Support

If possible, set aside your own funds to help pay for law school. Talk with family members about whether they can help with law school expenses. Some students choose to live at home during law school to avoid paying rent.

Federal Loans

Many students rely primarily on federal loan programs to finance law school. Total federal aid is available to cover (but not exceed) the law school’s student expense budget, which includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses. Because you are applying for graduate study, you are considered independent of your parents for these loans. More detailed information on loans and loan repayment options are at the links below at the bottom of this page. 

    • (Unsubsidized) Federal Direct Stafford Loan: Law students may borrow up to a total of $20,500 in Federal Stafford Loans each year. The interest rate for these loans is fixed annually and a 1 percent loan fee is deducted at disbursement. Interest starts accruing as soon as the loan is disbursed. These loans have a six-month grace period before repayment begins; they have federal forbearance and deferment options, may be refinanced through consolidation, and may be repaid under various repayment options. These loans may be eligible for inclusion under the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
    • Graduate PLUS Loans for Law Students: Law students who do not have adverse credit may be eligible to apply for a Graduate PLUS loan. If you do have adverse credit, you can apply with an endorser. The endorser must be a US citizen or permanent resident that does not have adverse credit. The Graduate PLUS loan is federally guaranteed. You can borrow Graduate PLUS funds in an amount up to the school’s Cost of Attendance minus the amount of all other financial aid you are receiving (including other loans). Interest accrues while you are in school, and repayment begins following disbursement, but you are allowed to defer repayment until six months after you graduate. These loans have federal forbearance and deferment options, may be consolidated, and may be repaid under various repayment options. These loans may be eligible for inclusion under the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

Private Loans

Credit is an important factor in securing private loans. Interest rates, fees, and terms of repayment vary significantly. It is best to work with your law school financial aid office BEFORE making a decision about taking private loans for law school. Federal loans have far more favorable terms.

There are a number of private loan programs available to credit-worthy borrowers who are not eligible for federal student loans. Additionally, some lenders make available postgraduate loans for bar-review study. Eligibility for these bar loans is based on your credit history and the lending institution’s willingness to lend.

The terms and conditions of these programs vary greatly. Pay careful attention to the explanations found in loan application brochures and consumer information. You can also contact the individual programs or visit their websites for further details. Private loans are more expensive than federal ones, so be sure to tap federal loans first.


The American Bar Association no longer sets limits on the number of hours a first-year law student can work per week, although some law schools may individually do so. Many law students obtain summer employment and part-time employment during the school year. This can help reduce the amount of money borrowed. Be aware, however, that working during the first year of law school while enrolled in a full time program will be very challenging due to the academic demands on your time.


It is often said, “If you live like a lawyer in law school, you will live like a law student once you graduate.” Frugality can be your best friend.

Other Considerations that May Impact Your Expenses

Attending law school part time is challenging, but is allows students to keep a workforce connection.

Living at with your family will limit your loans for Cost of Attendance. Moving to a location where you will need a car will increase your expenses, and a car paypment will not be factored into federal loans through your law school financial aid office.

Some law schools have generous LRAP (loan repayment) programs for public interest students. This will not limit your initial loan burden, but it generally limits repayment levels and/or incorporates some level of loan forgiveness.

Public schools generally have lower tuition. However, if you receive a generous grant from a private school, your overall cost of attendance might be less expensive there.


How to Apply for Financial Aid

Check Your Credit

If you will be using Federal Grad PLUS or private loans for law school, order a free copy of your credit report and verify the information. These loans may not be available if your credit history does not meet minimum standards.

Apply Early for Financial Aid

Check each law school’s website to learn financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money.

Complete Your FAFSA As Soon As Possible 

Completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA also is used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid.

Some schools have separate applications for financial aid, while others use the law school application or the FAFSA. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own funds.

If you have special circumstances, provide this information to the law school financial aid office. This can be critical for law students who have been working full-time in the prior year or who have unusual medical or family expenses.

Do NOT wait to complete the FAFSA until after you are admitted to a law school. You can list up to ten law schools where you want reports sent, and update this list with additional schools.

If your federal tax return will not be ready until later in the spring, you can estimate prior year income on the FAFSA. Parental income is not considered in determining eligibility for federal loans to graduate-level students; you will be directed to skip Section III- Parental Information in the FAFSA.


Making the Decision

Once you have provided all required information, law schools can offer you a financial aid package. To determine your financial need, schools take the estimated contribution calculated by the federal government on your FAFSA and subtract it from the school’s student expense budget.

In deciding which law school to attend, it is important to balance your financial considerations with other criteria, such as reputation, location, size, faculty, programs and placement success. Compare the net of your projected costs at each school you are considering, offset by any offers of grants or scholarships from the school, to determine the amount you will need to make up through loans or personal funds.


Applying for Loans

Once you have chosen a law school, expect to receive important additional financial information from the school. Even though you have already completed the FAFSA and law school financial aid forms, you must still apply for the loans.

Your law school financial aid office will help you identify the correct process for securing federal loans, and, private loans if needed. Do your homework to compare fees and repayment terms for all of your loans, using loan calculators available on financial aid websites (see below). Keep good records of all loan transactions.

Borrow only what you need, and not more, to keep your debt low and your monthly repayment amount manageable. Remember, however, that during your first summer interning you may not have a paid position. Also, the summer after you graduate from law school you will be studying for the bar exam, and you will need to cover expenses for that time as well.


Additional Financial Aid Information

The American Bar Association maintains a list of LRAP public interest repayment programs– Free annual credit report.

AccessLex -
Personal finance and other financial aid information. 

Equal Justice Works  Information on loan repayment and forgiveness options. – Standardized financial information about Federal loans, and – more information on federal student aid.–Financial aid search engine. – Student guide to financial aid. – Financial aid for law school section. Also refer to the Statement of Good Admissions and Financial Aid Practices at: -  Information on federal loan forgiveness.

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