There are a number of details that need your attention prior to entering law school. The decisions you make now can affect your student contribution, financial aid, and general financial well-being throughout your time at law school. We want to help you think through some of the issues and offer some guidance in regards to the topics below.
Making a Financial Plan
The most important financial step you can take before you enter law school is to make a financial plan. Take the time now to think about your own money, the financial resources available to you, and how you need and want to spend it. Having a solid financial plan in place will allow you to focus on your academics and relieve the stress of constantly making financial decisions. You can continue to develop your plan once you arrive on campus and, to help you even further, you’ll have access to online tools and resources, webinars, and workshops which are presented throughout the year.
Budgeting is not just for students–it is a life skill you can use long after you complete your education. Examples of various spending considerations and budget categories can be found on our Budgeting for Law School page. This page, in conjunction with our Cost of Attendance page which lists the total amount allocated for your living expenses during the academic year, can help you think about and plan for how your will spend money.
Your Student Contribution
The student contribution, as a measure of the resources you have available for law school, is comprised of a portion from your summer income (what you earn during the months of June, July, and August) and a portion from your assets (one-third of your total assets as you first report them is used per year). A $2,500 minimum contribution from income is assessed for all incoming students to provide an incentive to work. You can actually earn about $11,000 during the summer without raising your student contribution from income above the $2,500 minimum. Any amount you earn beyond that, including overtime and bonus pay, will increase your student contribution from income for the upcoming year.
It is important to understand what your student contribution means. If you are receiving grant assistance, your student contribution affects the amount of grant assistance you receive. If you borrow education loans, your student contribution also affects the amount of borrowing that will be eligible for loan repayment assistance through the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP).
Besides tuition, housing will be your largest cost while attending law school. You’ll want to carefully review all the information available on our Housing Considerations page before making any housing commitments. In general, if you are looking for housing in Cambridge, HLS dormitory housing (with some exceptions) is generally the least expensive. If you decide to live off campus, the financial aid student budget assumes that you will share an apartment in Cambridge or within the surrounding towns of Somerville, Arlington, Brighton or Belmont. It can be prohibitively expensive to live alone off campus.
There are many off-campus options for housing. Harvard-affiliated housing is one option; however, you may be able to find a better deal if you search the private market. The Harvard Housing Office has lots of useful resources including a roommate connections service, and you can also use apartment search websites such as CraigsList and Apartments.com.
If you choose to live in Harvard-affiliated housing during the months of June, July, and August and your rent is charged to your student bill, you must pay this rent in full before you will be able to register in September. By federal student aid regulations, you cannot use academic-year financial aid to cover summer expenses, including rent.
It is very costly to have a car in Cambridge, and the financial aid budget cannot be adjusted for car expenses for students who do not have dependent children. The Boston metro area has a comprehensive public transportation network. Discounted passes are available through the Dean of Students Office. Harvard University also has an agreement with ZipCar through which students pay no application fee, monthly minimum, or membership deposit, and pay a reduced annual membership fee. There are ZipCars located within walking distance of the HLS campus! The University also has a shuttle service operating on and around campus.
Outside Scholarships and Term-Time Jobs
A good way to reduce the amount of money you borrow is to find other sources of funding. Look for outside scholarships – we list them throughout the academic year or you can search for other possible sources via AccessLex’s scholarship databank. Outside scholarships are included as part of your academic year financial resources and will reduce the amount of money you are eligible to borrow. They do not generally reduce your eligibility for HLS Grant funding.
Term-time jobs (research assistant positions, tutoring, etc.) are an extra way to earn money and borrow less. You do not need to report these to us, except for on-campus positions through which you receive free room and/or board. HLS research assistant positions are posted on HLS Administrative Updates, and the Harvard University Student Employment Office lists positions on its website.
We strongly advise that you pay off as much of your consumer debt as possible before entering law school. Consumer debt typically has a high interest rate, and monthly credit card payments are not allowed in the student budget as an expense covered by financial aid.
Likewise, while attending law school, you should be especially wary of using credit cards as a substitute for careful budgeting. A credit card can come in handy as a convenient way to pay a bill or manage cash flow, but it is important not to rely on credit cards as a “bail out” for overspending. Wise credit card use can help you establish a good credit record, which is generally a factor in obtaining private education loans as a financing option. If you have poor credit, you may find that the most desirable education loan options are not available to you.
In addition to paying off your consumer debt over the summer, we strongly encourage you to obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit data agencies: Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. You can get a free copy once a year from all three agencies by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. Requesting a copy of your credit report is a good exercise even if you think you have good credit, since many people find erroneous derogatory information on their reports. It will take a few weeks to eradicate these errors and it will be to your advantage to work on these matters as early as possible in the loan application process. We also encourage you to obtain a copy of your credit score via the web at myFICO for a small fee. Since some of your preferred borrowing options may require creditworthiness, it is important for you to understand your credit score, and this site will give you tips for improving your score.
Deferment Forms for Prior Education Debt
If you have prior education loans (undergraduate or another graduate program), you may be able to defer the payments while you are enrolled in law school. You will need to confirm the process through which the deferment will take place with each of your lenders. Some lenders use a paper process while others are electronic. Refer to the loan deferment section of our website for more detailed information.