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Earning a law degree can be a worthy investment in your future earning power. Unfortunately, law school can also be expensive, and the average law school debt can be prohibitively high.
You should think carefully about how to pay for law school before you sign up for any loans, as your funding sources can affect your total costs over time.
This guide will help you explore your options for covering the cost of earning a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, so you don’t have to go deeply into student loan debt for your education.
In this guide:
Paying for law school: first steps
There are many methods of paying for law school, but you should explore some options before others. Here’s what to consider first when figuring out how to pay for law school.
Step 1: Exhaust your interest-free options
Before you borrow any money, look for ways you can pay for school without taking out loans and accruing interest.
This should include applying for as many scholarships and grants as possible. Scholarships and grants represent money you do not have to pay back.
You can also use your personal savings to help pay your law school tuition. Or, if you are able to and it doesn’t interfere with your studies, you could consider doing part-time work and half-time attendance while earning your degree, or look into a work-study program at your law school.
Scholarships can be hard to come by, and working while in school isn’t ideal. But the more you can reduce your total borrowing amount, the less you’ll pay in student loan interest later.
Law school scholarships & grants
Many law school scholarships and grants exist to pay for law school. Here are a few to get you started:
- The American Bar Association Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund: This provides up to $15,000 over three years. Eligible students must be first-year law students and members of a racial or ethnic minority group that is underrepresented in the legal profession.
- The Morgan & Morgan for the People Scholarship: Applicants who are accepted into or enrolled in an accredited law school are eligible for this $5,000 scholarship. You must submit an essay for consideration.
- The ZipRecruiter Scholarship Program: Scholarships of $3,000 are available. You must submit an essay to be eligible.
Talk to someone in your department or your school’s financial aid office to discover more opportunities for scholarships and grants.
Step 2: Use federal aid
Once you’ve exhausted all your sources of free funding, you should apply for federal student loans through the U.S. Department of Education.
This aid could come in the form of several different loans, including Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans; Graduate PLUS Loans, and aid from your school or state.
>> Read more: Federal Direct Loans
It’s important to use federal loans before private loans because federal loans have more borrower protections, lower interest rates, and more flexible repayment options. This is especially true if you plan to do public service work—such as becoming a public defender or teaching.
Start with the FAFSA
To qualify for any federal student aid, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
You should complete this online form even if you don’t believe you will qualify for federal loans, as many private lenders and scholarship programs also use FAFSA data to determine your eligibility.
Step 3: Compare private loans
If you’ve exhausted options for federal aid, private student loans can help you get the additional funding you need to pay for your education and living expenses.
Private student loans don’t offer loan forgiveness programs, and repayment options are less flexible than with federal aid, but more funding is often available.
Because there’s variation in rates offered by private lenders, you’ll want to shop around and compare a few law school loans to find the best interest rate.
Law school graduates studying for the bar exam can also look into bar study loans to help you pay for living expenses and exam prep during this time.
Other ways to pay for law school
Outside of scholarships, grants, federal, and private student loans, you may have additional options to help cover the cost of your legal education.
Income share agreements
Income share agreements don’t charge interest payments as traditional loans do. Instead you commit to paying a portion of your income in exchange for funding.
Income share agreements are often made available to law students because of their high earning potential.
Unfortunately, if you end up earning a high salary after law school, you could pay more with an income share agreement than if you simply took out student loans. You can learn more in our guide to income share agreements.
Work your way through school
Working during law school could be an option, although you’ll need to check the rules with your state bar association to find out how many hours you’re allowed to work.
If you already have a job at a law firm, your firm may also be willing to help fund the cost of your education if you sign an employment agreement and commit to remaining with the firm for a set amount of time after graduation.
Author: Christy Rakoczy