In 2018, 34,221 students graduated from law school with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Grads from American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) had an average of $167,039 in student loan debt. American University law school debt is inevitable with the cost of full-time attendance around $80,000 per academic year.
If you are considering this school or are already alumni, below are ways to handle American University law school debt.
The high bar set at American University Law School
This prestigious private law school has a good-sized student body in the J.D. program. A total of 1,315 students made up the J.D. program in 2018 for AUWCL. Top-ranking law schools like Yale University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago have about half that number of enrolled students.
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AUWCL states that J.D. “…students receive a legal education that prepares them to tackle a breadth of challenges in Washington, D.C., throughout the country, and around the world.” The school can boast about its rankings and ability to prepare students — but not about the cost of tuition.
American University law school debt is staggering
AUWCL requires 86 credits to earn a J.D. degree. The cost of attendance doesn’t change for in-state or out-of-state students. The breakdown in the chart below is the estimated cost for a nine-month academic calendar. If you choose to take summer courses, the cost would increase.
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It’s safe to say that scholarships and financial aid in the form of grants will probably help offset some of these costs but not all of them. Whether you choose to go full time or part time, you’ll be leaving the four-year J.D. program with over six figures of student loan debt.
If you choose to work in the private sector, your average salary will also be in the six figures. But if you end up employed in the public sector or in local and state government, you’ll be earning less than that. The lowest earners make about $58,220, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Looking at your projected salary based on the area of law you choose to specialize in will be essential in determining how you want to pay back the American University law school debt.
How to pay off your American University Law School debt
When it comes to student loan debt payoff as a lawyer, you have three main strategies to investigate.
1. Aggressive student loan payoff plan
If you owe 1.5 times your income or less in student loans, your best bet is to aggressively pay them off. Ideally, you pay them off in 10 years or less and avoid as much interest as possible.
To do this, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans for a better rate. When you refinance, you’ll give up any kind of protections you had with federal student loans. It’s important to run the numbers to be sure about refinancing your loans.
2. Income-driven repayment student loan forgiveness
If you owe two times your income in student loans (or more), you’ll want to pursue an income-driven repayment program. After 20 to 25 years of payments, the remaining student loan balance will be forgiven.
You’ll have to pay taxes on the entire amount that’s forgiven, so you’ll want to be preparing for this as you make your payments. You can calculate which type of income-driven repayment plan is the best for you using the Student Loan Planner calculator.
Keep in mind that this is only for federal student loans. If you also have private student loans, you’ll want to look into refinancing those.
3. Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for lawyers isn’t at the top of this list for a reason — only a few lawyers can actually qualify. You need to work for a nonprofit government employer, which can mean a huge pay cut compared to working in the private sector.
If you want to work for a nonprofit, then this forgiveness program could be your optimal debt payoff plan. After 120 qualifying payments, you can have your entire student loan balance forgiven tax-free. That works out to about 10 years of payments.
Make a plan for your American University law school debt
We aren’t here to tell you not to go to law school. In fact, Student Loan Planner wants to help you pursue your dreams of becoming a lawyer. This is why we started the Predebt Consultation. We’ll cover the student loan rules you need to know. Going into six figures of student loan debt is terrifying, and we can help you create a solid plan for getting out of it after school.
If you’ve already attended AUWCL and are strapped with more loans than you know what to do with, it’s time to figure out your next step. Student Loan Planner has helped many lawyers who have over six figures of student loan debt. We can guide you to the best payoff plan for exactly where you’re at right now.