Law Schools

Latest figures show why many law grads struggle with debt; which schools had highest and lowest debt-to-income ratios?

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Most law students earn less money per year after graduation than the amount they borrowed for law school, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Education.

Graduates from just 11 of about 200 law schools had median earnings per year after graduation that were higher than the median amount of federal money that they borrowed, the Wall Street Journal reports in a story noted by TaxProf Blog. Forbes and Law School Transparency also look at the figures.

The median debt-to-income ratio was 1.86, which means that the median amount borrowed exceeded the median first-year earnings by 86%, Law School Transparency explains.

The median debt at graduation was about $110,000, and the media salary after graduation was about $53,000, according to Forbes.

The amount borrowed does not include loan interest, and the earnings are for graduates who borrowed money. The figures are for 2015 and 2016 graduates and do not include borrowing for undergraduate or other programs, Law School Transparency says.

The Wall Street Journal calls the data “the latest sign a law degree isn’t a sure path to immediate financial success.” Forbes agrees that some law schools “load students up with debt with some pretty abysmal earnings one year out.” But the publication points out that salaries may rise over time.

At the five law schools with the highest debt-to-income ratios, graduates borrowed more than five times their first-year earnings, according to the median figures. Some schools in that group say they provide opportunities for first-generation law students and minorities who may have to borrow more money to attend their schools.

The schools with the highest debt-to-income ratios were:

1) Florida Coastal School of Law: 5.63

2) Whittier Law School: 5.31 (The school plans to close by spring 2020.)

3) Thomas Jefferson School of Law: 5.24 (ABA approval for the school was withdrawn in June.)

4) Charlotte School of Law: 5.11 (The school closed in August 2017.)

5) Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico: 5.09

The five law schools with the lowest debt-to-income ratios were:

1) Stanford University: 0.77

2) Harvard University: 0.84

3) Duke University: 0.85

4) The University of Pennsylvania: 0.86

4) The University of Chicago: 0.86

Law School Transparency posted the full list, including figures for median earnings and median borrowing.

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