Attending one of the 200 law schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) is a top priority for many law students, especially those who hope to become practicing attorneys after graduating. But, until recently, finding ABA-accredited online law schools simply wasn’t possible.
The ABA feels strongly that live, in-person interaction between teachers, students and classmates provides certain learning opportunities that self-paced distance education simply can’t match. For this reason, there are still no ABA-approved online Juris Doctor (JD) programs that offer 100% distance education.
However, all law schools can provide up to one-third of a student’s coursework online and a few institutions have found creative ways to maximize this allowance. Also, beginning in 2015, the ABA began granting variances to a few schools, allowing them to provide more than one-third of a student’s credits online.
In this article, we list the schools that currently offer ABA-approved online law school options and how their programs are structured. Learn why ABA-accreditation is so important and how the coronavirus has (at least temporarily) dramatically expanded the number of online JD programs.
ABA-approved, live online law school programs
There are two main types of ABA-accredited online law schools available today. The first type is the “blended” or “hybrid” online JD program. The rest are “weekend-based” programs.
Blended programs provide a mix of online and residential courses. However, hybrid programs might require a variance from the ABA if the percentage of credit hours that its students earn online exceeds the one-third limit. Weekend-based programs don’t require a variance.
Of the few blended programs that have been granted waivers by the ABA, only Syracuse offers live sessions for some of its online classes. Below, we explain what this groundbreaking program offers.
1. Syracuse University College of Law
JDinteractive (JDi) is a flexible online program offered by the Syracuse University College of Law. It was first approved by the ABA in February 2018 with an enrollment limit of 65 students. Recently, it was given the green light to expand the program to 100 students per semester.
JDi offers three different types of instruction:
- Live online class sessions
- Self-paced online learning
- Six in-person residential courses.
Syracuse says that at least 50% of a JDi student’s instruction is in real-time. The program takes three years and three months to complete.
The estimated annual tuition for the Syracuse JDi program for the 2020-2021 academic year is $40,425, which is over $13,000 cheaper than its on-campus JD program. Based on the latest data from the Internet Legal Research Group (IRLG), here are a few key statistics to keep in mind if you’re considering the Syracuse University College of Law:
- Acceptance rate: 52.1%
- Bar pass rate: 91.4%
- Employment rate at graduation: 51.7%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 79.2%
The application deadline for Syracuse University College of Law is April 1st.
ABA-approved, blended online law school programs
The following schools also have received a variance from the ABA to offer more than one-third of their students’ credit hours online. However, the online-portion of the following programs is self-paced rather than real-time.
2. Mitchell Hamline School of Law
In 2015, Mitchell Hamline School of Law became the first law school to be granted a variance from the ABA’s distance education requirements. Its first graduates completed the program in 2018.
Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Blended Learning option is a four-year program that can be completed in three years. The first two years is largely spent in hybrid courses that are one-third online and two-thirds in person.
For the final two years, students can choose from a range of blended, fully online or fully in-person course formats. The online courses are fully self-paced. There are no “live” online courses.
For the 2020-2021 academic year, part-time students can expect to pay $33,630 per year in tuition while full-time students will pay $46,550. Here are a few more key statistics to know about Mitchell Hamline School of Law:
- Acceptance rate: 57.5%
- Bar pass rate: 80.9%
- Employment rate at graduation: 25%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 71.5%
The application deadline for Mitchell Hamline School of Law is August 1st..
3. Southwestern Law School
In 2017, Southwestern Law School was granted a variance from the ABA from Distance Education Standard 306. And, in the fall of 2019, it launched its Part-Time Evening JD Program.
This program cuts the commuting time in half for enrolled students. Instead of traveling four nights a week to attend in-person classes, students commute to campus just twice a week. And the other half of their coursework is completed online.
Southwestern Law School’s Part-Time Evening JD program takes four years to complete. The total annual tuition for 2020-2021 semesters is $36,894. Here are a few more key Southwestern Law School statistics:
- Acceptance rate: 46.1%
- Bar pass rate: 52.3%
- Employment rate at graduation: 19.3%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 58.6%
The application deadline for Southwestern Law School is April 3rd.
4. University of Dayton School of Law
The University of Dayton received its online law school variance from the ABA in 2018. Its Online Hybrid JD Program takes less than four years to complete and blends online and in-person learning.
Students who are enrolled in the Online Hybrid JD Program work through a combination of in-depth self-paced online course materials and interactive video classes. Additionally, each student must complete 10 in-person sessions at Dayton’s Ohio campus and a semester-long externship.
For the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, the tuition for the Online Hybrid JD program is $21,000. That’s a huge discount from Dayton’s Traditional JD program which has an annual tuition of $35,873. If you’re considering the University of Dayton School of Law, here are a few statistics to keep in mind:
- Acceptance rate: 51.9%
- Bar pass rate: 67.3%
- Employment rate at graduation: 25%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 63.5%
The application deadline for University of Dayton School of Law is May 1st.
5. University of New Hampshire School of Law
University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law received ABA-approval for its Hybrid JD program in February 2019. The program officially launched in the fall of the same year.
New Hampshire’s Hybrid JD program can be completed almost fully online. It only requires four on-campus weekend “immersion” periods per year. The remaining online instruction includes live and recorded video lectures, reading and writing assignments, evaluations, and discussion board interactions.
The program has a year-round design and can be completed in three and half years. For New Hampshire residents, the tuition is $33,150 per year. Non-residents, meanwhile, pay $38,250 per year in tuition. Here are few more key statistics worth noting:
- Acceptance rate: 61.2%
- Bar pass rate: 91.9%
- Employment rate at graduation: 45.9%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 80.3%
The application deadline for University of New Hampshire School of Law is March 15th.
ABA-approved, weekend-based online law school programs
The following law schools have not received approval from the ABA to offer more than one-third of their instruction online. However, they still offer more flexibility than traditional on-campus programs.
Rather than having to attend live classes all day, students at the programs listed below can combine online learning with in-person instruction on evenings or weekends. Here are three innovative programs worth considering.
6. Loyola University Chicago School of Law
The Weekend JD is a part-time program offered by Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law that only requires eight weekends of in-person instruction per semester.
On-campuses classes meet every other weekend on Saturday and Sundays. And the rest of their students’ coursework is completed online via the Sakai collaborative online learning environment.
The program is designed to be completed in four years (eight semesters). Annual tuition for the Weekend JD program is $37,280. Here are few more school details to keep in mind:
- Acceptance rate: 45.8%
- Bar pass rate: 77.8%
- Employment rate at graduation: 41.4%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 77.5%
The application deadline for Loyola University Chicago School of Law is March 1st.
7. Seton Hall University School of Law
The part-time JD program at Seton Hall offers one-third of its course content and instruction online. Students can complete their online coursework at any time, making it a flexible option for working professionals.
In-person instruction takes place on Saturdays and Sundays over eight weekends, and exams are taken on a ninth weekend. The program takes four years to complete. In years three and four, students can also take weekday or evening classes and up to 15 credits can be completed entirely online.
Tuition for Seton Hall’s part-time online law school program is $41,136 per year. Below are the key admissions, performance, and employment statistics for Seton Hall University’s School of Law.
- Acceptance rate: 48.6%
- Bar pass rate: 81.8%
- Employment rate at graduation: 78.4%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 88.6%
The application deadline for Seton Hall Seton Hall University School of Law is April 1st.
8. University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Sturm College of Law’s Professional Part-Time JD program offers up to one-third of its course instruction online. Students fulfill the remainder of their requirements by taking in-person classes every other weekend.
Like Seton Hall’s part-time program, the Sturm College of Law requires just eight weekends on on-campus instruction per semester. However, while Seton Hall only allocates one week for final exams, Sturm College of Law students spend an additional two weekends on campus taking their end-of-semester examinations.
Sturm College of Law’s part-time students take two semesters per year and the program typically takes four years to complete. The annual tuition cost is $39,512. Here are a few more key numbers to keep in mind:
- Acceptance rate: 47.8%
- Bar pass rate: 76.8%
- Employment rate at graduation: 50.8%
- Employment rate 10 months after graduation: 80.2%
The application deadline for Sturm College of Law is June 1st.
Advantages of attending an ABA-approved school
The biggest reason for attending one of the ABA-accredited online law schools is that it will likely be required if you want to sit for the bar exam. Although a few states allow students from unaccredited programs to take the bar (California being a notable example), this is by far the exception rather than the rule.
Unaccredited law schools might offer more flexible learning options and/or cheaper tuition rates. But, even so, you’ll want to avoid attending schools that are not ABA-approved if it hurts your job prospects or result in less income as a lawyer after graduation.
It should be noted that not everyone who studies law wants to be a lawyer. Some working professionals pursue a Masters in Legal Studies (MLS) to improve their understanding of legal matters in their existing careers. If this is your situation, choosing a non-ABA school could make sense.
But if you plan to practice law and represent clients, choose an ABA approved program. See the full list of ABA accredited law schools.
How COVID-19 will impact your online law school options
The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for law schools to follow state and local social distancing guidelines without severely limiting face-to-face class time. The ABA has responded to these “extraordinary circumstances” by temporarily giving all law schools the ability to expand their online programs.
One school was granted a variance from the ABA distance education limits in May 2020 and the other 199 schools received variances later in July. In November, 48 schools were given permission to make more modifications or to extend their existing variances.
For now, there’s more accessibility to online law school than ever before. But it’s too early to predict whether these changes will stick after the COVID-19 emergency passes.
With so many schools being forced to make online education work, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some permanent variances down the road. It’s possible that someday we’ll look back at the COVID-19 outbreak as the time that ABA-accredited law schools began to widely accept online learning as legitimate.
How to pay for online law school
Regardless of whether you choose a traditional on-campus program or a hybrid online law school, earning your JD degree from an ABA-accredited school will be expensive. It’s important that you have a thoughtful game plan for covering the cost.
Applying for scholarships and grants can help law students minimize student debt. But if you need to take out student loans, there are a variety of options to pay for law school. Choosing the wrong loan type could cost you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of your repayment.
If you’re thinking about attending an ABA-approved law school that could put you in six figures of debt after graduation, our pre-debt consult is for you. Our team of CFP®, CFA or CSLP consultants can help you find the best ways to finance your online law school education.
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