There are many factors to consider when deciding on a law school. Where is the law school located (and is it near where you want to practice law)? Which areas of specializations are strengths at these schools? Of course, where is the school ranked and how do those making hiring decisions view the school?
Another major factor to consider is the amount of debt that you’ll incur. Let’s face it: Law school is expensive. But if done right, one can use scholarships, strategic loans, and loan forgiveness to quickly shed that annoying debt. According to the U.S. News law school graduates of 2014 took on an average of $111,899 in debt. That’s a lot.
What’s more, law school doesn’t exactly guarantee that white-collar job like it used to. American Bar Association (ABA) data from the class of 2014 revealed only 71% of the class was employed in full-time positions where bar passage was required. So where can go to reduce the risk? U.S. News recently compiled a list of the schools with the lowest average debt from the class of 2014. The schools included were the 182 law schools the U.S. News ranks.
A quick glance at the top 10 brings to mind the common expression: You get what you pay for. At the top of the list for lowest debt was Brigham Young University, ranked 34th by the U.S. News, with an average debt of just $54,203. Up next was 82nd-ranked University of Hawaii-Manoa with average debt of $56,266. Rounding out the top three was North Carolina Central University, which didn’t receive a ranking from U.S. News as it fell into the bottom fourth of the 182 schools the publication evaluates. Average debt at NCCU was $58,061.
Not surprisingly, public state universities dominated the list. Besides Brigham Young, no other private school even sniffed at the top 10. Also to be expected, no Tier 14 schools made the top 10. In fact, the highest-ranked school to make the top 10 for lowest debt was the University of Alabama (ranked 22nd in the U.S. News law school rankings), at (you guessed it) 10th with an average debt of $69,440.
Meantime, graduates from top ranked schools take on large amounts of debt. Average indebtedness for number one ranked Yale was $117,093. Harvard was $137,599 and Stanford was $128,137. The highest ranked public university is the University of California where graduates of 2014 had a whopping debt load of $143,546.
The list does suggest that if you know exactly where you want to practice, it’s best to choose the state university law school in that area. Ranking aside, if North Dakota is where you want to end up practicing, by all means go to 138th-ranked University of North Dakota, where the class of 2014 had an average of $64,818.
If the Show-Me State is where you want to call home, the University of Missouri, although ranked 59th, produced graduates with an average debt of just $67,289. The same goes for the flagship campus in the Equality State, where the University of Wyoming only had an average debt of $67,087 but also is ranked 108th.