Understanding the Financial Aid Process

You can finance your legal education through a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans. Law students finance most of their legal education through loans from government-funded or private sources.

According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), “The amount of aid you receive and the form it takes is largely determined by the law schools you’re applying to; therefore the law school you’re applying to should be your primary source for information.” Law school policies concerning financial aid as well as deadlines and criteria change frequently. It is important to consult an individual law school to understand its process.

Step 1: Research and Understand Your Financial Aid Options

The LSAC website (www.lsac.org) provides a downloadable booklet entitled “Financial Aid for Law School: A Preliminary Guide” to educate you on financial aid sources. Additionally, the website offers financial aid options, eligibility information, a step-by-step guide, repayment and after graduation information, as well as websites to help your investigation.

Grants and scholarships differ from loans because they do not have to be repaid. You need to consult the law schools you’re applying to for information about merit- and non-merit-based grants and scholarships. Loans are available through federal programs like the Federal Stafford Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan Programs and the Perkins Loan program. Some law schools have small loan programs available for their students. Private loans are available through the Law Access Loan and the Total Higher Education Loan Programs. Some law schools participate in the Federal Work-Study program, which fund the majority of jobs for law students. Through the Federal Work-Study program, students receive hourly wages and paychecks for hours worked.

Annual federal loans can provide you with approximately $18,500 for your legal education, if you qualify. If you need additional funds to cover your expenses, then you are expected to get private loans. After you have accessed the federal and private loans, you may then qualify for an individual law school’s grants.

Step 2: Obtain a Federal Aid Application Form

You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Generally, the law school financial aid you receive is based on the following formula: Cost of Law School – (minus) Expected (Family) Contribution = Financial Need. The Expected Contribution is the calculation of the amount of money that you should be able to contribute to the direct costs of your law school education such as tuition, fees, room and board, and personal expenses, and is determined using the need analysis method developed by Congress called the Federal Methodology (FM) formula. This is a concern for most law school applicants because even though as a graduate student you are considered independent from your parents, parental financial information is required when applying for institutional grants and scholarships and a school might factor in a parental contribution even though your parents may not be contributing to your education.

While law schools acknowledge that the formula is not viewed favorably by prospective and current law students, the law schools also identify that it is necessary: “There are far more applicants requesting aid than resources available, and many aid applicants look exactly the same—little income, no assets. You can see why family resources enter the equation when trying to award funds to those with the most need.” Consult the Sallie Mae website at http://www.salliemar.com to simulate the results you’ll receive from the FAFSA processor. For federal aid eligibility such as Federal Stafford, Federal Perkins, and Federal Work-Study, the income and assets of your parents will not be assessed.

Step 3: Complete your FAFSA in early January and your Supplemental Forms

Obtain a FAFSA form as soon as they become available on December 1st. You can submit your FAFSA beginning on January 1st of the year you’re applying to law school, and you can complete the FAFSA online to accelerate your application. You want to complete and submit your application as soon as you can, and well before you receive acceptances to law school. To be considered for law school funds at most schools, you’ll probably be required to complete the FAFSA form as well as some other applications. You should consult the law school’s website and information about applying for financial aid to determine if there is an institutional application or a supplemental application that you also must complete. Two supplemental application forms currently used by law schools are the Financial Aid PROFILE by the College Board and the Need Access Application by Access Group.

Law school financial aid deadlines are rigid, so make sure that you prioritize your FAFSA and complete it as soon after the January 1st date as possible. The deadlines for Supplemental Applications are usually in February or March. Again, you should complete your Supplemental Applications as soon as possible. Just as admissions decisions at most schools are made on a rolling basis, so are financial aid decisions.

Step 4: Calculate Repayment

To calculate your anticipated loan repayment, you can consult one of the following calculators:

Borrow for necessary costs such as tuition and housing, which is considered income-producing debt, rather than non-income-producing debt that would allow you to take a vacation, buy unnecessary items, or fund your lifestyle expenses.

Step 5: Reevaluate Your 1st and 2nd Law School Choices

After identifying the costs and the repayment of your law school education, revisit your reasons for choosing your 1st and 2nd choices. Also reevaluate your housing choices and your lifestyle expenses. Make better informed decisions so you will know what you have to repay in the future. Loan repayment can significantly alter a law school graduate’s job choices and ultimate selection of a position.

Step 6: Revisit Your Reasons for Wanting a Legal Education

If you are certain that you want to pursue a legal education, then you will be more comfortable taking on the debt and costs of your education. If you are at all uncertain, then revisit your reasons for desiring a legal education. Review the Investigating the Legal Profession section. Consider your opportunity costs and determine if this is the appropriate time for you to apply to law school.

Financial Aid Links

The following are some financial aid links to help launch your search:

Consult this website for financial aid information.
http://www.ed.gov 

Download the FAFSA application and submit your FAFSA online through this website.
http://www.fafsa.ed.gov

Consult this website for the Supplemental Application required by some law schools.
http://www.accessgroup.org

See this website for a copy of the Supplemental Application required by some law schools http://www.collegeboard.org/

See this website for a copy of the Supplemental Application required by some law schools.
http://www.irs.istreas.gov

Consult this website for information about The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 that allows students to claim a Lifetime Learning Credit against their federal taxes
http://www.finaid.org

Conduct a free search for scholarships and read about available loans and federal programs.
http://www.scholarships.sallimae.com

Consult this site for scholarship information.

Websites of the Law Schools You Are Applying To

Consult the financial aid websites for every law school you’re applying to.

Call the law schools’ financial aid offices for answers to your financial aid questions and for specific deadline information.