Law Professions Advising: Financing You Legal Education
The high cost of attending law school intimidates many prospective students. It is definitely possible to afford a legal education, particularly if you take the time to educate yourself about financing options and available resources. However, students enrolling in law school should be prepared for the financial commitment that they are making. It is generally suggested that law students should not work more than a few hours a week during the academic year, particularly in their first year, and scholarship resources can be limited. Loans are generally the primary source of funding, with graduate debt averaging around $75,000, particularly for students financing their education without outside help (parents, grandparents, savings, etc.). Students who explore all funding options and look at these options realistically can keep the process of financing law school manageable and (relatively) painless.
Law School Admission Council: An excellent website with a variety of resources for the prelaw student. The website provides general information on the types of aid available for law students, the application process and timeline, repayment and determining eligibility.
The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid: Popular website with information about loans, scholarships, military aid programs, links to online aid applications, FAQs, a loan repayment calculator, and a financial aid contribution estimator.
Department of Education’s Student Guide: Information on federal student aid resources (such as Stafford/Ford and Perkins loans), the application process, eligibility requirements, and standard award amounts.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid: Application used to determine eligibility for government funded financial aid. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the information schools will be requesting from you (and possibly your parents) in the application process.
Sources of Funding
Every law school offers different financial aid options for their students. Generally, financial aid packages have a loan and/or scholarship component. Research the policies and procedures of the schools you are considering and make sure to submit your applications on time! Before you matriculate, set up an informal meeting with a financial aid officer at your chosen school, as they are a great resource for general and school-specific information. Contact information for your financial aid officer can usually be found on the school’s website or through the admissions office.
- Stafford/Ford Loan Program—Students can borrow up to $18,500 annually through the U.S. Department of Education. Up to $8,500 of these Stafford Loans can be subsidized (meaning no interest accrues on the loan while you are in school) and the remainder is unsubsidized (interest begins accruing immediately). You must qualify for the need-based Subsidized loan.
- Perkins Loan—A low-interest, federal subsidized loan, awarded by some schools to students who demonstrate financial need. Generally these funds are limited and are not offered to most students.
- Some schools have established endowed loan programs and offer loans to their students, often with terms more favorable than federal or private loans.
- Often a student’s federal loans and other financial aid does not cover their entire cost of attendance. In these cases, they may take out a private loan to cover the remaining costs. These loans are often less desirable than federal or institutional loans, as they have higher interest rates and fees and less favorable repayment terms. Students also can take out private loans to cover costs associated with residency and relocation. There are numerous private loan programs available to law students, including MEDLOANS Alternative Loan Program (Sallie Mae), CitiAssist (Citibank), MedExcel (Nellie Mae), Med Access (Access Group), and Educaid.
- Many schools award scholarships (free money!) to students based on criteria such as merit or financial need. Be aware that a large percentage of schools require you to submit your parents’ financial information on your application in order to be considered for need-based scholarships, and may use this information to calculate your eligibility.
- Outside Scholarships
- Research your connections! Try to find additional scholarship opportunities outside of your school from organizations that you, your family or your friends belong to, such as fraternities and sororities, civic clubs, unions or religious groups.
- Also, take the time to search for other outside scholarships awarded by private sponsors, which are often based on specific criteria such as practice area, place of residence, special talents, or membership in an underrepresented group. Free scholarship search engines are available online; be wary of services that cost money or guarantee scholarship awards. Some credible and free search engines are:
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
High debt levels prevent many law school graduates from taking low-paying public service jobs. Recently, more resources are becoming available to new lawyers helping to alleviate their debt burden and allow them to work in public interest law. A number of law schools, states, and employers offer varying levels of assistance to graduates working in the public sector, helping repay their loans. Fewer Federal LRAP options are available, but in some instances, the government will forgive student loans for attorneys working for certain federal agencies or in a nonprofit child or family service agency with high risk children from low income families. Additional information is available at Equal Justice Works (http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/), a guide to public interest law, including information on how to finance a career in the public sector.
The Federal Work-Study program provides funding for students to work part-time during the school year and full time during the summer months. Students may work in an on-campus job or for off-campus nonprofit agencies. Not all schools participate in this program. Work-study is a need-based award and eligibility is determined based on the student’s financial information submitted on the FAFSA.
Things to Consider…
- Your budget
- There are many costs associated with law school in addition to tuition and fees. You will also need to be able to pay for your health insurance, rent, transportation, utilities, books, food, etc. Some additional costs, such as child care, medical, and dental costs, are not covered by financial aid. It is important to have savings or other resources available for emergencies.
- Your citizenship
- Limited resources are available to non-U.S. citizens. Most federal sources of aid (and a significant portion of school-funded aid) are available only to U.S. citizens, nationals, permanent residents, and eligible non-citizens. Generally, non-citizens are considered to be eligible if they are in the U.S. for other than a temporary purpose. For more information on eligibility requirements, visit www.ifap.ed.gov/sfahandbooks/attachments/sech2-citizenship.pdf. Some private loans will allow international students to borrow funds, often with a U.S.-citizen co-borrower. If you are an ineligible non-citizen, carefully consider your financing options when deciding to attend law school.
- Current debt
- If you are entering law school carrying previous debt, either from credit cards or loans (educational, automobile, etc.), you should make your best effort to pay off as much of this debt as possible before you begin law school. Your financial budget for law school will not cover monthly credit card or loan payments, and you can quickly find yourself running out of money. Stabilize your finances before borrowing more money and protect your credit rating!
How to Apply
The law schools themselves administer requests for financial aid. Requests for financial aid should be made at the time of application so that the school will send all relevant materials pertaining to its financial resources and requirements. The general consensus on the availability of aid for law students is that there tends to be less of it relative to undergraduate aid, and that it frequently takes the form of loans rather than grant, scholarships, or stipend. Most aid is based on an assessment of financial need although there are exceptions to this rule. Check the various law school bulletins for such scholarships for in-state residents who are pursuing graduate study. Virginia has state loans that are almost automatic.
Most law schools subscribe to the Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service which standardizes applicant background and financial data. The GAPSFAS forms are available from GAPSFAS, Box 2614, Princeton, New Jersey, 08541, and must be submitted to the office in Princeton which will, in turn, supply the law schools with your financial aid history and current financial status. The fees for this service cannot be waived. Law Schools which don't use GAPFSAS probably require the FAF (Financial Aid Form) instead. Both GAPSFAS and FAF are partially independent branches of ETS.
The federal work-study program, administered through the colleges allow for a combination of grant and "self-help" in the form of a part-time job at the college. The National Direct Student Loan (DSL) program provides student loans based on need at a low interest rate. Each law school determines eligibility for this program. The most common aid source is the Guaranteed Student Loan Program, which provides loans with a maximum of $5,000 per year. Many schools have private scholarship funds earmarked for minority students. Check these out with each law school in which you are interested.
NYU Law An-Bryce Scholarship Program
New York University School of Law's An-Bryce Scholarship Program provides full scholarships for three years of law study at NYU School of Law to several outstanding JD students who are among the first in their immediate family to pursue a graduate degree. The mission of the An-Bryce Foundation is to cultivate future leaders from among society's most socio-economically disadvantaged young people. In addition to financial support, An-Bryce Scholars will participate in a variety of events and activities specifically designed for the program, including the week-long Institute of Judicial Administration's Appellate Judges Seminar, the opportunity to participate in a law preview preparation course, meetings with foundation directors and An-Bryce upperclassmen and alumni, and luncheon seminars. The An-Bryce Professor of Law will also serve as a guide, mentor, academic advisor, and professional counselor to the scholars. The selection committee will consider applicants admitted to NYU School of Law who have indicated an interest in the An-Bryce Scholarship Program on their Application for Admission.
For further information, visit http://www.law.nyu.edu.