Financing Law School
Law school is typically financed through loans, work-study, scholarships and grants. Law students finance most of their education through loans, either from the federal government or private loans, or both.
The law schools to which you are applying should be your primary source of information as the amount of aid you receive and the form it takes is largely determined by the schools. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Financial Aid Web Resources can give you answers to some basic questions:
- What does the process of securing financial aid involve?
- How is eligibility for financial aid determined?
- What goes into a financial aid package?
- What can I do ahead of time to improve my chances of getting financial aid?
Note: Law school policies vary, and there are frequent changes in financial aid rules and regulations. It is your responsibility to educate yourself about financial aid in much the same way you should research law schools when deciding where to apply.
Things to Consider
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. If possible, pay off credit cards 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 and the state of the economy when you graduate. Law school debt will probably claim a significant portion of your income as a lawyer. To keep debt to a minimum, consider state-supported law schools, or schools that may offer you 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. Check out the Equal Justice Works website for information on LRAPS and the new Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
adapted from NAPLA Pre-Law Guide
Check your credit.
If you will be using Federal Grad PLUS or private loans for law school, you can order a free copy of your credit report once per year to verify the information. These loans may not be available if your credit history does not meet minimum standards.
If you are ever denied credit, a free report is also available from the credit bureau that was the source of the information on which the credit decision was made. Credit reports and a credit score can be also obtained for a fee from the three major credit bureaus.
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 after January 1.
Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA is also used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid. Because the FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, it cannot be completed before January 1. 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 six 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.
Additional Financial Aid Resources
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a requirement to apply for Federal Stafford Loans. Find information on the FAFSA, complete it online, and follow up on its status fafsa.ed.gov.
A general portal for students about federal student financial aid www.studentaid.ed.gov.
Access Group is a nonprofit student loan provider that specializes in graduate and professional student lending. Their Web site features many articles and tools for students accessgroup.org.
Calculators and an online loan ledger to determine how much student loans will cost and to help plan for successful repayment before a student takes out a loan www.accessgroup.org/calculators.
Billing itself as "The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid," this site contains articles and links to other resources on a variety of financial aid topics, including scholarships, federal loans, and private loans. www.finaid.org.