Pre-law Financial Aid
The cost of a three-year law school education could run well over $80,000. Tuition alone can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $25,000 a year. When calculating the total cost of attending law school, you also have to include the cost of housing, food, books, travel and personal expenses. During the first year of law school, full-time students are discouraged from obtaining any but the most limited part-time employment. Approximately 75 percent of law school students rely on education loans as their primary source of financial aid.
Money for law school is available in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study and loans, but most students finance their education through loans, either from the government or private sources. The amount of aid you receive and the form it takes is largely determined by the law schools, and they should be your primary source of information.
Some law schools offer their own scholarship programs, but the amount available varies greatly from school to school. Some offer their best candidates full scholarships based on merit. Others give financial aid primarily on the basis of need.
Loans from governmental and private sources at low and moderate interest rates are available to qualified students. Some of these loans consider the applicant’s financial need in determining eligibility; others have limitations based on the law school budget. Many states offer guaranteed student loans. To determine your eligibility for these you should consult lending institutions in your area. Private loans are also increasingly available. Typically, the lowest interest rates are associated with federal loans that require demonstrated need; private bank loans are typically available at higher rates.
The following is a list of steps you must take to apply for financial aid.
To apply for federal aid:
- Start the financial aid process in December to be well in advance of the school’s particular filing deadline. You cannot wait until after you receive admissions offers to begin the planning process.
- Obtain the Free Application for Federal Student Aid rom your college or university financial aid office or from the law school to which you are applying. FAFSA is a need-analysis tool developed by the U.S. Department of Education.
When completing the FAFSA form, you will designate the names of all law schools that are to receive the report. It asks for information about your income, assets, and other financial resources. Be sure to answer “yes” to the questions, “Will you be a graduate or professional student for the upcoming year?” All graduate/professional students are considered independent for the federal loan programs. However, some law schools will request parents’ financial information in determining their in-house institutional aid.
- Prepare your federal income tax returns as early as possible after the first of the year. Some schools will want to see a copy of your actual return, so be sure to keep a photocopy for your files. The FAFSA requires information that is derived directly from your tax return. While information packets (including the FAFSA) may be available from some law school financial aid offices in the fall, applications cannot be filed until after Jan. 1. (They will be returned to you if received before the first of the year). However, you can file any time after the first of the year – the earlier the better.
- The law schools to which you apply will determine your eligibility for federal financial aid. The amount offered by each law school will vary, and each student’s individual need will be assessed individually because the cost of attending each law school varies.
- Once you determine the school that you will attend, you may begin the federal loan application process.
- Most of the private education loan programs will make credit decisions on the telephone. Contact them for details.
To apply for institutional aid:
- Call or write the financial aid office of the law schools you plan to attend. Some schools may require you to submit information in addition to the FAFSA, such as an institutional application or an additional form from a central processor. Many schools have very early filing deadlines.
- You should arrange for financial aid transcripts to be sent from any undergraduate or graduate school you attended to any law school to which you apply. This may or may not be required by the law school for institutional aid.
- Complete the loan applications.
You will benefit by planning a financial strategy before you even enter law school. Before entering law school, save as much money as you can, and try to rid yourself of any outstanding consumer debt. It is important to have a good credit history. Clear up errors or discrepancies in your credit before you apply for loans. Establish and maintain good credit early. This checklist assumes that the application process begins in the spring, approximately 18 months before the applicant expects to enter law school. For summer or mid-year admission, adjust the schedule accordingly.