Cooley’s President and Dean, Don LeDuc, is publishing commentaries on the Law School, legal education, and related topics. This post summarizes President LeDuc’s advice to law school applicants about the cost of attending law school.
In Choosing a School, Consider Cost Before Considering Prestige
Typical potential law students are not sufficiently cost conscious in selecting a law school, tending to place too much emphasis on perceived prestige and not enough on net costs of attendance. For some law school graduates, prestige does matter, but that factor should be considered only after a full consideration of cost, which should be the first consideration. Most law students should seriously consider the lowest cost law school alternative.
1. Be realistic about your chances for admission. Use the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools to determine your likelihood of admission based upon your LSAT score and undergraduate grade point average. Do not waste time applying to schools that are significantly beyond your profile.
2. Comparison shop the cost of tuition and mandatory fees. Compare the cost of tuition and mandatory fees at each school you are interested in. This is very difficult to do because the practices among the law schools vary greatly. Consult the ABA’s Official Guide, but note that these published figures are not fully comparable and report only last year’s tuition and fees.
3. Determine your eligibility for a scholarship at each school. Check for eligibility limits for scholarship continuation, such as requiring a minimum law school grade point average or class rank. These may actually mean that a significantly reduced number of students will retain their scholarships after the first year or even after the first semester.
4. Estimate a net cost of attendance. Compute a reasonably close estimate of the net cost of attendance from the direct costs of tuition and mandatory fees, less scholarships for each school under consideration. Then rank your schools in order from low to high cost. Assume that the lowest cost is your best alternative, absent other factors that convince you that a more expensive choice is better for you.
5. Confirm the cost of living in each location you are considering. This varies significantly, even among law schools located in the same city.
6. Estimate the total cost of attendance and determine how much debt you will need to incur to obtain a degree at each school. With your calculated cost in mind, consider how much you can contribute from personal or family resources toward that cost. Then, determine how much you will need to borrow to attend each school. Various models exist that will allow you to calculate your monthly, annual, and total repayment costs, separated into principal and interest. Seek assistance in doing these calculations so that you understand exactly what your future repayment obligations will be.
7. Now consider whatever other factors that are significant to you in light of the known costs of attendance for each school. Only after you have the cost of attendance in mind, consider location, reputation, or prestige. A school’s performance on bar examinations and its placement records are relevant, but you should remember that it is the individual graduates who take the tests and seek the jobs, not the schools themselves. Don’ t assume that you will automatically pass the bar or get a job simply because you attend a particular school or not pass the bar or find employment because you attend a school with lower bar passage or employment rates.
Consider the prestige factor or speculate about bar results or job opportunities with a good dose of reality. Unlike the fictional Lake Wobegon, the students at American law schools are not all above average. Aside from personal pride, the prestige of a law school matters little to most of the students that graduate from it. For most graduates, the amount of debt each has upon graduation is a reality that lasts for years and matters a great deal.
The cost of education and its impact on law school debt are closely related. If you are concerned about that issue, and you do not have sufficient resources to pay for law school without borrowing, you should seriously consider selecting the lowest cost alternative available.
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