Understanding the Average Law School Debt: A Guide to Smart Financial Planning


Stepping into law school comes with a big price tag. Many students wonder if this expense is worth the potential salary they might earn later as a lawyer. This is a big decision, especially when you look at the costs of getting a law degree.

Lawyers do important work helping people and businesses with their legal problems. They usually earn good money for this. PayScale says that lawyers make between $59,000 and $166,000 a year, depending on their legal expertise. But much of what they earn might have to pay off their law school debt. 

Before starting law school, it’s smart to consider the average law school debt. You should also look for ways to lower these costs so you’re not overwhelmed by debt after you graduate.

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How Much Does Law School Cost?

Several factors, including your residency status and the type of institution, influence law school costs. According to the American Bar Association and Access Lex, here are the average full-time tuition rates: residents at public law schools pay about $28,400, while non-residents are charged around $40,860. The average tuition for private law schools is roughly $50,770. 

Tuition represents just a fraction of the total expenses. It’s important to consider living costs, which can differ significantly based on the school’s location. In addition to tuition and living expenses, future law students must factor in the expenses associated with the LSAT, a crucial step in the admissions process. The LSAT cost covers preparation materials and the exam itself, adding several hundred dollars to the total cost of obtaining a law degree.

Average Law School Debt

When considering law school, a key question is whether it’s a good financial decision. Understanding the average debt and earnings of law graduates is essential. Data from the American Bar Association and the Bureau of Labor Statistics give us a clear picture:

  • The average debt from law school is $108,000.
  • After graduating, the total education-related debt often reaches $130,000.
  • For those holding a law degree, the median annual salary is about $127,990.
  • The average annual income for law degree holders is higher, at $148,030.
  • Paying law school debt typically takes between 20 to 25 years.

The decision to pursue a law degree should be weighed against the financial implications. Lawyers often face a tough reality: their student loan debt usually exceeds their initial earnings. This leads to a longer period spent paying off loans. Understanding this can guide you to make informed choices about your education and career path, considering both the average debt of a law school graduate and the average time to pay off law school debt.

Private Institution Average Law School Debt

Law School Average Debt Percentage of Graduates Who Took on Debt
Boston University $111,946.00 67.80%
Columbia University $163,736.00 66.70%
Cornell University $128,757.00 66.20%
Duke University $134,948.00 67.30%
Fordham University $146,217.00 59.30%
Georgetown University $166,323.00 69.90%
Harvard University $164,331.00 76.40%
Northwestern University $127,458.00 67.20%
Stanford University $131,997.00 64.20%
Yale University $121,476.00 83.30%

The expenses of enrolling in these prestigious colleges vary greatly, and so does the percentage of graduates who leave with considerable debt. While attending top private law schools is expensive, the long-term benefits are worth considering. Graduates of these prestigious colleges frequently have access to high-paying jobs. This potential for a lucrative career can offset the initial financial burden of law school.

Getting into these institutions is highly competitive. A strong LSAT score and a commendable law school GPA are crucial. Equally important are other admission requirements, such as a law school letter of recommendation, resume, and so forth. These elements play a significant role in securing a place in these sought-after programs. The average student loan debt for law school graduates can be a hefty sum, but investing in a top-tier education can pave the way for a prosperous legal career.

Public Institution Average Law School Debt

Law School Average Debt Percentage of Graduates Who Took on Debt
University of Virginia $156,437.00 62.50%
University of California, Berkeley $137,771.00 69.90%
University of Michigan $133,158.00 70.60%
Ohio State University $92,993.00 72.10%
University of Alabama $81,738.00 71.70%
University of New Hampshire $78,586.00 89.00%
Florida State University $72,534.00 79.80%
University of Iowa $72,465.00 69.50%
University of Cincinnati $63,728.00 75.60%
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey $55,023.00 85.90%

When exploring the financial aspects of attending a public law school, one key factor to consider is the average debt of a law school graduate. Typically, public institutions have lower tuition fees compared to their private counterparts. However, this doesn’t always mean graduating with less debt. The availability of substantial scholarships or grants tends to be more limited at public law schools. This careful consideration ensures you are prepared for the financial commitments of pursuing a law degree at a public institution.

Types of Financial Aid Available

The financial aspect of law school can be daunting, especially when considering the average debt after law school. Fortunately, various types of financial aid are available to help ease this burden.

Scholarships and Grants

These are free funds that need not be repaid. They might be awarded based on need, merit, or a combination of both. The primary sources of law school scholarships include law schools and various external organizations like local bar associations, fraternities, religious groups, and business entities. Law schools’ admission and financial aid offices are valuable resources for information. It’s important to check the application requirements and deadlines for each school.

Federal Loans

Federal loans are government-backed financial aid for students pursuing higher education, including law school. They offer fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options, making them a popular choice for financing educational expenses.

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan: Students can borrow up to $20,500 annually. Interest is simple and accrual begins upon disbursement. A six-month grace period post-graduation delays repayment, and various flexible repayment plans are available.

  • Federal Direct PLUS Loan for Graduate Students (Grad PLUS): Available to students without adverse credit or with an eligible endorser. This law school loan covers the full Cost of Attendance minus other aid, with similar repayment options and eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

  • Private Loans: These are for students who need additional funding beyond federal loans. Terms can vary significantly between lenders, so thorough research and comparison are essential.

Federal Work-Study Program

This program allows full-time students to work part-time while in school. Students are advised not to work more than 20 hours per week during the school year, especially after their first year. It is generally not recommended to work during the first year of law school due to the rigorous academic demands and the crucial need to establish a strong foundational understanding of legal principles.

Veterans Educational Assistance

The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides options such as the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These substantial benefits include tuition assistance, housing allowances, and book stipends. The Yellow Ribbon Program is an extension of this, offering additional tuition and fee support.

Calculator and notepad placed on USA dollars stack

How Long to Pay Off Law School Debt?

Determining the time required to pay off the average debt for law school depends on several individual factors. Firstly, the amount of debt accumulated during law school. Additionally, your salary after graduating, the approach you adopt for repayment, and the nature of the loans you have acquired are significant determinants.

Lawyers with a substantial starting salary might opt for heftier monthly payments, aiming to clear their debt swiftly. Conversely, those with more modest earnings could choose smaller payments, extending their debt repayment duration. Here are common timelines for repaying law school loans after graduation.

  • Federal Student Loans:
    • Standard Repayment Plan: 10 years
    • Income-Driven Repayment Plan: 20 to 25 years
    • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: 10 years on an income-driven repayment plan
  • Private Student Loans: 5 to 25 years

How to Pay Off Law School Debt

Managing and paying off law school debt requires a strategic approach. Here are some effective methods to tackle this challenge:

1. Research Loan Forgiveness Options

Explore loan forgiveness programs for federal student loans, such as income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which can forgive part of your debt.

2. Find Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Investigate assistance programs offered by some states and institutions, as highlighted by the American Bar Association, particularly for public service roles. These programs often have specific income criteria.

3. Refinance Your Debt

If you have a good credit history, refinancing your student loans could be advantageous, potentially lowering interest rates or monthly payments. However, be cautious with federal loans, as refinancing could mean losing certain benefits.

4. Discuss Debt During Job Interviews 

When evaluating job offers, inquire about employer contributions to student loan payments. Some firms provide assistance with law school debt as a benefit to new employees.

5. Budget Wisely

Develop a solid budget plan that prioritizes loan payments. This may involve cutting unnecessary expenses and allocating more funds towards paying off your debt. Creating a law school application timeline is also essential for keeping track of important admission deadlines, especially when applying for financial aid. Understanding your financial obligations early on can help you decide where to apply and what financial assistance to seek.

To help you gauge your likelihood of admission, the Law School Predictor utilizes your LSAT scores and GPA to provide an estimated success rate for different law schools. This tool is instrumental in guiding your application strategy by highlighting your academic standing relative to various institutions.

Begin Your Legal Journey with Targeted LSAT Prep

The LSAT is a pivotal element in the law school admissions process and a crucial indicator of your potential success in law school. A high LSAT score boosts your chances of acceptance and positions you favorably for scholarship opportunities. Odyssey’s comprehensive approach offers guidance throughout your law school journey. 

LSAT Prep Course

Our comprehensive LSAT prep course can boost your LSAT score to help you achieve financial success in law school. We provide students with materials and strategies to master all sections of the LSAT exam through video lectures and online classes. Students will take multiple timed practice tests with detailed score reports and have access to an online student portal with additional prep resources to ensure they are fully prepared for test day. 

LSAT Tutoring

Our personalized approach pairs students with an expert tutor, focusing on identifying individual strengths and weaknesses. You will receive tailored guidance and work through customized study plans, ensuring maximum score improvement for this critical law school admissions exam.

Law School Admission Consulting

From selecting the right schools to crafting compelling personal statements, we provide end-to-end support to enhance your admission prospects. Odyssey also provides ongoing support in scholarship and financial aid consulting, waitlist and deferral strategy, and decision counseling to help students yield positive outcomes. Navigate law school admissions wisely with expert guidance—forge a path to financial stability!


Starting in 2024, the journey to law school will become more transparent, thanks to new rules requiring law schools to disclose both the cost of attendance and realistic earning expectations for graduates. This initiative by the U.S. Department of Education, involving the collection and public online dissemination of this data, will significantly aid aspiring law students in making informed decisions.

This transparency in understanding the average law school debt and balancing it with the answer to “Is law school worth it?” becomes more straightforward. As you evaluate potential law schools, it’s vital to consider the financial impact of your choice. Focusing on your finances during your law school years can safeguard your financial well-being long after your graduation cap and gown.

This careful planning and consideration will help ensure that the investment in your legal education is a sound one.

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