I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for a couple of weeks. Life and moving preparations have gotten in the way of my blogger dreams.
In the midst of all these preparations I’ve realized (even more so) the title of this post-“Law School doesn’t care that I’m broke”. If I estimate the total cost of applications, transcripts, seat deposits, housing deposit, and first months rent, moving expenses (etc.) I think I’ve spent (or am going to spend in the next 30 days) almost $3000…three-thousand-dollars…and that’s just in the last few months. I knew law school would be expensive, but no one ever tells you it starts BEFORE you even get to take a class. For those stable adults with full time jobs who have decided to go back to school to get their JD or those trust fund babies who have handbags worth more than that, I’m sure it’s not as big of a deal.
But for a new college grad who isn’t working…lets just say I owe it to God for making it all possible.
Since I don’t think there’s enough advice or posts about expenses as a “0L” here’s a few basic financial tips for those thinking of applying to law school!
Here we Go…
1. Research Ahead of Time
This seems kind of obvious, but I don’t mean just researching what schools you want to apply to in terms of their ranking, or programs. I mean going beyond that and researching to answer questions like,
- what’s the cost of living where the school is
- what are the application fees for all your schools (and if they offer a waiver)
- what’s the seat deposit if you get accepted
- what’s the cost of housing (whether on campus or not), and what a deposit might cost you
- if it’s farther than 30 minutes (and you’re not commuting), what’s the estimate of your moving cost (u-hauls, shipping your stuff etc)
There’s probably more questions you could think of, but basically research anything that’ll cost you money. From the application, to the seat deposit, to moving into school, look it up, write it down and create a general budget. This gives you the ability to estimate what kind of financial aid package you’ll realistically need, what you should be saving, what you might be missing, and you can start planning for how you’ll pay for everything you’ll need before you get to school. For example, if you live in Texas but your top choice is in California, that’s a big “cost of living” jump. Big money in Texas is not the same as big money in California, and it even differs within the state. For example Cal State LA vs Cal State East Bay, same state but LA is one of the most expensive places to live within California so it’s way cheaper to find an apartment near East Bay than it is to do so near CSULA. These are things that should be taken into consideration when you’re deciding which school to attend.
Some students also mistakenly have the idea that since they’re getting financial aid, after applications, everything will be okay and paid for. But, most schools require seat deposits a couple months after your acceptance which can be $200-$800 (or more for pricier schools) and isn’t covered by financial aid (although it will be credited towards your tuition so you technically “get it back” once financial aid disburses). Additionally, if your moving to a new city, no matter where you move (on campus or not) you’re going to need a housing deposit which can be anywhere from $300-1500 depending on the kind of house or apartment (and that’s not even counting the first month’s rent which you’ll also need before school starts). Although many graduates have lived on their own and have experience doing things like applying for an apartment, a lot of people don’t start planning for these things or looking into the cost until they’re in the process of officially moving or have already chosen their school. Unless you’re rich, I think this is a mistake. When you look at the big picture these things add up fast, so it’s good to have a general idea of the cost as soon as possible so you can really plan and make the transition as easy as possible.
2. Start Saving-ASAP
I’ve always been a frugal person. I’m big on budgeting, and researching, and considering the big picture before I spend something. Like, even if I was a millionaire I’d probably still use coupons.That being said, I think everyone should always be saving. Whether it’s a little or a lot, $10 or $100, saving something is better than saving nothing and if you start saving now it’ll make your law school expenses a lot less stressful. I saved before applications (and during the weeks after) and it has helped me tremendously. I couldn’t pay for everything by myself (because savings or not, I’m still a broke college student) but I was able to pay for the majority of things on my own and stress a little less about the big things.
One tip for saving is to actually physically take the money out of your account and put it away. Some people try to save by kind of making a mental note “I’m going to save this much, or I’m not going to spend this”, but sticking to it is a lot harder than making the plan. Research shows people are more likely to spend more when using debit/credit cards than when using cash, therefore making you more likely to go over whatever you budget and many times effecting people’s saving plans. If you take the money out however, you can continue using your card but you’ll never accidentally go over your budget because you can’t spend money that’s not there. Additionally, if you take it out and put it away, it’s easy to keep track of how much you have, how much you need, and you’re less likely to spend it knowing you’ve put it aside for a specific purpose. Even if you were tempted to take from the cash savings you’ve created, you’re still less likely to spend as much because it’s more tangible than electronically checking an account, and you can physically see the money dwindle.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
You can delay, split up, or lessen the cost of a lot of things just by simply explaining your situation and asking. In the end, the worst anyone can say is no but it won’t make your situation any worse. For example, lets start with application fees. Most people get their application fee waivers through the LSAC. You apply, provide some documentation and then they’ll waive your LSAT fee, application fees, and give you 4 free CAS reports (and some other helpful materials). However, depending on your situation and the information needed it’s sometimes hard to get the documentation necessary, and other times they may just naively think you or your parents make to much money to need the fee waiver and reject you. If this happens, don’t fear! All you’ve got to do is apply this and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just by asking, most schools will give you a waiver, and with a lot less hassle than the LSAC.
I initially wanted to apply to like 15 schools…a couple safeties, a couple reaches, some reasonable in state schools and some reasonable out of state schools. I ended up bringing it down to 10 and then applying to 8 but even cutting out half my list, without fee waivers it would have cost almost $800 to apply to 8 schools. That’s pretty ridiculous considering they could still reject me.I couldn’t get the LSAC fee waiver, so instead I contacted every school and personally asked or applied for a fee waiver. Every single school gave me one, and most of them didn’t even require an official application, just a simple e-mail about why I needed one. So many things like this can be solved just by talking to people. Can’t afford your seat deposit? Ask to split it into two payments. Want to go to a certain school but need a better financial aid package? Call and try to negotiate it.
The fact is, law schools need you, they need you to apply and they need you to attend and pay that crazy $45000 a year tuition.It’s in their best interest to make it as easy as possible for you to attend so don’t underestimate the power of a conversation.
That’s all for the basics! Taking these things into consideration can help tremendously with your application process and transition into law school. Although I just covered some general tips, there’s a lot more detail you could go into about saving and 0L expenses so if you have any specific questions for me, or your own advice for future law students feel free to comment below!
Or send me a message though my Contact Me page!