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How Much Does Law School Cost?

There is just no getting around the fact that a legal education is expensive. Whether you are paying annual in-state tuition or annual tuition at a top 10 law school, you are making a serious financial investment and one that will materially impact you for years to come. Average law school graduates leave law school with up to six figures in debt.1 The good news is that there are a number of different ways to help pay for law school and also mitigate your student debt. These financial aid options range from student loans to scholarships. This section will take a closer look at the various expenses you should expect as a law school student.

TL;DR / Key Takeaways

  • The Cost of Attendance dictates the total amount of financial aid a student can receive for an academic year.
  • There are many different ways to save on a legal education, such as in-state tuition.
  • Make sure to budget for all of the additional expenses that come with taking the bar exam.

Expenses to Expect for Law School

What is the average tuition for law school?

For starters, how much does law school tuition actually cost? In its yearly survey, U.S. News & World Report found2 that among 194 ranked law schools that reported tuition and fees (111 of which were private and 83 of which were public) for the 2019-2020 academic year, the average annual tuition and fees at private law schools was $49,548. The difference between the average annual tuition and fees at private schools and public schools was roughly $21,300.

To help provide some context for online Juris Doctor programs, here are a few examples of tuition:

University Program Per Credit
Syracuse University College of Law JDinteractive $1,850 per credit.
University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law Hybrid Juris Doctor In-state tuition is $1,300 per credit and out-of-state tuition is $1,500 per credit.
Mitchell Hamline School of Law Blended Learning $16,815 per semester.
University of Dayton School of Law Online Hybrid J.D. Program $1,500 per credit.

Cost of Attendance

In order to calculate the cost of law school for purposes of financial aid, law schools have established what is referred to as the “Cost of Attendance”. The Cost of Attendance consists of tuition and fees, books, supplies, as well as living expenses, personal expenses, and transportation.3 Each school sets its own Cost of Attendance, so the total amount varies among law schools. The Cost of Attendance is the maximum financial aid that a student may receive from any source for an academic year. So, if you need financial aid, you will be eligible to receive up to the amount equal to the Cost of Attendance established by the law school you attend for that academic year. It is worth noting that credit card debt and other consumer debt is not included in determining the Cost of Attendance.

Here is an example of how Seton Hall University School of Law breaks down its Cost of Attendance for part-time students pursuing a Juris Doctor degree:

University Program Name Direct Costs Indirect Costs Living Expenses Total Cost of Attendance
Seton Hall University School of Law Part-time Weekend JD Tuition: $41,136
Fees: $940
Books/Supplies: $1,200
Loan Fees (this number is based on the amount of the student loan): $218
Rent/Food: $1,756
Transportation: $1,700
Miscellaneous Expenses: $6,030
$53,200 per academic year

How much do law school books cost?

As evidenced by the Cost of Attendance provided by Seton Hall University School of Law, books are a noteworthy expense. Each student spends between roughly $3,000 and $4,000 on books over the course of a legal education.4 Books are also one expense for which a student can find multiple ways to save. According to U.S. News & World Report, “While it may be more convenient to buy your textbooks and study guides from the school bookstore, it is worth spending the extra time looking at specialized websites, like Barrister Books, as well as Amazon, where the same books are often as much as 50 percent less expensive.”5 Another way to save on books is to buy them used from another student in your program. Wherever you purchase your law school books, just confirm in advance that you are getting the correct edition.

What additional fees are included in the cost of law school?

In the above Cost of Attendance example, there is a line item for “fees”—what are these fees and how can you reduce them? When you get a list of these fees, such as the one provided by New York University School of Law, you will see things like “health fee,” “registration fee,” “service fee” and “tech fee.” At New York University School of Law, these fees total $2,898 for just one academic year.6 If you elect to pursue your Juris Doctor degree online, fees are one area where you will save money. For example, Syracuse University College of Law does not charge a student enrolled in its JDinteractive program any fees typically associated with on-campus programs, such as health and wellness fees and student activity fees.7

What is not included in law school costs?

As noted above, consumer debt, like credit card debt, cannot be included in a law school’s Cost of Attendance. The best thing you can do for your finances is to pay off all or as much of your credit card debt as you can before you enroll in law school. If you find you need to take out a private loan in order to pay for your legal education, your loan eligibility will be based on your credit score. If you took out federal loans or private education loans to pay for your bachelor’s degree, Fordham University School of Law recommends that you contact these lenders to inform them that you are enrolling in school again, since a graduate student is eligible for an in-school deferment provided the student is enrolled at least half-time.8

Other expenses that are not included in the Cost of Attendance include moving expenses and any expenses incurred between academic years (e.g., during summer break).9 Again, if you pursue a JD online, you will not need to budget for any moves to and from law school.

Keep in mind too that your wardrobe is also not included in the Cost of Attendance.10 While this may seem unimportant, think about the clothes you will need for in-person interviews with potential employers. Make sure to take this need into account when planning your budget.

Fortunately, one significant expense that has been eliminated for some is health insurance. According to The National Jurist, many students are no longer spending money on health insurance, thanks to their ability to remain on their parents’ health insurance pursuant to federal law.11

Bar exam expenses

In addition to the expenses associated with the pursuit of a legal education, every student also needs to budget for the bar exam (and everything that comes with it). Even if you were a strong student in law school, it is highly recommended that you take a bar exam class. These classes are expensive and can cost over $4,000.12 Separate from the bar exam class, there are also expenses associated with your bar exam application. If you plan to take the Pennsylvania bar exam, for example, you will need to pay an applicant fee of $650 and an additional fee of $115 in order to use your computer on the exam.13 At the same time, you also need to budget for your living expenses for the period that you are studying for the exam, since it is unlikely you will also be working.