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Law School Scholarship and Loan


A few words about financial aid.  The good news is that there’s money out there to finance your legal education.  The bad news is, it’s often not free money.  That is, there are some scholarships and grants available, but the operative word is some.  If you need money to attend law school, you will probably have to borrow it.  Somewhere between 70% and 80% of all law school graduates have borrowed money to finance their education.

If you think financial aid is in your law school future, the best places to find out what’s available are the financial aid offices of the law schools where you’ve applied.  You should start the financial aid-seeking process there, in November or December of your senior year of college.  Do not wait until a law school has accepted you to begin doing the voluminous application paperwork.  There is only a limited amount of financial aid to go around; if your application gets in as the money supply is dwindling (or after it has dried up), you will have to look elsewhere.  The law schools will give you their deadlines for submitting financial aid applications.

Your college financial aid office will give you a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  This is one of the first applications you will want to complete.  It requires you to provide information directly from your tax returns, so get your previous year's tax returns done as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year of college.  The FAFSA cannot be filed until after January 1.  Each law school where you have applied for admission will determine your eligibility for financial aid at that school.  Most student loans available through the government carry low interest rates, defer interest accrual until you graduate, and offer some flexibility in repayment options.

Some law schools offer a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP).  In exchange for agreeing to work after graduation in a public interest law field where your income does not exceed a certain level, the LRAP will make your loan payments for a certain period of time.  The place to find out about LRAP participation is the financial aid office of each law school where you have applied.

Student loans are also available from private lenders, but these loans are usually not as attractive as government loans.  In addition to less favorable terms, your ability to qualify for private loans depends on the strength of your credit.  The difference in cost between a low-interest, federally-subsidized loan that defers interest accrual and a loan you obtain in the open market at prevailing (or higher) interest rates can be significant.  As always, the bottom line is the bottom line: actively seek out the government-subsidized loans that offer the best deals.

There are lots of online resources that will explain the kinds of financial aid available, and help you find it.  One of the most comprehensive is students.gov, a Web site with a ton of information about colleges and financial aid.  The United States Department of Education Student Financial Assistance Web page is a great source of information, as is the FAFSA site.  Ditto the DOE online publication "Funding Your Education".  You can order a free copy of the booklet, but be aware that it is updated each year. An online booklet called "The Student Guide" is published each year, and gives information about federal financial aid.  Information about federal student aid is available from other federal agencies, in addition to DOE.  Your state department of education can tell you about state funded scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance like state guaranteed student loans.  Lots of privately maintained Web sites purport to offer information about financial aid; go to any search engine and do a search request for "college", "financial aid", or "scholarships" and you'll get more hits than you know what to do with.  But beware of Web sites that want you to pay for a subscription, or pay for a financial aid search.  Virtually all the information you find there can be found for free elsewhere.  If you are thinking about paying for a scholarship search service, read this first.




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