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Deciding to attain a law degree is an important decision. Obviously. Maybe you’ve already made that decision and are currently in law school or have recently graduated. Or maybe you are figuring out if law school is the appropriate next step in your personal journey. Regardless, understanding the financial realities of a law degree is critical to making wise decisions about if you will attend, where you will attend and how you will pay for your legal education.

Because, let’s face it, law school is expensive. Even the best trained trial attorney would have a hard time arguing that. But law school can also set you on a path to succeed in any number of satisfying careers.

In other words: law school is an investment. And a great one at that. But you can’t know the return on that investment until you know what it truly costs to attend.

To figure that out, you’ll start, of course, by referencing your school’s reported Cost of Attendance. But although this is a good guide, it’s a general estimate and everyone’s financial situation is different. So you will still need to figure out on your own what it will actually cost you. Because, though it’s always good to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – perhaps that’s even a primary reason for why you wanted to become a lawyer in the first place! – you’re going to walk through law school in your own.

However, that doesn’t mean you are going to be on your own. Not by a long shot.

There are lots of resources that can help, and the AccessLex Institute Student Loan Calculator is a great one to start with. It’s free and anonymous – no login necessary. Plus, it’s easy and it frames your whole financial situation to help you estimate the true cost of attending law school.

Here’s what I mean when I say it frames your whole financial situation.

The first step when you arrive to the Student Loan Calculator will be to identify yourself as an Aspiring Law Student, a Current Law Student or a Law School Graduate.

Next, you will input your school of choice and the Calculator will pre-populate your school’s reported Cost of Attendance. If you are choosing between or among offers of acceptance from more than one school, you can run through the steps that follow for each school and the final estimates will help you see the financial impact of your school choice. The Calculator will itemize the cost of living components, which are the components that you can adjust (up or down) to fit your lifestyle. AccessLex Institute has partnered with nearly 200 ABA-approved law schools to make these figures readily available as you navigate through the steps of the Calculator to customize your estimate.

The Calculators then factors other personal expenses that you can list to keep track of, like childcare costs or a car note, to name two examples. And, it takes into account any undergraduate loans you may already have, including the estimated interest that will accrue during the deferment of these loans while you are in law school. It will also calculate estimated interest that will accrue on any un-subsidized student loans you took out to attend law school. For any personal loan information you’re not sure of, the Calculator points you to the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS) where you can find it.

And finally, the Calculator lets you list any scholarships and grants you may have been awarded, and it allows you to input any income you may be receiving (or expect to receive) along with your savings goals, if applicable.

This all makes the Calculator very interactive, allowing you to make adjustments as you go through each step as a way to see where you need to be financially and what your lifestyle may look like – whether you are deciding if law school is right for you, are choosing which school to attend, are preparing to repay your loans once you graduate, or have already graduated and are getting ready to start repayment.

The final estimate also provides “Your Borrowing Outlook,” which includes what you will need to borrow, per year and in total, based on the information you provided; and it provides “Your Repayment Outlook,” which includes your estimated student loan obligation and the different repayment plan options you’ll have. Both of these Outlooks also go through “How we arrived at that number” to make sure you are not surprised or confused by any element of your estimate.

The Calculator’s final step attempts to put your estimated figures into context by projecting your future payment amounts against a projected income and as only a piece of your future financial picture.

Following your estimate, you are invited to utilize AccessLex Institute’s other free resources, if desired and as necessary, including AccessConnex, a free, on-demand, one-on-one loan repayment counseling and financial education helpline staffed by our team of fully Accredited Financial Counselors (AFC®).

Deciding to attend law school is a big, life-altering decision. There’s no sugar-coating it. There is a lot to consider and cost is but one factor when deciding if and which law school is for you. But understanding the economic realities of your decision is crucial, so use the resources that are available to you.

Because let’s face it, law school is expensive. But the best trained attorney out there may one day be you. And that’ll be more than worth it.

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