Ahh student loans, the lifeblood of graduate education. The student loan statistics are truly staggering for graduate students in general. From Med School to Law School, thousands of students take out a staggering amount of money every year for the opportunity to graduate with an advanced degree.
This article, like the rest of this website is oriented to law school students, but in all honesty it applies to anyone in the search for a graduate degree.
For the many that are contemplating law school and considering how they will pay the enormous cost it can be daunting. The average private law school costs an excess of $40,000 in tuition alone! If your going to a school law George Washington (me) its closer to 60k. That’s not even the end of your worries. In addition to tuition you have to worry about paying for housing, books, transportation, food and additional expenses that always creep up. More than ¾ of law students take out student loans to help pay for this enormous cost.
I didn’t take out student loans for my undergraduate education. I saved up several thousand in high school, and I was fortunate enough to have parents willing and capable of paying for most of my bachelor’s education. Fast-forward that to the summer before law school. I’m pretty much broke, with no allusions that my parents will be helping to pay for my Juris Doctorate. Student loans are a must, but I’ve heard so many stories of students getting screwed so I want to take out as few as possible.
The tips in this article emerge out of my experience in my 1L year with student loans, and how to avoid any pitfalls that can occur.
Be 100% Positive That You Completed Everything
As I mentioned before, Law School was the first time I had to take out student loans and the process for completing everything was somewhat unclear to me. Even if you took student loans in undergrad, the loans you take in grad school are different. Most students are taking money from the federal government, which will be grad + loans and Stafford Plus Loans. Typically, your school will make you a student loan offer based on total expenses for the year minus any scholarships you receiving. At that point you have to decide whether you want to take the full amount or take a partial amount. Once you have accepted your loans you will need to complete student loan advising on the federal government website and sign the promissory note for any loans you are receiving.
Once your sure you completed the necessary prerequisites wait a week or two and then call your law school financial aid office. They are able to confirm whether or not you completed everything.
Once you have completed the necessary information you should receive your student loans within a week or two right?
The Money Disperses A Lot Later Than You Would Want
Your moving for law school, maybe even to a big city where the housing is astronomical. Obviously, you going to need several thousand dollars just to pay your law school deposits, and get settled in. Good thing you have student loans coming!
Accept, your student loan money doesn’t get dispersed until the first week of class. Scratch that, its supposed to get dispersed your first week of class, never earlier, but sometimes later. If you are coming straight out of undergrad and don’t have any real savings or your like me and you weren’t able to save much money during the year you were out of school, you are probably wandering how the heck you are supposed to pay all of these expenses. The law school doesn’t care, they’ll just tell you that the loan money isn’t going to be dispersed until classes begin.
You have to either rely on savings, take out 3rd party loans or rely on family for that first month. It sucks I know, but student loans will be of no help to you. Another thing to mention is that your loans will not cover the cost of first semester books either. Law School books are expensive, even more expensive than undergrad books, and unless you want to wait until your first week you will have to pay out of pocket for them.
The Less You Need the Better
My mantra for student loans is if you can survive with less take less. Unless you hit it big during or soon after law school you will be paying back your student loans for years to come. Make it easier on future self and don’t act as a spendthrift. I had a friend in undergrad that was always asking for money from his parents come the last month or so of the semester. Why? Because, he would blow his loan refunds on tattoos, and booze. Yes you read that right, he would get expensive tattoos with some of his refund money.
Hopefully by now you already understand how blowing through student loans can be a huge detriment come the last month or two of school. If your living in a big city you have to be strict with your money. I live in a complex in d.c that has an awesome food truck right outside my door. I walk a half a block and there are four more food trucks just sitting there, waiting for me. I love food, but 90% of the time I say no and cook my pasta.
Forego Undergrad Payments?
If your like me and you’ve been out of school for more than a year you’ve already started paying back those dreaded student loans. Should you forego paying undergrad student loans? Do you even have a choice? There’s a good chance you don’t even have a choice and you have to forego them. 1L law students aren’t making any money, and it doesn’t make much since to pay down student loans with more student loans. If you do have to forego undergrad student loans, just don’t wait until a few days before your payment is due to start thinking about it.
Make Adjustments Your 2L Year
I decided to accept more student loan money than I probably should have my 1L year. The reason was I wasn’t certain how everything would pan out, and I wanted the funds to cover any unforeseen expenses. The other reason was that I rented my own apartment, which was considerably more expensive, but I didn’t want to room with anyone my first year. I recommend to any incoming law student to accept more than they think they will need, and if you have extra funds at the end of the year you can always give it back.
Your 2L year is the time to make adjustments, and hopefully you wont need as much money. I got a roommate for my second year, but I would have continued to live alone if I couldn’t find a diligent law student to live with.
Student loans are no laughing matter for us graduate students. The goal at the end of the day is to take as few as possible, and pay them off as quickly as possible after law school. I hope these tips helped you out!