Law school applications: Loans

Most law students finance some part of their education through loans. This overview should help you understand the different types of loans available, and their relative advantages and disadvantages. For more information on federal loans, the US Department of Education has an extensive explanatory website.

Law students primarily finance their legal education through two federal loan programs: the Direct Unsubsidized Loan (formerly known as Stafford), and the Direct PLUS Loan. In both cases, the federal government is your lender, and the loans are unsubsidized, meaning that interest accrues on your loan from the day it’s disbursed to you.

Direct Unsubsidized loans have a fixed interest rate (7.05%, as of July 2023), which means that the interest rate won’t change during the life of the loan. There is an origination fee of 1.057%, meaning that 1.057% of your total loan is deducted when your loan is disbursed to you. You can borrow up to $20,500 each academic year.

The Direct PLUS Loan also has a fixed interest rate (8.05% as of July 2023) and a 4.228% origination fee, and students can borrow up to the Cost of Attendance certified by their law school (the school’s COA less any scholarships or other resources you may have). Direct PLUS borrowers cannot have an “adverse credit history” as defined here.

Most students should be able to meet their costs of attendance through a combination of these programs. However, some students may need to seek private loans, in particular those who are not US citizens and those who have been convicted of certain drug-related crimes. In those situations, you may need to seek loans from a private lender. Private loans vary widely both in the terms of the loans, and in the availability. Your best source of information for private loans is your law school’s financial aid office.

Your law school financial aid office should also provide you with up-to-date information about how to apply for the federal loans.

It is critical that you try to minimize the amount you borrow. Your law school will certify you to borrow up to their expected cost of attendance.  In many cases, the cost of living expenses that they calculate are higher than what students actually spend, especially if they are savvy renters.  You don’t have to borrow as much as they certify you to borrow!  Every dollar you don’t borrow can be as much as two to three dollars you never have to pay back (depending on interest rates, term of your loan, etc.)—it’s like giving your future self more money! Live like a student, not like a lawyer.

Finally, you’ll really want to look at the repayment options and numbers before you sign up for those loans. You can find a general overview here.

See more “Financing Law School” resources

See an overview of the entire application process