Financing Your Legal Education
Financing a legal education is not easy. Tuition at law schools varies significantly. Many state schools offer special tuition rates for bona fide residents of the given state. Out-of-state tuition for non-residents at such state institutions still tends to be fairly good buy, as far as cost goes. Private institutions range from the moderately affordable to the outrageously expensive. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools and other law school reference books can give you an idea of law school tuition ranges. You will have to check with each law school to find out exact amounts for current tuition and related expenses.
Applying for Financial Aid
If you are applying for financial aid, you should begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available at the Clark financial aid office, or from the law schools to which you are applying. The FAFSA is a needs analysis tool developed by the U.S. Government. You are asked for information on your income, assets, and other financial resources, to be used to compute how much you and your family should contribute toward your legal education. Many schools will also require copies of tax returns and in some cases, the completion of a supplemental form. This information helps the law school to develop an analysis of what types of aid you will need (i.e.- scholarships, grants, loans, workstudy) to pay your expenses.
Perhaps the most common method to obtain funds for law school is through loans. You may decide that your bank offers certain loan programs that are particularly suited to your needs; check with them. More often than not, law students rely on one of three federally-guaranteed loan programs: the Perkins Federal Loan, the subsidized Federal Stafford Loan, and the unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan. Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan - Up to $8,500 a year is available to students who meet the need criteria. Interest is paid by the federal government while you are enrolled in law school. Repayment of the loan begins six months after you graduate, withdraw, or drop below half-time status. Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan - A student may borrow up to a combined total of $18,500 in subsidized and unsubsidized loans. You choose to either pay the interest or allow the interest to accrue while you are in law school. Perkins Federal Loan - Available to students at some schools, each award is determined by the law school itself with information obtained from your FAFSA. Students must demonstrate need. The federal government pays the interest while you are in school. Repayment begins six months after you finish school or drop below half-time status.
There are a number of private loan programs available through lenders including Law Access, Law-Loans, and The Education Resource Institute (TERI). Many of the programs allow you to borrow federal as well as private loans through them, allowing you to track your loan portfolio more easily. Through the LEXIS/NEXIS gateway, you can access an electronic application for Law Access' private Law Access Loan and other federal loans. Loans for Bar-Review study are also available through Law Access and Law-Loans to students who have previously borrowed through these programs. More information and contact addresses and phone number can be found in the Law Services' publication, "Financial Aid for Law School: A Preliminary Guide," available for free though law schools and Law Services.
There are some federal funds available through a program for students to work part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer. Positions are either on-campus in a variety of settings or in off-campus nonprofit agencies. Additional information can be requested from any law school financial aid office.
It is very important to have a good credit history. Your repayment records as reported by financial institutions and retail stores will be seen by lenders who will determine your credit worthiness. The credit bureaus report amounts you borrowed or charged, your outstanding balances, and the promptness with which payments have been made. Failure to pay your financial obligations in a prompt and timely manner will jeopardize your eligibility for some education loans. Our best advice-keep credit card balances low and pay on time!
Scholarships and Grants
As scholarships and grants do not have to be paid back, you should look into every possibility to finance your legal education via this funding. The law schools themselves usually endow their own scholarship programs, with funds from alumni, private, and corporate donations. Many grants are made available by the state in which the law school is located. The great majority of scholarships and grants are need-based. There are, however, a handful of merit-based scholarships available. These are not only hard to find but are also extremely competitive.
Often, scholarships and grants are used to attract outstanding students, minority students, non-traditional students, and disadvantaged students. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools lists a number of sources to research private scholarship listings. Also a number of catalogue-type reference materials on scholarships and grants are on file in the Career Services Library.
Council on Legal Education Opportunity(CLEO)
CLEO is a federally funded program that provides fellowships for law students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The program awards tuition and a stipend to 200 students a year. The program requires CLEO fellows to participate in a training program for law students by taking courses the summer before they begin their law school careers. The summer institute introduces students to the law school environment and builds a foundation for legal writing. It is hoped that such background training will contribute to the academic success of CLEO graduates while in law school. For more information, write CLEO at 1420 N Street, N.W., Terrace One, Washington, D.C. 20005, or call (202) 785-4840.
Financial Aid Resources
Use the following resources to help you plan how to pay for law school. Contact Clark's Office of Financial Aid with any questions.
Financing Your Law School Education. A publication of Law School Admission Council/ Law School Admission Services.
Financial Aid for Higher Education. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, Publisher.
Preparation for and Financing of a Legal Education for Disadvantaged Persons. Washington, D.C.: Council of Legal Education Opportunities.
Financial Aid for Minority Students in Law. Michele S. Wilson. Garret Park, MD: Garrett Park Press.
Graduate and Professional School Opportunities for Minority Students. Princeton: Educational Testing Service.
Frequently Asked Questions
What options are available to pay for law school?
There are several ways to finance your legal education. A substantial number of students draw on their family's resources. Family and personal savings are typically insufficient to finance the total cost of a legal education. There are several options for financial aid to assist in meeting the expenses you will face as a law student. There are grants and scholarships that do not require repayment and there are various types of loans for which interest is due.
When do I apply for financial aid?
Each law school has its own deadline for filing financial aid forms. Just like your application deadline, it is foolish to wait until the financial aid deadline to file. You should apply for financial aid at least one month prior to the earliest financial aid deadline specified by one of your target law schools. The reason is quite simple. Most law schools will not analyze your financial aid status until after you are admitted. If you wait until the last minute to ask for financial aid, the law school may have already pledged all of its money to students who applied early. Of course, the system varies greatly from school to school, but as a general rule, you should file your financial aid forms early.