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.