Be realistic. You will almost certainly have to borrow considerable money to finance your law school education. True, some law schools are offering more scholarships, including full-tuition scholarships, compared to 10-15 years ago. Alma graduates have won more than their share of such scholarships. Do not, however, assume that the law schools to which you apply will be as generous in awarding scholarships as the undergraduate schools to which you applied. Personal contributions, including those from your family, and loans are the main ways of financing law school for most students. According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), “approximately 80 percent of law students rely on education loans as their largest source of financial aid for law school.”
“[My entering law school class] was loaded with top quality students from Ivy League schools and other nationally recognized academic powerhouses. After the first semester, however, my training at Alma College paid off, literally, as I earned academic scholarship funds … because of poor academic performance by those same intimidating top-gun students that received the scholarships coming in the law!” — John Becker ’91; Case Western Reserve ’95
Depending on the law school you attend and how much money you borrow, you could emerge from law school with a total debt between $50,000 and $100,000. That sounds daunting, but it should not, by itself, cause you to abandon your law school plans or to attend only the least costly school that accepts you. It’s an old but true cliché that the time and money you put into your law school education is an investment in your future. A rough rule of thumb provides some solace: if your starting salary at your first permanent job after law school is approximately the same as your law school indebtedness, you should be able to discharge that debt over time without too much difficulty and without living like an indentured servant for ten years after law school.
Check out loan forgiveness programs at the law schools to which you apply. An increasing number of law schools, including some of the most prestigious, have such programs for their law school graduates who take low-paying “public interest” legal positions after law school.
According to the LSAC, the “best source of information about financing a legal education is the financial aid office (and/or the website) of any LSAC-member law school.” For more specific information on financing law school through loans and about the availability of scholarships, review the materials you get from law schools, especially regarding Merit Scholarships. See also the following sites:
Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is excellent: http://www.lsac.org (under Law School Resources)
Cornell Career Services has useful information on filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the three types of loans available through the federal government, and how to get information about private loans: http://www.career.cornell.edu/students/grad/law/law.financing.html
U.S. News & World Report can give you access to a scholarship database of over 8,000 funding sources and over 600,000 individual awards. Use ilrg.com to access the U.S. News “Top 100 Law Schools.” Use the Rankings Index to go to “Law.” At “Law” click on “Scholarship Search,” which will take you to two relevant sites, ” “Government Programs” and “Scholarship and Loan Information Search Engine.”