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Top 10 law schools with the highest salaries for graduates

Find out what graduates earn an average of $183K a year.

Law students graduate with some of the highest amounts of student debt — an average of $140,900 according to a study by SoFi. But a law degree can also set you up for a salary well into the six figures that can help pay off that high debt load. Even if you don’t get a high salary, many of these schools offer forgiveness programs for lawyers in the public sector.

Top 10 law schools with the highest salaries for graduates

These top-ranking law schools have the highest average salaries for graduates three years out of school, according to a 2017 study by student loan provider SoFi.

SchoolAverage salaryAverage debt
Cornell University$183,377$148,443
Columbia University$177,962$156,052
New York University$177,203$164,552
University of Chicago$174,238$153,210
Harvard University$173,578$134,374
Georgetown University$173,464$150,359
Northwestern University$173,204$157,363
Yale University$171,779$123,793
University of Pennsylvania$170,954$146,708
Duke University$169,096$137,257

Source: SoFi’s Return on Education (ROED) Law School Rankings, 2017

1. Cornell University

  • Cost of attendance: $91,357
  • Acceptance rate: 16%
  • US News law school ranking: 13

Cornell Law School is a top-tier Ivy League institution offering three degree programs: JD, LLM and MSLS. But that high starting salary might be one of the reasons it’s a more difficult law school to get into. Around 80% of students receive a scholarship from the school, and the financial aid office recommends several outside scholarships that can help reduce the amount of debt you need to borrow.

After graduation, students working in public service can apply for its Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan (PILIPP), which works in conjunction with the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.

2. Columbia University

  • Cost of attendance: $101,345
  • Acceptance rate: 16.7%
  • US News law school ranking: 5

This top-ranking law school might land you with a high salary, but it’s also one of the most expensive law programs in the country. Just one year can set you back over six figures without any financial aid.

Its scholarship and grant program isn’t as generous as some — need-based aid packages always include federal student loans. But it has one of the few institutionally sponsored loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) for students who make less than $100,000 a year and work in public service.

3. New York University

  • Cost of attendance: $99,858
  • Acceptance rate: 23.6%
  • US News law school ranking: 6

NYU law graduates make a similar salary as Columbia, but with an even higher debt load on average. However, it’s easier to get into NYU and is one of the top programs in the country. Students can apply for need-based and merit-based financial aid.

It recently revamped its LRAP, allowing students who earn up to $100,000 a year to qualify. This program also includes repayment assistance on up to $30,000 in student debt from prior degrees.

4. University of Chicago

  • Cost of attendance: $100,080
  • Acceptance rate: 17.5%
  • US News law school ranking: 4

The University of Chicago Law School ranks just below Harvard, though it accepts a slightly higher percentage of applicants. It’s one of the more expensive schools out there, but it automatically considers all students for merit-based scholarships. You can also qualify for need-based aid, though you have to apply.

Its LRAP works in combination with PSLF to ensure qualifying students make few or no repayments on their federal student loans while working a public service job. But you have to earn less than $80,000 a year to be eligible.

5. Harvard University

  • Cost of attendance: $99,200
  • Acceptance rate: 12.8%
  • US News law school ranking: 3

Harvard is the wealthiest school in the world and has one of the most generous financial aid programs: It meets all law students’ financial need. However, it doesn’t offer any merit-based scholarships, so good grades are irrelevant. But students graduate with less debt than most other schools on this list.

Didn’t land a six-figure job right away? You might still be able to stay on top of your loan repayments with its Low-Income Protection Plan, which can reduce your monthly loan cost while you work a public service job. And its Public Service Venture Fund offers support if you want to work at a nonprofit or start your own after graduation.

6. Georgetown University

  • Cost of attendance: $94,500
  • Acceptance rate: 26%
  • US News law school ranking: 14

Georgetown Law has the highest acceptance rate out of any school on this list. But it only offers need-based grants, so you have to look outside for scholarships based on academic achievement.

It also has an LRAP for students who go into public sector jobs. Through this program, you receive six-month loans to help pay your student debt load. These loans are then forgiven at the end of each six months if you remain employed at an eligible public sector job.

7. Northwestern University

  • Cost of attendance: $94,410
  • Acceptance rate: 19.3%
  • US News law school ranking: 10 — tied with Duke and UC Berkeley

Another top Chicago law school, Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law offers both need- and merit-based scholarships to students. Like with many other schools on this list, graduates earning a below-average salary are able to get some help with their student loans.

Its LRAP offers loan forgiveness to students who choose to go into the public sector after graduation — similar to the PSLF Program. And its Interest Freedom Plan provides assistance to graduates who make less than $90,000 a year.

8. Yale University

  • Cost of attendance: $88,593
  • Acceptance rate: 8.1%
  • US News law school ranking: 1

Yale is the top law school in the country — and the most difficult to get into. It also has the lowest annual cost, making it one of the best deals out there for the types of salaries its graduates earn. Around 70% of students receive some kind of financial aid and nearly 60% qualify for need-based grants. While it doesn’t have an LRAP, its Career Options Assistance Program offers loan repayment assistance to low-earning graduates in all sectors.

9. University of Pennsylvania

  • Cost of attendance: $94,338
  • Acceptance rate: 14.6%
  • US News law school ranking: 7

This high-ranking law school is also one of the least costly programs on this list. It offers a wide range of need- and merit-based scholarships and grants to students. And its Toll Loan Repayment Assistance Program (TolLRAP) offers loan forgiveness to graduates who go into public service — but typically only for federal loans.

10. Duke University

  • Cost of attendance: $102,827
  • Acceptance rate: 20.2%
  • US News law school ranking: 10 — tied with Northwestern and UC Berkeley

The most expensive law school on this list also comes in last place. However, it makes up for that by offering full scholarships to high-achieving students based on both merit and financial need.

Its LRAP covers all of your loan repayments while you work a public service job to qualify for PSLF. But you can’t qualify for full assistance unless you make less than $60,000 — or any assistance at all if your salary is more than $75,000.

How can I pay for a law degree?

You have several options when it comes to paying for law school. With such high prices, most law students qualify for some kind of assistance. This might include:

  • Institutional scholarships and grants. Most law schools offer gift aid you don’t need to repay based on your personal finances or academics.
  • Outside scholarships and grants. There are also several outside programs that offer law school funding — apply to these first to reduce your debt load.
  • Federal student loans. Law students can qualify for Direct Unsubsidized and Graduate PLUS Loans from the federal government, which are eligible for PSLF and most LRAPs.
  • Private loans. Designed to supplement federal loans, private lender law school loans can help cover your cost of attendance with slightly less flexible rates and terms.
  • LRAP. If you’re going into public service, signing up for an LRAP can cover your law school loan repayments while you’re waiting to qualify for PSLF. In some cases, private loans and private sector jobs might also be eligible, though you still need to make less than a certain salary.
  • PSLF. This federal program forgives debt on all federal student loans after you make 120 eligible repayments on an income-driven repayment plan while working a qualifying public service job.

Is going to law school worth it?

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Bottom line

Law school is expensive, and searching for schools based on graduates’ average salaries is one way to make sure you’re getting a good return on your investment. But it’s not the only factor to consider when applying to law programs. Average student debt loads, financial aid programs and LRAPS could have a significant affect on your future finances — and help you avoid choosing a private sector job if your passion is public service.

You can learn more about how to fund that JD by checking out our guide to financing law school.

Frequently asked questions

What type of lawyer is the best paid?

Medical lawyers are typically the highest-paid of the group, followed by intellectual property lawyers and trial attorneys.

What’s the average salary for lawyers?

The average salary for lawyers is $166,155, according to SoFi’s 2017 study.

What’s the average debt load for law school grads?

The average law school graduate has around $140,900 in student debt, according to SoFi’s 2017 study.

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