Make a plan to pay for law school
You can use a 1-2-3 approach to help figure out how to finance your law degree.
- Use “free” money first. Supplement your savings by applying for money you don’t need to pay back, like law scholarships, grants, and assistantship positions.
- Apply for federal student aid. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for government loans and grants as well as state and school aid, if they are available.
- Consider a responsible private student loan for law school. If you qualify, a private law school loan can help you pay any remaining tuition, fees, or living expenses.
1. Use "free" money first
If you are thinking about using your savings to help pay for law school, there are a few things you should consider. You’ll want to make sure you can pay your monthly bills and still have some money set aside for any unplanned events. Create a budget to understand what your expenses are and how much savings you can use for your education. Talk to a financial aid advisor if you have any questions.
Law school scholarships and grants
Some law schools may have scholarships or grants their students can apply for. Grants are often need-based while scholarships can be need-based or merit-based. Look at the websites of the schools you’re applying to and talk to their financial aid offices to find out more.
10 public law schools that award the most aid—organized by grant amount
- Penn State University, Carlisle
- University of California, Davis
- University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- Penn State University, University Park
- Arizona State University
- University of California, Irvine
- University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
- University of Virginia
- Indiana University, Bloomington
- University of Iowa
10 private law schools that award the most aid—organized by grant amount
- St. John’s University
- Chapman University (Dale E. Fowler School of Law)
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Case Western Reserve University
- Loyola Marymount University
- Villanova University
- Hofstra University
- Quinnipiac University
- University of Southern California
- Yeshiva University
Some legal professional associations, law firms, and for-profit companies have scholarships and grants for law students. Here are a few examples of the organizations that have scholarship programs or resources:
- American Bar Association: The ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship awards $15,000 over three years to law students from diverse backgrounds.
- Federal Circuit Bar Association: Scholarships range from $5,000 – $10,000. The association classifies their law scholarships into two types: judicial and association.
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF): Each year, the LDF offers the Earl Warren Scholarship to first- and second-year law students. The scholarship provides $10,000 for up to three years as well as the chance for an internship, externship, or research project, along with an invitation to the Civil Rights Training Institute. Students must remain in good standing for all years they have the scholarship.
- Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA): The Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship program awards up to 10 one-time scholarships worth $10,000 to incoming first-year law students.
You can search thousands of scholarships for law students using our free Scholarship Search tool. You can also reach out directly to the organizations for more information. Ask school department heads for recommendations on which scholarships, awards, or grants may be best for you.
Loan forgiveness programs
Depending on what job you take after law school, you may be eligible for a loan forgiveness program. Although you don’t see the immediate benefits of the program while you’re in school, these programs can make repaying your loans more manageable. Here are a few of the most well-known loan forgiveness programs:
2. Apply for federal student aid
To see if you qualify for any federal loans and grants, you’ll fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA can give you access to the following types of federal, state, and school aid:
- Federal Direct Loans: You can borrow a set amount of these loans (previously called “Stafford Loans”), usually over $20,000. These loans are unsubsidized, meaning you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them.
- Direct Graduate PLUS Loans: If you need additional help covering expenses, you may be able to take out PLUS Loans. These loans are credit-based and typically have a higher interest rate than Federal Direct Loans.
- School-based aid: Your school may distribute additional aid based on the FAFSA. You could qualify for loans, scholarships, or a Federal Work-Study position, which allows you to work part-time on campus to earn money to cover your living expenses.
- State aid: Like school-based aid, state financial help varies. When you file your FAFSA, you can find out what your state offers. Also look on your state’s website for other opportunities.
3. Consider a responsible private student loan for law school
After you’ve explored "free" money and financial aid, you can consider a private student loan for law school to help pay for any gaps in your school tuition, fees, or living expenses.
Private law school loans are available through a bank or credit union. These loans are credit-based. The better your credit, the better your chance of getting a loan. Private student loans are available with fixed or variable interest rates.
For example, the Sallie Mae Law School LoanSM is available with a fixed interest or variable interest rate. It also gives you the option to make payments either while you’re in school or defer until after you leave school. As with federal student loans, you’ll have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest. Sallie Mae also offers the Bar Study Loan® for expenses associated with fees and living costs as you study for the bar exam.
Deferring undergraduate student loans
If you have private or federal student loans from your undergraduate degree, you can consider deferring them while you’re in law school so you have one less bill to pay. Contact your loan servicer to find out what options you have. Be aware that although you won’t have to make monthly payments on these loans while you’re studying, the loans will likely still accrue interest.
How to borrow responsibly
Borrowing is often a necessary part of getting the education you need to start your legal career. But it’s important to borrow responsibly so you can pay back your loans on time after you earn your degree. Limit your borrowing to the amount you’ll need for the cost of tuition and related expenses. Evaluate what your anticipated monthly loan payments might be versus how much you expect to earn as a legal professional. You can research your potential salary through professional associations and the U.S. Department of Labor, which lists the median pay for many fields.