The Most Generous Law Schools – And The Stingiest

by Jeff Schmitt on

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Law school isn’t cheap.

Now, there’s an understatement!

In a recent study by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which mined graduate debt for the Class of 2012, law school graduates averaged over $117,000 in debt – nearly seven times more than MBAs. Worse, 63% of graduates carried a debt of $80,000 or more (and another nine per cent averaged $60,000 to $80,000).

EVEN WITH BIG SALARIES, A THIRD OF INCOME CAN GO TO PAY DEBT

That’s quite a drag on newly-minted attorneys. Sure, T14 graduates will make $160,000 coming out . . . provided they land with a Top 250 law firm catering to the private sector. And graduates from Columbia, Penn, Chicago, and NYU are doing just that. But that’s only part of the story. Graduates from these schools are also leaving with debts of $317,429, $301,027, $302,201, and $317,426, respectively. This means these graduates are making $3,400 to $3,700 in monthly debt payments.

Sound scary? Here’s the pocketbook way to look at this. Law grads making $160,000 will pay over $40,000 in federal income tax alone. And you can toss in another five per cent in state taxes. At this rate, new graduates will be paying a third of their post-tax income to student loans. So if you’re a Columbia grad who’s pulling down $112,000 after taxes, you’re also likely paying $44,000 back to the bank – for the next decade.

Yes, you can deduct interest, but that won’t offset the bulk of the debt. And the lower the pay, the more imbalanced this equation becomes. Still, there is a way for prospective lawyers to counter this problem. And the solution is available to them before they even enroll.

Law schools must balance the need to fill seats with maintaining academic excellence

Law schools must balance the need to fill seats with maintaining academic excellence

U.S. NEWS PROVIDES DATA ON HOW MANY GET HOW MUCH

Look at legal education today: many law schools are desperate to fill their classrooms, as enrollments continue their five-year slide. Some schools are relaxing their requirements. Others are beefing up their experiential learning. And a few are freezing – or even slashing – tuition. Collectively, however, such solutions are like slapping gauze on a bullet wound. These days, law schools are performing a highwire act, sans a balance beam or net. Fewer seats mean less revenue – and leaner payrolls. And softening entrance standards ultimately raises attrition and drops rankings – producing the proverbial “downward spiral.” In other words, law schools have few good options at their disposal. Despite legal employment beginning to bounce back, law schools must face a hard fact: the best-and-brightest still enjoy plenty of options, whether it is law school or other graduate programs.

Grants are the top weapon for law schools to stave off a sluggish legal market. They provide the best of both worlds: they keep seats filled, while boosting key merit-based ranking metrics like LSAT scores. For cash-strapped law schools, such inducements have become the cost of doing business. They are the way to seal the deal with sticker-shocked applicants who are being wooed by other programs. Sure, this may seem shady on the surface. But let’s face it: raising the scholarship issue and haggling over terms is good training for future lawyers.

Question is, which schools are more open to negotiating and cutting a deal – and for much? Well, numbers don’t lie. For its annual law school rankings, U.S. News & World Report collects data on median grants and the percentage of full-time students receiving assistance. While school grant money is doled out on a case-by-case basis, these numbers will give you an idea of just how far some schools are willing to go to land prized recruits.

STANFORD AND CHICAGO AMONG THE MOST GENEROUS BIG NAME SCHOOLS

Among T14 schools, you’ll find tuition ranging from $52,117 (Berkeley) at the low end to $60,274 (Columbia) at the high end. On average, living expenses and textbooks vary from $18,000 (Michigan) to $28,000 (Stanford). When it comes to such schools, you pay a premium for the prestige. However, that doesn’t mean these schools won’t play ball.

Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School

Take second-ranked Stanford Law, for example. Here, the median grant (25th to 75th percentile) is $23,060 (on tuition of $54,366). In fact, 52.2% of its 2014 enrollees received grants. What’s more, 21.5% of the class received assistance from half of tuition to less than full tuition. However, like most law schools, full-rides are rare. Just 1.6% of incoming students landed grants of more than full tuition (while another 0.9% earned grants of full tuition). In other words, Stanford Law is more apt to work with prospective students on financials, particularly for those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Nevertheless, this would really only apply to the top applications, as Stanford’s acceptance rate (9.1%) is the second-lowest in the country. And its LSAT (169 to 174) and undergrad GPA (3.80 to 3.97) medians are among the highest in the T14.

However, generosity also depends on what you value. For example, the University of Virginia offers the highest median grants: $25,000. At the same time, among T14 programs, Virginia ranks next-to-last when it comes to students who actually receive grant money, at 39.4% (New York University was lowest at 35.9%).

GO TO NEXT PAGE TO SEE HOW THE TOP 25 LAW SCHOOLS COMPARE ON GRANTS

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