There’s no point in sugar-coating it: law school costs a lot of money. But knowing the numbers now, and considering your options early, will ultimately set you up for success in the future.
Law school is a three-year commitment. The average cost of three years of tuition is about $150,000 for private law schools, $120,000 for public out-of-state law schools, and $83,000 for public in-state law schools.
These numbers, of course, are just tuition: they do not account for application fees, LSAT registration fees, deposits, and, most importantly, the total cost of attendance (tuition plus books, housing costs, personal living expenses, health insurance, etc.). For some elite private law schools in major cities–the types of law schools many BC students are interested in applying to–the total cost of attendance can approach, and exceed, $100,000 per year; that’s $300,000 for three years of law school. Law school students on average graduate anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 or more in debt, which in some cases is in addition to any debt students accrued during their undergraduate studies.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself: “Wow, that’s a lot of money. But it’s okay, because as a lawyer I’m going to make bank and pay back my debt easily.” That’s true, but only on very rare occasions. Starting salaries for lawyers can be as low as $40,000 in the public sector and as high as $180,000 in the private sector. That private sector number certainly looks attractive, but less than 15% of first-year lawyers end up earning that; these lawyers also tend to work far, far more than 40 hours per week. In truth, the overwhelming majority of first-year lawyers earn a starting salary nowhere near that number. In the private sector, the adjusted mean income for first-year lawyers is about $73,000 in the private sector and $50,000 in the public sector.
Thinking about how to pay for law school–and, really, considering the raw numbers involved in financing your legal education–can be overwhelming. But these numbers are not meant to deter you from pursuing your dream of becoming a lawyer. Rather, it’s essential that you start thinking about costs, debt, and salaries in order to be predictive about your future financial situation. The more you prepare now, the fewer unwelcome financial surprises there will be down the road.
Here are some important steps you can take right now to ready yourself:
- Do the math on what you’re paying to attend Boston College. If you’ve taken out loans for your BC education, these must ultimately be factored into your financial picture for applying to law school.
- Take advantage of the free, comprehensive resources provided by AccessLex:
- Access the Analytix law school comparison tool
- Consult XploreJD, which allows you to see and compare scholarships offered by law schools
- Register on MAX Pre-Law to educate yourself and improve your financial literacy
- Consult the Road to Zero: A Strategic Approach to Loan Repayment
- Use the Student Loan Calculator to get a sense of your debt load, especially if you have taken out undergraduate loans
- Attend a webinar to learn more about financing law school
- Explore the Law School Admissions Council’s different resources on paying for law school, including student loan and debt resources, an overview of financial aid options, and tips on applying for aid.
- Research which law schools offer Loan Repayment Assistance Programs, especially if you’re interested in a career in public interest law. Reach out to law school financial aid and admissions offices about the loan repayment options they have.
- Stay current with developments in the legal job market. The latest data that we have, provided by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), is for the law school class of 2017. Note the wide range of average starting salaries depending on the field. The American Bar Association also keeps updated employment data.
- Identify and apply to any and all scholarships. Each law school you apply to will have some form of merit- or need-based funding, but be sure to also check out external opportunities. Yale Law School keeps a comprehensive list of opportunities and is a great place to start your scholarship search.
And, of course, make an appointment with the pre-law advisor to discuss your interest in law school, your application, and any questions you have about the process.