Given the high cost of law school tuition and the possibility of a substantial increase in federal student loan interest rates this summer, current and incoming law students should take thoughtful measures to lower the cost of their education without sacrificing its quality.
[Read about other upcoming changes to federal student loans.]
While law school almost always represents a significant investment, there are a number of ways to lower the costs. Here are five tips to reduce your law school expenses:
1. Position yourself for merit-based scholarships: Many law schools award significant merit-based aid every year. There are often no separate applications to receive these grants; law schools select award winners based on the quality of their law school applications.
Keep this in mind as you study for the LSAT and write your law school essays, as investing in preparing a stellar application could save you tens of thousands of dollars in tuition over the three years of law school. You might also want to consider working with a law admissions expert to increase your chances of earning merit-based aid.
[Find out how to negotiate financial aid in law school.]
2. Consider enrolling in a state school: If costs are a top concern, consider attending a public law school either in the state where you currently reside or in a state where it is easy to obtain in-state tuition after your first year. Rules regarding in-state tuition vary widely from state to state. Attending a public law school could save you $60,000 or more when compared with attending a similarly ranked private school.
3. Cut all unnecessary living expenses: Since your income is quite limited during law school, you must also strive to lower your living expenses. Compare the housing costs in the city or town where your school is located with any student housing that the school offers to see which offers a better deal. (Don't always assume it will be the school housing.)
Consider sharing an apartment with a couple of roommates or seek out another creative, low-cost living situation. For example, a client of mine serves as property manager of his small apartment building, so he does not have to pay rent.
Also, if you have been working for a year or two and are used to enjoying the lifestyle associated with a steady income, you may need to make some changes like cutting back on going out or trading in that expensive gym membership for a more affordable option.
4. Don't overspend on books: While it may be more convenient to buy your textbooks and study guides from the school bookstore, it is worth spending the extra time looking at specialized websites, like Barrister Books, as well as Amazon, where the same books are often as much as 50 percent less expensive.
You can also buy used books online, or borrow or purchase them from someone ahead of you in law school. Just be sure that your books are the right edition, as older editions may have different page numbering and may be missing sections.
5. Earn top 1L grades: Start preparing for law school early and put as much effort as possible into your first year of law school to earn the best possible grades. If you are at the top of your class, your school may be concerned that you are considering transferring; if so, they are likely to offer you additional merit-based grants for the following two years.
Remember that nearly all law school classes are graded on a forced curve, so you will need to not only master the material but also perform better than the majority of your classmates.
[Read more about succeeding in law school.]