How much is law school? Law school is expensive, and that’s no understatement; at sticker-price, it can cost an individual hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn a juris doctorate degree at an A.B.A. approved law school. However, the truth is, the cost of law school is different for everyone and there are two critical factors that ultimately dictate this cost: undergraduate GPA and LSAT. While many law school applicants aren’t able to go back in time to fix their GPA (for obvious reasons), all applicants are able to increase their chances of earning merit aid and scholarships by doing well on the LSAT—a high LSAT score can outweigh the effects of a low GPA.

How much do lawyers make out of law school? Well, on average, lawyers just entering the market start out with a salary of roughly 70k per year. But is looking at the average a reliable indicator? No! That’s because the range of starting salaries for lawyers is about 50k-190k. Generally speaking, those highly sought after 190k salaries are reserved for individuals heading into “big-law” fields.

When considering which law school to attend, it’s certainly important to consider the cost; however, it’s equally as important to consider the possible outcome. Going to a higher ranked law school at sticker price can make a lot of sense for individuals seeking government employment—after all, loan forgiveness can erase a lot of debt. Additionally, students graduating from top law schools tend to have more lucrative employment opportunities (a.k.a. “big-law”). On the other hand, being debt averse can afford a law graduate more financial flexibility to find a job that they want, as opposed to a job that they must accept just to be able to pay off massive loan debt.

How to Pay for Law School

Most of us don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around, so how do people pay for law school? Well, most people take loans, and for those that do take loans, federal loans are the best starting point. Private loans don’t qualify for federal loan forgiveness programs, and it’s best to keep an open mind as to where one will end up after law school. The only time it makes sense to take a private loan is if you applied for a federal loan and didn’t qualify—all the more reason to keep a good credit history!

How to Pay for Law SchoolLoans, though, should be a last resort. Many applicants ask, “how can I go to law school for free?” Well, turning our attention back to undergraduate GPA and the LSAT—do your best. Strong academic achievements translate into larger aid offerings. It should be every undergraduate student’s focus to earn a high GPA. It should be every LSAT taker’s focus to earn the highest possible LSAT score. If both of these law school application requirements are fulfilled to the best of an applicant’s ability, that applicant may very well go to law school for free!

How to Get Scholarships for Law School

Not to sound repetitive, but the higher your undergraduate GPA is and the higher your LSAT score is, the more likely you are to be offered a scholarship for law school—that makes sense; law school is a business, and businesses seek qualified applicants for hire. Therefore, when it comes to scholarships, think business, and don’t be afraid to negotiate the offer on the table. The best way to negotiate is to have options, and the greater number of scholarship offerings you receive (particularly from higher ranked schools), the more leverage you have to negotiate with. Many applicants apply to schools they don’t consider attending simply to have more leverage later on in the application process when negotiating scholarships. If you’d like to negotiate your scholarship offering from a particular law school, reach out to that school’s admissions office to inquire about scholarship negotiation guidelines. Most importantly, when negotiating scholarships, show interest and knowledge about a particular law school’s programs, clinics, and features—give law schools a reason to offer you more money by showing how keen you are to attend!