As the job markets continue to become more competitive, people are pursuing higher degrees of education. However, with these higher levels of education comes higher payments for tuition. Law school is one of the more expensive graduate degrees to pursue because of the length of the program. Law school can take two-and-a-half to four years to complete, but typically people complete their degrees in three years. While pursuing a Masters Degree will usually only take one-year, law students will have to figure out how to pay for three years of tuition, with the understanding that tuition in this economy will generally increase each school year. As a current law student who has the goal of graduating law school with no debt, I have decided to share three of the things that I considered while trying to figure out how I would finance my degree.
1. Find a School That Offers You the Most Money
There are many factors that you should be considering while deciding which law school to commit to. Some of the most important factors are (1) the program the school offers, (2) the school’s rank, (3) the location of the school, and (4) the bar passage rates. However, you must decide for yourself if these factors are more important than the amount of debt that you will have to be responsible for.
The key here is to apply to as many schools as you possibly can. If you can afford to apply to different schools that are in different geographical areas and have different rankings, you could use the scholarship packages that you receive once you are accepted to negotiate for higher scholarship awards from the schools at the top of your list. Keep in mind however, that some of the higher ranked schools will only increase your scholarship package if you received a more competitive scholarship package from a similarly ranked school (and trust me…these law schools won’t be afraid to tell you that they think ranking is important).
I only applied to two law schools: one that is in my hometown that is currently not ranked and another that is in Los Angeles that is ranked #65. I applied to law school in March (which is pretty late) and I only applied to schools with part-time programs, so my choices were limited.
I was accepted to both schools, but the lower-ranked school offered me a full-tuition scholarship while the other only offered me $10,000 per year. Though I was nervous about the impact that going to a lower-ranked school would have on my post-graduate job opportunities, I decided that turning down full-tuition was not worth the higher rankings. The bar passage rates at the two schools were the same, so I was comforted by the fact that I was not electing to attend a school that would jeopardize my chance of even becoming an attorney.
It’s true that going to a lower-ranked school can make it a little more difficult to receive an entry-level associate position at a big corporate firm. You will have to make sure your grades are higher than average and show that you are involved around campus in order to compete with the students who attend Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Berkeley. If you believe that you need the higher ranked school to help with your job prospects, or because you simply like the prestige that comes with attending a higher ranked school, then taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt may be the better choice for you. However, if you know that you will be successful regardless of the school’s ranking, then go for the better financial option!
2. Find Outside Scholarships
There are so many scholarships out in the world, but students aren’t applying for them all. There are large national scholarships that everyone knows about (Gates Millennial Scholarship, Ronald McDonald Scholarships, etc.) and then there are the local or specialty scholarships that people may have never heard of. These local or specialty scholarships usually don’t offer as much money as the bigger, well-known scholarships. However, since other people don’t really know about them, your chances of being awarded those scholarships are significantly higher.
I have spoken with a large number of organizations who give local and specialty scholarships and they are always asking for more people to apply for these scholarships. I have had conversations with law students and asked why they didn’t take the time to apply for some of these scholarships. For some of them, the prospect of spending a few hours to apply for a $500-$2000 scholarship didn’t seem worth it when they were taking on $40,000-$70,000 in debt every year.
While you are in the midst of school or applying for schools, the idea of spending time applying for money that you are not guaranteed to receive may seem like it is simply not worth it. However, it is so important to remember that the smaller scholarships add up, and they can add up quickly. Additionally, some of the scholarships require the same essays, personal statements, and resumes, so once you complete one application, you won’t have to spend much time on the next one. You will not receive every scholarship that you apply for, but you also won’t receive any scholarships if you don’t try.
Searching for scholarships that you qualify for may consume a good portion of your time, but I will be posting soon about the best ways to search for scholarships. Stay tuned for that!
3. Consider Enrolling in a Part-Time Program
After graduating with my undergraduate degree, I spent a year working at a law firm as a law clerk. During that time I met a number of other clerks who were law students in a part-time evening program. I had not considered applying for a part-time program prior to working at that law firm, but the idea of being able to keep my job while earning my degree during the night sounded fantastic!
Evening programs are expected to take four years to complete, instead of the typical three years. Some people want to get their degree as soon as possible, but if you don’t mind waiting an additional year to receive your degree, then I highly recommend enrolling in a part-time program. Besides being able to earn money during law school, there are many other benefits that come with participating in a part-time program.
While students who are in the day program are able to work up to 20 hours per week, that is not recommended while they are taking a full course load. As an evening student, you are able to work 40 hours a week, which can significantly help cut down the amount of debt you will have to incur.
Law school is a huge commitment. It requires large amounts of you: physically, mentally, and financially. If you are able to graduate with no debt, you would be free to pursue the career that makes you happy without feeling compelled to accept a job simply because it will help pay off your debt. Having the freedom to select the job you truly desire is a great way to protect your happiness. I wish you all the best of luck in finding ways to live a debt-free life.