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Financing 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.

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

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. The following federal loans are available to law students:

  • (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.
  • Federal Perkins Loans: This loan may be available at some schools to students with high financial need. Each student’s award is determined by the school based on information obtained from the FAFSA and availability of funds.

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. And remember, always borrow the minimum loan amount needed to attend the law school you have chosen.

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are offered by law schools based upon criteria set by the school, which can include academic merit, financial need, ethnicity, specific talents, residency or other qualifications. Check with each law school early in the application process for more information.

Law schools may offer merit scholarships to highly qualified applicants with an offer of admission. When law schools consider your financial need, they may require family income information even if you are considered independent for tax purposes, or for federal education loans.

Some states provide limited grants for law school; there are no federal grants for law students. Certain national foundations and organizations offer grants and scholarships for law school through a competitive application process.

Students should investigate opportunities for university assistantships for second and third year law students at law schools they are considering. Assistantships generally provide a tuition waiver and stipend in exchange for research, teaching, or administrative work, and can be a significant source of financial help. Assistantship programs and availability vary widely depending on the school.

Earnings

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.

Frugality

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.

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.

Financial Aid Resources

Lsac.org – Financial aid for law school section. Also refer to the Statement of Good Admissions and Financial Aid Practices at: http://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/publications-(lsac-resources)/statementofgoodadm.pdf.

Fafsa.ed.gov – Standardized financial information about Federal loans, and
http://studentaid.ed.gov – more information on federal student aid.

AnnualCreditReport.com– Free annual credit report.

Access Group - https://www.accessgroup.org/understanding-cost-your-education.
Personal finance and other financial aid information.

Equal Justice Works - http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/ed-debt. Information on public interest law programs and law school loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP).

Finaid.org – Student guide to financial aid.

Fastweb.com–Financial aid search engine.

 

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