20 Best Law Schools for Avoiding Six-Figure Student Debt
If you’re considering a career in law, you’re probably looking at the most affordable law schools to minimize student debt — and you should be.
A new Student Loan Hero study found that by the time law school students graduate, they owe an average of $111,752 in student loans.
The question of whether law school is worth it comes down to your ability to minimize student debt and land a high salary after graduation. By choosing to attend one of the cheapest law schools, you can afford to repay your loans without living on a shoestring budget.
For this study, Student Loan Hero surveyed 116 programs to find the 20 cheapest law schools that give graduates a leg up on repaying law school loans. Find out if your top choice ranks among the most affordable law schools.
Study: Attending the cheapest law schools helps graduates tackle student debt repayment
To rank these law schools, we looked at the cheapest law schools and compared tuition costs, indebtedness, and post-graduation employment rates and salaries.
That gave us a list of cheap law schools where graduates leave with excellent career prospects and a healthy ratio of lower student debt to higher income.
For instance, according to our survey, a typical law school student faces annual tuition costs of $36,096 and an average of $111,752 in student debt.
Although the average law school employment rate is 87.1%, a typical law school graduate earns a starting salary of $73,710. That means for every $100 borrowed for law school, they will earn only $66 in the first year.
How does that compare to our rankings of the cheapest law schools? Here’s what graduates of the 20 most affordable law schools can expect on average:
- Annual law school tuition: $25,421
- Student loan balance at graduation: $83,195
- Post-law school starting salary: $78,569
- Employment rates: 90.7%
- Debt-to-income ratio: .94
Compare the 20 most affordable law schools to the 20 least affordable law schools, and the differences are staggering. Students and graduates of the worst law schools for avoiding student debt can expect to face the following on average:
- Annual law school tuition: $43,935
- Student loan balance at graduation: $144,189
- Post-law school starting salary: $63,810
- Employment rates: 77.7%
- Debt-to-income ratio: .44
Law school graduates who don’t attend cheap law schools might face greater difficulties finding a high-paying job and repaying their six-figure debt.
Top 20 most affordable law schools in the U.S.
It’s no wonder the phrase “choose wisely” comes to mind when deciding which law school to attend. After all, choosing your program from among the cheapest law schools could mean the difference between a student loan balance of $144,000 upon graduation and law school debt that’s half that amount.
It’s also central to the pay you can expect to receive. Remember: Your income will directly affect how much student loan debt you can afford to repay and whether you can take advantage of options such as refinancing law school loans.
So before you make your final decision, consider the following 20 most affordable law schools. Perhaps a few of your top choices already rank among the best law schools for avoiding six-figure debt.
1. Brigham Young University (Clark)
- Annual tuition: $12,310 (for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $58,113
- Average starting salary: $75,872
Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School is a bargain for students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with tuition costs of $12,310 annually. Nonmembers pay $24,620 per year.
This low cost allows around 31% of students to avoid law school debt altogether. Meanwhile, those who do borrow can expect smaller balances now and higher incomes at graduation by earning 1.31 times more than they owe on average.
2. Georgia State University (GSU)
- Annual tuition: $16,858 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $64,384
- Average starting salary: $83,427
Georgia State University College of Law’s tuition for in-state students beats the average by more than $19,000 per year, making it easier to limit student debt. That adds up to $47,368 less in debt at graduation than the $111,752 average.
GSU graduates’ law school debt is also more easily paid off, as starting salaries are about $9,700 greater than the average. However, out-of-state tuition is significantly higher at $36,456 annually, making this school less of a deal for out-of-state residents.
3. Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey
- Annual tuition: $27,269 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $56,173
- Average starting salary: $64,604
Graduates of Rutgers Law School have the lowest student loan balance on this list. They have about half the average debt for law school grads in this study.
What’s more, the typical Rutgers Law School graduate’s debt is $8,431 less than their starting salary, even with the school’s below-average starting pay.
4. University of Iowa
- Annual tuition: $24,930 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $74,128
- Average starting salary: $74,903
University of Iowa College of Law’s average debt level is the eighth-lowest, coming in at about $37,600 less than the average in this study. That’s matched with a salary on par with the overall average for law school grads.
When you add up those factors, you’ll find that University of Iowa alumni will find it easier than most to repay law school debt.
5. University of Houston
- Annual tuition: $30,401 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $97,246
- Average starting salary: $102,153
Large starting salaries over six figures help University of Houston Law Center grads repay their student loans.
With starting salaries that are about $28,450 more than the average and law school debt around $14,500 less than the average, student loans are easier to manage for these alumni.
Further, more than a third (35%) of graduates leave University of Houston Law Center with no student loans at all.
6. University of Texas at Austin
- Annual tuition: $33,995 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $103,417
- Average starting salary: $105,647
Next up is another Texas law school. The University of Texas School of Law is in the top 10 with starting salaries over $100,000.
In fact, this law school’s high starting salary makes it easier for alumni to afford the average six-figure law school debt. What’s more, U.S. News & World Report ranks Texas Law as No. 1 for having the highest ratio of starting salaries compared to annual tuition costs.
However, this is the last law school on the list for which starting salaries beat typical law school debt.
7. University of Arizona (Rogers)
- Annual tuition: $25,525 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $84,601
- Average starting salary: $76,664
The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law has the lowest rate of student debt of any law school in the top 20.
Just 62% of graduates leave with law school loans. They also owe around $27,150 less in law school debt while earning slightly above-average starting salaries.
8. University of Nebraska — Lincoln
- Annual tuition: $15,036 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $62,888
- Average starting salary: $58,614
In-state residents will benefit the most from Nebraska College of Law’s low tuition. It’s no surprise this law school carries the third-lowest average student loan balance.
However, out-of-state students, beware: You’ll pay more than twice as much at $34,192 a year.
9. University of Wisconsin — Madison (UW-Madison)
- Annual tuition: $21,450 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $77,555
- Average starting salary: $72,089
Below-average tuition helps law school students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison keep student loan balances low.
In fact, University of Wisconsin Law School alumni owe about $34,200 less than the average law school graduate. Repaying this debt while earning near-average starting salaries puts these graduates ahead of the curve on law school debt.
10. University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill
- Annual tuition: $23,551 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $95,365
- Average starting salary: $88,781
UNC School of Law can be a smart choice to kick-start a law career.
Grads earn above-average starting salaries and have higher employment rates. Plus, UNC School of Law alumni earn high salaries compared to their student loan debt, making it easier to quickly pay it off.
11. University of North Dakota (UND)
- Annual tuition: $11,434 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $66,917
- Average starting salary: $55,470
University of North Dakota has the lowest annual tuition among the 20 cheapest law schools on this list. Even out-of-state students pay about average tuition at $25,423 per year.
That gives University of North Dakota School of Law graduates the sixth-lowest student law school debt in this study.
However, while law school debt is easier to avoid at UND, grads should expect lower starting salaries and an employment rate of just 46%.
12. Louisiana State University — Baton Rouge (Hebert)
- Annual tuition: $22,520 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $83,919
- Average starting salary: $71,065
LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center graduates can earn a JD with nearly $28,000 less in law school debt than the average. They also pay lower tuition rates in school and earn starting salaries on par with the average law school graduate.
If that’s not enough to pique your interest, graduates also enjoy higher employment rates at 93.7%.
13. George Mason University
- Annual tuition: $25,351 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $118,056
- Average starting salary: $83,669
Graduates of the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University are among the least likely to have student debt at all, with just 63% borrowing for law school.
Even though the average student loan balance for alumni is about $6,300 higher than the average in this survey, George Mason University ranks among the most affordable law schools.
Additionally, a high employment rate of 96.7% means graduates will easily find a job. Plus, they outearn the average law school graduate’s starting salary by about $10,000.
14. Ohio State University (Moritz)
- Annual tuition: $29,668 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $88,301
- Average starting salary: $74,820
Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law has the highest post-graduate employment rate of the top 20 law schools at 97.7%.
They also earn slightly above-average starting salaries and get a head start on repaying law school debt by limiting it to $88,301 upon graduation.
15. Boston College
- Annual tuition: $50,620
- Average law school debt at graduation: $108,873
- Average starting salary: $103,147
The only private university in the top 20, Boston College Law School carries the highest tuition costs among these law schools.
Despite annual costs that top $50,000, graduates tend to limit debt to a relatively low figure. Plus, since Boston College Law School grads net large starting salaries, even this six-figure debt can be managed and repaid in time.
16. University of California — Los Angeles (UCLA)
- Annual tuition: $45,338 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $118,291
- Average starting salary: $109,030
UCLA School of Law has the highest average starting salary among the top 20 law schools, with the average graduate earning well over six figures. In fact, that’s nearly 50% more than the average post-law school salary.
Add employment rates of 95.5%, and UCLA School of Law grads are well-positioned to maximize post-law school earnings.
This high salary also lags about $9,000 behind the typical debt of a UCLA School of Law graduate. With a higher ROI, UCLA ranks among the most affordable law schools.
17. University of Florida (Levin)
- Annual tuition: $22,299 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $82,480
- Average starting salary: $69,032
The Levin College of Law at the University of Florida is one of the cheapest law schools listed here, with three years of law school costing just under $67,000. The average student loan balance of Levin graduates is about $15,000 higher than that.
Unfortunately, graduates can expect below-average salaries. The average law school debt for graduates of this school beats out the average by just over $29,000, however.
18. Wayne State University
- Annual tuition: $30,727 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $81,738
- Average starting salary: $74,879
At Wayne State University Law School in Michigan, graduates have a high starting salary compared to their student debt.
Borrowers make it out of this law school with less student loan debt than the combined cost of tuition for three years at a little more than $92,000. What’s more, out-of-state students won’t pay significantly more, with tuition costs at just $33,509 annually.
19. University of Arkansas — Little Rock (Bowen)
- Annual tuition: $15,121 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $65,931
- Average starting salary: $57,420
In-state students at UA Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law pay $21,000 less per year than the average law school tuition.
That helps keep borrowing low and student loans manageable — even with a starting salary that’s about $16,300 below the average.
20. William & Mary Law School
- Annual tuition: $32,000 (in state)
- Average law school debt at graduation: $90,028
- Average starting salary: $82,945
Rounding out the list is William & Mary Law School in Virginia, where graduates leave with $21,700 less debt on average. These law school graduates also earn a higher starting salary, which helps them keep up with student loan payments.
Top 50 most affordable law schools
Wondering how other law schools in the U.S. stack up when it comes to borrowing student loans?
Here’s a list of the top 50 cheapest law schools we found to be the best options if you’re looking to avoid six-figure law school debt.
Is your top pick or current school among the best law schools for avoiding debt? See how your school measures up in terms of average law school debt and average starting salary.
|Ranking||Law School||Average Law School Debt||Average Salary (NALP)|
|1.||Brigham Young University (Clark)||$58,133||$75,872|
|2.||Georgia State University||$64,384||$83,427|
|3.||Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey||$56,173||$64,604|
|4.||University of Iowa||$74,128||$74,903|
|5.||University of Houston||$97,246||$102,153|
|6.||University of Texas — Austin||$103,417||$105,647|
|7.||University of Arizona (Rogers)||$84,601||$76,664|
|8.||University of Nebraska — Lincoln||$62,888||$58,614|
|9.||University of Wisconsin — Madison||$77,555||$72,089|
|10.||University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill||$95,365||$88,781|
|11.||University of North Dakota||$66,917||$55,470|
|12.||Louisiana State University — Baton Rouge (Hebert)||$83,919||$71,065|
|13.||George Mason University||$118,056||$83,669|
|14.||Ohio State University (Moritz)||$88,301||$74,820|
|16.||University of California — Los Angeles||$118,291||$109,030|
|17.||University of Florida (Levin)||$82,480||$69,032|
|18.||Wayne State University||$81,738||$74,879|
|19.||University of Arkansas — Little Rock (Bowen)||$65,931||$57,420|
|20.||William & Mary Law School (Marshall-Wythe)||$90,028||$82,945|
|21.||University of Cincinnati||$75,512||$70,099|
|23.||Temple University (Beasley)||$86,937||$73,085|
|24.||University of Tennessee — Knoxville||$80,445||$70,029|
|25.||University of Tulsa||$76,988||$64,919|
|26.||Northwestern University (Pritzker)||$154,923||$131,503|
|27.||University of Oklahoma||$83,433||$65,874|
|28.||University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign||$99,782||$91,753|
|31.||Cleveland State University (Cleveland-Marshall)||$83,484||$70,518|
|32.||University of Nevada — Las Vegas||$97,361||$72,654|
|33.||University of Hawaii — Manoa (Richardson)||$82,510||$66,926|
|34.||West Virginia University||$82,683||$62,897|
|35.||University of Missouri||$80,138||$61,127|
|37.||University of Kansas||$88,809||$64,171|
|38.||University of Minnesota||$106,436||$82,027|
|39.||University of Mississippi||$67,539||$51,530|
|40.||University of New Mexico||$75,277||$57,951|
|41.||University of Memphis (Humphreys)||$76,997||$56,404|
|42.||Indiana University — Bloomington (Maurer)||$99,895||$78,880|
|44.||University of Utah (Quinney)||$91,982||$68,155|
|45.||New York University||$167,646||$125,457|
|46.||University of California — Berkeley||$145,260||$112,935|
|47.||University of Michigan — Ann Arbor||$146,309||$114,928|
|48.||University of Idaho||$86,022||$45,500|
|49.||Southern Methodist University (Dedman)||$126,172||$95,049|
|50.||University of Colorado — Boulder||$100,499||$65,550|
Methodology: This study surveyed 116 law schools using data from the U.S. News & World Report college rankings and employment data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
This study ranked colleges on four factors:
- The ratio of the average post-law school starting salary (from NALP) to the average indebtedness (from U.S. News), weighted at half
- Annual in-state tuition, weighted at one-sixth (from U.S. News)
- Percentage of graduates leaving law school with student debt, weighted at one-sixth (from U.S. News)
- Employment rates of recent law school graduates, weighted at one-sixth (from NALP)