Objection: Law School Costs Shouldn’t be Obscure!

Finance
Posted By Eliana Osborn on August 15, 2016 at 1:59 pm
Objection: Law School Costs Shouldn’t be Obscure!

Going to law school takes a lot of money—that goes without saying. That money has long been assumed to be worth it with a good return on investment once a student graduates and starts practicing. The truth is more complex. Some new lawyers jump into well-paying corporate gigs and get their student loans paid back as part of their compensation. Most aren’t so lucky, serving in public defender or prosecutor roles earning less in a year than their loan balance.

The time is right for a tool to help prospective law students have a clear look at what their education will cost. Net price calculators for undergraduates are available from the Department of Education and private organizations, giving at least some basis for comparison. Because fewer students seek post-graduate degrees, however, there aren’t as many resources for cost calculations. The Access Group Student Loan Calculator changes all that.

Access Group explains its mission as “work to promote broad access, affordability and the value of legal education specifically and graduate and professional education more broadly.” It offers three estimating tools, depending on where a student is on her or his legal journey: prospective, current, or graduate.

How the process to determine law school costs starts

For those thinking about law school, the calculator process begins with questions about what school and what type of program, then shifts to information about any loans student might have, followed by database Cost of Attendance numbers on file about the specific school. The calculator breaks down estimated expenses into different categories that can be changed based on personal situations. For example, a student who can live with his or her parents while attending law school can get rid of the housing box (and the resulting law school costs bump).

The next step is where Access Group makes this tool incredibly useful. Here, a student can input the amount of money he or she can contribute to law school costs monthly. Playing around with these numbers can show a student whether working full time will make a big difference compared with working part time. The final calculation breaks down how much a student will need to borrow each year of his or her projected program.

For many students, combining scholarships, grants, and student loans creates a clear path for a college degree. However, seeing that number, and knowing it is pretty accurate, can be daunting. And that’s the point. Law school is no job guarantee these days with more and more students attending. Access Group isn’t trying to dissuade potential students but wants them to proceed with eyes wide open about the path they could take. Information about the repayment schedule for a loan also is available, along with a tool called “Project Your Future.” Trying out different salaries and repayment plans, the student can see total time and interest possibilities.

It’s a cliché, but knowledge is power, especially when taking on student loan debt and law school costs. Now future lawyers can choose wisely where they’ll study and what sort of financial arrangements they’ll need to make. Students going into engineering or medicine can hope for similar industry-specific tools in the future.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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