Congratulations! You’ve been admitted to a few different law schools! Now – you just need to figure out how to pay for it! You thought the hard part was over – but, now, it seems like it is just beginning. Let me help you get a realistic vision of what to expect/what not to expect with regards to paying for law school. Let me first encourage you to have an open mind and to not necessarily be dissuaded from applying to a school because of a “sticker” price. The truth is that in many cases you will simply not know how much a given law school will cost you until you have been admitted – at which time you may also be assessed for scholarship eligibility. So – don’t be scared off from applying because a particular school appears to have higher tuition. It will be your decision where to attend when all the facts and figures are available for comparison.
Now – here we go -
What to Expect:
Expect to pay for law school. I know to some this seems obvious – but, in my experience there are a good number of individuals who firmly believe that they should not/will not have to pay tuition to go to law school. And, indeed, there are a good number of available scholarships at many (if not most) law schools. But – even with scholarship money, the vast majority of students will pay at least partial – if not full - tuition to attend their desired law school. And, in addition to tuition, there are fees, books and other expenses that you need to be thinking about.
Expect scholarship offers to be based upon academic merit. In the law school world ‘academic merit’ is often limited to grades, scores and to a lesser extent, other documented achievements. This is a bit different (and a bit more rigid) than the criteria that may be used to award undergraduate college scholarships. So, if receiving scholarship funding is integral to your eventual choice, be sure to include a good number of law schools for which you place above their publicized LSAT & GPA medians.
Expect to take control of your financial situation. As a law student, regardless of your age, you are considered “independent.” This is true not only from a federal financial aid standpoint (where parental information is not required on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid - FAFSA) – but also from the perspective of the law school. The law school will assist you in understanding financing options and provide you with tools to help in the endeavor – but, it is up to you understand your own financial situation.
What Not to Expect:
Don’t expect any Federal or State Grant funding. If you received Pell Grant or other need-based funding as an undergraduate student, you may think more is available as a Professional/Graduate student. Sadly, that is just not the case. There is virtually no grant money available at the Federal level and State grant funding is similarly scarce. You will, however, still need to complete your FAFSA in order to qualify for Federal Student Loan funding.
Don’t expect to walk away without any student loan debt. See #1- What to Expect (above). Data from the National Center of Education Statistics reveal that about 86% of law school students graduate with student loan debt.
Don’t expect others to have all the answers. Depend on yourself and the many tools that are available to you to make smart financial choices. Choose your law school carefully with an eye on the important outcomes of bar passage and employment. Know those outcomes for every school you consider and be ready to compare law schools using these metrics – so that you can make a good decision based not only upon the ‘sticker price’ but also on the anticipated long-term outcomes.
And, one final expectation you should have: Expect your law school to provide you with transparent, helpful information and guidance. Fully utilize not only the academic resources available to you – but also the administrative resources – the Financial Aid Office, Student Services Office and Career Services Office. The professional administrators in these offices are there to assist you in understanding an abundance of information from various sources and to guide you through the sometimes-stressful endeavor of being a successful law student. At Seton Hall Law School – our goal is to provide that assistance and guidance “one student at a time”. Expect that!