Do your homework. A good place to start is the LSAC site which has links to the U.S. Law Schools and a searchable version of The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. The Career Center has in its library a number of law-related resources that have information about specialized programs, joint-degree programs, salary ranges, student organizations, available scholarships, clinical programs, admission policies, and other information.
The cost of a three-year law school education could run well over $80,000. Approximately 75% of law school students rely on education loans as their primary source of financial aid. Money for law school is available in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study and loans, but most students finance their education through loans, either from the government or private sources. Some law schools offer their own scholarship programs, but the amount available varies greatly from school to school. Some offer their best candidates full scholarships based on merit. Others give financial aid primarily on the basis of need. Some law schools also offer loan repayment assistance programs for graduates in qualifying public service or non-profit positions.
Loans from governmental and private sources at low and moderate interest rates are available to qualified students. Some of these loans consider the applicant's financial need; others have limitations based on the law school budget. Many states offer guaranteed student loans.
You should review financial aid procedures for all schools to which you will apply. One year prior to enrollment, try to reduce credit card debt, check your credit report and correct any errors and save what you can. Begin researching scholarships and grants. When you file your applications, also file all the financial aid forms required by the schools. Before you enroll, obtain and file the FAFSA as soon as possible. FAFSAs may be filed starting January 1st. Prepare your income tax return as soon as possible. Have your parents/guardians prepare their income tax return as soon as possible, too.
When you receive aid packages from the schools that have accepted you, compare and contrast them. Are some loan-based? Do some include free money? You may, at this point, begin to bargain diplomatically with the law schools you are most interested in. If your aid package includes loans, you should apply for them immediately. If your aid package requires you to seek loans from private lenders, explore the various private and non-profit financial institutions that make graduate loans. Compare factors such as interest rates, origination fees, repayment options, reductions in interest rates for on-time payments, etc.
Before you choose a school, prepare a working budget to see if you can really afford it. Tuition, fees, and living expenses are starting points only.
Debt burden is likely to be a harsh reality. For those of you interested in public interest law, the debt reality may dictate that you work in private practice for a while just to repay your loans before moving into the public interest sector. Starting salaries at private law firms commonly range from $50,000 to $125,000, while the median entry-level salary for public legal services is $40,000. Salaries for attorneys at nonprofit organizations are similar to public legal services salaries. Attorneys working with environmental organizations, civil rights organizations, and organizations addressing housing and homelessness issues are frequently in the non-profit sector.