Hey, friends! So I was one of the lucky ducks that managed to escape from undergrad without any debt. It is truly one of the things that I am most proud of because I paid my tuition through a full scholarship, and my fees, books, and other expenses out of pocket. However, because of that, I also graduated without any savings. Between paying for undergrad fees and law school deposits, I realized that my only option to pay for law school was going to be through some sort of financial aid. As someone who has never navigated the financial aid world, this was daunting.
I remember before undergrad, there were financial aid seminars all the time and people trying to explain the world of scholarships, FAFSA, and student loans. Lately, I have found myself wishing that I had paid attention to all of that, because it seems like financial aid in grad school is very similar to undergrad. However, finding out how all of this worked was kind of difficult, so I will try to summarize what I have learned for you.
Above is a screenshot of the estimated cost of attendance for my law school for the 2016-2017 year. Obviously, with no savings, I needed a way to find $70,000 for three years. So here is how I am financing things.
Luckily for me, the biggest chunk of that estimated cost will be taken care of for me, because I got a full-tuition scholarship to my school. I feel so lucky that I was able to get this part of my education taken care of. I won't bore you with the details on this post, because I wrote an entire post a few days ago about how to get a full ride to law school, so head on over to that post to learn more. However, even if you do not get a full-tuition scholarship, some schools may offer partial scholarships. And since scholarships are essentially free money, every little bit counts.
The one thing with scholarships is that there are usually conditions to keeping them. I have to keep my grades high enough at my school to renew it every year. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is great because the pressure will make me work hard and force me to study because otherwise I am going to have to pay $46,000 every year, and I do not have that money. It is bad because law school is hard, and there is potential to lose my scholarship.
2. Need-Based Aid/Grants
You may also qualify for more grants/need-based aid based on your financial situation. This means you could get more free money. There are usually different requirements to receive this, and unfortunately I was not eligible for either of these things. However, you might as well fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and see if you can get any, because who doesn't want free money, just for being less financially able?
3. Federal Student Loans
I already told you that I was paying for the first $46,000 of the cost of attendance through scholarships, but there is still approximately $24,000 left to pay for books, fees, and living expenses. I am not relying on my parents or family at all, so the rest of this money is coming from student loans. With student loans, you have a couple of different options. The first option, and the one I chose, is federal student loans. The bulk of this loan, for me, is coming from a Stafford Loan. I would explain what that is, but I do not want to give you any wrong information, so I'll have you refer to their website for that. But basically, this is a $20,500 federal loan with interest starting now. The rest of the money I am taking out is a Graduate DirectPLUS loan, which again, I will refer you to the website for more information. This is another loan with a little bit of a higher interest rate.
4. Private Loans
Private student loans are another option, and one that several students choose. The good thing about private loans is that they can have lower interest rates with a good credit score. My credit score is fantastic, but because I have a shorter period of established credit, my interest rates were not any better than the federal loans. One way to reduce these interest rates is to have your parents co-sign if they have a good credit score, but I did not want to drag my parents into debt with me.
In the debate between federal and private loans, you are going to have to choose what is best for your situation. I liked that federal loans offer consolidation options for after I graduate, and some forgiveness plans and safety nets. However, the lower interest rates that you can get on private loans may be worth taking those out instead. Just do your research and consider your own life situation.
So that is what I have figured out so far in this whole financial aid game. However, I am still learning and I am interested to see how I feel about this whole process in another year. Does anyone have any good financial aid tips and tricks? I would love to learn more!
Until next time!