A few words about financial aid. The good news is that
there’s money out there to finance your legal education. The bad news is,
it’s often not free money. That is, there are some scholarships and grants
available, but the operative word is some. If you need money to attend law
school, you will probably have to borrow it. Somewhere between 70% and 80%
of all law school graduates have borrowed money to finance their education.
to see a list of scholarship organizations and their acronyms.
If you think financial aid is in your law school future,
the best places to find out what’s available are the financial aid offices
of the law schools where you’ve applied. You should start the financial
aid-seeking process there, in November or December of your senior year of
college. Do not wait until a law school has accepted you to begin doing the
voluminous application paperwork. There is only a limited amount of
financial aid to go around; if your application gets in as the money supply
is dwindling (or after it has dried up), you will have to look elsewhere.
The law schools will give you their deadlines for submitting financial aid
Your college financial aid office will give you a copy of
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is one of the first
applications you will want to complete. It requires you to provide
information directly from your tax returns, so get your previous year's tax
returns done as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year of
college. The FAFSA cannot be filed until after January 1. Each law school
where you have applied for admission will determine your eligibility for
financial aid at that school. Most student loans available through the
government carry low interest rates, defer interest accrual until you
graduate, and offer some flexibility in repayment options.
Some law schools offer a Loan Repayment Assistance
Program (LRAP). In exchange for agreeing to work after graduation in a
public interest law field where your income does not exceed a certain level,
the LRAP will make your loan payments for a certain period of time. The
place to find out about LRAP participation is the financial aid office of
each law school where you have applied.
Student loans are also available from private lenders,
but these loans are usually not as attractive as government loans. In
addition to less favorable terms, your ability to qualify for private loans
depends on the strength of your credit. The difference in cost between a
low-interest, federally-subsidized loan that defers interest accrual and a
loan you obtain in the open market at prevailing (or higher) interest rates
can be significant. As always, the bottom line is the bottom line: actively
seek out the government-subsidized loans that offer the best deals.
There are lots of online resources that will explain the
kinds of financial aid available, and help you find it. One of the most
students.gov, a Web site with a ton of information about colleges and
financial aid. The United States Department of Education
Student Financial Assistance Web page is a great source of information,
as is the
FAFSA site. Ditto the DOE online publication
"Funding Your Education". You can order a
free copy of the booklet, but be aware that it is updated each year. An
online booklet called
"The Student Guide" is published each year, and gives information about
federal financial aid. Information about federal student aid is available
other federal agencies, in addition to DOE. Your
state department of education can tell you about state funded
scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance like
state guaranteed student loans. Lots of privately maintained Web sites
purport to offer information about financial aid; go to any search engine
and do a search request for "college", "financial aid", or "scholarships"
and you'll get more hits than you know what to do with. But beware of Web
sites that want you to pay for a subscription, or pay for a financial aid
search. Virtually all the information you find there can be found for free
elsewhere. If you are thinking about paying for a scholarship search
read this first.