Tuition isn’t the only expense when calculating how much law school will set you back
Written by: Enjuris Editors
Learn the real cost of law school, including how much to budget for tuition, housing, scholarships, and financial aid.
Getting a legal education is an investment in your future. And as an investment, your decision to attend law school should be treated with the same level of thoughtful consideration and planning that all sizeable financial investments require.
One of the most important factors to evaluate is the financial cost. While tuition can be the starting point of your evaluation, it’s not the ending point.
Let’s dig into the total cost of law school.
According to data compiled by Law School Transparency, law program tuition for ABA-approved schools has climbed steadily since 1985.
In 2018, the average tuition among ABA-approved private schools was $47,754. The average public school tuition was $27,160.
Enjuris tip: Use the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) official guide to compare the tuition charged by each school you are considering attending.
Presently, there aren’t any ABA-approved law schools that offer online JD degrees (though some schools allow you to earn a few credits online). This may change at some point, in which case the tuition for these online schools would likely be lower than traditional law schools.
Other costs and expenses
Tuition isn’t the only cost associated with law school. Let’s look at some of the other costs you’ll be expected to pay as a law student.
Housing options and costs vary from school to school. Many schools offer on-campus housing, while others require you to live off campus. Unsurprisingly, housing in large cities is generally more expensive than housing in rural areas. The cost of living associated with the location of your law school is an important factor to consider when choosing a law school.
Enjuris tip: Get in touch with the financial aid department at the law school you’re planning to attend well before the start of the school year. Often, they will be able to put you in touch with other incoming students looking for housing. Living with a roommate is a great way to save on housing. Also, consider attending a law school located near family. Living with family during law school is a great way to save money and guarantee a good meal every night!
Textbooks might not seem like a significant cost when compared to tuition and housing, but law school books can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,250 per year.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep your book costs down. For example:
Buy used books (assuming your professor doesn’t require a book that was just published)
Search for better deals online before purchasing a book at the school bookstore
Re-sell your books at the end of the semester and use the money to help purchase next semester’s books
Food, transportation, and other personal expenses
Law schools are required to calculate the total “living expenses” for a single, full-time student living on-campus, off-campus, and at home. These living expenses are supposed to include everything you need to attend law school with the exception of tuition and fee charges.
To find the living expenses for your school, identify your school from the drop-down menu and generate the Standard 509 Report on the ABA Required Disclosures website.
Keep in mind, however, that the living expenses provided are just an estimate. You need to consider your personal situation when deciding how much to budget. For example, do you have a car? Is there public transportation where your law school is located? Do you have unique medical expenses?
In addition, keep in mind that the “living expenses” estimated only cover the academic year. You’ll need to budget enough to get you through the summer months as well.
Grants and scholarships
A grant or scholarship is an award that doesn’t have to be repaid. Most grants and scholarships are offered by the law school and tend to be merit-based.
Enjuris tip: You can use your school’s 509 Information Report to identify the percentage of students receiving grants and scholarships at your law school.
There are also a number of grants and scholarships offered by outside institutions. For example:
You may be eligible to receive financial aid in an amount not to exceed the cost of attendance (COA) established by the law school you attend for the academic year. The COA includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, as well as living expenses, transportation, and personal expenses. It’s set by the university and varies by law school.
Enjuris tip: To learn more about your school’s financial aid offerings, contact your school’s financial aid department.
Keep in mind education loans must be paid back after you graduate. When it comes to federal student loans, a number of flexible repayment options exist, including the Income-Driven Repayment plan which caps your monthly payment at 10% of your household’s monthly Adjusted Gross Income.
When deciding whether or not to take out loans, keep these 3 general tips in mind:
Borrow the minimum amount possible to attend the law school you choose
Borrow federal loans first
Avoid private student loans (unless you’re an international student and ineligible for federal student loans)
Most and least expensive law schools
Though the cost of tuition is always changing, let’s take a look at the 5 law schools with the highest and lowest out-of-state tuition for 2019.
Most and Least Expensive Law Schools Based on Out-of-State Tuition in 2019
University of North Dakota
New York University
Southern University Law Center
University of Pennsylvania
University of the District of Columbia
CUNY Law School
University of Mississippi
Enjuris tip: Most schools offer in-state tuition for residents. The in-state tuition is often at least half the cost of the out-of-state tuition. Whenever possible, consider attending law school in the state where you reside.
No matter what law school you ultimately decide to attend, Enjuris wishes you the best of luck with your investment!