Money and Law School: Lower Tuition!

Law School Expert Blog

I know this isn’t my usual style post, but I have a brilliant idea  – not for law applicants, but for the law school administrator who may be secretly reading this blog.

Lower Tuition.

If you’re a private school with a considerable endowment and you’ve been trying to break into the top 50 or top 20 or top 10 for a while, seriously discount tuition.

Applications would flood in. Rankings would soar. Students would be fighting to get in, and wouldn’t be negotiating scholarships. You could actually avoid playing the rankings game and still benefit from the rankings game. You’d get better students knocking on your door. People submitting deposits would be more likely to actually attend. Students would be less disgruntled, and might actually have warm and fuzzy feelings about the school upon becoming alumni.

To the law school applicants out there – to me, more than ever, choosing a law school is about money. It’s a financial decision, and one that will impact a law student’s life for years and years and years to come. I’m 35 and I make a very nice living, but it’s still a 5-year goal for me to pay off my student loans. I chose a private school (and one I felt offered a fantastic education, by the way) instead of a public school.  I’m able to pay my loans, and 10 years post-graduation I really don’t feel the payments, but that wasn’t always the case.

I was in line for BigLaw jobs, and clerked for BigLaw, but BigLaw didn’t agree with me. Instead, I took a job offering $35,000/year. A year later my salary doubled, and it continually grew from there. I share this information with my readers because I want you to remember that the $160,000 or even $100,000/year job probably isn’t going to be there for you when you graduate from law school. You need to make decisions right now that prepare you to start making $50,000 and then going up from there. It will go up, and you will have to hustle for every salary increase and bonus, but being a lawyer is hard work. Know that going into it.

Someone gave me sage advice (too late) when I was in law school: “If you live like you’re a lawyer while you’re in law school, you’ll live like a student when you get out.”

Some helpful and interesting links:

The Law School Debt Trap

Tuition Secret: It Pays to Be Above Average (read the comments on this one!)

11 Responses

  1. Are these true, in your mind, if you attend a tp 10 law school? Should the prospective top 10 law student be as wary of debt as someone looking at the lower end of tier 1/top of tier 2?

    Thanks in Advance

    1. Hi Ben,
      I think that you’ll still need to distinguish yourself (academically, through work experiences gained, networking, etc.) in a Top 10 law school to find yourself out of the woods on this issue. Six figures, although a great starting salary, is really not that much money. especially when you live in a very expensive city, feel pressure to wear very expensive suits, and owe $1,500/month on student loans (and don’t forget the fancy leased car!). Also, if half of that (or almost half) of that income goes to taxes, it’s not exactly leaving you rich. Especially when you factor in happy hours : )

  2. Dear Ann,

    With seat deposits coming VERY VERY soon I’m stressed out. Do you think it’s better to pay sticker price at a top ten school (ranked around 7) or to take a $60,000 scholarship from a T11-T14 school? I like the climate of the T11-T14 school better, but all my life I’ve wanted to go to an Ivy League law school. (I know it’s vanity. I’m kind of ashamed. But it was my childhood dream.)


    1. Kiki, you didn’t mention how much debt you’d have to go into to take the spot at the top 10 school and what you hope to do with your life… Those answers will help guide whether the investment is worthwhile for you.

  3. Basically UC-Irvine’s strategy this year- $0 is about as low as tuition can go. They won’t be ranked for a few years, but they’re incoming statistics were pretty stellar for an inaugural class (somewhere around a 167 median LSAT).

    But rather than overall lowering a schools tuition, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to just increase $ offered in merit scholarships? That way, schools can target the most competitive candidates to try to lure them to their school. I don’t see how overall lowering tuition would be any more helpful.

    1. This is what schools are already doing, but the problem is they need to balance out paying people to give out those scholarships. Lowering tuition across the board would perhaps mean they’d be more desirable overall and not need to give money to people with desirable numbers to bring up the class.

  4. Hi Ann,
    I am waiting and hoping for admission to a tier 3 school near my home. My best friend, a 3L in a tier 1 school, continues to urge me to write a letter to the dean of my target school explaining that it is my first choice, summarizing my assets, etc. (note: I am NOT on the waiting list, I have heard NOTHING except the status checker says my application is being reviewed.) Is there any wisdom to his advice? Should I write a letter to the dean or admissions officer? Thank-you and safe travel. Diverse Guy

  5. @Kiki
    Take it from someone at a first-tier school who is seeing her classmates’ job opportunities vanish…take the scholarship and run. You have no idea what the economy is going to be like and if you will get a salary with which you can pay back your loans.

    And trust me, if you like the atmosphere, go with it. I love the atmosphere at my school and wouldn’t dream of having gone anywhere else, even though I was accepted at schools ranked higher than my current school.

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