At the same time you are considering applying to law school, you should begin to make inquiries about how to pay for a legal education. Like everything else about law schools, the costs of attendance (including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, etc.) vary with the school but can run into over $120,000. While scholarship aid is possible, most law school students rely on federal and/or private loans. Because the financing of law school is depended on the school attended (Some schools are better bets than others.), the prospective applicant will not be able to make arrangements for the financing of law school until he or she is accepted and commits to attend.
Before March of the application year, prospective law students should fill out and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Check with the Financial Aid Office or go online www.fafsa.ed.gov to fill out this mandatory form. The FAFSA filing will generate a financial report that federal loan programs and private lenders will use to determine your ability to contribute and will start the credit application process.
But there are several things a potential applicant should do before even applying to law school.
Financing and Goals Should Match
Just as a matter of common sense, you should tailor the kind of law school you want, your anticipated career choice, and your means of financing school to your financial situation. If you already carry a substantial debt load or you have a poor credit history or substantial untapped assets, you may want to consider in-state, public law schools as opposed to far away, private ones. Do not worry about your parents' assets. For the purposes of federal loans, you are considered an adult.
Establish Good Credit
Just as when you apply for any other kind of loan, private lenders consider your financial history to determine the risk you present of defaulting on that loan in their process of deciding whether to give you that loan and at what rate of interest. The higher the risk of default the more likely you will have trouble getting a loan or getting a loan on good terms. To maximize your chances of getting a good loan at low rates you should work on your credit rating in the years prior to applying to law school.
Get one and only one credit card. (Having more than one can increase your expected contribution to your own education.) Then, on a regular basis, use that credit card and always pay the monthly bill in full. Never miss a payment. A responsible use of credit along with the complete and timely payment of all financial obligations (telephone, rent, car payments, etc.) establishes a solid credit history. You should also note that the obverse is also true. Any missed payment is noted on your credit record and will raise your risk factor.
If you are concerned about your credit history (and considering all the identity theft and financial fraud you should be), you can pay or ask for the following to give you a credit report:
Investigate the Possibilities
There are several organizations including LSAC that provide advice, assistance, and, sometimes, financial aid to those wishing to enter the legal profession. Historically disadvantaged groups as well as those with particular public spirited or content-specific career goals are eligible for various kinds of scholarships that range in value from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some of the sources for these monies are national. Others are local. As with many other activities, the Internet is a good place to start. Click on the links below for more information. Once admitted and committed to a particular law school, that school's financial aid office should be an excellent resource. The Office of Pre-Law Advising will also have postings of scholarships available to Seton Hall students. Pursuing these options can ease your way into the legal profession.
- The Access Group (a non-profit organization specializing in financing education)
- For information on how to receive the free U.S. Department of Education's Guide
- For minority applicants (the ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund, $5,000/year)