Want to get law students to quit talking? Just ask them a simple question: “How are you going to pay your student loans?”
They may spend days fretting over their class rank. And they lose sleep over being called on in class. Behind that, debt shadows every law student. According to numbers released by the New American Foundation in 2014,law students can expect a median debt of $140,616 at graduation (up from $88,634 ten years ago). And it’s even worse if you go to a degree mill like Thomas Jefferson, where 92% of graduates average $180,665 in debt. Sure, hiring is starting to perk up. But there will be plenty of law grads taking part-time and tutoring gigs to get through. How do they plan to pay their debt?
According to a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep, many students plan to bear it all on their own. In a survey of over 900 prospective students, nearly 60% will fund either all or most of their legal education. In fact, only 10% won’t have to pay any of it. That’s more than three times less than students who claimed they would be responsible for all of their debt (36%).
LAW STUDENTS GOING TO PARENTS AND LOANS FOR HELP
So where are applicants going for help? The biggest funding source, not surprisingly, are loans. 78% of respondents anticipated taking out a loan, a move which potentially grim consequences. “We strongly encourage pre-law students to maximize their return on that investment with smart planning around how they pay for it,” writes Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “All too often the first move of matriculated law school students is to try to secure loans, which are often accompanied by burdensome interest rates that will challenge them for years to come as they begin their careers.”
To counter this, Thomas encourages students to start saving early, as well as pursue options like needs-based and merit-based scholarships. And some potential applicants are already following his advice. 61% of respondents planned to rely on merit-based scholarships as a solution, while another 42% cited needs-based scholarship. However, Thomas dismissed the majority banking on merit-based scholarships as “wishful thinking.” “The reality is,” Thomas writes, “that even in the present market, law schools offer limited merit-based aid relative to the number of students they accept — it’s predominantly based upon outstanding GPAs and LSAT scores.”
And that means law students may have to hit their parents up for money one last time. And the majority has already resigned themselves to this option, with 68% looking to their parents for some help with tuition. Another 9% are prepared to ask relatives for money, with even fewer (6%) looking to a significant other for help.
And that leaves two more options: Work and savings. While most administrators discourage students from working during law school, 54% plan to do so anyway (making part-time law programs all the more attractive). At the same time, half of respondents expect to tap into their savings to pay for loan school.
Then again, with undergraduate debt averaging $29,400, you have to be skeptical whether these students have any savings left.
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