Higher education at every level is expensive and law school is no exception. But that shouldn’t hold you back from achieving your dream. The key to managing the financial side of law school is understanding your budget, including things that you can do to minimize expenses and locate funding that fits your needs and eligibility.
Get the big picture
As you’re looking at different schools, it’s important to know that law schools are required to set up budgets that they use when awarding financial aid. These are budget components the school uses to determine the overall cost of attending the law school. At WMU-Cooley, the budget areas included in the financial aid awards include:
- General fees that a school can charge
- Room and board
- Personal misc. expenses
- Loan fees
The areas above are broken down into both fixed costs (tuition and general fees) and non-fixed costs. The non-fixed areas are ones that you can control by making adjustments in your own life and lifestyle to minimize costs during your law school journey.
Ban budget busters
When considering a law school, make a visit to the law school and check out all possible housing options. For example, rather than living alone, consider a roommate to share expenses. Many law schools offer roommate matching or other ways to connect with new or current students that may also be interested in sharing space. Keep in mind that the financial aid office will loan you a given amount of money for room and board, but that does not mean that you have to spend it all. You have the option of finding lower-cost housing which, in the end, will allow you to take out less in loans and graduate with less debt.
In the other categories, think about the things that you purchase on a regular basis that could be eliminated, all or in part. For example, do you buy at least one triple, venti, half-sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato every day? If so, consider cutting this out (or down to once a week) during law school, as the $5 per day will quickly add up and work against you and your budget. Also a big money saver is leaving your car at home and attending a law school that offers a great public transit system to help you get around inexpensively. Another budget helper is renting textbooks instead of purchasing them.
All of these areas are simple examples of small changes you can make for the short term that can make a big difference in the amount of money you will need to borrow. So keep in mind you not only need to receive a budget from the law school but you also need to have a personal budget for yourself. Together they will show you what you spend in a typical month and what you need to spend per month. Simply put, you want to live like a law student while in law school — not like a lawyer!
As you are looking at law school, first, look at your own financial situation. Do you have savings you can contribute to your legal education? Do you have equity in your home that you might want to explore using? Understand that loans are the primary means that most law students will use to finance their education, but in the end, the decision about what is financially right for you can only be made by you.
The federal government offers Stafford Loans where you can borrow up to $20,500 per academic year. If you are interested in this type of loan, you will need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to be considered. Graduate PLUS Loans are also available for law school students. With these loans they do look at a credit readiness (not necessarily your credit score) to be sure you do not have any charge-offs and that you pay your monthly bills on time.
Scholarships are another funding avenue; those within the law school and from outside. Look at scholarships that may be posted on your law school's website. Here at WMU-Cooley, we have a long list of scholarships that are available for students to review once they have stated that they plan to attend. These scholarships are varied and cover many different types of students, interests, traits and more. We even offer prospective students the option to receive a customized review for admission and scholarship level.
But no matter where the scholarship offer originates before law school, be sure to read the fine print to find out things like the law school's requirements, such as maintenance of your GPA, and other stipulations that could cost you your scholarship dollars. Also, never pay someone to help you find scholarships because you can easily search and register for numerous scholarship options online at no cost.
If you prefer to work during law school, investigate what different flexible scheduling options are available. Unlike many law schools, WMU-Cooley gives students the option of beginning their legal education in January, May and September. Having a flexible schedule may allow you to work while in law school, which could mean work-study — working at an organization for pay that comes out of your financial aid but does not need to be repaid. You could also work outside the school, so look for jobs that could enhance your resume after graduation.
Throughout your legal education make sure to stay in touch with your financial aid departments. The staff in these offices are there to assist you in your law school journey.