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When it comes to the Juris Doctorate, do you get what you pay for?
That's a loaded question, obviously. Some might argue that with current job market, no one is getting what they paid for. That's why, if you're looking at joining the Class of 2017, the cost of your degree should be one of your biggest considerations (right next to graduates' success in the job market).
What are the five cheapest schools? And the cheapest schools worth attending?
Quick note: all data is courtesy of the ever-useful Law School Transparency's Non-Discounted Cost estimates, which are the projected debt owned at first loan payment. The assumptions, in regards to interest and tuition hikes, are available on LST's score reports site.
Also, this is obvious but is worth repeating: in-state schools are often cheaper. These are the non-resident costs for all schools.
5. University of North Dakota - $134,807
4. Texas Southern University - $133,143
3. Inter American University - $126,790
2. University of Puerto Rico - $100,138
1. Southern University Law School - $99,233
Warning: perusing those schools' data will make you wince. Inter American? A 2.1 freaking percent employment score, which consists of full-time, long-term legal gigs, and does not count desperate recent-grad shingle-hanging.
North Dakota actually had a respectable 67.8 percent score, which, once you skim past the top thirty or so schools, places it right around par.
Cheap and Worth It
What counts as worth it? At least a 60 percent job score, plus we'll peek at the oft-criticized reputation standard that is the U.S. News and World Report Law School Rankings.
5. Louisiana State University - $163,953 - #76 (U.S. News)
4. University of Arkansas Fayetteville - $153,835 - #68
3. University of Nebraska - $152,691 - #61
2. Brigham Young University - $148,516 - #44
1. University of North Dakota - $134,807 - #140
Honorable mention goes to
Oil Money! the University of South Dakota, which has an unpublished ranking, yet meets the 60.5 percent threshold at $141,428 (would rank #2). Also, the other Dakota nabbed the top spot due to hit's high employment score, though some might shy away from the low U.S. News ranking.
These are interesting notes, but for individual applicants, they need to start with their admissions numbers, and look at which schools are realistic choices. The LSAC has a probability calculator that is especially valuable for that purpose.
Then spend a ton of time on Law School Transparency. Factor in cost, resident tuition, possible scholarships, and job placement (especially if your heart belongs to a particular geographic location).
Notice that U.S. News ranking hasn't been mentioned yet. Make superficial prestige your tiebreaker.
January 23, 2014 Editor's note: After publication, we received an update from the folks at Law School Transparency regarding their cost of attendance estimates. Now that interest rates are tied to T-Bills, the rates used in the calculations are too high. The site plans to update their estimates within a few weeks to compensate for the changes, as well as to update their tuition figures.