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My Law School Applications are In! Now, How do I Pay for School? The Nuts and Bolts of Financial Aid

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By Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising

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Financial considerations are incredibly important as you decide to pursue a law degree.  The amount of debt you incur will not only remain with you for a large portion of your adult life, but it can restrict your ability to exercise choice in your career down the road.  For many, the debt is such a significant factor that they decide to abandon law school altogether.  For those who do enroll in law school, the amount of potential debt plays an important role when deciding between schools. 

Before we talk about logistics of financial aid, let's consider some important statistics.  The average amount of debt carried by 2012 law school graduates was $84,600 for public school graduates, and a whopping $122,158 for private school graduates.  Not a big deal because you'll be rolling in the big lawyer money after graduation, right?  Not exactly.  The adjusted mean starting salary for 2012 law school graduates was $75,554, with 51% of graduates making between $40,00 and 65,000 annually and 16% making $160,000 (For more detailed information, click here).  If you are in the majority of graduates with a salary under $65,000, paying back that debt can be a hefty endeavor.

Obtaining financial aid is a complicated process that requires research, attention to detail, and compliance with deadlines.  In other words, applying for financial aid is great practice for the work you will be doing as a lawyer!  Below is a brief overview of important facts concerning financial aid.  As always, if you have questions about this process, feel free to make an appointment with Katie Schellenger.  

How much does law school really cost?  You should look at the specific numbers for each school to which you are applying, but tuition is not the only expense you should consider.  Each law school establishes a "Cost of Attendance," which includes tuition, fees, and allowances for living expenses.  The living expenses will vary based upon the location of the law school, and they can significantly impact your overall cost.  The Cost of Attendance will be the maximum amount of financial aid you may receive.

What types of aid are available to me? There are federal loans, private loans, and grants and scholarships available.  Federal loans generally have the lowest interest rates and should be your preference, if you are eligible.*  Private loans are slightly less attractive: your credit is an important factor (make sure you check your credit score and clear any mistakes before you apply for aid), and interest rates and terms of repayment can vary significantly.   Grants and scholarships may be offered by individual law schools; we will discuss these in greater detail in next week's blog.

What steps do I need to take now?  (1) For each school to which you have applied, go to their website and obtain information about their specific financial aid application procedures and deadlines.  (2) Complete each school's application before the deadline - ideally, as early as possible.  (3) Submit your FAFSA after January 1, 2013; the closer to January 1 you submit, the better.  The FAFSA requires your income tax information from the previous year, but does allow you to estimate your prior year income.  One area where it differs from your undergraduate FAFSA: you will NOT be required to submit your parents' income information.  You can designate up to ten law schools to receive your FAFSA and add additional schools after the FAFSA has been processed.  (4) Once you receive your eligibility determination (which will be school-specific and should accompany your offer of admission from each school), and decide where you would like to enroll, you will need to apply for loans - with the help of the law school's financial aid office - based upon that eligibility.  

*International students may or may not be eligible for Federal loans, depending upon their status.

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