Law Schools

A Tuition Secret: In Law School, It Pays to Be Above Average

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If you want to save money on law school tuition, your best bet may be to gain admission to a school where your LSAT and GPA scores are above its median.

Admissions officers have increasingly redeployed student aid in an effort to attract students with better credentials who will boost their rankings in U.S. News & World Report, two law professors assert in an article for the National Law Journal.

About half of the students at large law schools receive student aid, and those who get it tend to be above the median, say the authors, law professors William Henderson of Indiana University and Andrew Morriss of the University of Illinois. The schools often make up for the aid by charging full tuition to those below the median. These students will graduate with more debt and, if they go to a lower-tier school, limited ability to earn big salaries to pay back the money.

About half the graduates of the top 14 law schools go directly to jobs at the nation’s top 250 law firms where starting pay can reach $160,000 a year. (Others at the elite schools go on to clerkships, and then to the big law firms.) But at Tier 1 schools below that level, only 19 percent got the coveted big-firm jobs. The percentage falls to 7 percent at Tier 2 schools.

These lower-tier grads may command much lower starting salaries of $40,000 to $55,000 a year. Yet their debt load can be high—an average of about $72,000 for graduates of Tier 1 schools and $77,000 for graduates of Tier 2 schools.

“For the vast majority of students who are not admitted to top-tier national law schools, these figures lead to a simple conclusion,” the authors write. “Slavishly following the U.S. News rankings will not significantly increase one’s large-firm job prospects. And the excess debt that students incur is likely to undermine their career options.”

“By focusing on price rather than rankings, they will have the financial freedom to pursue jobs that will build valuable professional skills and mentoring relationships or leave the law altogether, without debt, to pursue other life ambitions.”

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