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Law Schools Offer to Pay Graduates' Loans

December 1, 2009

by Emily

Dreading student loan payments? While it may seem counterintuitive, you might want to think about law school. Two law schools are now offering to pick up the tab on student loan repayment for their graduates who go into public service. The University of California at Berkeley School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center are both unveiling new student loan forgiveness programs to complement the federal public service loan forgiveness program.

Attorneys in public service professions typically earn much less than their colleagues who pursue more lucrative legal careers. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median income of all lawyers at just over $100,000, public interest lawyers can expect to start out making around $41,000 and many law students can expect to graduate with at least double that amount in debt. This can make pursuing a career in public service while living independently and avoiding default on debts nearly impossible. This is where loan forgiveness comes in.

Under the federal loan forgiveness program, college graduates who work in public service (a category with a surprisingly expansive definition-most governmental, non-profit, and education careers are covered) for ten years while making payments on their student loans through the federal Income Based Repayment plan will see their remaining debt forgiven. Income Based Repayment requires borrowers to pay no more than 15 percent of their discretionary income on their loans each year.

The programs at Georgetown and Berkeley take care of graduates' monthly loan payments for the ten years it takes to have their loans forgiven, provided they pursue legal careers in public service areas and earn below particular income thresholds. Berkeley grads qualify for some amount of help if they earn less than $100,000 per year, with their total loan costs covered if they make less than $65,000. Georgetown currently covers graduates earning less than $75,000 but plans to expand its program as funding allows.  Until recently, Harvard University offered a plan that provided one free year of law school to students planning to work in public service, but that plan was rescinded due to economic hardships facing the university.  However, other schools still offer financial assistance to students pursuing law degrees, especially ones that lead to careers in public service.

These programs still may not cover private loan debt that students amass while pursuing law degrees. However, law students are able to borrow more in federal loans, such as Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans, than undergraduates typically can. There are also a variety of law scholarships available to students who are interested in pursuing legal careers. If you're interested in public service, but not in law, there are other forms of financial assistance available, as well.


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