The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: Colleges, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.
Investing a significant amount of money in law school can be either a smart investment or disastrous gamble. The financial payoff of a J.D. is not only dependent on the cost of that degree but also on the quality of legal career opportunities available after graduation.
Since becoming a lawyer does not guarantee a life of luxury, the price of law school is important to keep in mind. Law school faculty and practicing attorneys warn against attending law school for superficial reasons, such as a desire to be rich or live a glamorous life as depicted on TV shows, since there are plenty of high-paying and influential professions that do not require a law degree.
Among the 191 ranked law schools that provided this data, the average tuition and fees for out-of-state students during the 2020-2021 school year was around $47,300. Costs were even higher among the 10 most expensive law schools, with an average cost of about $69,600.
The two costliest law schools are based in New York City, while the third most expensive J.D. program is in upstate New York. Each of these New York schools charged more than $70,000 in 2020-2021 for tuition and fees. Columbia Law School was once again the priciest, with a cost of nearly $75,000.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Northern Illinois University College of Law offered the most affordable J.D. among ranked schools, charging both in-state and out-of-state students around $22,000.
Six of the 10 priciest law schools are based in major cities, including New York but also Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Only one of these 10 schools is located on the West Coast. Three are in the Midwest and six are on the East Coast.
Four of these 10 most expensive law schools are at Ivy League universities, and all schools on this list placed within the top 20 of the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings. The majority of the 10 schools are private institutions, with only two public schools appearing on the list. Both of the state schools reported in-state tuition and fees that were $3,000 less than their out-of-state rates.
When assessing and comparing the sticker prices of various J.D. programs, it’s worthwhile to investigate whether they offer a significant amount of need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarship awards or both. Some charitable foundations are willing to pay for the education of promising aspiring attorneys.
Even if a student receives a hefty discount, however, the cost of law school may still feel formidable, especially if he or she has to take out student loans.
It’s also important for prospective law students to realistically evaluate their future earning potential since a legal education does not automatically lead to a six-figure starting salary. Some entry-level public interest attorneys, for example, may struggle to make ends meet, and earnings among early-career private sector lawyers vary tremendously.
Below is a list of the 10 law schools that charged out-of-state students the highest tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School (name) (state)||Tuition and fees (2020-2021)||U.S. News rank|
|Columbia University (NY)||$74,995||4 (tie)|
|New York University||$71,304||6 (tie)|
|Cornell University (NY)||$70,274||13|
|University of Chicago||$69,975||4 (tie)|
|University of Southern California (Gould)||$68,828||19|
|Northwestern University (Pritzker) (IL)||$68,800||12|
|University of Virginia||$68,500||8|
|University of Pennsylvania (Carey)||$68,130||6 (tie)|
|Yale University (CT)||$68,117||1|
|University of Michigan–Ann Arbor||$67,198||10 (tie)|
Don’t see your school on this list? Access the U.S. News Law School Compass to find tuition and fees figures, complete rankings and much more. School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.
U.S. News surveyed 197 schools for our 2020 survey of law programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Law Schools rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The tuition and fees data above is correct as of June 8, 2021.
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