While certainly not the most exciting topic (except maybe to me!) Financial Aid is a crucial aspect of law school. Law School is very expensive, and you owe it to yourself to understand your options to avoid the debt trap that many lawyers fall into. In this post, I hope to give you a general idea of how people pay for law school, and some things to think about. Later I will have more detailed, thrilling posts about things such as LRAPs, loan consolidation and budgeting, so stay tuned!
Students pay for Law School with four main resources: loans, scholarships, employment earnings, and family/personal contributions. Your goal as a student is to minimize your expenditures and your loans, because loans are clearly the worst of these four options.
Scholarships are the best way to pay for law school, so let's discuss them first. Most law schools offer a combination of need-based scholarships and merit-based scholarships, but some only offer one type, so make sure to check with your schools! Need based scholarships are based on you and your family's financial situation, and require an application like the Need Access report, which Chicago and other schools use. These applications summarize your income and assets, and show us what kind of resources you have for law school. Merit-based scholarships are based on your application, and schools use these awards as ways to encourage you to come to their school. Schools use vastly different criteria for merit scholarships, so check with the schools for details. There are also lots of outside scholarships, like our Tony Patino Fellowship. Do some research and try to find scholarships that match your background or interests.
Sadly, very few students are lucky enough to get a full-ride scholarship at their dream school. For most, loans are what pays for law school. Students use Federal Stafford loans of up to $18,500 to cover part of the cost of law school, and then private loans cover the rest of their expenses. Federal loans have a fixed interest rate (6.8%) and have other favorable terms, while private loans have higher, adjustable interest rates (based on market factors) and are also credit-based, so make sure your credit is strong!
While loans are obviously not the ideal way to pay for law school, bear in mind that different schools provide different options professionally. One law school may help you get a job that pays more money, and thus makes loan repayment much easier. More importantly, if your dream school admits you, but does not offer as much money as 'School X,' don't be afraid to chase your dream!