The adage “you get what you pay for” may be true of many things. However, there are ways to attend law school at a portion of the advertised cost, according to law school experts.?
Daniel Filler, dean and professor of law at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, says the first thing to recognize is that the cost of law school is more complicated than it appears.?
“Everybody starts by going to the website of the law school, searching tuition and finding what sometimes is called the sticker price. That’s an important starting point but it doesn’t answer all the questions,” Filler says. “The tuition posted on a law school’s website is often different than what some students pay. It turns out that many law schools provide significant scholarships, and most of those scholarships are based on the strength of credentials of applicants — test scores and undergraduate GPA.”?
Price-sensitive law school hopefuls should apply to a few schools where their credentials put them in the top of the class, Filler recommends.
“A lot of people are always striving to be the student with the weakest credential to get into Harvard. But it turns out that when it comes to scholarships, the opposite is what helps,” Filler says. “So, when you have a 165 LSAT score and you apply to a school where their median score is 155 — that school is likely to give you some scholarship money to encourage you to go even though you might have gotten into a school that was harder to get into.”
Law school applicants shouldn’t assume that it costs less to attend schools affiliated with state universities just because they have a lower sticker price, Filler adds. “In many cases, private schools that have a higher sticker price may end up being cheaper. You (should) choose a school that is motivated to provide you (with) scholarship.”?
Consider the Economy
According to the American Bar Association, from 2013 to 2019, private law schools became 7% more expensive and public law schools grew 8% more expensive on average after adjusting for inflation.
And inflation has greatly increased since that time period, which future law school students should consider, says Kyle McEntee, senior director for prelaw solutions at the Law School Admission Council’s LawHub prelaw division.
“I think that with inflation as it is, we can expect prices to go up as far as tuition and the cost of living,” McEntee says. “What we do know is that for decades, law school tuition has increased at a rate that has been above inflation, and exceeded inflation and the rate at which law school graduates’ salaries have increased. This is why many are concerned about how much money they borrow for law school.”
Although the sticker price of law school has risen less over the last decade than in prior years, Filler says, the cost generally remains steep.
However, “we take job placement rates very seriously at the law school. That, to me, is part of the deal,” Filler says of Drexel. “We charge a healthy tuition, but we work really hard to make sure someone’s got a job when they get out.”
He notes that 84% of students at the law school last year received scholarships, and that the school’s graduates have a job attainment rate of about 90% 10 months after graduating.?
Think About Rankings and ROI
The question of what competition is like for scholarships at a given law school is important to consider, McEntee says.
“In a more competitive environment (for schools), meaning that there are fewer students available, law schools are more likely to give more through scholarships,” he says. “In a less competitive environment, meaning there are a lot of students for fewer seats, then there are less incentives to provide a scholarship.? That’s something that is very difficult to project, but it is a factor — how many people are applying and the quality of that pool in terms of the LSAT scores and GPAs.”?
How to weigh the cost and affordability of law school differs from person to person, Filler says.
“Some people are able to and want to pay what our tuition is, and I think it’s worth it to them,” he says. “Some people are getting the scholarships. That’s just part of the job for a law school applicant: Figure out what it’s worth to them, what they can afford and what the trade is. There are plenty of students who would rather go to a higher-ranked school and pay a little more money for it.”?
McEntee recommends that law school hopefuls not rely overly on rankings when evaluating cost and where to attend law school.?
“What makes more sense is to consider what is important to you and then gather information or evidence and make a judgment call as to whether a school makes sense for you,” he says.
However, Ro W. Lee, a student counselor at Pepperdine University’s Rick J. Caruso School of Law in California, advises prospective law students to consider rankings along with cost.
“I usually tell students, first get into the best school you can because the ranking of the school does matter,” Lee says. “It’s to your advantage if you get into a top school or a school with a great reputation, especially in your local area.”
Test prep is a key element not just in gaining admission to law school, but in securing scholarships, McEntee says.
“It is important to put together a great application, but it’s as — if not more — important to dedicate real time and energy toward getting the best LSAT score you can get,” he says. “It makes a difference in where you can get in and it makes a difference in what kind of scholarship the school is going to offer.”
?Lee recommends considering three factors in choosing a cost-efficient law school:?Go to the best law school possible, pick a well-known law school in the area you want to practice and consider which state’s bar exam you will want to take.
“You have to think of your ROI — return on investment — because law school is very expensive,” Lee says. “Depending on which school you go to or which school you are able to get into, that ROI is going to be different because after law school you have your law school tuition to pay for — your loans and so forth.”
He emphasizes the need to know the market and the area where you want to live when you begin practicing law, as well as how bar exams vary from state to state.
“I also tell students, if they are a minority, to look into any institution that would be willing to give either a partial scholarship or some type of money toward a degree,” Lee adds. “Don’t rely on the schools to give you all the resources and information for scholarships. If you are applying for law school or even a post-law diploma, you have to be able to research on your own as well.”
A Good Fit Is Personal
The good news, says McEntee, is there are a lot of options for future lawyers looking for a wise investment in a law school education.
“It doesn’t necessarily make sense to go to what other people would call the best school,” he says. “It’s a very personal decision. You need to factor in where you want to work, what kind of job you want to have, what it’s going to cost you. When you consider all those things, the school that might be a good fit for you might not be exactly what you expect.”
McEntee adds: “Bar passage rates vary, job rates vary, salaries vary, costs vary, there are a lot of variances. There are a lot of differences between schools, but in terms of getting a quality education I wouldn’t worry about that at all. What I would worry about is can I pass the bar, can I get the job that I want and does that job help me repay the loans.”
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