How to Afford Law School

It’s no secret that law school is extremely expensive. Students typically resort to going into massive amounts of debt in order to pay the astronomical student price. In this article, I will share with you the various methods and avenues to take to significantly reduce the cost of law school.

This article is extremely helpful and packed with solid information on law school affordability. I am a 3L law student writing from my own personal experiences about the pitfalls to avoid in paying for law school and what you can do to ensure that you graduate with significantly less debt.

To supplement this article you can also check out some detailed tips on saving money in law school here.

Study and get a good score on the LSAT

how many lsat practice exams should you take

The LSAT is your single best opportunity to make law school more affordable. There is nothing else on this list that presents students with such a great opportunity to save so much money.

Why is the LSAT so important? Because a high LSAT score will dramatically increase your eligibility for merit-based scholarships, and it will also have a major impact on how competitive your applications will be when law schools consider your candidacy.

Once you have obtained your bachelors degree, the LSAT is your biggest target to hit if you hope to reduce your law school tuition cost right out of the gate.

Will law schools really offer merit-based scholarships just because of LSAT score? Absolutely, during my application process in 2018 I received a tuition scholarship from every law school that accepted me.

The scholarship amount varies depending on how far your LSAT score is above the median. My LSAT score was a 167, so schools like GWU and BU with averages at 165 gave me a significantly lower scholarship than law schools such as UGA and Chapel Hill, which had lower LSAT medians.

In my experience, every law school with medians below your score will offer you a tuition reduction to entice you to attend their school. This is why it is so important to study hard on the LSAT.

How big of tuition reduction can I expect? The lawyerly answer is “it depends”, there is a lot of variation depending on the individual law school and the student’s LSAT score. Some schools are more frugal with their merit scholarships and some are more charitable.

Tuition reduction scholarships can vary anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full-ride scholarships. The full-ride scholarships are an exception to the rule of course, but scholarships ranging in the $15,000-$35,000 a year range are fairly common. State schools offer smaller scholarships than private law schools do, but this is balanced by the fact that most state law schools are significantly cheaper than private schools.

How do I do well on the LSAT? The best way to perform well on the LSAT is to study of course! Start studying at least three months before the exam. You will quickly discover that the LSAT is not like any other exam you have taken and it will be one of the most difficult exams you will take in your adult life.

There are a number of resources online (both paid and unpaid) available to aid in your LSAT preparation. My favorite was the LSAT Bibles, they were well written, packed with practice problems and explanations, and they are inexpensive compared to the online LSAT preparation courses available.

I have an article on tips to getting an excellent LSAT score here. 

Save money on housing

Housing is by far the most expensive cost after tuition. If you are attending law school in a major city you know that the price of a 400 square foot studio apartment can start at $1,400 a month. This is a high price to pay for someone with gainful employment, but for a law student with no real income the cost of housing can be debilitating.

Unfortunately too many law students take advantage of the fact that student loans can cover the cost of housing, and many students will max out their loans with more apartment than they need. I have law student friends in D.C that went all out with $2,400 one bedroom apartments in fashionable complexes with high end amenities, marble countertops, and real hardwood floors.

And then there was me. My first year in law school I paid $1,300 a month for a 400 square foot studio in Arlington that had a laughable mini-fridge and a mini stove countertop installed in a kitchen that could be confused as a closet. It was not a nice apartment in any sense of the word, but it got the job done, didn’t have any roaches, and it was close to my law school.

I strongly recommend that you opt for the cheaper route when consider housing for law school. If your school is close enough to your parents, you might consider moving in for a year or two. If your law school is in a big city, you might consider living in a more affordable studio or living in shared housing.

There are plenty of ways to save money on housing in law school, you just need to be proactive and search for the deals. One of my friends paid only $800 a month in Washington D.C by living in a converted basement, another friend got several roommates and paid $1,000 a month.

One other thing to remember about housing costs is because of the way loan disbursement works you likely will not be able to use your student loans on your deposit and first months rent. This means that you will likely need some money saved up before you start law school so you can pay for these transitional expenses out of pocket.

Take loans where you must, but not anymore than you have to

Federal Loans

The old law school adage is that “if you live like a lawyer in law school you will live like a law student as a lawyer”. Graduate school loans are not cheap, the interest rate is typically a few points higher than undergraduate loans and this will make an enormous difference once you graduate law school. Direct Plus loans are currently running at 7.08% interest, and this begins to accumulate rapidly after graduation.

Our graduate degree financing system is a pretty poor framework, in my opinion. Students are encouraged to accept more loan money than they need, and the effort to educate students on loan financing and management is limited to a few short videos that the federal government requires you to watch before you can accept a loan.

Regardless of the state of our loan financing system, you will be expected and required to pay back your student loans, and they are near impossible to shake off. Unlike many other types of debt, student loans are extremely difficult to discharge in the event of bankruptcy.

So how do you avoid being stuck with lots of high interest loans? Less is certainly more in this situation, and I recommend that you run a balance sheet before you accept your student loans to estimate your various expenses. Maxing out your student loans every year is a recipe for being saddled with high monthly payments upon graduation.

As a law student, you should always consider when looking at housing or other major expenses whether you could live with a smaller apartment, used furniture or a cheaper laptop. Trust me, you will thank yourself six months after you graduate when you have to start paying back your loans.

Another thing to consider is that there are different loan options for different people, and this may be worth checking into if you can get a lower interest rate. Law Schools typically offer financial aid as well to students who show demonstrated need.

Avoid impulsive spending

Starbucks is an expensive form of impulsive spending.

Impulsive spending is the scourge of college students in general. You would expect that law students are better equipped with financial literacy to avoid a lot of the expensive pitfalls that plague college students with too much loan money, but they usually are not.

Impulsive spending is a more significant problem for law students in major cities. Why? Because temptation is everywhere. There is a Starbucks on every corner in D.C, food trucks line the street across from the law school, and there is a solid bar and club scene in the city.

You might think that I am being too frugal in my concern with impulsive spending, but I am not saying that you should not spend any money on entertainment, fast food, and $7 mochas. What I am saying is that law students are often stressed out, extremely busy, and intensely focused on approaching exams. This leaves little time for things like budgeting, food preparation, and preparing a pot of coffee in the morning. But it is important that you try and mix in these cost saving measures because it will make a big difference over time.

When I first started law school I could not avoid getting Starbucks on my way to class (when I wasn’t late) and going to the Halal food truck for lunch. I did this for about a month, until I checked my bank account and realized that I was not going to make it to the end of the semester unless I cut down on my spending. I quickly started making my own coffee at home, and buying groceries for meal prepping, and I saved a lot of money.

If you are in a situation like I was 1L year where your meal prep options are limited because of a lack of refrigerator and freezer space than just make do with what you have. Tiny kitchens with minimal space for food storage and coffee preparation certainly is not optimal, but you can still make a difference by cutting down on those small luxuries.

Don’t take your car

This bit of advice really only applies to students in big cities, students at schools outside of big cities can typically rent apartments that have free parking or at least cheap parking. If you’re living in a city like D.C though, the cost of owning a car is nothing short of a nightmare.

I was intent on taking my car with me when I moved to D.C for law school, I absolutely hated the idea of being without a car for several years. It took me about five seconds to change my mind once I was notified that parking was not included in the rent, and the least expensive option was $200 a month. That is a $2,400 a year of expenses that I don’t need.

But parking is not the only expense that comes with having a car in a big city. Heavy traffic often makes it more practical to take the metro, bike, or even walk. You also have to consider the additional costs of vehicle maintenance, gasoline, and insurance.

After considering all of these costs you likely will come to the conclusion that having a car as a big city law student is more trouble than it is worth.

So what are your alternatives to having a car? Luckily most major cities have lots of great options for students to save money. D.C for example, has an excellent metro system that is clean, well-run, and affordable. Other cities on the east coast such as Boston, Philly, and NYC all have subway systems. Most cities also have bus systems, which are typically a cheaper option than the metro.

Other popular options for students living in major cities include biking and walking. Lots of my friends in law school live within a few block distance from the law school and just walk everywhere. Some other students bike up to two miles from their apartment to the law school.

Overall, you can save a lot of money as a big city law school by leaving your car behind. With all of the additional expenses associated with owning and parking a car, skipping a vehicle and taking the metro is often the most sensible option for your personal financing.

Limit your traveling

If you are like me and attending school several states away, you would probably like to return home during winter breaks and perhaps squeak in another trip or two during the year. Traveling by plane has gotten really expensive unfortunately, a round trip ticket between a few states can be several hundred dollars.

My advice is to plan trips back home several months in advance if you’re going to take a plane. Most big city law students don’t have a car at hand because it is prohibitively expensive so flying or renting a car are often your best options for travel.

Flights are usually cheaper the longer you book them in advance. So if you know you are flying back to see your parents over Christmas break, why wait until November to purchase your tickets? The same logic holds true regarding car rentals. Rental car companies tend to charge lower rates when you book them in advance, waiting until the day of is a recipe for paying significantly more than what you expected.

If you REALLY want to save some big bucks I strongly recommend that you consider the bus! Buses often get a bad reputation, but in my experience it really just depends on the bus company. Personally, I would not wish a Greyhound bus ride on my worst enemy. It is the cheapest bus, by far the most disgusting, and the riders tend to be a little more on the shady side. I like Mega Bus and Best Bus, although they are more expensive than Greyhound they are still dirt cheap compared to the train or a plane. I can take a Best Bus from D.C to New York for $13 each way, talk about savings!

Apply for need and merit based scholarships

There is a great variety of both need and merit based scholarships that you can apply for before law school. Most scholarships and grants come from law schools, but there are also a variety of scholarship opportunities from private entities. Private entities often offer scholarships based on diversity, and your intended practice area post-grad.

How do I find scholarships? Most law schools compose a list of outside scholarships for students interested in applying. Many scholarship applications require essays and/or personal statements so use your time wisely, but it is well worth your time to find some targeted scholarships.

Some private scholarships are specifically targeted to incoming 1Ls at individual schools. These are excellent opportunities for you because the pool of applicants will often be small, and I suggest that you exhaust these applications first.

Obtain a paid job your 2L and 3L year.

Nobody wants to work while they are in law school. That is certainly the consensus at my school, and personally I didn’t want to work while a law student either. Law school is a lot of work, and 1L grades are of utmost importance for obtaining employment post-grad. But law school is also extremely expensive, and there is a method that you can utilize in working during law school while also aiding your career prospects.

There are a variety of options for students seeking paid employment during the semester and over the summer, and some of them actually pay pretty well. Now I want to offer a disclaimer, you certainly are not going to get rich having a job in law school, but 10-20 hours a week can go a long way in helping you to reduce costs.

So what kind of jobs are realistic? The first thing you might want to do is check with your law professors and check with the school. It’s an open secret that graduate schools are sweat shops, where the students do a vast majority of the research and grunt work for professors updating textbooks, writing law review articles, and creating studies.

That being said, I have worked as a research assistant twice and I enjoyed the work both times. The first time I was researching issues related to genetics and the law, and the second time I performed research on the First Amendment and emerging technology.

So besides the fact that you get paid to be a research assistant, you might also be covering an interesting aspect of the law and you get the opportunity to develop a relationship with your professor.

Another solid option and one that pays better, is to get a job/paid internship working for a law firm. It could be as a paralegal, intern or a legal assistant. These jobs typically pay well above minimum wage and you will also have the opportunity to develop more practical knowledge.

The downside of working for a private company is that they likely will not be as flexible with your schedule as your professor would be. Because of that likely inflexibility I strongly recommend that you only get a job outside the law school if you know you have the extra time. For example, if you are taking a clinic that semester it is highly unlikely that you will be able to manage an outside job as well.

Should I work 1L year? No, you should absolutely stay away from working your first year in law school. I know that the savings can be great, but 1L grades are just too important. Even if you are just working 10-15 hours a week, those hours become more and more precious as exams begin to approach.

I recommend that you wait until 2L year to start considering a part-time job. Working a job in law school sucks and it does cause additional time constraints, but the benefits are well worth it. You will save lots of money, and you will potentially have the opportunity to make connections with practicing attorneys and professors.

Attend a lower cost law school

Only you can determine what makes the most sense in terms of tuition cost, law school ranking, location, and whatever other variables you may consider.

Considering what school to attend requires you to consider your goals. Do you plan to practice in-state or out of state? What type of law do you want to practice? If you want to practice in your home state than there is likely little sense in attending a private out of state law school.

On the other hand, certain schools have reputations for preparing students especially well for certain practice areas. Yale produces the most law clerks in the country by far, GW has an extremely good reputation for IP law, Columbia is known for corporate law, and UGA has a reputation for healthcare law.

There are certainly different factors to consider, but if you were looking at it purely from an economic perspective, attending an in-state law school is always going to be far less expensive than any of your other options.

This is not to say that you should ALWAYS go to the lower cost law school. I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach as my law school’s sticker price is over $60k a year. But cost should certainly be one of your major considerations in deliberating what law school to attend.

Don’t go unless the deal is good

paid internship

Last but not least, don’t go to law school if they are trying to charge you sticker price tuition. This rule is not absolutely rigid as some in-state schools’ tuition are low enough that it still makes since to attend at sticker price. But it usually does not make sense to attend a private law school at $60k a year without a substantial discount on tuition.

Law school is expensive, there is no getting around that fact. But don’t make it unbearably expensive by getting yourself into $200k+ debt. The horror stories you hear about people going bankrupt, and having to pick up second and third jobs are usually because they took on such a high debt load in law school.

Some people do it anyways because they hope to earn a lot of money as a lawyer. Students sometimes see that Big Law starting salary of $190k and think they can take on any debt load under the sun. Unfortunately, the truth is that the vast majority of lawyers earn far less than a Big Law salary. You do not want to be realizing this fact of life post-graduation.


I hope these ten tips have helped you in making law school more affordable. The benefits of attending law school can certainly be great and it could likely be a start to a very promising career. But we don’t want to hinder ourselves before we even get to the starting line by taking on too much debt!

If you’re looking for additional tips on saving money in law school check out our article here!

This article is extremely helpful and packed with solid information on law school affordability. I am a 3L law student writing from my own personal experiences about the pitfalls to avoid in paying for law school and what you can do to ensure that you graduate with significantly less debt.

Stephen Metellus

I am a 3L law student in Washington D.C and owner of! I started law school with a lot of hopes and expectations, and it has certainly been a wild ride from the start! My goal is writing articles that help you in navigating through law school.

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