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To properly prepare for the bar exam requires more than just taking the right classes and locking yourself in a room for weeks on end with your books, notes, and practice exams. One often overlooked aspect of preparation is the financial aspect. If you can't afford to take the bar immediately after law school, you're taking a big risk that you'll retain enough information.
You not only need to pay for your post-graduation bar prep course and sitting for the bar exam itself, but you also need to pay all your living expenses. If you delay too long to financially prepare for the bar, you may find yourself looking at taking a private loan, which is not easy, nor advisable.
Below, you can read about how to financially plan for the bar exam study period.
Step 1: Know Thy Exam
As soon as you know which bar exam you plan to take, you should begin crunching actual numbers. If you know during your 1L, then you can start planning and saving right away. Each state has its own set of requirements which can nickel and dime the bar exam up to over $1000. For example, in addition to paying for the opportunity to take the bar exam, you'll also have to pay to take the MPRE, pay for a moral character and fitness examination, and pay bar membership dues. These additional items can often be just as costly as the bar exam itself.
Step 2: Know Thy Self
Depending on how you learn best, and which bar prep course you choose, you may need to save more or less for your bar prep course. Prices range from less than a couple thousand to more than a few thousand. Also, depending on when you sign up, and promotions, and your ability to negotiate a better price (or qualify for some discount for socio-economically disadvantaged students), prices can vary wildly for the same courses.
Once you know what sort of course you need to take, start shopping for the best one, and research when the best time to sign up will be (ask reps about upcoming promotions, and negotiate).
Step 3: Know Thy Stomach
If you have been staying in top notch accommodations and eating lobster daily through law school while supporting yourself with that high paying law clerk job, I hope you were saving too. Because working while prepping for the bar is not a great idea, especially if you can avoid it.
You should have three full months of living expenses, including rent, utilities, and most importantly of all, food. Food spending can vary month to month, but during the bar exam study period, plan to budget even more money for food than average as you'll be eating out more often and buying the more expensive, better-for-you-and-your-brain foods. Fortunately, you won't need much of an entertainment budget because studying will be your entertainment.
Step 4: If You Didn't Save, Then Beg or Borrow
If you have family, or a support network, that you can lean on for financial support, it might not be bad idea to give them a heads up that you're going to need some help, either during the bar prep time, or during the limbo period after. The early you give your network notice, the easier it'll be for them. The same goes for borrowing money, either from a family, friend, or bank. The earlier you start planning, the better off you'll be, and you'll likely be more conscious of your own spending.