Not every law student follows the traditional educational track. Many students are older, or have financial obligations that require them to work day jobs. Some have already been in the field for years, working as paralegals or legal assistants and have decided to earn a J.D. degree. For non-traditional law students, part time programs can be a great fit.
How is a Part Time Program Different?
There are a few differences between most part time law school programs and typical full time programs:
- Part time programs typically take 4 years to complete, instead of 3.
- Part time programs are generally held in the evening hours.
- Students in part time programs often work full-time jobs, sometimes in the field of law.
Are Part Time Programs as Good as Traditional Programs?
In a word: Yes. U.S News and World Report issues an annual Top Law School in the U.S. List; the publication also releases one for part-time programs. You’ll see that the top ranked part-time programs are at some prestigious schools. Here are the top 10 ranked part-time law schools for 2013:
1) Georgetown University
2) George Washington University
3) Fordham University
4) George Mason University
5) University of Connecticut
6) Loyola Marymount University
6) Loyola University Chicago
6) University of Maryland
9 Lewis & Clark College
10) American University (Washington)
*Three schools tied at a number 6 ranking.
Who Enrolls in Part Time Programs?
A variety of circumstances make part time programs attractive to law students:
- Some are not able to afford to take 1-3 years away from paying jobs. Part time evening programs allows students to work during the day and attend classes at night.
- Many of the students in part time evening programs are older than traditional law students. They’re entering second, or even third careers.
- Part time law students bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their classes. They come from a variety of backgrounds and may be working as business people, police officers, paralegals or engineers.
While tuition for part time programs may be less per semester, the overall program may end of costing more. Check out tuition differences to make sure you know about any cost increases up front.
Schools typically offer transfers for those students who wish to switch into the full time program, so if you change your mind you can always switch. The same applies to full-time students who have altering circumstances that makes a part-time program more attractive halfway through school.
Part time programs are just as rigorous as full time, traditional ones. The work is the same; it’s just spread out over a fourth year.
Some of your professors may be adjuncts. This can be good or bad, depending on your goals. Many evening law professors are professionals who are working in law. You can gain valuable insight from these people, and get up-to-date information from them. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to pursue a career teaching the law, you may want to attend the full time day program, where you’ll have mentors who are working in academics.
Even though you might still be in the process of preparing to apply to law school, it’s never too early to think about what skills will help you be successful once you’re there. Here are six tips for law school.
1) Learn how to form alliances now.
Law students quickly learn the power of working with others.
- Study groups are invaluable. Form friendships early on and keep regular study group hours.
- Share and share alike. When you miss class, you’ll be able to get notes from a colleague. When he misses a day, you can give him a copy of your brief.
- Work with your strengths. If your strong point is torts, you can help your fellow classmates. And when you struggle with litigation, they’ll help you.
2) Always attend class.
No one takes roll in a law class (not usually, anyway), but it’s crucial to attend:
- Tests are often based on lecture.
- You’ll gain insight by hearing various cases briefed.
- You can ask the professor questions immediately if you don’t understand.
- Others will ask questions that will be helpful to your learning.
- Your professor is more likely to provide you extra help if you show that you’re invested.
3) Keep up.
Everyone will tell you how difficult law school is—and they’re not lying.
- Do the reading every day. If you get behind, you’ll find yourself with 2,500 pages to read over the weekend.
- Make your outlines as you go. Going back and trying to remember important points later is much more difficult.
- Memorize crucial facts and cases when they first come up. There’s simply too much information to “cram” the night before an exam.
4) Lose the ego.
You may be accustomed to being the smartest person in the classroom. Get over it.
- Everyone else has a high GPA and a great LSAT score; otherwise they wouldn’t be there.
- A’s are rare. Some law professors don’t ever give them. Ever.
- Your intelligence alone will not get you through law school. Hard work, hours of study and lots of coffee will.
5) Keep outside commitments to a minimum.
Law school is hard enough without drama in your outside life.
- Most law schools insist that 1L students not have outside jobs. That’s not to punish their new students; it’s because 1Ls need to focus on their studies.
- If you do work during school, try to keep hours as low as possible, and work a stress-free job.
- Make sure that your spouse, significant other or family members are supportive. You won’t have tons of time to spend with them; make sure they’re onboard with that idea.
- Keep financial demands small. Now isn’t the time to buy a new house or a fancy car.
- Take care of yourself. Get as much sleep as you can, eat right and get some exercise in between writing briefs.
6) Think "Big Picture"
Try to focus your learning on the big picture instead of the little bits, and you’ll do well.
- Most classes have just a few exams that make up most of your grade. They’re usually comprehensive.
- Associate cases and facts to the overall subject or field. Bring it back to the Constitution or the statutes that apply.
- Think about the ways in which the material you’re learning will impact real clients.
There’s no way around it—law school is expensive. You can expect to pay anywhere from $30,000 to over $160,000 for most three-year law programs. Of course, as an attorney, your earning potential may be increased enough to warrant the cost. And, if working in the field of law is your true passion, you might feel that the price is well-justified. Still, you’ll need to find a way to pay for law school. Here’s how.
Approximately 80% of all law students use federal or private student loans to help fund law school. The average student will graduate with nearly $100,000 in loans; an amount that continues to increase every year.
Four types of federal student loans may be taken:
1) Federal Subsidized Loans (Stafford Loans). Interest begins accruing 6 months after graduation.
2) Federal Unsubsidized Loans (Stafford Loans). Interest begins accruing when the funds are received.
3) Federal Perkins Loans. Interest begins accruing 9 months after graduation.
4) Federal Graduate PLUS Loans. Interest begins accruing when the funds are received.
To receive federal loans, you will fill out the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA), which can be completed online.
Private loans have the following terms:
- Borrow an amount up to what your credit score/income permits.
- Interest rates vary widely.
- Interest begins to accrue once you receive the funds.
- The lender is a private bank or credit union. The institution sets the terms of your loan.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
To keep law students interested in pursuing careers in less-lucrative specialities such as criminal prosecution or working with the under-privileged, legislators introduced the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Here’s how it works:
1) The student takes out loans through the Federal Direct Loan Program to finance his or her law school education.
2) After graduation, the student takes a full-time position in one of several qualified fields.
3) The attorney makes 120 on-time payments on his of her student loans. Payment amounts are based on a sliding scale that takes income into account.
4) After 120 payments, the remainder of the debt is forgiven.
Attorneys must be working in one of the following fields to qualify for the program:
- A government organization (federal, state, local or tribal).
- A non-profit 501 (c)(3).
- A private organization that offers certain public services (a list of these services may be obtained from the U.S. Department of Education).
Law School Scholarships and Grants
Most law schools offer a financial aid package that includes a combination of Stafford loans, scholarships and grants. Scholarship/grant money is usually funded directly by the law school, or through endowments, and consist of three types:
- Need-based scholarships based on personal income and family situation.
- Mertit-based scholarships based on GPA and academic achievement.
- Criteria-based scholarships based on specific criteria put forth by the school.