By Courtney Gabbara • September 15, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law
It is said time and time again--student loan debt is an investment into your future that cannot be taken away from you. This is true, but it still doesn’t make it any easier to digest at the end of your three years when you “get the bill.”
With information right at applicants’ fingertips, it’s no secret that law school is a huge time, emotional, and financial commitment. This is why the decision to attend law school is not one that should be taken lightly. Today, more than ever, law school applicants must take on the role of savvy consumer. But where should you begin? In this post, I will be highlighting some of the key financial factors students should be thinking about while applying to law school.
Scholarship Criteria and Deadlines: Not all law schools are created equally. Don’t believe me? It looks like someone has a bit of light reading in their future. The first step towards being a savvy law school applicant is showing the admissions and scholarship committees you mean business. Nothing is worse than overlooking an instruction or missing a deadline specific to a law school you are applying to. Make sure that you are reviewing each school’s scholarship criteria before you submit your application. Also, be proactive—look for secondary options.
Post-Admission Scholarship Reconsideration: A recently growing trend in the admissions arena is scholarship negotiation. Due to a changing legal market, today’s applicant is receiving greater scholarship offers than have been available in the past. This is only amplified by students taking control of their financial futures and being candid with law school admissions committees about their financial needs. Something to consider before requesting scholarship reconsideration includes whether or not there is a benefit to doing so. At the end of the day, this decision is up to the student, but taking renewal rates and GPA as well as overall tuition costs into consideration is important. A helpful hint—you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Be nice to admissions officers. They are not the enemy! Work with them and they will work with you (to the best of their ability).
Loans: To be honest, the word “loan” makes my skin crawl just as much as the next guy. It is inevitable, however, that the majority of students entering law school will have to take out some sort of loan to help finance their education. This does not even factor in pre-law school debt! Each student’s needs are different. These needs will dictate what kind of loan (if any) you take out. GradPlus? Stafford? Private? Be sure to talk to a financial aid officer before submitting your seat deposit to learn more about what your options are.
Budgeting: Sadly, I am no stranger to law school debt. Knowing what I know now, it is more important than ever to have a financial plan pre-law school. Many law school applicants have never budgeted before. If this is you, take the challenge head on and think before you spend! What are some of your expenses? What do you need and what can you live without? How much is tuition and cost of living at School X verses School Z? Having a budget in mind will help you plan whether this means taking time off, saving a bit more per pay check, or living a bit more modestly. I mean, do you really need to live in a $1200/month condo on the beach?
Taking Time Off Before Applying: One way to help cut the cost of law school is to take time off and save money. Law schools aren’t going anywhere. If you can afford to hold off on attending law school right away, decide if that is something you are comfortable with doing. Each student is different. The important thing is to use that time wisely and get your ducks in a row.
Working during Law School (Full-Time or Part-Time): Some students come to law school expecting it to be like undergrad. In reality, I assure you, the two are very different. In undergrad, you were probably juggling classes, work, extracurricular activities, and a social life. In law school, your schedule will show equal flexibility—but how do you invest that time? ABA standards state full-time students may work up to a total of 20 hours per week on top of class commitments. This restriction is different for part-time students. If you do plan on working, will it be as a work study? These factors matter and will help you budget and save accordingly.
Planning Ahead: It’s all about the details. Once in law school, students tend to fall under the impression that they no longer have to budget. This is crazy talk! When you start your 1L year, you need to sit down and think about the controllable costs (your personal or miscellaneous costs). This includes the cost of living, car payments, cell phone plans, fun money, books, bar prep programs, etc. Sit yourself down and come up with a monthly budget. How much are you willing to spend on each? Set caps and try to stick to them. At the end of the month, see how you did. Were you able to stick to your goals? Was there any room to save? Also, ask yourself if there are additional scholarships you may qualify for that could help you shave down some of you expenses (see above). The early bird catches the worm. Don’t let yourself go hungry!
For more information regarding financial aid, I encourage you to contact the financial aid department at each law school you hope to attend or tweet me at @CourtneyGabbara, #msjdtweets, or #msjdprelaw.