If you’re dreaming of becoming a lawyer, you might find yourself looking at lists of the best law schools and dreaming of attending prestigious universities like Yale, Stanford, or Harvard.
However, you’re going to want to do more research beyond just the brand recognition of the university name. These top-tier schools also come with hefty price tags that could leave you with more debt than you can handle.
The range of how much law school costs is quite vast, with some schools charging a little over $10,000 in tuition and fees while others charge upwards of $65,000.
How much is law school? How can you reduce your law school cost per year? Let’s take a look at what you need to know.
How Much Is Law School?
Before making the decision to attend law school, it’s important for students to look closely at the cost of attendance for the schools they are interested in. This can help them determine how they will finance their education or their debt before enrolling.
There are a number of different factors that add up to create the cost of attendance. These include tuition, books and supplies, fees, room and board, transportation, and more.
It is required by the American Bar Association (ABA) that each school publish its cost of attendance. You can therefore easily find this information on each school’s website. It is most commonly located on the financial aid office page.
The average private law school cost per year in terms of tuition and fees in 2019 was $49,312. The average cost of attending a public law school as an out-of-state student was $41,628 per year. To attend a public institution as an in-state student, the average cost is $28,186 per year.
However, the cost to get a law degree can vary widely depending on a lot of different variables. For example, attending top-tier law programs at some of the best schools in the country can cost you quite a bit more.
What Is the Total Cost of Law School?
When you are budgeting for your law degree, it’s important to understand that the above-stated numbers are only averages, and they only factor in tuition and fees. There are additional costs to getting a law degree that you will want to consider before enrolling.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each of the expense categories.
When you think of the cost of college, you likely think of tuition right off the bat. This is the amount of money you pay towards the instruction you will receive from the university. You might also hear this referred to as the “sticker price,” as it is the number that is published on the college’s website and in their brochures.
There are additional fees that impact the cost to get a law degree. These fees might be associated with the maintenance of the university including things like technology, transportation, and athletic events. This can often add several thousand dollars to the already steep cost of law school tuition.
At many law schools, the cost of books can easy average out to be more than $1,000. There are a number of different factors that impact how much money you will spend on books, including your school, your professor, and whether you can get by with a digital copy or if you need to buy the hard copy.
You’ll also want to factor in the cost of a bar preparation program if you expect you will participate in such a program.
These days, it’s pretty standard for students to have their own laptops. Increasingly, people bring them to class in order to take notes. This means that you’ll probably want to get a laptop before attending law school if you don’t already have one.
If you head to law school without a laptop while all of your peers have this type of technology, you will likely be at a disadvantage. It’s also possible that you will have to buy certain software as a part of your course load. Taking tests online is also something that you might be charged a fee for.
Room and Board
When you’re attending law school, you most likely won’t live in housing that’s provided by the university or college. There typically aren’t dormitories for students in law programs. This means that you will be out in the open market looking for a place to live, and how much this costs will have a great deal to do with what city you are attending school.
You will want to think of the cost of living of the area if you are considering a specific law school. Living in a high cost of living city will mean that you spend quite a bit more on housing, utilities, food, transportation, and other expenses.
If you do end up using room and board that’s provided by your school, this can add an additional cost of $20,000 for each year of attendance. It’s important to remember that that cost only covers the time that school is in session. This means that you might have to find other housing (with additional costs) during the summer or during breaks.
If you are living off-campus, you will have to come up with an affordable and convenient plan for transportation. Depending on the location where you are going to law school and how far you live from there, you might find that public transportation is just fine or you might need to purchase a car if you don’t have one already.
If you choose to have a car while at school, there is also the cost of buying a parking permit to be concerned with. Look into the different parking options both at your school and at your prospective apartment and be sure to factor this cost into your budget.
Other Living Expenses
There will be a number of other living expenses that should be considered as a part of your budget. Which expenses you will deal with depends on your particular situation.
There will be the normal costs of being a person, including groceries, toiletries, household supplies, and so on. On top of that, you might have to pay for phone service, health insurance, medications, or more. You will also need to factor in child care if you are attending law school with a young child.
It can be difficult to cover all of these expenses because many law schools have a limit on how many hours students can work. This means that many students end up turning to student loans in order to receive their law degrees. Unfortunately, this can leave many people dealing with an overwhelming amount of student loan debt.
(What is work-study, exactly? Check out this article to learn more.)
What Are the Cheapest Law Schools?
While the cost of law school can be steep, there is a wide range of tuition costs depending on the school you attend, whether it is public or private, and whether you are in-state or out-of-state.
According to PublicLegal, the cheapest law schools in the U.S. are:
- University of the District of Columbia: In-state tuition $12,838
- University of North Dakota: In-state tuition $13,023
- Brigham Young University: $13,060
- University of Montana: In-state tuition $13,177
- Florida A&M University: In-state tuition $14,132
Cost shouldn’t be the only consideration when you’re choosing a law school, but you also don’t want to take on more debt that you will be able to handle.
(Are you wondering when college applications are due? If so, check out this article to learn more.)
What Are the Most Expensive Law Schools?
If you’re looking for a bargain law degree, you’ll want to avoid these schools. According to national data, these are the most expensive law schools in the country.
- Columbia University: $69,916 tuition and fees; $19,190 room and board
- New York University: $66,422 tuition and fees; $24,400 room and board
- University of Pennsylvania: $65,804 tuition and fees; $16,830 room and board
- Cornell University: $65,541 tuition and fees; $16,766 room and board
- Harvard University: $64,978 tuition and fees; $24,508 room and board
As you can see, the cost of tuition can be much higher than the above-stated average. When you combine tuition and fees with room and board at some of these most expensive law schools, you can be looking at upwards of $90,000 each year not even factoring in the cost of books, transportation, and other expenses.
(Want to know more about what it means to get a grant for school? For example, do you have to pay them back? Check out this article to learn more.)
How to Reduce the Cost of Law School
While the cost to get a law degree can seem overwhelming, there are a number of ways that you can reduce how much it costs to go to school. You can do this both by finding ways to reduce the cost of school itself as well as by reducing your cost of living while attending school.
Go to a Public School
Public schools tend to be quite a bit cheaper than private schools. This is true whether you are attending law school or working towards a bachelor’s degree. Attending a public school can be even more cost-effective when you are a resident of the state that the school is in.
Seek Financial Aid
One important thing to understand is that there isn’t nearly as much financial aid available for law school as there is for undergraduate education. This means that scholarships and student loans are the primary forms of aid you can get as a law student.
You will want to position yourself to be eligible for merit-based scholarships before you apply. This will have a lot to do with your LSAT score and your grades during your undergraduate education.
Do Well in Your Classes
You can receive continued merit scholarships while you are attending law school. Even if you weren’t able to get a merit scholarship in order to enter law school because of your grades or LSAT score, you might be able to get additional aid by excelling in your classes during law school.
Find Ways to Reduce Your Housing Costs
A big part of anyone’s budget is their housing costs. By reducing your housing costs, you can take on less debt in order to attend law school.
Some of the ways you can cut back on housing costs include:
- Having roommates
- Living with your parents
- Living in a more modest area
- Renting a room rather than an apartment
- Living in low-income housing
It can sometimes help you save money to live on campus. You’ll want to factor in transportation costs, utility costs, and food costs when determining whether campus housing is a more cost-effective option for you.
Reduce Your Living Expenses
If you can’t reduce your law school tuition, you can reduce your living expenses. Find new hobbies that are free or inexpensive, stop going out to eat and to the bar, and cancel unnecessary subscription services you have.
Lastly, you might be able to share textbooks with other students or recent graduates. You might find that sometimes teachers aren’t referencing a certain book well enough to justify the purchase price.
You can also rent textbooks if you’d rather not own your own copy. This can be cheaper than buying books. You can also purchase used books, but often professors will require that you have a certain edition of each textbook.
Are You Preparing to Apply for Law School?
There are many compelling reasons why you might want to attend law school. However, one big hindrance can be the cost. When applying to law school, you should be very attentive to how much debt you will be taking on and how you plan on paying it back.
If you’re planning on attending college and you’re trying to determine how you will pay for it, we have a library of resources to help you meet your educational goals without burning a hole in your wallet. Check out this article about how to pay for college to learn more.