Going back to school to pursue the Masters of Law (LL.M.) degree is an exciting decision that may be dampened when it is time to think about how to pay for the degree. While quite valuable from a professional and personal perspective, looking at tuition and fees may bring back memories of student loan debt finally paid off or even fear of adding to existing debt from law school.
There's good news. Earning the LL.M. does not have to break the bank.
While earning your LL.M. you have the option to continue working full-time while pursuing most LL.M. programs. Some schools, like Stetson University College of Law, offer online LL.M. degrees in high-demand fields, such as Elder Law and Advocacy. These online programs work well for the busy lawyer who has work and family obligations.
Other programs, like the LL.M. in International Law, offer traditional, live courses and can be done either full or part-time. For lawyers who have the ability to take nine months off, the on-campus, full-time LL.M. may be a good option.
We put together a list of the ways you can fund your LL.M. to help you get started:
Law schools will accept cash, check, and credit card. What is important to know is that schools are generally willing to work with their students who intend to pay via personal pay. Ask them about payment installment plans and whether they charge the pass-through fee for credit card payments. Talk with your school’s business office or Bursar about your options.
Many larger firms, businesses, and government agencies have tuition reimbursement or other professional development funds. Talk with Human Resources in order to review your personnel policies and be willing to advocate for yourself if the benefits do not extend to a LL.M.
Some law schools have endowed, need, and merit scholarships for LL.M. students. Look at your school’s Financial Aid web pages and talk with the program director or
admissions counselor. While it is rare that a school will offer a full-tuition award, most schools do offer partial tuition scholarships. There are also application-based scholarships from non-profit sources:
Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the Department of Education, offers two types of loans for graduate and professional students: the Direct Unsubsidized Loan and the Direct PLUS Loan. The Unsubsidized Loan is not based on financial need, allowing anyone who needs it to secure this loan, so long as other requirements are met. The PLUS Loan is meant to cover the tuition, fees and other costs associated with attendance not covered by the Unsubsidized Loan. However, the PLUS Loan requires a credit check. If you know you have an adverse credit history, you can apply and see what additional requirements you may need to meet, such as filing an appeal or securing a co-signer/co-endorser.
To apply for federal student loans, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the year in which you plan to enter. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to save you a lot of time! TIP: if your program spans two academic years, you will need to remember to file a FAFSA for year two!
Veterans and eligible dependents may be able to use part of their Post-9/11 GI Bill money or other veteran benefits to fund their LL.M. In our blog, 5 Reasons a Veteran Should Consider an LLM Degree, we discuss the benefits of the LL.M. for veterans. Don’t waste any unused benefits!
A combination of resources
Most LL.M. students fund their program through a combination of the above options and it may even vary by semester. For example, some students pay out-of-pocket for anything not covered by the federal Direct Stafford Unsubsidized Loan or scholarships.
Minimize your financial investment
To minimize your financial investment, don’t accept the cost of living loan that law schools offer to FAFSA filers. Schools must give you the option to borrow for the entire Cost of Attendance, including tuition and fees, room, board, transportation, and books. You may choose to borrow for the entire cost of living if you are not working or taking time off work to pursue the LL.M. full-time. However, if you are attending part-time and working: Just Say No! The more you borrow, the more you pay back, so do everything you can to only borrow what you need.
Finally, if you do have federal student loans, going back to school at least half-time allows you to put those loans in an In-School Deferment Status. You can (and may want to) continue to pay them, especially the accrued interest since it will capitalize after you graduate from your LL.M. program.
Focus on the return on your investment
There are a lot of ways to fund your LL.M. degree. More difficult is making a mental commitment to investing more money on yourself and your professional future. If you keep in mind that the LL.M. will allow you to become a specialist – an expert – in a field that has increasing demand, then the additional financial investment may just be worth it in the end!