Was My JD Worth It? How Did I Even Get Here?

Cecilia Retelle, co-founder & COO of Ranku

Cecilia Retelle, co-founder & COO of Ranku

This fall marked the ten-year anniversary of my decision to attend law school. Over the past decade there has been this reoccurring question of was my JD worth it? This three-piece series will try to tackle that question in pieces. Being a graduate during one of the biggest recessions in recent history doesn’t make answering this answer any easier. Recently, this answer has become easier to answer.

Why did I ever apply?

I had a not-so-traditional path of applying to law school. As a college athlete I thought that I would forever play sports or be involved in sports. Then, I got injured. Then, I was student teaching and had a kindergarten student in my class who was clearly being abused. The lead teacher, police, and I did all the right things to try to help the child. Yet, at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough. The laws needed to change and I got inspired to help more kids like him.  At the ripe age of 21, I asked myself a couple of sobering questions: ‘How am I going to make a difference? What am I going to do with my life?’ I wasn’t ready to leave school but my degree was complete. My brother was in law school and seemed happy.

So, like most 21-year-olds (joking), I looked up requirements for law school, signed up to take the LSAT on the next available date, and started applying to schools. My requirements: child advocacy or arbitration concentration, fairly nice weather (I’d always been subjected to hockey appropriate weather), and a top 100 school.  I was too young to realize that there was one major requirement missing on my list: cost.

Needless to say I found a few schools that fit these requirements. Shortly thereafter I moved 1,000 miles away and started school.

Too late to look back

On the school website it still boasts that “85% of students receive some type of financial aid” as though it is some type of a rite of passage. Honestly, I thought it was just a normal part of going to law school—and clearly so did 85% of the rest of the class.  What I didn’t fully realize that the near $60,000 of “financial aid” per year that I was going to take out all needed to be repaid—with interest. From my 31-year old 20/20 perspective now, I think back and wonder who did I think was going to pay it all back?

Unfortunately, by the time I realized that I was going to be a 24-year-old law school graduate with over $200,000 worth of law school and bar loans it was too late to reconsider.  Basically a mortgage with no house. So if I could turn back time there would definitely be a very different list of requirements when considering which law schools to apply to, and which one to ultimately select.

Suggested checklist for schools applying to:

  • Total Cost of Tuition
  • Total Cost of Indirect Expenses
  • Average Salary within 12 month of graduation
  • Program of Interest
  • Bar Passage rate

Next posting: Was my JD worth it: I graduated, now what?

Cecilia Retelle is the co-founder & chief operating officer of goranku.com, a discovery engine for online degrees from traditional (or non-profit) universities. The startup is funded by Mark Cuban. She has a law degree from the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver.

  • Eric Pitt

    Great writeup. There needs to be a seminar of some sort for students considering student loans(teaching overall cost and future responsibilities). We can’t expect students in their early twenties to grasp the full cost of a law school education. $200,000 is quite a chunk of change.

    • Cecilia Retelle

      That’s what we are going to try to do here. I couldn’t agree more– students in their early twenties have no clue what that actually means.

      • kittenhasawhip

        I’m in my early twenties, and I know exactly what debt is. Don’t condescend.

        • The Next Johnny Cochrane

          Excuse you, she wasn’t being condescending. I’m in my 20s and considering either law school or the public policy route. I think law school would help me better understand public policy. BUT I think she’s saying long term costs. She’s saying that individuals in their 20s such as myself think they’ll get a $150,000 a year job in law firm and be able to pay back those $200,000+ loans in no time. When in reality, however, that 200K has probably accrued some interest over time and could look anywhere from $250,000 in the long term. She’s saying that financial seminars should be provided to students considering going into law school to help them make an informed decision. The only one who is being condescending is yourself because you clearly seem like you’re speaking from a privileged perspective. Now please take an auditorium of seats of Felicia from Friday and let the woman do her job. #ByeFelicia. And thanks Cecilia.

  • Eric Smith

    Answer: definitely not worth it (for me, at least)

    • Cecilia Retelle

      We’ll get to the answer… probably in part 3. 🙂

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