Average Law School Debt
Average law school debt, including the cost of an undergraduate education, is $145,500, according to the most recent NCES data. Even with an expected six-figure salary, you may want to try tactics to reduce your law school debt before and after school.
Attending school full-time, you should be able to earn a law degree in seven years: four years as an undergraduate, then three years in law school.
How much debt you take on to complete school varies widely based on the type of school you attend and where—but it’s no surprise that 69% of law school graduates take on student loan debt to pay for their education.
The average law school debt for 2015-16 graduates was $145,500, according to a 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
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Costs of legal education
Average resident full-time tuition per semester for law schools in 2018 was $18,104, as reported to the American Bar Association. Adding that up over six semesters (without knowing how much tuition will change in those three years), that’s $108,624 for law school tuition alone.
Combine it with the average undergraduate tuition of about $86,332 for four years, and that’s nearly $200,000 in education costs to earn your law degree—not including your cost of living while attending school.
Which school you attend affects your costs dramatically. U.S. News & World Report’s 2015-16 survey of law schools provided a snapshot of annual full-time costs such as tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation:
- Lowest-cost private school: Brigham Young University, $23,940
- Highest private school: Columbia University, $62,700
- Lowest public in-state school: University of North Dakota, $11,161
- Highest public in-state school: University of Virginia, $54,000
- Lowest public out-of-state school: University of the District of Columbia, $22,402
- Highest public out-of-state school: University of Connecticut, $57,852
You’ll also want to take opportunity costs into consideration. If you went to work after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’d earn three years of wages you may not earn while in law school.
NCES reports the median full-time income for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $50,500 (with an unemployment rate of just 3.1%). Add that $150,000 of potentially missed wages to your cost of law school if you don’t work while you study.
Ways to reduce your law school debt
While the cost of law school might be high, you can reduce the amount you have to borrow to attend, as well as reduce the cost of your loans. Here are a few ways to limit your law school debt, before and after you attend school:
- Seek law school scholarships and grants to pay for law school without debt.
- Cover as many costs as you can with federal student loans, which offer borrower protections, potentially lower interest rates than private loans, and the possibility of repayment assistance or forgiveness after you graduate.
- Compare private law school loan options before applying to find the lowest interest rate and most favorable repayment terms.
- Work part-time during college to reduce the amount of financial aid you need.
Is law school worth the debt?
The silver lining to the high cost of earning a legal degree is the potential for lucrative employment. The median first-year base salary for lawyers in the private sector was $155,000 in 2019, according to a survey by the National Association for Law Placement.
Public service earns you significantly less, with entry-level public and nonprofit lawyers earning from $48,000 to $56,200. However, these professions could help you qualify for repayment assistance and student loan forgiveness to ease your debt burden.
According to our student loan payment calculator, the average law school debt of $145,500 would mean total monthly student loan payments of $1,674 for 10 years. That’s about 13% of the average monthly salary for a lawyer at a private firm.
If your income is lower, enroll in an income-driven repayment plan to significantly reduce the monthly cost of your federal student loans. For private loans, refinancing to a lower interest rate or longer repayment period could reduce your monthly payment.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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