Financial Aid for Law School Basics
The best source of information about financial aid is the aid office of each individual school. Unfortuantely, each has different requirements and multiple deadlines—applying for aid is almost as complex as applying for admission. It is often useful to get a separate calendar just for financial aid deadlines and requirements.
Some schools may require you to submit information in addition to the FAFSA. You may be asked to complete an institutional financial aid application or an additional form from another agency such as Need Access or CSS Profiles. It is important to know which schools require additional information. Many schools have very early filing deadlines.
It is best if you apply for financial aid before you receive admission decisions, but this is not always practical. Whenever you do apply, however, make sure you meet all "priority" deadlines. The failure to meet a deadline often means that less money will be available. In addition, some aid applications ask for current tax information, so doing your taxes ASAP can be helpful as well.
As a first step, review the Law School Admission Council's (LSAC), comprehensive section on financial aid, which starts here.
The FAFSA is always required to apply for ANY federal financial aid. It is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The deadline for submission is usually around March 1 for Indiana residents. The FAFSA asks for current tax information, so it helps if you do your taxes early. However, make sure you complete the FAFSA by the deadline even if you have not done your taxes. In that case, just make accurate income/tax estimates, file the form, and, if necessary, go back and follow the procedures to "Make Corrections to a Processed FAFSA" on your account as soon as possible after you file your taxes. You can also opt to have your tax information imported directly into the FAFSA on the web application by selecting the IRS Data Retrieval Tool provided on the FAFSA web application. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows you to automatically access the IRS tax return information needed to complete the FAFSA, and transfer the IRS data directly into your FAFSA. If you allow your tax data to be transferred from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool without modification, it will not be subject to random verification (which rarely occurs, but when it does it can be an inconvenience)..
As a law student, you will automatically be considered "independent” of your parents for purposes of obtaining federal loans, and you only need to complete the student (and spouse, if applicable) sections of the form. However, individual law schools may consider parental information when administering their own, separate, financial aid apart from federal programs. Therefore the FAFSA does include questions about your parents—but these have no effect on your eligibility for federal money.
Now that PLUS loans are available to law students, most people will be able to finance 100% of their legal education through federal loans. However, note that PLUS loans do consider credit history--so be sure yours is accurate. Find out how to get your free credit reports here. Check early enough to be able to correct any mistakes that you find.
If you have any questions about Direct Loans, check with the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend, or contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FEDAID).
Relevant Finance-Related Web Sites
Financing Your Legal Education—Basic Information
- CALCULATORS (for federal loan programs) and current federat interest rates: how to determine the minimum amount to borrow; plus various calculators for all the repayment/loan forgiveness programs that are now available. From the site of the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Loan Program
- Law School Admission Council (LSAC) financial aid information.
- U.S. Department of Education (official information on government loans and other programs.)
- Access Group (a nonprofit student loan provider that specializes in graduate and professional students. This website features many articles and tools for students, including loan and repayment calculators and a series of interactive web features to help you understand personal finance and debt management.)
- Equal Justice Works (information on new Educational Debt Relief programs: Income-Based Repayment; Public Service Loan Forgiveness; Loan Repayment Assistance Progams.)
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form with instructions: www.fafsa.ed.gov. All applicants should file this BEFORE MARCH 1 if possible.
Law Schools Offer Scholarships for Students with Various Interests and Qualifications!
- Review the scholarships/grants offered by specific law schools--the level of aid a school will give you should be a factor in deciding not only where to attend, but where to apply. Scholarship eligibility criteria varies tremendously school-by-school. Consider applying to schools based on your potential to qualify for their scholarships. This will take a lot of leg-work, but it can pay off.
- Your local state and county Bar Associations. Many offer scholarships to law students, but often there is not much competition because they are not well known. Just call yours and ask!
- Local religious and service organizations. Check their websites for scholarships and eligibility criteria.
- CareerInfoNet.org (scholarship search engine)
- Fastweb.com (scholarship and internship search engine)
- Finaid.com (a basic student guide to financial aid; scholarship search engine). See especially this page, which pertains specifically to aid for law school.
- HPPLC's generic guide to researching scholarships and educational grants.
- Indiana CLEO Program (While I-CLEO's primary mission is to help students from populations traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession--financially or educationally disadvantaged, minority, and first-generation college--gain access to law school, all students, including "majority" students, are encouraged to apply as well. Note: this is only for those who will attend an Indiana law school.)
- IUB's Office of Student Financial Assistance ( IUB's Office of Student Financial Assistance web page contains several scholarship search engines. Some engines may yield results only for undergraduate money, but some do include post-undergraduate awards.)
- SallieMae (a lending service)